The Fate of a Confederate Deserter after Gettysburg
presented by Peter Carmichael
Fri Nov 2 at 6:00pm
1 Lincoln Circle
@ Reservoir Park
Harrisburg, PA 17103
Marines in the Civil War: We Shall Do as Well as We Can
presented by Col Doug Douds
presented by Peter Carmichael
presented by Col Doug Douds
No honest person ever wants to discover, hear, or share news like this in the history community. Still, bad things happen, and by sharing the details, perhaps the thieves will be apprehended or unable to sell their stolen artifacts to unsuspecting buyers.
At the end of September 2018, the small museum operated by Kernstown Battlefield Association just south of Winchester, Virginia, was robbed. Only Civil War related artifacts were taken in the robbery which occurred between the 21st and 29th. Investigators believe the criminals entered the building through a second story window, avoided the motion sensors, and took the artifacts from the locked display cabinets. Read more of this post
LOVE, N. A TEMPORARY INSANITY CURABLE BY MARRIAGE OR BY THE REMOVAL OF THE PATIENT FROM THE INFLUENCES UNDER WHICH HE INCURRED THE DISORDER.
By Meilan Solly
September 21, 2018
Harold Holzer’s passion for Lincolniana started early. When the historian was “barely out of [his teens],” he purchased the first item in his collection—a small envelope “franked,” or signed instead of stamped, by then-Congressman Abraham Lincoln. By the age of 22, he had narrowed his acquisitional interests down to engravings and lithographs depicting the legendary U.S. president.
Some 50 years later, Holzer’s collection boasts an impressive 740 artifacts, including an 1860 portrait of a beardless Lincoln, a 1907 bronze relief plaque that served as the basis of the likeness seen on pennies to this day and a plaster bust by the artist Sarah Fisher Ames. Given the sheer volume of his collection, it’s unsurprising that the assemblage took up a considerable amount of space in the Rye, New York, home Holzer shares with his wife Edith.
Now, as the couple finalizes plans to downsize to a Manhattan apartment, Holzer is preparing to part with his eclectic trove of Lincoln-related items. And, Julia Jacobs reports for the New York Times, the historian is planning on making a clean break by selling everything but a small selection of modern art.
Holzer’s Lincolniana will serve as the centerpiece of New York-based Swann Auction Galleries’ Printed & Manuscript Americana sale next week. According to Fine Books & Collections, the whopping 176-lot offering “explores America’s fascination with depictions of the 16th president, highlighting the breadth of representations of Lincoln.”
Swann sale specialist Rick Stattler tells Jacobs that Holzer’s collection offers modest financial value but remarkable historical and personal significance. A period portrait believed to be John C. Wolfe’s June 1860 painting of Lincoln is the most valuable item in the sale, with an estimate of between $12,000 and $18,000. The Fisher Ames plaster bust, which Holzer dates to just before the president delivered the Gettysburg Address, carries an estimate of between $6,000 and $9,000, as does a fourth-edition print released to show Lincoln’s likeness to crowds gathered at Chicago’s Wigwam convention hall for the announcement of the 1860 Republican presidential candidate. Overall, the sale is expected to bring in between $158,000 and $236,300.
According to Jacobs, the Holzers have been spending their weekends scouring flea markets for Lincolniana since the early 1970s. The search for Lincoln treasures brought them all over the northeast, including places like Adamstown, Pennsylvania, where Holzer chanced upon a print featuring Lincoln ascending to heaven in the company of angels (the design wasn’t original, as earlier printmakers had sold nearly identical ones of George Washington).
Holzer’s Lincoln fascination, of course, extends far beyond memorabilia: He has authored or edited 52 books on the president and has two more tomes forthcoming. In his introduction to the auction catalogue, Holzer explains that one of his earliest acquisitions, a lithograph of the Lincoln family crafted by Philadelphia artist Anton Hohenstein, sparked his interest in scholarly study of the president. Several weeks after making the initial purchase, Holzer chanced upon an image in Life Magazine depicting then-President Richard Nixon sitting in his White House study below what appeared to be the very lithograph he had just purchased.
As it turns out, the White House lithograph featured a similar design but was based on a different photograph of Lincoln. This realization “stimulated my lifelong effort to explore the nature of nineteenth century prints,” Holzer writes, “their political, commercial, and artistic origins, and their impact on period audiences.”
Despite dedicating the majority of his life to unraveling the public’s enduring fascination with Lincoln, and particularly representations of his physical appearance, Holzer notes that he can’t quite pinpoint his own lasting fascinating with Lincoln memorabilia.
“Part of the appeal may be locked into his mysterious expression, half smiling, half-frowning, always seeming to gaze toward a faraway place,” Holzer muses. “Perhaps our interest remains piqued, too, by Lincoln’s own endearing humility. He called himself ‘the homeliest man in the state of Illinois’ and a ‘very indifferent judge’ of his own portraits. Yet he sat for more painters, sculptors, and photographers than his contemporaries.”
As the auction nears, though, he tells Jacob he’s yet to feel an “emotional reaction.” Perhaps this is because the historian is shifting his focus to another head of state: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“I’ve been helped to a new stage in my life,” says Holzer, who has served as the director of New York’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College for the past three years. “Working here has liberated me in a way.”
from the Loyal Legion Historical Journal - Fall 2018 (see pages 10-11)
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863 resulting in 51,000 casualties. When the armies left Gettysburg, more than 20,000 wounded soldiers were left behind in field hospitals, churches, schools, private homes, and elsewhere. In the three weeks that followed the battle, the Union medical department put forth an herculean effort to ready 16,000 of the wounded to be transported by rail to hospitals in various towns and cities.
However, the condition of more than 4,000 Union and Confederate wounded was too serious to travel. A decision was made that if the wounded could not be sent to a hospital, then a hospital would be brought to the wounded.
Camp Letterman General Hospital, named for Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, would be set up about a mile from Gettysburg. Although the hospital would consist of tents instead of buildings, it would be run the same as a general hospital operating in a permanent structure. It would be the first general hospital located on a battlefield….
By Lauren Davis, 4-7-12
See original article
The American Civil War Battle of Shiloh left 16,000 soldiers dead and 3,000 soldiers wounded, and some of those wounded soldiers are part of an odd mystery. Some of the soldiers had eerily glowing wounds, which healed more quickly than the non-glowing wounds. So what strange battlefield science was at work?
It took two days and nights for the medics to reach all of the wounded soldiers in Shiloh, and some of the soldiers noticed that their wounds glowed in the darkness. Because the glowing wounds healed more quickly and cleanly, the mysterious force was termed "Angel's Glow."
It wasn't until 2001 that this 1862 mystery was finally solved. Seventeen-year-old Bill Martin was visiting Shiloh with his family, where he heard about the strange glow. His mother, microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, had studied luminescent bacteria, and Martin wondered if similar bacteria might have been at work. With his friend Jon Curtis, Martin researched Photorhabdus luminescens, a type of bacteria that lives in the guts of parasitic nematodes. When nematodes vomit up the glowing bacteria, P. luminescens kills the other microbes living in the nematoad's host.
Normally, P. luminescens couldn't live in the human body since it dies at human body temperature. But Martin and Curtis, studying the historical records and the conditions in Shiloh, realized that the nighttime temperatures were low enough for the soldiers to develop hypothermia, allowing the bacteria to thrive in their bodies, kill off competing bacteria, and perhaps save the lives of their human hosts.
For solving this decades old mystery, Curtis and Martin won first place in the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
National Park Service Preparing To Repave Drives of Civil War Era Fort Dupont And Fort Davis
By NPT Staff on September 5th, 2018
The National Park Service has cleared the last major hurdle before beginning a $4 million rehabilitation of Fort Dupont and Fort Davis drives in southeast Washington, DC. The Federal Highway Administration awarded a construction contract on August 30 to repave the entire roadways and improve stormwater management along the roadways.
“I know many people have been looking forward to this for sometime. Repairing Fort Dupont and Fort Davis drives has been one of my top priorities since becoming superintendent,” said Fort Dupont Park Superintendent Tara Morrison. “The project will improve access for everyone in Fort Dupont Park, and will also help us preserve the historic character of the these roads.”
In the coming weeks, the Park Service will work to finalize a construction schedule and share that with the public. To minimize inconvenience, the agency anticipates that the project and associated closures will happen in short segments.
Once work beings, the Ridge Road picnic area and portions of the activity center parking lot will close for the duration of the project. The work will not prevent visitors from accessing the community garden, and the Randall Circle picnic areas will stay open.
As a part of this project, the short Lanham Estates loop road will be converted into a pedestrian trail and the Park Service will create an improved parking area for people using the picnic area, visiting the Civil War era earthworks, or just enjoying the park.
Why Fort Dupont and Fort Davis are important:
Fort Dupont and Fort Davis were built to defend against potential Confederate attacks on the nation’s capital during the Civil War. Completed in the spring of 1862, Fort Dupont was named after Samuel F. Dupont, a naval officer who won a significant battle at Port Royal, S.C. in 1861. Fort Davis, completed in 1861, was dedicated to Colonel Benjamin F. Davis, who was killed in combat in 1863. Both forts were abandoned in 1865 after the Civil War ended. In the 1930s, the National Park Service acquired the forts and surrounding land for recreation. Today, popular activities include hiking, biking, running, gardening, and a summer concert series.
History's Headlines: Hi-ho come to the Great Allentown Fair of 1928
by Frank Whelan (a CWRT Board Member)
We’re in the midst of another Allentown Fair. It is time to stand in line for the waffles and ice cream, climb on to the thrill rides and enjoy once more the voice that attempts to lure passers-by to see the three-legged calf. Others, of course just want to see their favorite artists at the grandstand shows. But like any institution that has been around over 150 years, the fair has seen a lot of changes since its Lehigh County Agricultural Society founders held the first in 1852 at 4th and Union streets on the vast lawn that had once belonged to the Allen family. And perhaps during no decade has the Allentown Fair undergone greater change than in the 1920s.
During World War I there was no Allentown Fair as the Fairgrounds were being used by the Army as Camp Crane, where it was training ambulance drivers. And the first fair that followed in 1919 was still very similar to those in the pre-war era with a lot of emphasis on the agricultural exhibits and horse harness races. But by the latter part of the decade it was clear that it was a new fair, one that reflected the changing nature of the times. Here is a look back at the fair of 1928 and the changes that marked the decade.
Ladies, grab your cloche hat, and gentlemen, your hip flaks for a trip back in time. You might want to bring your raccoon coat as well, in those days the fairs were held in late September and nights could get chilly.
One of the biggest changes from just ten years before was the arrival of the automobile. Although many people still came by the streetcars of the city’s excellent public transit system, Model T and Model A Fords were filling the grounds around that fair.
By 1928 automobile speed races were a big attraction. Begun in 1923 with an exhibition of auto-polo (believe it or not, drivers in cars with mallets hitting balls), it had evolved into regular speed races.
By 1928 the Allentown Fair was hosting what it called Automobile Day. A group of race car drivers that went from fair to fair had a following. “Yesterday,” noted the Morning Call on Sunday, September 23, 1928, “designated Automobile Day, brought out a big throng and the speed events of the petrol chariots attracted a capacity crowd. The thrills of the afternoon were augmented by the thousands in the grandstand when it was announced that Ray Keech had equaled the track record made by Ira Vail in 1924.”
Before World War I the Allentown Fair had attracted a large daytime crowd but was not as active at night. Bur the Roaring 20s were to witness the arrival of the night time shows. These productions were sort of a cross between the Ziegfeld Follies and a Hollywood spectacle featuring women in tights and spangles and men in evening clothes, a touch of the big city at home. The show that year was run by William B. Collins and traveled a county fair circuit around the country for many years. How popular were these productions? Well here is what the Morning Call had to say on September 21, 1928 under the headline “IMMENSE CROWD ATTENDS NIGHT FAIR; MORE CARNIVAL-LIKE THAN AT DAY:
“The nightcap to Big Thursday – The Frivolities of 1928 – was the magnet that kept the Fair Grounds a hive of activity until the lights were put out in order to get the last of the crowd out of the grounds on the second evening of the night affair. There is something different about the crowds that attend the night fair, from those who visit the exposition during the day. Whatever the difference, this difference was some 80,000 people, ten thousand of them in the grandstand and paddock to see the revue which featured the Schooley and Collins extravaganza.”
The newspaper story went on to note that Fair officials were thrilled with the show and the new crowds of younger people it seemed to bring in. “This is the first year that a theatrical attraction so unique as the Winter Gardenish offering being presented has been undertaken.” The reference here was to the Winter Garden Theater in New York where Al Jolson, perhaps the most popular male Broadway performer of the decade, regularly performed. Allentown residents had seen him several times in that era at the Lyric Theater, now Miller Symphony Hall. Something like Jolson’s Winter Garden shows, that put the star on a stage that went into the midst of the audience, might also be meant.
The reporter noted that an innovation like a musical revue added a new audience to the fair. “It serves a double purpose,” he noted. “First, it brings crowds to the grounds in the evening to see a stellar attraction who otherwise would not attend: second, it keeps a large portion of the day crowd in the grounds to round out the pleasure that can come only from the frivolity bred by a night carnival.” These type of revue shows were to remain popular at the Fair into the 1950s.
All of this did not mean that agriculture was forgotten in the 1920s. There were still a lot of farmers in Lehigh and Northampton County and for them the animal and vegetable judging were what the Fair was all about. Poultry fanciers flocked to their exhibit presided over by W. Theodore Wittman, long time superintendent of the show. Wittman gave first prize that year to a Bluff Plymouth Rock owned by Harry C. Conner of Stockton, New York, that apparently was raised by a local breeder.
There were 3,698 exhibitors at the horticultural exhibit, over 700 more than there had been a year before. And Willow Brook farms, run by Colonel James W. Fuller of Catasauqua, scored heavily in the horse exhibit.
These bucolic happenings were sometimes mixed with other news that week. Crime was making headlines. It included three gunmen invading the Blue Mountain Inn near New Tripoli, making off with $1000. Most of it came from Indiana tourists. If they were just passing through or had stopped at the fair the newspaper did not say. Many local roadhouses of the day were known to offer “liquid refreshment” in the form of apple jack far from the eyes of law enforcement. The Allentown police kept an eye out and managed to make two arrests at the fair itself: two young men were found drunk and disorderly on their bootleg hooch and were taken into custody. It was a not an uncommon charge in the Prohibition era, when, as one old timer was to later recall, “Allentown and Lehigh County floated on a sea of booze.”
There was, of course that bane of all fairs: bad weather. “Dawn on the Wednesday of fair week found the skies dimmed by heavy rainclouds and shortly before nine o’clock there developed a drizzle which broke with equinoctial fury around midday,” noted the press.
But this was the Roaring 20s after all and such things were taken in stride. “Though it rained throughout the day, “the newspaper noted, “there was plenty of pep in the fair fans who did turn out. This was not born out of enthusiasm resultant from the things they saw but rather was caused by the necessity of keeping on the move to prevent being chilled to the marrow by the frosty air of a nasty wet September day.”
Fortunately, however, around noon the next day “old Sol (the sun) started to do his stuff in real earnest to prove the weathermen can be wrong,” and so closed the 77th Allentown Fair.
“You are excited, young man; the people you see are General Porter’s command taking position on the right of the enemy.” -Gen. John Pope, upon receiving a breathless report of movement by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet’s 28,000-man army.
156 years ago today, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army emerged victorious in what would be the decisive battle of the Second Manassas Campaign. The Battle of Second Manassas lasted three days, resulted in 22,177 casualties, and gave Lee the confidence to invade Maryland, leading to the bloodiest single-day battle in American history – at Sharpsburg less than one month later.
The campaign began because of a bold Confederate strategy to provoke the Union army. By late August, Lee’s trusted and highly capable wing commanders, Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Gen. James Longstreet, had brought Lee's army within 35 miles of the Union capital. On August 28, soon after covering 54 miles in 36 hours with his 24,000 men, Jackson ordered an attack on a passing Federal column to draw Union Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia into battle. Jackson’s attack that day resulted in a stalemate after hours of furious fighting, but it achieved the broader Confederate objective of convincing Pope that he was winning.
Through a full day of fighting on August 29, Pope maintained this misapprehension, launching a series of assaults against Jackson’s position, which were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. Longstreet’s wing arrived on the field around midday but the majority of his forces were held in reserve.
General Pope spent the morning of August 30, in the words of one of his aides, “standing under a tree waiting for Jackson to retreat.” Despite repeated warnings from his subordinates, he refused to believe that Longstreet was forming to attack his left flank and renewed his own assaults that afternoon. When Confederate artillery devastated a Union assault by Gen. Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps, Longstreet’s wing of 28,000 men attacked in one of the largest simultaneous attacks of the war. The Union left flank was crushed and the army driven back to Bull Run. Only an effective Union rearguard action prevented a replay of the First Manassas disaster.
World War II Weekend at Eisenhower National Historic Site September 15 and 16
GETTYSBURG, Pa. – On September 15 and 16, the National Park Service will sponsor its 22nd annual World War II Weekend at the Eisenhower National Historic Site. The public is invited to tour World War II encampments of over 700 living historians portraying Allied and German troops. The camps are authentically recreated by over 50 living history units and include original World War II vehicles.
Living history volunteers will be present to interact with the public throughout the weekend discussing topics such as WWII weapons and equipment, communications, medical services, military vehicles, and the life of the common soldier. Dozens of operational WWII vehicles will be on display. Visitors have the opportunity to participate in an Army Air Force mission briefing, join an infantry platoon on patrol, and listen to stories of civilians from the Home Front.
The weekend also features book signings, special guided tours of World War II burial sites in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and a World War II style “USO” dance.
Guest speakers for the event include World War II veterans and authors of books on World War II. This schedule of speakers is subject to change, so please check Eisenhower National Historic Site’s Facebook page and website for the most recent information.
Saturday, September 15
10:00 a.m. – Jared Frederick, an Instructor of History at Penn State Altoona and former National Park Service Ranger, will speak about Gettysburg during the World Wars, focusing on the history of the Gettysburg Battlefield during the 1940s and how it was impacted by World War II. Jared is also the author of several books, including “Images of Gettysburg National Military Park”.
11:00 a.m. – Ed Bearss is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, a recipient of the Purple Heart, and the Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service. Mr. Bearss is widely renowned as a historian and author who leads tours of battlefields across the United States. During World War II, he served with the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal and New Britain, where he was severely wounded in January 1944. He will be sharing his experiences from the war. Mr. Bearss is also the author of numerous books, including “Fields of Honor.”
12:00 noon – Kenneth H. Fidler is a veteran of the United States Navy during World War II. He was a Sonarman Third Class from 1943 to 1945, and served on the USS Loy DE 160. The Loy served as an escort ship for 6 convoys in the Atlantic before it became an Auxiliary Personnel Destroyer in the Pacific, taking part in the invasion of Okinawa. Ken also served in the Navy during the Korean War, and would later write “Memoirs of a Ping Jockey” on his wartime experiences.
1:00 p.m. – Beverley Eddy is a Professor Emerita of German at Dickinson College, and the author of “Camp Sharpe’s Psycho Boys: From Gettysburg to Germany.” Eddy has a doctorate in Germanic Languages and Literatures, and has taught at Middlebury College and Dickinson College. She will be speaking on the history of Gettysburg’s Camp Sharpe, which was a secret sub-camp of the World War II Military Intelligence Training Center.
2:00 p.m. – John C. McManus, an award-winning professor, author, and military historian, is the Curator’s Distinguished Professor of U.S. Military History at the Missour University of Science and Technology. He is the other of a dozen books on United States Military History, focusing on World War II, and is currently in residence at the U.S. Naval Acadamy as the Leo A. Shiffrin Chair of Naval and Military History. He will be speaking on the subject of his book “September Hope,” discussing the events surrounding Operation Market Garden in September 1944.
3:00 p.m. –Arthur Lentz is a veteran of the United States Army and the recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster. He fought in Europe with the 119th Infantry, 30th Infantry Division during World War II. He was wounded by a German sniper in January 1945, and recovered from his wound in France. After the war, Lentz played professional basketball in York, Pa., where he still resides today.
Sunday, September 16
10:00 a.m. – Ben Jenkins served on the crew of a B-29 “Superfortress” during World War II, taking part in bombing runs on Japan. The B-29 “Superfortress” was a four engine heavy bomber, and was one of the most important planes of the war. Ben will be sharing his stories of operating the weapons control on his B-29, as well as recounting a supply drop to American POWs in August 1945 following the Japanese surrender.
11:00 a.m. – Clem Leone is a resident of Gettysburg, Pa., and served in the Army Air Force during the Second World War. He was a radio operator and a gunner on a B-24 Bomber, and was shot down on February 24, 1944. After landing, the Dutch Underground assisted Clem, helping him to find his way to Antwerp, Belgium, where he was captured by the Germans. He spent time at Stalag Luft IV, a Luftwaffe POW Camp. He was liberated by the British in May 1945. Clem is the recipient of the Purple Heart and the French Legion of Honor.
12:00 noon – Steven Bosan served as an engineer with General George S. Patton’s Third Army during World War II. After training in the United States, he arrived overseas in the fall of 1944, and took part in the push into Germany, building bridges, clearing mines, and repairing roads. He was injured in a vehicle accident in early 1945, but recovered and went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars as well, commanding aviation units in both. He ultimately reached the rank of Colonel.
1:00 p.m. – Ken Weiler is an author and historian who has written and lectured on the Second World War, focusing on the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. He is a member of the Hanover Area Historical Society, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Society, and is a National Park Service volunteer at the Eisenhower National Historic Site. He will be speaking about the War on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945, which is the subject of his book “Why Normandy Was Won: Operation Bagration and the War in the East, 1941-1945.”
2:00 p.m. – A two-time national bestselling author, Larry Alexander is a lifelong native of Ephrata, Pa. He is a retired reporter and columnist for Lancaster Newspapers, and the author of the New York Times Bestselling “Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man who Led the Band of Brothers”. He is also the author of several other books on the Second World War. Alexander will be speaking on the life of Major Dick Winters, the leader of the famous “Band of Brothers.”
3:00 p.m. – Richard “Dick” Donald is a veteran of the United States Navy. During World War II, he was stationed, among many places, on the USS Melvin R. Nawman, a destroyer escort. He served as a “ping jockey”, using sonar to search out enemy submarines. In February 1945, he witnessed the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima. He took part in seven invasions during the war in the Pacific, and he also served on a destroyer during the Korean War.
Both days, retired National Security Agency employee Rick Henderson will be on hand to demonstrate a captured German Enigma Code Machine, the code for which was cracked by the Allies, allowing them to intercept and decipher important messages transmitted by the Germans.
Licensed Battlefield Guide Ralph Siegel will present free guided tours of the World War II burials in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Though well known for Civil War burials, the National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400 soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who died between 1941 and 1945. The interments include men who fell at Pearl Harbor and on D-Day in Normandy. These hour-long free guided walks are offered Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The tour begins inside the Taneytown Road cemetery gate.
Saturday night a World War II style “USO” dance will be held at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., featuring 1940s music by the Gettysburg Big Band. Open to the public, tickets will be sold at the door for $10. A cash bar will be available.
The encampment will be open Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission to the Eisenhower National Historic Site is by shuttle bus. Buses depart from the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center located at 1195 Baltimore Pike. Weather permitting, on-site parking for cars only will also be available in a farm field accessible off of Emmitsburg Road, Business Route 15. Bus groups and visitors using wheelchairs should plan to use the shuttle system. For reservations, call 1-877-874-2478. Cost of shuttle bus tickets are: Adults, $9.00; Children 6-12, $5.00; Children age 6 and under are admitted free.
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.