The Frank Olson Legacy Project

Finding the cabin at Deep Creek Lake

 

Eric Olson

 

 

Fri, May 8, 1998
Deep Creek Lake, Maryland


I drove west from Frederick on Route 70 in a pouring rain, and continued in slightly better weather on Route 68 through Cumberland, a dilapidated town I hadn’t seen in 37 years, since Nils and I collapsed in exhaustion there on the first day of our bicycle trip to California in the summer of 1961. I kept thinking “Harolds Club or Bust.”
Just west of Frostberg I turned south on Route 219.


When I reached the town of “Accident” Maryland I figured I must be getting close. (That town was named for two nineteenth century survey parties who happened—accidentally—to meet up there.) Sure enough, the Deep Creek Bridge, a key landmark for finding the old cabin, was just a few miles beyond.



I stopped at a restaurant a half mile or so from the bridge, and asked where I would find the “Bailey Cabin.” Nobody knew. But then came the suggestion that perhaps I meant the “Railey Cabin.” I had gotten the name from the old typewritten 1953 “Deep Creek Rendezvous” invitation. I checked the name more closely and discovered that the “B” was in fact an “R.”
I was crushed to hear someone say “The old Railey cabin was torn down ten years ago,” but I revived fast when the next sentence came. “Go over and meet Mr. Railey, He’s next door drinking at the bar.”

Jim Railey is a small man in his late 70’s who still operates what appears to be a substantial a real estate business. I found him sitting at the bar nursing a Coca Cola. I explained why I was there, and Railey immediately knew the story. “No,” he said, “the old cottage is still there. It’s been added onto quite a bit, but it’s still there. The Stone Tavern that used to stand by the bridge is gone. But the cottage those guys from the CIA used—that’s still there.”

Railey had had only a dim memory of the guys from Washington who had rented the cottage forty-five years earlier. He and his father and brother had laid out the foundation for the place in the early 1940’s, and had finished building it in 1946 when the two brothers got home from the war.

Railey couldn’t say just when he had figured out that the guy who had gone out the window in New York was one of the men who had stayed in his cottage a few days earlier. But at some point he had remembered that a group of government guys had been in his place, and that Olson had been one of them. The cottage itself was only a quarter of mile from where we were sitting and Railey told me how to find it.



The mythical Deep Creek cabin: why had it taken me forty five years to go looking for it? And why had I had to wait until another investigator implied that maybe the place hadn’t been used for the experiment at all? By comparison it had only taken 31 years to find room 1018A in what had been the Statler Hotel. Then another 10 years to exhume the body. Finally I found myself driving toward the place where something had happened on a chilly November night 45 years ago, something that had set a bizarre chain of events in motion.



The stone house is just above the lake at the end of a small dirt road. It is built on a steep slope, and appears considerably larger from the lake side than from the approach. Nobody was home, so I spent half an hour looking in the windows, taking pictures, trying to imagine what might have occurred there those many years ago. I could see a big stone fireplace in the living room of a wing of the house that hadn’t been there in 1953. Just outside was a broad terrace with old lawn chairs facing the lake, and a set of wooden stairs going down 50 feet to the water. The old part of the house was all there was in ’53. In agreement with the 1953 invitation, Railey said the the cottage had had four only bedrooms, each with a double bed. It must have been tight, I thought, when the CIA group of four and the SOD group of five occupied it.



Sat, May 9, 1998
Point View Inn

I spent the night at the Point View Inn next to the bar where I had met Jim Railey. I was eating breakfast in the dining room overlooking the lake when Railey appeared again with pictures of the Stone Tavern and some of the smaller cottages. He hadn’t found a picture of the old Railey cabin as it looked in 1953, but as we sat drinking coffee he called his brother on his cell phone and Bud Railey promised to send me one.



As we talked about the old cabin Railey looked sad. Meeting me must have been strange for him, but I imagined there was more. It seemed as if, irrationally, a part of Jim Railey believed that what had happened in his cottage, and what it had led to, had been in some way his fault. This bizarre story has the power to make a lot of different people feel that way. I thought for example of Armand Pastore, who is Jim Railey’s contemporary and is clearly pained when he remembers the aspects he witnessed. The only people who seem to be immune to feelings like that are the ones who were actually involved in making it happen.

 

 

The invitation to the Deep Creek meeting, Nov. 1953

 

 

“Why Our Town is Called ‘Accident’?

About the year, 1751, a grant of land was given to Mr. George Deakins by King George II, of England, in payment of a debt. According to the terms, Mr. Deakins was to receive 600 acres of land anywhere in Western Maryland he chose. Mr. Deakins sent out two corps of engineers, each without knowledge of the other grroup, to survey the best land in this section that contained 600 acres.

After the survey, the Engineers returned with their maps of the plots they had surveyed. To their surprise, they discovered that they had surveyed a tract of land starting at the same tall oak tree and returning to the starting point. Mr. Deakins chose this plot of ground and had it patented ‘The Accident Tract’ — Hence, the name of the town.”

History from the back of the business card for:
Accident Garage
Main Street
Accident, Maryland

Allen Fratz, owner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Quick now, here, now, always —
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)”

— T.S. Eliot
“Little Gidding,” (1943) Four Quartets