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In My Own words

Changes? Ready or not

Katherine Au

(May, 2010) I imagine for most who live in or around Emmitsburg the news that the Western Maryland Hotel fire is now old news. But, I would imagine there are aspects of the building that most don't know: its history, rich and long. Its atmosphere inside is known only to those who once lived there or visited. This is not a tale about the fire, per say; but rather a story about a building that has once seen finer days before giving much of its structure to ash and char.

There is a history to the building, just as there is a history to every building. The hotel's beginning can be traced back to before 1820 when a lady known as Mrs. Agnew opened and operated the building as a hotel. It was named Eagle Hotel, and it was the main stopping point for weary travelers going to and from along their journey.

In 1853 Daniel Wile purchased the building from Mrs. Agnew's estate. In 1856 he then had the structure torn down and a four story hotel built which he called the City Hotel. It was the last building to catch fire in the great fire of 1863 that claimed half the town. Undeterred Daniel Wile rebuilt the hotel and renamed it the Western Maryland Hotel. Since then it has had many owner and many names: The Spangler Hotel, the Slagle Hotel, the Morndorff Hotel. But it bore the name Daniel Wile's gave it - The Western Maryland Hotel the longest.

Residences of Emmitsburg have shared stories of the building throughout the years.

One residence shared the story from his childhood years as, "I only knew of the Hotel by the name of The Mondorff Hotel as I moved in directly across the square in 1939. I remember a fine old gentleman by the name of Mr. Teddy Motter who had a room or apartment in the Hotel. He had a glass eye. One day when I was helping at my dad's store, Teddy Motter came in and was getting something at the store. I was only 9 years old and had heard about the glass eye. I couldn't hold back and asked Mr. Motter if I could see it. He smiled and took the glass eye into his hand and held it down for me to see. As things happen, it fell to the floor and rolled under a display case. My dad was embarrassed and told me to find it and give it to Mr. Motter. I found it, but it was covered with the oily dust bunnies that gather under the case. I handed it to Mr. Motter, he took it and wrapped in a clean handkerchief and with a smile said, 'I guess I will have to go back to my place in the Hotel and give my eye a good cleaning.' Then he crossed the street back to the Mondorff Hotel. He never forgot that and would laugh and tell others about it as he would sit on the main front porch."

In the 1950's a woman by the name of Mrs. McDonald opened an eatery on the lower floor by the bank and had some of the best Home Cooking in town. The restaurant served not only as a place where those staying in the hotel could find a hot meal, but it was a place for those residing in Emmitsburg to catch up on the local gossip and eat a quality meal.

Also, on the first floor of the Mondorff Hotel there was a gathering place for the men to have their card games and to talk and plan which horse to put their bets on at local racetracks. It is also told that at Christmas, the Community Tree stood in the corner between the Mondorff Hotel and the Farmers State Bank. Many pictures were produced of the children of the area getting their Christmas gifts of fruit and toys. Thus, the old Western Maryland was a backdrop for many events.

The building's balcony has seen its share of dignitaries and events. The view may have changed over the years but the balcony remained the same. Until now. As I saw the balcony after the fire, it is simply a charred reminisce of its once grandeur. The balcony does still stand, but the signs of fire far out way its signs of the once magnificent structure.

How do I know the magnificence of the balcony? Well, I once lived in an apartment in the Western Maryland. It wasn't a grand hotel when I lived there. There were no dignitaries speaking on the balcony. The structure had, as the saying goes, "seen better days." But, it still was my home for a while. When I came back to college to finish my last semester I lived in the building. I lived on the third floor.

My room didn't have level floors, the tub/shower was smaller than a cabinet, and each night when the Ott House closed, I heard all the drunk patrons shouting goodbye as they left. Each morning about 6:30 I heard a huge black truck roar by with its souped-up muffler at the traffic light. It never failed that the light seemed to stop the truck so it could rev up to go through the light after it had been stopped. My room served its purpose, however. I studied, I learned, I was able to have my dog.

The room was also in an apartment building that had an apartment manager who seemed to care more about getting the dirt on who entered the building than actually caring about the intention of who entered the building. All I remember clearly was that her room was always open at the end of the hallway on the first floor, and I could always hear either yelling children in her room or barking dogs. When her door was closed it was well after hours and in some way it lent itself to a spooky place.

A once paper boy remembered the building into his 90s and said about it then:

"My first and lasting memory of the Hotel is that it was 'spooky'; by that I mean it always seemed dark and somewhat foreboding. I got that impression from having to deliver papers to a customer living on the third floor. It was probably about 1939 or 1940, (before WWII because all of my brothers were still living at home) I was six or seven years old and we had a paper route with each brother taking a different street. I had N. Seton Ave and, for some reason that I can't remember, I also had the area around the square which included the hotel. I had one customer on the third floor and going in there early in the morning when it was still dark with no one around was scary. There was one bare bulb at the top of the stairs and, other than that, I don't remember much about it because I flew up and down those stairs probably making the round trip in under 15 seconds."

I can see where the paper delivery boy comes from.

About 50 years separate that young paper boy and the young woman who was looking for a cheap apartment where she could keep her dog and finish her education, but 50 years later the 3rd floor of that building was still "spooky."

Perhaps that building that long stood at the center of Emmitsburg illustrates nothing quite so much as the saying, "the more things change, the more they remain the same."

Read other articles by Katherine R. Au