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Growing Up in Emmitsburg In the 40's & 50's

Shirley Troxell Rohrbaugh

Growing up in Emmitsburg in the 40s and early 50s has very fond memories for me. There were three main things, besides my family, that we did; church and school, and going to the Harner's Bowling Center.

At this time in my life the Elias Lutheran Church had a very active young people group called the Luther League - we met Sunday night for a Bible study - then we would play games etc. Other projects were to help teach vacation Bible school for two weeks in the summer. Kids from other churches joined us and we had a very large attendance. Most of us belonged to the choir which had rehearsals at least one night a week - helped with the clothing drive for Lutheran missions - go caroling either by foot or hayride - up and down the street, - then return to church for cookies and hot chocolate. Then of course there were all ways special services attended thru out the year.

Most all our activities were done in a group, like sledding - ice-skating - swimming (at a creek) bowling - roller skating parties at Rainbow Roller Rink in Taneytown. Rarely did we just cruise around in cars and drink. (I won't say it wasn't done but we didn't). During our school year there were always plays - dances - sock hops - sports (especially when we got to travel to other schools by bus or just up the street to St. Joe's). Before (and after) sixteen we rode bikes everywhere or walked. A few kids at 16 got licenses to drive but you could not get the family car very often. To drive to school was a really big deal.

In Emmitsburg you knew everyone and if you walked downtown (or up) after 5 PM everyone sat out on their porch or on the street (in summer)- so 'til you visited you were at least a 1/2 hour late. The friendship was great when you think about it now, because now most people are afraid to speak to you.

At a very early age (about nine) we were allowed to go to the 'Gem' movie theater (most of us called it the 'Germ') for 15-25 cents. After the show (which by the way was most always filled) we would go to 'Chick' Rosensteel's across the street (later Harner's Bowling Alley) for a large scoop of chocolate ice-cream with marshmallow for 10 cents - Chick had the cutest small Ice-cream table and chair set you ever saw and you really had to rush to get to sit at it. Of course this would only happen on Saturday night.

I don't remember every saying I was bored like you hear most children's today. Of course if there was any spare time you would baby-sit for someone or some of us had jobs after school.

During the summer months you would ride your bicycle or walk to Hartmans's Bridge (on the mountain road) to swim and cool off. Some of the spots we swain in were 'Snake Hole' 'Red Rock' 'The Bridge' or 'Bent Tree'. After a fun time you had to walk or bicycle back to town and be just as hot as you were when you left. There was one thing during 'Dog Days' which was in Aug. you were not allowed to swim in the creek.

When you became 9-10 years old (and up) you could go cherry picking in Orrtanna. The bus or truck would pick you up on the square at 5 AM and brought you back about 4-5 PM unless it would rain very hard. Hard work but also had a lot of fun picking like crazy 'til noon then goof off, for most of us this was the money to purchase our school needs for Sept. Tit was dirty work, but also fun.

In my neighborhood the children would get together in the evening (after chores were done) and play games. We had a great big yard and we played hide n seek- statues - skate - or just go for a walk and after dark we would make up ghost stories. Of course these fun things were only done after your jobs were done like weeding the garden, carrying wood for the stove, dishes, maybe help with supper, ironing or just sweeping the sidewalk - then of course after the garden matures there was canning. My parents both worked so there was a lot to do. We also raised rabbits and chickens at one time. Speaking of rabbits, before we started to raise our own, every Saturday afternoon we got to Mr. Zacharias farm to buy rabbits for Sunday dinner. 

Also the town had a very good baseball team. They played in the field were the town park is now. In 1947 the team were champs - but they had good teams for years. At least once during the summer the carnival came to town - what fun rides - cotton candy - games and what was more fun was when you got old enough to go without parents.

By the time September rolled around you were ready to go back to school and see all the friends you did not see all summer. Being in a small school you had a lot of opportunity to do things that you would not have even thought about in a larger school like FAA (Future Farmers of America), FTA (Future Teachers of America), glee club student council, newspaper staff, basketball, track & field games, volley ball and softball team.

In my 9h grade of school a classmate Frank Stinson passed away This was a terrible thing for our whole class - being a very small class we were close.

In the wintertime we had real snow, that would last for months. I remember one winter there was a white fence across from our house with a deep ditch, we could walk across the top of the fence on our way to Frailey's pond to ice skate. The older kids would build a fire and roast marshmallows and sometimes hot dogs at nite - this was really pretty and warm too. While skating you would play whip or hockey. We would stay for hours, getting so cold we could hardly walk home. But the one thing we always did on the way home, was to look in the cellar windows of 'The Haunted House' (of course it was not haunted, so they said) but we knew different, Ha. Then it was called the Fraley House.

Broad Alley was the greatest place to sled. They would shut the street down to traffic and you could sled for hours and go clean down to Flat Run or Whitmann Wharf. 

Do you remember 'sacks on the mill' That was when more than three would lay on top of each other and then try to sled down the hill, usually you did not go far and roll of and just lay there and laugh, then try again. After a few hours of sledding we would go to CA's (Harners Bowling Alley) for hot tea or chocolate. Once in a while we would go to Bollinger's hill (behind the Lutheran Cemetery) but that was a very long walk.

As a young girl I would love to watch the snow thru the glow of the street light - when everything was still except for the crunch of your shoes in the snow. Then there was the making of snow angels - building tunnels, building forts, or just snow balling.

All the while you were praying for no school the next day - which did not happen often, only when the county buses couldn't get through. Even with a lot of snow you walked to school, rarely did your parents take you.

Two weeks off at Christmas and New Years seemed like forever; but it was also fun not going to school.

One of the thing that happened on the Saturday before Christmas, courtesy of the Firemen, was when all the children of the area gathered at the 'Gem' for a free movie or two (mostly cartoons or a cowboy) After the movie we would run not walk to the fire hall for free hot dogs and hot chocolate. When our bellies were full and we were warm we would gather at the square in front of Mondorff's Hotel were a farm wagon (well decorated) held Santa. A line was formed going up the steps taking turns to sit on Santa's lap and get a free orange and a box or net stocking filled with candy. What a Grand Day was has by all! What a wonderful addition to the Christmas Season.

Christmas Eve in the churches would be beautiful with their candle light services. They don't do much of that any more. Everyone received a candle and while singing Silent Night at the end of the services they were lighted one from the other. What a sight! Some of us always tried to make it to St. Joseph's for midnight mass, but most of the time could not get in.

We had Girl Scout meetings all year round with a lot of activities. For a while we met on the 2nd floor of J. T. Hays Gas store on W Main St. We met at Mrs. Hay's house also at one time above the VFW.

In the spring at school we had field and track meets with other schools - great fun. We would be bussed to Frederick for the all day event. Our school always did very well. Mrs. Hoke was our teacher. Also there would be days for softball, soccer and volleyball.

In May 1-6 grades would go to Frederick for May Day - you had to learn "The Shoemaker Dance" and the 'Minuette' Boys hated it but did it anyway. Also they did May Pole where you would hold a streamer and cross one and under each other 'til the pole was wrapped. In 1953 1 was fortunate enough to be a part of May Queen Court of Darlen Brewer. We just revised it after a long time.

In 1944-45 Civil Defense wanted a group of young people to volunteer to stand watch atop the VFW building on the square. They were to watch for planes - if any were spotted you were to ring a siren. I don't believe we ever spotted any. There were usually 3-4 of us and what fun while doing something for our town (and you could stay out 'til midnight sometimes).

We would have black outs, either you had heavy drapes or you turned off your lights until the siren blew again. Then there was the ration stamps for sugar - gas - butter not sure what else - some weeks got a little tight and may be some of the neighbors would trade. We lived beside a family that had 3 sons in the war, all were pilots I think, of some kind, I just remember one was a P-81. I loved to hear their mother talk about them. 

My uncle was in the war also but other than the stories from the news I can't say that it meant a whole lot to me. In school we made Red Cross boxes to send over seas to children. Emmitsburg had a lot of men and women in the service at that time - Mr. Harner had his store windows on the Square (where the Ott House is now) filled with their pictures. Each Friday, at school, the kids could buy saving stamps for 10 cents each for the war effort.

They built the government tunnel up off the Sunshine Trail after the WW II. We called it 'Harry's Hole. It was to be a little Pentagon and still is I think. The soldiers use to go back and forth in the trucks and we would stand out on the street and wave to them.

The Frailey store was neat as someone else wrote about - we were one family that charged there all week and Dad paid on Saturday - but the Christmas floor was just the greatest - spent many an hour there just wishing and hoping.

There were many other little things we did in a small friendly town but am sure you tired of reading by now - but before I stop I want to mention the Minstrel Show - man were they great and fun and lots of work. I don't think anyone was ever turned down to be in it or help with something for instance - stage changes - customer - travel advertising etc. Helen Daugherty was manager behind this project. The first one was held at Elias Church but became so big we had to move to E. H. S. It was truly a community project. We were even invited to Taneytown Lion Club and Martinsburg Va. Vets Hospital to perform.

Also there was a kindergarten held under the Mondorff Hotel. It was free and Mrs. Rowe taught us. She really was great she took us on tours in and around town; showed us how to take a mason jar and put paint on it for vase - also to take hollyhocks flowers and made dolls - this was about 193840.

These are a few of my memories growing up in a small, sleepy town that I loved and still do.

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

Read Other Historical Articles by Shirley Troxel Rohrbaugh

Read other Personal Memories of Growing Up in Emmitsburg