History's Headlines: Ghostly Getter's Island by Frank Whelan


History's Headlines:
Ghostly Getter's Island
by CWRT Board Member Frank Whelan

Easton is a river town. Its waterfront in the 19th century was the center and hub of a canal network that stretched from the outskirts of Philadelphia to the outskirts of New York, one that made it in 1860 the most populous town in the Lehigh Valley. But it does not just have industry in its history, it also has ghosts. And the focal point of the haunting is not in the heart of the city but on an island in the center of the Delaware River. Although it has had several names in its storied past, it has long been known as Getter’s Island, after a man who was hanged there long ago. Recently it has stepped back into the news. The longtime owners of Getter’s Island have recently announced that the picturesque, if haunted, sandbar can be purchased for a mere $150,000; “chump change” as the say in certain circles.

Billionaire rock stars who crave a sunny private isle in the West Indies or an elegant remote property somewhere in the Aegean are not necessarily going to be arriving in their jets from Portofino to snatch up this bargain. But locally it may have an appeal. Especially to those who want to soak up not just the sun but the past.

What is now Getter’s Island was known to the original inhabitants on Easton. But what the Lenape people called it has apparently not been passed down. What is known is that because of its location, long before the coming of white settlers, the site of Easton was a place where they held tribal meetings. During the French and Indian War, they, and other Indian tribes would hold meetings there with colonial officials; meetings, described by historians as “pivotal” to the war’s outcome and the future history of America.

Perhaps the first white man to see the island was Jan Hans Steelman. A fur trader of Swedish ancestry (his father was exiled to what is now Delaware for cutting down one of the king of Sweden’s prize cherry trees to make a mane comb for his horse), Steelman is the first European on record to have been in the region. In 1701 he is recorded as having an argument with Governor William Penn over his fur trading practices with the native Americans. In the 1730s Thomas Penn and his brother, sons of William Penn, are known to have watered their horses in the Delaware and may have seen the future Getter’s Island. It was this visit that inspired Penn to establish, in 1751, Easton as the county seat of the new Northampton County. The island was part of the Penn’s patrimony until the end of the American Revolution. It was on June 27, 1787 that John Penn, grandson of William Penn and Pennsylvania’s last colonial governor, and John Penn of Stoke, son of Thomas Penn and cousin to the former governor (he added “of Stoke,” after his family estate in England to avoid confusion with his many other relatives also named John Penn), deeded the island to a number of prominent Easton citizens.

The Penns were in America to divide up what property was left to them under an agreement they had with Pennsylvania’s state officials. The buyers were Jacob Abel, Peter Ealer, Jacob Arndt Sr., John Hierster and George William Roup. Each partner received a fifth share of the land for which they paid 225 pounds, more than $1000. Abel was one of the richest men in Easton. He ran the ferry between Easton and Phillipsburg and owned a popular tavern. Ealer and Arndt had played major roles locally in the Revolution. Only Abel’s occupation, “ferryman,” is on the deed. It is also on the map on the deed as Abel’s Island. It is unknown what purpose the investors had in mind. A grist mill has been suggested. A possible use as a “transportation venture,” aka a bridge, has also been brought up as a possibility. Whatever it was, the Island was officially known as Abel’s Island as late as 1889.

Exactly how Getter’s Island became a place of execution is not clear. Previous to the 1830s hangings were held in the Centre Square. According to some sources it was particularly for Charles Getter’s execution that the island was chosen. Large crowds were anticipated and people standing on the banks of the Delaware would be able to get a clear view.

On a day in 1833 Margaret Lawell, sometimes known as Rebecca, let it be known that she was carrying a child and its father was Charles Getter. Easton was a small town then and it did not take long for the word to spread. Getter was given a choice by the Justice of the Peace: marry Lawell or be sent to the county jail. Faced with that alternative, Getter reluctantly agreed. But he refused to keep quiet, telling everyone he could that the real love of his life was Mary Hummer, which was apparently news to Hummer when she heard about it.

Shortly after the wedding Getter began to ask about getting a divorce. Lawyers told him that was not possible. Frustrated, Getter furiously denounced his wife, telling people he would soon be free of her. Then it happened. On a September day in 1833 Lawell’s body was found not far from her home, now the site of the Northampton County Country Club. A newspaper described it this way:

“Her body was discovered in a field a few rods from the public road lying on the back, the comb crushed to pieces, hair disheveled, eyes and tongue partially protruded, face livid and the indentation of the thumb of a right hand in the throat and of the fingers of a right hand on the back of neck.”

No one in Easton had any doubt of Getter’s guilt. It took a jury just ten minutes to convict him. Soon carpenters were at work at the center of the island on the scaffold. Getter had requested a new method be used that used weights and pulleys rather than an old fashioned open platform to jerk him to eternity.

The day of his execution Getter, dressed totally in white, walked to the island, crossing the river on a bridge of boats. A crowd estimated at 100,000, but probably closer to 20,000, watched as the sheriff swung an ax, cutting loose a 300-pound weight. Getter’s body jerked up, but the rope broke, and he fell to the ground, stunned. “Well that was good for nothing,” he morbidly quipped. After 20 minutes the sheriff tried again. Getter’s only request was that his necktie be adjusted to cover the rope burns on his neck. This time the pulley worked flawlessly. Getter was dead. A part of the rope is in the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. The following year, 1834, Pennsylvania banned public executions, claiming they must be held privately in county prisons.

Eventually the island was purchased by a lumber company that installed a mill there. Wilson Dam at the southern end of island provided a pool of water that was used by youngsters on a hot day for swimming.

The mill burned down in the 1920s and the lumber company sold the property to Dr. Leo H. Cericola. In the 1940s he built a bridge out to the island to a small amusement park that he called Tropical Island. In time floods forced the project to be abandoned.

Today Getter’s Island is a bramble covered space whose only regular inhabitant is said to be the ghost of Charles Getter.

Senate Approves FY19 Funding For Interior Department, Boosts National Park Service Maintenance Budget

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Senate Approves FY19 Funding For Interior Department, Boosts National Park Service Maintenance Budget
By Kurt Repanshek on August 2nd, 2018 National Parks Traveler

A Senate appropriations bill would provide extra funds for the National Park Service to address backlogged maintenance work, such as repairing this wall at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Site/Rita Beamish

Funding that could help the National Park Service make significant progress on its nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog was included Wednesday when the U.S. Senate approved a Fiscal 2019 appropriations bill for the Interior Department.

The catch is that the funding measure passed by the House of Representatives, which is taking the month of August off, is significantly different and forces the two chambers to appoint a conference committee to resolve the differences, it that's possible.

“We’re really pleased that the Senate was able to keep damaging policy provisions out of the bill, because the House has a number of them that are concerning in regard to clean air, water and wildlife," said John Garder, the fiscal specialist for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We hope that as appropriators go to conference they keep those damaging provisions out. We commend the increases for the Park Service, but hope that appropriators can build on that because the Park Service still has a lot of needs that are not being met.”

As passed by the Senate on Wednesday, the measure calls for a $13.1 billion budget for the Interior Department for the coming fiscal year, which starts October 1. Within that $13.1 billion is $565.6 million to address deferred maintenance across the National Park System, according to NPCA. Funding for deferred maintenance in the Park Service's current budget is $545.2 million, the advocacy group said.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who claims half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in his state, said the measure will help pay for needs in park campgrounds, trails, and roads. The Congress can double down on that commitment by passing the Restore our Parks Act, a bipartisan measure that would provide up to $6.5 billion over five years to address the maintenance backlog. That money would come from 50 percent of all oil and gas royalty revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not to exceed $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

“It is my hope the Senate soon takes the next step and passes our bipartisan legislation to help restore and rebuild our national parks by cutting in half the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog and would do more to restore national parks than anything that has happened in the last half century," said Sen. Alexander.

According to Sen. Alexander's staff, the FY19 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies funding bill provides:

* $13.1 billion for the Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
* $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
* $3.2 billion for the National Park Service.
* $825 million for National Park Service facilities operation and maintenance and $364 million for National Park Service construction.
* $63 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which provides loans for water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

The House measure passed last month by that chamber cuts $100 million from the EPA budget, prevents listing of sage grouse as an endangered species, orders the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves in the 48 coterminous states from Endangered Species Act protections, and would provide the Park Service wth an extra $175 million to address deferred maintenance, among other things.

Free Admission will continue at the David Wills House in Gettysburg through 2018

Free Admission will continue at the David Wills House in Gettysburg through 2018


Gettysburg, Pa. – The National Park Service wants the David Wills House to be part of every visit to Gettysburg.  To help make that happen, Gettysburg National Military Park has announced that free admission to the David Wills House in downtown Gettysburg will continue through the rest of 2018.

The three-story brick house at 8 Lincoln Square served as the home of David and Catherine Wills before and after the Battle of Gettysburg. President Abraham Lincoln was their house guest the night before the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln finished composing his Gettysburg Address in the second story bedroom the evening of November 18, 1863.

“During the summer months admission to the site was free and visitation increased dramatically,” said Lewis H. Rogers Jr., acting superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park. “The David Wills House exhibits provide an opportunity to learn about the Wills family and reflect on the meaning of Gettysburg, the aftermath of the battle, and the legacy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.”


The David Wills House is park of Gettysburg National Military Park and is operated by the Gettysburg Foundation. Throughout the late summer and fall, the Gettysburg Foundation will continue to staff the front desk, provide visitor services and information, and manage the sales area.

In 2019 entrance fees will be reinstated.  For more information about hours and fees go to: https://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/david-wills-house.htm



 Gettysburg, Pa. – Beginning June 9 through the summer season, Gettysburg National Military Park will welcome visitors to the David Wills House on Lincoln Square in downtown Gettysburg for free.

No other location is as closely associated with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as the David Wills House except the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The three-story brick house served as the home of David and Catherine Wills before and after the Battle of Gettysburg and was occupied by President Abraham Lincoln the night before the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln finished composing his Gettysburg Address in the second story bedroom the evening of November 18, 1863.

Museum exhibits at the David Wills House tell the story of the Wills family, the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the significance and legacy of the Gettysburg Address.

 “We want the David Wills House to be part of every visit to Gettysburg,” said Chris Stein, Acting Superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park. “The themes of the Gettysburg Address continue to be an inspiration to all Americans especially in times of crisis. The National Park Service museum in the home provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the carnage of Gettysburg and the legacy of the American Civil War.”

From June 9 to August 12, David Wills House admission will be free, with added staffing by National Park Rangers, interns and Living Historians.  Park Rangers will offer a daily program at 3 p.m. called, “Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg: Downtown History Hike.”  The Ranger-guided walk will explore the impact of the battle upon the Gettysburg community, walk in the footsteps of President Lincoln, and visit the room where he completed the Gettysburg Address. This 75-minute program begins and ends inside the David Wills House.

In addition, park staff will be on site to share the story of the David Wills family before, during, and after the battle, the role of Wills in the creation of the National Cemetery, and highlight Lincoln’s visit and the crafting of the Gettysburg Address.

 “The Wills House is a tangible symbol of the residents of Gettysburg working together to heal their community after the battle,” said Matthew C. Moen, president of the Gettysburg Foundation. “Visitors cannot help but reflect upon Lincoln’s presence and timeless words at Gettysburg that blended humility with commemoration.” 

The David Wills House is managed and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation. Throughout the summer, the Gettysburg Foundation will continue to staff the front desk, provide visitor services and information, and manage the sales area.

New Clues About Why the Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley Sank


New Clues About Why the Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley Sank
An emergency keel-block release suggests the crew did not panic, meaning they may have been incapacitated when the sub went down
By Jason Daley
July 23, 2018
     In 1995, researchers discovered the wreck of the Confederate Navy’s submarine, the H.L.
Hunley, the first combat submarine in history to sink another ship. In 2000, they were able to
raise the sub, including the remains of the eight sailors aboard. But the Hunley presented a
mystery—soon after jamming a rudimentary torpedo into the side of the U.S.S. Housatonic on
Feb. 17, 1864, the submarine also sank, though there are no signs that it was attacked or
damaged. Now, reports Brandon Specktor at LiveScience , a new finding from the sub may give
some clues.

     Since being raised, archaeologists and conservators have painstakingly excavated 1,200 pounds of concretion—rock-hard silt and sand that accumulated on the 40-foot-long, sausage-shaped craft as it sat four miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, for 150 years. 

    Researchers recently worked on removing the concretion from and conserving eight cast-iron keel blocks, weighing about half a ton total, that had been used to steady the submarine. But they also found the largest blocks were connected to a quick-release mechanism, meaning if there was any trouble the crew could eject the blocks and quickly rise to the surface. Recent work on the sub shows that the three levers of the release mechanism, however, were never engaged and the keel blocks are all in place, meaning the crew never tried to use the safety feature. That suggests that they either did not think they were in trouble or were incapacitated before the boat went down.

     “As a diver, your first instinct if you’re in trouble is to get to the surface by releasing your weight belt, and it’s part of your training,” Johanna Rivera, a conservator on the project, tells Bo
Peterson at The Post and Courier . “The keel blocks serve the same purpose, so it appears there
was no sense of panic (among the crew)…[The finding] is an extra layer of complexity as to
what really happened.”

     We may never know exactly what happened, but the keel block narrows things down. Jeffrey
Collins at the AP reports that one theory is that the submarine got stuck in the mud while waiting
for the tide to turn so it could make it back to dock after it jammed its load of powder into the
Housatonic. If that was the case, however, the crew might have been able to drop the keel blocks
to get themselves off the bottom, which did not happen. Another theory is that, soon after the
explosion on the Union ship, another ship rushing to its aid struck the Hunley, incapacitating the
submarine and leading to its doom.

     Perhaps the most compelling idea is that the blast from the exploding Housatanic was enough to knock out the crew. In 2017, researchers released a paper arguing just that. Charles Q. Choi at
LiveScience reports that the Hunley jammed 135 pounds of black powder into the hull of the
enemy ship below the water line. The resulting blast wave, the study shows, was enough to
knock the crew out and rupture their lungs.

“Blast injuries are consistent with the way the remains were found inside the boat, as blast waves would not have left marks on the skeletons, and would not have provided the crew with the chance to try to escape,” lead author Rachel Lance, a biomechanist at Duke University, tells Choi. “Blast waves are capable of inflicting lethal injuries on someone without ever physically moving them.”

     The keel blocks, along with the fact that the crew never used the bilge pump, suggest the crew
did not take evasive action as the submarine sank. While the clues mount up, archaeologist
Michael Scafuri, who has worked on the project for 18 years, says we keep learning more about
the sub, but may never know exactly why it sank.“I would love to get to that point
absolutely…We keep seeing parts that no one has seen in 150 years. All of them add into the mix
of what happened and how this sub was operated,” he tells the AP. “After all, we don’t have the

     In fact, the Hunley sank three times during its brief career, which lasted from July 1863 to
February 1864. The first time it sank at dock, killing five crew members aboard. In October
1863, it sank during a demonstration, taking with it a crew of eight, including its inventor Horace
Hunley. In that case, the crew had tried to drop the keel weights, but they were too late.
In 2004, the crew aboard the Hunley during the third and final sinking were buried in Charleston
near the other crews that had also perished in the sub.

     The newly conserved keel weights will go on display at the Clemson University’s Warren Lasch
Conservation Center where visitors can see the Hunley and artifacts recovered from it during
weekend tours.

Changes Being Made For How You Experience Antietam National Battlefield


From National Parks Traveler July 18, 2018

Whether you visit Antietam National Battlefield to walk in the footsteps of a Civil War soldier or go for your morning run, the National Park Service is transforming the way you experience and understand this historic landscape.

A newly approved plan is designed to increase visitor access to key battlefield locations by repositioning and reconfiguring three of the 11 tour stops, expanding and connecting the trail system, and fully integrating the 946 acres acquired since the completion of the 1992 general management plan.

“This plan with provide visitors with a cohesive and immersive experience on the battlefield,” Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail said. “We want to increase opportunities for visitors to connect with and understand the pivotal role the Battle of Antietam played in the Civil War, while protecting these hallowed grounds and natural habitat that now covers the battlefield.”

Trail Improvements

  • Perimeter Trail: Comprised of existing trails and new trail segments, an 11-mile perimeter trail will allow visitors to hike the entire circumference of the battlefield, starting and ending at the visitor center.

  • Battle Action Loop Trails: Shorter immersive experiences will focus on specific locations where significant events of the battle unfolded, like the Sunken Road and Miller Cornfield.

  • Universally Accessible Trails: The 0.25-mile Antietam Remembered walking trail loop as well as the paved walkway leading to the entrance of Dunker Church will be modified to allow for universal access. Where possible, the Battle Action looping trails will be designed to be universally accessible.

Tour Stop Improvements

  • East Woods (tour stop 3): A new tour stop will be added to supply a visual connection to the Mansfield Monument, creating a more immersive Battlefield experience and providing a space for interpretive opportunities at the East Woods.

  • The Cornfield (tour stop 4): This stop offers a 360-degree view of the Miller Pasture and will be expanded to include an interpretive plaza and additional parking.

  • The Mumma Farm (tour stop 6): This stop will move from its current location at the Mumma cemetery closer to the Mumma farmstead buildings to improve access to this site.

The NPS analyzed two alternatives and completed an Environmental Assessment before selecting the proposed plan. In completing the plan and EA, the NPS incorporated feedback from both visitors and stakeholders.

A Finding of No Significant Impact was signed on June 29, 2018 by acting National Capital Regional Director Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini at the conclusion of an environmental analysis and interagency review.

Walking Tours of Historic Frederick ~ Sundays from July thru October

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Sunday "One Vast Hospital" Walking Tours

     Looking to explore downtown Frederick in a unique way? Then consider coming on our historic walking tours. 
     Every Sunday afternoon at 3 PM starting on July 22, docents from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine will explain how Frederick became “One Vast Hospital.”
     From the diaries and letters of the surgeons, soldiers, and civilians who were there, this guided walking tour will explore the locations of the city’s Civil War hospitals in churches, schools, and public buildings. Many of those same buildings still make up the historic district today.

Sundays July 22 - October 28 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM | Pay-what-you-please
National Museum of Civil War Medicine

48 E Patrick St, Frederick, MD 21701

NEW BOOK AVAILABLE “Kilpatrick’s Raid Around Atlanta” by Mary L. Weigley


“Kilpatrick’s Raid Around Atlanta” – Mary L. Weigley (author)

Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick remains as one of our nations’ most controversial and provocative military figures. Nicknamed “Kill Cavalry”, this Union Officer was accused of the rough handling of his men and horses. His military decisions, especially as commander of a cavalry division at Gettysburg, continues to draw interest and criticism from today’s historians.

In the spring of 1864, Kilpatrick joined forces with Gen. William T. Sherman for the famous “March to the Sea” through the state of Georgia. During those bloody days of August 18 – 22, Kilpatrick’s cavalry was involved in an almost forgotten raid around the embattled city of Atlanta. The 7th PA cavalry was involved.

The book can be purchased by check ($12.95 - $10.95 plus 2.95 shipping and handling) made payable to Mary L. Weigley at P.O. Box 612, Richland PA 17087.

Help support a local (Lebanon County) historian and author.
... Jim Duffy, CWRT

THE CIVIL WAR: Causes, Combat, Conclusions and Consequences - Aug 20-22


THE CIVIL WAR: Causes, Combat, Conclusions and Consequences
August 20, 21 and 22, 2018
Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY
Instructor: John C. Fazio

     Course will explore the predisposing and precipitating causes of the war, the major encounters of the armies and navies and the character and skills of their commanders, the assassination of Lincoln and the attempted decapitation of the United States government, and the results of the war. The principal objective of the course is to demonstrate the relevance of the war to our time. 

     Plus, as a BONUS – Ken Burns (yes that one) will be there as well and his program is entitled “The Filmmaker as Collaborator: A Conversation with Ken Burns and Friends” (Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward). This program is given on 8/20 and 8/21.

Registration at http://chq.org/classes (course # 1420).

Cost is $85 for the entire course (daily rate available if only 1 or 2 lectures attended.

Hospital Stewards in the American Civil War ~ July 26th


Hospital Stewards in the American Civil War

The hospital steward of the Civil War was an important part of the healthcare team whether in the hospital or in the field with the regiment. Gain incredible insight into the personal experience of this caregiver through first person accounts and in-depth research. Join William Campbell, historian and professor in the Nursing Department at Salisbury College, as he shows the similarities between Civil War hospital stewards and modern day nurses.

Thursday July 26 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM | Pay-what-you-please
National Museum of Civil War Medicine

Delaplaine-Randall Conference Room
48 E Patrick St, Frederick, MD 21701

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Aftermath: Reconstruction in Downtown Frederick Walking Tour ~ July 7th


Aftermath: Reconstruction in Downtown Frederick Walking Tour

As the Civil War came to an end and Frederick celebrated with fireworks and parades, the next chapter in the city’s history opened. Soldiers from Union and Confederate armies returned to their homes and came back to a city totally changed by war. Slavery had been outlawed, the countryside around Frederick had been raided and ravaged by war, and the city’s traditional political system overturned.

Jake Wynn (NMCWM) and Emily Huebner (Assistant Director Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area) will tell the seldom told story of Frederick during Reconstruction and detail the lives of those who lived through the era that reshaped Frederick, the state of Maryland, and the entire nation.

Saturday July 7 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM | Pay-what-you-please
National Museum of Civil War Medicine

48 E Patrick St, Frederick, MD 21701

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