Dan Hartzler’s Marylandia occupies the dimly lit library of an unassuming white-brick rancher nestled on a quiet street, a mere stone’s throw from the center of an old-fashioned town that splits the map between Union Bridge and Westminster.
The inside of the home is as eccentric as its owner. A roaring grizzly bear, with brown fur and gnashing teeth, greets you from the living room. It’s stuffed, of course, the trophy from a flintlock rifle hunt in Alaska. Above, towering over the landing, is an even bigger beast with darker fur and larger teeth. It’s the prize from another flintlock rifle hunt, this time in Siberia. All along the walls is a collection of antlered deer heads and wild birds in flight. With a glint in his eye and a wily smile behind a goatee of white hair that rivals Bradley T. Johnson, Hartzler explains that he goes on big game hunts ‘about every other year.’
“The flintlock is so much more fun than the percussion,” he admits later on. “You’ve got this click, bang, shoot. You’ve got all this action going on in front of your face before the bullet goes out. I thought, ‘That’s what I like.’”
He notes that the first flintlock he ever hunted with was an original Kentucky rifle that cost $110, but he’s upgraded to a more accurate, custom-made weapon, and it resides in Marylandia.
On the tiled floor of the library is a full-sized black bear rug—another hunting trophy—and it’s arguably the least extraordinary artifact in a room bursting with antiques, relics, keepsakes and collectibles that jump out at you like the inside pages of an illustrated encyclopedia.
“You know, we only have this stuff for a little while. We’re only caretakers of it. If they could talk, Oh, they’d tell us a story.”
Dan Hartzler, militaria collector
For decades, Hartzler has hunted down, paid for and collected Maryland war-time memorabilia. His assemblage—spanning the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the American Civil War—covers the four walls of Marylandia, rests inside a pair of dusty display cases and sits on several shelves. The remainder of his treasures are stashed in wooden barrels, leaned against the walls and hidden inside every nook and cranny of remaining space. The only pieces of furniture are a letter desk, a wooden chair draped with a pelt, a steel filing cabinet, a somber red hutch overwhelmed with papers, books and trinkets, and a deep, weathered arm chair.
There are two ways to enter the place; the very visible front entrance accessible by a narrow hallway lined with the nearly two-dozen books he’s written, and another, slightly hidden, doorway in the corner of the room that is rendered nearly invisible by the dozens of rifles, swords and pistols that hang above and on either side.
It’s a collection that’s grown with Hartzler, who, now in his mid-70s, has been chasing down items for six decades. The result is over 100 rifles and pistols and nearly the same amount in swords.
“I remember when I started, I had nothing. It becomes a little bit at a time, a little bit at a time,” Hartzler explained. “I was a kid in high school when I started collecting. My dad took me out to a farm sale and I bought a musket with a crooked barrel. Then I went to a blacksmith and I had him straighten it because I wanted to shoot it.”
Hartzler began by collecting World War II memorabilia. He then quit to pursue antiques, including purchasing his first sword (an engraved blade that he bought for $35), before trading in his collection in favor of Maryland militaria.
“I would go to sales, and I would [approach] family members who had stuff but wouldn’t want to sell them to a kid. But I’d keep after them, contact them once a year and say, ‘Don’t forget me if you want to sell it,’” Hartzler remembered. “It was amazing how many people finally came around when they found out their families didn’t want them.
“This stuff doesn’t lose money. It’s not like car restoration. These guys who collect cars put a lot of money into them and never get it back. But guns haven’t been that way. Guns have been very good.”
The backbone of Marylandia is his Civil War collection, which not only includes guns and swords, but flags from both armies, buttons, gear and accoutrements. Most notable is a Confederate sharpshooter gun, a rifle collected from the Battle of Antietam, flags from the Maryland towns of Elkton, Baltimore and Frederick, and a surviving 1853 Enfield owned by Private Richard H. Shepherd of Second Maryland, Company ‘D’.
Of the 54 officers and men in Company D, only four made it to Appomattox to surrender. Shepherd was one of them. Sometime during the war, he took the time to inscribe his name near the bottom of the rifle.
“A guy from Massachusetts had it,” Hartzler noted. “I wrote to him, and [at first] he didn’t want to sell it, [but] then he wrote back to me and said he would.”
Just to the left of Marylandia’s main entrance, adorned on the wall, is what Hartzler considers his most prized possessions: the sword and sidearm of Maryland cavalry officer Harry Gilmor, who commanded the Second Maryland Calvary and famously led the raid through Baltimore County in 1864.
“I would think it is, yeah,” Hartzler admits. “It’s a French light cavalry saber. It has a star up here [near the handle]—maybe it’s a major star?—that was hand engraved. Then there’s his pistol. It’s a Leech and Rigdon, Confederate, made in Georgia. His name is on the back strap.”
Hartzler, who owns Hartzler Funeral Homes in four Maryland locations, admitted that he first came across Gilmor’s pistol in a book, tracked down the author, and was directed to Connecticut, where the weapon’s purchaser resided.
Hartzler acknowledged that he paid $900 for the cavalry commander’s sidearm—and later shot live ammunition out of it when targeting a barn’s weathervane.
“I had a name and no address from Connecticut, so I started calling funeral homes up there—I’m a funeral director—and I said, ‘Do you know anyone with this name?’ One guy said yes, and gave me his telephone number. I called him and asked if he was the collector who had Gilmor’s pistol. He said, ‘Yes… and I’d like to sell it,’” Harztler said. “Wasn’t that lucky?”
It’s been a life’s journey that’s taken Hartzler across the country and even into Canada. His collection has been on display at historical societies across the state and featured in the many books he’s written. Most recently, Hartzler published “American Silver-Hilted, Revolutionary and Early Federal Swords,” which came out in 2015.
“As I collected stuff, people were interested, so I kept writing. I’ve done 20 books,” he said. “You know, we only have this stuff for a little while. We’re only caretakers of it. If they could talk, Oh, they’d tell us a story.”