The Emmitsburg Railroad was not very long in mileage, but it was big
in size to a young boy growing up in the town in the years from 1910 to
1920. It ran for about 5 miles to Rocky Ridge, where it made connection
with the Western Maryland Railroad line which ran from Baltimore to Blue
Ridge Summit, Penna. and beyond, with a scheduled stop at Motter’s
Station. There were other stops, some by necessity and others for the
convenience of passengers. There was a train about 8 A. M. and another
about 4 P. M.
Motter’s Station was not exactly a metropolis. In fact, if you
stopped there and looked around, you would see a general store, three or
four houses, and a milk receiving station. Rocky Ridge was somewhat
larger, with perhaps forty or more houses.
I suppose my first awareness of the Railroad's existence was hearing
the sound of the engine whistle, which was blown before each departure,
giving warning that prospective passengers had better hurry.
On most runs, the train consisted of the engine and a combination
baggage and passenger car. Sometimes a freight, cattle or coal car would
be added, the addition of which, more often than not, would be a little
too much weight for the engine, resulting a slowdown or even a complete
stop along the way. It was sometime when I was at Lafayette College that
I went as a delegate to a meeting or conference in Washington, after
which I decided to return to college by was of Emmitsburg. So I took the
Western Maryland to Rocky Ridge and there I boarded the train for
Now along with me as passengers were some well dressed,
professional looking men, who were on their way to St. Joseph’s
College. All went well for a short distance, then a stop of ten minutes
or more, followed by a number of similar ones. Finally, one of the men
spoke to the Conductor, Pius Felix, saying they were concerned about
being late for an appointment, and could the Conductor do anything about
it." Of course we can," he says. "You see, we have this
carload of sand which is pretty heavy, we'll just cut it loose and come
back for it later." And so he did we soon pulled up at what
everyone called the depot.
It was a single track system, with a switch about 100 yards from the
depot, at which point a freight car could be uncoupled and sent straight
ahead, while the engine and baggage car, after the switch was thrown,
would take the spur to the right. This worked fine, except that someone
had to man the brakes on the freight car else it would topple into a
ditch at the end of the line, the freight car having broken through a
wooden barrier. I recall seeing this unhappy result several times.
As mentioned, the Conductor was Pius Felix, who also doubled as
Baggage Master. The engineer was Neil Gelwicks. When the time arrived
for departure, Pius put on his official Conductor's hat and coat, and
stood no farther from Neil than about ten or twelve feet. Neil meanwhile
leaning out from his perch in the cab of the engine. "All right
Neil" shouted by Pius, is followed by "All aboard" and
off they go, headed for Rocky Ridge, by way of Motter’s Station.
In reciting these incidents, I would not for a moment want to give a
wrong impression. The Railroad, though only five miles long, served its
purpose. It brought freight and coal and Ford cars and fertilizer,
watermelons and newspapers from Baltimore. It brought students and
faculty to the two colleges in Emmitsburg, Mt. St. Mary's and Mt. St.
Joseph's, and it brought students to the local High Schools. And it made
it possible, by making connection with the Western Maryland Railroad,
for townspeople to go to Baltimore and to the outside world.
Occasionally it performed a humanitarian act. I recall being at the
depot, waiting for my supply of Baltimore papers to arrive. When the
baggage car came to a stop and the door was opened the floor of the car
was even with the platform on which I was standing. My papers were
there, of course, but there was also someone who, not yet sobered off,
had been picked up along the tracks. Known to Pius he had been hoisted
aboard and brought along to town, without charge.
(Click here to read Joe
Ritz's analysis of the decline and fall of the Emmitsburg railroad)
In the Emmitsburg of 1915-1920, there were no commercial
entertainments other than bowling alleys and pool rooms, and these were
not felt to be proper for youngsters, and certainly not for the Hays
boys. But no matter. I could make a nickel by setting up the bowling
pins. I well remember that Papa either learned or suspected that I was
"down at that bowling place" so, totally to my embarrassment,
he marched in, told me to stop, and home I went.
But to return to entertainments. Movies were new and exciting and
wonderful, and every Friday night everyone was able to see Charlie
Chaplin, Mary Pickford or William S. Hart at the local Catholic
Community Hall. Admission was free, although as you left the hall, you
were expected to put a coin in a basket. For several days before each
showing, a notice would be displayed in the Post Office, giving the
title of the movie and the name of the star. All of this created a
weekly crisis for me and the other Hays kids. How could I get there,
have a nickel or a dime for the basket, and escape a scolding or even
punishment from Papa.
Here is how it worked. Mother provided the cash
and that was the first necessity. Then, just as soon as the movie ended,
we would run for home as though a bull were chasing us. The distance was
perhaps 500 yards. When we reached the front door, Mother rushed us
upstairs to bed, where we were soon blissfully dreaming of that railroad
engine bearing down on the beautiful girl, tied to the tracks by that
dastardly villain. So much for the Friday night movies.
Once in a while the town really came alive with the arrival of the
Redpath Chautauqua. Here was every variety of Culture, all at one time.
For weeks preceding the big event, an advance agent had aroused great
interest, with pictures of the famous performers and artists. There were
Mexican dancers in native costumes, contraltos who had sung before all
the crowned heads in Europe, tragedians who gave us Hamlet's Soliloquy
and of course, a child prodigy at the piano. All of this was to be seen
and heard, right here in our own little Emmitsburg in big tents down at
Fireman's Field. It was wonderful! I can see even now, the big banner
stretched across Main Street, announcing the famous Redpath Chatauqua.
We never had a circus performance in town, at least to my knowledge.
There was a building called the Opera House, on Frederick Street, near
the school. But no opera. Once in a while some performer would appear,
such as a certain magician, who still owes me a reward or an apology. He
had asked for some boy to come to the stage. When I volunteered, he said
I should hold some eggs that he would produce from his silk hat, adding
that I would receive a reward if I didn't drop any. Well of course he
made sure I would drop one or more, much to the delight of the audience
and much to my despair. Then he made the announcement that in spite of
my failure, 'L was to have a free ticket to his next show the following
night. The trouble was that he left town the next morning.
There is one more story about these strolling performers. One day
this fellow arrived with a big announcement that at a certain hour he
would climb the full height of the Annan Horner Bank, from the street to
the roof. He called himself "The Human Fly" and so aroused a
lot of interest. I saw him do this stunt and thought that if he could do
it, I would see what I could do on the Presbyterian Church steeple. It
was a hot and sultry day when I made my climb, unannounced and unseen,
except by one of the Shuff boys. In the belfry were four windows. My
idea was to start at one of them and go on higher, but when we got
outside, I found nothing above me to which I might cling. I think it was
Clay Shuff who saw this great exhibition taking place, so he ran to call
Papa, who calmly told me what to do. Thus my big opportunity to become a
second Human Fly came to an inglorious end.
An account of local entertainment would not be complete without
mention of Pen-Mar, a resort near Blue Ridge Summit and owned and
operated by the Western Maryland Railroad. Excursions were run for all
sorts of groups, among which was one called Presbyterian Day. What a
brilliant idea this was, to give it a religious flavor. Papa, of course,
fully approved, and even arranged for the family, Mother and the six of
us, to go in a two horse surrey. It was about 10 miles each way, and
slow going, for it was at the top of the mountain. At the park were
various amusements, a Merry-go-Round, a miniature train, roller coaster
and all our Presbyterian relatives from miles around. Mother had brought
baskets of fried chicken, rolls cakes and fruit, and on top of all this,
we had some money with which we could buy candy and ice cream. In the
afternoon the older folks attended a church service, while in the
evening there was dancing, by which time we were well down the mountain
and back to reality. Having eaten too much, we young ones paid the
price, we were sick. No matter, we had been to PEN-MAR!
We had a telephone, although not in the house. It was in the shop. At
the Exchange, the operator was Miss Nellie Felix, who lived some nine
or ten houses down the street. Her switchboard was in the front room of
her home, with her chair near the window, so as to be able to report
whether or not a particular person was in town. Papa never really came
to terms with the phone. He didn't ask for a certain number; he simply
asked "Miss Nellie" to get him the freight office, or the
College or what have you. I recall one man from out of town, I think his
name was Dick Stull, who would come to the shop and, while there, would
use our phone. But instead of trusting it to do its work, he thought he
should shout loud enough to be heard without it. Apparently the person
on the other end was so stunned by the shouting, that his attempt to
answer never got through to Dick, and this resulted in him turning up
the volume and ultimately to curse the damned thing 'to Hell and
back'.'. It was a splendid performance.
Then there was Miss Georgia Moore, who lived near the college. Miss
Georgia had all sorts of problems, mostly minor household ones and not
necessarily limited to plumbing, but each of which led her to call the
shop. If Papa answered, which he avoided if possible, dear Miss Georgia
would tell him of some terrifying thing that had happened and would he
come right away. Once she said that a strange man had just walked past
her door, and what should she do and "please Mr. Hays, you must
come right away, etc, etc, etc. "At this point, Papa would, if he
could spot one of us, hand the telephone over saying it was Miss Georgia
and to just keep listening. Much the same thing happened when he would
stop at her house, perhaps to fix the "ram" that brought water
from a spring to her house. Out Miss Georgia came and the show began, as
she talked on and on about a noise she heard during the night and the
mailman hadn't come, and on it went. Whenever I meet anyone who talks at
length about nothing at all, I think of our dear friend, Miss Georgia,
out by the college. I must add that in spite of the talk, Papa took good
care of whatever was in need of repair.
One of the big events of the year was the annual horse sale held in
the Spring by Patterson Brothers, only about a hundred yards from our
house. But no matter how close by it was, we kids had a problem, as the
sale was always scheduled on a school day, and this was especially hard
for Sam, who loved horses. What to do '' couldn't go to school and the
sale at the same time. Sam couldn't resist the call, so he played hooky
and paid the price when Papa learned of it.
We would know that the sale was coming, for large signs would appear,
advertising the event, complete with pictures of these big beautiful
animals. Then, too, we lived near enough to see the arrival of the
horses to be sold. Patterson Brothers were cattle and live stock
dealers, who also ran a dairy and butcher shop, in addition to operating
a large farm. Their practice, in preparation for the sale, was to go to
Virginia, or other nearby States, and buy thirty or forty horses, to be
brought to their stables, in Emmitsburg, a few days before the sale.
There they would be combed and brushed, their tails to be plaited by a
fellow named Jockey Mentzer. I can recall seeing him, sitting on a
stool, working away on the tails. If my memory is correct, this was his
only employment during the year. When all the grooming had been done,
each horse was given a number that was placed on his flank. To add some
color, tails were tied with a bright red ribbon. I must mention that the
talk in the barn was rather heady, which of course added to the
On the day of the sale, farmers and dealers came from miles around.
There were two auctioneers, one named Winton Crouse, but the name of the
other escapes me. Each of them had his own lingo, with the talk being
fast and loud and somewhat earthy. As soon as school let out at noon,
for the lunch hour we ran at full speed so as to see and hear as much of
the show as possible. This was repeated as soon as school closed for the
The sale took place on a side street, filled with potential buyers. A
horse would be ridden out from the stable, usually by a black friend of
ours, Albert Abey, and put on view in front of the auctioneer's block.
One of the Pattersons, Meade by name, would be standing by, in a real
fancy suit, and holding a long whip. "Meade, what can you tell us
about this mare? says Winton. "She's sound as a dollar and works
anywhere hitched; watch her step "4 and with this flattering
introduction, he would crack the big whip, the mare would jump, the
crowd would move back, and Winton was ready for bids. This would go on
until lunch time, when most of the audience adjourned to one or another
of the five saloons in town. Normally the sale lasted two days. I
believe that a good pair of horses would sell for five or six hundred
I forgot to mention that on the morning of the sale, and before the
auction began, there would be a parade of the horses through the town.
On the morning after, there was the chance for a boy to earn as much as
a quarter, by riding a horse to the railroad station, for shipment to
the purchaser. You can bet that Sam was there. This annual sale was, of
course, an important event in a farming community, for a good team was,
a necessity. You came to know who were the successful farmers by seeing
who bought the best horses.
Fourth of July
By all odds, the Fourth was, next to Christmas the best and biggest
day of the year. For one thing, it was one of the few days, other than
Sunday, that Papa observed as a holiday, the others being Christmas and
New Years. What made the Fourth so exciting was the Fireman's picnic and
celebration, held on the baseball field near the center of town. Every
housewife was expected to contribute food of some kind, and early in the
morning a truck was driven through the streets, with kids running from
house to house, collecting whatever goodies were being contributed. I
remember that Leonard Zimmerman drove his father's open truck, on one
occasion. The food was taken to the field and put on tables to be sold.
Activities really began with a parade, made up of the town Band, Civil
War veterans, the local
Fire Company members, wearing white trousers and straw hats, the
local Boy Scout troop and a few floats. By modern standards it was not
very impressive, but it seemed great to us.1 forgot to mention that
there were men on horseback, as well as a visiting Band. There was one
in particular that I recall, The Double Pipe Creek Cornet Band; quite a
mouthful. This parade was one of the only two held during the year, the
other being a part of the Memorial Day, called Decoration Day,
Down at the baseball field, meals were served at a small charge, but
we Hays boys had other uses for the little money allotted to us.
Sometimes there would be a balloon ascension, or perhaps a greased pig
chase, and, on one Fourth, there was an exhibition boxing match, the
first I had ever seen.
In the afternoon was the main event, a baseball game between the
Emmitsburg team and some neighboring rival, usually Thurmont. No matter
who was the opponent, feelings ran high. A big problem was to find an
impartial umpire who knew some, at least, of the rules. Actually it made
little or no difference whether his calls were in accord with the rules.
The losers always blamed him. We did, however, have a very capable
official in the town, a man by the name of Mike Thompson, who usually
was in demand elsewhere for some big game. I recall that shortly after I
came to Harvard Law, Mike came to Cambridge to handle a football game
between (I think I am right) Dartmouth and Stanford. For some reason it
was being played in the Harvard Stadium. Of course I was proud to see
someone I knew from Emmitsburg, in such an important role.
As I have said, there were fireworks of all kinds, for in those days,
they could be bought in any size, with no restrictions. 'For us, it was
no trouble to make our own, what with having carbide and water and an
empty can. It’s a wonder we were not decapitated.
All in all, it was a great day. Here were working men, whom we
thought of as sober and quiet individuals, marching in uniforms, playing
games, spending money recklessly and having fun. Flags were flying, the
band was playing, mothers were looking for little ones who were lost, a
few celebrators had made one too many trips to the nearby saloon and
best of all, we might be beating Thurmont in baseball.
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