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Emmitsburg High School May Day Queens

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

The vernal equinox had passed. Days were getting longer. Signs of the arrival of spring were everywhere. Spring peepers could be heard. The yellow heads of daffodils were nodding in the wind. The robins were building nests, and the buds of the lilacs were bursting. As a favorite Golden Book of my children said, "Everything is in a hurry when it's spring!"

Throughout the years, from the thirties until the closing of the Emmitsburg School in the sixties, springtime was often greeted by a joyful festival there. With intricate May Pole dances and ceremonial crownings of May Queens, the school shared with the community the magic of the season. Turning backward in time, we can almost see and hear the special moments of preparation:

For students and teachers alike, excitement is in the air. They are all getting ready for the May Day celebration.

"Under, over, under, over!" shouts Mrs. Scott, over the strains of "Country Gardens." What is going on? The sixth grade students are practicing the winding of the May Pole and Mrs. Scott isn't going to rest until it is done perfectly. The other elementary classes are practicing the dances prescribed by the Board of Education for the dance celebration in Frederick's Baker Park later in the month.

The members of the high school home economics classes have been working all year toward the day when each of the girls who has sewn a dress will walk across the stage in a Style Show that follows the outdoor crowning of the Queen of the May. When will she again have the auditorium stage to herself as she shows off her handiwork, pointing out the details that helped to make her dress beautiful? When will she ever again have a whole auditorium full of onlookers to admire her?

Finally, after all the practicing and the sewing, comes the day to choose a Queen—a senior girl, pretty, friendly, and cheerful. She will be chosen by the entire student body. But it's a secret. No one except the chosen girl herself will know who it is. She must tell her mother, though. She'll run to the phone to tell her the news. She'll need a beautiful white dress. Where will she get it? Emmitsburg? Gettysburg? Frederick? Will she, or her mother, make it?

Who will be the Queen? Will it be Mamie? Leeanna? Becky? Jeanne? Or one of the other girls who is also beautiful, friendly, and cheerful? The Queen will have to choose her court, girls from her class, and these girls must have as escorts young men from the senior dass, all dressed in their finest.

As the great day approaches, other boys will gather flowers from all over the county – armfuls of lilacs and any other flowers in bloom. They will set up chairs in the auditorium and out of doors. They will borrow a pastoral chair from one of the churches in Emmitsburg. Don't forget the artificial grass and the arbor. Oh, but these boys are busy!

At last, the time has come. Parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles are all seated. The glee club sings; the band starts to play. Down the front steps of the school comes the beautiful Queen carrying a bouquet of fresh flowers, two first grade girls carrying her train, and behind them the court of the classmates that she has chosen.

As the Queen stands before the pastor's chair, now transformed into a throne, she is crowned by the principal, sometimes with a wreath of flowers, other times by a creation of the Art Department. She sits. More singing. The stage is set. Let the festivities begin.

The festivities do indeed begin. Music is furnished by both the glee club and the band. The dances are performed by the elementary students, and as a finale, the May Pole is wound. The outdoor part of the celebration is over, and all of the celebrants and patrons accompany the Queen and her court into the auditorium for the Style Show. The Queen reigns over the Style Show from a corner of the stage. And to close out this memorable day, refreshments are served in the auditorium by the home economics classes.

All of the May Day celebrations with a few variations continued through the years according to the above description. Altogether, there were twenty-three May Queens: six in the 30's, none in the 40's, 8 in the 50's, and 8 in the 60's. The first Queen was Mamie Kelly, 1932, and the last Queen was Connie Seiss in 1968. Connie closed out forever this welcoming of spring because the high school was moved to the present Catoctin High School on the outskirts of Thurmont.

I asked Jeanne Sharrer Angleberger to contact as many "old" Queens as possible and ask them for memories of the occasion. Because most of these women had probably been in a previous May Day Style Show, I also wanted to know if they had made their dresses when they were May Queen. The answer to that question was "no." Most of them had bought their dresses in Gettysburg, Frederick, Hanover, or at Houck's on the Square in Emmitsburg. Of the others, one was borrowed, one was an altered borrowed dress, and one was made by the Queen's mother. Some of the Queens' memories follow:

  • Leeanna Franklin, '34, remembers that she was surprised to have been elected Queen. She also remembers that her picture as Queen was in the Baltimore Sun.
  • Janet Hoke Schmidt, '36, sent a letter saying that the girls' basketball team won the Frederick County Championship that year. She also sent a picture showing Gladys Keilholtz and Jane Bollinger as two of her attendants.
  • Glady; Valentine Keiiholtz, '37, remembers that she got her dress from a mail order catalog for $5.00.
  • Phyllis Hahn Dickey, '39, especially remembers Mr. Jones, Charles and Jessie Eckenrode, and Mary Higbee.
  • Darlene Brewer, '53 . Although Jeanne listed Doris Wastler as Queen for '52, Darlene said that her class revived the May Day celebration.
  • Becky Naill Kile, '59, remembers that the music for her processional was played from a recording through the first grade room's open window.
  • Jeanne Sharrer Angleberger, '62, felt very honored to be queen. May Day was sponsored by the Student Council as a climax to Courtesy Week. Jeanne was president of the Student Council.
  • Margie Masser Baker, '68, remembers being pleased her grandparents were there. She also remembers stumbling a bit as she ascended the throne.
  • Bonnie Sayler Hess, '66, remembers practicing in her winter coat. It was the first time she ever had had her hair done in a beauty parlor.
  • Linda Keilholtz Umbel, '67, beamed when I talked with her. She had been very excited because her mother had also been a May Queen. "The best things that ever happened in our school were May Day and The Sound of Music production."
  • Connie Seiss Hahn, '68, remembers that that day was the last May Day celebration. It was held inside because it rained.

There have been many, many May Day celebrations over the years. The villages of England wound the May Pole every spring. In South Dakota when I was a child we hung May Baskets with flowers and candy on doors of our friends. Women in other places washed their faces in the morning dew so that their skin would be beautiful. And those that were chosen to be May Queen were just as excited in the days of long ago as were the Queens of Emmitsburg High School. As Tennyson so aptly wrote:

You must wake and call me early,
Call me early, mother dear;
Tomorrow'll be the happiest time
Of all the glad New-year, mother,
The maddest, merriest day;
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother,
I'm to be Queen o' the May!

[Please note: Jeanne Angleberger has given untold amounts of time in gathering the information about the May Queens. I could not have done this piece without Jeanne's unflagging energy and enthusiasm for the project. If I have omitted anyone who responded to Jeanne about that day, I apologize.]

May Queens:

  • 1932 Mamie Kelley (deceased) 1934 Leeanna Franklin
  • 1935
  • 1936 Janet Hoke
  • 1937 Gladys Valentine Keilholtz 1938 Nel Randolph Bollinger 1939 Phyllis Hahn Dickey 1940 48 No May Day Activities 1949 No graduating class 1950-'52
  • 1953 Darlene Brewer McCleaf 1954 Thelma Bollinger Miller1955 Dorothy Fisher Favorite 1956 Jane Bollinger Nolan
  • 1957 Myra Hess 1958 Sue Eyster 1959 Becky Naill 1960 Shirley Hahn
  • 1961 Judy Kay Valentine
  • 1962 Jeanne Sharrer Angleberger 1963 Sue McClain 1964 Diane Null 1965 Margie Masser 1966 Bonnie Sayler 1967 Linda Keilholtz Umbel
  • 1968 Connie Seiss Hahn

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg of old? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards

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