Need a Dowser ?

Rockville Mayor Does It for Free.

Just returned from a five-month round-the-world trip, Mayor G. LaMar Kelly, jr., has arrived back in Rockville in the nick of time, the town needs a couple of new wells, and he is the man who finds them.

The mayor, who holds a degree in chemical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, is a water witch, or dowser. Gripping a forked stick of fresh cut willow, wild cherry, or mulberry, he roams the general area selected for a well until he determines the point at which he feels the strongest downward pull on the stick. There he places a marker, and the well is dug.

A dowser and his divining rod

First Dowser "Imported"

Having "found" 15 of the 24 artesian wells the town has dug since it went into the water business in 1898, Mayor Kelly has experienced only two failures. I those two wells, water was found, but flowed at an insufficient rate for the town’s purpose.

Rockville's first dowser was a man named Booker, "imported" from York, Pa. in 1930. His fee was in the nature of a bet. When the town hired him, it paid a deposit of $50. Then, if he failed to find water the $50 was returned. If the well was successful, he was paid an additional $100. During the 8 years he dowsed for the town, Rockville never got its $50 back.

Mr. Kelly, who was elected to the Town Council in 1934, had never heard of dowsing for water until he saw Mr. Booker's work in the mid-1930's. He since has said that, with all engineering studies, he began to wonder whether he knew of any better way to find water than using a stick to point to it. Casually, in 1938, he cut a forked stick of willow, popularly supposed to be a wood with a special affinity for water. Wandering near the site chosen by Mr. Booker, he was surprised to find that the stick pulled strongly downward over the mark er Booker had set.

"Kelly’s Well" Still Going

Mainly to quiet the jeers of his fellow councilmen, Mr. Kelly proposed that the town dig in three spots, one dowsed by Mr. Booker, one by him, and one chosen by the rest of the council. Of the three wells dug then only "Kelly’s Well" Is still in use today, nearly 14 years later.

The Booker well is still usable, and has a good flow, but its situation in a hollow makes it hard to keep a pump in operation there the dampness harms the machinery. The council's well, though located in a likely spot; geologically speaking, was a dry hole. No sign of water.

After that, Dowser Booker was out of a job in Rockville. Mayor Kelly has never charged the town for his services.

Served In Coast Guard

The 48-year-old Mayor, a genial man with an inquiring mind, says he used to feel a little foolish when he first started wandering around Rockville with his forked sticks Nowdays, though, its a different story. Most Rockvillians are used to the sight. They must approve, since they have elected him their Mayor three times. Previously, they kept him on the Town Council for 10 years. His political career was interrupted by the war. He received a commission in the Coast Guard in 1942. A lieutenant commander, he served in the South Pacific and in Labrador, commanding and working with the highly secret Loran groups in navigational work.

Discharged from the Coast Guard late in 1945. he was elected to his first term as mayor in 1946. His present term expires next May. He hasn't said whether he will run for a fourth term. Born in Baltimore, Mr. Keily is steeped in the lore of the sea. He wears a complicated wrist watch, and can tell the time of any part of the world by glancing at a clock in his living room which is marked off into geographic time zones. A ship’s thermometer and barometer in his study keep him informed of local weather conditions.

Planned Trip 25 Years

He has followed the sea from a land base since he was barely old enough to peer over the rail on a trip out of Baltimore on the old side-wheeler Louise. The small bay sailor grew up to become a young man who saved his money (earned in summer vacations and after school jobs) to take all the bay, river, and deep-sea trips he could squeeze into a busy life.

Mayor Kelly planned his recent round-the-world junket for 25 years. He was accompanied by his daughter Verna Mae, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, his nephew and a young friend of theirs. The mayor ran true to form on his trip, making a busman’s holiday of it in some ways. One of his most interesting talks, he says, was with a young town council man in Siam. He also managed to find an article on dowsing in a Singapore newspaper. The Straits Times, in which an English planter called for information on the properties of various Malayan woods when used for water finding.

When he encounters persons skeptical or curious about the validity of dowsing for water, Mayor Kelly patiently refers them to Novelist Kenneth Roberts’ exposition on the subject, Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod. He himself has given up trying to explain it, saying frankly that he has no theories as to why it should work, but that, for him, it does. Mayor Kelly points out that Rockville’s artesian water system is more valuable than ever today, since area civil defense officials have marked it to supply refugees in case of atomic attack. Because it comes from underground the supply cannot be contaminated by radiation.

Surveyors Took Dark View

The mayor recalls that in the early 1930s, the Maryland State Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources, made a report on Rockville’s water problem. The geologists took a dark view of the situation, stating that the town would never be able to support a population of more than 2,000 without going outside the town for water.

Now. nearly 20 years later, Rockville, Montgomery County seat, supplies nearly 10.000 subscribers, billing them yearly for water equal to 5 per cent of the total annual volume of water supplied by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to suburban Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.

Mayor Kelly, who is more proud of his master plumber’s license than of his engineering degree, doesn’t have to ask who is right, the geologists or the men with divining rods. He knows.

By Jayne Lynn Greene

Evening star, December 14, 1951