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William F. Hays'

At the End of the Emmitsburg Road

Part 6 of 7

Some Town Characters

Every town has its full share of "characters" and Emmitsburg was no exception. It is hard to say exactly what is meant by the term. Perhaps it is enough to say that he or she is someone who is different or especially notable, with some being more so than others. In any event, here are a few:

Ben Sebold

Benís claim to fame is that he was the catcher on the town baseball team, the only organized sport in town. I think I should strike the word "organized." The yearly schedule consisted of Saturday afternoon games with Thurmont, Fairfield, Taneytown and one other, I think it was Motter's Station or Rocky Ridge. Home games were played on Fireman's Field, near the town square. At noon a boy would walk from one end of the town to the other, ringing a bell and announcing that a game would begin at one o'clock. But at about eleven o'clock, a more dramatic announcement of an impending game was to be seen. Ben lived near the west end of town, and at eleven, Ben would leave his home, fully armed for the struggle, and begin his walk to the scene of the action. And so as to be better seen, Ben chose to walk, not on the sidewalk but out in the street.

His uniform never was clean nor fully stitched. The same with his red and white baseball stockings; they too had suffered from wear. Ben was unshaven and wore no cap. It was his cleated shoes which announced his coming, as he stepped along over the cobblestones. To us, the young ones, Ben was impressive, even as he merely walked. But the walk was only the prelude. Once the game began, Ben became the center of attention. It might have been that signals between himself and the pitcher became confused, or whether he needed a little more practice, we will never know. 

But it was sure to happen, a fast ball from the pitcher would strike Ben on a sensitive finger or knuckle, and Ben would give a virtuoso performance. Off would come his mask and glove and, amid loud groans, he would shake the injured member up and down and in circles, showing every sign of a serious injury. We youngsters thought Ben was surely finished for the day, but the older ones knew better. "Shake it off, Ben" they yelled, and soon Ben was ready to resume play. You might think that by now, Ben had taken enough punishment, but more trouble was in store. An opposing player is on his way from third base to Home plate, under a full head of steam, and only Ben stands in his way.

There is a violent collision A cloud of dust hides the runner and Ben for a moment, and as the air clears, there is Ben, only half conscious, stretched out on the ground. With help from his teammates he gets to his feet, his hands or nose or both are bloodied, but his spirits are soon revived by loud cheers from the Emmitsburg side. Ben is ready again. And would you believe it! It is his turn to bat, his team is trailing and badly needs a score. Now Ben is not a Babe Ruth at hitting, so his orders are to let his elbow get in the way of a pitch and thereby win a free trip to first base. So, with more moans and groans, our hero does his part as he plays the great American game. I vote for Ben.

There was another character, whose name I never knew. But come warm weather and he would appear in town, with horse and wagon, and calling out in a loud voice: "Any rags, any bones, any old iron, (then a pause) any old gum shoes." We boys counted on him for a few cents for any of the above items we could find. Usually we could find some old bones in one of a tire nearby fields.

Reuben Lanstz

Although not known too well by many of the townspeople, Reuben was well known to our family, since he was in charge of the Water Company property up in the mountain, about three miles to the west of town. Reuben lived there in a house, not far from the reservoir.

Earlier in this story, I mentioned that my brother Sam and I had written an article about the Water Company, at a time when our family was closely associated with its management.

Reuben was a loyal, conscientious and reliable man, with two amusing characteristics. He took things very literally and he sometimes found himself at a total loss for words, leading him to fill in the vacant spaces with a patter that never changed. Let me describe a visit by Reuben to the shop, to tell Papa that water in the reservoir was very low. I tell you what to do, Reuben," says Papa, "You take a pail and fill it from your faucet and dump it in the reservoir." This didn't seem exactly right to Reuben, but words to express his opinion didn't come easily, and if we youngsters were lucky enough to be near, we would hear: "well now doggone it, anyhow, anyhow, dog gone it anyhow Mr. Hays, anyhow, anyhow, doggone it, anyhow ... it"

Mrs. Miller

Its noon on a hot sultry day in July, and we are all sitting around the dinner table, when the figure of a gentle little lady can be seen, but not heard, moving along the narrow passageway between our house and our neighbors, the Shuffs. "Its probably Mrs. Miller" Mother would say, and she was right. This little lady was by now at the kitchen door, carrying a two or three gallon bucket of blackberries, which she had picked that morning, and then had walked the two or more miles from her home in the mountain to our kitchen door.

I don't know whether she expected to sell a quart here and a quart there, but she never got beyond our kitchen. Mother bought all she had. But the money was not all, for after telling of her hard and toilsome life, she and Mother had a really good cry, after which her empty basket was filled with bread, rolls, vegetables, or other food, or perhaps clothing. Then off she went, to make her way back up the mountain.

Mary and the Ladder

In my list of favorite characters, I must include Mary. Her surname I will not mention, lest some of her family might be offended. But Mary provided many smiles and chuckles, when Sam would tell the story about Mary and the ladder. Mary was unmarried, and had seen many years go by. Employed in a local factory, twice a day she walked from her home, not far from ours, down the main street. Mary was not very well put together. She was tall and thin, her dresses were long and black, reaching all the way to her shoe tops. Her hat was a carryover from a forgotten era, her stride was definitely not feminine. 

To all this should be added that Mary was painfully shy and modest, really, to a fault. Now enter two villains by the names of Frank and Clay Shuff, who lived next door to us. There they were, waiting for some poor innocent to pass by. Then Mary would appear, swishing her way along, across the street from her tormentors, and probably aware that trouble was ahead. Sure enough, there is a loud whistle. No response, other than a little more swishing. Another whistle and yet another. This is too much. With a great effort to show her indifference and disgust, although I now think that she welcomed the attention, any attention. She would call out: 'why don't you hursh (hush) up." And on down the street she swished.

I tell this to set the stage for the ladder. Mary lived in a very unpretentious house. On the first floor was a coal stove, with a stove pipe extending upward through an opening in the ceiling. Every once in a while there would be some problem with the heater, and Mary would come to the shop to ask for help. On one occasion, she came in the evening to say that the stovepipe needed replacement, and to ask if someone could come the next day. Now Papa saw a chance for a little fun. " I tell you what, Mary, I'll send Frank Weant." Now Frank was a well dressed and sporting type, who was bookkeeper at the shop. "Don't want him, why don't you come" says Mary. Just then Sam appeared and the plot thickens. "How about Sam? He can do it. Now Mary is in a quandary. She knows Sam, but is hesitant. "All right" she said, "I guess he'll do."

So Sam went over in the morning and there was the ladder in place, allowing access to the second floor. Mary wanted to show Sam what the trouble was, but now the question, who should be first to go up, the ladder. Sam, the devil, waited a while and said: "Mary, you go first." Mary swished and twisted. "No, I won't" says she. Sam tried again, telling her that he would hold the ladder while she went up. I wish I had been there to hear her say: "Won't do it. Taint nice."

Neil Buckingham

Then there was Neil, the town lamplighter. Every evening, just as it was growing dark, along came Neil with his ladder, just as the lamplighter did in A. A. Milne's famous poem. He first cleaned the globe, trimmed the wick, added whatever kerosene was needed and then lit the lamp and moved on. His job seemed to be important, lighting up the dark places. This, however, was not his only work. Days were spent sawing wood by hand for household use, in the course of which, by constant bending, he became very stooped. I can see him now, as he traveled the back alleys, his saw buck on his shoulder and his axe in hand, going from house to house, looking for work.

Sterling Galt

Our local newspaper was the Emmitsburg Chronicle, a weekly, the editor and publisher of which was a gentleman by the name of Sterling Galt, usually referred to as Mr. Galt. He was a public spirited citizen and a fine newspaperman. Above all, he liked young people. Having no children of his own, he took all the young boys and girls under his wing. During World War One, the army had a training camp at Gettysburg. I think it was called Camp Colt. So Mr. Galt arranged to have an army Sergeant by the name of Rice, come over from the camp and teach us some military drills. We had a good number of volunteers, how many I cannot say, but I know that I was there. We used some kind of guns and learned how to "present arms," how to do "right and left shoulder arms, left face, right face" and "right and left front onto line." We loved it. Here we had a real army officer, in uniform, and best of all, when drill was finished, we were sent to the town ice cream parlor for cones, at Mr. Galt's expense.

His interest in youngsters was not confined to military drills, which, by the way, took place at the local baseball diamond, and were held twice a week. On other evenings he would assemble the group on Main Street, near the Methodist Church, and here he supervised games of one kind or another, always with plenty of action. My memory is that girls were included in this part of his program. One evening he produced two pairs of boxing gloves, with each boy having a go at it. I know that I went home one evening with a bloody nose.

Of course the town was much excited when on a hot summer day a big limousine drove up Main Street and stopped at Mr. Galt's home. It was President Wilson and his wife, who had come from Washington to have lunch with the Galts. I remember reading an account of this event in the Baltimore papers, how the President had escaped from the White House, without the knowledge of the Secret Service. For our family it had a special significance. My youngest brother, Harry, then age six, was among those crowding around this beautiful car, attended only by the chauffeur. For something to do, he decided to select a youngster to sit behind the steering wheel, and Harry was the lucky one. Too bad there were no photographers there.

Ed Harding

Ed Harding was a good friend of mine, and so it is a great satisfaction for me to pay tribute to him. Ed was responsible for keeping my bicycle on the road.

He lived at the east end of town, on the second floor of a small wooden structure, set back from Main Street about fifty feet. There was a narrow dark stairway leading to Ed's workshop, which also served as his living quarters. Ed had only one good eye, but a very helpful disposition. He repaired, among other things, watches, guns, cameras, bicycles and locks. The room was small, with poor ventilation and very dim lighting. Hanging from the ceiling or along the walls was a collection of varied objects, somewhat like a sports museum. It was all quite fascinating to a youngster.

My bicycle was a secondhand affair that was not in good shape when I bought it. So I was frequently in trouble. A pedal or a chain or brake would not function, or a spoke would come loose, and down I would go to see my friend Ed, who never failed to find a way out of my difficulty. And the strange thing is that I cannot remember ever paying him anything. Perhaps it was because he occasionally worked for Papa, at the shop. I don't know. But I am sure that if I did pay him, it couldn't have been very much. I didn't have it.

Along with his mechanical talents, Ed was a photographer. I well recall seeing his tripod, with box camera on top, and Ed, huddled under a black cloth, taking his pictures.

I wonder now how it happened that my bike couldn't be repaired by Papa or one of his workmen, at our shop. The answer may be that there was something very different about Ed and his shop. It seemed a little out of this world. Somehow you felt that Ed was just an older boy, helping a younger one. Then too, he did not seem to be a part of any family, but rather, a lone individual, whose place in the world was to be the repairer of important things, such as a boy's bicycle.


Come the first of April and one or more "flittins" were sure to be seen, going through town, meaning that a family was moving from one location to another. Rentals usually ran to April 1, so that all those planning to move, did so on the same day. Either a one or two horse team was used, the wagon being piled high with furniture, tools, kitchen utensils, a stove or two, crates of chickens; you name it. On top of all this rode the children. I should mention that it most cases a cow would be trailing along behind, tied to the wagon. Papa would often know the name of the family, if not the location of the new home. All this, of course, would be discussed at our dinner table.

A "flittin" was no big event, yet for the family it meant almost the start of a new life. For us, watching it pass was like one act in a year-round show.

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