GREAT BLUE BLAZES -- Henry Testerman runs the still, and talks about it, Saturdays and Sundays 11 to 4, a short walk from the Visitor Center in Catoctin Mountain Park. To get there, take I-270 north to Frederick, follow Route 15 to Thurmont, turn onto Route 77 and follow signs to the park.
The authorities of Frederick County, Maryland, raided the Blue Blazes Still on July 31, 1929. More than half a century later, tongues in the Catoctin Mountains continue to wag about that day.
The gossip concerns a 25,000-gallon whiskey operation, a mysterious informant, a love triangle, a misplaced shot, a murdered sheriff and a case of mistaken identity that sent an innocent man to jail.
"Some of these folks' relatives are living in the county, and their names pop up from time to time," says Henry Testerman, 71, who keeps the secrets of the still. "But it wouldn't do at all right now to stir that up again."
Testerman, a retired hardware salesman from Thurmont, manages a roguish grin and a chuckle -- which he seems to do whenever he'd rather change the subject. "At least it makes a good story," he says after an awkard silence -- time enough for a couple of puffs on his pipe.
When it comes to moonshining, folks are funny. Eleven years ago, when the National Park Service proposed installing an old whiskey still on the original Blue Blazes site in Catoctin Mountain Park, just to preserve a slice of Americana, the brewhaha swept in like blue blazes.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms looked askance. The Women's Christian Temperance Union bridled. And an official of the Maryland State Treasury, which had no say over doings on federal land, nevertheless fired off an angry letter to the park service asking, in effect, what next? -- shall we also reenact rum-running and piracy on the high seas?
Finally, when the park service found, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, a suitable still for the Blue Blazes site -- the original was blown to bits two days after the raid of '29 -- the ranger in charge had it shipped from park to park in an unmarked truck. The roundabout haul from Tennessee to Maryland would have done any moonshiner proud. "Better not say who it was," pleads fellow park ranger Jim Voigt. "That could get him in some trouble even now."
The reason some people are so touchy, of course, is that moonshining is nearly as profitable, and just as illegal, as ever -- which also explains why the Blues Blazes Still is one of the biggest draws in Catoctin Mountain Park.
"Oh yes," chuckles Henry Testerman, standing beside the roped-off little number from Tennessee, a stone-and-copper affair by a creek in a beech-shaded cranny. "I've had 'em packed around these ropes like you wouldn't believe."
Testerman -- nicknamed "The Admiral" by his colleagues because he hides his white mane under a gold-braided cap -- runs the still on weekends and serves up plenty of lore, if no whiskey, when the public comes around. (A denaturing agent, added to the brew, makes the stuff unpalatable.) He was born in Hancock County, Tennessee, moved to Maryland's Eastern Shore at the age of 10, and came to Thurmont in the '30s.
But he happened on moonshining only late in the game, he says, when he was looking to fill up retirement. Anyhow, he claims not to drink whiskey, the smell of which he hates.
"I'm no reformed moonshiner or whiskey runner or anything like that," Testerman says. "To tell you the truth, I'm a lifelong Republican. Whatever knowledge I have comes mostly from my love of reading, and the fact that I had quite a good teacher."
The teacher was one Lester Isanogle, of Jimtown, Maryland, who indeed was a practitioner during the days of Prohibition -- when, tradition has it, the customers would say of a particularly potent run, "That must'a had a dead hog in it," since it was well known that hogs loved whiskey mash so much they'd often fall in it and drown.
A craggy figure in bib overalls, mountain man to the core, Isanogle was a fixture at Blue Blazes until he dropped from sight last year. "I don't think it would be such a good idea to try and see him," Jim Voigt counsels. "He may have died by now. And if he hasn't, you may get shot at. He shot at an airplane once," Testerman says. "He spent considerable time in the lockup, he told me that. And he passed on his knowledge to me."
So Testerman, when he's not stoking the furnace, delivers a lecture on corn meal, yeast and such, and finally comes to the story. He tells it in a low voice, with a vagueness from which he can't be budged:
"Somebody went to the sheriff in Frederick -- the sheriff was Clyde Hauver -- and said there was a big steamer up here in the woods. Never knew who the informant was -- just somebody. Anyway, the still up here was hardly a secret, Clyde Hauver knew about it all right, but after somebody reported it, he didn't have a choice but to do something. So he got up a raiding party, and it turned out that somebody in the raiding party had a grudge against somebody else, because somebody had been just a little too friendly with somebody else's wife. . .
"There was quite a shoot-out during the raid that afternoon. The hot, sultry afternoon of Saturday, July 31, 1929. The gunfire rattled around these hills for some little time. Only one man got hurt. That was Clyde Hauver -- shot in the back of the head by one of his own men. He was dead."
Testerman stops to puff on his pipe.
"They ended up sending Charles Lewis, from a good family in these parts, to prison, but everybody knows he didn't do it. The guilty party never paid for the crime. And everybody knows Clyde Hauver wasn't doing anything with anybody's wife. That was somebody else."
Still waters do run deep.