Where The Rebels Rest

POSTMARK

January 24, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

MONOCACY CEMETERY — Old-growth cedars and barren maples and oaks stand amid the Confederate ghosts of Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville in western Montgomery County.

Streaky sunshine brightens a granite tablet, set at a 45-degree angle on a post. The tablet reads: "In loving memory of the valor and self-sacrifice of the Maryland soldiers in the Confederate Army whose names are inscribed hereon: War of 1861-1865."

"Most of the able-bodied men around here went across the Potomac and joined Colonel White's 35th Virginia Cavalry," says Charles Elgin Sr., 77, secretary-treasurer of the cemetery board for 45 years. "My grandfather's brother, John O. Elgin, was in the 35th."

Thirty-two names are listed on the tablet, and all are buried here. They rest among some 4,000 graves in the 13-acre cemetery, where markers bear the names of some of the area's earliest settlers. The first known burial here was in 1747, when this was an Episcopal graveyard.

To the left of the tablet, a gray stone chapel with steep slate roof commands high ground of the graveyard, which runs down west along Maryland Route 28 and back south along the woods to West Hunter Road.

The Col. Elijah Viers White chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy built the chapel to replace a 1747 brick Anglican "chapel of ease" destroyed by Union troops in 1865. The cornerstone date is 1915.

The chapel seems bigger inside than it looks from the outside. The interior is wood, even the cathedral ceiling. There are 14 pews -- seven to a side. Translucent glass panes fill three double-hung windows on each side, all topped with a blue triangular pane, the same design that's over the double doors.

A large stained-glass window with a figure of Christ dominates the front. On one side of the Christ window stands an American flag under a picture of Gen. Robert E. Lee; on the other a Confederate flag next to a picture of Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. To the right sits a glass-enclosed "Half-Century Confederate Memorial."

"Western Montgomery County was more tied to Loudon County, Va., than the rest of the county," says Gwen Marcus, historic preservation coordinator for Montgomery County. "Slaves were utilized for labor by large landholders." Meanwhile, she says, "the eastern county, with Quaker communities like Brookeville and Sandy Spring, was anti-slavery."

Back outside, at the front of the chapel, three empty bird nests sway in a leafless lilac bush. Branches of a tree in back tickle the sharply peaked slate roof. The wind picks up. Clouds roll in from the north, blocking the sun, dropping the temperature as a pickup truck comes up a gravel road toward the chapel and stops. Tom Ahalt gets out.

Stocky, friendly and 54, he has been superintendent of Monocacy for 17 years. He lives on the cemetery grounds within 100 feet of the chapel with his wife of 35 years, Virginia, in a 2 1/2-story Victorian Gothic white house with a green roof. He has no desire to ever leave.

"I grew up on a farm near White's Ferry, not far from here. I left for a while but I came back to old home country."

Thomas Howard Bodmer, a retired federal employee, also left and returned. His beige house with brown shutters is on five acres that run to the Hunter Road side of the cemetery. He was 9 when his father moved his large family into the house. He was there until he married, and moved back when he was divorced.

Mr. Bodmer, 64, who is on the cemetery board, says the burial space is almost taken. Already, graves extend into the open land beyond the trees.

"At one time, the farmer who owned the land next to the cemetery wanted to sell some land to us but the board didn't think we could afford it," he says. "By the time we got around to trying to act, a developer had bought the property.

"Both sets of my grandparents are buried in the cemetery," he says. "My parents are there, four brothers and sisters, several aunts and uncles, three nephews, some cousins, in-laws. Oh Lordy, at least 20 family members."

"I'll be there, too," Mr. Bodmer says. "I've got my lot in the cemetery in our family lots down by Hunter Road." Down the hill from the chapel, pink and gray tombstones rest in the shade, the granite inscribed with the names of Tom and Virginia Ahalt, his neighbors in life.

By late afternoon, black clouds move in and darken the sky. Blowing rain spatters the white tombstones and gray markers.

By the chapel, a frayed American flag flies on a pole illuminated by a street light.

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