Another Wreaths Across America (WAA) event is in the books, having taken place here in Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery on the beautiful, and unseasonably warm, Saturday afternoon of December 16th, 2023. It was spectacular weather, considering it was just nine days before Christmas with no aspirations of a “white," snow-filled holiday to come.
We had an estimated crowd of about 700 volunteers on hand taking part in decorating the graves of over 4,300 veterans. These patriots connect to various periods of our country’s illustrious military history with veterans of the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s up through the present.
In performing my duties as emcee of the WAA Opening Ceremony, I took the opportunity to tell our audience that we have 4,935 veterans in total, laid to rest at Mount Olivet, at present count. On this day, we would be placing three wreaths on behalf of the 138 veterans buried within our mausoleum complex. We would also be laying one wreath for 408 Confederate soldiers re-buried here in a mass grave in Area M. These southern soldiers were previously interred on the farms involved in the Battle of Monocacy of July, 1864 and would be moved here in 1879 to join 306 others buried beneath upright stones. These soldiers did not die on the battlefield, but in local hospitals during the Civil War, and their graves constitute Confederate Row on the northwest boundary of Mount Olivet.
We placed a grand total of 4,381 wreaths when all was said and done. In my remarks, I suggested participants do something in addition to laying wreaths in a reverent fashion after saying each’s name and thanking them for their service. I invited them to fully bring the memory of each of our veterans “back to life” on this special day in which 4,000 cemeteries across the country would be holding Wreaths Across America events. I implored the group to photograph the gravestones and markers on which they placed wreaths. I asked each participant to repeat the name of each veteran they had earlier decorated at dinner, and a third time at bedtime. I suggested that they post photos of their wreath-decorated veteran’s grave with on various social media pages, with or without themselves in the picture. Lastly, I invited participants to perform a Google internet search on their veteran’s name to see what details, if any, they could learn about the life of these soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, etc.
As the ceremony ended, the crowd of volunteers went in various directions to areas throughout the cemetery where wreath chaperones waited to greet them and distribute four wreaths each to distribute. I was able to snap a few action shots with my smartphone camera, and luckily had others doing the same. It was so refreshing to see so many people of different ages and backgrounds. One of our FOMO members, Ray Crough, actually built a gallery of photos from a day.
I also gave some impromptu history lessons as I came upon participants in the vicinity of vets whose life stories I was already familiar from—mostly thanks to this “Stories in Stone” blog series. These included Charlotte Berry Winters (the oldest living female veteran of World War I at the time of her death in 2007 at age 109), Col. Henry Cole of Cole’s Cavalry (1st MD Cavalry, Potomac Home Brigade) of Civil War fame who fought a battle atop Loudoun Heights in a falling snow in January, 1864, and Calvin Cannon who grew up in Yellow Springs north of Frederick City and lost his life on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
As the afternoon passed, the cemetery slowly emptied of the living as the main work of the day was done with the coverage of the 4,300+ veterans. Meanwhile, other families from around the region were here on holiday decorating missions of their own families, placing other wreaths and decorations on the resting places of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, siblings, children, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond. It too, like Wreaths Across America, is a family ritual and annual tradition this time of year.
At the end of the day, I caught up with one of our key volunteers from our FOMO group. Heather Sutton assists with veteran research and logistics for this big event which has been skillfully orchestrated under the watchful eye and leadership of FOMO member Sylvia Sears over the past three years. On Saturday, Heather served as a wreath chaperone for Areas A and B at the front of the cemetery, and was in the process of doing a final check of the 50 veteran gravesites in A, and 44 in B. She was almost done Area A, and was tired and asked if I could finish up the job as I had my son Eddie with me.
I immediately found a few individuals for which I had familiarity based on past “Stories in Stone.” I soon saw the completed wreath to Thomas Johnson Grahame, grandson of Gov. Thomas Johnson and a member of the First Maryland regiment from the War of 1812. He grew up in Rose Hill Manor, the home built for his parents as a wedding present. There was Conradt Mehrling, of the First Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, Maryland Infantry who was killed at Loudoun Heights across from Harpers Ferry in late May, 1862. He was the first Frederick City resident killed in the American Civil War. I also saw Edward Sims Boteler, another 1812 soldier who fought with an Ohio volunteer regiment of dragoons and was captured at Detroit. His daughter-in-law, Alice, operated a boisterous oyster saloon on Court Street during the Civil War era, and was one of the first female bar owners in our history.
I checked off a former US congressman who served in both the senate and house, representing the state of Pennsylvania, in Civil War general James Cooper (1810-1863). He would die while serving as commandant of Camp Chase, a military staging, training and prison camp near Columbus, Ohio. To round out Area A, it was a pleasure seeing the grave of Richard “Cha Cha” Baumgartner. The World War I vet was better known as a big band era crooner earlier in life. He was featured on national radio programs and a regular at noted clubs in the nation’s capital. Baumgardner’s true claim to fame was his standing as a talented restaurateur who gave us the famed Peter Pan Inn once located in Urbana. He went on to open a series of eateries, called Kapok Tree Inns, within the state of Florida where he lived the final decades of his life in the Clearwater area.
I also came upon two individuals in Area B, whom I was vaguely familiar with in name, but not in life. Both would live great portions of life away from Frederick—one in Florida, and the other in Texas.
His surname literally means “acorn mountain” and is as German as they come. Louis E. "Coach" Eichelberger, of Frederick, passed away on September 6th, 2016 at the age of 91. Born on March 30th, 1925, he was the son of the late Louis E. and Susie M. (Hammond) Eichelberger.
Louis was a graduate of Frederick High School class of 1942. Louis served in the Maryland State Guard in 1942 and entered the US Merchant Marines from 1943 to October of 1944. He then enlisted in the United States Army in 1944, serving with the 32 Red Arrow, Division Co. E. 126 Infantry, Heavy Weapons in the Philippines. Louis served on the S.S. Henry Ward Beecher, S.S. Sweetwater, S.S. Salmon P. Chase, making trips to Oran Africa, Naples Italy, Liverpool England, and Glasgow Scotland. Louis had many ribbons and metals from the merchant marines and the U.S. Army, including a Combat Infantry Badge, the Bronze Star and many others.
During his government career, Louis worked for the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Postal Service, and the U.S. Department of Navy at the Regional Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida. In January of 1988 Louis retired and moved back to Frederick. He began working for Washington Millinery Supply and the FCNB Bank in Frederick. He was a life member of the Merchant Marines, US Navy Armed Guard, a life member of the AMVETs Post 2, Frederick and a life member of John R. Webb VFW Post 3285, where he served as commander from 1991-2000. Louis also held District #7 offices for the VFW. Louis was also an avid baseball and football fan-loved the Orioles- and loved all his animal companions throughout his life.
Many are familiar with the town of El Paso for two iconic things in popular culture: a brand of taco, tortilla and burrito dinner kits and related Tex-Mex style food items from General Mills, so named under the Old El Paso label; and a beautiful, sultry and apparently wicked Mexican maiden named Felina. This young vixen would cause the eminent demise of a wild, young cowboy in a ballad written and recorded by country singer Marty Robbins in 1959.
Our Frederick connection to the border town is another one of our 4,935 wreath recipients at Mount Olivet in Travis White occupying Area B’s Lot 97. Born in Frederick on July 3rd, 1894, Littleton Travis White, was a World War I vet who went on to become a noted attorney in El Paso. His father, John Kearnes White, was a Methodist Episcopal clergyman from a prominent family of Portsmouth, Virginia. His mother, Carrriebell Travis (spelled a variety of ways), was a graduate of the Frederick Female Seminary and possessed talent as an artist, poet and writer who would play a role in the local suffrage movement. Carriebell had ties to Frederick through her mother's Carmack family, but her father hailed from the Westchester, New York vicinity.
Our subject was born a year after his parents married in spring of 1893. "Travis" first appears in the US Census of 1900, but his father is missing from the household in 1900. I found that his parents divorced and John Kearnes White (1869-1943) eventually married a Thurmont woman and for a time was editor of the Catoctin Clarion according to his obituary. He died in Thurmont, but is buried in Arlington, VA. Travis appears to have been a standout student who participated in a number of activities in his youth as his name can be readily found in the local newspapers of the time for all the right reasons. He would graduate from Frederick High School in 1911 and received scholarships to attend the University of Virginia where he would earn a law degree.
Travis White would eventually begin his law practice in Staunton, VA, at which place he resided during the war when he enlisted in the US Army. His service, however, would be limited due to health reasons connected with tuberculosis.
A move west for a different climate was prescribed for health purposes. Travis would move to southwest Texas and continued his practice of law in El Paso. He would eventually become City Attorney and served for more than three decades.
I learned in a newspaper interview that Travis White had a "self-proclaimed" addiction as a recreational hobby. This was the trick-taking card game of contract bridge, or “bridge" for short. He would be recognized as a national authority on the subject and was a regular contributor to the “Bridge World” with tips appearing in local and distant newspapers. In 1934, he authored a book entitled “Odd Tricks,” a book on the popular card game. It has been reprinted and is still available today on Amazon.com.
On the personal life side, Travis White married in 1937, but like that of his parents, the marriage would not last. The couple had one daughter, Dorothy (White) Morse and these ladies would eventually re-locate to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Travis’ ex-wife remarried a man named Edwin French.
Travis White’s civic involvement was notable as well. His tenure as El Paso's city attorney throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s ranked as one of the longest in the country and earned him recognition in the form of El Paso holding “A Travis White Day” in his honor in May, 1972.
Travis White passed away the following year while on vacation visiting relatives prior to Christmas. This occurred December 8th, 1973 in Maryland while he visiting his sister Roxanna living in Annapolis. She was married to a professor and president of St. John's College. Travis had taken ill and died shortly thereafter, 1,949 miles from “Rosa’s Cantina” and his west Texas home. He would be buried in Mount Olivet in the White/Carmack family lot in Area A. Travis White would be placed next to his mother who had died in 1954.
I first learned of Travis White when a friend of mine, Lori Swerda, asked me to help her find his grave to pay respects on behalf of a relative. She had recently stayed in a Bed & Breakfast owned by Travis' daughter, Dorothy (White) Morse. Ms. Morse is in her 80s and lives in Albuquerque. Interestingly, Lori Swerda, a former Frederick resident and author, moved to "the Lone Star State" a few years back. Before doing so, she had penned a novel entitled Star Spangled Scandal, and we hosted her for our first annual "Flag Day Author’s Talk" event back in June 2021.
Lori’s book centers on the brutal and sensationalized death of Francis Scott Key’s son, Phillip Barton Key, in in February, 1859. This connection is quite special because Travis’ gravesite offers a terrific view of the Francis Scott Key memorial only 50-60 yards away to the northeast. Of greater interest, there is a family tie to Travis White's family, and that of a central character in the death of Mr. Key who served as the district attorney of Washington, DC at the time of his murder.
Lori Swerda had quite an experience writing her book, one that was written in minor part based on my cheerleading. I had conducted a private tour for Lori and her children as part of a class field trip to the cemetery back in 2017. She had espoused her interest in Francis’ son Philip Barton Key (1818-1859), who had been shot and killed by a brash New York congressman, and later Civil War general, named Daniel Sickles (1819-1914). Key was found to be having an affair with Sickles attractive, young wife, Teresa (Bagioli) Sickles. After learning about the tryst, the congressman murdered Phillip Barton Key in broad daylight outside the Sickles home in the vicinity of Lafayette Park across from the White House.
Not only was this murder especially noteworthy and shocking due to the nature of each man's profession, but the killing was in plain sight of several eyewitnesses and bystanders. The Key murder trial of 1859 that followed received national attention because of the notoriety of both defendant and victim. Not only was Philip Barton Key the son of a patriotic celebrity songwriter, but he was currently serving as the district attorney for the District of Columbia at the time of his death.
You may be familiar with the outcome of the case as Sickles would be acquitted for the heinous crime— the first successful use of the temporary insanity plea in our country's history. Lori was interested in the motivation for the murder as evidence and hearsay surely point to others in DC's power structure at the time. She also became enthralled with Teresa DaPonte (Bagioli) Sickles (1836-1867), a tragic figure in her own right.
Lori's research would lead her to New Mexico where she was a guest of our subject Travis White's daughter, Dorothy as mentioned earlier. The reason Lori sought Dorothy out was due to the fact that Mrs. Morse had inherited a unique necklace/locket (from her father and grandmother) that had once been owned by Teresa Sickles. Apparently, Teresa’s mother, Elizabeth C. (Cooke) Bagioli (1819-1894) was friends with Travis White's maternal grandfather named LeGrand Travis (1830-1909). LeGrand is buried in the same lot as Travis White in Area A/Lot 97. He was a friend of Mrs. (Cooke) Bagioli (Teresa's mother) and an eventual executor of her estate. Their connection comes with being former residents of Croton Falls, Westchester, New York. In fact they could have been related as well due to Elizabeth’s sister marrying into the Travis family. Another genealogy link to Travis White comes also from his father's side as his paternal grandfather Littleton Harrison White married a Margaret Cooke.
Regardless, LeGrand Travis, an attorney, would come to Frederick upon his marriage to Catharine “Kate” Carmack. To this union came daughter Carriebell who married Rev. John Kearns White.
In 1894, Mrs. Bagioli died, and her granddaughter, Laura B. Sickles gave LeGrand Travis a necklace that belonged to her mother, Teresa. This heirloom would be handed down to Carriebell to Travis and then to Dorothy. The necklace plays a role in Lori’s novel, and all these former, deceased owners of said necklace are in our Area B (Lot 97), not far from the father of Teresa's lover. Was Phillip Barton Key the man who gave her the necklace/locket?
We may never know, but here is some info on Carriebell (Travis) White, taken from her obituary:
“Mrs. CARIBEL TRAVIS WHITE, formerly of Frederick, died early Thursday morning at the home of her daughter, Mrs. John S. Kiefer, 139 Market Street, Annapolis. While she had been in ill health for some time her death was quite sudden and was due to cerebral hemorrhage. Mrs. White was born in Croton Falls, West Chester County, New York, the daughter of Le Grand H. Travis and Catherine Carmack Travis. She lived most of her life in Frederick, but since 1935 has made her home in Annapolis.”
Lori Swerda’s book (Star-Spangled Scandal) can be found on Amazon.com. Meanwhile, there is one more roundabout genealogical connection between Key and this family from New York. Carriebell’s mother, "Kate" was a Carmack as said earlier. You will also find here in Area B/Lot 97 the grave of Samuel Carmack (1792-1879), a War of 1812 veteran who participated at the Battle of Bladensburg in late August, 1814. Carmack was 4th Sergeant in the Maryland Militia out of Frederick County. He recently received a wreath on his grave, just like another nearby veteran who participated in that same infamous battle often called the Bladensburg Races (because our militiamen did more running away than fighting against the attacking British who would march into Washington and set the White House ablaze.) This eventually resulted in Carmack’s compatriot earning everlasting fame weeks later when he went to Baltimore and wrote the Star-Spangled Banner while viewing the siege of Fort McHenry. Of course I’m talking about Francis Scott Key.
As we have a great legacy of Francis Scott Key and his fellow War of 1812 veterans here at Mount Olivet with interpretive exhibits and special veteran markers, Travis White has a lasting reminder of his life and accomplishments there in El Paso. While it might not be a prominent monument, he does have a municipal park named for him.
The surrounding residential development that encompasses Travis White Park also takes this former Frederick native’s name and currently boasts nearly 4,000 residents. It just goes to show that where you find a veteran wreath placed during "Wreaths Across America," you are bound to learn an interesting or entertaining life story which connects to so many other lives , places and events—some of legendary stature like Mr. White's.
I’ve just illustrated a few of the many "Stories in Stone" that exist in two small, and early, sections sections within Mount Olivet. The memory and deeds of the men and women whose mortal remains lie below ground, can be channeled above ground this time of year through the beautiful flags and wreaths complementing existing grave markers. Within military history, US flags signify patriotism, while wreaths carry special layers of meaning including victory, bravery and peace. The tradition of wreath-laying is a reverent gesture marking sacred ground.
Thanks to the service and sacrifice of all our veterans. And thanks to our hundreds of wreath sponsors and Wreaths Across America day participants. The purpose of this event is to show a united front of gratitude and respect across the United States of America as we REMEMBER the Fallen, HONOR those who serve and their families, and TEACH the next generation the value of freedom.
Mission accomplished once again.