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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Lifestyles

Kevin Dayhoff: The anniversary of Ira Zepp’s death renews thoughts of Westminster’s sacred places

The Rev. Dr. Ira Gilbert Zepp Jr., professor emeritus of the religious studies department at McDaniel College, died peacefully at his home at age 79 on Aug. 1, 2009.

A number of us who worked with Zepp are constantly reminded of his legacy of working tirelessly in the cause of social justice. The anniversary of his death also reminded me of a story I wrote on July 25, 2008, titled “Westminster’s sacred places are shrines of community life,” about a 1981 book by Zepp and Marty Lanham, “Sacred Spaces of Westminster.”

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The Rev. Dr. Ira Zepp Jr., professor emeritus of the religious studies department at McDaniel College, died at his home on Aug. 1, 2009. Zepp was a pastor, professor, and community leader who worked tirelessly in the cause of social justice. He was in the forefront of desegregating local businesses and schools, in Westminster and Carroll County. Submitted photo.

For those unfamiliar with the life and times and accomplishments of Zepp, he was a pastor, professor, and community leader. He was in the forefront of desegregating local businesses and schools in Westminster, Carroll County, and Western Maryland College. He marched in Selma, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and used our proximity to Washington as a springboard for many activities there. He inspired students, especially my friends Charlie Collyer and Pam Zappardino to create the Ira & Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education.

In full disclosure, I first met Zepp at the Westminster United Methodist Church in the early 1960s. He, in part, introduced me to Western Maryland College – now McDaniel. Zepp (and the late Bill and Richard Dixon) greatly influenced my ‘world view’ and became a very trusted, loyal friend and adviser for life. Shortly after his death, I wrote a number of newspaper articles about him. A portion of this discussion has been published before. Zepp was a great influence upon who we are as community today.

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I often think of Zepp’s book “Sacred Places” as I sit in the meetings of the Westminster Common Council in historic Westminster City Hall and look around the room and imagine all the history witnessed by the building since it was built in 1842 by Col. John K. Longwell.

Westminster City Hall around 1953. Westminster purchased it from the estate of George W. Albaugh (The Albaugh and Babylon Grocery Co.) in September of 1939 for $11,000. After extensive renovations and improvements, without impairing the original features of the structure, the city offices were moved there from the old Westminster Fire Department building at 63 W. Main St., during the administration of Mayor Frank A. Myers. Courtesy collection of the Babylon Dayhoff families.

Westminster purchased the building from the estate of George W. Albaugh in September 1939 for $11,000. After extensive renovations and improvements, without impairing the original features of the structure, the city offices were moved there from the old Westminster Fire Department building, at 63 West Main Street, during the administration of Mayor Frank A. Myers.

I wonder what it was like to have lived there right after it was built. Or what it would have been like to have been there in August 1863. That was when, as Frederic Shriver Klein writes in “Just South of Gettysburg,” over 40 prominent Westminster citizens were arrested by Union soldiers on the charge of “general disloyalty.”

Those arrested included Dr. Mathias, Dr. Trumbo, Dr. J. W. Hering, Colonel Longwell and their wives. According to “Recollections” by Hering, at Mrs. Longwell’s “trial” on Aug. 27, 1863, in Westminster, she was told that “among other things, you are charged with feeding the rebel soldiers.”

“Well, I did,” she replied, “I would feed a hungry dog who came to my house. I would even feed you if you came to my house hungry.”

At that, it is reported that Mrs. Longwell’s husband, Colonel Longwell, “nearly collapsed.” Reportedly, Mrs. Longwell subsequently took the oath of allegiance. Others, however, did not and were imprisoned at Ft. McHenry.

Getting back to a discussion of “Sacred Places in Westminster”: Although it can be argued that Westminster is no longer a sleepy southern town, I often think of the existential “Southern Gothic” genre of storytelling.

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In the book, the authors discuss one of the overlooked sacred landmarks in Westminster – the Memorial Gateway to the Westminster playground off of Center Street.

Zepp and Lanham explain that the “gateway was given to the city by H. Peyton Gorsuch in 1937. Its primary purpose was to acknowledge the community’s debt to Carroll Countians who had served in the nation’s wars.”

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The book goes on to portray and discuss public places such as Belle Grove Square and various other parks, gardens, memorials and monuments.

Westminster’s sacred places are shrines of community life according to a 1981 book by Dr. Ira Zepp and Marty Lanham, “Sacred Spaces of Westminster.” Submitted photo

Included are discussions about the Mather Gardens behind City Hall, dedicated on Oct. 13, 1963; the War Memorial at the forks of Pennsylvania Avenue and West Main Streets; Ward Memorial Arch at McDaniel College; and the Westminster Community Pond, dedicated by Governor Theodore R. McKeldin on Sept. 10, 1954.

In 1981, Lanham, was the public relations coordinator and photographer for Westminster. Among her many journalism credentials, she had been the editor of the Diamondback at the University of Maryland for two years. It was there that she earned her degree in journalism.

When the book came out, I had been practicing landscape designer and a keen observer of Westminster’s historic places for many years, and yet, Zepp and Lanham’s work caused me to look at Westminster’s history and public design in a much different light.

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In a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees, I began to look at our many squares, circles, fountains, monuments in a very different perspective.

To the best of my knowledge, the book has been out of print for many years. Perhaps an initiative could be undertaken to reprint this valuable resource and have it available at the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.


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