Emmitsburg's musical ghost


Swirling leaves dance in the autumn wind as a trace of pungent wood smoke rises from a chimney and races across the evening sky. Deepening shadows transform the familiar into the unfamiliar.

Leafless trees illuminated by gray moonlight gently sway in the wind like skeletons performing some macabre dance.

It is the time of year when the unexpected takes on a heightened new meaning.

Over the next few nights, children gathered in classrooms or sitting by fireplaces with family and friends will be treated to tales of ghosts, goblins and other unexplained things that go bump in the night.

And even adults might feel a slight tingle or experience a pounding heart as stories of the supernatural and of spirits wandering on endless journeys from the great beyond fill the room.

And speaking of ghosts, has anyone seen the ectoplasm of Larry Dielman floating about the hills of Western Maryland?

The ghostly tale of Dielman can be told now as a fitting Halloween story, or can wait until Christmas Eve, when it is said he still returns to the grave of his father in the Grotto of Lourdes Cemetery above Mount St. Mary's near Emmitsburg to play Christmas carols on his flute.

His father, Prof. Henry Casper Dielman, was a noted musician and composer both in his native Germany and later in the United States. He had led symphony orchestras in Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.

In 1843, he joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, where he taught music and composed the Christmas carol With Glory Lit the Midnight Air.

His son, Larry, was born in 1847, and the father had hoped his son might follow him as a classical musician.

However, in spite of his father's best efforts, the only instrument he cared for was the banjo, which he plunked with great enthusiasm.

He later opened a general mercantile store in Emmitsburg, where he enjoyed sitting on the front porch, playing the banjo and singing his own compositions.

If you love me

Tell me so;

Wait not till

The cold winds blow.

Wait not till

The wintry showers

Heap snowdrifts

On the flowers

His marriage was short-lived, and for the rest of his life he sang about his lost love.

In 1885, his father died, and it was then that Larry found the flute his father had given him as a child and mastered the instrument.

"On the following Christmas morning, townsfolk on their way to 5 o'clock mass paused along the way as the strains of With Glory Lit the Midnight Air and Adeste Fidelis floated down from the cemetery on the hill," reported The Sun Magazine in 1955.

Snow, sleet or freezing weather failed to deter Dielman's midnight Christmas Eve visits to the cemetery, which continued until 1922.

Townspeople heard the notes from his flute, which then abruptly stopped. He was found unconscious in the snow and died the following spring. He was buried in a plot next to his father.

"You've got to understand ... I was only a boy at the time, but oh sure, I heard the music year after year," said Eugene Warthen in a 1977 interview with The Evening Sun.

"I remember the sounds of Christmas night, the sleigh bells, the laughter of people bundled up for the cold weather on the sleighs and the howling of the dogs at the flute music," he said.

If Dielman still appears, no one knows for sure. Some say they still hear the music floating on the winds that blow off the Catoctin Mountains.

However, it takes a measure of courage to stroll about a cemetery at midnight trying to prove the validity of an old legend.

It's safer to speculate about it from the comfort of a wing-chair drawn up to a roaring fire during this season of ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night.

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