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Unsung Heroes

Louie O'Donoghue

Caroline Trevorrow

Waiting for me to arrive, high aloft in the imposing and impressive Maryland Room of the Frederick County Public Library, my reticent subject sits before me. Behold the mysterious and intriguing Mr. O'Donoghue. Try as I might to color and shade Louie O'Donoghue, "Just the facts" is what I am given to work with on our first meeting. However, upon closer observation, I find that there is something twinkling behind his staid faade and I just can't pin it down yet. Hopefully, with a little prodding I can get a peek inside to find out more. It's clear that I have much to learn about this man, who after having moved from place to place over the considerable span of his lifetime, still finds that Emmitsburg holds something elusive and special for him. What is it about this town that has forged such strong ties for Louie, having only lived in Emmitsburg until the tender age of five? Once again, our charming little town of Emmitsburg has spun its powerful web of ephemeral memories that hold tight time and again around the heart of Louie O' Donoghue, like it has for countless other Emmitsburgians before him.

Louie was born to an already full house in Emmitsburg in 1930, smack dab in the middle of 13 children in what has for decades been known around town as "the spooky house." Actually it is the old Annan Family Homestead replete with its original quaint moniker of "Stonelodge." It is an old stone house that still stands at the west end of town near the doughboy statue. It's hard to believe, looking at the forlorn specter of a ruins now, but it used to be a beautiful house, neatly kept, filled with life and the laughter of little children. The house was a wonderful place to live in then. It had with it the hustle and bustle of town out the front door and a serene, idyllic view of the Catoctin Mountains and surrounding countryside out back. The best of both worlds, town and country, was all wrapped up in a little corner of Emmitsburg. Unfortunately, the house has sat empty ever since the O'Donoghue family left to go live in Sabillasville in 1935, almost eighty years ago. Its now dilapidated appearance has for years earned the building its reputation around town as "the spooky house."

Louie's connection to Emmitsburg goes back to his great grandfather, John Donoghue, from Altoona, Pennsylvania. Note the missing "O" from his great-grandfather's name. Interestingly, the 'O' was dropped from O'Donoghue for a while in the latter part of the 19th century when it was convenient due to the fact that it sounded "too Irish." Those were the days when Irish folk were discriminated against, and that was just plain bad for business.

Great-grandfather John was the contractor for the Emmitsburg Railroad back in the early 1870's. Elaborate plans and high hopes were put into building the railroad, but when it was done the town was dismayed when it found that it didn't have enough money left in its coffers to operate it. Thankfully, for the first couple of years the Western Maryland Railroad kept it in operation until Emmitsburg got their ducks in a row and was ready to take over. When he saw that Emmitsburg had the Railroad business well under way, his great-grandfather John quietly went back to Altoona, Pennsylvania.

With Emmitsburg never being far from Louie O'Donoghue's memories, we get just a bit of a disconnect, when after having moved to Sabillasville, Louie stayed in the general area for a while. He went on to high school in Thurmont for three years and then moved to Walbrook in Baltimore and went to City College High School for one year and graduated that February. After graduation, Louie worked for one year as a Dental Mechanic in a laboratory in Baltimore, Maryland, making and repairing dental appliances. Louie then moved to Washington D.C. and had an interesting career working as a civilian in the United States Army Map Service as a cartographer for six years. Moving onwards and upwards, he moved back to Baltimore to work in Fort Holabird at the Army Imagery Interpretation Center studying aerial photography for six years. Upon finding that his expertise was highly sought after led him to Washington D.C. again to interpret U-2 airplanes and satellite photography. At age 35 he got married, had three children, and settled down for a while in Kensington, Maryland. Louie then worked as a photogramatist measuring images on photography. Eighteen years ago he sold his house in Kensington and finally settled in Spring Ridge in Frederick where he now resides.

Then, Louie retired. But, as it so often happens for highly motivated people, retirement got boring. He knew there was more out there for him to do. He decided that he still wanted to work and got a job at the CIA as a contract employee. His years of expertise led him to become the senior trainer for the CIA for their imaging interpretation of satellite photography for eighteen months. But, something just under the surface was still calling out to him - something important that would last well beyond his time on earth. Now it was time that he really retired, and he has been for the last twenty years or so. But that is not the end of Louie's interesting and compelling story.

Thankfully for the town of Emmitsburg, his most important undertaking was soon at hand. Louie was never one to sit about idly. He is always looking for something meaningful and interesting to do. About fifteen years ago, Louie started to spend time in the Maryland Room about twice a week at the Frederick library archiving the founding families of Emmitsburg before their names and achievements had been lost forever. It is Louie who took it upon himself to hold onto and catalogue these shreds of faded paper before they crumbled away into shadowy myths as it so often happens in small villages and towns across America whose grasp on our heartstrings don't pull as strong as Emmitsburg does. We know he's not finished yet. For that, Mr. O' Donoghue, we are grateful.

Read other articles about people who have helped shape Emmitsburg