It's lonely at the bottom of the pack

Ardath Mullendore, youngest of 17 siblings, shares endless stories

Ardath Mullendore, youngest of 17 siblings, shares endless stories

May 02, 2007|by GLORIA DAHLHAMER

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of profiles of area residents who share the stories of their lives and experiences.

They say it's lonely at the top.

Ardath Mullendore says it's equally lonely when you're at the bottom of the pack. The youngest of 17 siblings, she says, "My mother was already a grandma when I was born, so I was pretty much alone growing up. I have nieces and nephews older than I am."

The youngest child of the late William S. and Florence Ensminger Mumma, she says, "I grew up hearing stories about my family. After my father died, Mom enjoyed sharing tales about her own youth."

The 75-year-old Smithsburg resident says the stories were endless and fascinating.

For instance, her great-great-grandfather, Daniel G. Mumma, was the first mayor of Hagerstown after the city was incorporated in 1858-59.

"The story goes he dropped dead on the courthouse steps," she says.


Then there are stories about her grandparents, Samuel and Kate Dodd Ensminger. They operated boats on the C&O Canal, and Mrs. Mullendore's mother grew up on the boats.

"My grandfather accidentally shot and killed himself," she retells the story, "and my grandmother was left a widow with three children to raise. She and my mother operated two boats. My mother sat in the bow of a boat on the canal, with hatchet in hand. The mules were on the towpath, on ropes pulling the boat. If the boat got out of control, she had to chop the ropes so the mules wouldn't be pulled into the water and drowned."

And there's the story of the John Brown bell. As the tale goes, Brown used the bell in the Harpers Ferry Engine House to summon his followers to battle. After the disastrous raid on the federal arsenal, members of Company I of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia were dispatched to Harpers Ferry to take everything of value to the government and ship it across the Potomac River to Maryland and thence to the War Department.

"They naturally wanted a souvenir of the historic event and finally decided to take the bell and ship it to their hometown fire department," Mrs. Mullendore says. "The bell was loaded on a canal boat and eventually landed at the Williamsport Lock. There the regiment encountered William and Elizabeth Ensminger, who owned and managed two or three canal boats.

"Well, the soldiers couldn't carry the bell into battle with them and they couldn't afford to ship it home, so they convinced the Ensmingers to keep the bell until they could return."

Mrs. Mullendore says the war lasted longer than the soldiers anticipated, and eventually the bell was forgotten. However, when the National Encampment was held in Washington, D.C., in 1892, a party of the surviving soldiers returned to Williamsport in search of the bell. They found Mrs. Ensminger had also survived the war, but was remarried to a man named Snyder. The bell had also survived, having been buried in the lady's garden for seven years and then dug up by slaves and hung on its old frame in her backyard.

"The lady was my great-grandmother," Mrs. Mullendore says, "and my mother loved to tell that story."

The bell, incidentally, can be seen today above the entrance to the Grand Army Hall in Marlborough, Mass. The story is told by one of the surviving soldiers in a small booklet that has long been out of print. Mrs. Mullendore owns the only known surviving copy.

"There were always stories to keep me entertained," she says.

Her father died when she was 8 years old, "and then I learned to do chores," she says. "I did the outside work, I chopped kindling, carried coal in and ashes out, and mom did the inside housekeeping."

She says her mother did mending for neighborhood folks, sold butter "when we had a cow," and made and sold apple butter in the fall.

In 1941, mother and daughter moved to Hagerstown, to Alexander Street, and young Ardath often did chores for their neighbors to earn movie money. "I scrubbed floors and cleaned windows, did yardwork, ran errands. I was paid whatever they wanted to give me."

She graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1950. She worked at The Herald-Mail Co. during her junior and senior years to earn money for clothes.

"Mom said she could pay my school fees, but she couldn't afford to dress me," she says.

After graduation, she took a job at the Washington County Board of Education as secretary to the late Anormalee Way, who was supervisor of home economics and the school lunch program. It was there she met her husband, Wayne "Buzz" Mullendore. He was the first printer hired by the BOE when its offices were still in the Washington County Courthouse.

A member of the Enlisted Reserves, Mullendore was called to active duty in Korea, and Ardath stayed home to raise a family. "I practically raised our son by myself," she says. "Our first daughter was born while he was still overseas." Two more daughters came later.

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