Catoctin Mountain Park
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Five:
A New Deal for the Mountain (continued)

The New Deal in Western Maryland

Maryland's Governor Albert Ritchie, an ardent believer in small government and private welfare, long had resisted turning to the federal government for aid. But with other states lined up for funds flowing out of Washington in the early days of the New Deal, Ritchie, in April 1933, reluctantly added his request for federal aid. It was, as the Maryland Emergency Relief Administration, noted two years later, a major turning point:

"When Governor Ritchie, in April 1933, made his first request to the Federal Government for help in meeting the State's relief needs, it marked the end of an important chapter in the history of social welfare in Maryland. The machinery that proved ample in previous years of normalcy or prosperity was not equal to the load thrust upon it by the depression and the resources available for such an emergency had been exhausted. It was a situation Maryland had never found before--almost incredible to state authorities." [40]

The infusion of federal funds made an immediate difference to relief efforts in western Maryland and in the state in general. A statewide agency, the previously mentioned Maryland Emergency Relief Administration, took charge of state relief efforts. In Frederick County, the Emergency Relief Association morphed into the Frederick County Welfare Board, now coordinating both public and private relief efforts. From its headquarters in the Federated Charities Building on South Market Street in Frederick, the County Welfare Board screened Civilian Conservation Corps applicants, kept personnel files for public works projects, and distributed food and supplies. In the fall of 1933, the board distributed 3,000 pounds of federal government-supplied, surplus pork dispersed to 1,035 needy families in the county. [41] With Civil Works Administration money, the county also built an emergency hospital on the grounds of the Montevue farm, and, with Federal Emergency Relief Act funds, the Welfare Board began a rehabilitation project at Gambrill Park, which eventually employed 100 men. [42] The citizens of Western Maryland were grateful for the help. The mayor of Hagerstown soon was noting the "salubrious effect" of the New Deal on "morale of community." [43]

Despite the infusion of funds, needs continued to go unmet. Roughly three times as many young men applied for positions in the CCC as were available. [44] Likewise, money came in spurts and was subject to political pressures (as remained the case once the Catoctin project got underway). In mid1935, with Congress holding up relief legislation, the County Welfare Board suspended a project employing ten Thurmont men at the Graceham reservoir, and it sharply curtailed relief payments while it awaited a new infusion of funds. Confronted with the cutbacks, many continued to have no option other than to turn to the kindness of others. In Sabillasville, the parents of a chronically ill young girl made a public appeal for the four quarts of milk that she needed daily. [45]

Bessie Darling

A few short months after the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt--while the Catoctin area remained very much mired in the Depression--a violent and gruesome murder occurred on Catoctin Mountain. The victim was Bessie Darling, a figure mentioned in the previous chapter as an example of a woman carving out a niche for herself in the emerging tourist trade in the Catoctin area. The grisly murder--an outgrowth of an unfortunate love triangle--immediately captivated the attention of people in western Maryland and beyond. Even today, the murder stirs an unusual amount of residual interest. Why the fascination? The answer seems tied to the hard times of the Depression. Seeking escape, everywhere people clambered for diversions. The newspapers of the time were packed with sensational stories of poisoned toasts, love affairs gone tragically wrong, and dramatic bank robberies. When Darling was murdered, she shared the headlines with Bonnie and Clyde and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. In the midst of hard times, the salacious events surrounding her killing provided a shocking and voyeuristic spectacle, but also a compelling break from the daily grind of depression living.

Darling, of course, was a well-known figure in the Catoctin area. Most of the women who ran boarding houses were the wives of local farmers. But Darling was from Baltimore and thus appeared somewhat exotic and sophisticated to local residents. [46] Around 1929, Darling met and quickly became involved with George Schultz, a volatile official at the State Health Office in Baltimore. Her active social life clearly caught the attention of Catoctin locals. Likewise, Schultz's bad temper also drew notice. One Thurmont resident remembered that Schultz frequently drank, and, on one occasion, assaulted Darling during an argument in front of the Lantz post office. Other similar confrontations also apparently occurred. [47]

In 1933, tiring of Schultz's abuse, Darling evidently broke off the relationship and established a friendship with Charles A. Wolfe, a widower from Foxville. Instead of returning to Baltimore that winter, Darling decided to stay in Deerfield, perhaps to avoid Schultz. But her former beau appeared unable to recover from the end of the relationship, and the tragedy was set in motion.

On October 31, 1933, Schultz, carrying a .38 caliber pistol, took the Western Maryland Railroad mail route from Baltimore to Thurmont. Since the mail train made no stop in Deerfield, Shultz deboarded at Thurmont and hired Clarence Lide to drive him to the Valley View Manor. Lide noticed and inquired after the pistol. Shultz laughed and remarked that "he didn't know what he might run into." [48] Years later Lide continued to regret that he had not been more suspicious. [49]

That day, Darling was at the house with her employee, Mazie Willard, an 18-year-old hired by Darling to work at the hotel at the going rate of a dollar-a-day and board. Willard later recalled that, "The leaves were beautiful that fall, the petunias were blooming in the yard, and we had gathered bunches of leaves to put all through the house." [50]

Leaving Lide's taxi, Schultz slipped through the rear entrance of the hotel and demanded that Mazie take him to Darling (see Map 5). She led him up the stairs. Shultz entered Darling's door, locking it behind him. Darling, who, perhaps aware of the potential for trouble, had her own pistol nearby, made a mad grab for her gun. But before she could secure it, Shultz shot her dead. In a strange calm, the murderer emerged from the room and ordered the petrified teenage Mazie, to make him coffee. In one version of the story, he threw Mazie the ring that Darling apparently had returned to him, telling her "You can have that to remember her." [51] Shultz then sent Mazie to notify the authorities, and he began to disrobe. "When you come back," Shultz coldly informed Mazie, "you'll find the two of us dead." [52]

Mazie ran down the mountain and telephoned Sheriff Charles Crum, who immediately drove to the hotel, which he entered through the basement, since Shultz had locked all the doors. Inside, Crum found Darling dead in her nightgown and Shultz near death as a result of a self-inflicted wound. Dr. Morris Birely treated Shultz then sent him to the hospital in Frederick for further care. He then performed the required autopsy on Darling. News of the murder, complete with Shultz's cold conversation with Mazie, quickly spread. The Catoctin Clarion noted that the murder has "furnished ample conversational material for the residents of this and other sections of the state and country ever since it occurred early Tuesday morning." [53] The grisly killing on Halloween, the innocent victims, including Mazie, and the sordid details of the affair fit perfectly into the sensational style of the news of the day. However tragic, the sensation fascinated people and provided needed drama and diversion.

When Shultz had recovered enough to stand trial, throngs packed the courtroom. Sixty-six years later, Catoctin native Charles Anders, who managed to get into the trial, still vividly recalled the spectacle of Shultz sobbing on the stand before receiving an 18-year sentence. [54] For many in the local area--even those born years after the event--the Bessie Darling murder continues to be a subject of fascination, in part due to the efforts of local author George Wireman. Coming, as it did, in the dark hours of the depression, before the New Deal could be felt fully, the Darling murder and the sensation surrounding it, should be remembered not only for its lurid details, but also in the context of the difficult times.

Birth of the Park

While the community was reading and talking about the Darling murder, the New Deal's initial relief efforts were easing the Depression for many in central western Maryland. But relief was only one part of Roosevelt's broad plans. He also hoped to bring about economic recovery and initiate fundamental reform. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) aimed to replace business confusion with cooperation. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), sought to address the problem of agricultural overproduction and falling prices by subsidizing farmers to produce less. Deeper problems of persistent poverty--especially in rural areas--were also on the New Deal agenda. Catoctin Mountain Park grew out of these efforts, in particular the aim of removing poor farmers from submarginal land.

But the birth and early life of the park resembled anything but tranquil and smooth reform. Indeed, the development of Catoctin Recreational Development Area might best be described as a chaotic battle between competing interests: competition between federal and state authorities, competition between and within federal agencies, and competition between government officials and the entrenched population who called the mountain home.

The idea of removing farmers from unproductive farms surfaced during the "farm crisis" of the 1920s. [55] As governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt created a reforestation program involving the purchasing and transformation of abandon farms, a program that inspired the later creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. [56] The state of Michigan had a similar initiative to purchase submarginal land for conversion into state forests. [57]

With the advent of the New Deal with its mandate finding solutions to the ever-worsening farm crisis, plans for rural resettlement and rehabilitation found a ready venue. Roosevelt appointed an interdepartmental Land Planning Committee to oversee resettlement of farmers from poor land. The committee included Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) chief Harry Hopkins and Conrad Wirth of the National Park Service (NPS). [58] Initial efforts took place in conjunction with FERA which had $500 million available for direct relief. The Land Planning Committee set overall policy, then, under a confusing and overlapping arrangement, the Land Policy Section of the Division of Program Planning of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (part of the Department of Agriculture) managed the selection and purchasing of land (with Surplus Relief Corporation money). Once chosen and acquired, the redevelopment activities fell under the purview of FERA's Division of Rural Rehabilitation and Stranded Populations. [59] In practice these activities were even more decentralized, as much of the planning and rehabilitation often fell to the various states involved. Many states eventually formed State Rural Rehabilitation Corporations to carry out the work. [60]

It was in this confusing morass that Catoctin Mountain Park was conceived. Viewing the FERA's program as a unique opportunity to acquire land that would "provide a much needed recreation facility for large numbers of people," the Park Service threw itself into the land purchasing program in hopes of acquiring land for parks near urban areas. [61] Eventually, the NPS participated in the purchase and development of forty-six parks, known as Recreational Demonstration Areas, in twenty-four states. Once purchased and developed by the federal government, the lands, in most cases, were to be turned over to state governments. Conrad Wirth, then assistant director of the NPS Branch of Planning and Matt Huppuch, supervisor of the NPS Recreation Division clearly served as the spearheads for the Park Service's drive to harness resettlement land. [62] Other departments and agencies, including the Agricultural Department, which set up Agricultural Demonstration Projects, also established programs to develop acquired submarginal land.

As part of the NPS's search for recreational land, in April 1934, NPS Regional Officer H.E. Weatherwax conducted a preliminary survey of suitable sites in Maryland and recommended the purchase and development a number of areas, including South Mountain and land near Fort Frederick. He, however, did not mention the Catoctin Mountain area. [63]

The actual land selection decision for Maryland, however, fell to the State Cooperative Extension Service, under University of Maryland Professor T. B. Symons. Since 1914, the federal government had charged the extension services of each state with providing support services for the agricultural sector in conjunction with the federal Department of Agriculture and the state agricultural college. On May 15, 1934, A.W. Manchester, the regional director of the Cooperative Extension Service, wrote Symons: "I would consider it a great favor if you would take the responsibility in Maryland" for developing "a general plan" for the purchase and development of submarginal land, adding that "federal funds may be made available for the purchase of land." [64] The issue, in fact, had long concerned the professor, who in a January 1934 speech declared there to be "no sadder spectacle than an honest industrious man and his family endeavoring to make a living on poor land. . . . We have observed this for many years, but little has been done." Symons defined submarginal land as "steep shallow soil, lacking in drainage," and set about to locate such areas in Maryland ripe for rehabilitation. [65]

The University of Maryland professor, in his report that summer, identified the land on and around Catoctin Mountain as his top candidate for redevelopment. At Catoctin, he found "good roads," proximity to the nearby Appalachian trail, and Hunting Creek, which might be damned up in portions to create swimming pools (as had already been done at the boy scout camp). He also found farmers in economic distress, many on relief, and farm land "not yielding enough for families." [66] No doubt, the eagerness of Thurmont's town leaders to develop the tourist industry also lent interest.

Also of concern to Symons and others was the condition of area forests. The 10,000-acre park finally purchased by the government consisted, according to a NPS official, of an estimated 90% cut over forest tracts, and 10% "tillable land and pasture." Only a few inaccessible tracts still contained marketable timber. Between the tree harvesting and recent chestnut blight, the wooded areas on the mountain, without question, were in poor condition. [67] Observing the environmental situation, a Baltimore Sun reporter visiting the site in the fall of 1935 wrote: "Today whole groves of gray, ghostly trunks, stripped of bark and leaves, testify to the completeness of the destruction." [68]

At roughly the same time as Symons conducted his study, the National Resources Board--founded as part of the Executive Branch in early 1934 to study the nation's resources with an eye toward development and public works projects--launched its own extensive study of land use. The Resources Board assigned an inspector to study each state. [69] Mark Shoemaker, land consultant for the board, prepared the Maryland survey. As with Symons, the Catoctin area greatly appealed to Shoemaker. But unlike Symons, Shoemaker appeared contemptuous of the local population, whom he described as "of a very low grade." [70] Shoemaker's reaction to the Catoctin Mountain population mirrored contemporary myths about Appalachian mountain people. The extent to which other government officials shared his views is unclear, but such attitudes may have been responsible for some of the mistrust and tensions that later surfaced between the population and the government authorities.

The favorable reports coming from the mountain area north of Frederick City impressed the NPS Regional Office in Richmond, eager to steer resettlement projects toward recreational use. Tell Nicolet, an NPS district inspector, went north to monitor developments. But there, Nicolet clashed with state officials, especially Symons, whom the NPS suspected sought "complete control over all sub-marginal land activities." Nicolet and Symons openly quarreled at a meeting of the State Planning Commission, where the NPS official pressed members on the need for "a responsible state park agency" to maintain any area developed by the NPS. He also vigorously stressed the need for greater cooperation between state agencies. State officials seemed put off and complained of a "battle of personalities." An NPS official likened the spectacle of federal and state officials clashing over the resettlement issue to "five people [who] were fighting over one piece of pie." [71]

The tensions between state and federal officials, however, did not dull the park service's interest in Catoctin. Visiting the Catoctins in the fall of 1934, Nicolet saw both the mountain's poverty and the potential, offering "almost unlimited possibilities." He envisioned a Civilian Conservation Corps camp remaking the area into a park with handsome camp sites. [72] Meanwhile, the state of Maryland moved to placate federal officials by having State Forester F.W. Besley promise that his department would maintain all recreation areas developed by the federal government from submarginal land purchases. [73] This appeared enough to gain NPS support, and Symons sent a park service-endorsed proposal for the development of the Catoctin area to FERA's Land Planning Committee, which, approving the project, passed it onto the Agricultural Adjustment Administration's Land Program. On January 7, 1935, the AAA lent its approval to the project. [74]

But only a week later, A.W. Manchester, the regional director of the Department of Agriculture's state extension service, was having second thoughts--at least about the recreational aspect of the Catoctin project. He told a key official at the AAA that he regretted not setting up Catoctin as an "agricultural project," which he added would have been "more appropriate." Manchester may have recognized what many farmers in the Catoctin area still passionately insist: that there was agricultural potential on the mountain, given proper use and expert guidance. But with so many park officials already deeply involved in the project, Manchester commented that he "could not see how we could work that out without incurring their [the NPS] ill will." [75]

Regardless of Manchester's last minute regrets, the project quickly moved to the next stage. The NPS assigned as project manager Garland B. (Mike) Williams, a Petersburg, Virginia native and former land appraiser of the C&O Canal, who more recently served as Civil Works Administrator for the city of Petersburg. Meanwhile, the FERA assigned W.W. Simonds the job of managing land acquisition. [76]

The Ordeal of Acquisition, Part I

Simonds faced a daunting task. Supported by only a limited staff, his job was to appraise and acquire more than one hundred tracts of land initially covering over 20,000 acres (for maps of the park with its originally planned borders see Appendix 11). The sellers had a reputation for being conservative and traditionally suspicious of outsiders. Meanwhile, funding for the acquisitions was to come through a complex allocation process that involved several shifting government agencies. And the task was to be performed through persuasion rather than coercive means such as condemnation. As A.W. Manchester explained, "It would be contrary to the entire spirit and purpose of the program, to resort to general condemnation, as a mean to acquire land." [77] Despite the best hopes of those launching the acquisition effort, the process, in fact, did not go smoothly and in some cases resulted in lasting resentment.

In early 1934, a group of government acquisition officers arrived in Western Maryland to begin their difficult job. Hampered by over twelve inches of snow, the acquisitions team moved slowly at first, setting up initial operations in Frederick City and later, when conditions permitted, moving to the Cozy Inn in Thurmont. The first step involved interviewing twelve of the largest owners in the proposed area. While indicating a general willingness to sell at a fair price, the group demurred and "wanted time to talk over offers with families etc." [78] By March the snow began to clear but the caution of the land owners had not. Williams reported to his superiors a "reticence of the natives in these areas toward signing 'offers to sell' or 'options.'" The acquisition team, therefore, began moving ahead with appraisals after only a "verbal indication of willingness to sell." [79]

But the process of appraising land then asking for options also caused problems and resulted in delays. On April 21, NPS Regional Officer H.E. Weatherwax journeyed to Catoctin "to ascertain the reason why the project is not progressing as it should." Weatherwax noted that "regardless of how good an appraiser might be, it is very difficult in appraising cheap land, that is from $1 to $5 an acre, to make an absolutely perfect appraisal." Appraisers, according to Weatherwax, first should have ascertained the price at which owners were willing to sell. All the land then should have been evaluated, and the appraisals should have been verified by the regional appraiser. But at that point, the regional appraisal was actually two weeks late in getting to Catoctin, and Weatherwax appealed to Washington to do something "in order to speed up this project." [80]

By April, Mike Williams and the NPS, eager to get the project moving, had another--this time local--problem with which to contend. In charge of public relations, Williams devoted much of his initial work to lining up endorsements for the Catoctin project from the local community. He received enthusiastic endorsements from the YMCA, the Izaak Walton League, the Rotary Club of Hagerstown, the mayor of Frederick, and others. [81] But in the spring, word surfaced of grass-roots opposition to the project. The local community apparently was awash in "idle rumors, initiated by jokers in the local country stores." One rumor had the government planning to use the purchased land as target practice for the "big guns" at Fort Ritchie. Another involved a tunnel to be built under the mountain for traffic to Hagerstown.

The general secrecy surrounding the project might have contributed to the rumors. No public announcement yet had been made regarding the government's plans for the mountain, perhaps fueling the gossip. Williams quickly traced the problem to a Lantz mail carrier named Herman Hauver, who had spread some of the rumors and influenced his father, Albert Hauver, an 81-year-old local leader, against the project. The younger Hauver apparently feared that he would lose his mail delivery route and hence his job should the project go forth. Park officials spoke with the elder Hauver and felt that they had cleared up any misunderstandings. [82]

But problems quickly resurfaced with the Hauvers, whom project planners learned had contacted the Frederick County Commissioners "and expressed their intention of blocking the Government's program." Williams and his staff were particularly concerned that a mail carrier--a government official, presumably privy to inside information--was spreading the rumors. On April 15, Williams called an "emergency meeting" with the County Commissioners, the mayor of Frederick, and the head of the County Welfare Board. "It could readily be seen," Williams reported, "that the County Commissioners were opposed to the present administration," feared losing taxes if the area became a park, and worried that the government would condemn property. Williams explained the condemnation policy, and pressed the commissioners to tally up taxes collected from those on the mountain and weigh them against welfare costs, maintenance of roads, and other expenses. [83]

William's hardball tactics seemed enough to placate the county commissioners. [84] Meanwhile, the park service moved to neutralize the Hauvers. Informed of the problem, NPS Assistant Director Conrad Wirth, instructed Williams to "submit the address of the post office out of which Mr. Hauver works and we shall take the necessary action." [85] Still the Hauvers continued to cause trouble and in the fall, Albert Hauver's name showed up on a petition of those objecting "to the acquisition of land by the Government" (see Appendix 12). [86]

Meanwhile, bureaucratic turbulence continued to mount for the nascent Catoctin project. On April 30, 1935, under the Emergency Relief Act and Executive Order 7027, President Roosevelt transferred authority for the resettlement projects from the FERA and the Agriculture Department to a new independent agency called the Resettlement Administration, under Rexford Tugwell. [87] While the NPS was to remain intimately involved with the Recreational Demonstration Areas, ultimate responsibility now lay with the Resettlement Administration (See Appendix 13). Problems quickly developed. Tugwell later recounted "countless difficulties in operation" at his new agency. Not having been recognized by Congress, the Resettlement Administration remained dependent on funds allotted to other agencies, in particular the WPA. Tugwell's reputation as an extreme liberal may have also hurt him politically and cast a certain pall over all the resettlement initiatives. [88] Questions of precisely who would be in charge of RDA administration also quickly divided Tugwell and Ickes. [89] For the Catoctin project, the organizational changes meant adjustment to a new chain of command, although the NPS remained intimately involved.

Nor did problems with the local population ease. By the summer, acquisition officers were hitting real road blocks. The troubles threatened to derail the entire project. The Washington Post, getting wind of the problems, ran a front page story headlined, "Catoctin Park Plans Menaced as Owners Refuse to Sell Land." The article pointed to planned restrictions on hunting as the source of much of the resistance. [90] Without the option of condemning massive amounts of land, and with increasing numbers of landholders resisting, park service officials decided to sharply curtail the quantity of land to be purchased from circa 20,000 to 10,000 acres. Likewise, with acquisition proving a slow, complex process, requiring extensive research, Williams arranged to lease land from owners who signed "Temporary Special Use Permits." This allowed for the hiring of men (one of the principle purposes of the project) and the beginning of construction.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2003