Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sound of a Train in the Distance


Last night, before I went to bed, I heard the sound of a train whistle in the distance. That's not so common nowadays and I know the only active train tracks in the area are miles away, so the sound had carried a long way.

In a fairly direct way, I owe my very existence to trains. My grandfather Peter Kleylein (below)
emigrated from Unterrodach in Bavaria and as a young man found himself in Baltimore as a baker. He wasn't a baker when he left Germany, his occupation was listed as 'joiner' which could be anything from a carpenter to a sawmill worker. It would make sense that he would work with wood, since the major occupation in Unterrodach was lumberjacking and floating the trees to sawmills. There's a museum there dedicated to the history of Floessers. The German word (floater) has a kind of frontier mystique about it, like the American cowboy. The occupation 'joiner' may have been selected by the immigration people since there is no American translation for 'floater'.

These guys cut the trees down, dragged them down the mountains, lashed them together and rode the rafts thus created miles down the river to the sawmills and then made their way back home. Some of these rafts were big enough to have cabins on them where the men lived while they floated downstream. Of course there was a river in Unterrodach, the Rodach River (see Number 10 on the map below) that fed the river Main.

But my grandfather decided not to pursue this life and instead joined his brother Johann in Baltimore. However, when Peter arrived, there wasn't too much of a lumberjack operation going on in downtown Baltimore. Peter arrived alone in 1889 to join Johann and without lumberjacking available, he became a baker. He was sixteen.

In all the research I've done on Peter, his occupation never changed. His first documented job in the United States was baker and that's what he was doing when he died of tuberculosis in 1925.

By then he had gone through a lot of hard events in his life which will be fuel for other entries in this communication mechanism. But what has all this baker business got to do with railroad trains and my existence? You see, I try to make these things a big circle and answer the questions that have popped up in the beginning.

The circle has to do with the Baltimore Ravens stadium and why they named Mount Airy, Maryland Mount Airy in the first place.

Back before the Interstate highway system (or highways. . . or even automobiles)
the transportation system of choice was railroads. The B&O Railroad (Baltimore and Ohio) had a huge hub right in the middle of Baltimore. The stadium complex there in downtown Baltimore is built on the site of that huge B&O railroad station hub. Interestingly, that was the first railroad station built in the United States. This was 1828.

If you follow the rails west after Ellicott City from Baltimore on the map above, a couple of stops later is Mount Airy named for the cold, clean air carried over it's rather modest summit. It was clean enough to create a better atmosphere for those suffering from the crowding and bad air quality of cities like, say. . . Baltimore. So the
Garrett Sanitarium was built in Mount Airy to treat people suffering from such lung diseases as tuberculosis.

So the youngest of eight of Johann Andreas Kleylein and Katherina
Shaller took the B&O steam train west to Mount Airy and there met my grandmother Hallie Harrison, the youngest of twelve of Nimrod Harrison Jr. and Sarah Watkins.

The Harrisons and Watkins' had been in Maryland and Virginia since the dawn of time. John Watkins sailed with John Smith for heavens sake. And the Harrisons are part of the Virginia Harrisons that produced two presidents.

The story of how exactly it happened that these two met and became interested in one another is unfortunately not available to me. Yet. Perhaps it can be discovered at some point how a tubercular German immigrant baker who presumably spoke with a heavy foreign accent met and charmed a girl thirteen years younger than him whose family had already been in America for 300 years. I'm sure Nimrod and Sarah were thrilled with the prospect. He was twenty-nine when they married and she was sixteen.


The sound of a train in the distance has always been wistful and romantic. It carries with it the prospect of traveling to new places and meeting new people and having new adventures. As it happens in this case, all of those things were true.

Part of that adventure was the three boys this couple had, the oldest of which was my father Leon (below).
What was it like for Peter and Hallie when they were first married and lived in Baltimore? Remember, these were the youngest of both families. I know for quite a while they lived on Barre Street in Baltimore just a few blocks east of the B&O Terminal so it was an easy commute for the sixteen year old Hallie to get back to Mount Airy. Barre Street is still there in a fairly well preserved state because it was trapped between the terminal and the waterfront which was a couple of blocks to the east. Now the terminal is the stadium complex and the waterfront is Inner Harbor. The noise and smoke and dirt from the rail complex is gone, but the results of it's existence are still with us.
I know, because I'm part of it.


3 comments:

Leah Kleylein said...

what a great story! I love humanizing our records, that's what makes it interesting....

German John said...

I really enjoyed reading the stories in this blog. It's inspiring me to do more work on mine. I love the style and hope to emulate it.

Redcay Family said...

You now, when you and Leah throw family names at me... Peter, Harrison, Watkins... they mean nothing to me.

THIS I enjoyed reading. And I finally "get" a part of our history.