Many years ago, when Westminster was known as Winchester, and the land beyond the Mississippi River was as mysterious as the surface of Mars--there came, from over the sea, a man named Ahrwud. Old Arhrwud was a friend of the Indians. He was a gruff, sweating man with a dirty white beard that hung down to his belt. He smoked a clay pipe using tobacco brought up from Virginia by the Susquehannocks. When Ahrwud went out traveling it was his habit to wear a wide-brimmed hat and a silver cross that he cast himself.
Ahrwud was a master silversmith from Germany who moved to Carroll County in the middle of the eighteenth century, when it was known as Frederick County. He brought a wife and a small daughter with him, but it seems his wife died soon after they arrived.
Ahrwud loved his frail daughter. She was blond, beautiful and smart--she taught herself to read Luther's Bible when she was just four years old. In time Frieda grew into a talented young woman who could sketch and paint remarkably well. She helped design the utensils that her father sold in big cities like Lancaster, Philadelphia, Frederick and Baltimore.
Ahrwud and Frieda lived apart from the other settlers of Silver Run. People talked of Ahrwuds's friendship with the Indians, and of his wildly beautiful daughter, who ran through the forests in mocassins and braids. They wondered at the quality of his silver-work and how he managed to sell his crafts at such an unusually low price, as if he had access to some unlimited supply of silver close by....
Every night Ahrwud locked Frieda in her room. She'd hear the Dutchman speak in the language of the Indians; then the shop door would close, and lock. Frieda was ashamed to be treated like this--she was all of seventeen years old! And she was curious to know where her father went in the company of the Indians. So one night she waited for her father to come back. At dawn she heard the old feet earily ascend the stairs. Just as he was about to enter his room Frieda called out to him saying, "Father! Father! Where have you been? Please tell me or I shal die!" Ahrwud unlocked the door and embraced his daughter. Then he looked at her haggard face and guessed that she had waited up all night for him. He promised to show her his secret the next night--if she swore on her life never to tell another person.
The night came quickly. The full moon danced like a skull in the trees. Ahrwud blindfolded his daughter, and holding a lantern before them, led her into the shadows of the forest. Their way was twisted and difficult.
At mid-journey they came to a stream. Frieda begged Ahrwud for a drink. Taking pity on his daughter, he unbandaged her eyes and waited, silently, while she cupped water to her lips. They were in a narrow valley--on one side woods, on the other a barren hillside. After they rested, he retied the blindfold, and they groped on.
Finally the Dutchman told Frieda to stop. He picked her up and descended stairs into a cold damp place. He sat her on a rock ledge and echoed up the stairs again. Frieda heard a crackling noise, as if her father were arranging brush. Then Ahrwud sneaked back, unbandaged her eyes, and held a lantern over his head. They were in a low cave. The walls were of green stone and were covered with pictures of the Indian gods. Frieda looked down and gasped. Scattered around on the uneven floor of the cave were piles and piles of silver! Jewelry, bullion, plates, glittered at her feet like magic fires.
Ahrwud led her to the back of the mine and showed her the rich vein of silver that looked like frozen lightning striking through the rock. Then he dug some of the precious metal out, stoked up a crucible, and made silver ingots. He rubbed his wrinkled hands together and told her that she would want for nothing.
An Indian stepped out of the shadows of the cave. Then another and another. Ahrwud dropped his hands to his sides and began to weep. The Indians wrestled Frieda to the ground and lopped off her head with a tomahawk. Then they danced a magic dance around Ahrwud and burned out his eyes with a rod of hot silver.
The Indians sealed up the mouth of the cave.
Shortly after the disappearance of Ahrwud and Frieda, the settlers of Union Mills began to see odd things around Rattlesnake Hill: on moonlit nights the figure of a headless woman--as tall as the trees--with a column of fire dancing above her shoulders; and by her side, carrying a lantern made of his daughter's head--old Ahrwud. The curious and the foolhardy supposed that this was the location of the mine, but they were soon driven away by large black dogs and hideous serpents, or killed.
The first mine shaft was sunk on Rattlesnake Hill during the gold craze of 1848 by a group of men from Woodsboro, Frederick County. One source says that they became discouraged and gave up, leaving behind a considerable hole in the earth; another whispers that they were frightened away by evil spirits that floated after them demanding their souls in payment for the silver. The mine remained undisturbed until 1875, when Josiah Myers of Hanover, Pennsylvania, with two assistants, re-opened mining operations protected by hex signs, four leaf clovers, and talismans that they carried with them. But they were doomed. Black cats with fiery red eyes appeared and disappeared around the mine, huge black dogs would bare their fangs and vanish into the ground with a puff of smoke, and strange salamander-like creatures would dart through the air and under the leaves, disappearing when the men tried to catch them.
At nine o'clock on the morning of August 15, 1875, the head miner was buried under ten feet of earth by a cave-in. The other men frantically tried to dig him out, but he was dead before they could reach him. It was whispered that two more people had to die before the cursed souls of Ahrwud and Frieda would be set free.
This article appeared in the February 7. 1885 issue of the American Sentinel:
"The famous Myers' District silver mine, about a mile and a half east of this place, was reopened a couple weeks ago by a young German who has only been in this country two months. The vicinity of the mine still sustains its reputation for queer appearances. The miner says that on Friday morning, 30th ult., at nine minutes past eleven o'clock, the hour the moon fulled, three curiously clad Indians carrying a lantern, appeared on the hill by him and disappeared in the woods beyond. One evening while he was digging by moonlight, they also made their appearance.--T."
We don't know the name of the German, or his fate; but his presence spurred an interest in the mystery of Rattlesnake Hill.
Two years earlier, an article appeared in the April 25th edition of the Hanover Spectator, which adds more material to the legend:
"....A light, as of a lantern carried by someone was said to have often been seen moving across the hills toward the mine, which, if followed, would disappear; this light always moved in a uniform course, and was never seen to pass beyond the mine. A well authenticated story comes from a man who must have seen Old Ahrwud himself. This man was one night walking along a post fence, not far from the mine, when he noticed a stranger just on the other side of the fence, wearing a long gray beard, a big broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a lighted lantern. The stranger moved quietly with him until they reached a crossfence bounding the next field, when the stranger passed through the fence without raising his lantern and vanished. When this man was asked why he did not talk with the stranger, he answered, "He didn't look as if he wanted to talk!" A farmer who lived near the mine said that he often saw this light and that he was one night coming down the Hanover road with his team when, at a point in the road where the woods reach from the road to the mine, his horses stopped and refused to go a step. He got off the saddle horse, and went forward, but could find nothing in the road; he then whipped the horses, without making them move, until he felt a breath of cold air across his face, after which the horses moved on as if nothing was wrong. He did not see anything himself, but the horses snorted as if in great fright. Another person spoke of a time when he was a boy, and was one night going near by the mine with his father...when his father with a sudden start said: "Did you see that woman without a head? She was nearly as tall as the trees!" The boy did not see the headless woman, but said that he saw a big fire burning on the top of the trees that same night."
Route 140 intersects with Old Hanover Pike in Union Mills, Maryland, just across the bridge from the famous Shriver Homestead. Rattlesnake Hill is visible from this intersection. In order to reach the top of Rattlesnake Hill (which is located on private property), the traveler must take unpaved Kirkhoff road to its end--a little community of houses scattered around an outcropping of glacial rock. This type of geological formation is very common about twenty miles further north, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; but here it stands in striking contrast to the low rolling hills of Carroll County. The outcropping is an oblong mound of several boulders roughly seventy feet long by thirty feet high. At the base of this mound, next to the road, is a pit filled with rusted junk and leaves. There is another pit, about thirty feet from the first one. At the top of the mound is a shallow cave big enough to squeeze into sideways. It is here, a local resident told this writer, that civil war soldiers made and stored bullets. It is also from this point that Confederate scouts watched Union armies march up Old Hanover Pike to Gettysburg.
What's the truth behind the legend? One source hints that a family kept their savings safe from their creditors in a chest buried on Rattlesnake Hill, and that they scared people away from this very real treasure by ghostly charades. One thing is certain-no ghosts have been reported prowling the haunted silver mine for a hundred years or more. Maybe Ahrwud and Frieda settled for one death instead of three.
c. 1979, by Jesse Glass, Jr. c. renewed 2001, by Jesse Glass, Jr.
A pennsylvania chap, whose sweetheart lives near Rattlesnake Hill, was wonderfully frightened one night a few weeks ago by seeing a large white fiery-eyed monster near the haunted silver mine in this district.
The (Silver Run) News, May 9, 1885.
For more information about Silver Run's Haunted Silver Mine read Ghosts and Legends of Carroll County, Maryland, by Jesse Glass, Jr. Available on-line from the Carroll County Public Library.