How many candles?
Residents disagree on Emmitsburg’s birthdate
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society
president Mike Hillman points out features of a 1797 map of Emmitsburg in
his home near the town
(Photo by Bill Ryan/The Gazette)
(6/22) About 20 people attended an
Emmitsburg town meeting on Monday to argue about the town’s founding date and
what information should be displayed on the town flag.
The flag now includes the town’s incorporation date of 1825 and a founding date
Emmitsburg resident Bill Steo made an eight-minute presentation arguing that
since the town flag includes a founding date of 1757, the town should start
planning for a 250th anniversary celebration to be held in 2007, and provided
three ‘‘proofs” of why the town’s founding date is 1757.
Emmitsburg Area Historical
Michael Hillman and others from the society also came to the meeting
and said all
facts point to a true founding date of 1785.
The society covers the areas just south of Gettysburg from the Monocacy to Blue
Ridge Summit just north of Thurmont, which encompassed the original
Creek Hundred, area from which most of the original settlers of
Emmitsburg were drawn, Hillman said.
Steo and other town residents, many of whom had been present at a bicentennial
celebration in 1957, argued that the historical society was using the wrong
definition of the word ‘‘town.” They said that town residents, not members of
the historical society, should have the final say in the town’s founding date.
Town resident and Catoctin High School teacher Talia Bookman was one of 10
people who spoke in support of the historical society’s view of 1785 as the
true founding date. Many of the historical society’s members and supporters are
former town residents or are descendants of the town’s original settlers.
‘‘Information can change through time, otherwise the Earth would still be flat
right now,” Bookman said.
During his presentation, Steo said, ‘‘No one can have knowledge of the founding
date that can be anything more than an opinion.”
He spoke of nomadic peoples wandering and establishing towns through the act of
determining a border. The reason they did this, Steo said, was to keep others
out, let residents know the limitations of their property and to distinguish
one community from another.
‘‘Emmitsburg’s long tradition supports the view I’m making,” Steo said. ‘‘If
the tradition isn’t true, why has it been preserved so long?”
Steo made a request to town officials to allow him to make a presentation on
the founding date during a town meeting.
Following public comment on the presentation, town officials did not say when,
or if, they would make a decision on whether to change the town flag.
Thurmont Commissioner Clifford Sweeney said he sided with Steo and other town
residents on the 1757 founding date. About 10 town residents spoke on behalf of
the 1757 founding date.
Hillman entered two historical artifacts as evidence into the town’s record.
One was an original dollar, and the other was a brochure from a production
company that the historical society says went around the country in the 1950s
convincing towns to throw bicentennial celebrations.
‘‘Yes, [in 1757] there were people living in northern Frederick County called
Tom’s Creek 100, but there was no one living on the land bought by Samuel Emmit,”
town commissioner Ted Brennan also spoke in support of 1785 as the true
‘‘There were Native Americans living on the land before that, so why don’t we
celebrate the 10,000th anniversary of the town’s founding date?” he asked.
‘‘The authority is not in the town, history is the only authority.”
Town resident Larry Little read from a written statement in support of 1757 as
the founding date. He spoke of remembering the bicentennial celebration in
1957, the way men and women dressed in clothing from the 1800s, having a
parade, and contests including a beard-growing contest among the men.
‘‘The bicentennial celebration taught me many things, [including how to be part
of a community],” Little said.
‘‘If you don’t like it, if you don’t want to live here in Emmitsburg, move
Emmitsburg resident Elizabeth Garner, 81, said she also remembers the town’s
‘‘I was 33 years old in 1957,” she said. ‘‘Up to that date, historically, the
founding date was understood to be 1785. I really wish the Town of Emmitsburg
would not be party to a lie.
‘‘Rather, [the founding date] should be 1785.”
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