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William F. Hays'

At the End of the Emmitsburg Road

Part 5 of 7


Amusements in Emmitsburg were mostly homemade, with one of the favorites being a picnic. It didn't take much planning to organize one. The word got around that Virginia Eyster, for example, was If getting up one for next Thursday, or some other day. Pretty much the same ones went every time the favorite place being a swimming hole called "The Willows" about a mile out of town. Picnics were, of course, only in the summertime, and everyone was expected to bring food of some kind. The person who was "getting up" the affair was supposed to bring a tablecloth, to be spread out on the ground. At the time designated, all would gather at the home of the arranger, and from there we would walk to the picnic location. When we arrived it was games and swimming and most importantly, the eats. Usually there was a chaperone.

If we were at The Willows', there was an opportunity to be daring, for stretched across the narrow stream, about thirty feet, there was a swinging foot bridge, Which always seemed to be on the point of collapse. It consisted of two strands of heavy wire, fastened to trees on each side of the water. From these wires were hung cables, made of thin wire, which carried a wooden flooring, about twelve inches wide. As you walked across, the whole thing would sway up and down and back and forth, seeming about to come apart, It must have seemed risky to us, because of our age, but the picture of it and the shaky feeling it gave, remain with me very clearly. The big idea, naturally, was to do something that seemingly was dangerous, so as to impress the girls. What fun!


The Emmitsburg school system, all grades through High School, consisted of one building. It was a two story structure, located on the street leading from the Square to the railroad station as you entered the building, on your left was a room for the lower grades, and on your right a room for all other grades up to High School level. Directly ahead, as you entered the front door, was a stairway leading to trouble, otherwise called trigonometry. For up there was the High School, and as I would hear the older ones use those big words, Geometry, Algebra and Trigonometry, I would wonder how I could ever manage them. Somehow, of course, I did.

For the whole school, it would be my guess that there were no more than four teachers and a principal. One teacher to a room. With several grades in each room, one class would move to the front for some subject, then move back so that others might take their places. I remember a Miss Bidwell, a French teacher. Others teachers were Miss Hoover, Miss Clara Rowe, Miss Elizabeth Horner and Prof. Biddle. School began at nine and went until twelve; then home for lunch and back at one, and then on until four. There was a recess both morning and afternoon. By running both ways and hurrying through lunch, these was time for games in the schoolyard.

Its strange the things you remember, or rather, the things that made an impression. There was a jeweler in town by the name of Hal Eyster, who had a large wooden clock suspended above the sidewalk in front of his store. It was just high enough not to strike a passerby. Well, we kids would never fail to get a good running start, in the hope that with a mighty leap, we might reach it. I don't think I ever did.

The school had no gymnasium, no laboratory and no athletic program of any kind. The curriculum was pretty basic; Geography, Latin, Math, History and Spelling. I am not sure about it, but my memory is that every Friday afternoon there would be a program of sorts.

We had a teacher, Miss Mary Shuff, both dedicated and strict. She taught English at Emmitsburg High, and later at the High School in Frederick. Under her tutelage, I wrote themes for the first time. And with her encouragement, I entered an essay contest, open to all schools in Frederick County. We were to select what, in our opinion, were the five best things in the County, and then write about the one we considered to be the very finest. I included in my list the free wards in the Frederick Hospital and wrote about them although I had never seen the wards, nor the hospital for that matter. Some days passed with no results announced. Then, to my great surprise, a neighbor (I think it was Helen Shuff) called to say that she had just read my name in the Frederick Post, as being a winner of a five dollar prize. Whether mine was near the top or near the bottom was of no concern to me. In due course the check came, and I felt I was now launched on a great literary career.

But as limited as was the school, and unprogressive, for me it was a wonderful place. I liked to read and write, and to dream about the future and what I would do when I had grown up. Perhaps I might even go to college. For her help and encouragement, I owe much to this very fine teacher.

In my senior year we tried debating, with our only engagement being with the High School at Brunswick, about thirty miles away. The Minister of the local Reformed Church, Rev. Lewis Higbee, was our coach. The subject was the League of Nations, whether good or bad. Two things I remember. One is my opening statement, the other that we lost. And since Brunswick was a much larger school, I must tell that ours was very small. My graduating class consisted of myself and four girls, Edna Miller, Helen Ohler, Annie Houck and Larue Adelsberger.

We did have a baseball team, but just barely. We had only eight able-bodied and able-minded players. Our ninth was able-bodied, period. Frank was assigned to right field, where he would have little to do, but as for hitting, that was another story. If Frank did get on base, it was either that he was hit by a pitched ball, or that he got a "base on balls." And this is where the trouble came, in the event Frank was advanced around third base and was about to score a run. He couldn't see the need of first touching Home Base and then going to our bench. He simply took the shortest route to the bench and sat down, no matter if we lost the run.

I was the pitcher on this fabulous team, and I must say that my e.r.a. was not very low. However, I did manage to get a few strikeouts per game, which you might think would have helped our cause. But there was a problem. Our catcher could stop the ball, if the batter struck out, but he never seemed able to hold that third strike. So down to first would go the batter, and often made it to second base, when out catcher threw the ball into right field.

I am ready to report that our record was not so good, but not before telling about our uniforms, and how Charles (Bush) Bushman split his trousers. The High School had no athletic budget, so if we were to have uniforms, it behooved us to get busy . So, the mother of one of our players made a beautiful chocolate cake for which we sold chances, thereby raising the $7.50 needed for nine uniforms which we had ordered from some mail order store. The uniforms came and looked great. Our shortstop Bush, tall and lanky, looked especially impressive when we played our first game. Well, Bush's uniform became dirty, so his mother put it in the family "ash, with disastrous results. It shrank. And when Bush reported for our next game, he was a strange sight. His shirt was far too small and the pants were terribly tight. Everyone could see the problem. But Bush, undaunted, stood his ground. If only he could have stood for the entire game. But alas! When Bush bent over to stop a ground ball, the result was inevitable. He split his pants, right there in public view. Did he stop for repairs? Not on your life. He played the whole game, the split notwithstanding. Who won the chocolate cake? Dr. Brawner, down on East Main St.

Mother the Fun Maker

Elsewhere I have described Papa. Now let me talk about Mama. 'Her's was a full life. She kept a diary in which there is a note about her childhood. It describes her perfectly. She had gone off to a boarding school, but could not stay. This is what she wrote: "I would have graduated if Mother had not become ill. I had to stay home so much, but Rev. (the name is not distinguishable) helped me in the evening, and I took my music lesson from Mrs. Wolferburger from Chambersburg and Mother let me practice and my music was so nice and my dress was made by a lady and it was snow white with white and pink silk stockings and slippers and pink sash and I was so proud."

One of her favorite bits of advice was: "If you listen to me, you will wear diamonds." Mother loved to have parties and to have things "nice" as she put it. And how she worked! She was a superb cook. Every Saturday morning she baked five or more loaves of bread, several pies and dozens of rolls. It seemed as if she was always making sugar cakes, really cookies. When we were small, she did the milking and of course she churned the butter. In the summer she would preserve bushels of peaches which Papa had bought from some farmer who had come to town with an open wagon, filled from his orchard. She canned, or put in jars, quantities of cherries from Thornbrook cherry trees. We grew our own sweet corn, much of which was dried for use in the winter. Papa made driers at the shop, consisting of a pan, about two feet square, with a funnel in one corner, so that the pan (which was covered) might be filled with water. The pan would be put on the stove, with corn which had been cut from the cob, spread out on top. There it would stay until thoroughly dry, after which it would be put into cloth bags and stored for later use. Mother did the family wash, scrubbing over a washboard. She made most of our clothes, as her diary attests. We had a big vegetable garden, and since Papa was busy at the shop, Mother saw to it that the garden was weeded. She had a flock of chickens which required attention.

In addition to all this, she played the church organ for over twenty years, with choir practice taking up one night a week. Mother assigned various jobs to each of us, which didn't hurt too badly, for we knew that when the weeds had been pulled, or whatever done that she had assigned, there would be a tasty reward.

Mother took care of our social life, seeing to it that we were supplied with the small amount of cash we needed. She sold cream, butter, eggs and chickens, but seldom used the proceeds for herself.

A rather gifted pianist, she loved to play duets with a neighbor. Luella Annan and, as already related, with our other neighbor, Ruth Shuff. I still can see those ETUDE books on the piano.

There were many parties at Thornbrook, Mother's old home. She would play the piano and Grandfather Fox would play his fiddle for the waltzes and the square dances. If Mother saw a man standing alone - perhaps shy - that was too much for her. So up she would jump from the piano, grab the guy and away she went. Soon he had lost his shyness and she was back at the piano. Her common expression was "Come on, kick up your heels." Everybody called her Miss Minnie" and never Mrs. Hays. She had a big welcome for all. If I happened to take a college friend along home for a visit, you would think he was one of her own. On entering the front door, he soon found himself in her arms, getting a big squeeze, which he never forgot. If we were going to some social gathering, at a church member's home, she was sure to tell us: "Now do something funny, make them laugh." Speaking of laughs, her's was strong, hearty and infectious.

There was a musician, Larry Diehlman, who taught music at Mt. St. Mary's College, as his father had done before him. Larry lived near Thornbrook, Mother's old home, in a small dwelling, the front room of which served as what today would be called a convenience store, though it would be stretching things a lot to call it a store. Rather, it was a place for Larry to practice his violin or his flute. His demeanor was somewhat frightening, as a result of which, he had difficulty finding an accompanist, so now enters the young Fox girl, Minnie by name, From her home it was only a short walk to his store, so Larry asked her to play for him. Mother told us some strange stories. For one thing, Larry would crack her knuckles when she made any slight mistake. But the weirdest had to do with his wife's funeral. When the funeral cortege was passing the store, Larry sat on a barrel, playing his flute. I found this hard to believe, but Mother said it was true. For years, on Christmas Eve, it was Larry's practice to go to his father's grave at a mountain cemetery nearby, and at midnight play Adeste Fideles on his flute. This became a well known event and, as years passed, people from miles around came to hear him pay this unusual tribute to his father.

Finally, as to Mother, she loved to have guests, to entertain, to play, to make her home attractive and to help her children get ahead. There were two piano pieces we never tired of hearing, Chariot Race and Diehlman's Waltz.

Mother enjoyed life to the full. During her last illness, while at Gettysburg Hospital and confined to bed, she would play on an imaginary keyboard and, upon one occasion, she went by wheelchair to a room with a piano, there to play as best she could. To borrow a phrase from the theater: "Miss Minnie" was a real trouper


I have spoken already of Grandfather Fox' home, about two miles out of town, called Thornbrook. For us, that is, my sister Margaret, my brothers and myself, a visit there was pure delight. To begin with, Granddaddy Fox loved fun, as did Mother. He played a fiddle, could dance a jig and usually had something with which to amuse youngsters. I remember that he had a heavy watch chain across his vest, with a whistle attached to the chain. To be allowed to blow it was considered a great privilege.

Thornbrook was quite a place. It really was a big old-fashioned boarding house. There were lots of rooms, beautiful ones, lovely fireplaces framed with black marble and a high-ceilinged room called the Ballroom. There seemed to be somewhat of a mystery about it. In the winter, dances and parties were held there.

Outside on the big lawn was an octagonal shaped pavilion for summer parties, with Japanese lantern hanging from the trees, lending a lovely touch of romance. A high windmill stood just off the dining room porch, to provide cold water from the well. There was a big barn, a carriage shed, an orchard, a wood shed, an ice house and a corn crib. What I remember best were two large cherry trees which produced bushels of delicious fruit every year. Cherries meant cherry dollies, a long roll filled with cherries, then baked in the oven of our kitchen stove. When mother served these, with lots of cream and sugar, her six children were in 'Seventh Heavení

As children, we loved to go to Thornbrook. Mother had a brother, Harry Fox, who was living there while we were growing up. He, as did my brother Sam, loved horses, and was very proud to show us his special beauties. In the hottest weather, the kitchen at Thornbrook was cool, it being in the basement. Food was sent to the upstairs dining room on a dumbwaiter, which of course fascinated us. It was in this basement that Grandfather made his wonderful ice cream. At the time of this writing, two cousins, Margaret and Leanna Franklin, live in this lovely old home, so dear to the whole Hays family.

Cousin Eddie

One person who used to visit at Thornbrook was Cousin Edith Plank, from somewhere near Fairfield, Penna. Now her visits would not find their way into this story, were it not for the fact that she had a brother, one Eddie Plank. So far as I know, Eddie never visited Grandfather Fox, either alone or with his sister, and if he had, he would not have been looked upon with much approval. Eddie had not amounted to much. You see, he was a professional ball player, and that was enough. Imagine, an able bodied man, playing a game for money. We didn't know at the time, that Cousin Edith's brother Eddie was off playing baseball at Gettysburg College, and later at Philadelphia with Connie Mack's famous Athletics.

At this point I should add that so far as I know, Edith Plank was just a friend, but, as was the custom, she was called "Cousin" to show that she was more than a casual acquaintance. Years passed and I had three sons who seemed to enjoy my stories and yarns about Emmitsburg. But one son in particular, David, when quite young, listened with great eagerness to my story of his Cousin Eddie. Dave loved the game, went to as many games at Fenway Park as possible, collected baseball cards, and played pick-up games, in Vermont in the summer, with his cousin Jim Pratt, I think they both had their doubts.

So what about this famous relative, Eddie Plank? I explained that I actually 'Knew a Cousin Edith, and if she was thus related, then her brother must also be one of the family. To prove my case, I had a picture of Cousin Edith, sitting on the limb of a big cherry trade, out at Grandfather Fox's farm.

Well, I haven't given up, not yet. Here is "Cousin Eddie" in the baseball Hall of Fame, and celebrated as one of the few major league pitchers to have won three hundred or more games. I think I have satisfied the burden of proof.

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