- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

EMMITSBURG, Md. (AP) Lawrence Dielman's ghostly tunes haven't been heard for years, but the Christmastime legend of his repentant spirit still haunts the mountaintop cemetery where he lies.
Estranged from his famous composer father, Dielman is said to have embraced his father's music after the old man died and continued his tradition even after his own death of playing for those attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at a local Catholic church.
The Rev. Daniel C. Nusbaum, resident historian at nearby Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary, relishes the story's melancholy charm.
"As the Italians say, 'Se non vero, e ben trovato' if it isn't true, it's such a good story that it ought to be," Father Nusbaum said.
There is no doubt Dielman existed. Born Aug. 9, 1847, according to his gray granite tombstone, he was the only son of Henry Casper Dielman, a celebrated composer hired as music director at the Mount in 1843.
According to "Story of the Mountain," a 1911 history of the Emmitsburg area, Henry Dielman enjoyed ringing in Christmas with a song. Before dawn, he would assemble the school orchestra to awaken students with "Adeste Fidelis" ("O Come All Ye Faithful").
He even composed a carol, "With Glory Lit the Midnight Air," in 1852 that became popular in the Civil War era, Father Nusbaum said.
Professor Dielman also started another tradition that year, playing his violin Christmas Eve night while hidden in the woods above St. Mary on the Hill, a Catoctin Mountain church.
"My grandmother, who was born on the mountain in 1858, recalled her family talking about the music that he made on the mountain on Christmas Eve," said Frances Bittle, 77, of Gettysburg, Pa.
Dielman kept up the tradition as his career flowered. He composed a presidential march for Andrew Johnson in 1865 and received a papal medal in 1876 for his contributions to the church.
His home life wasn't as sweet. Young Lawrence was schooled on the flute but had no taste for classical music or advanced training.
"He was a teenager who had gotten into popular music and the banjo because that was the popular instrument of the day," Father Nusbaum said.
He may have joined his father on the flute for some Christmas Eve performances, but they eventually became estranged over Lawrence's refusal to do as his father wanted, Mr. Nusbaum said.
"The father thought that Larry was basically lazy and unmotivated and he nagged him, and Larry just stopped talking to his father," he said.
Instead, he ran a general store near the mountain church. A story in the now-defunct Emmitsburg Chronicle describes him sitting on the store porch, singing his own compositions for local girls.
He married, but his wife walked out two years later, leaving Lawrence lonely and blue. Father Nusbaum said the Rev. Hugh Phillips, a monsignor in his 90s who spent most of his life at the Mount, recalled visiting Dielman's store.
"He said Larry used to sit on the porch," Father Nusbaum said. "He seemed to be lost in himself."
After his father died in 1882, Dielman had a change of heart, Father Nusbaum said. Filled with regret, he took up the Christmas Eve tradition and played at his father's graveside year after year, even after the church burned down and was replaced by another, St. Anthony's Parish Church, nearby.
Lawrence Dielman died in 1923, but some said the music continued.
"That's the ghostie story on the mountain," Mrs. Bittle said. "After the Dielmans died, the older people on the mountain used to continue to say that they definitely heard the music on Christmas Eve. I have known members of my generation who drove up there after midnight Mass just to listen; I don't know that anybody ever heard anything."
Father Nusbaum said some seminarians fueled the legend by sneaking into the cemetery to play, but that ended when students started going home for the holidays around 1930.
"When I first came here, 35 years ago, you'd still hear people talking about it, people in the town, but I haven't heard anything about it for years," he said.
Mrs. Bittle said she told the tale to her four children, who scoffed at it.
"Mountain families tend to share things like that," she said. "It's a charming little tale, and it kind of belongs to the Christmas season."

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