Gold coin and Rodgers Forge stories return

WAY BACK WHEN

Back Story

October 19, 2008|By FREDERICK N RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N RASMUSSEN,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Weeks later, and I'm still getting mail and phone calls about columns I wrote in September and August.

Readers are still fascinated with the tale of Theodore Jones and Henry Grob, poor Baltimore teens who unearthed gold coins in the basement of an Eden Street tenement in 1934.

What brought the story back from musty newspaper and legal archives was the recent publication of Leonard Augsburger's Treasure in the Cellar: A Tale of Gold in Depression-Era Baltimore.

Howard J. Sapp, 80, a retired Social Security Administration disability examiner, wrote me. He said that one of the boy's parents paid a debt to his grandfather, owner of a Caroline Street store, with a 2 1/2 -dollar gold piece from the stash.

After reading my story, Sapp remembered the gold coin - also known as a Quarter Eagle - and the story of the boys. He determined he would solve the mystery of the coin that had remained in his family for 74 years and report back to me.

"My sister, June Patz, is wearing it around her neck right now," Sapp said in a phone call.

In the official inventory of the gold coins, there were seven 2 1/2 -dollar gold pieces that dated to 1854, and the Sapp family piece was one of them.

"Some years ago, she took it to a jeweler who told her it was worth about $100 in gold and then offered her $600 for it," Sapp said. "She didn't sell it and instead had a necklace made out of it."

"So, it's happily around the neck of an 83-year-old widow who lives in Stevenson," he said.

Norma Barranco of Edgemere wrote to say that she and her husband, Leo, had a 2 1/2 -dollar gold piece in a box that might be from the hoard.

Her husband's former father-in-law, Harry Panuska, a medical technologist, had owned and operated a business in his Luzerne Avenue home.

"Could it be that he accepted a coin of this nature in payment for blood work?" Barranco e-mailed.

I told the Barrancos that geography was on their side and asked them for the coin's date.

It was 1915 - far too late to be part of the Eden Street find. The 2 1/2 -dollar coins the boys unearthed date from 1834 to 1856.

Rodgers Forge redux

In a piece I wrote about Rodgers Forge and the anvil that gave the community its name, Helen Potter, who was a secretary at Rodgers Forge Elementary School for 30 years, reported in an e-mail that the historic relic was in a showcase in the school's lobby until she retired in 1992.

I called the school to ask if the anvil was still on display, but they had no idea where it was.

"Someone surely must have known the value of the anvil and what it meant to the school and the community," Potter wrote from her Keedysville home.

"I know it was under my watch for many years and I am very concerned that it is now missing ... " she wrote. "I moved from Towson five years ago but still care about the history of our community."

Jack Cremeans, who lives in Glenwood, wrote in an e-mail to say that after finishing his freshman year in 1947 at the Johns Hopkins University, he took a job as a carpenter's apprentice with the H.J. Dudley Co., whose job was to tear down the old Rodgers Forge that had been badly damaged in a fire.

Cremeans said that the old forge had been used as a tire retreading shop and gasoline was used to clean the tires before the tread was put on. A worker who had been smoking accidentally set the place on fire.

"That was the rumor, or so we were told," said Cremeans, an economist who has retired as director of the office of business analysis at the U.S. Commerce Department.

He said he saw no anvil in the forge's ruins. "A laborer and I took the remains down with crowbars and hammer. The remnants of the forge were still visible, but no anvil," he wrote. "My grandfather was a blacksmith and I know what an anvil looks like. It must have been removed before the retreading shop was set up."

After World War II ended, lumber was in short supply nationally, aided in part by the postwar building boom, so all salvageable lumber was pulled down from the old forge and carefully stacked by Cremeans and a co-worker.

After the old forge was removed, an Esso filling station rose on the site, at the southeastern corner of York Road and Stevenson Lane.

Cremeans said that he lugged a tool box each day from his home on Park Avenue to the No. 8 streetcar that took him to the forge demolition.

Cremeans recalled that an extra zone fare of 10 cents was collected before the streetcar stop at York Road and Stevenson Lane.

"It was collected a couple of blocks before the stop so the guys that worked on the construction site got off and walked, as did many passengers who lived locally," Cremeans said in a phone call.

Cremeans, who went back to college that fall before the station was finished, later earned his PhD. Now 80, he can "still drive a nail, use a hand saw, and handle a crowbar," lessons learned some 61 summers ago.

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