Vowing not to forget

From parade in Westminster to observances in historic chapel in Mount Airy, Carroll residents' patriotism comes forth

May 27, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

After Gen. John Logan recommended that people to honor fallen Civil War soldiers by laying flowers on their graves, Westminster resident Mary Shellman took it a step further.

In 1867, Shellman and a group of youngsters marched about a half mile from Westminster Elementary School to the Westminster Cemetery, where they laid flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers.

Although Logan, as commander of the Army, didn't officially proclaim Memorial Day - first known as Decoration Day - as a day of observance until the next year, the parade was a hit in Westminster.

Over the years, the parade has become a beloved tradition, city resident Skip Amass said.

"The Westminster parade is one of the oldest continuous observances of Memorial Day in the country," said Amass, who has attended the parade for 45 years. "This year marks the 140th consecutive parade," he said.

There are records that show that Mary Shellman led the parade every year from 1867 to 1922, and then the American Legion took over and hasn't missed a year, said Amass, 75, who serves as announcer for the event.

Although the parade has grown, the basic structure of the procession has remained the same, he said.

On the day of the parade, hundreds of people line the streets. Church bells begin to toll at 10 a.m. to mark the start of the procession, and flags are flown at half-staff.The Westminster Municipal Band joined the parade and began leading the procession in the early 1900s. The band plays songs appropriate for the occasion, he said.

Candy and bead distribution, baton twirlers, and drum majorettes are prohibited in the parade, Amass said. The procession ends at Westminster Cemetery, where a formal service is held starting at 11 a.m. During the service, the Gettysburg Address is read by a student.

"Memorial Day has always been a solemn occasion," said Amass, a Korean War veteran. "It is dedicated to people who served our country with honor and dignity. In our service and parade, we keep with the traditions."

Shellman led the parade until she became too old to continue. At that time, she turned the parade over to the American Legion Post 31, which continues the tradition.

The number of participants in the parade has grown over the years. There are more than 60 local organizations, bands, and other groups who participate in the parade to pay homage to our country's fallen soldiers.

Shellman, who died in 1938, was highly regarded in the community despite the fact that she was outspoken and bold.

Fighting spirit

For example, during the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, the cavalry commander for Gen. Robert E. Lee, was in Westminster, Amass said.

"As Stuart made his way up Main Street in Westminster, Shellman came out onto the street and said something derogatory to him," Amass said. "Stuart put her on trial on the spot, and her punishment was to kiss him. She complied, and he pardoned her."

Her behavior served to enhance her presence in the county. Her work on behalf of Civil War veterans led to honorary membership in the Grand Army of the Republic posts and other veterans associations, according to a short history on the Historical Society of Carroll County Web site.

"Beginning in the 1870s she led efforts to provide better care for residents of the county Alms House. She joined the American Red Cross at the time of the Johnstown, Pa., flood of 1889 and received a member pin from founder Clara Barton. Her involvement in political reform can be traced to membership in the Civic League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Just Government League, and the League of Republican Women of Maryland," the Web site says.

Long tradition

Westminster resident Daniel Bohn has been attending the parade his entire life.

"My first memories of the parade include sitting on the hood of a car that was way too hot, when I was about 5 or 6-years-old," said Bohn, 60.

The parade isn't the only tie to Memorial Day in the county.

In Mount Airy, a ceremony takes place at the Pine Grove Chapel, which was built in 1846 and was used to house Union soldiers, said Arthur Brett, a Korean War veteran.

"The chapel seemed the perfect place for our service because not only did Civil War soldiers find refuge at the chapel, there are more than 200 veterans buried in the church cemetery," said Brett, 75, of Mount Airy.

Perhaps the biggest change over the years has been the number of people participating in the services, said Brett, who has attended the service since he moved to Mount Airy 17 years ago.

"There were a lot more people involved in Memorial Day services when I was growing up," he said.

"It's an important day for me because I have ancestors who fought in every war from the Revolution on. But today, people have more to do than they did back then," he said.

Bohn agreed.

"Some people have lost their patriotic spirit," Bohn said. "It upset me that some organizations can't get enough people to participate. When I hear taps, there is a tingling in my body. Memorial Day is my chance to remember veterans who have gone to the post everlasting."

Being patriotic comes naturally, said Edwin Darrah, 79, of Mount Airy, who served in the Marines during World War II. He often gets choked up honoring people who lost their lives in combat, he said.

"On Memorial Day, I think about the brother-in-law, cousin and uncle I lost in wars who didn't have the privilege of coming back like I did," Darrah said.

"To me, that's what Memorial Day is all about."

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