Last weekend my husband, Richard, and I drove to Dover, Delaware to participate in the blessing of our nineteenth grandchild, Blake. We left our home early Thursday morning and then ended our driving day in Cumberland, Maryland.
Let me give you a little history about Cumberland. It was named by English colonists after the son of King George II, Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland. It was built on the site of the mid-18th century Fort Cumberland. This was part of the French and Indian War and one of the first post for the up and coming Colonel George Washington. His first military headquarters was built here. (And they still have the cabin available for viewing.) Washington returned as President of the United States in 1794 to Cumberland to review troops assembled to thwart the Whiskey Rebellion.
We found Cumberland to be charming and, because it’s nestled in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains, it was simply gorgeous. After checking in to our hotel, we decided to get dinner at one of the local restaurants. The one we choose had a fellow singing and playing his guitar on the outdoor patio. We got our food and decided to eat inside and watch the show from there. To our delight and surprise, in the next room (this was a small establishment) a group of men and women from a local church singing group had weekly meetings at the restaurant to practice acapella singing. So, as we were eating, we were serenaded with songs like “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart” and “California Dreaming.” Another couple shared the small room we were in and, at the end of each song, all four of us applauded enthusiastically. (Really, this is going somewhere freaky- I promise.)
The other couple finished at the same time we did, all of us stopping to congratulate the wonderful singing group, and then chatting with each other. We had established a little bit of a rapport with this other couple, so, as we left the restaurant, I asked them if they were locals and if they knew about any ghost stories connected to Cumberland.
To my delight and amazement, they loved local history and ghost stories. Then they offered to guide us on a tour of their historic downtown. I couldn’t believe it! So, at that moment, we made two friends. Actually, Friends. Timothy and Charity Friend. We discovered that Charity was Tim’s mom (although I initially thought they were brother and sister) and Tim was home from college, so they decided to eat out. What a serendipitous event!
We followed them for about a five minute or so drive and then parked in front of an old church. Then Tim and Charity walked us around the downtown for about two hours. It was amazing! And, even though a lot of the information was historic, I was to come to find out that the camera on my iphone picked up more than I could have imagined. So, today, I’m sharing the first story of my adventure with my new Friends. By the way, Tim did such a great job as tour guide and he had so much knowledge, I asked if he did this as a profession. When he told me he didn’t, I suggested STRONGLY that he needed to do Cumberland ghost and historic tours. So, if he decides to do it – I’ll let you all know. As I said, he was amazing!
The Board of Education building was built about 1870 and is actually the former residence of William Walsh, a prominent lawyer from Cumberland.
Walsh was an Irish immigrant who set up a law practice within eight years of his arrival to the United States in 1842. At one time, he was considered the county’s most prominent Democrat. elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1876 and served two terms. His grandson, Bishop James Edward Walsh, who was imprisoned by the Chinese for twelve years, was born in this house.
Let me share a little more about Bishop Walsh. When the Communist Party of China seized power in 1949 they began harassing Catholic clergymen. The Catholic Central Bureau was shut down by the government in 1951. When Walsh’s superiors inquired about his safety he responded by saying, “To put up with a little inconvenience at my age is nothing. Besides, I am sick and tired of being pushed around on account of my religion.”
Bishop Walsh was eventually arrested by the communists in 1958 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He spent twelve years of his prison sentence in isolation and was suddenly released in 1970.
Bishop Walsh had eight siblings, all born in the Walsh House. The historical records from Allegheny County state, “William Walsh’s children and grandchildren have left their lasting imprint on the political and religious heritage of Allegheny County by serving in influential occupations such as lawyer, state attorney general, priest and nun.” In addition, one of the granddaughters, Mary Gertrude Walsh, established the first library in Cumberland, called the Cumberland Free Public Library in 1924. She remained the librarian when the city gave the library to the county. She served as librarian for almost forty years.
The Walsh House was purchased in 1936 from James A. Clark, who had purchased it from the heirs of William Walsh in 1895. The legend behind the house is that William Walsh modeled his stately mansion partly from his recollections of houses in his native Ireland from which he’d come when only fourteen years old.
This was a well-loved home and a home that was filled with memories. And with those kinds of memories, who wouldn’t want to visit it again?
According to Charity, one of the women who works for the school district claims that when she comes in every morning there are things out of place. Things have been moved, but no one was inside the locked building.
The building is gorgeous, so on a whim, I held up my iphone and took a photo as we were chatting on the sidewalk in front of the building. It was probably about 7:30 p.m. and dusk was falling.
Later, when I got back to the hotel room, I was eager to look at my photos. (We had a very interesting experience at the train depot that I’ll tell you about later and Charity had asked for a copy of that picture.) So, I uploaded my photos and quickly glanced at them. Imagine my surprise when I looked into the window of the Walsh House. Does it look to you like someone is staring back at us?
It gave me chills down my spine. I hope it does the same to you!
Like what you read? Find more stories by Terri Reid here.