Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Spook of Sachs Bridge

Sachs Bridge, Gettysburg 
Everyone knows that Gettysburg is haunted. Right?

It definitely has to be haunted because my bookcase has two full shelves dedicated to the legends and lore of Gettysburg. It seems every nook and cranny from the battlefield to the town seems to have a paranormal story connected to it. According to some, the sheer amount of reported paranormal activity places Gettysburg in the top ten "Most Haunted Cities" in America, if not the entire world. The amount of blood that was shed on these sacred grounds between July 1 and 3, 1863, has created a hotspot for the unexplained.

Unfortunately the paranormal side of Gettysburg has overtaken the historical side in the minds of some people. They arrive here not to remember the history, but in hopes of experiencing the paranormal side of the region. I fell in love with the battlefield the first time I visited there with my family; and one of the very first trips I ever went on when I could drive was to Gettysburg.

Surprisingly, despite the countless stories that have been told and retold about the ghostly side of the battlefield, in all of my trips to Gettysburg, I can only say I've experienced one event I would call supernatural. I will note there is another spot on the battlefield that left me puzzled, but I'm not ready to call that experience paranormal. That is a story for another day.
The only ghostly encounter that I can claim happened to me in Gettysburg occurred at Sachs Bridge, just southwest of town. Located on Waterworks Road (off of Pumping Station Road), the beautiful covered bridge is worth the trip to see, especially as the leaves are changing.

I had arrived at Gettysburg very early one morning to take some pictures of the sun rising behind various monuments. After taking the pictures, I headed to a local restaurant to meet up with Randy, a gentleman I was introduced to through a website that discussed Pennsylvania's ghosts. Even after that website closed down, the two of us have remained in contact. A long-time resident of area, Randy is familiar with many of the legends and lore of Gettysburg.

Randy shared a number of stories about the ghosts that roam the town and the battlefield while we were eating breakfast. Our conversation soon turned to Sachs Bridge (also referred to as Sauck's Bridge) and the hot spot it had become for ghost hunters. Although I had visited the bridge during a previous visit, I had to admit I was not all that familiar with the bridge's history or its legends.

The bridge was built in 1854 by David Stoner, the bridge is a Town Truss design (also known as a lattice work design or a Town lattice design) with a single span. Sachs Bridge is roughly one hundred feet in length as it spans Marsh Creek.

Sachs Bridge spanning Marsh Creek
Sachs Bridge was used by both Union and Confederate troops as they crossed over Marsh Creek during the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1938, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways declared this bridge to be the most historically important covered bridge in the entire state. The years had taken its toll on the bridge and in 1968 it was closed to vehicular traffic. In 1980, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then in 1991, a push to have the bridge restored was made and the bridge was returned to its former glory. However, in 1996 a flood swept it off of its abutments. Steel beams were placed and the bridge was sat on them, raising it another three feet above the flowing waters of Marsh Creek.

As we drove out to the bridge, Randy filled me in on some of the stories about the bridge. One of the local legends about the bridge involves a group of soldiers supposedly executed there. Accused of being spies, three Confederate soldiers were hanged from the beams of the bridge. Word of mouth claims that the ghosts of these three men still hang about the bridge.

Others have reported the strong smell of pipe tobacco though none is present at the time. Strange lights and sounds have also been reported by those investigating the bridge and its supposed ghostly activity.

When we arrived at Sachs Bridge the only other people around were two fishermen standing in the stream. It seemed that we had the bridge to ourselves for the moment, so I grabbed my camera to get some pictures of the historical bridge.

Randy continued talking about the history of the bridge and the modern claims of activity while I took pictures. We started across the bridge and had only gone a couple of steps when I paused to take pictures of the men fishing in the waters below.

I was in the process of taking those pictures when a very loud "clip-clop" sounded at the far end of the bridge - the sound seemed to echo within the bridge. I turned and stared at the opposite end of the bridge, searching for a cause of the mysterious sound. I glanced over at Randy – he had a nervous, yet curious, look on his face.

“Did you hear something?” I asked as I continued to search for the cause of the sound.

“Yeah,” Randy spoke softly as he too searched for the source of the sound. “I’m not sure…”

“But it sounded like I horse walking,” I finished.

After a couple of seconds that seemed to drag on for hours, we shook it off as our overactive imaginations and I went back to taking pictures of the men fishing.

I had only taken a few more pictures when the interior of the covered bridge was suddenly filled with the steady sound of "clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop" as the sounds of a horse walking approached the spot where Randy and I stood. The noise that we heard came from the far side of the bridge, towards us, and sounded like it stopped roughly halfway across the bridge. I turned the camera towards the center of the bridge and snapped a couple of pictures hoping to get something, but nothing out of the ordinary appeared on the photos taken that day.

Inside of Sachs Bridge
Taken while the sound of a walking horse was heard
Unfortunately nothing appeared in my pictures
I knew without a doubt what I heard was the sound of a horse walking across the floor boards towards me, but at no time was I – nor was Randy – able to see anything out of the ordinary. I would like to think it was a soldier checking us out, seeing what we were doing on the bridge.

We remained at the spot for a couple of minutes, hoping to experience something more, but whatever had come onto the bridge was gone. We never heard it retreat back off the bridge nor did it continue its approach towards us. Whatever it was, it had vanished.

Randy and I went over to the area we thought we heard the sound of hooves stop, but could not find anything that revealed a source of the sound. We even asked the two fishermen in the creek if they heard anything out of the ordinary. They gave us a strange look as if we were nuts and said they had not heard anything out of the ordinary.

During the whole event, which lasted only a minute or two at the longest from start to finish, I never felt a hint of fear. I can't say I was spooked or terrified, but instead was curious to the cause of the sound. After we ruled out any and all possibilities, we came to the conclusion that we had experienced one of the ghosts of Gettysburg.

I've been back to the bridge a number of times since that day and personally have not had any other experiences. I often find myself wondering who or what was riding across the bridge that early morning years ago. Was a soldier checking us out, wondering what we were doing on his bridge? Or was it completely unrelated to the Civil War and the battle fought here? I will never know the answers of what caused the strange noises Randy and I heard that morning.

Sachs Bridge is open to the public. However I was warned that police do patrol the area regularly at night. Please be respectful of the area. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Beth Doe

Graves of Beth and Baby Doe
Laurytown Cemetery
The first time I arrived at the Laurytown Road Cemetery the sun was rapidly setting behind the row of pines on the cemetery’s western edge. It was already later than planned, but I managed to talk my mother into taking a “little detour” on the way home so I could pay my respects to the unidentified victims of a brutal, unsolved murder that took place in 1976.

Located along Laurytown Road, the cemetery is hidden from the hustle and bustle of the modern world on a narrow back road between White Haven and Weatherly. Although it was once referred to as the Carbon County Potter’s Field most modern sources call it the Laurytown Road Cemetery, a name that is used as an attempt to erase the negative connotation of a “Potter’s Field.”

The field, which is surrounded by a tree farm, is covered in plain white crosses. Some of them have name plaques on them; a handful of them have small, simple plaques on the ground in front of the plain crosses. A handful of tombstones do exist in the cemetery, but the vast majority of the graves are marked with simple crosses.

Grave of Beth Doe
Along the Laurytown Road, at the front of the cemetery, stands a memorial dedicated to those veterans who served over the years. A large row of oak trees runs down the center of the field and on this trip, the grass was knee-high and really needed to be mowed. I could not help but wonder if those buried on this sacred piece of land were forgotten. I do want to note that other than my first visit, the grass has been mowed and the grounds well-kept.

In the quickly fading light, the cemetery had an eerie feeling about it. Maybe I was allowing the remote location get to me as I stood there. Only the sound of crickets chirping and the distant call of an owl could be heard. The grass rustled softly in the light wind that blew across the land.

After debating a couple of minutes, I violated my first rule; in the darkness I set out to find her grave. Having come this far, I wasn't about to let the moment go by. Moving quickly through the grass, I somehow managed to find the grave of Beth Doe and her baby in a matter of minutes and in the last rays of light, I stood to pay my respects to them.

I first encountered Beth Doe’s story while doing a research paper in college and after jotting down some notes I forgot about it as the notes disappeared among countless other notes and articles I had filed away. Years passed and while going through some papers I stumbled upon the notes taken years ago and soon the unsolved murder captured my attention as I dug into what details I could discover about the crime.

The sad story of Beth and Baby Jane Doe begins on December 20, 1976, when a fourteen year old boy playing along the Lehigh River near White Haven came across three suitcases along the frozen river. Upon investigating the suitcases thrown from westbound Interstate 80 bridge, he was shocked to discover that two of the suitcases had broken open, revealing the remains of a body.

It would later be determined that the suitcases held two bodies. The first was that of a female who was between the age of 16 and 25. She had been strangled, shot in the neck, and then dismembered; her ears, nose, and breasts had been removed and were never located. The brutal slaying of the young woman had occurred less than twenty-four hours before her lifeless body had been discovered.

One of the many white crosses that
Mark graves in the Laurytown Cemetery
Sadly she was nine months pregnant and the second body was that of her unborn baby. The baby, had it been born, would have been a little girl.

Police had few clues to go on from the start to identify Beth Doe or her killer. The remains were wrapped in a chenille bedspread that appeared to have originally been pink in color with embroidered yellow flowers and then stuffed into three similar suitcases. Also in the suitcase was the New York Times from September 26, 1976, and bits of hay and foam packing.

One possible clue that could eventually lead to her identity, or that of her killer, is a group of numbers and letters that had been written in ink on the palm of her left hand. There have been many interpretations of what is written, but it is known that the three letters are “WSR.” Next to that is either a “4 or a 5” and below that and slightly to the right is either a “4 or a 7.” License plates and CB handles have been explored as a possibility, but their significance has never been discovered.

One possibility to the girl’s identity that has been put forth is she was Sheryl Ann Tillinghast, a native of the Buffalo, New York area, who disappeared from the Wassaic State School (a reform school) where she worked. Sheryl disappeared in September of 1973, leaving behind two of her paychecks. New York State Police have ruled out Sheryl being the Jane Doe discovered along the Lehigh River. I have to admit that some of the pictures online of Sheryl do look very similar to the composites of Beth Doe.

Recent advances in technology allowed for the identification of isotopes in Beth Doe’s body and while the testing is not an exact science, it does give a possible clue from where she might have lived. It is believed that she was born in Western or Central Europe and spent her childhood in the southeastern United States. It is believed she had lived in the United States for five to ten years before her death and possibly she had lived in Eastern Tennessee. The testing did rule out the possibility of the victim being a local resident.

The unknown woman is buried with her unborn baby. Two simple white crosses mark their resting spot. On those crosses are small plaques naming them "Beth Doe" and "Baby Jane Doe." In front of each cross is a small granite marker with the same names carved in them. Baby Jane's grave had a number of toys placed on and around it as others remembered the victims from years ago.

Memorial to the veterans of
Carbon County
Laurytown Cemetery
No words came to mind as I stood there with countless questions running through my mind. How could someone do this to another person? How could a human be so cold-hearted as to murder a mother and her unborn child? Why did this happen? Why hasn't someone missed her? Though it has been decades ago, I can't imagine that somebody out there isn't missing her each and every day. I personally can't imagine living each day not knowing what happened to my loved one if they had disappeared out of my life. Yet Beth and her baby remain nameless after all these years.

The stars were coming out as I finally knew I had to leave. I said a quick prayer that one day she would be identified and the person behind the horrific murder would be caught. I left them resting under the blanket of stars as I made my way back to the vehicle and headed home, taking an extra minute that evening to tell my family how much I loved them.

Beth and Baby Jane are buried in the first batch of crosses on the right side of the cemetery as looking at it from the road. And if you choose to visit please be respectful of the area..

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Princess Doe

The grave of Princess Doe
Unidentified murder victim
Cedar Ridge Cemetery, Blairstown, New Jersey
On one of my many trips to the eastern portion of the state, I jumped across the border to Cedar Ridge Cemetery on the outskirts of Blairstown, New Jersey. Although it is only a short distance from New York City, Blairstown holds the feeling of small-town America. As I drove slowly through town I had a feeling I had been there before, yet I knew this was my first visit. I would later discover the reason it looked familiar – the beginning of the original Friday the Thirteenth movie was filmed here.

But the famous movie was not the reason for my visit. I arrived at Cedar Ridge Cemetery in search of a grave – the grave of a girl known merely as Princess Doe.

The sad story of Princess Doe has always been in the back of my mind since I first read about it many years ago in one of those cheap detective magazines gas stations sold. After a visit to East Stroudsburg, I crossed the river and headed to Blairstown in order to pay my respects to the girl only known as Princess Doe.

On July 15, 1982, the innocence of Blairstown would be lost forever when maintenance workers discovered the badly battered body tossed over the bank on the southeastern corner of the cemetery. The body was that of a young girl who was savagely beaten with a blunt object which destroyed most of her features. It is believed she had been deceased between one and three weeks before she was discovered. Due to the time of her death and the gruesome discovery the identity of the young lady was and still remains a mystery.

Unlike other John and Jane Does, Princess Doe was given the name because she was somebody's princess. Local policeman Eric Kranz gave her the name because he felt she should not be forgotten. The town did not want her to be buried in a Potter's Field, so money was raised and she was buried on January 22, 1983 in the same cemetery, roughly a hundred yards from where her body had been discovered.

On June 30, 1983, Princess Doe was the first person entered into the FBI's computerized database of unidentified deceased persons.

While her identity remains a mystery, some clues do exist that may one day help identify her. She was a little over five feet tall and it was estimated she weighed around one hundred and ten pounds. Sadly, it is believed that she was between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. She was Caucasian, had shoulder-length brown hair and was wearing a red V-neck pullover with a red, white and blue print wraparound skirt. She also wore a gold chain with tiny white beads and a 14-karat gold cross on it. I want to make note that a couple of places state her cross was a rosary – this is not correct it is definitely not a rosary in the picture released by the police.

A strange piece of information that is included when she was found was the fact she only had the fingernails of her right hand painted a shade of red. The nails on the left hand were not painted. Something that pops into my mind is I wonder if she was left-handed? After all, most right handed people tend to paint the nails on their left hand first. So, if she was in the process of painting her nails, perhaps she was left handed and had only completed painting the nails on her right hand when abducted. I’m not sure if it is or isn’t the case, but it’s just a thought that I haven’t seen in any of the articles I've read.

The identity of the girl has yet to be determined, though many have made it their goal to solve the identity of Princess Doe.

One of the most popular theories for years was Princess Doe was Diana Dye, who disappeared from California in 1979. Looking at the pictures of the two, I can see why it was thought Princess Doe and Diana Dye were one and the same. It would not be until 2003, with the advances in DNA testing that Diana was ruled out as Princess Doe's identity.

In 1998 the case made news when a former prostitute told police that Arthur Kinlaw, who ran a prostitution ring and is currently serving time in prison, had beaten to death a young girl in a New Jersey cemetery. The former prostitute was also present when the murder took place but remained silent when he threatened to kill her if she told anybody what had happened. According to the witness the girl was definitely from New York, possibly from the Long Island area. While Kinlaw has become a prime suspect, he has never been charged with the crime (or at least I’ve never found reference to him being charged).

Many other theories of who killed Princess Doe and who she actually was have been presented over the years. Many claim she was from Ocean City, Maryland. Others claim she was the victim of a serial killer. Some even go as far as saying she was killed by somebody in the community. Police have investigated and ruled out many of these theories.

In 2012 tests on samples of her hair were performed and due to the mineral content in the sample, it is believed that she lived a transient lifestyle for the ten months before her murder. The sample indicated she spent some time in the southwestern United States before arriving on the eastern coast.

Beyond that the trail of who Princess Doe was has grown cold. While her story pops up in the newspapers from time to time, the possibility of ever being identified grows dimmer and dimmer.

I pulled into the small cemetery with only vague directions to the location of Princess Doe's resting place. I knew it was on the eastern edge of the cemetery and using that little bit of information, I started walking along the treeline. I managed to find her resting place within a couple minutes. Her grave lies beneath the shade of old trees that had probably witnessed her brutal death.

As I stood there I couldn't help but wonder why the young girl had yet to be identified. Surely she had family somewhere who missed her. I know if one of my loved ones disappeared I would not stop looking for him or her. But no family has ever stepped forward to identify the body.

I laid the rose I had brought on her stone and stood there lost in thought. I couldn't help but wonder who she would have become. Maybe she would have been married and had a family. Maybe she would have been rich and famous. Maybe she would have gone on to solve one of the world's countless problems. Or maybe she would have lived a simple, quiet life out of the public’s eye.

Sadly, we will never know as her life was brutally cut short.

I said a silent prayer for her before leaving, asking that one day her identity may be discovered, though deep inside I realize that the possibility becomes slimmer with each passing hour. I left her alone, dead among strangers, but eternally watched over by the residents of the community.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Along the Way: Aaron Grosh, A Founding Father of the Grange

Grave of Reverend Aaron Grosh (center)
His wife Sarah's grave is to the left
A phone call from Charlene, a good friend and National Grange Youth Director, sent me on a journey to locate the final resting place of one of the seven founders of the National Grange.

"We're trying to find the graves of the founders of the Grange and we want to know what condition their graves are in. Interested?" Of course I was interested and a couple days later I was standing in the Marietta Cemetery preparing to seek out the resting place of Reverend Aaron Grosh.

Looking around the cemetery I instantly regretted bragging to Charlene that "I'll have his grave found in fifteen minutes or less." The town of Marietta doesn't look that big on the map but the cemetery proved to be a little bigger than I imagined.

“Fifteen minutes or less?” Adam asked as he too took in the cemetery. “Where do you plan on starting this search? There has to be a couple thousand stones to search through.”

Glancing around the cemetery, I immediately cut out a portion of it, seeing it appeared to be newer graves, but it still left a lot of ground to cover. “Over there looks like a good place to start,” I mumbled as I randomly picked out a portion of the cemetery.

We started our search in the area I pointed out and in less than ten minutes, Adam called out that he had found it. I hurried over to take a look. He had discovered the resting place of Reverend Aaron Grosh and his wife, Sarah.

Reverend Aaron Grosh, along with Oliver Hudson Kelley and five other men and one lady, formed the agricultural organization The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry (also known as the Grange) in 1867. Of the founders, less is known about the early life of Reverend Grosh than any of the others.

Aaron Bort Grosh (some places have it listed as Burt, but it is Bort) was born May 22, 1803 in Marietta and was a pastor of the Universalist faith. It is known he worked on a farm in his younger years and was a teacher for a while before becoming a minister. In the early 1830s he moved to Utica, New York, where he ministered for eighteen years. During this time he became the editor of a number of journals, including The Universalist Register from 1838 to 1865. He would also serve in Philadelphia and Reading before retiring due to health issues.

After Gross left the ministry, he took a clerk job at the Department of Agriculture thanks to his association with Simon Cameron. While working in this position, he found a friend in William Saunders, who knew Oliver Hudson Kelley and his plans for a national farmer's organization. With Grosh's knowledge of degree work, he was tasked with writing many of the songs for the degrees and developing the rituals that is still a part of the organization. Grosh would serve as the first chaplain of the organization.

Grosh also wrote the Odd Fellows’ manual and much of the ritual that they use to this day. Grosh died May 27, 1884 and was buried in Marietta, his hometown.

An interesting note: shortly after I had originally posted this article years ago, I was contacted by a number of Grosh’s descendants. I was surprised that most of them did not realize that he was a factor in the creation of the Grange, but they knew him more for his work in the Odd Fellows.

Grave of Reverend Grosh
Plaque placed by National Grange
 The old stone was weathered and shows its age but it was still legible for the most part. At the base of the stone was a marker placed there by the Grange during its one hundred year celebration.

Next to him is buried his wife, Sarah, whose stone is in as excellent condition as that of Aaron's. Sarah is Aaron’s second wife. His first wife, Hannah, bore him six children before she died in 1849. As far as I can determine, Aaron and Sarah had no children together.

I took the time to clean the dead grass off his stone before snapping a couple pictures of his grave. After paying my respects, I decided it was time to leave this old cemetery in peace.

Finding his grave isn't too hard. there is only one road that leads in and out of the cemetery. Enter into the cemetery from West Fairview Avenue. There is one mausoleum in the Marietta Cemetery – stop and park in front of it and look to the right. There are two pine trees in the cemetery and he is buried under the farthest pine tree.

Another interesting piece of history involves the sons of Aaron and Sarah. Ethan Allen (who went by E. Allen) and Hosea went westward in 1849 in search of their fortune during the California Gold Rush. As part of their exploration for gold in Nevada, they discovered the “worthless rock” many prospectors were throwing away was silver. There seems to be some debate whether the vein of silver they were working was a part of the rich vein that would be referred to as the Comstock Lode. The vein they were working was roughly a quarter of a mile away from the main vein, so it is possible it may have been a part of the same vein of silver.

Sadly neither would ever see the importance of their discovery.

Hosea would die in September of 1857 from blood poisoning after striking his foot with the pickaxe he was using. E. Allen would follow his brother in December of the same year when he got caught in a snow storm/ His legs suffered severe frostbite and died from infection when he refused to have his legs amputated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From the Files: Bizarre Object Seen Hovering in Night Sky

The Centre Daily Times,  January 15, 1985

Another strange object has been spotted in the night sky over Centre County. This one, which hovered over Farmers Mills in Gregg Township for several minutes last Friday at about 8:30 p.m., was heard and seen by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Auman.

Mr. Auman, who was unable to make out the object’s exact shape, says the craft appeared to be about 50 or 60 feet across and had lots of clear lights that blinked randomly on and off.

It definitely had engines – more than one, Mrs. Auman says. “We were watching television show when we heard the sound of motors running outside. When the sound didn’t go away after a minute or so, we finally went outside to see what it was.”

The Aumans say the aircraft moved off after several minutes and headed southwest of Farmers Mills.

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.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery

Camp Chase Cemetery, Columbus
Arriving at the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, which is located along Sullivant Avenue in the Hilltop region of Columbus, the first thing I noticed was there was no parking for visitors. Only after driving around for a couple of minutes I finally located a parking spot a couple blocks away.

The only bad thing about the spot I found was it was located on the opposite side of Sullivant Avenue than the cemetery. Taking my life in my own hands, I quickly crossed the four way street to the Camp Chase Cemetery.

Near the entrance to the cemetery was a brown Ohio Historical Marker and I walked over to read the history of Camp Chase. Camp Chase was organized in the spring of 1861 as a place for recruitment and training for the Union Army and was named in honor of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln and former governor of Ohio.

The front of the historical marker
The back of the historical marker
Most people recognize Camp Chase for being used as a prisoner of war camp. The camp consisted of 160 buildings that housed both Southern soldiers and also civilians loyal to the Confederacy. At one point in 1863 the camp contained more than eight thousand prisoners.

The living conditions at Camp Chase were harsh for those who were detained there. The Union was focused more upon feeding and training the new recruits than the welfare of the prisoners. With the prisoners starving and the prison being overcrowded, outbreaks of disease were fairly common. The worst outbreak was during the winter of 1863-1864 when smallpox wrecked havoc among the prisoners killing close to five hundred men in one month.

Over two thousand Confederate prisoners died at Camp Chase. Initially the dead were buried in one of Columbus’ city cemeteries, but when the prison established its own cemetery in 1863, those dead were dug up and reburied at the current location. After the close of the war, thirty-one Confederate soldiers who were buried at Camp Dennison (near Cincinnati) would join their fellow comrades at the Camp Chase Cemetery. While the government purchased the land in 1879 but it appears that little was done to upkeep the cemetery until Union veteran William H. Knauss became involved with improving the cemetery. Due to his efforts both Union and Confederate veterans donated money towards the cemetery’s upkeep. In 1904, Congress allocated money for upkeep of the Camp Chase Cemetery.

In 1973 the Camp Chase site, including the Confederate Cemetery, was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Monument to those buried here
 After I had finished reading the Ohio Historical Marker, I made my way up the steps pausing at the open gate. The noise made by the traffic passing by seemed to disappear as I took in the rows and rows of white headstones of those buried on this sacred piece of land.. The vast majority of them belonged to the Confederates who died in the Prisoner of War camp that once stood here, though I had read that a number of graves belonged to Union soldiers and also to locals. A quick scan of the cemetery did reveal a number of flags, flags from both the Union and the Army of the Potomac flapped in the breeze.

As I stood there, I took in a number of monuments located within the walls of the cemetery. Immediately to my right was a cannonball on top of a small granite stone. The memorial states it was fired by Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Vicksburg. A little farther to the right is an educational sign with information about the cemetery and the improvements that have been made over the years.

In the middle of the cemetery is a bronze Confederate soldier standing atop a granite arch watching over the dead buried here. Engraved into the arch is the word “Americans.” Originally the memorial was a wooden arch that was replaced with the current one in 1902.

Within the arch is a three-foot tall boulder that was placed in the cemetery in 1897. The inscription on the boulder states “2260 Confederate Soldiers of the war 1861-1865 buried in this enclosure.

The memorial boulder
An interesting note: When looking into the history of Camp Chase, I found the official government website for the cemetery. They note that the number of Confederate dead buried here is slightly less than noted on the boulder. Their claim is 2,168 people are buried within the walls of the cemetery, not the number listed on the boulder.

As I wandered among the stones, I took in the names and the various units they fought for. I finally paused at grave number 233, the grave of Benjamin F. Allen, who is probably the most noted burial in the cemetery. Allen served with the Company D of the Fiftieth Tennessee Infantry, which was formed in Stewart County.

Benjamin isn’t why many visit his grave. Most arrive in an attempt to see the supernatural visitor who is known to leave freshly picked flowers on his grave. Known by most as The Lady in Grey and also as The Grey Lady, many believe her to be the ghost of Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs.

According to many, Louisiana was engaged to Allen before he was captured and sent to Camp Chase. While this is the story that most hear (and often repeat), I this is not true. Reading all the stories about the Lady in Grey, I was fascinated by them and almost fell victim to repeating the false story.

Mrs. Louisiana Briggs would have only been in her early teens at the time of the Civil War. Louisiana was from New Madrid, Missouri and had been sent to live with relatives in Columbus at the start of the war. After the end of the war she would marry a local man, Mr. Joseph Briggs. Her love of the South was still strong and Mrs. Briggs would visit the cemetery and place flowers on all the graves, not just Benjamin’s. She would dress in a grey gown with a matching veil as a means of hiding her identity. After all, the idea of decorating the graves of those deemed to be traitors was a very unpopular one. Though death claimed her in 1950, she is still said to still haunt the cemetery.

The grave of Benjamin Allen
The Lady in Grey is most often at the grave of Benjamin Allen, although some have seen her standing at the grave of the Unknown Soldier. Other times, though she isn’t spotted, the sound of a lady’s crying can be heard at Benjamin’s grave. Exactly why she seems to have an attachment to Benjamin’s grave is not known.

Another note of interest: I found one source that suggests that two different ladies in grey wander the cemetery. One is Mrs. Briggs who decorated the graves while she was alive and is called the "Veiled Lady." A second lady (also dressed in grey) is the one who searches for her lost love who died at Camp Chase and it is this lady who haunts the cemetery. I’ve only found one place that this is mentioned, but it is an interesting theory.

On this day the Lady in Grey failed to show up: I did not see her, nor did I hear her crying. There were no flowers on Benjamin’s grave, though a couple of the graves did have artificial flowers decorating them. After paying my respects to those buried there, I slipped silently out the gates leaving them to their eternal slumber.