The Wayback Machine: Revisionist History?
Historical facts can be corrupted to the point of creating a myth.
As the old saying goes, don’t believe everything you see, and only half of what you read.
This week, we’re going to take a step back and question things that are presented as historical facts. Just because something is repeated often enough doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
In the course of researching Aberdeen, I have discovered a few fallacies along the way. Some could be attributed to honest mistakes, but one bit of lore that found its way into history is an outright fabrication.
Before I go any further with this subject, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not intend to impugn the reputation of any individual, living or deceased, nor any organization or agency. My objective is to raise awareness about how so-called history can be misrepresented.
Let’s begin with the "Case of the Changed Initial."
C. Milton Wright wrote Our Harford Heritage in 1967, and it has long been regarded as one of the more modern primary references for Harford County history. Wright was a teacher and Superintendent of Harford County Public Schools during his 42-year career. He was also a Harford County native.
Even Wright sometimes got it wrong.
If you look up George Baker in the index of Our Harford Heritage, you’ll find him listed as George T. Baker rather than as George Washington Baker. That’s odd, because George Washington was a very common name in those days. How that middle initial went from a W. to a T. is anyone’s guess.
Wright also cited a Mr. Winston as the first stationmaster at the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore (PWB) R&R station, and credited him with having named the town. He wasn’t the only one who was sold a bill of goods on that point. More about that issue later in this article.
Even though a seeming fact or date is all but chiseled in stone, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s correct.
Witness the "Case of the Wrong Date."
Although the Maryland Historical Trust makes every effort to ensure the information and dates on the Historic Markers are correct, sometimes they are false, and sometimes the very sources they refer to are incorrect.
According to State of Maryland Historical Marker, the American Revolution officially ended Jan. 14, 1783. Actually, it ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on Jan. 14, 1784, according to documents from the Library of Congress. Although it’s only one year off from being correct, one could discount that as a rather expensive typo.
And, that brings us to the "Case of It’s All Baloney."
Information on Hall's Cross Roads Historical Marker is even more dubious. Aside from also having an incorrect date, the information on the sign is simply not true.
The sign states that, “Hall’s Cross Roads, Mechanicsville and Aberdeen incorporated as Aberdeen in 1893.” Actually, that occurred in 1892, according to the Maryland State Archives.
It isn’t that MHT didn’t research the subject, but the information which was available leads back to incorrect facts masquerading as truth, as witnessed by the following.
This sign states that the town “was named for Aberdeen Scotland, birthplace of the first stationmaster.” The town was named for the place in Scotland, but it wasn’t named by the stationmaster.
As it turns out, the stationmaster, a certain Mr. No-First-Name-Ever-Given Winston, did not name the town. If he in fact even existed, he would have been the stationmaster in 1835. The town’s name was Hall’s Cross Roads until 1852, archives from the Aberdoom Room and Museum said.
If Mr. Winston named the station and the town, why wouldn’t that station have been known as Aberdeen from day one, especially as far as the railroad was concerned? Logic would dictate that the new name would have been reflected by the railroad sooner than 17 years later.
According to a Feb. 3, 1954, letter from G. E. Payne, manager of publicity for the PW&B R.R. Co., to G. Harold Baker, a since-deceased local historian, “we have been unable to find any substantial evidence that indicates that the town of Aberdeen, Maryland, was named by a certain Mr. Winston.”
The letter goes on to state that the town was called Hall’s Cross Roads until it appeared in an 1852 Annual Report of PWB as Aberdeen. However, in that same year, the American Railway Guide still called it Hall’s Cross Roads. That publication didn’t list Aberdeen as a station until 1854.
So, where did the story of Mr. Winston naming the town get started in the first place? No doubt that fact has been lost to the ages.
With the slip of a pen or the tale told as true, history has literally been rewritten. It’s just that easy. Future generations and people geographically removed from the site have no other history than what has been written. When the facts are altered, whether by mistake or intention, the course of history no longer runs true.
Who really named the town of Aberdeen? Find out next week.