- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

CUMBERLAND, Md. | Grace Elliott McElfish’s signature, scratched into a mirror of the Lazarus store’s bridal gallery 66 years ago, starts tentatively. The “G” is wobbly. The “a” looks like an “o.”

But her last name shows a stronger hand. And the date, 1942, is followed by a period. It’s a declaration amid the signatures of 135 World War II-era brides who etched their names into the looking glass from 1939 to 1948.

Eleven of the women, now in their 80s and 90s, gazed into the recently rediscovered mirror Tuesday and reflected on life during wartime in their Western Maryland mountain town of about 21,000.

“It was kind of like the best of times but the worst of times because of the war,” said Lucille Twigg McIntyre, who was married in 1947 to a Marine.

The Lazarus building’s new owners found the mirror in the attic. It represents an old tradition of brides leaving their marks in glass, sometimes using their diamond rings. Similar signatures, dating as far back as 1888, can be found in the windows of the Bedford Springs Resort in nearby Bedford, Pa.

“If it cut glass, they knew it was the real McCoy,” said Bernice Friedland, a local history buff who ran a children’s clothing store in downtown Cumberland with her husband, Arthur, for several decades starting in the mid-1950s.

Emma Jane Foley Hoban, married in 1948, said a Lazarus clerk invited her sign the mirror with a stylus instead of her diamond. Hoban said she was relieved because she and her fiance, sailor Joseph Hoban, had yet to purchase a ring.

Artist Margaret Romero said she found the bridal mirror shortly after she and her photographer husband, David, bought the four-story building for studio and living space about six years ago.

The store had been closed for more than a decade, and though the unframed mirror was covered with grime she could still see some of the scratches in it.

“They looked like they were purposely put there,” Mrs. Romero said. “I went up there with my soap and bucket and found 135 names.”

Realizing it was part of the city’s heritage, she and Carolyn Neely, a merchant in the building’s ground-floor art-and-antiques bazaar, began tracking down the brides. Working with local public relations agent Becky McClarran, they cooked up the mirror-unveiling ceremony, complete with a wedding cake and bridal gown displays, as part of “Cumberland Goes to War,” a 10-day tourism promotion and community celebration that continues through Sunday.

“The changes and the sacrifices made on the home front were certainly important to the efforts and the success of the war,” Miss McClarran said.

The event was held Tuesday evening on the building’s second floor, which once included the bridal salon and is now Mrs, Romero’s studio. Miss Neely said they found and invited about 40 brides or their survivors.

Mary Jane Michaels, whose late mother, Jane Elizabeth Urbas, signed the mirror, was moved by the event. “It was like her coming back from the grave,” she said.

Mrs. McElfish doesn’t remember etching her name on the mirror. But she recalled the rationing of meat, tires, sugar and other commodities during the early 1940s, when she and her husband, J. Russell McElfish, lived with his parents on a Pennsylvania farm north of town. Despite the austerity, Cumberland, a railroad, mining and manufacturing city that then had nearly 40,000 residents, was bustling.

“You couldn’t hardly walk on Baltimore Street - it was that crowded,” Mrs. McElfish said.

She recalled the pale blue dress with a pleated bodice she bought at Lazarus for $22 - more than a month’s wages at her housekeeper’s job - and the dime-store jewelry she purchased to add sparkle.

“I wanted a blue dress,” Mrs. McElfish said. “That’s the thing they always said: You had to be married in blue.”

Her wedding photos show the smiling couple on Jan. 9, 1942, before they drove through a snowstorm to a Philadelphia hotel where Mrs. McElfish unpacked her nightgown to find that her sister had sewn the hem closed as a prank.

Mr. McElfish was rejected for military service due to scarred lungs, apparently from a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, McElfish said. He died in 1991 after a career as a laborer, electrician and manager in the city’s now-closed factories, including a Celanese plant that made parachute silks during the war.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide