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Muddy Creek Falls is Visited By the “Vagabonds”

Muddy Creek Falls is a local landmark that had some famous visitors. Picture it – a nature-loving President takes a spur-of-the moment getaway to rendezvous with three of the most powerful industrialists in the Western world at a campsite in the mountains of Western Maryland, where they ride horses, shoot rifles, chop wood, and slumber in tents beside a trickling stream. 

swallow falls

This describes just one of several trips taken to Swallow Falls by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.  The group was often accompanied by naturalist William Burroughs, before his death in 1921.  Calling themselves “The Vagabonds”, they made a series of summer trips which took them through most of Eastern America.  It was the friendship between Burroughs and Ford that acted as the catalyst for these excursions.  From two very different worlds, the naturalist philosopher and the industrialist found common ground upon their first meeting around 1913.  During tour of the Everglades, they were joined by Edison and talk of camping trips ensued. 

The first real trip was made in 1918.  It took them through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.  This trip included the first visit to Swallow Falls.  They came at the recommendation of Fred Besley, Maryland’s first State Forester and one of the first in the country.  Everyone in Garrett County knew they were coming, and there are many local tales of encounters with the celebrities.  The late Theodore Sines of Oakland, who lived on a nearby farm, recalled many of his memories in a 1961 article in the Baltimore Sun.  Mr. Sines remembered hearing chopping noises and finding a man dressed in a stiff collar and business suit using an axe to clear trees that had fallen in the path of his automobile.  Another onlooker informed him that the man with the axe was Henry Ford.  He found it entirely natural that Mr. Ford would be a camper, “because camping and automobiling went hand in hand in those days.”  Mr. Sines was in his early teens and helped with odd jobs around the camp such as running errands and fetching water.  The trip inspired Burroughs to write “A Five-some O’er Nature’s Course” which was account of their Western Maryland adventure that mentions Keyser’s Ridge.  

A second trip was made in 1921.  This time the group was met for a few days by President Warren Harding.  This was also the year that the wives insisted on joining their husbands.  Far less primitive than the earlier outings, a chef was on hand to prepare meals and a great deal of equipment was brought along to provide creature comforts.  Some items of interest include: a folding circular camp table with a “Lazy Susan”, sleeping tents 10 feet square with mosquito netting flaps, a dining tent 20 feet square, a gasoline stove and a refrigerated camping tuck (a Ford Lincoln, of course).  Mr. Sines was present for this visit and recalls people coming from all around to shake hands and visit with the celebrities.  Ford is remembered as a quiet man, almost shy, but a “nice fellow.”  The campers chatted with the visitors, Edison often with the assistance of his wife as he was very hard of hearing.  Mr. Sines’s brother John was invited for cake on June 30th when Henry Ford celebrated his 58th birthday at the camp at Muddy Creek. 

The camping trips gradually ended, with the last one taking place in 1924.  In conjunction with the Henry Ford Museum, the Garrett County Historical Society dedicated a marker designating the campsite by Muddy Creek Falls.  It can be found along the park’s loop trail, approximately 0.2 miles from the main parking lot.  The marker serves as a reminder that even to the inventors of modern industry, Mother Nature’s splendor often shines brighter than anything man could ever create. 

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