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The Christmas Legend of the Flute Playing Larry Dielmand

Historical Society Note:  For decades, most Emmitsburgians knew the Christmas legend of Larry Dielman. Sadly however, this legend has all but died out. In hopes of giving it a new lease on life, we challenged our Mount Creative Writer, Kelly Conroy to research the short 7-paragraph legend below and expand it with insights for historical facts on Larryís life and from the time period it took place ~ 1843- 1922. We then granted her liberty to enhance it with creative dialogue to personalize it into a story as Larry Dielman himself might tell it.

But first, let us present to you the original legions as it has been handed down for generations:

Music was in his blood from the very beginning. His father, Professor Casper Dielman, had been a noted composer and musician in Germany in the early 1800's. He came to America where he wrote inauguration marches for four presidents and led symphony orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore before settling in Emmitsburg to teach music at Mount Saint Maryís College in 1834.

It was here in Emmitsburg, in 1838, that Larry was born. His father had high hopes for him as a classical musician, but Larry never quite measured up. Though he grew up in the shadow of his father, his younger days were for the most part gay and happy. Larry and the professor spent many fun-filled evenings at home entertaining guest with their musical compositions. As he grew older, he became quite popular with the college crowd, and enjoyed entertaining them. His colorful personality and flamboyant wardrobe attracted many of them to his small grocery store near the college. There, sitting on the porch, he would often make up songs on the spur of the moment and sing them to the pretty girls.

In his twenties, Larry found and married the girl of his dreams and settled down in a joyful life. The joy soon turned to bitterness, however, and his wife left him. There was now a touch of sadness in Larryís life that was never to leave it. Those few residents who still remembered him recall the figure of a lonely old man sitting on the porch of his store with his banjo, singing of his long-lost love.

In 1885, the old professor died, and it was a sad Larry Dielman who took his flute to the cemetery to play the following Christmas. As strains of "When the Glory Lit the Mid-night Air", one of his fatherís most famous compositions, cascaded down from the grave, the people of Emmitsburg thought he had finally mastered the flute in memory of his father. The town folk donned their coats and hats and made the steep journey to the gravesite by the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The event became a tradition. Every year thereafter, Larry Dielman would lead a procession up the steep hill to the tiny gravesite and play beautiful, lilting music. In 1900, when the congregation moved from St. Maryís to St. Anthonyís, where midnight Mass was held on Christmas Eve, Larry played at night as well as in the morning.

In later years, he was unable to make the steep climb and had to be taken by sled. Finally, in 1923, Larry Dielman died.

Oldtimers say that if you listen very carefully on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning you can still hear the ethereal strains of beautiful flute music floating down from the cemetery. A short time later, it is gone, not to be heard again for another year.

Now, Kelly's version

The Christmas legend of Larry Dielman

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2012

His boots were brown, but not the brown they used to be. When Larry Dielman first bought his shoes they were a crisp, medium colored brown with darker laces that tied from his toes to above his ankles. Now they were spotted with various shades of brown and there were holes in the front. Larry had replaced the dark laces with bright white ones just last week. There are some things in life that are not so easy to repair or replace, the old man muses as he trudges up the mountain behind the Mount to his fatherís grave.

Yup, my father was good, Iíll admit that, Larry thought to himself. "A hard act to follow," neighbors would always whisper. But I heard those neighbors, every time. I heard their fake pity for me, acting like they were being sympathetic.

Larry kicked a stone and continued the climb. Then he sighed: Now I look at my own behavior. No, I didnít look at that back then. I could have just admitted my father was good and moved on. Instead, I acted the role of the kid who had a hard act to follow.

Wrinkles circle the manís eyes and a beanie hat covers almost all of his thin gray hair. The mountain is steep, but not so steep that a cleared path is needed; Larry grips a walking stick with his gloves. The ground is covered with mushy snow that turns to a brown almost the color of the manís boots with every step that he takes. A perfectly clear sky showcases the stars and moon. Light streams through the leafless trees.

Things got better though Ė I married her, Larry reflected. She had sparkling blue eyes and a ready laugh. My hands were shaking and I almost fainted when she said yes. I can still feel her slender hand that I always held when we walked in the land near the Gettysburg battle site. I hear the rough voice that yelled at us for kissing on the train that streamed through our town. Larry paused for a moment and restricted the water in the crevice of his eye.

The air was getting a little colder as he ascended. He would always make the climb, no matter if he was sick or tired or cold. He did not pause in one spot for long in his hike or in the time of happiness with his wife. How did I not go after her as she walked through the door? Larry broke down. How many times did I return to my spot in front of the store and hunch over in tears?

The same thoughts and the same steps repeated year after year. After some time the man reached the tip of the mountain. He loosened the pouch that was swung over his shoulder and carefully revealed his fatherís flute. Larry smoothed a patch of snow for a seat and back rest. He checked his watch Ė 11:00 pm on Christmas Eve.

Larry entered Bradley, a building on Mount St. Maryís campus used for classes and functioning as a dormitory. He had been in there when he was little, but this was his first time visiting as a teenager. Everyone knew Mr. Henry C. Dielman, whose office was down the hallway on the left side. A sign reading, "Music is the prayer your heart sings" hung on his office door. Larry would always say "Hi" to Mrs. Smythe when he walked in the main door. After expressing how much he looked like his father, Mrs. Symthe handed him the usual apple from her orchard that she had hidden in her desk.

Larry stuck it in his backpack for later. I hope itís as good as the apples always used to be, he thought. He walked past his dadís office and entered through the next door on the left. The room was quiet and three men in suits were seated in chairs. There was sound protection covering on the walls. He gripped tightly onto his flute and walked slowly towards them, his head towards the floor. The walk felt like a mile and he wished someone would break the silence.

"Welcome, you must be Larry, Henryís son." The men stood up and held out their hands.

"I am, thank you," Larry replied and slowly looked up to meet their gaze. Mr. Geralt, Mr. Solomon, and Fr. Richmond Ė he had heard their names around the house. My dadís their boss, he surmised.

"Please, make yourself comfortable," Mr. Geralt spoke again and pointed to a table for Larry to set down his bag and his flute case. Larry slid his flute out of the case and gazed at its perfectly formed shape.

"Whenever youíre ready," Fr. Richmond instructed.

Larry remembered his dad leading the symphony orchestra on a Friday night in New York City. He could hear the applause of the crowd after his dadís show in Philly. He looked up at the three men who were about to hear him play. Theyíve heard my dad play too, he realized.

Then he started to play. Hesitation in the beginning was soon replaced with confidence. Larry had played this difficult piece hundreds of times and his fingers moved the way they always did. He was back in his corner of the living room in his home and he did not need to glance down at the sheet.

"Well done," the three men smiled, and Larry was suddenly aware of the white walls again. "Be assured that you will be hearing from us soon."

Larry smiled and sighed as he walked out of the door with his bag and his flute. He hadnít yet put it back in its case. Two other young men were wearing suits in the hallway, but they were a little older than him.

Two days later, a letter arrived at Larryís house. He tore it open and read its contents: "Mr. Larry Dielman, Congratulations! You have been admitted to the School of Music at Mount St. Maryís University." Larry made a slight jump in the air and waved the letter! He was just about to find his Mom when he read the closing: "Sincerely, Mr. Henry Dielman, Chair and Mr. Geralt, Mr. Solomon, and Fr. Richmond."

"Why did he sign the letter?" Larry asked. He tried to guess the size of the crowd in New York City and how long the applause lasted in Philly. Then, he ripped the letter into a million little pieces.

"Hi honey," fifteen year old Larry winked at a girl in a pink skirt as she walked past. She slowed her step and glanced over her shoulder. Larry smiled and nodded his head to the bench next to him. Slowly, he started playing his banjo and then picked up the pace to create a wild love tune. The girl kept her gaze upon him until she knew she was out of time.

"Come back," Larry flirted, "You know youíre the prettiest!"

The girl felt all jittery as she walked into the store. She would make it a point to do the family shopping for her mom in the future.

The step in front of the general store was a usual spot for Larry on the weekends. He was too young to enter the war between the states and he did not mind having some of the men of Emmitsburg gone for a little while. And although Larry did not really like the banjo or practice it much, it still provided a means of entertainment for the girls.

One day, his sister Adelaide walked up. He tipped his hat and played a slow and respectful song as she entered the family grocery store on Main Street. Oh stop it, Adelaide flipped her hair and turned towards him.

"Looks like youíre taking great care of the store Ė Mom and Dad would be so happy that youíre being so attentive to the customers inside," Adelaide said aloud.

"The other worker is in there," Larry revealed a big smile and played a couple chords on the banjo in reply. Adelaide pictured her dad leading the symphony orchestras in New York and Philly and then stared down at Larry.

"You know, when we both started playing the flute, you were always better," Adelaide recalled, "but I didnít let that stop me from playing."

"Hmm ok," was his only reply.

"I love it and I know you do too," Adelaide spoke quietly, "Playing at the nursing home to make the elderly smile is great."

"Iíll never be as good as him," Larry stared hard at her.

"Maybe not. I hope you can find another reason for sharing your talent with the flute."

"I donít love it," he tried to convince her and he put his hands back on his banjo.

Adelaide turned and walked into the store. Larry looked down at his feet, but not for long. A girl with long, flowing black hair and bright blue eyes was walking past. He struck up a chord on the banjo and the girl flashed him a smile.

"Margaret," the girl held out her hand, "But you can call me Maggie."

Larry pulled her hand closer to give it a kiss. "Oh princess, how charitable to allow me to call you Maggie," Larryís eyes laughed as he spoke.

Maggie slowly pulled back her hand and laughed but didnít know what to say.

"A princess needs a prince you knowÖ" Larry informed her.

"You are so forward!" Maggie interjected and took a step back.

"Date Ė Saturday night at 7:00?" Larry asked.

"Fine," Maggie replied.

"Great!" Larry smiled, "See you then!" His banjo played a little more lively than usual as Maggie walked away.

From inside the store, Adelaide watched as Maggie walked away and a group of five giggling girls gathered around Larry. This is embarrassing, Adelaide believed. She slid into the front of the group of girls by Larry and it was soon just her and her brother again.

"Thanks a lot for scaring the girls away," Larry grumbled.

"They all think you like them," Adelaide started to raise her voice.

"Isnít that a good thing?" Larry winked at her.

"I hope you will be able to calm down some day and just choose one!" Adelaide yelled at him and left.

A large vase held red roses that had been so alive just a couple months ago, but now were brown and withered. Thank-you notes for the wedding presents still needed to be written. Even the "Just Married" sign was still in the front yard.

Maggie dusted a picture of her wedding day with Larry that was hanging above the fireplace. Her fingers lingered for a minute as she thought about how he had called her a princess on the first day. They had gone on a date that Saturday and many dates after that, including walks, carrage rides, and a honeymoon to the shore.

The smell of burnt rice brought Maggie back to the kitchen. She was making his favorite - pepper chicken with rice and asparagus, and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Maggie heard a whistle and knew Larry had to be home. She glanced out the window and saw his banjo under his arm. She slammed the potholders onto the counter and walked outside.

"Where have you been?" Maggie shouted.

"Hi sweetie! Donít you even want to give me a kiss before you start questioning me?" Larry opened his arms for a hug.

"Where have you been?" Maggie repeated herself. "I thought that phase in your life was over. I thought you already found your girl."

"Of course I did," Larry smiled and again opened his arms for a hug.

"Itís so pathetic Ė you still flirting with the girls in front of your store." Water started to gather in Maggieís eyes.

"Oh Maggie, Iím your prince, remember? You know itís not like that," Larry replied.

"What I know is that this is not the first time youíve flirted and who knows what else with other women in the three months we have been married," Maggieís knees wobbled and her face drooped with tears.

"Aw, come on, Maggie, letís go inside and eat dinner," Larry walked towards the front door.

"Iím not eating with you," Maggieís face became stern. She walked inside, packed her bags, and never returned.

The house stood two stories high with a white railing around the front porch. The porch swing let out a loud creak as Larry brushed his hand over it. He twisted the doorknob and with a little push, he stepped inside. There was no sweet smell of apple pie coming from the kitchen. The family picture collection above the fireplace was covered with dust. The brand new record player was in the center of the room Ė his mother did not live long enough to witness the invention.

"Dad, Iím here," Larry, now in his mid-thirties, pours himself a glass of water and takes off his coat. After a minute, he repeats himself. He glances out the window to the back yard. Then, he walks upstairs, turning his eyes away from his own wedding picture on the wall. "I come to visit and heís not even here to see me," Larry grumbles.

Larry grabs his coat and heads for the front door. Halfway there, he pauses and tilts his head back to look in the master bedroom off of the kitchen. He sees his dadís hand hanging off the side of the bed. He retraces his steps and looks down at his Dadís face. It is red and his dadís lips are moving. His dadís fingers are motioning down to him. Larry slightly bends his knees.

I wish she could be with me now, Larry thought about his wife. I shouldíve gone after her.

A noise came out of his Dadís mouth and Larry again looked at his face. "Iím sorry," his dad whispered.

Sorry for your greatness? Sorry that everyone liked you? Larry wondered. St. Maryís on the hill. Thatís where my Mom is buried and he will be too. Larry reminded himself and looked down at his Dad again.

"You were such a good son."

"Good," Larry replied.

His dadís voice was getting quieter and he could not pick up his head when he talked. His speech started to break: "LarryÖ promise meÖ"

"Dad, just calm down," his son told him.

"PleaseÖ listen," his father begged.

"Just relax," his son instructed.

"Do what you love," his fatherís eyes opened and stared into Larryís.

"That is only something for people like you," Larry interjected.

Larryís father closed his eyes. There were no women in the house to help Larry make funeral arrangements. His mother had died twelve years ago. His wife had left him; otherwise he would have brought her with him.

Glorious tunes from Larryís flute drift through the trees, across the snow, and all around the men and women going to Midnight Mass near the Mountain. He sits very still and the air comes from deep inside him.

The Churchgoers could whisper the words to When Glory Lit the Midnight Air: "With glory lit, the midnight air, Revealíd bright angels hovíring there. In fear beheld the rapturíd swains, when rose the heavín inspired strains."

Larry could see his own home and his parentís home from his spot on top of the mountain. He could see the building where he auditioned and his store. He saw most of the town of Emmitsburg and the railroad tracks running to it.

Larry looked down at his parentís gravestones in front of him. I hopeÖ noÖ I know youíre smiling down, Dad. The people are humming along Ė Can you hear them? They join in every year. The music makes them smile. I push myself hard. I think Iíve gotten a lot better. You could still probably give me a couple tips. Larryís blue eyes glimmer in the moonlight.

He thought about the hikes he had made up the mountain every Christmas Eve. The mountain had not changed much and his legs had gotten older, but the climb had grown easier every year. I did not always talk to you Dad, as I climbed up, but Iíve always done it for you, Larry smiled.

And Maggie, this climb is for you, too. I remember how you had made my favorite meal on the day I came home with my banjo. Oh the sweet smell of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies! I love you with my whole heart now and Iím sorry itís too late. Please feel my love with every step.

Unlike past years, where the people of Emmitsburg would don their coats and make the steep journey to the gravesite with him, this year Larry was alone. But he didnít mind. In past years, he was unable to make the steep climb and had to be taken by sled, but this year, he made the climb himself.

At 11:55 pm Larry was just about to slip his flute into his pouch, and make his way down the Mountain to find his usual seat in the back pew of St. Anthonyís Catholic Church when he suddenly stopped playing. He faltered and fell to the ground unconscious. Larryís faithful listeners came to his rescue, but he died just a couple months later in 1923. Yet after forty years of playing on the mountain, his flute would not be silenced.

Oldtimers say that if you listen very carefully on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning you can still hear the ethereal strains of beautiful flute music floating down from the cemetery. A short time later, it is gone, not to be heard again for another year.

So this Christmas Eve, as the clock nears midnight, open your window and listen for the sounds of flute music from the mountain, and upon hearing it, pass the Christmas legend of Larry Dielman onto future generations.

Do you know of other Emmitsburg Legends?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net