Accidents will happen, is an age-old saying usually uttered in an attempt to comfort someone after a mishap or setback has occurred. There was a motion picture starring Ronald Reagan that utilized this idiom as its title, and many of us, of a certain age, may recall the popular song by Elvis Costello and the Attractions from 1979.
Inevitable parts of life, most accidents are somewhat harmless in the bigger picture with a common case in point—the spilling of milk. Other accidents, such as the typical vehicular “fender bender” are certainly a bit more serious in nature, and usually cost participants money and inconvenience. However, there are more serious accidents which are devastating, and, dare I say, even deadly. I’m going to share three of the latter variety with you in this particular “Story in Stone,” but there are many more that can be talked about in context with our fair cemetery.
I was inspired to pursue this theme the other day when looking at a newspaper from November 16th, 1922. The newspaper included a front-page story involving a freak gun accident which turned fatal for a local farmer. This added to the tales of two other incidents (from later in that same decade) that have been ruminating in my head in recent weeks since talking about them on recent candlelight tours I gave.
(WARNING: I must add that the following stories with accompanying newspaper accounts will be quite unsettling, so please be forewarned as this is a heart-wrenching edition. )
Charles Keefer Summers
Even in Fall, one will find plenty of “Summers” here in Mount Olivet. We have two such individuals with this surname on our cemetery’s Board of Directors as well. The Summers in question here is a gentleman named Charles Keefer Summers, born in 1882. It appears that Mr. Summers was born and grew up in Yellow Springs area northwest of Frederick City. He was one of 10 children.
His father, Jacob Ezra Summers, bought a 62-acre farm in 1886, the current location being 6201 Ford Road, home to a dog kennel business. The Summers family would later own property along Yellow Springs Road, adjacent my old elementary school (today 8701A, 8701B and 8701C Yellow Springs Road). Charles Keefer acquired 8701C from his father in 1916. He built a sawmill on the property, a very useful thing to have since he owned a 16-acre woodlot in the vicinity of Spout Spring Road about two miles south.
Its not known how long Charles Keefer Summers lived here, as he would acquire a few different properties during his life. He bought a farm near a place called White Oak Springs in 1909 shortly after the birth of his daughter Ethel Mary. He had married Minnie Mae McGrew of Walkersville in 1905. He would go on to have two more children, Dorothy Mae Summers (1912-2000) and Charles Hammond Summers (1915-2007)
The Charles K. Summers residence was on the west side of New Design Road, south of Ballenger Creek and along White Oak Springs Road (which no longer exists but once ran along the south side of Ballenger Creek between New Design Road and Buckeystown Pike.) This property is now the Robin Meadows development. More recently known as the Griffin Farm, the nearby White Oak Springs to the northwest of the Summers property constitutes land within a housing community called the Enclave at Ballenger Run, located a few hundred yards east of Tuscarora High School.
Charles also bought what is now 407 and 409 Wilson Place in 1917. This was part of a new suburban development named Villa Estates. He would never live here, selling to a William Warfield in 1920, at which time the existing house was constructed. This may explain Charles’ occupation as listed as “contractor” in the 1920 US Census. These lots in Villa Estates were advertised as “little farms” and attractive opportunities to live in the city, while having the opportunity to grow your own garden and raise chickens.
“Keefer,” as he was more commonly known, would meet his early demise at his home near White Oak Springs. I’d like to remind you that this was purely by accident. The ill-fated day was that of November 15th, 1922. Here is the story that appeared in the Frederick News on November 16th.
Charles Keefer Summers body was laid to rest in Mount Olivet’s Area MM/Lot 81, not far from the grave of Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr. Wife Minnie would remarry two more times. She appears to have rented the property near White Oak Springs until 1933, at which time she sold the property. Minnie died in 1960.
Austin Z. McDevitt
Down the hill and to the east of Charles and Minnie Summers gravesite is that of Austin Zimmerman McDevitt in Area OO/Lot 130. Here we have the victim of another accidental death, which claimed the life of a gentleman only 37 years old.
In the annals of history, 1929 was not the greatest of years anyway. Although it started well, you may recall “the Great Crash” which had nothing to do with automobiles, but everything to do with Wall Street as this was the legendary stock market crash that occurred in the autumn of that year. It started in September and ended late in October, when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed and sparked the following decade and an era coined “The Great Depression.”
Austin Zimmerman McDevitt was born October 15th, 1892. He was the son of John Edward McDevitt (1851-1919) and wife, Rebecca Jane Zimmerman (1852-1901). The family lived in Charlesville, directly north of Frederick, near Lewistown. Austin was the fourth of four children.
Sadly, Austin would experience great loss in his life. His mother passed when he was 9 years old. He married Eleanor May Riggs in 1916, and the couple had a daughter, Lulu May in 1918. In the next two years, our subject would lose both his infant daughter and young wife. Lulu passed at eight months of age of pneumonia and Eleanor died in the State sanitarium at Sabillasville of tuberculosis at the age of 24.
Austin would marry again in late 1920, this time to Naomi V. Baugher. The couple would have five children and resided at 246 West 5th Street in Frederick City.
Mr. McDevitt worked for the Walker Hill Dairy located on B&O Avenue in the southeast part of Frederick. This operation was begun by William A. Simpson (1864-1948), who had bought properties at G Street in southeast Washington, D.C. around 1900, and expanded the stables from his Walker Hill Dairy, which delivered Frederick County, Maryland, milk to area doorsteps until 1929. I presume that the Frederick division hailed from the White Cross Milk operation.
Our subject here was a deliveryman, himself. Sadly, Austin Zimmerman McDevitt’s life of love and loss would come to an abrupt close in the early morning hours of December 21st.
Austin Z. McDevitt would be buried on December 23rd in the same plot he had buried his wife and daughter years before.
On Christmas Eve, 1929, Naomi McDevitt found herself a grieving widow with five children. A terrible accident had changed the upward trajectory of a young family. While conducting research on the McDevitts, I also learned that Christmas Eve, 1929 marked misfortune for the White House down the road in Washington, DC. A children’s Christmas party held by President Herbert Hoover and attended by aides and friends was suddenly disrupted by a fire that would rage in the presidential residence’s West Wing executive offices. Despite the four-alarmer bringing some 130 firefighters to the White House, the children were never aware. The press room was destroyed, and the offices suffered substantial damage. However, the fire was out by 10:30 p.m.
I’ve included a clipping from the Frederick Post from December 26th, 1929, along with a link to a short video produced by the White House Historical Association.
While the White House would make a full recovery over coming months into 1930, things would get progressively worse for the family of Austin Z. McDevitt. Naomi McDevitt would die suddenly of a heart attack in 1931.
The orphaned children had lost both parents in tragic manner. I am assuming they would be raised by relatives, and learned that at least one, John William McDevitt would attend the Buckingham School for Boys in Buckeystown, as I would think that his brother Austin Zimmerman McDevitt, Jr. would as well.
I know of John’s fate because he is buried beside his mother and within a few yards of his father in Area OO/Lot 130. This veteran of the US Navy would sadly, like his father, lose his life due to a freak accident while in the line of duty. He was only 20 years of age.
When I ventured to the gravesite to take pictures for this story, it gave me great pleasure to see that John W. McDevitt’s grave was marked with a flag for Veterans Day. I also took pause to think that on the 93rd anniversary of his father’s unfortunate death, and 79 years after his own, John William McDevitt will have a wreath on his grave courtesy of our annual Wreaths Across America program.
The months of January, February and March of 1930 found the McDeVitt family reeling, and President Hoover utilizing a makeshift office. The latter would not move back into the West Wing until mid-April, at which time we had a local family and an entire community in shock over one of the worst accidents in Frederick's history—one in which four young children would die as a result. This event not only made front page news locally and regionally, but it was covered in publications across the country.
A fight between a married couple originating in Montgomery County led to a series of events resulting in fatal consequences. It was the mother of all accidents, and exemplified the height of just how tragic and disturbing a mishap could be. It didn't involve a weapon, as we saw earlier in the case of Charles Keefer Summers, or vehicles (truck/airplane) as witnessed in the deaths of Austin McDeVitt and son John William. No, it was a typical household appliance that is better known for aiding life with food preparation, instead of impacting, or heaven forbid, taking life away. The fateful day in this case was Thursday, March 27th.
To summarize, Mrs. Carol LaRue Shields came to Frederick to confer with her sister after having a fight with her husband Lester at their home in Boyds (Montgomery County). Mr. Shields was a former veteran of World War I, who served with Company K of the 29th Division in France. He worked as a farm laborer.
Mrs. Shields was a mother of four at the time, and had traveled to Frederick to see her sister (Elsie Bussard) to receive support for her most recent altercation with Lester. Elsie not being home at the time precipitated Mrs. Shields to seek a neighbor to tell of her trouble with her husband. Thinking the children would be alright unsupervised for a short amount of time, Mrs. Shields made "the accident of her lifetime" as the children did the unthinkable.
The Shields had already lost two infants in 1920 and 1924. These were buried in a Shields family lot in Area B/Lot 70. Upon visiting, I could not find these children as "names in stone," as their graves remain unmarked. As for the Shields as a couple with severe issues, they had lost all their children in an instant. With some additional research, we found that the true address of the Bussard residence is today's 612 Trail Avenue, directly across the street from the hospital.
An excruciating story, one that certainly got more than its proper share of coverage. In mid April, census records show me that Mr. and Mrs. Shields estranged with Lester Shields living with his brother in Clarksville. They would divorce and I found that Lester would remarry (Maggie Geneva (King) Sheckels) and live in Montgomery County until his death in 1964. The couple are buried at Parklawn Memorial Park in Rockville.
I could not find Carol LaRue Shields in that census of 1930. She would remarry, however, seven years later in February, 1937. Her marriage to Robert D. Dickinson would only last for just over four years as Carol died in June, 1941. She is buried in the Norris family plot at Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville, Montgomery County.
The six children of Lester and Carol Shields are buried in Area B, all without tombstones. They are surrounded by Shields family members of earlier generations.
Accidents can be quite terrible things. They will happen yes, but they can also be avoided in some cases as well if caution and proactive thinking is considered at all times. God bless those mentioned in this unsettling story, as lives certainly did not get the chance to be lived to the fullest in all circumstances.