Long-awaited Thurmont documentary to premiere Oct. 26

Producer Christopher Haugh, left, and Araminta Finn work recently to edit the documentary “Almost Blue Mountain City,” about the history of Thurmont, at The Digital Bard in Frederick.

Excitement has been building about “Almost Blue Mountain City,” a documentary film that captures the story of a place originally known as Mechanicstown.

Residents and area historical buffs can attend the premiere of the first historical documentary about Thurmont on Oct. 26 at Springfield Manor Winery, a historic site that has a cameo in the film.

“We’re really excited,” said Jim Humerick, Thurmont’s chief administrative officer. “It’s a great historical forum that demonstrates Thurmont history.”

The film, by local historian and filmmaker Chris Haugh, the Tourism Council of Frederick County’s Scenic Byway and Special Projects manager, is more than three hours long, so the premiere will include an intermission.

Thurmont came close to being called Blue Mountain City, hence the name of the documentary.

In the late 19th century, two residents — Charles Shipley, a retired real estate broker from Baltimore, and Charles Cassell, editor of the Catoctin Clarion newspaper — suggested the need for a progressive name for the town that had held the rustic moniker of Mechanicstown since its inception in 1804. The Western Maryland Railroad supported the endeavor, due to a plethora of sound-alike towns in the region — Mechanicsburg, Mechanicsville — that confused passengers and freight shipments, Haugh said.

After a spirited debate in the newspapers, the town voted in 1893, and Blue Mountain City won with more than 80 percent of the ballots. However, the U.S. Post Office said the name, suggested by Shipley, was too long, Haugh said, so the residents went with the second-place offering of Thurmont, put forth by Cassell. 

“Thur-mont” is Germanic in origin and, in theory, crudely translates to door/gateway and mountain.

“Gateway to the Mountains” was the name used by longtime town historian George W. Wireman for his 1968 book chronicling the town’s origins. Wireman’s book helped Haugh in his early research and understanding of the town.  Wireman “passed away in 2012, but was one of my 14 on-camera commentators for the project; it is a true honor to have him as part of it,” Haugh said.

The documentary was 20 years in the making. Haugh originally suggested it in 1994 while working for GS Communications in Frederick to then-Thurmont Mayor Terrence Best. The idea generated excitement from the get-go, but other projects came up — including the 10-hour Frederick Town documentary for the city of Frederick’s anniversary in 1995 — and the Thurmont project was sidelined.

Haugh then completed three documentaries on local African-American history and prehistory (“Up From the Meadows,” “Monocacy” and “Sugarloaf”). In 2000, he got back to work on Thurmont, at least until early 2001.

Then, the cable company, along with local cable channel 10, which Haugh worked for, was sold to Adelphia. 

“When Adelphia took over, they kind of told me to stop what I was doing because they were trying to figure out what to do with our channel, and needed me to assist with managing channels elsewhere in the company,” he said.

The project was shelved again, but Haugh had conducted his interviews. Comcast did not retain Haugh when it took over Adelphia in 2006. It was another blow to the Thurmont project, but it opened the opportunity for Haugh to eventually work for John Fieseler and the Tourism Council of Frederick County. 

“I had the opportunity to work with film again, this time in the form of our visitor orientation film for our amazing Frederick Visitor Center and, more recently, with the Maryland’s Heart of the Civil War documentary,” he said.

“Looking back with 20/20 hindsight,” said Araminta Finn, chief editor for the film and co-owner of Digital Bard Productions in Frederick, “ending up with the tourism council was the best thing that could have happened to Chris.”

Finn is the unsung hero behind the project, Haugh said; she had to transfer material and footage from old equipment to updated technology. 

Haugh said he could not have made the film without help from Finn and Jessica Muth Mantheiy, who started as an intern on the project in 2007-08, while a student at Shepherd University. Other contributors are Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird for his photographic collection, and longtime resident Vic Jagow, who introduced Haugh to the town. Most important are the project’s 14 commentators dating back in 2000.

“We think the world of Chris,” said Pat Weddle, vice president of Thurmont Historical Society. “He has done a lot for Frederick County.”

Follow Ike Wilson on Twitter: @ikewilson99.

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