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Oldest store in Boonsboro, Md., closing after 174 years

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Written by HEATHER KEELS, The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown   
Monday, 02 May 2011 08:56
Downtown Boonsboro, Md., will be losing its oldest store this summer. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) – Inside the old brick building on Boonsboro's Main Street where generations of local families have gone for furniture, for friendly conversation, and, in the old days, even for funerals, employees have been quietly informing customers of a difficult decision.

This summer, after celebrating its 174th anniversary, Bast of Boonsboro, believed by the proprietor to be the oldest continually operating furniture store in Maryland, will close.

“Mr. Bast has operated the store for a long period of time, and has been considering retiring, and the economy has just helped to make that decision a little easier,” store manager Kim Teska said.

For owner Douglas G. Bast, 74, who also operates a neighboring history museum, a passion for preserving heritage has made the decision all the more harrowing.

“I just hate to see something like this close, but you have to face up to it: It just doesn't work out anymore,” Bast said during a recent interview in the store's showroom.

The store has survived hard times before, but a combination of a poor economy and changing culture have convinced Bast there is no way forward from here.

“The younger set, when they are interested in furniture, they go to the computer and they, you know, find out who has what,” Bast said. “They don't really look for furniture that's going to last a long time. They say, ‘Well, gee, if it only lasts three or four years, I'll be interested in something new by that time, anyway.’”

Bast of Boonsboro began a going-out-of-business sale last month but, will accept special orders through the third week of May, and has set July 1 as its anticipated closing date, Teska said.

“Most often when businesses are closing, it's usually on a poor note, and they're not in a position with their vendors or whomever to continue business,” she said. “We are not in that position ... and we want to have the opportunity to allow our customers to get the merchandise, the traditional, quality furnishings that they would like to have, before we close.”

John Christian Brining started the business in 1837 as a cabinetmaker's shop that also sold coffins.

“Before the Civil War people frowned upon embalming bodies, and so when somebody would die you would go to the cabinet shop and they would simply make you a coffin,” Bast said.

After the Civil War, there was a surge in undertaking and embalming because soldiers did not want to be buried in what they considered a foreign land and wished to have their bodies shipped home, he said.

And so, when Confederate Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. was killed during the Battle of South Mountain in 1862, cabinetmaker Brining went to the battlefield, made the general a coffin, embalmed his body, and arranged to ship him home, Bast said.

Brining, a Confederate sympathizer, headed the militia in Boonsboro before the war, but had to leave it when the war started because of his Southern sympathies, Bast said.

“Over in the museum I have his original Confederate flag,” he said.

The Bast of Boonsboro showroom still displays an ornate walnut hall piece – a mirrored stand for umbrellas, hats and coats – crafted by Brining the same year he embalmed Garland.

John Christian Brining died in 1881 and passed the business down to his son, John Calhoun Brining.

About seven years later, Bast's grandfather, William F. Bast, came from Frederick County, Md., to apprentice under Brining for three years.

“He received $100 and free food and lodging for that period,” Bast said.

After his apprenticeship ended, William Bast returned to Frederick County, but the Brinings, who had taken him under their wing, invited him back to work in Boonsboro.

Bast went on to become a partner in the business. A sign from that era, bearing the name Brining & Bast Furniture and Undertaking is on display in Douglas Bast's Boonsborough Museum of History along with many of the shop's early woodworking tools.

In 1908, William Bast bought out the other half of the partnership. When he died, he passed the business down to his sons, John H. Bast and Gerald D. Bast.

Douglas, Gerald's son, apprenticed as a mortician in the 1950s, but both he and his father preferred working with furniture to embalming bodies.

“So it worked out that he and I took the furniture business,” while John and his son took the funeral home when they decided to divide the two in 1964, Bast said.

That funeral home became Bast-Stouffer Funeral Home when Douglas Stouffer and his family acquired it after the 2007 death of John H. Bast Jr.

The site where Bast of Boonsboro stands today is the same spot the business has always occupied, but the original building was replaced in the 1920s, Bast said.

Bast's grandfather collected used bricks, piled them outside the store, and, when business was slow, the store's employees went to work cleaning the bricks and, eventually, constructing a new brick store closer to the road than the original, he said.

“And when business was off again, he never laid anybody off; he built houses,” Bast said.

Another side venture for the business occurred in the 1960s, when Douglas Bast decided to open a gift store in the shop and, driven by his love for unusual things, stocked it with exotic items he ordered from a company in India.

Those shipments included small pipes that proved especially popular, and when customers began asking for screens for the pipes, Bast realized they weren't being purchased as knickknacks.

“I learned then that the gift shop had really turned into a head shop,” he said.

In the early 1980s, when the business hit another rough spot, Bast thought the end of the furniture business was in sight.

At various times, Bast sold antiques in the store and it housed an art gallery where original works were sold.

Bast went to auctioneering school with the intention of turning the store into an auction house. “Then things kind of increased and improved, and I didn't have to do that,” said Bast.

This time around, Bast is not expecting a recovery. He said he is no longer up for running an auction house, but has considered moving his museum into the Bast of Boonsboro building.

For employees and customers alike, adjusting to the idea of Boonsboro without Bast furniture has been difficult.

“I cried,” said bookkeeper Conda Slick, who has worked at the store for 22 years. “I still cry, because it's like it's a part of the town, and so many businesses that are unique have gone by the wayside.”

Bast of Boonsboro has five full-time and five part-time employees, some of whom have been with the store more than 30 years, Teska said.

“This is a family business, and even for those that work here that are not truly blood family, they are considered family,” she said.

The Bast furniture tradition is generational for customers as well as owners.

“They lived in a household that was full of Bast furniture, and they come here because, hey, Mom did it, Grandma did it, and it's like, ‘That's what I'd like to do,’” Slick said.

One couple, longtime Bast customers, upon hearing that the business was closing, came in a few days later to buy a dining room suite for their son and several pieces of furniture for their daughter, Teska said.

“They wanted them to have furniture from Bast, which I thought was pretty kind,” she said. “That speaks volumes to me, actually.”

Another cherished customer Teska called to notify was the author Nora Roberts, who furnished about 90 percent of her literary-romance-themed bed and breakfast, Inn Boonsboro, with items from Bast of Boonsboro.

Roberts said she is always impressed with the store's variety and selection and staff's willingness to go to great lengths to help her find the custom pieces she envisions.

“We've had such a good relationship,” Roberts said. “Everyone in the business has been amazing to work with.”

Roberts said she planned to order bedroom furniture for her grandchildren before the store closes.

“My heart is broken,” she said.

Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md.,

Copyright 2011. Associated Press. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-05-01-11 0414GMT


Downtown Boonsboro, Md., will be losing its oldest store this summer. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Last Updated on Monday, 02 May 2011 09:23

Ohio officials try to preserve historic home of noted black soldier

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Written by Associated Press   
Monday, 25 April 2011 11:40
The Col. Charles Young home at Wilberforce, Ohio, was built in 1859. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. WILBERFORCE, Ohio (AP) – Elected officials and educators in Ohio are working to honor a distinguished black soldier who died in 1922 by trying to preserve his home, which was a part of the Underground Railroad.

Col. Charles Young's accomplishments included being the highest-ranking black officer in the military when World War I began, according to the National Park Service and the Ohio Humanities Council. Now a group of lawmakers and cultural and educational leaders – some of whom gathered last week in Wilberforce to honor Young – is trying to get his home in that western Ohio town under the care of the National Park Service.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Rep. Steve Austria have introduced bills to determine if it's feasible to put Young's home under the care of the park service, the council said Friday.

“Our hope is to recognize his achievements by designating his home as part of the National Park Service so people can learn about his accomplishments and those of other African-Americans who served our nation in the military,” Austria said.

The house on the campus of Central State University was a way station on the Underground Railroad, the network that helped escaping slaves reach freedom, and the building already is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1899, Young became the third black person to graduate from West Point, the Ohio Humanities Council said. He also served as a national park supervisor at one point.

“He was a man of culture, patriotism and bravery,” said John Garland, president of Central State University.

If Young's home, built in 1859, is transferred to the National Park Service, it would help preserve his memory and increase understanding of the Underground Railroad, Central State officials said. They also said it might increase tourism and boost the local economy.

Young's story of leadership could inspire future generations, Dr. Floyd Thomas, curator emeritus of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, said at the gathering in the town this week.

“It is now our turn to persevere in this effort to ensure that Charles Young's strength, wisdom, courage and accomplishments are accessible to all and that his home becomes a center of learning and outreach in the best tradition of the National Park Service,” Thomas said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-04-23-11 2003GMT

The Col. Charles Young home at Wilberforce, Ohio, was built in 1859. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Last Updated on Monday, 25 April 2011 12:33

Buried treasure dug up in backyard excites Austrian authorities

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Written by GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press   
Monday, 25 April 2011 09:59

VIENNA (AP) – A man turning dirt in his back yard stumbled onto buried treasure – hundreds of pieces of centuries-old jewelry and other precious objects that Austrian authorities described Friday as a fairy-tale find.

Austria's department in charge of national antiquities said the trove consists of more than 200 rings, brooches, ornate belt buckles, gold-plated silver plates and other pieces or fragments, many encrusted with pearls, fossilized coral and other ornaments. It says the objects are about 650 years old and are being evaluated for their provenance and worth.

While not assigning a monetary value to the buried bling, the enthusiastic language from the normally staid Federal Office for Memorials reflected the significance it attached to the discovery.

“Fairy tales still exist!” said its statement. “Private individual finds sensational treasure in garden.”

It described the ornaments as “one of the qualitatively most significant discoveries of medieval treasure in Austria.”

The statement gave no details and an automated telephone message said the office had closed early on Good Friday. But the Austria Press Agency cited memorials office employee Karin Derler as saying the man came across the “breathtaking” objects years ago while digging in his back yard to expand a small pond.

The weekly Profil magazine identified the man only as Andreas K. from Wiener Neustadt, south of Vienna, and said he asked not to be named.

While he found the ornaments in 2007, Andreas K. did not report it to the memorials office until after rediscovering the dirt-encrusted objects in a basement box while packing up after selling his house two years ago, said Profil. The soil had dried and some had fallen off, revealing precious metal and jewels underneath.

He initially posted photos on the Internet, where collectors alerted him to the potential value of the pieces, leading him to pack them in a plastic bag and lug them to the memorials office, the magazine said in its Friday edition.

Neither Profil nor the memorials office statement said when Andreas K. first alerted Austrian authorities and it was unclear why they waited until Friday to announce the discovery.

Memorials office president Barbara Neubauer told Profil the objects were a “sensational find.”

The magazine said the finder was not interested in cashing in on the trove and was considering loaning the collection to one of Austria's museums.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-04-22-11 1821GMT




Last Updated on Monday, 25 April 2011 10:03

East Grand Forks historic restaurant to be auctioned

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Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 21 April 2011 09:31
EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. (AP) – A restaurant and bar with a storied past in northwestern Minnesota will be auctioned for sale.

Chicago gangsters and Hollywood legend Clark Gable are said to be among the early diners at Whitey's. The East Grand Fork landmark subsisted through a fire in the 1940s and flooding in the 1990s, but closed in February after the new owners said they couldn't make a go of it. One of the owners, Dave Norman, said a competitive marketplace hampered efforts to revive the restaurant, established by Edwin "Whitey" Larson at its current location in 1930.

Once known as Whitey's Wonderbar for its stainless steel horseshoe bar, the legendary restaurant was featured in Time magazine and the Saturday Evening Post for its Art Deco style.

Now called Whitey's Steaks & Seafood, the property will be auctioned May 15. The Grand Forks Herald says seven second-floor apartments are part of the deal.


Copyright 2011. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-04-19-11 1710GMT




Last Updated on Thursday, 21 April 2011 09:37

University of Virginia official donates rare Lincoln funeral pass

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Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 21 April 2011 09:12
Lincoln’s Tomb, Oak Ridge Ceetery, Springfield, Illinois. Robert Lawton image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – The University of Virginia has received an original entrance pass to President Abraham Lincoln's funeral.

The university's Center for Politics announced the gift from its director, Larry J. Sabato, on Tuesday.

The small, black-bordered pass was required for admittance to the funeral in Washington on April 19, 1865. The Center for Politics says only about six of the 600 passes that were printed still exist.

Sabato tells The Daily Progress that he won the pass at an online auction. He wouldn't say how much he paid for it.


Information from: The Daily Progress,

Copyright 2011. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-04-20-11 1053GMT


Lincoln’s Tomb, Oak Ridge Ceetery, Springfield, Illinois. Robert Lawton image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. An album of carte-de-visite photographs of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession was the top-selling lot of Cowan’s American History auction conducted Dec. 9, 2009, selling for $27,025. The album's images included photos of the funeral train that carried Lincoln's casket on its nine-stop procession. Image courtesy of Archive and Cowan's Auctions Inc.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 April 2011 11:16
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