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Living on the Square

Ed Houck, Jr.

Memories keep coming back of my life living on the square in the center of Emmitsburg. I was born in a second floor apartment on the southwestern corner of the square and by the late 1930's had moved to the house on the northeast corner, next to my dad's clothing store which was in the Knights of Columbus building at that time. Some of the memories are worth telling as it shows the pace of life in this wonderful small town.

Houck's Store

In 1935 or 1936 I remember visiting Dad at the store as I liked to do when Mom would get me across the street. A very distinguished man was in the store and my dad introduced me to him. He was Mr. Theodore Motter, who lived in the Mundorff Hotel across the street, and would come in the store to talk about the horse races that were going on in the Maryland area. Mr. Motter had a glass eye and somewhere in the conversation it was brought up. This delighted me for I never knew of such a thing and I got curious and asked about it.

Cecil Rotering, who worked with Dad in the store was just getting the floor swept with the wax that you put on wooden floors to keep the dust down. As the men stood there talking I interrupted and asked Mr. Motter if I could see this glass eye. He smiled and in a moment had it out in his hand. As he held it down for me to see, I reached over and tilted his hand for a better look. Yes, the glass eye rolled from his hand and on to the floor and under a counter before we could catch it. 

As you may know, it came to rest in a pile of dust bunnies that had accumulated under the counter. I got down and found it and gave it back to Mr. Motter, who being the nice gentlemen he was, smiled at me and said "I guess I will have to take it home and wash it off good." With that he left for the Hotel holding it in his handkerchief.

My dad was embarrassed, but he and Cecil laughed at my over eager attempt to see something so magical. Mr. Motter continued to come into the store and when I was there he would smile and asked if I wanted to see his glass eye again. To this I said "no thanks" and he would tease me through the years until his death.

The Mundorff Hotel was the center of a lot of activity during that time and a regular patronage that would enjoy sitting on the large porch or enjoy the barroom on the main floor. Many a card game went on there until the wee hours of the morning and talking the horse races was also a key activity.

I remember another time when I was older (about 9 years old) that I was helping at the store cleaning up and my Dad was rearranging the back store room when he spotted a rat running across the floor and under a shelf. He called to me to bring the broom and then proceeded to keep the rat under the shelf. He instructed me to go across the street to the hotel and ask Mr. Mundorff if we could borrow his rat terrier dog. This dog was known for keeping down the rodent population around the hotel.

So across the street I went and in a few minutes returned with the dog in my arms. Dad was still holding the rat at bay under the shelf. He told me to place the dog down on the floor beside him and then for me to watch the door so the rat couldn't get into the store. With that he bent over and began to push the broom toward the rat. The rat came racing out from under the shelf and by the time my dad straightened up and turned he saw the dog in the same place and looking under the shelf. This was the time I heard my dad swear to high heaven at the stupid dog that didn't even go after the rat.

I had to quickly say to my dad to look beside his right shoe at the dead rat laying there. The dog was so fast that he grabbed the rat and broke his neck and then was waiting for another rat before my dad could notice. My dad was so surprised that he had to take the dog back to Mr. Mundorff himself, with me tagging along, to tell him of the great dog he had and this became another tale to tell during one of the card games or when people would come into the store.

To live on the Square was once being in the center of all activity in Emmitsburg. St. Euphemia's School, St. Joseph's RC Church but a block away. The Bank, the Post Office, Grocery Stores, Drug Stores, Restaurants, Hardware stores, barber shops, variety stores, garages, the Newspaper, Beauty Shops, The Town Office, Doctors offices, Insurance offices and The Lutheran Church and even the Vigilant Hose Fire Company were all within a first block off the square.

Go another block and more churches, Movie Theater, Meat Shops, Electronic stores, The Library, Schools, shoe repair, watch repair, groceries, feed & grain stores, new & used car showrooms, filling stations, small factories for shoes or ready to wear, livestock dealers, blacksmith shops and one of the best baseball fields in all of Western Maryland.

Its true, you had everything in a neat little community and if you went 3 or 4 blocks in just about any direction you could begin to find yourself in one of the beautiful fields, woods, farms or by a small fishing stream.

The quiet life that was happening in Emmitsburg during the 1930's and 1940's is now just a part of history. Time cannot be turned back and so the memories that you share today will help recall the pleasant life in Emmitsburg in the past.

Read other stories by Ed Houck

Have your own memories of living in Emmitsburg's?  
If so send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

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