One of Mount Olivet Cemetery’s most beloved inhabitants celebrates a milestone birthday on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016. This spunky, nonagenarian put our town (and county) on the map —“The bravest of all in Frederick town, She took up the flag the men hauled down.”
Her amazing tale of patriotism would certainly have a major impact on future tourism, commerce and historic preservation efforts. Frederick wouldn’t be the same without this lady, and she wouldn’t have been the same without Frederick. We can thank this lady and a poet from Amesbury, Massachusetts for immortalizing our magical setting complete with “green-walled hills and clustered spires.”
Of course, I’m referring to Barbara Fritchie, a native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania who moved with her German immigrant Hauer family to Frederick as a young girl on the eve of the American Revolution. The majority of Fritchie’s storied life would be spent in a burgeoning town, at the time located on Maryland’s western frontier.
Barbara Fritchie witnessed the early history of our nation. She experienced our country gaining independence from Great Britain, and a successful effort to keep it after the British destroyed the White House and Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812. She supposedly even knew the local attorney (Francis Scott Key) who wrote a song that would one day become our national anthem. Fritchie saw transportation enhancements reach Frederick in the form of the National Road, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The industrial revolution brought important technological advancements, some utilized by her family in their glove-making business once located on West Patrick Street. Frederick grew in greater prominence as a crossroads of transportation, commerce and history. What a wonderful life, or so she thought up until spring 1861 and the firing upon Fort Sumter.
The fading chapter of Fritchie’s life saw a threat to her beloved Union under President Abraham Lincoln. The Confederate Army with generals Lee, Jackson, Longstreet and others made Frederick the first major northern town that the Army of Northern Virginia would come to, hoping to find support and recruits sympathetic to their cause. The Rebels found neither, as Frederick was best personified by Barbara Fritchie’s fierce and stubborn loyalty to the United States of America. This steadfast attitude probably led to the $200,000 ransom of town levied two years later, but that’s a story for another day!
Whether Barbara Fritchie actually waved a flag at Stonewall Jackson and his troops, as John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem would have us believe, has been hotly debated for well over 150 years now. It likely didn’t happen, but those who actually knew Barbara would expect her to have done something exactly of the sort. She was brave, loyal and true—adding to the fact that she had lived longer than most people in her day, seeing and experiencing earlier warfare and change over her 96 years. What she didn’t experience, however, was the playing out of the Civil War and restoration of the Union in 1865. Fritchie had died on December 18, 1862, just a few short months after her alleged flag-waving foray.
Dame Fritchie was quietly laid to rest beside her husband John in the old German Reformed Church Cemetery located along present day Bentz and W. Second streets (the site of today’s Memorial Park). It was a solemn ceremony attended by family and friends.
In 1912, 50 years after her death, it was decided that Barbara be moved to Mount Olivet, the “funerary showplace of Frederick.” This is where Francis Scott Key had been reinterred in 1866 after his original 1843 burial in Baltimore’s St. Paul’s Church Graveyard. In 1898, Key would be reburied, within Mount Olivet, a third (and final) time beneath a grand monument, adjacent the cemetery’s front entrance. Could Frederick do this for one of the Civil War’s greatest civilian hero? Of course, this is Frederick!
Many residents of town, dignitaries, bands and a movie crew were on hand for the commemorative exercises planned for May 30th, 1913 as Barbara and husband John were buried along the cemetery’s western border. The chosen area was approved by Fritchie descendants and given the moniker of the Fritchie Triangle, a unique piece of land with special lanes built on all sides to allow tourists and onlookers to visit and pay respects to the lady whose name would grace candy, wallpaper, a restaurant, films and stage plays, a local car dealership and cabin establishment, soda and pork products.
During the re-interment process and immediately after, fund drives included letter-writing campaigns, bake sales, movie/vaudeville nights at the City Opera House. Conducted by the Barbara Fritchie Memorial Association, these efforts procured enough money to build a fitting monument, but not to the scope once imagined. An early rendering for a Fritchie memorial was depicted on a postcard, and captured both literally and figuratively Dame Fritchie’s “larger than life” persona. Unfortunately, it was too large and downright massive—the design resembled a smaller version of the Washington Monument with a proposed location at the intersection of Market and 7th streets (where the fountain resides.)
This 7th and Market "behemoth scenario" was successfully thwarted by opponents led by the Baltimore Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This organization had vehemently questioned the validity of the Fritchie flag-waving episode for decades. The Fritchie Association regrouped and decided to go with a monument location at the Fritchie gravesite in Mount Olivet.
Over a year later, on September 8th, 1914, a more modest monument was erected to memorialize one of the most beloved female characters in American history up to that point. Artist James E. Kelly (1833-1855) sculpted a profile view of Barbara in the form of a large medallion and this was affixed to the large granite shaft. It was reminiscent of the design he utilized 15 years earlier in the completion of the Horatio G. Wright Monument at Arlington cemetery.
The monument also included a tablet featuring Whittier’s 1863 ballad for all to read. Lastly, a flag pole was placed behind the monument so all visitors, past, present and into the future, could eyewitness for themselves one of the couplets of the poem:
“Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave, flag of freedom and Union, wave!”
Happy Birthday Barbara, you would never know of your international fame, but Frederick, her
residents, clustered spires and Mount Olivet have truly benefitted from it.
Come sing Happy Birthday to Barbara and eat some cake too! The Ausherman Family Foundation will open the Barbara Fritchie House and Museum from 12-4pm on Saturday, December 3rd (Free). it will be open again from 10-4:00 on Saturday, December 10 for the annual Museums by Candlelight event. The Museum is located at 154 W. Patrick Street in Downtown Frederick. Visit www.barbarafritchie.org to learn more and see the new 20 minute documentary video or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlALx5_QcqM