Opera House's war days

Westminster headquarters for Union troops

June 03, 2007|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,Special to The Sun

George E. Trump purchased the tall, red-brick building in Westminster "for a song" in 1975, his wife says, and established the Opera House Printing Co. on Main Street.

At the front of the 1850s building was a grocery store and inside was a men's suit factory that had gone out of business. Genevieve Trump said her husband restored the facade to that of an opera house, with walls four bricks thick, and renovated the historic building's interior for his printing business.

His health failing, George Trump turned the printing business over to his wife in 1995, who has run it since while remaining in their living quarters on the third floor. He died in 2002.

The old Opera House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

It was built as a meetinghouse in 1854 by the International Order of Odd Fellows, an organization whose U.S. branch was founded in Baltimore in 1819 to promote community causes and provide assistance for members.

Vaudeville and other traveling shows played there, and the building was home to an oyster bar, library, movie theater and offices for The American Sentinel newspaper.

Westminster High School's Class of 1926 performed the comedy Penrod in it. Tickets were 50 cents and 75 cents, Genevieve Trump's scrapbook shows. Other high school classes also performed on the stage and auditorium that was built on the ground floor, as well as the Carroll Players troupe.

The Opera House had been the town's entertainment center since before the Civil War, and it was caught up in the conflict. Visiting school groups hear tales of the building being haunted by the ghost of Marshall Buell, a comedian from Alabama who was killed behind the Opera House after the war because of a performance in which he made fun of President Ulysses S. Grant. Buell's killer was never caught.

Re-enactments of Civil War events include the Opera House's time as headquarters for a detachment of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment under Lt. Pulaski Bowman.

Maryland was under martial law, and President Abraham Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which requires that detained persons be brought before a court to determine the legality of their detention or imprisonment.

The detachment watched for Union deserters and travelers passing through Westminster without a permit.

This month, there will be a re-enactment next to the Opera House of the "oath of allegiance" ceremonies enforced by Bowman's unit.

Tom LeGore wrote in the 1963 book Just South of Gettysburg that Carroll countians were about evenly divided in their sympathies between the North and South. Lincoln was suspicious of Maryland's Southern leanings, LeGore said, because tobacco plantation owners and others had large slave holdings and were influential in the state's politics.

"I will do whatever I have to do to have Maryland stay in the nation's Union," Lincoln is quoted as saying, "because I cannot afford to be bordered by both sides by enemy territory."

Lieutenant Bowman required Carroll countians to publicly swear allegiance to the Union. Re-enactors annually portray scenes of such oath-takings as well as the skirmish in Westminster on June 29, 1863, between Union soldiers and the cavalry of Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg.

"I always attributed what was happening in Carroll County -- the change from being pro-Union to being split in its sentiments -- simply to the fact that the people in Carroll County were terribly separated from what was happening in Baltimore until the railroad was completed in June 1861 from Baltimore through Westminster," LeGore said, "and all of a sudden they had access to Baltimore newspapers, when the population of Baltimore was 200,000, which [included] 50,000 free blacks." News of unrest in Baltimore stirred conversation and split families in Carroll County, he said.

Medical care for solders on both sides was provided by Carroll citizens, some of whom then found themselves hauled up by Bowman's troops "simply because of the fact that you showed that you were humanitarian after the battle ended in the streets of Westminster, and you may have taken a wounded soldier into your home and cared for him," LeGore said.

"The oath of allegiance means that ... they are swearing to the fact that they were faithful to the Union and to the government at the time. It had nothing to do with the Pledge of Allegiance," LeGore noted, "which was not written until 1892."

"Regardless of side, it was a human being. It was not a Northern soldier or South, and they offered them food, both sides, and they did as much for them as they could, because these were human beings that were in peril and they had just been in battle. ... Lieutenant Bowman decided that he had an obligation that whoever came to him and said, `Well, Mrs. Longwell ... she fed Confederate soldiers when they were in Westminster, [along with] her husband.'" (They were two of the most prominent people in town at the time.)

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