Touring town's night life and death

`Spirited' tours recount tales of New Windsor's past

October 21, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

About two dozen people will congregate next week to render tales about former residents of New Windsor.

There's the one about Boiling Mad Anthony Wayne whose tale includes boiling, bones and skin.

Another story is about Dr. Roberts Bartholomew, a Civil War doctor who was condemned by the American Medical Association for his unethical medical practices.

Then there's the one about Old Tom Brown, who had a glass eye and reportedly drank soda left sitting around by the townspeople.

"The stories are not conjured-up tales," said Sharon Schuster, a retired teacher who interviewed local residents and did research to write the stories. "Each one is an account of something that someone told me in an interview, or that I found doing research. I just embellished them a little bit."

These tales and several others about rattling chains, a phantom buggy, and the town's bank robbery will be told Saturday during the New Windsor Heritage Committee Spirited Stories and Legends Walk.

Started about a decade ago, the walk includes stories about people who loved the town so much that they refuse to leave, said Schuster.

"The spirits tour is the perfect venue for perpetuating the history of New Windsor," said Schuster, 51, of New Windsor, who was a charter member of the New Windsor Heritage Committee.

The spirits' walk includes about 11 stories, each told by a different storyteller at the location where it occurred, or by the gravesite of the person being portrayed. The storytellers and tour guides wear Victorian-era or early-Colonial clothing, and some people carry lanterns, said Doris Ann Pierce, 73 who coordinates the costumes for the walk.

Members of the New Windsor Heritage Museum have compiled many of the costumes for the living history portrayals, she said. To add to the ambience, the town cemetery is used as a backdrop, and several stories are told there, said Pierce, a retired secretary who resides in New Windsor.

Despite the setting, the stories are suitable for everyone, she said.

The tales include real people who resided in New Windsor, and relatives of the characters depicted tell some of the stories.

Dressed in 1860s attire, including a stovepipe hat, a blousy, frilly shirt, a necktie of wine-colored velvet and black shoes, Lanny Harchenhorn tells the story of his great uncle called, "OId Tom Brown."

Although things about Tom Brown have been passed down over the years, Harchenhorn was able to add things to the story that no one but the family knew, he said.

"My mother and grandmother told me that he quit drinking and then went around town telling everyone that he ruined his health by drinking," Harchenhorn said.

The story goes that Tom Brown had a glass eye that fascinated the local children. He worked for the Western Maryland Railroad in a repair shop in Union Bridge, and he also owned a welding shop in New Windsor.

But Tom Brown was even more notorious for making his own hard cider, a drink with a wicked high alcohol content, said Harchenhorn, who has been interested in history since he was 8 or 9 years old.

Brown drank too much and in the end it killed him; he died of cirrhosis of the liver. But before Brown died, he ran around town telling everyone not to drink, Harchenhorn said. After Brown's death, his welding shop was purchased in the late 1970s by a man who turned it into a woodworking shop.

While working in the shop, the new owner would bring in a soft drink and drink it while he worked, Harchenhorn said.

"When the man went back to get a drink, it was considerably lower in quantity," said Harchenhorn, 64, who works as an attorney in New Windsor. "The man thought it was his imagination. At other times, he would leave partially consumed drinks and when he went back for another drink the cup would be empty."

"There's no scientific explanation for it," he said. "I knew the guy who told the story, and he wasn't the type to make it up. And my uncle quit drinking before he died and told everyone who would listen that it was harmful to their health. I tell people maybe he drinks Pepsi-Cola now."

True or not, it's his civic duty to tell the story, he said.

"I try to do what I can to help preserve the history of New Windsor," Harchenhorn said. "But I also think it's the right thing to do. Maybe someone will hear how drinking killed Tom Brown and it might help them stop drinking. I know Uncle Tom would want that."

The Spirited Stories and Legends Walk will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. The cost is $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 3 to 12, and children younger than 3 are free.

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