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Man chronicles Antietam ghost stories

February 10, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - As two park rangers at Antietam National Battlefield made their rounds one night, they saw something strange at the Otto House, which stands on a knoll along Burnside Bridge Road overlooking the Sherrick Farm.

Horrified by a blue-tinged, translucent figure in the open doorway of the building, which had been used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam, the rangers ran until they reached the Burnside Bridge.

When they stopped to compare what they'd seen, their descriptions were identical: A Southern belle in a hooped skirt standing in the doorway as if looking toward town.

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"Ghosts usually appear where there was a lot of pain and suffering and bloodshed, and certainly, there was plenty of that here," said Wilmer McKendree Mumma, a 77-year-old Sharpsburg writer.

On Sunday, Mumma signed copies of "Ghosts of Antietam," his new collection of 15 stories. Sitting in the bookstore at the Antietam Gallery on Shepherdstown Pike, Mumma said he was careful to include only the tales that seemed plausible or were corroborated by multiple accounts.

"These are not concocted stories," he said. "I've never seen a ghost, but I know these people I've talked to and they really believe them."

Six months of research by Mumma went into the book, which was published in December. This September marks the135th anniversary of the battle, the single bloodiest day in American history.

"Ghosts" is the fourth book for Mumma, who has also published a number of articles on the Civil War and the people and history of Sharpsburg.

Not bad for a man who did not begin his writing career until he was 70.

"It proves a point," he said. "Senior citizens can do other things. They don't have to sit in a rocking chair."

Mumma has never lacked things to do. After a career as salesman, Mumma then spent 19 years with the Washington County Commission on Aging. He retired from that job last year.

Writing is simply a way to preserve the history and heritage of an area that not only holds great importance in American history, but has been his home for nearly eight decades.

"I didn't want these stories lost for posterity," he said. "I wanted future generations to know what it was like to live here.

"I've met people who have known great information. But they won't share it. What good is it to have a great story and information without sharing it with anyone?"

Still, writing was not a career Mumma thought he would ever have. A 1938 graduate of Boonsboro High School, Mumma said literature and spelling were always his worst subjects.

Mumma entered a creative writing contest for seniors about 15 years ago. He lost, but was able to get his story published in the Maryland Cracker Barrel.

His first book, "Out of the Past," a mixture of folklore and history of the area and it Civil War connections, was published in 1993.

In "Ghosts," Mumma has hit upon a topic of great interest, according to local historians. Mumma said he decided to write it after getting many requests.

"Ghost stories are very popular and we carry a number of books on the topic," said Ted Alexander, Antietam's park historian. "But this is the first that focuses exclusively on this area."

Cathy Kehoe, who owns the Antietam Gallery with her husband, said the store highlights local authors, whose books comprise about a quarter of the titles.

"The ones we push are the local ones. We try to have everything local we can get our hands on." she said. "We consider Mr. Mumma our author-in-residence. He has his own little table."

Mumma will sign books at another open house on March 1 and 2 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

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