A very memorable film came out in 1985, my senior year of high school. The name, The Breakfast Club, may have seemed a bit misleading, but the theme song, by British alternative rock band, Simple Minds, was quite infectious, and still is—“Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The movie centered on a unique situation to build a motion picture around as it captured the interaction between teenagers from different high school cliques spending a Saturday morning in school detention together. This took place under an authoritarian assistant principal serving as chaperone.
Producer/director John Hughes was responsible for so many great movies during the “Big Eighties” decade, including this comedy/drama in which one will find several lines that will stand the test of time. The one that I always remember came from Vice Principal Richard Vernon in which he threatened one of the students with the immortal stern warning: “Don't mess with the bull, young man. You'll get the horns.”
I recently fondly recalled my own father using this quote often on my brothers and I after seeing the movie. It somehow popped into my head as I rounded a bend near Area K in Mount Olivet while driving back to my office in the mausoleum complex. Within this minute section of the cemetery, on the northwestern corner adjacent Carrollton Street, I saw a good-sized gravestone with the name of Van Horn upon its lower face. Fittingly, for my Breakfast Club theme above, the marble marker in question featured a visual backdrop of a public school (Lincoln Elementary). My brain works in strange ways and how Van Horn could trigger a movie, and movie line, from 36 years ago I can’t exactly explain….but I’ve learned to live with my misgivings at this point.
I wasn’t familiar with this Van Horn surname so decided to investigate then and there. I parked nearby and got out of my Jeep to investigate a bit further. I found four names carved upon the front of the stone:
Benjamin F. Van Horn (1839-1898)
Elizabeth J. His Wife (1844-1915)
John F. Van Horn (1870-1920)
Bertha His Wife (1864-1921)
When I got back to my desk, I had that stupid line (“Don't mess with the bull, young man. You'll get the horns.”) running through my mind and conjuring up the scene from the movie. The theme song followed suit, so I put in my EarPods and played the Simple Minds classic while I actually did a search for the Van Horn lot in our computerized database. I kid you not, just a typical day working at an historic cemetery, right?
Immersed in 1980s nostalgia at the moment, I began thinking of my family’s first computers which I used as a kid—the Commodore Vic 20 and its much-improved successor, the Commodore 64.
Anyway, I was suddenly drawn back to the current day and noted that there were five persons interred in Area K/Lot 30. The four individuals named on the stone included Benjamin and his son John and their respective wives as the stone clearly states. In our interment records, an additional family member is buried here but his grave is unmarked. This is Benjamin Van Horn’s son James Henry (1875-1926).
So, I thought to myself, what the hell, let’s find out more on the Van Horns and see if they would have been the type of folks who would give, or receive, the proverbial “horns,” Vice Principal Vernon had proclaimed. I would soon find out that this family seemed as colorful as some of the cast of characters featured in The Breakfast Club, and two sons definitely led lives that would warrant Saturday morning detentions had that been a thing a century earlier back in the 1880s. They were reminiscent of actor Judd Nelson’s rebel John Bender.
Meet the Van Horns
Benjamin Franklin Van Horn was born in the year 1839, this date according to his gravestone and info found in our records. This became problematic for me because census records seemed to indicate that our head of family was born a bit later in 1843. The son of Benjamin and Ann Van Horn lived in Fairfax County, Virginia, where he would remain for several decades of life. In looking back at the Van Horn lineage, the family appear to have fittingly come to New Amsterdam (New York City) in the 1650s from Holland. They lived in Bergen County, New Jersey and moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania across the Delaware River. Our subject’s grandfather seems to be the one who moved to Northern Virginia, where Benjamin (Sr.) was born around the year 1810.
Benjamin’s father (Benjamin Sr.) was employed as a farm laborer, and he, himself, would follow in this line of work.
I couldn’t find a record of Civil War participation by young Benjamin as I thought there could be a strong possibility that he may have served for his native Virginia based on his age. Regardless, he and his family would certainly feel the perils of war in this part of the state, a stone’s throw from the site of two nearby battles at Manassas and the legendary Bull Run creek. (Note: the "Bull" connection)
Benjamin would marry his wife, the former Elizabeth J. Underwood, on December 10th, 1867. She too was from Fairfax, the daughter of farmers John and Elizabeth Underwood. I would also find that the couple were commonly known by the nicknames of Frank and Bessie.
In the 1870 census, I found the couple with first child Nancy (aka Nannie) who had been born in 1868. They were living in Dranesville, Virginia in Fairfax County near present-day Herndon and not far from Sterling. Frank continued working as a farm laborer over the next decade as more children would grow the Van Horn brood. By 1880, there were four additional sons: John Franklin (b. 1870), Robert William (b. 1873), James Henry (b.1875) and Samuel Tipton (b.1878). They were now living in southwestern Loudoun County at a place called Mercer, located near Aldie and west of US15.
Sometime in the Big Eighties of the 19th century, the Van Horns (or Vanhorns) relocated north of the Potomac River and in Frederick City. I can say with authority that they were here and living on Carroll Street by 1887. This was strictly a result of my discovery of the first mention of Van Horns in the local Frederick newspaper. I have to say that people make the papers all the time, but when the Van Horns made the news, you were usually entitled to something wildly evocative.
I continued to find small bits about the family in The Frederick Daily News. Mrs. Van Horn, perhaps reeling from more tom foolery propagated by her sons, was admitted to Frederick’s Montevue Home in 1890 for an undisclosed illness.
In April, 1895, son John F. had taken a job with the famed showman Pawnee Bill of Oklahoma. Also known as Gordon William Lillie, this gentleman had become a well-known American showman and performer under the stage name Pawnee Bill. He and wife May, a female marksman in the style of Annie Oakley, specialized in Wild West shows, including a short partnership with Maj. William F. Cody—Buffalo Bill.
The American frontier would soon come to Frederick in the form of Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West Show. His first local appearance was here at the Great Frederick Fair in 1888, but more engagements would follow in subsequent years. Joseph Walling, a nearby cemetery decedent only a short distance from the Van Horn’s Mount Olivet Area H/Lot 220 location, also worked for Pawnee Bill.
In 1894, the western entertainment hero began using Frederick as his official “Winter Quarters” for his animals and set backdrops, etc. The exact location was the farm of Samuel Hoke, just north of Frederick City at Ceresville.
Where Walling actually went on the road with Pawnee Bill’s traveling entourage entitled "Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show," John F. Van Horn seemed to have a much shorter, and less desirable, adventure with the Wild West star.
A couple years later in 1897, it appeared quite clear that John’s restlessness quite possibly could have been remedied by a tour of the country with Pawnee Bill’s traveling show.
I find it interesting that no one in John Van Horn’s family offered to pay the fine of $5.85, thus causing the defendant to spend 30 days in jail. Sounds like he deserved “detention,” not to mention his own private “Frederick Breakfast Club.”
Although John would return safe back home eventually, a mortal blow (both literally and figuratively) was about to hit the Van Horn family shortly before the end of May, 1898. Benjamin Franklin Van Horn Jr. would have a bad experience with the railroad. I should clarify that it was a very, very bad experience. Unlike John’s situation of simply quitting a job, Mr. Van Horn died suddenly at the hands of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad down near the Monocacy Junction south of town.
I still find it odd how descriptive the newspapers were back then, often painting gruesome and ultra-realistic depictions of accidents and other tragic events. There was zero degree of sugar-coating, but I assume readers knew what to expect, and were seldom surprised by these graphic reports.
I also found irony in the fact that Frank Van Horn met his death along a curve of the railroad, while today he was laid to rest along a curve in the Mount Olivet roadway a mile to the northwest of where his accident occurred. Frank would be buried on the same day of his unfortunate meeting with fate—May 28th, 1898. As said earlier, Mr. Van Horn would be placed in Area K/Lot 30 of Mount Olivet.
Following Frank’s death, I found this family somewhat mysterious, but quite entertaining and interesting at the same time. By 1900, Elizabeth Van Horn was listed on the US census of that year as head of household and had all four sons living with her. I would eventually lose track of Mrs. Van Horn and could not find her in the 1910 census, as she was not residing with any of her children from what I could see. Elizabeth “Bessie” Van Horn would die in December 3rd, 1915 at the age of 71 and her obituary says that she had been confined at Springfield Hospital, state sanatorium located in Sykesville in Carroll County.
Interestingly, I found some eerie similarities in the lives of both sons that are buried with their parents in the Van Horn family plot within Mount Olivet’s Area K. John would get in trouble again, as I found the following clipping in the paper.
I did not find both John and James “Henry” in the 1910 census at first, and then I realized it was spelled Vanehorn. Both John and Henry can be found living at 463 W. South Street in a 1915 Frederick City Directory as well as the 1910 census record and I surmise this could have been the family residence for quite some time beforehand. John was married around 1900, and his wife Bertha was living with the two Van Horn brothers.
Brother James “Henry” never married but was no stranger to the law as also had some dust-ups with Frederick’s finest.
John F. Van Horn died at the age of 50 on December 10th, 1920. His death occurred why he was working on a farm on Carrollton Manor.
John’s wife, Betha, died in 1921. As for Henry, I found another news article in stark contrast to the graphic death of the one that told of his father’s demise 25 years earlier.
Three years later on August 25th, 1926, Henry was performing yard work for a local dentist named Bernard Martin Davis (1893-1981) on North Market Street who lived near the intersection with West 9th Street. Like his brother, Henry Van Horn would also expire while on the job.
James Henry Van Horn was buried in the Van Horn plot, but his name was not placed on stone, likely because there wasn’t any room left. I don’t know why another stone was not purchased, but perhaps it's due to the fact that Henry never married or had children. and the other siblings left the area. Sister Nancy G. (Van Horn) Hartsock had married William Hartsock and died less than eight months later on April 9th, 1921. Interestingly, her grave is also unmarked. The other Van Horn brothers never returned to Frederick: Samuel and his family moved to Somerset County, PA and Robert had moved to Baltimore.