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Theatre Newsreel Footage of 1947 Crash of Eastern Airlines Flight Outside Port Deposit

Scene from newsreel of Eastern Airlines Flight 605 Crash in 1947.  Source:  British Pathe

Scene from newsreel of Eastern Airlines Flight 605 Crash in 1947. Source: British Pathe

Cecil County has had more than its share of tragic commercial airline accidents and periodically these tragedies get attention as memorials are dedicated or a remembrance program is held.  The crashes are well documented in newspaper clippings, letters, official reports, and photographs in the collections of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

Now additional sources are becoming available as old movie footage is digitized and streamed online. That is the case with Eastern Airlines Flight 605, which suddenly plunged from the sky on a gorgeous Memorial Day in 1947. The doomed, out-of-control craft streaked earthward and when it struck the ground, observers said there was a puff of white smoke, a flash of orange, and a billowing cloud of smoke. All 53 people on board died from the impact and explosion. Mrs. Jeanette Nesbit Hillyer arranged for a monument to be erected at the site in 2011, assuring that the fading memory of the terrible event would not be forgotten in Cecil County.

In a clip described as the “aftermath of two air crashes in United States of America” British Pathe, a provider of newsreels for theatres, filmed the accident scene outside of Port Deposit in some silent footage. Just before the local incident, another DC-4 crashed at La Guardia airfield in New York, and that coverage opens the segment.  The Cecil County film starts at about 53 seconds into the piece.

While the Society and some private collectors have a number of still photos of the accident, this is the first time we have seen any movie film from an incident that took place in a thick woods outside of Port Deposit nearly 70 years ago.

In a drive to make its archives more accessible to viewers, British Pathe recently released its digital archives of 85,000 films, making them available for free online streaming. These historic newsreel films contain vintage news and features reports. In this virtual collection you will find footage of major events around the world and regional news.


Theatre newsreel footage covering crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 605 outside of Port Deposit in 1947. Source: British Pathe.


The Elkton Banking and Trust Company

North Street was the financial center of Elkton.  On the street were a number of banks and on a Friday night the area hummed with activity.  People headed  downtown to deposit their paycheck and get some cash for weekly shopping in the business district.

The Elkton Banking and Trust Company was one of those institutions and between the two World Wars a number of cars are parked in front of the Trust Company.

Elkton Banking and Trust Company.  Source:  private collection.

Elkton Banking and Trust Company. Source: private collection.

In the spirit of ’76 – Doodling in the police blotter as Nation Turns 200-Years-Old

hscc 105aaaLots of people remember the day America turned 200 years old on July 4, 1976. There were all sorts of special parades, concerts, fireworks, and programs in communities across the nation. It was a big deal in Cecil too, with plenty of Bicentennial celebrations on the long holiday weekend for the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

Working that July 4th, Elkton Police Officers carefully chronicled the passing of Independence Day in the department’s official blotter.  Officers Strickland, Smith, Blake, Pease, and George kept a careful watch on the county seat, during a 24-hour tour, coming and going off 8-hour shifts as people enjoyed the festivities.

Considering how big the celebrations and parties were, it was a remarkable quiet holiday in Elkton.   There were a few fireworks calls and a couple of burglar alarms, but only one domestic disturbance and one disorderly subject marred the occasion.

The day was slow enough that someone had time to do a little doodling in this public record, the Elkton Police Blotter. The pages, which all except this one lack color and sketches, was doodled on, as an officer getting into the spirit of things wrote “Happy Birthday America,” and decorated the page with colorful art work and lettering.

So just as our little colonial doodler in an early age, sketched on a county tax schedule, someone did the same in 1976 on this public record.

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The Elkton Police Blotter, July 4, 1976

Colonial Doodling While Maintaining Cecil County’s Public Records

Although tax season is over for most Americans now that we are a couple of days past April 15th, it doesn’t mean that records generated by annual levies from long ago aren’t of interest. In fact, one of the Historical Society of Cecil County research volunteers, Jo Ann Gardner, has been pouring over volumes of those financial transactions for several days, carefully checking the rolls for personal property inventories, tax assessments, addresses, and the names of people living here in earlier centuries.

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Jo Ann Gardner a volunteer at Cecil County’s History and Genealogy Library pouring over colonial era tax records, pauses on the colonial doodlers page.

Jo Ann isn’t an auditor with the Internal Revenue Service pouring over what might appear to be mundane pages. She is a library volunteer, helping a patron from Colorado who is trying to identify some long ago, elusive ancestors in the public records.

Although those citizens from the past may not have been excited about paying the county levy, someone looking for evidence for putting together a family tree can be delighted to find ancestors listed in those aging, financial schedules written in a flowing script. While there are many ways to go about family history research, these vital governmental documents, while often neglected, have great value for historical and genealogical information. Jo Ann has been at it for some time going page by page through the volumes as the colonial, early federal, and 19th century tax records at the Society are extensive.

The other day while pouring over those yellowing pages, with an auditor’s like eye for detail, she tripped across a surprising item penned in the detailed, dry listings of figures, inventories, assessments and levies. The county clerk (or someone) did a little fancy doodling, drawing a well-dressed man and also the face of another person. Perhaps it was just a little absent-minded sketching as the clerk sat silently listening to the commissioners review the assessments and make adjustments while waiting for them to complete their deliberations so he could permanently record the details in the county’s public record.

Whatever the case, we have had many doodlers in our nation’s history, as great leaders and other have been known to draw on the margins of a sheet during meetings.  So the county clerk from the end of the colonial era was in good company as he performed that most essential function, official recording the business of Cecil County while also taking care of filings and legal instruments.

Jo Ann has named her colonial sketch artist, “Yankee Doodles Dandy,” and in those lists, tabulations and levies, sources that have great potential for the genealogist probing for that elusive ancestor, “Yankee Doodles Dandy,” stands out. And the over 200-year-old random drawing has been getting lots of attention, as it adds a little color to the public record.

This is just one of the many ways that the volunteers at Cecil County’s history and genealogy library serve the public.  Nearly forty years ago, the County Commissioners determined that our local heritage keepers should also serve as the county archives for records that no longer have day-to-day relevance, but have historical value.

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Some doodles at the end of a certification of an early Cecil County levy.

Jo Ann and Tom examine a page of tax records.

Jo Ann and Tom examine a page of tax records.



Remembering the Work of Cecil County’s Public Safety Communicators During National Public Safety Telecommunications Week

This is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (April 13-19, 2014), a time when the United States honors the professionals who answer 911 calls and dispatch emergency responders. While the nation thanks public safety communicators, Window on Cecil County’s Past pauses to tip our hat to the County’s 911 calls-takers, dispatchers, and technicians who maintain our emergency communication system.

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Rosemary Culley dispatching from the county courthouse in the 1970s

These men and women are on the front line of every urgent situation in Cecil, dealing with life and death situations 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week. They answer thousands of calls each year, coordinating the response of police officers, paramedics, fire fighters, hazmat technicians, medevac helicopters, and much more to incidents, while also providing guidance and instruction to citizens until first responders arrive. Their service is greatly appreciated.

At the same time, we pause to remember the four professionals who were the pioneer emergency communicators in Cecil. On Monday, October 2, 1961 at 12 p.m. sirens all across the county sounded, marking the beginning of professional, centralized communications as “fire headquarters” was on the air.

The Whig explained the operation. “It will be manned around the clock with trained personnel who have a knowledge of every piece of emergency equipment in the county, where it is located, what it can be used for, and the method for dispatching it without loss of time.”

Four fulltime county employees staffed the 24/7 operation. The one dispatcher alone on the shift juggled the telephone calls, handled radio traffic, and kept the FCC log. The “chief operator” Jack Cooke, was assisted by “operators” Rosemary Culley, Marie Cooling, and Jim Penhollow. Robert Eversole served as a relief operator.

Jim Penhollow recently recalled that it was a couple of days before the first emergency call came in. The times sure have changed and public safety communications has grown more complicated with each passing year. The week is sponsored by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

We salute our public safety communications professionals, current and past.

Rosemary Culley, another original dispatcher, handles the fire board in 1966.  Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 14, 1966

Rosemary Culley, another original dispatcher, handles the fire board in 1966. Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 14, 1966


Marie Cooling, a fire dispatcher, takes a call.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, Aug. 30, 1967/

Marie Cooling, a fire dispatcher, takes a call. Source: Cecil Democrat, Aug. 30, 1967/


Spring Time at Rev. Duke’s Log House


Liz McLaughlin operates the tiller.


LIz McLaughlin and Russ Hamilton start the tiller.

Spring has finally arrived on the Upper Chesapeake and at old Rev. Duke’s Log House things were busy on this sunny Thursday afternoon as the temperature approached the mid-60s.  It was a perfect, early April afternoon as Arts Council volunteers tilled the soil on the front lawn for a community garden.


State Police Patrol Northeastern Maryland Out of Conowingo & Provide Ambulance Service

The Susquehanna Power Company built a police sub-station at Conowingo for the use of the Maryland State Police in 1929, leasing the land to the agency for $1 a year. When it opened that April, a staff of two sergeants, a corporal and four officers were assigned to the post. It was modern with offices, a kitchen, a cell room, and sleeping quarters for twelve men. In addition to motorcycles for the patrol, one horse was detailed to the post.

The force consisted of First Sergeant Atkinson, Sergeant Katz, Corporal Dyas, and Officers Weber, Klapproth, Phillips and Holland. The troopers were centrally located to handle the increasing traffic on Route 1 and they policed Harford County north of Deer Creek, Cecil County, and Kent County.

In an era when ambulances weren’t commonly available, the Maryland Police responded to the need for medical transport and quick response to automobile accidents. The agency acquired five ambulances in 1935, and one of those units was assigned to sub-station F at Conowingo.

Over the years, additional barracks were constructed to meet the growing demands for police service and operations at Conowingo were scaled back. At some point in the early 1970s or late 1960s, it was scaled down from a 24-hour-a-day to an 8-hour operation. On September 1, 1973, the old station passed into history as it was deactivated. It was the oldest installation at that point, having served the public for 43 years, but barracks in North East and Bel Air provided greater coverage to northeastern Maryland.

The Maryland State Police Post at Conowingo in 1929

The Maryland State Police Post at Conowingo in 1929. Source: private collection.


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Photo of Maryland State Police Ambulance. Source: MSP Yearbook.

Video From This Afternoon’s Bootlegger’s Ball

To drink or not to drink was the question at this month’s program at the Historical Society of Cecil County as the organization examined the days of temperance, prohibition, speakeasies, bootleggers and Bathtub gin. Afterwards everyone was invited to a secret rendezvous at the Bootlegger’s Ball, over at the North Street Hotel. There the guests toasted the repeal of prohibition and socialized after the talk. To help the “drys,” those temperance and teetotaler types, catch the spirit there was temperance run, a nonalcoholic beverage that even the saloon smasher, Carrie Nation, would approve of. So it was bottoms up for everyone as we remembered the “noble experiment.”

Here’s a brief YouTube video of scenes from the Bootlegger’s Ball.

Duck & Cover at the Perryville LIbrary – April 8th — Cecil County prepared for Armageddon

From the Cecil County Public Library
Date: 4/8/2014
Start Time: 7:00 PM

 Local historian Mike Dixon recounts national and local Civil Defense activities, from World War II to the nuclear age, when government officials planned for the worst. Registration required.

Library: Perryville Branch
Location: Meeting Room

to register click here.

Duck and Cover at the Perryville Library, April 8th.

Duck and Cover at the Perryville Library, April 8th.


Columbia University Professor Talks About Biography of John Randel, Jr., Chief Engineer of the C & D Canal Comany April 12

The Measure of Manhattan

The Measure of Manhattan

The author of a biography about the chief engineer of the C & D Canal, John Randel, Jr. will speak at the Historical Society of Cecil County April 12 at 2:00 p.m. “An eccentric and flamboyant surveyor,” Randel was “renowned for his inventiveness” and his irascibility.

After “drafting and executing the street grid plan for Manhattan,” he took on other important engineering projects. In 1823 the accomplished surveyor was hired to oversee the building of the Canal. But after the Company dismissed him four years later, he filed a wrongful dismissal suit, collecting a staggering settlement of more than $5-million in today’s dollars.  With that, he bought a 1,000 acre estate, Randelia, in Cecil County, the New York Times notes.

Marguerite Holloway, the director of Science and Environmental Journalism at Columbia University has written for Scientific American, Discover, the New York Times, Natural History and Wired. While researching the eccentric engineer, she spent days in Cecil County, working at the Historical Society and visiting the land Randel traveled.  “I am really thrilled to be talking at the Society.  It is where my quest for Randel really took hold,” the professor remarked.  There she found newspapers, the Martinet map, and journal entries from the diary of Judge McCauley.

“The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr: Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor,” was published in 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. Illustrated with dozens of historical images and antique maps, it is an absorbing story about a fascinating man. “Marguerite Holloway offers up a well-deserved biography of the chronically aggrieved and litigious visionary,” the New York Times writes. “Professor Holloway . . . deftly weaves surviving fragments of Randel’s life . . . with a 21st century scavenger hunt by modern geographers to find the physical markers of his work.”

Date:       April 12, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.

Location:  Historical Society of Cecil County, 135 E. Main Street, Elkton, MD.

Admission: Free

Chart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, Fielding Lucas:  Source:, the David Rumsey Collection

Chart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, Fielding Lucas, 1840: Source:, the David Rumsey Collection