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Frederick deserves a grand salute

A few hours after arriving in this pretty central Maryland city, the question is bound to occur: If John Greenleaf Whittier hadn't written his poem Barbara Fritchie about a spunky old woman whose in-your-face challenge shamed Confederate soldiers into submission, would Frederick be a different place today?

Certainly there would be no Barbara Fritchie Fine Food out on Route 40. There would be no need for the little brass markers pointing the way to Barbara Fritchie's grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery, with its spectacular monuments. Barbara Fritchie Day would not be commemorated on Sept. 10.

And Harriet J. Arthur would not be at her usual post in the Barbara Fritchie House and Museum, a fluff of white hair poking from beneath a starched, white bonnet, her booming voice reciting the words of the 131-year-old poem that not only immortalized Fritchie, but brought a measure of fame to the town as well:

"Shoot if you must this old gray head.

"But spare your country's flag."

In fact, it's debatable whether the 95-year-old patriot actually stuck her "old gray head" out the window that September day as Stonewall Jackson marched thousands of Southern troops through town. ("If you want to get a conversation going in Frederick, just mention Barbara Fritchie," says one resident.)

But what is certain is that Frederick, amid forests and rolling farmland in a still rural county, is serious about its history. In this, its 250th anniversary year, historical commemorations are kicking into high gear.

In the city's 33-block historical district, beautified by magnolia and dogwood, many of the 18th- and 19th-century buildings have been restored to their former glory.

"Up from the meadows rich with corn,

"Clear in the cool September morn,

"The clustered spires of Frederick stand

"Green-walled by the hills of Maryland."

Roy Okan, lean and proud, is standing on Church Street, his cane poised in midair toward one of those spires as he recites the opening stanza of Whittier's poem. The 36-year resident and retired school principal is dressed a hundred years behind the times in a derby and old-fashioned black waistcoat _ entirely appropriate garb, given his subject matter:

He points out the handsome Federal and Greek Revival buildings standing edge to edge on these tidy streets and recounts stories of Frederick's past.

The first residents settled here in 1745, and taking care of religious business first, built three churches. Today's residents proudly note that the local citizenry committed its first rebellion against the British in 1765 _ when they hanged the tax collector in effigy _ a full eight years before the Bostonians threw their tea party.

After the Revolution, Francis Scott Key, another illustrious resident, practiced law here and wrote the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. The office he shared with his brother-in-law, Roger Brooke Taney, who became chief justice of the United States, lies across the street from City Hall.

The opening of the National Road in 1808 made Frederick a commercial hub and way station for east-west travelers. But perhaps Frederick's most pivotal role in history came during the Civil War.

Because of its proximity to the battlefields at Antietam, South Mountain and Monocacy, Frederick became a wartime medical center. The town of 8,000 residents was at times overwhelmed with up to 4,000 wounded, who were treated in 29 buildings that were converted to hospitals.

Many still stand, including a house near City Hall that Abraham Lincoln visited in 1862. New owners are converting it into the Lincoln House Condominiums. (Town codes stipulate that owners can't alter the exterior of a structure; interior renovation and commercial exploitation are another matter.)

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is expected to open officially here in the fall of 1996. Though organizers of the private museum are still raising funds, they are conducting weekend walking tours on Civil War themes. The museum is housed in a former furniture maker's and undertaker's shop on E Patrick Street. There, many of the casualties of Antietam were embalmed _ a new process at the time. The storefront is hard to miss; an antique coffin labeled "finely crafted wooden coffin" fills a display window.

Frederick also has an abundance of practitioners of "hearth cooking." On special-events weekends, the heady smell of wood fires and roasting meat wafts out through old chimneys at museums around town.

Inside the city's oldest house, the 1756 Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, Mary-Ann Bevard watches over a simmering heart attack of a stew chock full of bacon, venison, pork loin and sausage. The heavy iron pot sits on coals at the front of the huge kitchen fireplace.

"The recipe says it can cook from five to 24 hours, (so) you can put it on and go out and work in the garden," she notes.

Bevard shows off her skills at local festivals, using cooking techniques and recipes that date from the 1750s.

There's also ample opportunity to buy a piece of history in Frederick. Hundreds of dealers sell antiques and collectibles. The shops are concentrated along E Patrick in a downtown area called "Antique Walk," and in the Everedy Square and Shab Row area, on the eastern edge of downtown.

Six miles east of Frederick is tiny New Market, which claims fame as the "Antiques Capital of Maryland." No reason to dispute that: Almost everyone along this stretch of Route 144 and a few streets beyond seems to sell antiques out of private homes.

New Market has its own heightened sense of antiquity. The entire town (minus the newer outskirts) got Historic Register status in 1975.

"The difference between New Market and places like Williamsburg (Va.) is that New Market is original," says Terry Rimmel, owner of the National Pike Inn. "The buildings have been restored and maintained."

But back in Frederick, the home of the city's favorite flag-waver is a replica. Barbara Fritchie's original house was torn down in 1868 after it was flooded. A replica containing elements and furnishings from the original was rebuilt in 1926.

It operates as a private museum, and people from all over the world who can recite the poem (or parts of it, anyway) come to debate the validity of what Harriet J. Arthur refers to as the "flag event."

Arthur, the museum's docent/manager, has no doubts about what happened at this spot more than 132 years ago.

"You stop and think about it. Two days after she leaned out that window, (Union) Gen. Jesse Reno came through town, greeted her and asked for her flag. That's documented."

A writer in town at the time recounted the incident to poet Whittier, who set the anecdote to meter. It was published in the Atlantic Monthly in October 1863 and was an instant hit. (Fritchie had died the December before, three months after the "flag event.")

Whittier might just as well have written an ode to Mary Quantrell, who lived two blocks away from Fritchie. It is documented that she did, indeed, wave a flag at the passing Confederate troops, tour guide Okan relates. Diane Curose, a 17-year-old flag-waver, also taunted the troops that day, but was persuaded by a pistol-wielding Southerner to temporarily suppress her patriotic fervor.

"We know," Okan says diplomatically, "that Barbara Fritchie did epitomize the patriotism many people had."


GETTING THERE: Frederick is a one-hour drive north of Washington, D.C., and a three-hour drive from Philadelphia. From Washington, take I-270 north from the Capital Beltway (I-495). From Philadelphia, take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to its junction with U.S. 15 just west of Harrisburg; Frederick County begins as soon as you cross the Maryland state line.

WHAT TO SEE: Walking tours of the downtown historic area are conducted at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $4.50 adults; $3.50 seniors; under 12 free. The 2{-hour tours start at the visitor center, 19 E Church St., (301) 663-8687, and end at the Historical Society of Frederick County, 24 E Church St.

Other sites to see on your own include:

Rose Hill Manor, 1611 N Market St., the 1792 Georgian beauty that was the home of Maryland's first governor, Thomas Johnson. It has lots of hands-on exhibits for children. The $3 admission includes a guided tour.

The Barbara Fritchie House and Museum, 154 W Patrick St., open Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $2 adults; $1.50 children.

ACCOMMODATIONS: The city of Frederick, a junction of major highways as well as a thriving bedroom community, has the usual name-brand motels. For families or budget travelers, they offer a good base from which to explore.

For those with romantic inclinations and a bit more cash, there are at least a dozen B&Bs or small inns throughout the county. New Market, 6 miles east, has two B&B's _ the National Pike Inn, with double rooms from $75 to $125, (301) 865-5055; and the Strawberry Inn, with rooms from $75 to $95, (301) 865-3318. A brochure listing all kinds of lodging, and restaurants and shops, is available free from the Tourism Council of Frederick County, 19 E Church St., Frederick, MD 21701; phone (800) 999-3613. Visitor center hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

INFORMATION: The 1995 visitors guide to Frederick County, which includes maps and information on lodging, restaurants and attractions, is available from the Tourism Council.