Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Author's Corner: An Interview with Derek Sherwood

"Have you heard about the girl that was murdered in the stacks?" I heard the young male student ask of his female companion, "You really shouldn't go in there alone."

Having worked for Penn State Library for a couple of years, I had heard this more than once coming from the students. Although the murder occurred had occurred on November 28, 1969, the whispers that still go on around campus makes it seem it happened only a couple years ago...not years and years before they had been born.

In the time I spent at PSU I thought I heard it all when it came to the unsolved murder of Betsy Aardsma. The rumors and half-truths about what happened in the stacks of Pattee Library, mixed with little fact (in many of the cases no fact) whispered from one class to the next, seemed to leave little to the imagination about what may or may not have happened. When the question is asked of tour guides, they merely push it aside - after all, who wants to talk about a murder, especially an unsolved murder that has haunted Penn State's main campus.

While I had heard the rumors - not just when I worked for the library, but before that - I pushed many of the stories aside. After the tragic, unsolved death of young Betsy Aardsma, everybody in Central Pennsylvania seemed to have a theory. They ranged from the jilted lover to a cover-up so massive that it involved the whole university. Despite the theories, the stabbing death of Betsy Aardsma on November 28, 1969 in the Pattee Library stacks remains one of Penn State's unsolved mysteries.

Growing up in the shadow of the university, I often wondered why the case went cold. All though the case remains in the minds of locals, the case was rarely talked about on campus. People would whisper their thoughts and ideas, but bringing up in public almost seemed taboo.

Who Killed Betsy? was brought to my attention earlier this year by a friend, but it wasn't until I was contacted by the author Derek Sherwood did I sit down to read it. I was surprised about how much I really did not know about Betsy Aardma's murder.

In his book, Derek lays out the details of the murder, then sorts through the rumors to focus on one person of interest - Richard Haefner. The argument of Haefner's involvement in the Aardsma case is carefully laid out and presented in his book, Who Killed Betsy? that is available now in bookstores and online.

After reading Who Killed Betsy? I had the chance to talk with Derek about his book and it's impact.

Derek Sherwood
Author of Who Killed Betsy?
Pennsylvania Rambler (PR) - Welcome Derek to The Pennsylvania Rambler Blog. I finished your book Who Killed Betsy? and can say that I am impressed and intrigued with your take on the unsolved murder of Betsy Aardsma.

Derek - Thank-you for taking the time to read Who Killed Betsy? and being willing to share it with your readers.

PR - Before we get into the murder, tell me a little about yourself. Family? Hobbies?

Derek - I'm married with two children. My hobbies (prior to having kids) were things like working on cars, small engine repair, and history. Of course, two young children limits my free time now.

PR - With your interest in the Betsy Aardsma case, are you originally from the area?

Derek - I'm originally from York, Pennsylvania.

PR - Always glad to have a native Pennsylvanian here on The Pennsylvania Rambler. Let's get down to your book, Who Killed Betsy? Having grown up in the shadow of Penn State, I've heard about the case for many, many years. What brought Betsy's case to your attention?

Derek - I lived in State College for a year or two in the 1980s when [my] dad worked for the University. He mentioned it to me one day driving past the library. The image of a library so big that a woman could be murdered there, and the killer never found, stuck with me.

PR - May I ask how many years of research went into your book?

Derek - I've been working on the case since 2008. I didn't originally intend to write a book.

PR - You weren't originally planning on writing a book?

Derek - I wanted to generate leads by creating a website and possibly funding a billboard similar to some of the ones that have popped up listing Joe Paterno's 409 wins since the Sandusky scandal. However, once I got deep into the case people would ask me how it was going and there was so much information to share, I finally decided to put it all into a book, because no one would have believed it or been able to sit to hear it all.

PR - In your book, you focus on Richard Haefner as the man who was responsible for Betsy's death. What was it that turned your attention on him?

Derek - An author named Pamela West had told us back in 2008 that a "geography major" had gone to his professor's house the night of the murder in a bit of a panic. She couldn't remember his name or anything else. Sascha Skucek, my research partner, went to the head of the Geosciences Department and found that it was actually a Geology major by the name of Richard Haefner. That was the genesis of the Haefner theory back in late 2008, early 2009.

PR - So Richard was your prime subject from the beginning?

Derek - The way we worked the case was to try to rule people out, rather than in. We tried to find reasons why the suspects COULDN'T have done, rather than think up reasons why they could have committed it. Not only could we never rule Haefner out, there were numerous anecdotes and pieces of evidence that ruled him in quite circumstantially, but also convincingly.

PR - One thing that I found interesting is that the first sketch released by the police seems to be the worst one possible. Was there a reason for this composite sketch being released to the public?

Derek - Not to my recollection. It may have been an accident or simply a push to pick a composite to release to get the word out.

PR - Looking at the sketch later released after the police interviewed Uafinda it looks so much like Richard Haefner. In your opinion, if this sketch was released to the public first that the case would have been officially solved?

Derek - Possibly. The description of the killer was that he was wearing "khaki slacks, sneakers, etc." along with the image. There is a photo of Haefner in the book from @1970-72 that matches the composite exactly, down to the little curl of hair over his forehead, which was clearly a style of choice (it would have required maintenance and hair cream to make sure it curled just so). Haefner was also known for wearing khakis and sneakers almost exclusively.

The problem was, by the spring of 1970, Haefner was working extensively on his outside projects for his Ph.D., so his schedule was full of trips to Death Valley and independent study classes. There's a good chance he wouldn't have been noticed even based on the second composite simply because he wasn't on campus very much after the fall of '69.

PR - A while back, I spent a couple of years working at Pattee Library and during that time, I heard all sorts of strange theories about who murdered Betsy and the reasons behind it. Dare I ask...What is the strangest one you've heard?

Derek - One recent theory that seems to be popular is "Did Jerry Sandusky know Betsy Aardsma" or variations of that theme. I guess because of the homosexual theory that is covered in the book, people assume maybe she caught him with a boy in the library and he killed her to silence her. Crazy stuff. Certainly not anything I subscribe to.

PR - I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but do you think that the university had an idea and tried to cover it up? We've seen it recently with the Sandusky scandal. Do you think this is possible?

Derek - I know that Haefner was supposed to have been reported to the University attorney by the Geosciences Department Head. Nothing was done from there, so it's entirely possible the University had an idea, but covered it up. I also read an article that claimed that Haefner was supposed to undergo psychological counseling prior to entering Penn State. If this is true, and if the ball was dropped on that, it would give the University even more reason to want to sweep it under the rug, because it would tend to show that they allowed a possibly dangerous individual on campus.

PR - We've already mentioned a couple of the theories that abound about the unsolved murder and in Who Killed Betsy? you've put to rest some of those stories. Growing up, one theory I often heard was the murder was committed by a local and that the police helped to cover it up. Have you heard this one?

Derek - I had heard the local theory as well, but never really could find a strong genesis for it. It's a theory that was floated around in the Dana Bailey case, a girl murdered in State College in 1987. I don't think that the police had any reason to cover it up, because they were State Police; State College Police Department did not exist at the time that Betsy was murdered. So it would be harder in my opinion for a cover-up to have occurred to help somebody's kid or family member who happened to be a killer.

PR - Is there any other theories out there that could be possible?

Derek - The theory of the English professor, Robert Durgy, who died in a car accident not long after Betsy's death still haunts me. Though - allegedly - there is evidence he was already back in Michigan when she was killed.

PR - I know I get quite a few contacts from family members on the blog about the things I've researched, have either of the families contacted you after the release of your book? If so, what was the reaction?

Derek - I have spoken to a number of people in Rick's extended family. Most felt he was very intelligent, very strangely troubled, but probably not a killer - although that's not surprising. Betsy's family has been silent, although Sascha and I contacted them with letters after we finished up the bulk of our work on the case, in an attempt to explain ourselves. I spoke to Carol Aardsma back in 2008, but it was a very brief conversation essentially letting her know what I planned to do and asking if she had a problem with it. She basically said "Do what you have to do," and that was that.

PR - So I have to ask, are you planning on exploring any of the other unsolved murders or disappearances at Penn State?

Derek - I have briefly poked around with the idea of looking in the other PSU murders. There are slight issues with each one. The Rachel Taylor murder from 1940 is so far in the past that almost everyone involved is deceased, which makes getting good information though. The newspaper accounts are typical of the time and are very salacious/possibly slanted.

The Cindy Song case is hampered by the fact that she's never been found. Her case has been linked to Hugo Selenski and twelve more unidentified bodies have just recently been found on his property. So that's pretty active and until it's determined what happened to her...I've struggled with how to craft a book about it.

The Dana Bailey case in 1987 is most possible but I have been hesitant now that I have young kids to get back involved in one of the cases simply because they are so time-consuming and emotionally draining.

PR - As you are mentioning other unsolved murders and disappearances of PSU students, I have to bring up another connection. Earlier you mentioned Pamela West. While I haven't read her science fiction novel 20/20 Vision, I have enjoyed another of her novels: Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. West's time-traveling novel is based on the Aardsma murder and has been mentioned in the newspapers with the April 15, 2005 disappearance of Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar. Any thoughts?

Derek - I have not yet gotten to read 20/20 Vision. I hear it is interesting and have heard of the Gricar parallels.

PR -  We'll both have to place it on our reading lists.

Derek - Yes, we'll have to.

PR - I want to thank-you for your time. I enjoyed it greatly and given the evidence at hand, you've made a very convincing argument for Richard Haefner being the prime suspect in her murder. Who Killed Betsy? is available through major booksellers. Again, thank-you for your time.

Derek - Thank-you.

I'd like to encourage you (if you already haven't) to pick up a copy of Derek Sherwood's book Who Killed Betsy? available now. And thank-you again Derek for stopping by,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

From the Files: A Haunted Apple Tree

I've read this story in a number of places, but this version comes from The McKean Democrat, August 24, 1900

Murder committed under it and now its fruit is streaked blood red

"It is probable that to the town of Douglass, Mass., alone belongs the reputation of having a haunted apple tree," writes Samuel S. Kingdon, in the Ladies' Home Journal. "The tradition of the town is that a foul murder was committed in the orchard many years ago, and sine then it has been haunted by the spirit of the victim. As the story goes, a peddler, whose custom it was to sell goods from house to house from a pack, laid down to rest at midday under a tree in the orchard, and before the day was ended he was found with a cruel gash in the neck, from which his life blood ebbed away. Suspicion rested on the owner of the orchard, and he was said to have been constantly followed by the spirit of the victim. In an attempt to escape from its dreaded presence he moved away. Then the apparition became a terror to all who had occasion to pass over the road at night. So potent was its influence - standing as it had habit of doing, under the apple tree, with one hand at its throat and the other extended as though seeking aid, and uttering shrill cries that could be heard half a mile away - that the location of the highway was changed, and it is now a long distance from the orchard. The old trees still bear fruit, and the apples from the one beneath which the peddler was killed are said to be streaked with red, resembling blood, the streaks extending from skin to core."

From the Files: A Haunted Barn

An article I stumbled across in the February 14, 1881 edition of The Reading Eagle.

Joseph Raymond, colored, and his wife and daughter, are tenants on the farm of Charles Gillen, farmer, in Pocopson township, Chester County. Raymond declares that their barn is haunted. The door won't remain closed, though both he and his employer have exhausted their combined ingenuity in fashioning devices to keep it shut. there is a rattling of chains, and heavy sounds proceed from the barn, when the door flies open again. Sometimes the family hears the tramp of horses' feet, and the sound of a threshing machine going at midnight. A particular board in the barn refuses to stay in place, although it has been secured with 10 nails and a rope. It flies off as soon as nailed on. Raymond thinks that money is had somewhere in the barn.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Along the Way: The 90th Pennsylvania Monument

Thee monument for
The 90th Pennsylvania Infantry
There possibly is no other place in Pennsylvania that attracts as many people as the Gettysburg Battlefield. I know one of the first trips I took after getting my driver's license was to visit the battlefield. I immediately found myself caught up in the history and the lore of these hallowed fields and ever since that first trip I found myself returning again and again, each time learning new and exciting pieces of information.

One particular monument that had caught my attention in my early journeys was the monument to the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry. Arriving at the junction of Mummasburg Road and Doubleday Avenue I found parking and walked to where the monument stood. One of three monuments to the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry, this one is the most recognized of the group. The monument design as earned it another name – the “Granite Tree” Monument.

The fine detail of the bark of the Stalwart Oak Tree (the name given during its dedication) gives the tree a life-like appearance. In places, the bark has been stripped by enemy fire and the top of the tree has been completely destroyed by a cannonball. 

The top of the monument
"Destroyed" by a cannonball
From one of the broken branches hangs a knapsack that is inscribed with the following: "90th P.V./2nd Brig. 2nd Div./First Corps." Above it is a shield that has the following etched into it: "Right of the First Corps - Here fought the 90th Penna infantry - On the afternoon of July 1, 1863 - Killed and mortally wounded 11, - wounded 44, captured or missing - 39, total 94, of 208 engaged - Organized at Phila. Oct. 1, 1861 - Mustered out, Nov. 26, 1864." Just above the shield, at the end of a broken branch, is the seal of the division.

The memorial was dedicated on September 3, 1888. The knapsack, shield, cannonball, rifle, scabbarded bayonet, canteen (which was sadly stolen in the early 1980s) and bird's nest were added April of the following year. Even the flank markers for the monument stay with the theme – they are tree stumps.

While the importance of the 90th Pennsylvania cannot be denied, it was the robin's nest at the top that caused me - and countless others - to stop and view the monument. After all, no other monument on the battlefield has a robin's nest on it, so why would the 90th Pennsylvania place such an item on their monument?

There is an interesting story that involves the robin's nest.

The legend of the robin's nest takes place in the midst of the fighting. During the heat of the battle a soldier saw the nest fall out of a tree that had just been hit by a cannonball. The soldier glanced into the nest and discovered a number of baby robins still alive within it. Braving enemy gunfire, he climbed a tree and placed the nest safely back in the branches.

The robin's nest
Or so the story goes.

I would like to believe that it did happen, but in the midst of the fighting, I fail to see how one man would risk everything and abandon his post to do such a thing. Maybe his superiors found it such a noble deed that they allowed it to happen. Maybe the soldier lacked common sense and braved the sharpshooters firing at him as he climbed the tree to replace it. Maybe he did rescue a nest that fell nearby and moved it to a nearby nook he could easily reach that kept the nest and bird family out of immediate harm.

There has been another thought of the origins of the robin’s nest that has appeared recently and one that I can place credence in. Maybe the robin’s nest is a symbol of new life – of a new beginning. The robin, like the mythical phoenix, is rising out of the ashes of war to start a new life.

While the true origins of the robin’s nest has never been uncovered (at least as far as I can tell), but the legend persists and the idea of the robin's nest was important enough that the veterans of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry added the items to their monument.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Along the Way: Tillie Pierce Alleman

Grave of Matilda "Tillie" Pierce Alleman
A trip to Selinsgrove brought me to the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, which was its own adventure finding its location. I was given directions to the cemetery, only when I arrived I discovered I was at the wrong one.

Pulling up a map of Selinsgrove, I soon discovered another nearby cemetery that was possibly the correct one. A couple minutes later I was wandering about the grounds of the small historic cemetery located at the corner of West Spruce and David Streets. At the edge of the cemetery was the grave of the town founder, Captain Anthony Selin – I paused for a moment to take some pictures of the memorial before continuing my wanderings.

Near the rear of the cemetery was the grave I came in search of – Matilda J. (Pierce) Alleman. Tillie, as she was known, was born March 11, 1848 in the house she grew up in, which is located at the corner of Baltimore and Breckenridge Streets in Gettysburg. She was the youngest daughter of the town butcher, having two older brothers and an older sister.

She grew up enjoying the quiet of a relatively unknown town, but at the age of fifteen the peaceful town she knew would change forever.

During the events of the first day of the battle, her neighbor Mrs. Schriver approached the family saying she was going to leave town for a safer place. Tillie would join Mrs. Schriver and her two children as they moved to a safer location south of town.

The safer place was the home of Mrs. Schriver’s father – Mr. Jacob Weikert.

 Little did they know they moved into the midst of the battle. Tillie records her duty of getting water for the passing soldiers on the first day and the second morning she resumed those duties. By the afternoon of the second day, she was helping the doctors and nurses who were attending the wounded and dying. The morning of the third day of the battle, she moved farther south to the Two Taverns area along the Baltimore Pike. There she continued helping care for the wounded.

After the war, she married Horace Alleman and they settled down in Selinsgrove. Many were interested in her stories of the battle and encouraged her to write them down – the result was At Gettysburg, Or What A Girl Saw And Heard Of The Battle.

I stood there recalling her first-hand account of what she experienced during the battle, one particular thought kept coming to mind. In her account Tillie kept returning to how much the battle changed the landscape – the peaceful lands of her childhood were forever scarred.

As with all cemeteries, please be respectful if you choose to visit.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Along the Way: Upper Jonathan Run Falls

The first view of Upper Jonathan Run Falls
This past spring I had the opportunity to visit Ohiopyle State Park to photograph a number of the waterfalls located there. After spending the day exploring the park and its natural beauty with my cousins Sue and Kevin, I left questioning why it had taken me so long to finally visit it.

Of the waterfalls that we had visited that day, Upper Jonathan Run Falls was my personal favorite. It was worth the hike just to visit these falls.

Parking at the trail head for Jonathan Run Trail along Holland Hill Road, the three of us set off to visit the waterfalls along the trail. The trail is almost two miles in length and follows Jonathan Run as it descends the hollow. The trail connects to the Great Allegheny Passage near the bottom of the hollow.

Upper Jonathan Run Falls
Just past the third bridge that crosses Jonathan Run, is the location of Upper Jonathan Run Falls. On the right there is a sign for the Kentuck Trail and on the left is an unmarked trail that leads to the falls. If you listen carefully, the hidden waterfalls can be heard from the trail.

Note: I’ve seen a number of websites that identifies the cascades located just below the third bridge as being Upper Jonathan Run Falls. You are not quite to the falls yet – these cascades are just above the falls. You cannot see this waterfall from the trail and will need to bushwhack down a hill to these falls.

A note of safety: if you descend the path to these cascades, you can walk along the stream to the top of the falls. Please DO NOT attempt to bushwhack over the edge of the falls – there is no safe way down them from here. Instead, go back up the path to the Jonathan Run Trail, travel roughly fifty yards downstream and descend that trail to get to the base of the falls.

Upper Jonathan Run Falls
After carefully descending the bank, we were greeted with the splendor of Upper Jonathan Run Falls. The waters of Jonathan Run drop roughly ten feet to form one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever encountered.

There seems to be a debate over the type of falls these are classified as. I’m not an expert of waterfall identification, but I personally believe they would be identified as a block (or what most consider the “normal” or “classic” waterfall type) that is immediately followed by a cascade.

These falls are hidden among the mountain laurel, giving it an even “wilder” appearance and with the recent rains, they were running freely. I’ve seen pictures of these falls in the late summer and while still nice, I would recommend only visiting after it had rained, but that is my opinion.

Upper Jonathan Run Falls
A couple things to keep in mind when photographing Upper Jonathan Run Falls:

1. It is roughly a mile to these falls from the parking area to these falls, so make sure you have all your equipment.

2. It is a short decent to the base of the falls on an unmarked, leaf-covered path. Please use caution when descending - the leaves can be slippery and rocks and holes are hidden by the leaf cover.

3. I’ve read a number of places about the best way to get to these falls and we settled on the Jonathan Run Trail, which is a relatively easy path. There are some ups and downs along the way, but nothing too steep. I’ve read that some use the Sugar Run Trail and while others use the Kentuck Trail then proceed on the Jonathan Run Trail to the falls, but looking at the state park map, those two options seem to be much longer and a much steeper way to get to the falls. Whichever way you decide to take, enjoy the trip and be safe.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fort McCord

PA Historical Marker for Fort McCord
I really had no idea at the time what I was exactly looking for or where it was located at, which tends to my adventures more exciting. At the time of my search I knew two things due to Sipe's The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania 10 there was a monument with a listing of those killed, injured, or taken prisoner in an attack on Fort McCord and 2) the fort was located northwest of Chambersburg.

After a little research, I discovered where the Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Fort McCord was located, so I used that location as the starting point of my search for the memorial that Sipe mentioned. For the record, when I sought the location of this monument, there was nothing online about it. There is a lot more information about the fort available now in comparison to when I was searching for it.

Leaving Chambersburg, I headed northwest into the rolling hills of the Cumberland Valley to begin my search. I was immediately taken in by the beauty of the lands that were overshadowed by the Blue Mountains. No wonder the early pioneers had the desire to settle here despite the dangers that they would face clearing the lands on the frontier - the area was beautiful and the land fertile..

I soon found myself traveling on Fort McCord Road and a short distance later I found the blue historical marker at the intersection of Fort McCord and Rumler Roads. After taking a couple pictures of the historical marker, I continued a short distance along Fort McCord Road, but did not find any other monuments to the fort.

Returning to the historical marker, I turned onto Rumler Road and almost immediately spotted the memorial I was searching for. From my initial stopping point along Fort McCord Road, the monument had been hidden by the barn it was beside.

Built by William McCord in 1756, the private fort was poorly constructed and from all accounts could not be easily defended. A note of interest: While the historical marker lists it as John McCord’s Fort, most of the information about this fort has it listed as William McCord’s Fort. From what I've found, I believe that John and William were brothers who both settled at the location.

Had it not been for the events of April 1, 1756, Fort McCord might have only been a footnote in the history of the state. However, on that fateful day Shingas arrived in the Cumberland Valley.

Shingas (also recorded as Chingas and Shingiss) became a noted leader of the Delawares in 1752. A member of the Turkey Clan, Shingas was a feared warrior and his name created dread in the hearts of those living on the frontier. John Heckwelder, the noted Moravian missionary, described Shingas as having a small stature, but made up for it with his fighting and courage.

Shingas had made previous raids into the Cumberland Valley. One particular raid happened on October 31, 1755, when his raiding party entered the Cumberland Valley and for several days murdered settlers and took captives. Among those captured were members of the Martin and Knox families who lived in the Big Cove region.

The memorial for Fort McCord
While many of his raids and skirmishes have been lost to history, April 1, 1756 would secure his place in history when Shingas and his band of warriors attacked and burned Fort McCord. The exact events of the attack on and burning of Fort McCord have been lost over the years and have remained a debate among those who have studied the attack's recorded history. 

What is known about the destruction of Fort McCord is the twenty-seven settlers who had sought refuge there were either killed or taken prisoner. After burning the fort to the ground, Shingas and his men started back into the wilds of western Pennsylvania; his intention was to take their prisoners to Kittanning.

Almost immediately a group of militia and settlers, led by Captain Alexander Culbertson, started after Shingas and his raiding party. At Fort Lyttleton, Captain Culbertson's party was reinforced by nineteen men from the fort, along with a group of men from Fort Granville who were also searching for Shingas and his warriors. The combined group of rescuers caught up with Shingas and his warriors at Sideling Hill – the exact location of this battle has been lost.

What followed was a two hour battle. During the battle, Shingas' group was reinforced and they dealt a terrible blow to Captain Culbertson's force. Twenty-one members of Captain Culbertson's combined group were killed and another seventeen were wounded. While the fighting was going on, Captain Culbertson was shot and killed. With his death, the Pennsylvania forces lost a loyal and brave man.

Shingas' warriors were victorious in battle and they continued their journey into the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Though the battle was a victory for the raiding party, most of the captives managed to escape during the fighting - only five prisoners were taken to Kittanning. Of the original group of captives, five died along the way to Kittanning. One of those killed was Mary McCord who was accidentally shot by those trying to rescue her.

Another sad incident that happened to the captives was the brutal death of  James Blair. At one point during their captivity (and I'm assuming this happened after the battle on Sideling Hill, but sources are not clear on this) an Indian killed Mr. Blair and cut his head off. They then tossed it on Ann McCord's lap, claiming it was the head of her husband. Ann knew it was not her husband, but I cannot imagine the terror she endured during her captivity. She would be recovered later that year when General Armstrong attacked the Indian village at Kittanning.

A close-up of the plaque
The Fort McCord Memorial
As I stood there taking in my surroundings, I see the rolling hills that were farmed over two centuries ago are still being farmed. A sense of emptiness fills the air - the remoteness of long ago still exists here in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. Though the modern world has caught up with the region, it still holds the excitement and emptiness that existed years and years ago when this was the American frontier.

After its destruction, Fort McCord was not rebuilt. The fort became one of the most famous of Pennsylvania's private forts, but unfortunately it was only due to its destruction that the fort was (and still is) remembered.

I’ve had the chance to debate the fall of this fort with a number of people and something seems to be missing out of the recorded history of the battle. If Shingas attacked the fort on the morning of April 1, how did the militia out of Chambersburg get there so fast? My guess is one of the settlers, rather than seeking shelter within the fort, fled to Chambersburg. However, Sipe records that there was a group of men out already searching for Shingas from Fort Granville, so it is possible Culbertson and his men were already out searching for the raiding Indians at the time of the attack and happened to be in the area when the attack occurred.

Another question that has been thrown around is why Culbertson led his men to Fort Lyttleton, which seems to be out of the way. Rereading Sipe’s The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania, I found an answer to that question. Robert Robinson, who was a part of the party pursuing Shingas, wrote that they were following the path the raiding Indians had taken and that path passed by Fort Lyttleton 

A glance at Wallace's Indian Path of Pennsylvania, the Raystown Path passes near Fort Lyttleton before moving towards the northwest. Wallace records that the Raystown Path passed through the gap created by Sideling Hill Creek, between the present-day towns of New Grenada and Waterfall (on Route 913). In Hanna's The Wilderness Trail he states that the Ray's Town Path was the major route through the mountain used by Indians and traders alike and it passed through this gap in Sideling Hill. Neither Hanna or Wallace mention any other path crossing Sideling Hill.

With the information from the books by Wallace and Hanna, I am confident is stating that the Battle of Sideling Hill occurred in this gap. Unless Singas and his raiding party used a path that has been lost to history, the Battle of Sideling Hill happened here. The lay of the land would provide a perfect trap if Shingas had his men wait to ambush their pursuers as they entered the gap

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hiking The James Cleveland Trail

The first sign announcing the James Cleveland Trail
Along Greens Valley Road
On May 24, 1931 Airmail Pilot James "Jimmy" Cleveland lost his life when his plane failed to clear Mount Nittany, crashing near the top of the mountain above Centre Hall.

I grew up knowing the history of the crash and though I knew there was a memorial for James Cleveland at the top of the mountain, it would not be until 2009 that I would first visit the monument. In the years since, I’ve made my way back up the mountain at least once each year to pay my respects to the pilot who lost his life here.

The trail to the monument is known as The James Cleveland Trail (on some maps it is referred to merely as The Cleveland Trail) and is located in Greens Valley at the top of Centre Hall Mountain between Centre Hall and Pleasant Gap – the sign for the trial is three and a half miles from Route 144. There is also a trail head on Route 192 (Brush Valley Road) but at the current time, the portion of the trail that crosses private land is blocked. I have heard rumors that there are plans to reopen the Centre Hall side of the trail, but as of the time I write this, that portion of the trail is still closed.

Roughly a mile from the junction with Route 144, Greens Valley Road turns to dirt as it enters Bald Eagle State Forest. This area brings back memories; as a part of my Senior Day of Caring (the school’s attempt at preventing Senior Skip Day) a group of us volunteered to plant pine trees in the area the road passes through. Looking at the pines standing along the road, I realized that some of them could possibly be ones I had planted years ago. Our class had placed a sign here in honor of our service, but it had disappeared within a month or two after we had planted the trees.

Arriving at the sign for the trail there are two options depending on how much clearance your vehicle has. Vehicles with low clearance should park here, but any vehicles with higher clearance can turn here and drive down to another parking area roughly a hundred yards down the side road.

The start of the trail from the second parking area
Here’s where I lost the trail before I could even start the hike. My first trip I parked in the closer lot and when I got out, I was not able to immediately see any of the blue markings for the trail. After carefully scanning the area, I finally found blazes for the trail to the left of this parking area. Since the first visit, the blue trail blazes have been repainted and the trail markers can be clearly seen at the trail’s head.

Bridge over Little Fishing Creek
The trail almost immediately crosses over the headwaters of Little Fishing Creek before meandering across the valley towards the southern summit of the mountain. The first half mile of the trail is a gradual incline and is a relatively easy walk. At one point, it crosses another small stream, but logs that once served as a bridge were rotted and falling apart, so I opted to jump across the small stream rather than chance walking across them.

I soon came across an old road; this road was the same one that had been blocked off where I had parked my vehicle. I thought it was strange that here, where the trail and road cross, is a sign announcing the Cleveland Trail. My guess is that this spot was the original start of the trail and when the old road was blocked the trail was expanded to its current length.

Sign marking the trail
Along the old road
In the middle of the woods
From this point the trail grows steeper as it goes up the mountainside. After a switchback the trail levels out for a short distance just below the ridge. Crossing the flat I came to the final push as the trail turns sharply and the last fifty or so feet it goes straight up a steep set of rock steps to the top of the mountain. The last hundred yards is flat and the easiest hiking of the trip.

Stepping out of the woods into a small clearing, I had my first view of the crash site. Two monuments stand at the location. The first is a rock column built as the first memorial to James Cleveland. On top of this memorial are rusted parts of the plane that have been collected over the years. The second is a granite marker engraved with Jimmy's name and wreck date on it that his brother had placed there in 1971, the year before the boy scouts created the trail.

As I stood there, the woods seemed even quieter than it had minutes ago. The reality of where I was and the tragic event that happened eighty years ago sunk in. The young man had lost his life when his plane hit the mountain roughly twenty feet below the southern summit and slid through the trees. The plane burst into flames as it was torn apart – the fire was so bright that it could be seen from the airmail field in Bellefonte. Sadly, Jimmy had turned twenty-six only a couple weeks before the crash that instantly claimed his life.

Over the years there has been a debate over what caused the fatal crash. Some claim the wings of his plane had iced up causing the plane not to respond. Others claim that it was a sudden gust of wind that caught him off guard. Still other claim that he got lost in the clouds. Looking through some newspapers from the time of the crash, most of the articles blame the weather stating that the young pilot was the victim of a freak snow squall that hit the region.

Monuments at the crash site
I paused to pay my respects to him and the other airmail pilots who had perished while delivering the mail in the early years. Jimmy wasn’t the only airmail pilot that this mountain had claimed. On October 1, 1925, the mountain took the life of Charles Ames about four miles east of where Jimmy had crashed. Charles took off from New Brunswick, New Jersey that evening for the night run and was due in Bellefonte around midnight. He never arrived. The last his plane had been spotted was at 11:35 that evening as it passed over Hartleton.

A large search extended from Bellefonte to Clarion, most thinking he overshot Bellefonte and had crashed to the west of town. 

Sadly this was not the case. Ames never reached Bellefonte.

On the morning of October 11, a group of boys discovered the crash site on top the mountain overlooking Hecla. The wreckage was discovered  on the southern side of the northern summit, about two hundred feet from the top and only a quarter of a mile from the Hecla beacon – the caretaker never heard the fatal crash.

Due to the weather conditions, Ames flew directly into the side of the mountain and the trees prevented search planes from discovering the wreck. Unlike many of the airmail crashes, Ames’ plane did not catch fire due to the angle it landed – the escaping gas ran down the mountain, away from the engine.

Close-up of the memorial
Placed by Jimmy's brother
As I finished paying my respects, I continued past the memorials to a vista that overlooks Penns and Brush Valleys. While the vista is a nice addition to the hike, it does not rank really high on my favorite vistas. If I had hiked this just for the vista, I would have been really disappointed, but seeing I was here for the history of the spot, it was a nice bonus to my hike.

At this point I turned and headed back down the mountain.

The James Cleveland Trail is a little over a mile in length (making it a two mile round trip), but it doesn't feel like it is that long of a hike. The history of this place, along with the vista, made the trip worth the hike,