Carroll County Times

Dayhoff: History shows us what Democracy looks like, warts and all

An admission ticket issued by Sheriff James M. Stoner to the April 14, 1916 execution of Solomon Sudler.

This Tuesday, I will have the opportunity to give a Historical Society of Carroll County Box Lunch Talk presentation on "Murder and Mayhem in Carroll County" in Grace Hall at Grace Lutheran Church at 21 Carroll Street in Westminster.

This is my fifth presentation for the Historical Society. In the past, I have delivered presentations on research on the 250 years of Westminster history, the history of Belle Grove Square, the Odd Fellow's Hall at 140 East Main Street, and the life and times of Col. John Klinehoff Longwell, 1810-1896, a newspaper publisher and advocate for the creation of Carroll County in January 1837.


As for next Tuesday's topic, ever since Biblical times, when Cain committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel; crime, murder, and mayhem has been the focus of an unexplained fascination of any society and Carroll County is no different.

For an Aug. 1 article about the Box Lunch Talk, in this newspaper, by Lois Szymanski, she essentially asked two questions: "Could you tell me what got you interested in this topic? And why is it important to learn about the history of our predecessors?"


The first question was easy. I have written short stories all my life. It was a passion long before I began writing for the newspaper in 2004 or covered the "cops, courts, and crime" beat. If you can get past being totally creeped-out by the very nature of the crimes; the narratives, characters, plot development and devices, and the stories about these events are often complex and fascinating, if not spellbinding.

The second question is a bit harder. The purpose of studying history is not to go back to yesteryear, but to bring the past to the present. Carroll County has changed a great deal over the last several decades. With these changes comes an increasing importance to remember the qualities that strike to the core essence of our county; where do we come from, why we are here, and where are we going.

Recently "Carroll Can," a local advocacy organization, wrote on its website about the importance of encouraging folks to volunteer at one of the many great local museums. "How is preserving and displaying the local history of ordinary Carroll Countians important to a healthy community?" Carroll Can said it best, "… discovering local history is important because we learn how and why Carroll County has developed into the community it is today. Our history museums promote local culture and community by bringing people together over a common heritage. The best history museums provide all sides of history, even the less admirable stories, so we can analyze our progress, and resolve to do better."

I can only add, change is inevitable. The only "constant" that we can depend upon in today's world, is the impact on our daily lives from constant change. But if change is inevitable, it is important that we build upon the successes and foundation of the past. Without a working knowledge of the past, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes.

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Too often, new faces and new leadership assume local positions of authority who have no clue as to our Carroll County history and heritage. No concept of why things are the way they are and therefore no context in which to make the meaningful and constructive decisions necessary to continue our momentum forward.

Too often a lack of the knowledge of the history of our local community perpetuates inaccurate conclusions based upon too little information or the earnest desire to promote a political agenda or promote themselves by suggesting that they are here to save us from ourselves.

It is important to have working knowledge of history to know what democracy looks like — warts and all.

In the spring of 1995, then Maryland Governor Parris Glendening faced a firestorm when it came time to hang a portrait of former Governor Spiro Agnew in the Maryland Statehouse.


On April 14, he responded by saying, "I believe, however, that it is not up to any one of us to alter history. As George Orwell said in 1984, 'The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon.' This is not the Orwellian future where history can just vanish or change. This is not Stalinistic Russia where people become non-persons. This is an open society where we respect history. History is good. History is bad. And we learn from history--warts and all!! We cannot hide from it. We cannot change it. And our future can be better because of it."

For more information on the Box Lunch Talks call the Historical Society at 410-848-6494 or go to the website at

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at