Bernie and the Poolesville Public Golf Course

Bernie's Club-front view

Bernie'sClub-side viewBecause of yesterday’s beautiful weather – golfing weather – I thought I would post a little about Bernie Siegel and what is now the Poolesville Public Golf Course.

Bernie made his money working for Food Fair Grocery, and later Grand Union (how many of you remember that). After he retired he decided he wanted to build a housing development. Bernie loved golf, so in the old tradition of building the attraction and they will come, he bought a large tract of land in Poolesville and named it Norbern. His new golf course, River Road Country Club, was the centerpiece. Montgomery County has a number of communities that started in such a way – Glen Echo started as a chautauqua and became an amusement park. Chevy Chase and Bethesda also had amusement parks. Some country club communities include Indian Springs, Avenel, and Argyle. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for Bernie. He ended up with a lovely golf course in his backyard, but no houses. His own, which became the clubhouse, may originally have been a log cabin on the property that he enlarge.

By 1966, Bernie’s health was deteriorating and his development had not succeeded. Most likely despondent over the state of things, Bernie took his own life. Shortly after, strange things started happening at the clubhouse and on the grounds (too many to list in this short blog). Today, the golf course has been taken over by Montgomery County, but that doesn’t mean the sightings have stopped. Just ask anyone at the pro shop – they have a few stories to tell!

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Bernie and the Poolesville Public Golf Course

  1. Rob

    Golf and ghosts? What a wonderful combination. I’m driving around the county with a new sense of wonder after reading this space these past few weeks. Thanks and happy holidays!

  2. Maureen McAllister

    Hi, I’m Bernie Siegel’s granddaughter, Maureen. He died when I was 1, so I don’t remember him. Actually, he had disowned my mother before I was born, so I would never have met him anyway. I don’t believe in ghosts myself, but this is the second article I’ve come across that talks about my grandfather’s ghost. If there are such things as ghosts, I have to wonder if my theory that he was murdered, rather than having committed suicide, could be the reason he might be rattling around still. My mother died many years ago, but I recall her talking about how her father had killed himself in the basement of a friend’s house (it was on Piney Meetinghouse RD as I recall) after a day of golfing, which never sounded like a typical suicide to me. Also, he was not the most loved man in the community, as I have come to gather over the years, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think it wasn’t suicide. I went to the police station in the early 90’s to see if I could get a copy of the police report of the incident to fact check for a book I wanted to write about my mother’s life, but the report had been destroyed by a fire in the 60’s according to the officer with whom I spoke. The book project fell by the wayside until recently, and it’s interesting to see that Bernie hasn’t been completely forgotten yet. Btw, the house did start out as a log cabin. I remember seeing home movies of my mother on the farm playing very happily with her dogs. Just in case you didn’t know, the name Norbern Farm came about by Bernie combining his name with my grandmother Norma’s name. He gave her top billing. That was so uncharacteristically kind of him.
    ;-)

    • Thank you for writing. We always like to get new information, especially if its first-hand.

    • Geoff

      Hi Maureen, my name is Geoff Holliday. I am currently developing a story based around the former Potomac Valley Country Club, and on a fictional character inspired by your grandfather. I spent my high school years in Poolesville, graduating in 1981. Along with several high school friends, I worked during the “twilight years” of the country club before it was sold to the county. I worked both inside and outside on the grounds crew. I would very much appreciate a chance to talk with you about your grandfather and the history surrounding the events. Sadly I can also relate first-hand to the suicide of a family member–having lost my only brother back in 1984. As for encounters with your grandfather’s spirit, I never had any, but if I give one of my best friends the benefit of a doubt, he encountered Bernie several times. I am currently living in Los Angeles, but on extended travel and currently in Williamsburg, Virginia until October. I may in fact be on the east coast through the holiday season. Thanks so much for your interest!

  3. Donnie

    I worked at the country club in the late 70′s. I closed the place after the dances and parties. There were always strange things going on in that place. Lights would flicker off and on all the time. The coffee table in front of the fireplace would always be moved closer to to sofa on the right side of the log cabin room..strange noises back in the store room off the big kitchen. Most people didn’t like going back there by themselves.
    I also found many paper crimping seals for companies that Bernie had planed to build. Maps, blueprints, renderings of buildings that he had planed. Very creepy stuff in the attic!

    • Thanks for adding to the story. It really helps us.

    • Maureen McAllister

      Hi Donnie,
      It’s so nice to hear someone reference evidence that Bernie was an entrepreneur. From the stories I’ve heard about him, he would have been an enormously successful business man had he not been Jewish, and an egocentric, philandering, d**k. The documents you found would have supported that fact, and perhaps given us more clarity about Bernie’s character as a whole. It’s a shame we never saw it.

      If you don’t mind my babbling on, and Geoff (post above your’s) can attest that I do nothing but, I’d like to add that family legend has it that because he was Jewish, the people in Poolesville blocked his effort to have a sewer system created that would serve the housing development he planned. Of course his faith could be just what the family chooses to believe. It could be that he ticked off so many people in the town and that was the reason they blocked it.

      One of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever heard about my grandfather Bernie, and there were a lot of them, was when a friend of my mother’s told me how my grandmother Norma left my mother (Patricia) half of the business, I think it was Food Fair at the time. After Norma’s estate was settled, Bernie wanted my mother’s shares of the business for himself. My mother refused, and Bernie told her that if she didn’t give him the shares, he would run the business into the ground and they would be worthless. My mother, having been physically and emotionally abused all her life, and having been only 22 at the time, gave in to him. Had she been represented by an attorney, I’m sure she would have been advised to keep the shares, as she would end up with nothing either way, but he would lose everything as well, if she retained her ownership. It is my opinion that the mistress Bernie was seeing, and whom he married after my grandmother’s death, wanted the shares for herself. She ended up getting everything when he “committed suicide”, and my mother lived in poverty.
      As you can tell, I’m not a huge fan of the man. What he did to my mother, and what I believe he did to my grandmother, was unconscionable, but you’ll have to buy my book to learn about all I know and believe. There’s that Siegel mind at work again! 😉 Lastly, I’m sure he had his good qualities too. His ambition and entrepreneurial mind, his zest for life, and his commitment to hard work and attaining his goals. My mother also told me stories about how he was light-years ahead of society with regard to civil rights issues. I add that because of my belief that no one is entirely evil; but when you have seen the devastation and waste that comes in part from the evil of just one person, as I have, you tend to focus on it, and hope that what information you share with others is taken along as a cautionary tale.

    • Geoff Holliday

      Is this Don Bodmer?

      • Maureen McAllister

        Just two things…

        Hi Geoff! Have you finished your project yet?

        And, If it is Don Bodmer, are you any relation to Roy Bodmer who would be about 50-ish now?

  4. Leo

    I worked at PVCC in the late 70’s as well. I had befriended Bernie’s spirit. He used to open doors for me when I had my hands full and asked him. He defended me in the middle kitchen one time, to this day the imagery is still burned in my brain. All the stuff Donnie mentions in the attic, I moved it all up there. I wonder if the model still exists?

    • Maureen McAllister

      I wonder if the ghost might really be that of Bernie’s wife, Norma Siegel. She was the one known for being well-mannered and helpful, not Bernie. She is the one that died in the house. Bernie died in a house on Piney Meetinghouse RD.

      • Leo

        I can’t confirm whether it was Norma or Bernie downstairs helping me, but it was definitely a male on the second floor as I would see him at times.

      • Maureen McAllister

        Wow! I didn’t know anyone had ever seen the ghost. That’s chilling.

      • Leo

        Yep. That’s how I found the secret room that had his building blueprints and the 3D model of the Washington DC area including the outer beltway. We had to go through a closet wall to find the room with all his stuff. All the stuff eventually ended up in the attic of the club. His ghost used to come out of the wall in the upstairs hallway and cross from the front to the back of the building. There was a closet right where Bernie was coming out of the wall. We went into the office (front of the building closest to the pool) and poked through the back wall of the office to find a small room between the existing offices that had all his stuff.

      • Maureen McAllister

        Hi Leo and thanks so much for your detailed response.

        Were there any clues about how the secret room was used? Was it just for confidential business information, like the blue prints and model? What size was it? And did you ever see any other personal documents up there?

        My mother was supposedly adopted, but she told me of a time when her parents asked if she wanted to see her original birth certificate. Her father (Bernie) asked her not to open the envelope, and she never did. She was very afraid of him. My brother looks too much like Bernie to be a coincidence, so we’ve always believed that Bernie had to be my mother’s biological father, even though he and Norma went through a formal adoption. All my mom ever knew about her bio mom was that she was 19 at the time my mother’s birth. She was most likely an employee of Food Fair and one of my grandfather’s mistresses. It would be so cool if I could find the birth certificate in the original envelope, although in my heart, I know that’s virtually impossible.

        Again, thank you for posting what you found. If you are close with your extended family, you’re more than lucky and you probably won’t understand how valuable every tiny bit of information I can learn about my family is. I never met any of my grandparents, my mother was an only child, and I never knew my father or his family, so every sliver, even the most trivial, might be the thing that allows me to understand a bit more about myself.

      • Leo

        The room actually looked like it was a small office that had the door blocked off with a closet off the hallway. Once we found the stuff we moved it to the larger office and set up the model. It was leaning against the wall when we found it and was about 8×8 so we had to remove most of the closet in one office just to get it out. There were blue prints for various buildings, houses and lots of business related papers. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember seeing any personal or family related material but I am wondering if alot of that stuff is still in the attic there. There were boxes of papers that I didn’t look through.

  5. Haven’t caught up here for a while. I’d love to hear from other former PVCC and even PGC/PL employees about their encounters.

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