For too brief a time, a star burned brightly in Beaver Creek

July 07, 2000|By Bob Maginnis

For too brief a time, a star burned brightly in Beaver Creek

How many people could sum up their lives in less than 50 loose-leaf notebook pages, and not bore you to death in the process? Not many, I'd have wagered, until I read the writings of Roger Weagly, born on May 27, 1911 at "Cresheim," his family's home in Beaver Creek east of Hagerstown.

He has since passed away, but the early years of his life are preserved in a handwritten journal, illustrated with tiny brown-toned photographs.

For a teenager, the writing is remarkable and not just for its precise penmanship. In the first chapter, Weagly describes how his ancestors came to Pennsylvania from Switzerland in the late 1600s to Germantown, Pa., and later to Beaver Creek.

"Among them was Samuel Funk, the father of John Funk, my great-great grandfather, who was born in 1790 and built the home in which I live," Weagly wrote.


The sprawling stone house, whose name means "home on a hill," sheltered Weagly, his grandparents and his parents, including his father, Charles A. Weagly, at one time president of the county's board of education.

"It is a twelve-room house with 21-inch stone walls, and is situated on the west side of the road known at the Hagerstown and South Mountain Turnpike, in the village of Beaver Creek, about six miles from Hagerstown.

"Our home faces the sunrise and South Mountain and is surrounded by a large lawn, which I keep in trim during the summer," he wrote.

For some today, the presence of so many relatives in the same house, directing and correcting the child in their midst, would be nearly intolerable. But from young Roger's writings, it sounds as if he thrived on it, even when punished.

When he was 4, his father gave him a pet lamb on the promise that he would bottle-feed it. One night when the family had decided to go to town, Roger stood on the porch, dressed in his good clothes, waiting for his parents to get ready.

Four-year-olds are not remarkable for their patience, and so he decided to pass the time playing with the lamb. But when he got to barn, he found the door latched, and the handle too high to reach. And so he crawled through the barn's feed door, not realizing that he was soiling his good clothes.

When his parents discovered that, "I was called hurriedly to the house, where a lilac switch awaited me."

But Weagly's journal is not all about childhood mischief. Most of it describes his curiosity about the way the world and mechanical devices work. At age 4, he became so fascinated with books that he stopped talking completely for several months, and a doctor advised the family "not to teach me anything until I was seven or eight years old, and to only let me learn what I could pick up for myself."

He passed the next three years by trying to duplicate all the things his father did in miniature, including making hay, planting a garden and building small models of his father's carpentry projects with a set of child-sized tools. The family also purchased him a "Meccano" set, which from the tiny photo looks like an early-model Erector set.

At 5, his parents took him on a trip to the seashore, traveling part of the way by a paddle-wheel steamer.

"Before retiring that night I had seen everything possible pertaining to the ship. The most fascinating part was the engine, which I thought was tremendous," he wrote.

Engines, locomotives and electric power were sources of fascination, and at age 11, he received a Meccano set that included an electric motor and "the first week I nearly went wild trying to build all kinds of models."

He also got what he describes as "many scoldings" for having nuts and bolts strewn all over the floor. At about the same time, he built a rheostatic switch using a cigar box and fine magnet wire wound around a pencil.

"I am very fond of all kinds of electrical engineering and wish that some day I may be able to make a further study of this work," he wrote.

And so, in addition to the novels of Zane Grey, history texts and books about American law, Weagly also subscribed to "numerous magazines pertaining to science, invention, electricity and nature, all of which I read with great enthusiasm."

He would, he said, like to make the study of electricity "my occupation in future years" because "electrical power is the most economical power on the face of the earth."

In the future, he was sure the "aeroplane of the 21st Century will be propelled by electricity..."

All of this despite frequent bouts of the croup and what he described as "weak eyes."

The journal ends with a short section on Weagly's chores around the farm, and red-penciled initials on the last page suggest the journal might have been a school project.

Unfortunately, Roger Weagly did not go on to be an electrical engineer. According to William G. Porter, a local antique dealer who lent me the journal, Weagly drowned at a swimming hole on the West Virginia side of the Potomac near Snyder's landing, in 1930 at age 19.

"What an asset he would have been to the community had he lived," Porter said.

I agree, but his journal gives us a glimpse back to a time that was not nearly so backward as some of us imagine and of a curious, intelligent boy whose imagination, unfortunately, couldn't overcome the force of nature.

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Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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