Sunday, October 9, 2016

Aquila Henning

Grave of Aquila Henning
It tells one version of his death
I was introduced to the grave of Aquila Henning, and his story, in the summer of 2009 while on a trek across Eastern Pennsylvania. A number of friends living in the eastern portion of the state had told me of the unique stone located in the Old Albrightsville Cemetery and suggested that I visit it in my travels.

“I've never seen anything like it before,” one friend wrote, “You'll definitely be interested in seeing it.”

Albrightsville is a small community at the junction of Routes 903 and 534 in Carbon County, a small community that one could pass through with realizing it. The cemetery, which  is located at the junction of Henning and North Stage Coach Roads, is a small plot of land that originally was owned by the Henning Family but is now owned and cared for by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Albrightsville.

Arriving at the cemetery my attention was immediately captured by the large memorial that seemed out of place among the smaller markers. Finding a safe place to park became an immediate challenge as parking was almost nonexistent. I carefully pulled into the grass along North Old Stage Road and quickly made my way across the piece of hallowed ground towards the large monument that I had come searching for.

The side of the monument facing North Old Stage Road had a number of names and dates chiseled into it; it was relatively plain and simple. However the other side of the memorial was what brought me here. Stepping around the memorial to the side opposite the road, I was taken in by the engraving that covered the majority of this side of the monument.

The picture engraved on the monument told one version of the death of Aquila Henning for the world to see. Standing in the foreground is Aquila Henning with his rifle in hand and hidden in the bushes are the faces of the seven men who were present the day of his death. Two other figures can be seen in the carving. Directly in front of Aquila a one-armed man stands in the laurel pointing a pistol at Aquila. Next to the one-armed man is another man kneeling.

At the bottom of the memorial are chiseled the words "An Innocent Man Sent To Eternity." And as I studied the monument, I was taken in by another statement chiseled into it: Aquila’s death date reads "Shot Nov. 24, 1932."

Aquila Henning: Born and Shot
Who was Aquila Henning and what happened to him? What was this story carved here for the world to see?

The tombstone tells the Henning’s side of the story of the fateful Thanksgiving Day that would cost Aquila his life.

Piecing together the story, I was able to identify a couple of the figures in the picture. Aquila is the man in the foreground carrying a hunting rifle. The one-armed man actually existed: his name was Harry Wilkinson, a local school teacher. I am not one hundred percent sure of the identity of the kneeling man, but I can narrow it down to two people: Aquila Jr., or Robert Wilkinson, Harry’s brother. Most think it is Aquila Jr. who is seen kneeling in the picture, but if we consider the story of what happened that day, it is (in my opinion) more likely Robert who is seen kneeling in the carving as a part of the ambush. The other faces in the laurel belong to the men who were with Henry Wilkinson that day.

There was a “feud” going on between Harry Wilkinson and Aquila Henning. Supposedly the fight started when Harry reported to his brother Robert that Aquila Jr. had been illegally hunting and Aquila Jr. was arrested for the suspected activity. Heated words were exchanged between Aquila Sr. and Harry over the accusation. The feelings of hostility boiled between the two and it would only be a matter of time before it would turn violent.

On Thanksgiving Day 1932, the fight would turn bloody. Aquila and his son had spent the morning hunting and fate would cause them to run into Harry Wilkinson. With Harry was his brother Robert and seven other friends who were also spending the day hunting.

The fact they were all hunting and the two parties encountered each other is the only thing that both sides agree upon.

According to the Wilknson’s version of the events, the hunting party was alerted to the presence of the Hennings by the sound of a nearby rifle shot. Harry came out of the laurel to discover that Aquila Jr. had shot one and wounded one of the Wilkinson dogs. While Harry knelt to examine the wounded dog, Aquila Sr. appeared out of laurel, stepped up on a stump and took aim at Harry. Aquila fired, but his shot missed Harry who fled through the laurel. Robert, who was nearby, saw Aquila firing at his brother; he drew his gun and shot Aquila as he reloaded his gun. The bullet entered Aquila from the back and passed through both of his kidneys.

Harry and Morris Getz would take Aquila to Palmerton Hospital. Shortly after arriving at the hospital Aquila passed away from his injuries.

Before he died Aquila was able to give a brief statement. He claimed that he did not shoot the dog or shoot at Harry.

Robert turned himself in for the shooting death of Aquila and was charged with murder. On January 11, 1933, the case against Robert Wilkinson went to trial and after a week of testimony, the case went to the jury. The jury quickly returned with a verdict of "Not Guilty." There was no denying that Robert shot and killed Aquila; they deemed the shooting as being necessary in order for Robert to save Harry's life.

One thing I find interesting in the trial is that Robert claimed that he had never seen Aquila nor his son before the day of the shooting. However Robert’s testimony stated that previously he had heard Aquila Jr. make threats against Harry’s dogs.

In researching this case, I found an interesting theory that does add another layer to the mystery of what happened that day. Before I go any further, I want to make clear that it is a theory and I do not know this to be a fact, but I do find it interesting. The question that arises is: if neither Aquila nor his son shot the dog, then who shot the dog that day? There is a suggestion that claims either Robert or Harry had shot the dog after killing Aquila so there was “validity” to the story of their dog being shot and killed. Again, I do not know this for a fact and cannot accuse them of shooting their own dog, but if Aquila’s statement before death is true, then we have a dead dog that was shot by somebody on that fateful day.

The front of the Henning stone hides the story
Engraved on its back
But the bad blood between the Hennings and Wilkinsons did not end there. Five years later, the Wenz Memorial Company provided a stone for the grave, with the picture portraying a much different version of the murder than the “official” version. The version chiseled in the stone shows Harry preparing to shoot Aquila from ambush, which is the version that Aquila's widow believed happened according to the testimony of her late husband.

Almost immediately after the erection of the monument, Harry Wilkinson sued the Wenz Memorial Company for damages, claiming that the version on the stone was all a lie to make him look bad. He lost the case.

As I prepared to leave, I realized that only three people will ever know exactly what happened that fateful day. One died to his wounds, one claimed he was protecting his brother's life, and one claimed he was hiding after being shot at and didn't see the actual shooting.

The only thing that will ever be known about that fateful day is Aquila would be shot and would die from his wounds. The rest of what happened that day will remain a mystery.


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