A fascinating “old-school” phrase (bound not to resonate with younger generations) is found in the act of “mulling over” something. Merriam-Webster defines the verb mull: “to give serious and careful thought to,” or “to consider at length.” The word (mull) is often used in conjunction with “over” to form a phrasal verb. The combo boasts synonyms that include two other throwbacks that I love--ponder and deliberate.
The origin of the expression is borrowed from something completely different—the actual grinding, or pulverizing, done by a mill (or like device) in reducing items like wheat to powder or small particles. The “mull” metaphor was extended in America in the late 19th century and applied to the act of “mental grinding.” If you didn’t know it already, I’m sure you will thank me for supplying you here with additional conversation fodder to share with friends if ever offered “mulled” cider.
I recently came across an entertaining, and almost deadly, incident that graced the pages of local newspapers in early May of 1902. A 60-year old gentleman by the name of George H. Mull, Jr. was left to “ponder” the fact that he had nearly met his own demise at the hands of a renegade, young man named Homer S. Mohler. Amazingly, the former veteran of the American Civil War literally, and figuratively, “dodged a bullet” up on Braddock Heights—actually, several of them.
This was certainly not the legendary “Shootout at the OK Corral,” as both men were lucky not to earn their “Tombstone” on that near fateful day. The Frederick News coverage of the colorful event added a few more details, along with the correct spelling of Mull’s name. The best part of the short article is a description of the near miss that could have permanently “felled” the elder participant. Homer Mohler was arrested and charged as the assailant and was given plenty of time to “mull over” his actions in the confines of a Frederick jail cell.
The story got me pondering in all sort of directions. I immediately checked to see if George H. Mull, Jr. was in our cemetery as the name seemed familiar to me for a variety of reasons. Sure enough, he was here, and residing in Area D/Lot 62. I immediately took interest in Mull’s death date, which was October 20th, 1914. He had a “life bonus” of 12 years, five months and 19 days if you consider what could have occurred if Mohler’s bullet would have found its proper mark back on May 1st, 1902.
Our cemetery records showed that George H. Mull, Jr. was born in Virginia on May 25th, 1842. At the time of his death, he was listed as a retired farmer. His obituary told me a little bit more:
I still had some old, and new, questions regarding George H. Mull, but first wanted to see what became of the old Confederate’s young antagonist, Mr. Mohler. Homer Smith Mohler, born February 26th, 1886, surely lucked out that his rival was a “bad shot” back in May, 1902. Mohler lived to the age of 68 (nearly 52 and a-half years following the shootout).
Homer S. Mohler’s father, Thomas J. Mohler, was a native of Ohio, and a respected farmer on Braddock Mountain, but died at age 54 in 1891. Homer was only five at the time of his father’s passing. His mother continued farming with the help of her eight children. Homer was still working here at the time of the incident with George Mull, Jr.
I believe the Mohler farmstead was on the east side of the mountain because the family is still engaged in farming in the 1910 census, however their residence is claimed to be within the Tuscarora District with a post office of Adamstown. Soon after, Homer would relocate with his mother to Frederick City, taking up residence at 339 N. Market Street. In census records and city registers to follow, I found him employed in the capacity of farm laborer, clerk, and furniture repairman. Homer S. Mohler is buried with his family here in Mount Olivet’s Area U/Lot 64, just a few hundred yards away from the Mull family lot in Area E.
More Veteran Ties
Our cemetery records and the obituary for George H. Mull, Jr. tell us that he served with the Confederacy during the Civil War—not much of a surprise since he was a native of Virginia.
Currently, we have a small committee of folks that have been working on identifying all the Civil War veterans buried here within the cemetery. This is a tall task because in addition to having over 40,000 interments, many veterans are buried in graves marked with “non-military-issue” monuments. That is to say that these are traditional monuments with no mention of military service. In these cases, you don’t know if someone was a veteran unless a flag is planted next to the grave.
These veterans are easier to find on Memorial Day as the local American Legion Post 11 places flags each year. In early-mid April, one can find Confederate flags adorning graves of former soldiers in connect to Confederate Decoration Day. Just a few weeks ago, the Mull family plot featured two small Confederate flaglets waving in the breeze. The flags mark the graves of our featured subject George H. Jr., along with his younger brother, James M. Mull. Both men served in the Rebel Army. James M. Mull was born in 1844 and worked as a brush-maker. He died seven months prior to George in March, 1913.
When I first made my way out to visit George’s grave, I saw an even more conspicuous site in this resting place of Confederate brothers. There was a Union flaglet proudly flying in the Mull lot! Now who was this? I was familiar with brother against brother confrontations during the “war between the states,” but I was curious to see how this individual was related. And that’s when it happened—I had a flashback to 2014, and the first time I had heard the name George Mull.
At the time, I was working for the Tourism Council of Frederick County and was busy formulating plans for a commemoration of Francis Scott key and War of 1812 veterans at Mount Olivet. This would be held in September, 2014 on the anniversary of the Battle of Fort McHenry—the event that led Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
We had the assistance of our local SAR(Sons of the American Revolution) and DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) chapters in identifying and researching 1812 veterans in the cemetery. A prominent 1812 historian told had told me a few years prior that Mount Olivet had the second highest concentration of veterans of this conflict behind Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. This prompted me to write/submit a grant proposal to the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. Our effort was successful in receiving funding to fabricate/place special granite/bronze markers on the graves of these 108 individuals that served in the war. One of these was George Mull Stephens.
I walked over and looked at the special marker we had placed back in 2014 as part of our “Home of the Brave” commemoration project. A piece of pvc piping was also installed to be a permanent holder for a small flag. It was a 15-star flaglet, reflecting the same amount of stars “the Star-Spangled Banner” possessed back in 1814. For the first time, I now took time to carefully study the original military-issue grave marker that sat a few yards behind our project plaque/flag. I tried hard to determine the relationship to the Mulls.
I was a bit perplexed as I “mulled over” the situation. I could see the name Mull used as a middle name for a future generation (ie: child of a female Mull family member), but not by an earlier male relative who lived at the time of the War of 1812. Besides, I had seen in our database that George and James’ father (George H. Mull, Sr.) would be similar in age and supposedly buried here in the lot. However, I couldn’t find his grave.
George Mull Stephens?
Who was this George Mull Stephens fellow, and where was George H. Mull, Sr.? I went back to my office and studied the cemetery lot card for Area D/Lot 62 and saw that George H. Mull is recorded as being buried in the plot, but wasn’t labeled within a specific grave space. Through a bit of Ancestry.com research, I found that George H. Mull, Sr. was born in 1792 and died in 1865 as our cemetery records showed. His wife was a Mary Filler (or Philler) who died in 1888. Even though we had an interment card for Mary, this lot card just showed a Mrs. Mull who died in 1888, and labeled to be in space 5 with a noticeable “?” in front of her name. Meanwhile, the card showed Mr. Stephens in the grave space I had visited, but there were no birth or death dates for this gentleman.
I next went to our 2014 publication entitled Frederick’s Other City: War of 1812 Veterans in which we compiled bios for each of our 108 veterans. This was made possible by the valuable research efforts of the aforementioned SAR and DAR groups, with particular expertise shared by cemetery superintendent Ron Pearcey and historian Larry Bishop. I flipped to the page featuring George Mull Stephens in hopes to see how he fit into the Mull family. Things got murkier in a hurry.
The book write-up mirrored the special commemorative plaque at the gravesite by offering nothing. An explanation was given that definitive information on George Mull Stephens could not be verified. A couple of educated guesses simply pointed to the possibility of this being a veteran named George M. Stephens who can be found in early census records of Spotsylvania and Orange counties of Virginia. The passage also shared that military databases only showed a George Stephens, but not much more. At the bottom of the page, a plea was made by the authors for readers to kindly contact the cemetery should they have any information regarding George Mull Stephens.
To complicate matters, I could not find an obituary for George H. Mull, Sr. I searched Ancestry.com and looked at related family trees in an attempt to glean more on this family. I found that George Sr. was born and raised in Lovettsville, Loudoun County (VA) just across the Potomac River from Brunswick. He was the third of seven children born to Johann David Mull II (1749-1816) and his wife Magdalene.
George’s grandfather was Johann David Mull (or Muhle) born May 5th, 1731 in Hamburg, Germany. He came to America as an indentured servant at the age of nine. Originally landing in Philadelphia, he would wind up in Lancaster where he married Eva Margaret Boothe. At the age of 26, David Mull re-located to Lovettesville in the year 1757. Eighteen years later, he bought land at the foot of Short Hill Mountain that was bracketed by two branches of Dutchman's Creek. I also saw that the Mull family were leading members of the population’s German Reformed congregation, one that had distinct ties to Frederick’s German Reformed congregation.
Gravestones for George Mull, Sr.’s father and grandfather still exist in Lovettsville. Johann David Mull (the immigrant) had five children, some of which headed west to live in what would become Indiana. One such was George Washington Mull—namesake for the three “Georges” that I had on my research plate.
Our interment book shows a grave dug and burial performed for George H. Mull, Sr. on May 16th, but why no stone? So I went back to the plot with plenty of notes and a few maps/diagrams in hand. I started with a re-examination of the Stephens gravestone and then saw something reminiscent of a Highlights magazine “Hidden Pictures” puzzles from my childhood. I slowly began “mentally grinding” the possibility of George Mull Stephens and George H. Mull, Sr. being the same individual. The math seemed to work, but it would be my stronger skillset related to language arts that would push me over the threshold. The gravestone’s line rows were perhaps misinterpreted. The four lines read:
VA. MIL. WAR
I had no beef with George Mull on the top row, but perhaps the stone carver got careless in his spacing choices to follow. I had surmised earlier that maybe George had a connection to Stephens, VA (aka Stevens City)? Is this where his military outfit hailed? I did a little research and found this to be a remote possibility, and knew the obvious link between VA (Virginia) and MIL (Militia). Could there have been a Stephens Virginia Militia unit? But what the heck—Why didn’t the stone carver place WAR and 1812 on the same row together?
Back in the office, I explained the situation to Superintendent Pearcey—talk about a “mull” in the conversation! We pulled out every record on these folks we could possibly find. We both came to the conclusion that there was no George Mull Stephens, and somebody had erred decades ago when the lot cards were created nearly 60 years ago. On top of that, we continued the misinformation five years ago by producing a plaque for a veteran of the War of 1812 named George Mull Stephens. Instead, he was simply George H. Mull, Sr.
This gave us the impetus to research a new name for the veteran-George H. Mull. Bingo! We found all kinds of information ranging from his marriage license to pension papers. Best of all, we found that George H. Mull served as a private under a Capt. John B. Stephens of the Virginia Militia.
So now we know where the Stephens came from:
VA. MIL. WAR
Not only had we discovered, and fixed, an age-old clerical error, but our research gave us more information about this interestingly named family with connections to early German immigration, the Civil War, War of 1812, and the “shooting affray” atop Braddock Heights in May, 1902.
An old Friend
All the while, I continued to wonder about a personal connection I once had with the first (and seemingly only) person I had ever known possessing the name Mull. His name was Edward F. Mull and I would be introduced to him on one of my first days in the employ of Frederick Cablevision back in November, 1989.
Ed Mull, or Mr. Mull as my video production colleagues knew him, was best described as a veteran advertising executive and a kind and gentle-man. He had already worked for our sister company, the Frederick News-Post for half a century. His wife, Martha, had died three years earlier, and one could sense the impact of the loss as he regularly spoke of her in glowing terms.
Nowadays, Ed was spending his twilight years holed up in a back corridor office in our former W. Patrick Street headquarters of the cable company and corporate headquarters of the Great Southern Printing and Manufacturing Company. My first night was spent in covering a local election from our studio. Mr. Mull stayed late to watch some of our live cablecast.
A few weeks later, my boss asked if I could stop by Mr. Mull’s home on Wilson Place in order to shovel off his walk and driveway on a snowy December morning. The 70-year-old widower had no children and lived alone. Friends and co-workers assisted whenever they could. As for me, his residence was on the way, so I gladly took the assignment. Once complete, Mr. Mull insisted on paying me for the gesture, which I vehemently rejected. Little did he know, that he would repay me over and over in the years to follow and I got to know the man better through work tenure.
After years spent in the old trolley barn home of the News-Post, Mr. Mull found himself surrounded by a youthful, and I’m sure disruptive, crew of audio-video professionals. He marveled as we busily created local television commercials and locally-originated television programming for what would become Cable Channel 10, boasting public affairs, sports and entertainment offerings. I, of course, did my best to make sure we gave our Frederick County viewers some history as well.
Born in 1919, Ed Mull had seen tremendous changes in media, advertising and communications technology over his lifetime. He started his storied advertising career in 1940 with the Baltimore News-Post. He married in 1949 and became Advertising Manager of the Frederick News-Post in 1954. At this time, Mr. Mull was responsible for organizing the first advertising agency in Frederick history—a feat that was duly remembered and honored some four decades later in 1994 by the Greater Frederick Advertising Federation. He was promoted Marketing Director for the News-Post in 1985.
Mr. Mull regularly offered our department advertising and marketing advice, and occasionally some good jokes that were just as comical as the day they were first heard by him. Best of all, he provided me (a 22-year-old) with a better understanding and context of the Frederick of past eras. He told me plenty of stories about the newspaper business, former residents and pivotal events.
Ed Mull retired in 1996 and died a few years later on November 21, 1999, shortly after I celebrated my tenth anniversary with the cable company. He is buried on Area FF/Lot 233 with his wife Martha and mother Garsie Jane Hoff Mull. Interestingly, his father is buried elsewhere in our cemetery. George Mortimer Mull (1875-1950) can be found in Area E’s Lot 62. He worked as a coremaker at a local foundry and was the son of the aforementioned James M. Mull and wife, Catherine Whipp. This would make George Mortimer the nephew of George H. Mull, Jr., who cheated death at the hands of Homer Smith Mohler. My colleague’s (Mr. Ed Mull) great-grandfather was George H. Mull, Sr., the War of 1812 private who served under Capt. John B. Stephens.
Sadly, Ed's siblings predeceased him, and he had no children of his own. His obituary mentions the fact that he was the last of his immediate family.
I think you can see by this odyssey alone—there can be incredible discovery and reward when one takes the time to “mull over” history.