Posts Tagged ‘history’

christmas-snapshot3The “date which will live in infamy” cast a large, dark shadow over Christmas 1941 in Allegany County.

As Thanksgiving 1941 approached, the war in Europe was on people’s minds but it wasn’t the dominant story of the day. Residents were more concerned about a coal strike that had started in Pennsylvania and was spreading around the country. At times, it appeared more dangerous to Americans than the war. The headlines on the Cumberland Evening Times the day after Thanksgiving showed Allegany County’s priorities:


Roosevelt Indicates Federal Action Is Probable


The day before Thanksgiving, an editorial in the Cumberland Evening Times noted, “Although some American ships have been sunk, some American lives have been lost and we are far nearer war than we have been at any time since the new conflagration was lighted in Europe, we are in a manner of speaking, still at peace. Whether this condition will continue we do not know, but at least we should be thankful for the blessings we enjoy at present.”

The Christmas season kicked into gear with ads for sales and specials for stores like Rosenbaum’s and Lazarus. However, officials encouraged early shopping because shortages were expected before the end of the year. Although the United States had not declared war against Germany, Japan, and Italy, many people expected it to happen, and with war, came a reallocation of resources to provide the soldiers on the front with the equipment and food they needed. However, this also meant that on the home front, there was often rationing.

City workers made for a gala on Dec. 27 to honor servicemen from the area. It was thought that about 1,000 men who had already enlisted could get passes to return to Cumberland for the celebration.

That was before Dec. 7.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States became a country formally at war. The focus shifted to war-time production of goods and raising a fighting army. Even the coal strike, which had caused so much worry at Thanksgiving, was set aside as the government drafted miners. The United Mine Workers and management agreed to work together for war production.

Though not a heavy presence in daily life at this point, what presence there was was growing, and the newspaper noted that it put a “damper” on the holiday celebrations. Notes about the selection of air raid wardens for 26 different areas of the city crept in among the notices about holiday parties. Even editorial cartoons reflected both the holiday and the war. The city’ conducted its first blackout test the day after Christmas with every home and business within a 10-mile radius of Cumberland expected to douse their lights for 15 minutes once the warning went out.

While a gift-buying boom was expected at Christmas, Christmas 1941 saw another boom. “War brides’ brought a boom yesterday at the marriage license bureau with Court House clerks swamped with altar-bound couples before noon, and the usual Christmas business for Dan Cupid will be increased by khaki-clad young men getting married while home on brief furloughs,” reported the Cumberland Sunday Times. The newspaper noted that 49 couples applied for licenses on Dec. 20.

The city also organized a Civil Air Patrol to protect the skies over Allegany County. About 100 pilots in the area volunteered to help in this endeavor. The need was only heightened when two days before Christmas bombers were seen flying over the city. Fortunately, they were American bombers on maneuvers.

Not so fortunate was the report from the WPA supervisor in the area that a cache of dynamite at the airport was tampered with. “Fifth column” sabotage was suspected and the dynamite was moved.

The newspaper tried to put everything in perspective for its readers with an editorial that read, in part: “It is important that we bring about a condition of worldly peace and that this may be accomplished we must vanquish those responsible for its disruption. The thought of Christmas and all that it means should strengthen us in this task. If we are to make such a peace enduring, then we must cultivate that spirit of good will without which there can be no real peace. If we do not do this, then all our sacrifice, all our anguish, all our suffering shall have been in vain. If during this Christmas season we seek that peace of which the herald angels sang, then we can hope for that lasting peace promised unto us. So it is not incongruous to observe Christmas in time of war for the peace of Christmas is in the heart.”

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00-russia-coal-shovel-030915Burning coal was once a common way to heat homes in Pennsylvania, at least as far back as the mid-1700s when bituminous coal was first mined at “Coal Hill”, which was across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. However, in York, many residents apparently feared the burning rock, according to the York Dispatch.

Even as coal’s popularity grew to not only heat homes and buildings but to power railroads and fuel the population growth in western Pennsylvania, York relied on wood for its fuel source. Compare this to the fact that Pittsburgh was burning 400 tons of bituminous coal by 1830.

Bituminous coal is also known as soft coal. It has a lower proportional amount of combustible carbon than anthracite coal. Pennsylvania’s bituminous coal fields are under 14,000 square miles of the commonwealth and in parts of 33 different counties.

“Many people were of the opinion that the ‘black rock’ taken out of the earth even though it burned and radiated heat, should not be disturbed from the bed where God had planted it,” according to the York Dispatch in 1925.

People believed that the smoke produced by burning coal was injurious “and not at all wholesome like wood smoke,” according to the newspaper. Some people believed using coal was the work of the devil, probably because of the similarities between the image of a burning Hell and the burning coal.

While this seems odd now, there is some validity to the reluctance. A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed that families in rural areas where people still burn coal in household stoves experience elevated levels of household air pollutants that can lead to health problems such as asthma, respiratory illness, and cancer.

The first coal use in York was in the Golden Lamb Tavern, which was located at the southeast corner of Market and Queen streets, according to Conrad Aulbach, a retired employee of the York Gas Company in 1925. His family lived a block away in a log house at the corner of Queen and Mason streets.

In the 1850s, Peter Wilt, the tavern owner, took a risk and purchased a special stove in which to burn the coal. He set the coal up in the public room to keep it toasty warm. Andrew Alden wrote in his article, “Coal in the Home,” that “Once ignited, coal burns slowly with little flame and high heat, occasionally making gentle ticking sounds. Coal smoke is less aromatic than wood smoke and has a dirtier smell, like cigar smoke compared to a pipe mixture. But like tobacco, it was not unpleasant in small, dilute doses. High-quality anthracite makes almost no smoke at all.”

The hot stove in the Golden Lamb was also used to keep water warm to make hot toddies, which was a popular cold-weather drink at the time.

The stove and coal was purchased in Columbia and brought to York in a Conestoga wagon. As coal became more accepted in the city and the need grew, it was transported to York by rail and canal.

What helped York overcome its reluctance to use coal was the formation of the York Gas Company in 1850, according to the York Dispatch. Coincidentally, this is where Aulbach worked for 43 years once he was old enough to get a job.

Although Aulbach was too young at the time to remember the first coal stove being used in the tavern, he did remember hearing his parents talking about it. It was something unique in York at the time. Years later, when the tavern was razed, Aulbach saw the stove taken away to be used in another building.


Pennsylvania went from being a leader in the production of bituminous coal to watching the industry decline in the 1920s. The market was shrinking and too much coal was being mined. Mines began closing and in the 1930s, West Virginia passed Pennsylvania as the leader in bituminous coal production.

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Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The horses resembled harnessed dragons. With each breath exhaled through their nostrils, the horses’ breaths turned to vapor resembling smoke from fire-breathing dragons. They pawed at the snow on the street, waiting anxiously.

A sleigh with a driver sat behind each horse. The young men in the sleighs grinned at each other and at an unspoken signal, they snapped their whips and the horses leaped forward pulling their respective sleighs behind them.

While the sleighs might be typical vehicles of the day, if one of the drivers was Frank Deatrick, then he would be riding in in a streamlined speedster that would draw as many appreciative glances as a Ferrari would today on the roads of Gettysburg. Deatrick’s sleigh, though costly, was fast and designed for racing.

“Suddenly there was the thud of rapidly galloping horses’ hoofs, and homes empty along York and Chambersburg streets. Mothers dashed swiftly to make sure their children were off the street. A passing wagon drew hurriedly to the side of the road. Heads peered from doors and windows to watch the sight–Gettysburg was having another horse race,” the Gettysburg Times reported in a 1952 article interviewing “old timers about their childhood memories 50 years earlier.

These weren’t sanctioned horse races, seeing as how the streets of Gettysburg are not a racetrack. Boys will be boys, however, and they like to race whether it’s in cars, on foot or in sleighs.

George “Pop” Hughes recalled that the boys raced from the intersection of York and Hanover streets to the intersection of Springs and Buford avenues. He’d been too young to take part in any of the races at the time, but he had enjoyed watching them and wishing he could ride in one of the buggies or sleighs.

The races didn’t last long, probably because the drivers didn’t want to be around when the police arrived. They typically raced in the morning. This was an inconvenience for residents along the impromptu racetrack, but the streets were less crowded at that hour.

The races could happen at any time of the year. If there wasn’t snow on the ground, then the drivers would race their buggies or sit astride their horses and urge them to go faster like a race jockey.

The next great love of young men—the car—was in existence, but they were expensive, undependable and few and far between. However, 1902 was also the year before the Ford Motor Company opened and the famous Model T would start rolling off the assembly line in 1908. The Model T go travel as fast as a horse pulling a buggy and the view was much better for the driver.

Because young men have a need for speed and also tend to embrace technology, automobiles soon caught on in Adams County and before long, car races through towns replaced horse races. East Berlin had its first automobile race in 1910, according to the East Berlin Historical Preservation Society.

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gypsy caravans

When the daily Western Maryland Railroad train arrived in Thurmont in late February 1912, nearly two dozen people—men, women, and children—swarmed off the train and began working.

“Some say they were gypsies, others say they were Italians. The ladies would ask to tell your fortune, tell you in which pocket you carried your money and how much you had and succeed in getting their victim doing as commanded. While one would stand before the victim the other would be tapping his pockets,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

Using this method, Edgar Peddicord had his pocket picked of $10 (roughly $240 in 2016 dollars). Of course, he didn’t discover the missing money until after the Gypsies had moved away from the station onto new targets.

“At the Frederick Railroad station the gang operated on Harvey Miller’s cash drawer, after he had given one of the women money,” according to the Catoctin Clarion.

Before the Gypsies could get away from the station, Frederick County Deputy Sheriff Stull arrived and demanded repayment of the missing money. The man leading the Gypsies took a large roll of bills from his pocket and repaid the missing money without question.

The Gypsies left Thurmont for Frederick on the trolley. After they left, more reports of missing money came in, but it was too late by then to seek any repayment.

This was not the only time that Thurmont had problems with Gypsies.

Another group arrived in Thurmont the same month traveling in three large wagons. The wagons stopped at the town square while the women and children went into different businesses, sometimes telling fortunes for a fee. Although no one reported any thefts from this group, such was not the case when the group passed through Lewistown on its way to Thurmont.

Another group passing through Thurmont in October 1912 “will be remembered from one end of the county to the other as being very adept at picking pockets,” the Clarion reported.

This group was believed to have been the same group that been in town in February and caught picking pockets. Although no one in Thurmont reported any money missing, one of the girls in the group was caught picking pockets in Emmitsburg.

In October 1913, a band of Gypsies who were camping in the mountains near Deerfield were arrested. They had been telling fortunes, which at the time was against the law in Frederick County.

States Attorney Samuel Lewis “had his fortune told and then asked the palmist if he had a license. Finding the band without a license Mr. Lewis went to Frederick and sent Deputy Teeter and Constrble (sic) Hauver to arrest the gypsie (sic),” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

They were arrested, tried and found guilty. They had to pay a fine plus $50 costs in the case and promise to leave the county.

Gypsies are a group of people known as the Romani, who came originally from northern India and were sold into slavery in Egypt when the Muslims conquered the area. Those who converted to Islam were freed. When they made their way to Europe, English-speaking Europeans supposedly called them ‘Gyptians instead of Egyptians. This later became Gypsies.

They began migrating to America in the 19th century and continued their itinerant ways traveling from town to town and causing problems when they resorted to petty thievery like pickpocketing.

The Gypsies were also known for the smith work with copper and other metal. They often earned their way by repairing and retinning industrial equipment used in various businesses.

For residents to get the Gypsies’ metalworking abilities, they had to put up with the thievery.

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No longer a woman’s shade, an umbrella protects all from the rain

cheekyumbrella-com-history-of-rain-umbrella-1An umbrella, the inexpensive shield from the rain, was once considered too feminine for men to use.

“When they began to be carried, even a gentleman accompanied by a lady, under the shelter of the new-fangled rain protector, were hooted as they passed along; while a gentleman alone carrying one was certain to be attacked with cries of ‘Frenchman! Frenchman! Why don’t you call a coach?’ and other more offensive salutations,” according to an article in an 1871 issue of the Catoctin Clarion.

Breaking with tradition

Jonas Hanway, a philanthropist, is considered the first man to carry an umbrella through the streets of London. Hanway had seen the umbrella used during his travels in Persia and saw the benefits were great enough to endure the scorn. At the time, this act would have been much like a man carrying a purse or wearing lipstick in public today.

When Hanway died in 1786, he was remembered for his philanthropic acts, but he was also called a “valuable example of moral courage” for his simple act of using an umbrella to keep the sun and rain off of him.

How Europeans used

An 1871 Catoctin Clarion noted, “that is only within the lifetime of persons now living that this almost indispensable protection from the mists and rain has become generally adopted.”

Prior to that umbrellas tended to be kept in mansions near the door where they could be used to protect ladies from sun and rain as they moved from the house to the carriage. Beginning in Queen Anne’s reign, umbrellas began to be seen in coffeehouses to be used for protection from the rain for female patrons.

Otherwise, when it rained, people scurried for cover. Some men might be able to cover their heads with their coats. The use of the coats in place of umbrellas helped slow men’s acceptance of umbrellas.

As they began to move into general use, hackney coachmen opposed them because having someone be able to protect himself from the rain took business from the coachmen.

History of umbrellaA-Dapper-Chap-With-An-Umbrella

Though the use as a rain protector is relatively recent, umbrellas have been around for millennia.

Egyptians used umbrellas as a sign of authority. Servants held the umbrellas over the heads of nobles to show they had more authority.

Ancient Greeks used the umbrella for shade.

The Chines waterproofed their umbrellas and were the first to use them for rain protection.

Its use spread throughout Asia and Africa and then into Europe.

What makes an umbrella

Early English umbrellas were made of oiled silk with a wood or whalebone frame. While water resistant, when wet, the umbrellas were heavy (weighing 10 pounds) and difficult to open and close. A combination of silk and gingham eventually made the umbrellas lighter and easier to operate.

Samuel Sheffield invented the steel frame for an umbrella in 1852.

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Power-OutageTromping through the heavy snow was not too hard for the large horse even as it pulled the dairy wagon along behind it. Emigsville Dairy Company was determined to see that its customers got fresh milk and cream, despite the fact that the storm had shut down just about everything in York.

The horse made its way steadily through the continuing snow storm. Then near the intersection of South Queen Street and Mason Alley, it stopped suddenly and fell over.

The driver jumped down from the wagon and discovered the horse had stepped on a live electrical wire laying in the road. It had been covered by the falling snow. The wire had become laden with snow during the evening and pulled away from the poles supporting it and fallen to the ground where it nearly electrocuted several pedestrians.

Avoiding the live wire, the driver attempted to notify the power company to shut off the power to the line while another horse was procured for his wagon.

The horse was the only fatality in York in the 1904 blizzard that the York Dispatch called “a storm without precedent in this section of the country.”

The snow began falling around 11 a.m. on November 13, 1904. It began more as a mist and sleet, but it quickly changed over to a “Great heavy flakes of what seemed to be more slush than snow falling,” according to the newspaper. Driven by the fast winds of a nor’easter, the York Dispatch said that at times, the snowfall seemed more like a continuous wall of snow rather than individual flakes.

By the time the snowfall ended at 11 p.m., nearly a foot of snow had fallen. While not a massive amount of snow for a blizzard, it had left York in the dark and “as isolated from the outside world as was the average citizen, who remained closely indoors and depended upon candles and coal oil for illumination,” the newspaper reported.

Trains and streetcars halted. Many of the streetcars halted in the middle of their routes because they could go no further on the covered tracks. Passengers on the cars had to disembark and make their way home on foot, which was no easy feat.

The major roads in and out of town also shut down because they were too snow covered.

York Telephone Company suspended its operation around 6:30 p.m. Bell Telephone continued throughout the storm, but could only offer intermittent service. What service it did offer was slow and irregular. To complicate communications even more, a morning newspaper in town didn’t run because there was no power to run the printing presses.

The Edison and Merchants power companies also shut down over worries that the snow would pull down live wires and injure or kill someone as it had downed the dairy horse. With the power off, York was left in total darkness except where people lit candles and fires in fireplaces.

Anything could have happened amid this isolation, and it is unlikely help would have arrived. In addition to all of the other problems caused by the storm, the police telegraph and fire alarms were useless. Off-duty officers called in to make rounds throughout the city relaying information to the officers patrolling the streets. The York Dispatch noted that it was the old way the police had communicated and ensured “that the city was thoroughly patrolled despite the inconvenience occasioned by the prostrated police telegraph system.”

Once the snow stopped, crews got to work clearing roads and power lines of snow. By nightfall on November 14, if not totally cleaned of snow, at least everything was open and operational again.

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d459d1ca-dc4e-4066-860d-ea3953ae4009_dThe charter for a railroad in Adams County, Pennsylvania, was approved on February 18, 1836. The surveying of a route over the mountains and south into Maryland began. Gettysburg lawyer Thaddeus Steven’s less-than-transparent methods earned him lots of critics who were quick to point out that the Gettysburg Extension of the Pennsylvania Main Line did more to make contractors rich, create unnecessary jobs, and buy votes than it did to create a viable rail line.

The final route selected was very serpentine (it took 35 miles to travel 18 miles between Stevens’ Maria Furnace near Fairfield and the Main Line). Stevens’ critics dubbed the convoluted railroad, The Tapeworm. It apparently needed to be done this way to get over the mountain without the use of an inclined plane. Using the surveyed route, trains should have been able to pull 90 tons of freight up the mountain at 10 miles per hour without the use of an inclined plane.

Stevens was criticized that the twisting route was laid out to benefit his iron furnace. Hoch points out that Stevens owned three iron furnaces at different times. Two were in the Caledonia area, and one was near Fairfield. The Tapeworm route ran through the Maria Furnace property near Fairfield. However, that furnace ceased operation in 1837.

Bradley Hoch, author of Thaddeus Stevens in Gettysburg: The Making of an Abolitionist, says that Stevens would have benefitted from the railroad, but it would have been in the same way that any business near the track would have. Transportation costs would have been lowered for those businesses, and they would have become more competitive with other businesses that were located near transportation lines.

The end of the Tapeworm

In 1838, Democrats took control of the state legislature in a bitterly contested election that saw armed Democrats marching on the state house. Stevens found himself in the minority party and lost much of his support for the railroad.

“Laborers and masons picked up their tools and walked away from the Steven’s only partially built line, leaving embankments, cuts and fills, and bridges unfinished,” according to ExplorePAHistory.com.

Stevens, as a Canal Commissioner, had also authorized the government to spend much more than budgeted for the project. The 63-mile line had been estimated to cost $750,000 to survey and grade and $400,000 to lay track.

“Pennsylvania spent $750,000 on the initial miles of grading and never laid an inch of track,” Hoch said.

The final cost was $766,127 with very little to show for the expenditure.

When the property was offered for sale in 1842, no buyers came forward. It wasn’t until 1853 that the Western Maryland Railroad took over the property, and they didn’t do anything with it until 1885 when a line using much of the Tapeworm route was built to Ortanna and then Highfield, Maryland.

“I searched, but I could not find any evidence that any money changed hands when the Western Maryland Railroad took over the property,” Hoch said. “It looks like they may have been given it.”

Stevens eventually overcame the stain the Tapeworm had on his reputation. He was elected to Congress in 1849 where he began to earn a national reputation. However, even as a congressman, he was a consistent supporter of railroads.

The Underground Railroad and the Tapeworm

Although the Tapeworm Railroad was never built, Hoch said there is evidence that the graded route “may have acted as a trail or guide for the Underground Railroad.”

He was given a tour years ago of some of the houses that would have been near the Tapeworm had it been built. Inside these homes, he was shown hidden rooms where slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad could have hidden.

Today, there are still remnants of the railroad that can be seen in Adams County. Perhaps the best known is the McPherson Ridge railway cut, which was the location of some of the first day’s fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg. Other artifacts that remain are a single-arch bridge over Toms Creek near Iron Springs, a viaduct at Virginia Mills, a cut near Marsh Creek, a railbed near Willoughby Run, and the Seminary Ridge railway cut.

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