First Days In Emmitsburg
Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal
rains came and covered all the earth-No, this wasnít
the flood of the Biblical Genesis, nor was it the flood
of June 20th this year. It was Labor Day weekend, 1940.
Actually, it was August 31, the day I first saw
We crossed the bridge at Flat Run, water up to our
hub caps, the last car over the bridge, we were told. We
were hungry, and we began looking for a place to eat our
first meal in Emmitsburg. Initially we were directed to
Tokarís Tavern. That didnít suit us, so we went to
the next recommended place, The Palms. No one suggested
The Green Parrot, a "fancy place," on the
corner of the VFW building. We probably couldnít have
afforded it any-way, having had only $200 when we left
South Dakota on the day we were married. (One hundred
dollars was a wedding gift; the other hundred we
borrowed, to be paid back after John got his first check
at the Mount.)
After our meal we went to our "new home,"
rented furnished from Mrs. Bruce Patterson in June
before John came home to be married. John had said from
the beginning, "Honey, it isnít very nice. Itís
all I could find." He was right. It wasnít very
nice. I called it a string house; one room right town
was similar, but smaller. after another, from the
sidewalk to the alley. No electric refrigerator, only an
ice box, pretty though, painted red. No automatic
furnace, only a hand stoked coal one, with a little side
stove yielding a very limited amount of hot water. No
vacuum cleaner to keep the floors clean, no washing
machine, not even a radio to keep up with the news. I
was less than pleased. Here I was, rain coming down in
torrents, in a town where I didnít know a soul except
the man I had been married to for a week. I wanted to go
back to South Dakota.
It rained all night and into the morning. Feeling
confined, and with nothing to do Sunday evening, we set
out to find a theater. We didnít know about the
Maryland Blue Laws prohibiting Sunday movies. We drove
and drove, splashing along until we came to a bridge
covered with water. We timidly crossed it, and then didnít
know the way back to town. Later we decided that bridge
was probably the one at Tomís Creek, at Four Points.
What did we know about flooding, having come from the
drought stricken Midwest?
I have a lot of memories of our early days in
Emmitsburg. The town itself was a curiosity. I had come
from a small, sprawling Midwest city with lots of public
facilities, parks, golf courses, swimming pools, many
schools, and a big commercial center. Johnís home town
was similar, but smaller.
The layout of Emmitsburg interested me. I could
hardly believe that in the vastness of America people
would choose to build their houses touching one another:
no side lawns, no front lawns. I was also surprised to
learn that many of the shop owners lived in the same
building or adjacent to their shops. I finally came to
realize that Emmitsburg was a very old town compared to
my home town in South Dakota, which in 1940 was only
about 50 years old.
A different part of America and a different kind of
town-how would we ever get to know anyone? We soon
learned that it wasnít going to be difficult. We began
to have callers. First, other Mount professors and their
families, then people who lived nearby called. We met
people in the stores where we shopped, and by walking
down and up the streets. In nice weather there were
those who sat outside their houses in lawn chairs on the
sidewalk, and we passed the time of day with them.
Actually, we ourselves were somewhat of a curiosity.
Those we met were interested in knowing about the dust
storms, a horrifying phenomenon. Our listeners were also
interested in the drought, another horrifying experience
that still gives me pangs of fright. And of course we
had our common experience of the Great Depression.
Everyone had and still has a story of those days to
relate. Anecdotes and stories are a good way to get to
Father Gordon had made it very clear to me that women
were not welcome on the Mount Campus except on special
occasions. I therefore had to find friends in town. That
was not difficult. I still feel grateful to those women
who helped me both in social adjustment and in other
I learned that Emmitsburg women played bridge, and
John, who was a master player, took it upon himself to
be my teacher. I was an apt pupil and soon found myself
invited to bridge parties. It is hard to believe that,
on an afternoon of bridge and luncheon, the women
dressed in their prettiest frocks and hats and with
pocketbooks on their arms strolled down Main Street to
eat outrageously rich desserts followed by a competitive
game of bridge. I was a good player and won more prizes
than I probably should have!
Johnís social life outside the Mount was an
occasional game of bridge at home with other faculty
members and a few town couples, and, on afternoons off,
going to Chick Rosensteelís pool hall to shoot a game
of pool. That way he got to know the male side of
As one month slid into another and we began to be a
part of Emmitsburg, a year passed quickly and the war
that had been lurking on the sidelines became a reality
involving all walks of life. But that's another story.
Have your own memories of
Emmitsburg of Old?
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other stories by Ruth Richards