LEO BEACHY'S PHOTOS MADE PEOPLE DREAM OF TRAVELING THE NATIONAL ROAD
The National Road began in Cumberland and eventually ran across the country. It carried cars filled with travelers who wanted to explore more of the nation than just their hometown. Leo J. Beachy wanted to be one of those travelers, but for him, it was a dream unfilled.
Beachy never did travel the highway end to end, photographing the towns and people with his warm style. The National Road ran through Grantsville and was near where Beachy lived at Mt. Nebo. It beckoned to him daily to make the journey, but his health prevented him.
He wrote longingly of wishing to travel the road in his poem, "Mary's Grand Highway":
"For far away, oh far away,
Although he never traveled the length of the National Road, he did photograph it from the Narrows in Cumberland until it crossed over into Pennsylvania. His glass-plate photographs feature the road front and center while still showing off the landscape, hotels, cars, houses, and people along the road.
William Stapp, curator of photography for the National Portrait Gallery, wrote in his book, Maryland Time Exposures, 1840-1940, "Beachy's photographs are entrancing pictures, composed with naïve charm … (They) are compelling, summoning up visions of a style of life blessed by innocence … They reassure us about our past, and thus give us comfort for the present and for the future. That is no mean accomplishment for an unpretentious small-town photographer."
While his photos have been published in various national magazines, his photos of the National Road were featured in Motor Trend in 1925.
Today, Beachy is recognized as a great photographers whose pictures captured life in Garrett County in the early 20th century. His choice of subjects and their placement in the picture. His ability to get just the right expression on the face of the person whom he was photographing. His knowledge of the area that allowed him to find just the right place and angle from which to photograph. All of these things make Beachy a great photographer.
Beachy hadn't planned on being a photographer. Born at his parents' farm, Mt. Nebo, near Grantsville, the young man grew up to become teacher in some of the county's many one-room schools of the era.
"What induced me to take up photography was that I wanted our home photographer to go to that old log school where I taught my first school and take some pictures of it and the great hills lying about it and the rocky Savage River. He never got the pictures for me," Beachy wrote.
That feel for composing great pictures never left him. A few years later, he would use a small dry plate Kodak camera to begin taking pictures and from there, he never looked back. Seeing that the camera could actually capture what his mind perceived and his eyes saw, Beachy began taking pictures by the thousands.
Suffering from multiple sclerosis, which caused him to give up teaching, he could not give up photography no matter the problems it caused. His sister would carry him to a wagon, which he would drive to a place where he wanted to take pictures, and someone there would lift him out of the wagon so he could work.
Beachy died from complications of multiple sclerosis on May 5, 1927. He was only 53 years old. He is buried in Otto Cemetery, near Grantsville.
Garrett County will be remembering one of its favorite sons this summer. The Garrett County Commissioners have proclaimed the week of July 5-11 as "Leo Beachy Week" in Grantsville. Besides the proclamation, there will be a reception on July 11 at the Grantsville Senior Center and other special events. You can also visit the Grantsville Museum to see the room that contains many of Beachy's pictures and some artifacts, such as Beachy's camera.
For more information about the events, contact the Garrett County Historical Society at 301-334-3226.