Long Lost Secrets, 2004
Allegany County Library
Revealing long-lost secrets
It lay forgotten for 113 years. Yet it remembered a moment in time.
Allegany County Public Library Facility Coordinator Larry VanMeter and a group of detention center inmates slowly carved their way into a little-used room beneath the children's library area of the Washington Street Library, cleaning away the clutter.
The room was so filled with junk that most of the light was blocked out. The musty smell made their noses itch.
They pulled out piece after piece of garbage and hauled it out to the rented dumpster behind the library. Old shelves. Broken furniture. Trash. It all went into the dumpster as the library staff tried to prepare for its anticipated renovation.
In a back corner, the inmates carried away empty boxes that were stacked atop each other. Each box was tossed into the dumpster.
Then someone lifted the bottom box. It was heavier than the others because it was made of wood. It was about afoot high, 2 feet across and 18 inches wide. On the front of the box was painted "Records of the First Centennial of Allegany County Celebrated September 1889." The box was sealed with a small lock.
VanMeter doubted that the box or its contents could be important since it had been buried in a back corner for who knows how long. He carried the box upstairs to let Library Director John Taube make the call.
Taube had never seen the box before but the title intrigued him. The small lock came off with a quick twist of his hand. He lifted the lid and found a metal box sitting inside the wooden one. In the metal box were news clippings, newspapers, posters, letters, postcards, advertisements, ribbons and other items, most dealing with the organizing for and supporting of the Allegany County Centennial Celebration.
The box was marked with the name of Theodore Luman, the vice chairman of the General Management Committee of the Allegany County Centennial Celebration. He had also been the circuit court clerk of Allegany County.
"From what we found out, the box was supposed to be kept in the corner of the courthouse, but for some reason, it never wound up there," said Taube.
While the documents inside were in good condition, they were old and fragile. Taube was worried about unfolding some of them for fear that they would fall apart.
"It's such a rich collection. We wanted to make sure that it stuck around," said Taube.
His solution was to include the entire package on a new Web site called Whilbr (www.whilbr.org). Whilbr, which stands for Western Maryland Historic Library, is part of the Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage Protect and is funded through federal grant money.
As for how the box wound up buried in a junk pile in the library basement, Taube said, "No one seemed to know anything about this box."
However it wound up there, the box proved to be a firsthand piece of the county's history.
A newspaper clipping at the time described the centennial event: "This will be a grand affair — one which will not only be a pleasant reunion of friends of former years and of relatives, but one which will result in some benefit to the county generally, and bring the name and resources of Allegany more prominently before the country at large. Our city will be gay with rich bunting streamers, flags and other decorations. Everyone is anticipating a good time and Cumberland will do its best to make it a joyful and pleasant occasion for all visitors. Come and help us celebrate our 100th birthday!"
The centennial celebration covered three days. Day one featured a parade of school children from around the county. Day two showcased a parade of tradesmen and a balloon/parachute jump. On the third day, there was a military and civic parade, another balloon/parachute jump and a fireworks display.
Taube turned the box of items over to the organization running Whilbr.org to have them photographed digitally. The items were then posted to the Web site where they can be viewed without damaging the originals.
"I would love to have some of the items preserved and put on display in the renovated library," said Taube.
Taube also said that he would like to develop a partnership with the Allegany County Museum or Historical Society to care for the original items once they are returned to the library.
The www.whilbr.org Web site also includes the history of Accident, Md., and burial places of Confederate soldiers who fell at area battles. More items will be added as they are procured and prepared for the Internet.
James Rada, Cumberland Times-News
See Allegany County Centennial, 1889
Public libraries, Maryland, Allegany County; Allegany county Library System (Md.), Anniversaries.
Allegany County (Md,), 1960-2010