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Advertise on the Tentacle

March 14, 2005

R.I.P. – Charles Victor Main

John W. Ashbury

Where does one start to thank someone who kept you from harm’s way as a youngster? No, not a father who loved you; nor a mother you always knew how you would turn out; nor a brother who walked the straight and narrow after his own trip down the wrong road.

Charles V. Main did that for me on a memorable occasion when I was in my rebellious youth. He set me straight, not with a raised voice nor a stern hand. He just talked to me and showed me the error of my ways in that particular incident. And he told me the horrors that lay ahead that he was sure I never wanted to see or experience. He was right.

That was but the first encounter I had with Chief Main, who became the head of the Frederick City Police Department at the request of his childhood friend, Mayor Donald B. Rice, in 1952. He stayed there for 24 years, after a 20-year career as a Maryland State Policeman.

When he retired he didn’t fade away, he continued to look to his community and to assess its requirements and to jump into the fray to resolve those needs. And he always did it with grace.

My second encounter with The Chief came in 1961 when – as a young police reporter for The (Baltimore) Sun – I was in Frederick on a Saturday night. Marshall William Allen Jr., was shot and killed by a Frederick City policeman in the rear yard of a house on Shab Row, now the home to stylish shops along East Street.

Hearing about the incident through the grapevine, I went to police headquarters on North Market Street and ran smack dab into the middle of The Chief’s press conference on the incident.

Chief Main said that Officer J. Frank Main had shot young Mr. Allen in the chest when he (Mr. Allen) had lunged at the officer with a large butcher knife, which the chief held up for inspection. He said Officer Main had no choice but to protect himself.

I called in a story to the Re-Write Desk at The Sun, and a three or four paragraph story appeared in the Sunday editions.

On Monday, when I reported to work, City Editor Clarence Caulfield, one of the real characters of the news business in my experience, told me to go to the “morgue” and talk to Dr. Russell Fisher, then the world-renowned head of the facility.

What Dr. Fisher told me was a shock, to say the least. He said the autopsy on Mr. Allen revealed that the victim was shot in the back while standing perfectly still. He also said that had the police allowed Mr. Allen to stand for a few more minutes he would have died of alcohol poisoning as his blood alcohol level registered at a fatal .48 level.

“Caully” sent me straight back to Frederick to see Chief Main and to ask about Dr. Fisher’s findings. When confronted, The Chief held his ground and said something to the effect that he didn’t care what Dr. Fisher said, Officer Main had shot Mr. Allen in the chest.

And that’s the way the story appeared in Tuesday’s Sun. It was somewhat longer that the Sunday piece.

It wasn’t until years later that I was told that The Chief knew that the officer who had actually shot Mr. Allen would never have been able to handle such an action psychologically and that Officer Main understood that as well and was willing to “take the blame” for the shooting.

J. Frank Main when through years of threats and attempted intimidation in the community because of his acceptance and understanding of his fellow officer’s mental health. And Chief Main never wavered from his stance that Mr. Allen was shot in the chest.

Another event which demonstrated the charity that was always in Chief Main’s heart came years after his retirement. When Donald Linton conceived the idea of The Community Foundation of Frederick, he turned to two old friends to join him as incorporators – Charlie Main and W. Jerome Offutt. In a way it was a tribute from Don Linton to the contributions The Chief had made to his community over several generations.

When I was compiling my book on Frederick County history in the mid-1990s, I knew I had to talk to The Chief. One of the first stories he recalled was the last execution in Frederick, which occurred on November 10, 1922.

William A. Stultz had shot and killed Frederick City Policeman John Adams on August 9 of that year. Officer Adams and fellow policemen had gone to Stultz’ home at Fourth and Bentz streets to seize his car for non-payment of another debt. Officer Adams and Stultz were acquainted and thus it was thought that Mr. Adams could calm the situation. That wasn’t the case.

Anyway, as Chief Main told me the story, his father had forbidden him to go to the jail to witness the hanging. He was but 12 years old and his father thought the execution would traumatize his young son.

Well, The Chief disobeyed his father and went over to the jail on West South Street, which wasn’t far from his home, “skinnied” up a tree and peered over the high wall of the recreation yard and watched Stultz “hanged by the neck until he was dead.”

As The Chief related the story, when his father found out, “he wore out my behind.”

Perhaps this was the very beginning of a life as a policeman. The Chief joined the state police in 1932 and stayed in law enforcement until 1976 when he retired.

Chief Main was the last of the founders of The Coffee Club in downtown Frederick in the 1950s. It began at the Francis Scott Key Hotel and moved around for a few years before settling down at The Village some 30-odd years ago.

He always entered the shop, whichever one it was, with the thunderous greeting: “Coffee.” Everyone knew who it was, whether they knew Chief Main or not.

When age took its toll on him, he didn’t come downtown very often. A couple of years ago he was confined to a wheel chair and it became even more difficult for him to attend those daily “get togethers.” But there were a couple of times when someone made the arrangements.

I was one of those and the excitement was evident when I got to Homewood to pick him up. And on the return trip his spirits were elevated to great heights.

But when we arrived back at Homewood and his wheel chair was back on the pavement, he whirled around and put the chair in high gear and took off for his room. I couldn’t keep up with him as he motored back to his beloved Louise. When still a hallway length away he began calling her name to let her know he was on his way. On one occasions she wasn’t in her room and there was panic in The Chief’s eyes until an attendant told him where she was.

When Louise died August 4, 2003, it was the beginning of the end for The Chief. He went steadily downhill. But despite his increasing infirmities, he was still able to attend several birthday parties in January, all of which were held at Homewood.

And for one of those extremely rare occasions, The Village Coffee Club moved to Homewood that very special day, which turned out to be the last time many of the clubbers saw Charlie.

So, as we say one final farewell, we can take solace in the thought that Charlie Main gave more than he could ever get from a community that he loved and that loved him as well.

Oftentimes we can say he was a great man because he lived so long and we forgot all the unmentionable deeds he had done. But in Charlie’s case we can say he was great because he truly was a man of the people who never forgot from whence he came and just where he wanted to go when all was said and done.

We’ll bury The Chief this afternoon. But we can never bury his legacy.

Rest In Peace – Charles Victor Main.

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