A Cecil History Short: Recalling Youthful Days Growing up in Elkton and the Family Business, the Howard Hotel.

The latest Cecil History Short has been released by The Historical Society of Cecil County, Evelyn V. (Vaggi) Scott, 80, talks about youthful days growing up in Elkton and the family business, the Howard Hotel. This is Part I.  A conversation with Mrs. Scott will be released shortly in part II.

Dear Mort: Collection reveals the WWII experiences of a Cecil County man and his friends

By Anne Reilly

Today (June 6) is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The commemorations taking place on the beaches and in the cemeteries of Normandy draw our attention to the importance of remembering World War II.  A recently processed collection of letters in the Cecil County Historical Society’s archive offers a window onto the experiences of Americans at home and abroad during the war. These letters were all received by Morton Field Taylor (1916-1998) between 1941 and 1946. His correspondents include servicemen writing from England, France, India, North Africa, and the Philippines, as well as friends living and serving in the States.

Morton Taylor in uniform, Easter 1944

Morton Taylor in uniform, Easter 1944

Affectionately known as “Mort,” Taylor was born on March 24, 1916 in Aikin, Cecil County, Maryland, where his father, William Lackland Taylor, worked as telegraph operator for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Taylor graduated from Tome Institute, a preparatory school for boys in Port Deposit, Maryland, in 1937, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree (with a major in English and a minor in speech) from the University of Maryland in 1942.

Due to health issues, Taylor was not drafted into the U.S. Army until August 20, 1943. He entered the service at Camp Lee in Petersburg, Virginia, and then completed basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Here he became close friends with Hardy B. Smith (“Smitty”) and John R. Trickett (“Johnnie”). In a letter from September 1943 Taylor described training and life in the barracks to his parents. “We march here, there, and everywhere,” he wrote. “The balls of my feet are like 2 big blisters.” Yet he was thankful for the “swell guys” he had met. “We kid one another a lot—for a sense of humor is quite useful in living this life.”


Morton Taylor, Hardy Smith, and John Trickett at Aberdeen Proving Ground, 1943

Following training Taylor stayed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, serving first as an administrative clerk in the Ordnance Department and then as a classification specialist. In 1945 he was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he remained until he was discharged on March 17, 1946. His friends from basic training, however, were sent overseas. The men continued building their friendships through correspondence. In July 1944 Smith wrote to Taylor from Assam, a region in northeastern India: “You lucky devil, so you’re still in the good old States, are you? Well if you know what’s best for you, you had better stay there as long as you can because it’s not exactly a picnic over here.” Despite hardships, Smith did enjoy some aspects of his time overseas. He reported on entertainments held for the servicemen, including a “swell party” given by the American Red Cross on Christmas Eve 1944. “An English Officer read the Christmas Carol and Santa came and gave each of us a nice stocking with things,” he wrote. “After he left we had a swell buffet supper consisting of cold turkey, and chicken, cranberry, cookies, cake, pickles, fruit salad, fruit, nuts, rolls, and coffee. Wasn’t bad either.”

Trickett, who was from Washington, D.C., had married and had a baby before he entered the Army. In April 1944 he wrote to Taylor from England, noting how much he missed his wife, Jane. “Got a letter from her yesterday and felt like somebody sent me a million bucks…Hope this damn war is over soon so we can all go home where we belong.” At some point in the summer of 1944 Trickett was sent to France, although it is not known if he was among the troops who landed on June 6. In August he wrote to Taylor describing the exhilarating atmosphere in the liberated country: “Nothing too good for G.I. Joe here. Cider, wine, cognac!!—Can’t put it into words, pal. Really, Mort, you don’t know what you’re missing. Elkton can’t hold a candle to this place.”

The majority of Taylor’s correspondents were friends he had met through the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at the University of Maryland. They often addressed him as “Dad,” a nickname given to him because of his premature balding. Letters from these fraternity brothers usually included reminiscences of parties and dances that the friends attended before being separated, as well as descriptions of their stations, although details on specific locations were censored.

Chuck Weaver, Howard Elliott, and Morton Taylor in Baltimore, December 1943

Chuck Weaver, Howard Elliott, and Morton Taylor in Baltimore, December 1943

One of these fraternity brothers was Howard E. Elliott, Jr., known as “Howdy,” who graduated with Taylor in 1942. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and began training in Florida. By June 1945 he was stationed in the Philippines and reported to Taylor, “All in all it’s a pretty good deal over here. In fact I’m living a lot better than we did in the States. Four of us have just completed building our abode which has just about everything except running water. There are movies practically every night and plenty of books to read which by the way I have been going at most avidly. We also get a cigarette and beer ration which are most ample.” On September 2, 1945 he expressed his feelings on the unconditional surrender of Japan: “Well—it’s finally happened—signed, sealed, and delivered today on the USS Missouri. It’s really too good to believe in fact at first I was tempted to doubt its authenticity. It’s good to know that at last it’s all over and one can start to make tentative plans.” He looked forward to returning home and toasting Taylor at the Belvedere, a grand hotel in Baltimore.

Taylor also kept in touch with female friends and most of the letters from his male correspondents included advice about girlfriends. One young woman who prompted a great deal of discussion was Loretta French from Oklahoma City. Taylor met French in 1942 when she was visiting Maryland. At the time she was dating Taylor’s friend Samuel H. Tucker, Jr., who graduated from Tome Institute in 1939. By October 1942 Tucker was training with the Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, and his relationship with French was over. Taylor must have developed a serious interest in French shortly after she and Tucker broke up because in December 1942 his friend Frank Tyson, another Cecil County man, gave him some advice about her: “I do think that you and she should get married before you come into the army or some kind of service. If you are married, and happy, that means a lot in the service to a person. And if you are sure you love her, and she loves you by all means get married, why not? …If you are not sure, wait until after the war.” Perhaps intending to take this advice, Taylor must have written to Tucker about the situation. Tucker assured his friend that he was no longer in love with French, but cautioned him that she was rather fickle. He declared that the war had changed his perspective on women. “I have picked up new ideals as to what type of person I want for a mate,” he wrote from a pre-flight school in California. “A person to love, to live with, to share hardships with along with happiness; a person to be a pal, one to guide me, to keep me inspired to be a real man, and give me the desire to make good for her.” In February 1945 Taylor spent a weeklong furlough at French’s home in Oklahoma City. On Valentine’s Day 1945 she wrote to him, “You are about the sweetest most thoughtful person I know.” But by May of that year she had married another man. Taylor never married.

Loretta French, 1945

 After the war Taylor was employed as a civilian member of the Center Commander’s staff at the Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, Maryland. He settled down in Perryville and became a member of the Cecil County Historical Society in 1946, serving at various times as recording secretary, trustee, curator, and president. Until his death in 1998 he remained a faithful volunteer, and he trusted that his letters—the record of his and his friends’ service during WWII—would be preserved here for future generations.

Reading these letters enables us to learn about the experiences of Americans at home and abroad during World War II. Through them we can also trace the bonds of friendship. Corresponding provided a way for friends to remain in touch in uncertain times. “If this war doesn’t end soon, many past relations will certainly be severed,” Howdy Elliott wrote to Taylor on July 20, 1945. “Here’s hoping ours won’t alter Mort—I sure would like to keep in contact with you—notwithstanding our constant moves.”

The finding aid for the Morton F. Taylor World War II Collection is available online here.

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Anne Reilly is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Delaware. This spring she processed the Morton F. Taylor World War II Collection for a course in the Museum Studies Program.

The Author, Anne Reilly, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Dept. of History at the U of DE working with the Taylor Collection.

The Author, Anne Reilly, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Dept. of History at the U of DE working with the Taylor Collection.


U of D Graduate Student Creates Finding Aid for Police Blotters

U of DE Museum Studies Graduate Student, Elisabeth Maselli, works with the Elkton Police blotters to create an online finding aid.

U of DE Museum Studies Graduate Student, Elisabeth Maselli, works with the Elkton Police blotters to create an online finding aid.

Squirreled away on a shelf at the Historical Society of Cecil County sit some ledger books, 18 inches long by 6 inches wide.  Some of their binders are pealing and their pages are frayed.  But wait.  These are not just any old books, ready fodder for mouse nests.  They contain the day to day, sometimes minute to minute records of the Elkton Police department; the police blotters from the years 1951 to 1993 when the department began keeping digital records.

For the last few months, a graduate student from the University of Delaware has been reviewing the police blotters, inventorying them, putting them in boxes, labeling those boxes, and developing a finding aid to make it easier for anyone looking for information to locate it.  So who might use these ledgers?  Master’s degree candidate Elisabeth Maselli says they could be used for a number of different research projects such as genealogy, criminal justice, and anyone who wants a peek at Elkton, Maryland in the mid-20th century.

Elisabeth says that “peek” would reveal “small town identity stories,” especially around Elkton’s liberal marriage laws.  “There are a lot of instances of runaways,” Elisabeth reports.  “They are running way to get married.  Police reaction is indifferent, but depending on the situation either takes the couple into custody, releases them to their parents, or allows them to go and get married.”  In some cases there are instances of fraud committed against the unsuspecting and somewhat naive couples. “Some couples are scammed from time to time.  Taxi drivers direct them to certain chapels. The couples go. They fill out all of the paperwork, pay their fees, and leave.  Weeks later they still don’t have their certificates and they complain to the police.”

Elisabeth Maselli's graduate course in museum studies included a social media component.

Elisabeth Maselli’s graduate course in museum studies included a social media component.

As noted, the blotters span 40 years, some of it a very turbulent time especially when it comes to civil rights.  Elisabeth observes that there are not too many references to civil rights issues in the blotters. “Change is slow.  The shift is much larger on the national level.  There are some notes around freedom riders coming through town which are referred to as ‘suspicious persons at the diner,’ but no specific reference to the ‘Jim Crow’ laws of the day.”

One national news report that is referenced in the blotters is the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  “The officer then made a note of the event.   It’s interesting that he would do that.  It’s as close to a national reference that they come to aside from being on the lookout for felons who may be coming through the area.”

Elisabeth points out that once the ‘80s and ‘90s come along, the authors begin to make greater use of the blotter margins and NOT for official business.  “They’ll write a Christmas countdown and note that it’s the holidays.  In the fifties and sixties, that would not have flown.”  The national bicentennial is also observed in 1976.  “You can tell that maybe it’s a slow day or the officer just has some time, but he doodled American flags and made it a patriotic entry.”

In addition to placing the blotters in 7 labeled boxes and putting pictures from the era in separate folders, Elisabeth created a Twitter page with a different daily entry, so you can follow the “action” of the Elkton police from years ago on line at www.twitter.com/ccpolicearchive  There is a link there to a blog with more information including the finding aid at www.wordpress.org/ccpolicearchive

A Cold War Era notice to the officers, from Sheriff Kaplan.  if a missile, foreign planes land or anyone parachutes out of a plane in Cecil County contact the Air Force.

A Cold War Era notice to the officers, from Sheriff Kaplan. if a missile, foreign planes land or anyone parachutes out of a plane in Cecil County contact the Air Force.

Because the blotters cover a relatively recent time period, many of the individuals, both criminal and otherwise, are still living in the area.  For that reason, Elisabeth explains that many names are redacted from the Twitter feed, however, she says “researchers may go to the original documents and look up individuals if they need to.”  Ethnic slurs are also redacted, but, she says, “they are irregular and more the exception than the rule. It fades out over time.”

“It was a great experience” working with the documents at the historical society, Elisabeth adds.  “The society was so supportive of my project.”  Thank you, Elisabeth, for your efforts to shed light on and make available a piece of Elkton’s not so distant past.

A cops eye view of the nation's birthday, July 4, 1976.  Someone was busy doodling in the official records.

A cops eye view of the nation’s birthday, July 4, 1976. Someone was busy doodling in the official records.



Observing Memorial Day at Mt. Zoar Church in 1901

Mt Zoar A.M.E.. Conowingo.

Mt Zoar A.M.E.. Conowingo.

Memorial Day grew out of the remembrances of those who died in the American Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day as the graves of the over 6 hundred thousand war dead were decorated with flowers and flags.  One of the first of those post war Decoration Days was held on May first, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina when Black residents of the town cleaned up and decorated a cemetery where over 200 Union prisoners of war were interred. Some years later, a June 8th, 1901 article in the Cecil Whig describes a similar occasion near Port Deposit. A delegation from the colored post (Grand Army of the Republic) of Port Deposit, visited Mt. Zoar (Church) in the Eighth district.  There were quite a crowd of the colored people of the neighborhood assembled to witness the ceremony of decorating the graves of the colored soldiers who are sleeping in the graveyard there, adjacent to the church.  Short addresses were made suitable to the occasion by George Body and others after which the crowd quietly dispersed and went to their homes.

Eric Mease examines the monument for Corporal C. H. Butler, Co.R 24th USCI

Eric Mease examines the monument for Corporal C. H. Butler, Co.R 24th USCI

The graves of 9 members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) are documented at Mt. Zoar Church near Port Deposit.  Among them are some of the first African Americans to enlist in the Union Army in 1863.  Corporal John Bradford was a regimental cook in the 3rd Regiment USCT and saw action in the Carolinas and Florida. George and Joseph Haines, brothers from Harford County, lie side by side.  Both fought with the 4th Regiment USCT in Virginia.  Joseph was wounded in action at the battle of New Market Heights where another Harford County native, their company Sgt., Alfred B. Hilton, earned the Medal of Honor for bravery on the field of battle.  Both George and Joseph Haines would be honorably discharged and make their post war homes in Conowingo.  Finally, James Collins fought with the 25th Regiment USCT.  After the war he married, settled down, had two daughters, and worked in a Port Deposit area quarry. Another memorial day of sorts occurred in June of 1900 when, according to the Cecil County News of June 30th, the widow of United States Senator and Postmaster General John Cresswell, presented a flag to an Elkton Grand Army of the Republic (African American branch) at what is now the Providence United Methodist Church: Mrs. H.J.R. Cresswell presented a handsome silk flag to J.A.J. Cresswell Post G.A.R. on June 15.  Presentation speech was made by H.M. McCullough and the speech of acceptance by the Commander, Enoch Harris.  Addresses were also made by George A. Blake, Esq and Postmaster William J. Smith.  Music was furnished by St. Augustine Band.  The banner bears the name of the Post, is mounted on an oak staff, surmounted by a bronze eagle.   Exercises took place in Providence Hall, Elkton. Civil War veteran and future Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, read a poem by an unknown author during a Memorial Day speech in 1895 which may have some modern relevance. And when the wind in the tree-tops roared, The soldier asked from the deep dark grave: “Did the banner flutter then?” “Not so, my hero,” the wind replied. “The fight is done, but the banner won, Thy comrades of old have borne it hence, Have borne it in triumph hence.” Then the soldier spake from the deep dark grave: “I am content.” Then he heareth the lovers laughing pass, and the soldier asks once more: “Are these not the voices of them that love, That love–and remember me?” “Not so, my hero,” the lovers say, “We are those that remember not; For the spring has come and the earth has smiled, And the dead must be forgot.” Then the soldier spake from the deep dark grave: “I am content.”

Graduate Student Creates Finding Aid for African American History Collection

From the Cecil Democrat (Oct, 27, 1955 -- "Carver Girls Host New Homemakers"

From the Cecil Democrat (Oct, 27, 1955 — “Carver Girls Host New Homemakers”

The Eva M. Muse Collection contains research notes and personal collections compiled by Eva. M. Muse, an educator and community activist.  After she retired from teaching in the public schools in 1982, she embarked on a seventeen year-long career as a local historian.  Eva began studying local history in Cecil County and as a result of this work compiled a collection in the hopes of writing a book on local African-American History.

Eva was born in Cecil County and graduated from the Elkton Colored School in 1942.  She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1950 from Bowie State University and began teaching in a one room schoolhouse in Millington in 1950.  Later she taught in schools in Millsboro and Dover Delaware, retiring in 1982.  She belongs to Wright’s A.M.E. Church, served as the education chair in the local NAACP and Vice-President of the Historical Society of Cecil County.  At the time of her death in the mid-1990s she was still working on her research.

This collection comprises Eva M. Muse’s research notes and personal collection. The ten series in this collection contain material relevant to a wide range of topics. The bulk of the material is drawn from the 1980s and 1990s, when Eva volunteered for local churches, NAACP meetings, and public schools. The first series comprises her personal notes and lecture materials. The other nine series contain mixed manuscript sources, from programs and bulletins to legal documents. A great deal of the documents are photocopied pages from other sources, but are still valuable for researchers interested in Cecil County’s African American population.

Her research notebooks are particularly helpful for those digging into the past here.  She poured over local newspapers abstracting local African-American history notes from the area’s newspapers, including the Cecil Whig, Cecil Democrat, and Cecil County News.  Since these publications are in traditional paper and microfilm formats, they are not keyword searchable, nor has a comprehensive index been created.  Thus the abstractions from the local weeklies help make materials findable in those serials.

Elisabeth Maselli worked on creating the finding aid during the spring semester

Elisabeth Maselli worked on creating the finding aid during the spring semester

Thanks to the work of a University of Delaware Master’s degree candidate, Elisabeth Maselli, a comprehensive virtual, finding aid has been created to help patrons locate materials in this records group.  Elisabeth has been reviewing the materials, inventorying them, and creating a logical arrangement to help anyone desiring to use the collection.

The website Elisabeth created contains a finding aid for the collection and a set of activities that public school teachers may adapt for Common Core social studies and history curriculum. The finding aid is arranged at the folder level, and item-level descriptions of folder contents are linked to folder titles where applicable. The activities are arranged in a table that shows how Common Core standards apply to particular activities.

Here is the link.  Thank you Elisabeth for creating this helpful finding aid, which will make another of the Society’s resources more accessible.

From the Cecil Democrat (Oct, 27, 1955 -- "Carver Girls Host New Homemakers"

From the Cecil Democrat (Oct, 27, 1955 — “Carver Girls Host New Homemakers”

african american june 2 1955 democrata

The Eva Muse research notebooks help patrons access materials published in local newspapers. This was from an article in the Cecil Democrat, June 2, 1955.


Editor of Dolley Madison Papers Comments on a Letter in the Society’s Collection

Dr. Holly Shulman

Dr. Holly Shulman

As we approach the 101st anniversary of the Battle of Elk Landing during the War of 1812, a document turned up at the Historical Society of Cecil County that has nothing to do with the war or the battle, but is related to President James Madison who was, of course, president during the war.

Last week, a researcher was reviewing the Society’s Gilpin collection through an online finding aid and ran across a letter which the finding aid said was written by First Lady Dolley Madison.  The aid indicated that the letter was probably written in 1810 to Richard Hollingsworth.  Curious, the researcher requested a copy of the letter which a Society volunteer forwarded via email.  The researcher passed the letter on to the University of Virginia (UVA) for verification. The Dolley Madison papers are housed at UVA.  Within 48 hours the editor of the Dolley Madison Edition, Dr. Holly Shulman, sent a 3 page return email with a complete explanation of the letter including a transcript.  Her email read, in part:

To begin with, here is my transcription of the letter.

Dear Richard –

This has become the saddest most bustling place that ever a poor lazy body lived in — It has taken up all my time to answer invitations for Dinners & Tea’s for the last week.  I wish you were the propriter of more than half them to enliven your precious Elk & to relieve me from two engagements a day – among them is one to the Theatre to patronise the Bridal Van Bn.

Dr. Shulman went on to say that the letter was indeed from the pen of Dolley Madison, but not written in 1810 or to Richard Hollingsworth.

I think it is a letter to another Richard, Richard Dominicus Cutts, her nephew, whom she did address as Richard.  And I think this letter is probably January 1838, possibly the first week of February. 

We know that Dolley arrived in DC on 1 December 1837. 

She refers to an invitation to the theatre for an event given to honor the newly married bride Van Buren.  This would have referred to Angelica Singleton who… married Abraham Van Buren, son of President Van Buren.  Angelica Singleton is related to Dolley Madison through the Coles family.

As for how this letter ended up in Cecil County…

I suspect this letter is real but that the original signature had been excised and a different signature cut out and pasted on the paper.  I suspect that someone asked her for an autograph and that it not be a clipped signature but a letter.  I suspect she complied.  I know nothing about Richard Hollingsworth, but she had many letters asking for autographs during the years 1837-1849. 

Our thanks to Dr. Shulman for her transcript of the Dolley Madison letter and the detailed explanation around its genesis.  One other Maryland connection… Dr. Shulman is the former  associate director of the Science, Technology, and Society Honors Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Signature of DP Madison pasted on the letter.

Signature of DP Madison pasted on the letter.