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New Reads by Local Authors - 2015

New Reads by Local Authors

George Alfred Townsend & Gathland (History Press, 2014)

by Dianne Wiebe

George Alfred Townsend (1841-1914) was a free-lance journalist, a novelist, a poet, and a lecturer. But his success in life derived from his newspaper writing, and, contrary to most images of the unattached reporter, he made a good living at it, working for many newspapers on many subjects.

He began writing in high school, where he also met his future wife, Bessie. At 19, he was earning $6.00 a week as a news editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the following year he was a city and drama editor. At 21, he became a Civil War correspondent for the New York Herald. His fame was just beginning. This is probably also when he developed his life-long practice of writing 1,800 words a day.

As he began to write for more newspapers, he began to use the pseudonym, GATH, the initials of his name with the added “H.” The son of a Methodist preacher he was well versed in the Bible and Gath is a place mentioned there; he would later adapt this further for the name of compound he built in Maryland, near Boonsboro.

GATH is recognized as the pioneer in syndication of his work. After he left the Inquirer, he went on to write for many papers from the major issues of the day to profiles, virtually any topic that attracted his fancy. And fortunately, there were publishers — and payment — for his efforts. “When I went to the Maryland Hall of Records, I saw thousands and thousands of the columns he wrote,” says author Dianne Wiebe.

He left a more substantial legacy in his home, now the Gathland State Park, where Dianne works at the Museum. He built a whole world of his own there where he could entertain, escape from his many labors and travels, and enjoy his many collections and library. Over time, many of the buildings have been lost, but the Lodge, a smaller stone building remains for visitors to see. A major attraction also is the arch or the War Correspondent’s Memorial, a monument to the war reporters and artists of the Civil War. “The monument is a tribute to his memory,” notes Dianne.

A journalist and writer herself, Dianne took about six months to put together this biography of a still relatively unknown personage. “It took time to gather the pictures and get the permissions,” she says. The descendants of GATH also gave her some 500 pages of transcribed correspondence, “which opened the door to his personal life.”

This volume also adds to the legacy of GATH with some fascinating illustrations and photographs. Dianne is now looking for a new passion. One filling her time is working with the Women’s Club of Hagerstown, especially with the publicity.

Available at:,, the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Antietam Battlefield gift store, and the Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro.

Maryland Legends (History Press, 2014)

by Trevor J. Blank and David J. Puglia

For reasons known perhaps only to psychologists, we humans like to be scared. We enjoy that frisson of chills and the rush of adrenaline that a good dose of fear seems to bring.

Perhaps that is why we also frequent horror films and are fascinated by the alleged sightings of other beings out there in the wilds of which we know nothing. In other parts of the country, for instance, people claim to have seen Big Foot or Sasquatch, but right home in Maryland there lies — or flies — some equally strange apparitions such as the Snallygaster or the Dwayyo (yes, there are two “y’s,” no one said monsters had to have easy names).

The two authors of Maryland Legends, Trevor Blank and David Puglia are our guides to some homegrown experiences through book of state tales. Both academics, they have tracked down just about every story in the state that speaks of spooky happenings.

Here are all the “odd” emanations they found from the campus of the University of Maryland to the demon car of Seven Hills Road in Ellicott City, to the decks of a haunted ship near Solomon's Island (complete with poem), to headless ghosts, such as “Big Liz” in Cambridge, the Prince Georges Goatman, who was said to be half-man, half-goat, and the blue dog of Port Tobacco.

And there is a section on tamer legends, such as Barbara Fritchie (did she exist or not), the famous toaster's annual visit to Edgar Allan Poe's grave, and some strange Revolutionary War History. In exploring these, the authors trace the origins of the stories and correct any misconceptions.

Examining the source of these folk tales to either confirm or debunk them is in the nature of what they call “legend trippers.” And although they use the term to refer to others, in essence, they are engaged in the same activity.

Both authors are from Maryland, David from Frederick and Trevor from Damascus, although they now work at universities outside the state. “We worked together on the Internet and became really good friends. We represent the younger generation of folklore studies. We had been talking about doing a book for years,” says David.

They split up which chapters each of them would write and edited each other. There was a good deal of research involved including oral interviews, depending on the subject, and archival research. “We are also keeping track of additional information readers send us, so there might be a follow-up book down the road,” noted David.

Available at:,,, The Curious Iguana in Frederick, and local book stores in Maryland.