New Year's resolutions have been shared, and bantered around, all week—a natural occurrence for the start of the year. Just as the Christmastime holiday season brings its own set of traditions to each and every one of us, so does early January boasting a clean slate for us to act on things we’d like to change, or enhance, about ourselves.
Some commit to a goal of “living life to its fullest,” which may incur things like travel or new hobbies. The spirit of this post-holiday period annually shows a rise in gym memberships, healthier foods jumping off grocery store shelves at a fast rate, folks downloading self-organization apps (while “old-schoolers” buy the latest edition of day planners), a dip in cigarette sales, and spirited attempts to keep disparaging comments and criticisms about others to one’s self.
“Carpe diem!” as the Roman poet Horace wrote in 23 BC. However, while many of us “seize the day,” week, or perhaps the entire month of January, a recent yahoo.com study found that 91% of Americans ultimately fail at sustaining their New Year’s resolution goals. Now, I’m not going to sit here and gloat or criticize, as there are plenty of resolutions that could be chosen to better my current well-being. Instead, I want to guarantee a 100% compliance with this year’s goal, perhaps do my part of upping that “resolution success rate” for this current year’s yahoo survey, if you will.
I have chosen my said resolution from a work-related “Story in Stone” perspective. For the last ten years, I’ve wanted to learn more (and publish a story) about a family with a name that comes from Old High German and roughly translates to “fame and glory for the wolf.” If your Deutsch and history skills are extraordinary, then you certainly know I’m talking about the Roelke (later Roelkey) family. In Mount Olivet, we currently have 102 individuals interred with the name Roelke, and 41 more with Roelkey. I plan on showing my commitment to this noble resolution with a two-part story!
My “Cryptic” Goal
For many years, I’ve been curious about a rare, funerary structure on Mount Olivet’s Area R/Lot 96. This started when I began leading cemetery tour groups to this feature back in 2013. It’s known as the Roelkey Vault, and I have visited often both day and night. Of course, it’s certainly more memorable under the cloak of darkness, as I have shone countless lanterns and flashlights through its stylish, iron gates. This was while I was “moonlighting” with Ron Angleberger’s famed Maryland Ghost Tours business while I was working for the Tourism Council of Frederick County.
I’ve seen no actual apparitions in the form of humans here, or wolves for that manner. Instead, I have marveled at the architecture employed, and the ideology of family crypts like this one. And so have our many visitors. Surprisingly, we have only two “above-ground crypts” of this nature on our spacious grounds, the other being that of the Whitehill family in nearby Area F. I wrote about the Whitehills and their eternal home back in October of 2020. In that particular story I made mention of the Roelkey Vault, only 75 yards to the southwest and located along a short driveway. It is constructed into a hillside in the same manner bank barns utilize the natural environment.
The archway over the tomb announces that this is the vault of John & Joseph E. Roelkey. Within, are the bodies of 11 family members occupying nine of twelve designated spaces. These units were designed in the form of full-length compartments to accommodate a casket, and also feature an end panel displaying the decedent’s name and vital dates. If you look closely at each panel, you can see two rings which were used to hold the endpiece during opening and closing.
The casket (or urn) of each passing Roelkey family member was placed within a respective compartment, and this occurred over a century from 1863-1976. I can at least date the Roelkey Vault to the early 1860s, as I’m still trying to find info on its initial construction.
John Roelkey, Jr. was born October 16th, 1823 as Johann Christian Heinrich Roelke, Jr. in Oedelsheim, on the Weser River, in Germany. His parents were Johann Christian Heinrich Roelke (1793-1861) and his second wife, Maria Christena Dreyer. The original Roelke name has also been spelled Rolicke.
We will talk about John, Sr., better known as Christian Roelke, more in depth in part II of this story as he is not interred in the Roelkey Vault, but rather in Area F. What I will say here is that he immigrated to America in 1827 with his wife and eight children, eventually settling in Frederick. The family were first engaged in weaving carpets and woolen goods, but eventually took up huckstering farm goods.
Christian Roelkey bought a property fronting 123 feet on the north side of west South St in 1854 from Peter Mantz, executor of Peter Mantz Sr. Today that property is 119-133 W. South St. Son John, as his executor, sold part of the property in 1864 and the remainder in 1868.
John Roelkey bought a property fronting 124 feet on the north side of W. South St in 1855 from Peter Mantz, executor of Peter Mantz Sr. Today that property is 143-153 W. South Street. He sold part of the property in 1857, part in 1861 and the remainder in 1867.
I’m assuming that he was living in this vicinity when the 1860 Census was taken. As he was listed as a laborer in 1850, the 1860 Census recorder has him as a plow (plough) maker. The Williams’ Frederick Directory of that year places him at the Eagle Foundry here in town. Operated by Calvin Page, this operation was located a short distance away. I theorize that this was the time that the cemetery property was purchased by the Roelkey family in Area R (Lot 96). With Mr. Roelkey's expertise and talent in working metal, I strongly feel that he designed and crafted the metal gates on the front of his vault at the Eagle Foundry.
John Roelkey eventually gave up this latter vocation in order to devote full time to farming. I did find that his name adorned a plow model that he created while at the foundry. Either way, he now would be using those plows in his new profession, one that an old Frederick history book deemed to prove to be very successful.
John was married twice like his father. His first wife, Julia Ann Metcalfe (January 13, 1821-January 18, 1848), was the daughter of Thomas M. and Mary (Hiteshew) Metcalfe. She died young as can be discerned by her birth and death dates. The couple had no children together. John would remarry ten months later on October 10th, 1848. His new bride was Susanna Rebecca Allbright (b. October 5th, 1825), the daughter of Carl “Charles” Philip and Elizabeth Matilda Rebecca (Measall) Allbright. As a side note, Mr. Allbright (1794-1863) was the first body interred within the Roelkey family vault in 1863, with Mrs. Allbright (1809-1887) in 1887. Susanna’s brother, William Harmon Allbright (1820-1882) is here as well, actually in the same compartment as his father.
John and Susanna Roelkey went on to have eight children (five reaching adulthood). They were twins Alumina Roelkey (1850-1851) and Clementina Roelkey (1850-1851, infant son Roelkey (1851), Fanny Drusilla (Ramsburg) (1852-1922), Charles Christian Allbright Roelkey (1855-1902), Elroy Livingston Roelkey (1858-1929) (husband of Genevra Jenny Lucetta Zimmerman), Celeste Manzetta “Sadie” Roelkey (1862-1946 ) never married, and Joseph Edward Roelkey (1865-1931).
With an expanding family, John Roelkey bought 110 acres north of Frederick in 1865 to farm. This location was situated between Richfield, the former home of Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr., and Biggs Ford Road, as this is between today’s US 15 and the Monocacy River. An existing house had been built @1851 by former owner John W. Birely (1816-1896). Mr. Roelkey’s heirs would sell this farmstead in 1897.
John and his brother, Edward Roelkey, bought a 228-acre farm on Opossumtown Pike in 1878 from Anna Mary Kunkel. Edward would later sell his portion to John and eventually it too would be sold by heirs in 1898. This farm was part of Tuscany, shown on the Bond map (previously owned by the Kunkel family). Today it is part of the Clover Hill developments.
The old newspapers of town regularly mentions John Roelkey, Jr., usually in conjunction with farming. He was also appointed a road and turnpike supervisor as well. I was surprised to find that he also made the paper on a few occasions for wrongdoings done him, accidents, mishaps and fires too.
One of the highlights of John Roelkey’s life must have been a trip to Europe he took in 1872. Going back to his native Germany was quite an adventure, and the Frederick Daily News mentioned his departure from town and arrival back. Of particular interest, however, was a mishap experienced along the way.
John Roelkey died on November 30th, 1897 at Harmony Grove north of Frederick City at the age of 74. Susanna died the following April and her body would be reunited with that of her husband here in the Roelkey Vault.
I said earlier that the archway over the Roelkey Vault prominently displays the names of John & Joseph E. Roelkey. That brings us to a more in depth look at Joseph Edward Roelkey, John and Susanna’s youngest child. He was born May 10th, 1865, just weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Gen. U. S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, thus ending the American Civil War.
Joseph Roelkey bought a two-acre parcel known as "the Rail Road Station property" at Harmony Grove in 1891 and sold it in 1908. Of course, this was just south of the previously mentioned Richfields plantation and had the tracks of the Frederick & Pennsylvania Rail line going through. One can still see the location of the one-time station from US 15 on the east side of the road where Worman's Mill Road terminates. A small shelter exists, most recently utilized in conjunction with the Walkersville Southern tourist excursion train.
In addition to being the property at which John Roelkey later died, Joseph Roelkey apparently operated a grain elevator there, based on this article from the News of February 8th, 1894.
Joseph Edward Roelkey married Margaret Worman (b. December 17th, 1866) on July 29th, 1891 in Baltimore. She was literally “the girl next door” and connected to the adjoining Worman farm property to Joseph’s Harmony Grove farm. Of course, many are familiar with this as the one-time site of the Worman Mill, and today’s residential community north of MD route 26. Margaret’s parents were Henry Clay and Margaret (Cochran) Worman.
Joseph farmed here for a short time before moving to Taneytown in Carroll County. There he became a merchant operating his own store located on the town square. Around 1915, he moved his immediate family to California, possibly prompted by his uncle Harmon Roelkey who had gone west during the famed “Gold Rush,” and stayed. Once here in the vicinity of San Francisco, Joseph Roelkey is said to have promoted, sold and built farm silos. This vocation was a relatively new field for that area of the country.
I'm assuming the silo business was not what Joseph Roelkey had hoped because I found that he had "changed gears" professionally by 1917 and was selling automobile parts in San Jose, California. He was the proprietor of the Broadway Auto Equipment Company located at 73 N. First Street.
Although not listed as living with them in the 1920 census, Joseph and Margaret Roelkey had one daughter, Roberta Celeste Roelkey (b. January 8th 1894). More on her in a minute as she, too, can be found within Mount Olivet's Roelkey Vault.
I searched a few California newspapers for more on Joseph and Margaret but didn't glean much. I found an article about a dinner party with friends from back home in Maryland, and also a mysterious article which could point to Joseph (mistyped as James) involved in the hotel business and a trade for a wine ranch, but I didn't have time to explore further. This "scandal" could be connected with another article in which I saw Margaret Roelkey's name attached as a defendant in a suit.
Joseph Roelkey would remain in the Golden State until his death on September 30th, 1931 in Los Angeles at the age of 66. His body was brought back to Frederick and interred in the family vault on October 6th, 1931.
Margaret Roelkey outlived her husband by 27 years, dying in Los Angeles on January 12th, 1958. She was likely living with her daughter at this time.
In between the deaths of Joseph and wife Margaret, the Roelkey Vault was the scene of another Roelkey interment. This was Joseph’s sister, Celeste Manzetta “Sadie” Roelkey. Born in 1862, Celeste never married and died here in Frederick in 1946.
Although given her aunt’s moniker for a middle name, Roberta Celeste Roelkey surely has an interesting story all of her own. I found an advertisement in a California paper that showed her as a singer for a musical act performing at a hotel. Of greater interest, Roberta was married four times, something not uncommon, especially as she spent a good amount of time living in Los Angeles. Roberta’s first husband, Chauncey Ames Bergh was a Wisconsin native who graduated from the University of Southern California and became a lawyer. I found more than a few clippings of their "surprise" wedding in early 1916 when the bride was 22 years old. I soon found another article explaining the alleged demise of said first wedding.
I was able to find a few photographs of Chauncey A. Bergh but none of the other Roelkey family members in the vault in our cemetery. Hopefully a family member reads this and contacts me one day with some so I can add to the story. Mr. Bergh went on to marry three additional times and is buried in one of the most famous cemeteries of them all. His mortal remains repose in Forest Lawn Memorial Garden in Glendale, California with the likes of legendary stars of stage and screen like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable, W. C. Fields, Nat "King" Cole and Michael Jackson.
Back to Roberta, she next married Alfred Simmons and then a man named Edwin H. Kastings (May, 1889-January 25th, 1937).
Roberta eventually made her way back to Frederick and married a local product in widower William “Billie” M. Hampe (July 3rd, 1876-March 29th, 1962). Interestingly, Mr. Hampe’s first wife, Ida S. Hampe is buried with her husband (William) in one of the compartments in the Roelkey Vault. This is the only one of Roberta’s husbands in our crypt on Area R/Lot 96.
I had hoped to learn more about this woman, especially about her life and times in Los Angeles in the early days of the motion picture industry. Did she attend big parties and experience the high life? Roberta would live out her life on the east coast in Sarasota, FL, finally passing on September 26th, 1976. She would be the 11th, and final, individual to be placed in the Roelkey Vault, and is in the company of Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie, and only about 20 yards from the grave of Robert Downing, one of the top stage actors of the late 19th century.
The Roelkey Vault received a new roof from our cemetery staff about a decade ago. This was quite a project, but necessary as the ceiling was in a state of caving in. This spring, we plan to give the crypt feature a nice cleaning as it is vine covered and filled with leaves and a few errant beer cans. I presume the wolves were thirsty as well as “worthy of glory” as their surname implies.
Power washing the exterior will make a big difference. A nice dose of D2 solution should clean the marble compartment panels nicely, and the gates may just get a new coat of paint. Best of all, a large urn sits within the vault and has been long overdue for being placed atop the vault once again. It’s been in here for years for safe-keeping. We are lucky to have such a structure in our beautiful garden cemetery.
Next week, join me for Part II as we travel roughly 75 yards to Mount Olivet’s Area F to meet a few more Roelkeys and yet another variation on the original name.