Writer is back with an old tale

Book: A Carroll-born writer returns from Japan with a new work that recounts a casualty of the county's 19th-century `Newspaper Wars.'

April 27, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

For a man known in Carroll County for ghost stories and other local lore, Jesse Glass Jr. has quite an international resume.

The poet-professor left Carroll more than 20 years ago and has been teaching American literature and history in Japan for a dozen years. His writings have led to an array of artistic adventures, including performance art in Holland and an experimental opera by a Lithuanian composer.

The opera was inspired by Glass' work on the written exchanges between two newspaper columnists that ended in the April 1865 killing of a pro-South newspaper editor in Westminster.

This editorial battle is the subject of his newest book, Carroll County Newspaper Wars, published this year by Meikai University in Japan. Since 2000, Glass has taught at the university near Tokyo - extending what began as a two-year stint at a women's college in Kyushu more than a dozen years ago.

His poetry, which Glass characterizes as experimental, has won several awards and can be found on the Internet. A collection of his poems is due out this year, and one of his poems is included in the 2003 collection Visiting Walt: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Walt Whitman, published by University of Iowa Press.

"What I'm trying to say is this: I have a life outside these local books," said Glass, 49, on a visit here this month to visit his parents and 93-year-old grandmother. His family includes his wife, Maya, a 6-year-old son, Yoichi Delmore, and a 1-year-old daughter, Tennessee Junko.

On this visit, he spoke at Carroll Community College and at McDaniel College, where he earned an English degree in 1978. The local cable channel videotaped a talk about his previous book, The Hidden Muse: 19th-Century Carroll County Poets, for the Historical Society of Carroll County, where he has done a lot of his research.

Barbara R. Lilly, the historical society's executive director, said Glass is a popular speaker and draws "lots of friends from around here that he went to school with."

Glass said that "every American should have a chance to step out of America," noting how much he has learned from his undergraduate and graduate students from Japan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China and Korea.

Glass returned to Carroll County from 1984 to 1985, immersing himself for about six months at the historical society for the research that became his latest published work. A Civil War enthusiast, he said he would return next year for a March event at the historical society. He also is preparing a CD-ROM on slavery in Carroll County, which is due out next year.

Born near Union Mills, he graduated from North Carroll High School in 1972. Glass began writing poetry when he was 15 and has written about two dozen plays. His father is a retired farrier, who also was in the business of dealing horses, hay and feed.

In Carroll, he probably is best-known for the book Ghosts and Legends of Carroll County, almost always in stock, said Tim Bryson, owner of Locust Books in Westminster. It was revised in 1998.

Newspaper Wars contains excerpts and his commentaries on the running three-year editorial battle, primarily between Joseph Shaw, editor of the Carroll County Democrat, and Charles W. Webster, a columnist for The American Sentinel, who also was Carroll's state's attorney - and a far better writer, Glass said.

Shaw was killed April 24, 1865, by four men - shot and fatally stabbed in a murder reported in the New York Times, Glass said. Shaw had opined on April 6 that the country would be better off if Abraham Lincoln died - then the president was shot on April 14, 1865.

When the news reached Westminster a day later, Shaw fled to Baltimore. That night, a citizens committee destroyed Shaw's presses. He returned to Westminster and was killed.

The men who killed Shaw were acquitted in a case handled by Webster, Glass said.

Webster and Shaw had been friends during the 1850s, but their friendship ended after a falling out involving the Know-Nothing party, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic group prone to violence, Glass said.

Glass believes the killing of Shaw did not arise from his editorial that suggested the country would be better off if Lincoln died. Glass suggested that it was the culmination of his long-running written battles with Webster.

Explaining the Japanese interest in this small-town Civil War-era newspaper battle, Glass said, "19th-century American history is of great interest to the Japanese because America was the first country to open Japan up to outside influence, and it all happened in the antebellum time, when Carroll countians had slaves."

Meikai University gave him a grant to publish the 88-page volume, he said, because "the big thing at the university is regional studies ... that lead to an understanding of America."

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