Sunday, February 26, 2017

Along the Way: Canal Greenway Covered Bridge

The Canal Greenway Covered Bridge, Hebron, Ohio
Having left Columbus, Ohio, in the rear view mirror, I set out eastward on Interstate 70 in search of a handful of covered bridges that were on my list of places to visit while in the region. I had spent the afternoon visiting the Camp Chase Cemetery and was excited to leave the city behind and explore the beautiful structures dotting the countryside (more information about it can be found here: Camp Chase Cemetery). Setting the GPS unit to the Canal Greenway Covered bridge near Hebron, Ohio, I had just passed the Lancaster Road exit when the GPS informed me to “turn right and go off road.”

Quickly deciding that this was not the best option I exited at the Buckeye Lake/Newark exit and began making my way towards the covered bridge I sought. Following route 79 southward, I passed through the community of Buckeye Lake before turning right onto Canal Road.

The Canal Greenway Covered Bridge
After driving roughly one mile, my GPS informed me that I had arrived. But there was no covered bridge in sight. On my left was the old Ohio and Erie Canal with waters that appeared to flood over the road at any moment and on the right were open fields. Continuing a short distance, I spotted the covered bridge on my left, but there did not appear to be any parking. I debated pulling into the grass at the fish hatchery which was on the opposite side of the road, but as I neared the drive into the hatchery grounds I noticed a person getting into a vehicle just beyond the interstate. Driving under the interstate, I discovered a small parking area for the Canal Greenway Trail.

The portion of the trail I walked on was mostly grass with a worn path where others had trod. It was level and in a couple minutes I was standing at the covered bridge. The total length of the trail is just shy of three miles and expands from Route 79, also known as Walnut Street, near the intersection with Canal Road to Canal Park in Hebron. The trail mostly parallels Canal Road for its entire length.

The path reminded me of an old railroad bed, but I’m not one hundred percent sure if it was or was not a railroad bed at one time. I’ve found newspapers articles saying it was the old Penn Central Railroad and other articles stating it was the old canal path. I’m not sure which is correct, though it is possible both of them are correct – it may have been a tow path and then railroad bed.

The Canal Greenway Covered Bridge
The Canal Greenway Covered Bridge was erected in the early 1990s with a span of seventy-five feet. The design is a Town’s Truss, which is also referred to as a Lattice Truss, a type of design patented in 1820 by Ithiel Town. 

The bridge crosses over a small unnamed stream (or at least I could not find a name for it) that is almost completely hidden by the tall grasses. A short distance away, near Canal Road, the stream joins with waters coming from the canal and flows through the grounds of the fish hatchery before emptying into the South Fork of the Licking River.

As I passed through the bridge I was saddened by the amount of graffiti within. The bridge, which is in a very beautiful spot, is only marred by the thoughtlessness of others. On the other side of the bridge, the path begins to parallel the canal. I walked a short distance before returning back to the bridge for a couple of pictures.

Looking out through the lattice
Bridge on Canal Bridge in background
One thing I did notice about the area is the smell. Due to its closeness to the old canal, there is an overwhelming smell in the area. The best way I can describe it is that it is very similar to the rotting vegetation smell of a marsh or swamp.

After finishing some pictures, I made the short distance back to the vehicle to continue my journey. If passing through the area, it is worth the short detour to get out and stretch your legs during the drive.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Along the Way: Ganoga Falls

A look over the edge
From the top of Ganoga Falls
I want to start with stating that the trails winding through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh are steep in spots and can become slippery. Please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls and please wear proper footwear.

The sound of the roaring waters echoed along the canyon walls as they rushed over the narrow ledge to further cascade over the rock ledges to the base ninety-four feet below. Having left Cayuga Falls upstream (information about it can be found here: Cayuga Falls), the roar of the falling water was deafening and we were filled with excitement as we arrived at the most famous waterfall at Ricketts Glen State Park.

All of the hype had been right – Ganoga Falls is the true gem of Ricketts Glen. Its beauty is what brings countless visitors to the park and was without a doubt the main reason we were here. Yes, the other waterfalls and natural features ranked as important stops on our hike, but without a doubt this was what we had come to see.

"It is a long way down there," the young boy spoke beside me. I was silently agreeing as he leaned out a little further than I personally would have, showing no fear in falling.

Ganoga Falls from the halfway point
Photograph courtesy of Susan
"What's this thing?" Zech asked as he pointed out a piece of metal buried in a rock near the ledge - it was reinforced with concrete to keep it in place. I knew what it was for the moment I saw it - it was to lower people over the falls, or more accurately, to lift up injured (or worse) victims from the base of the falls below. It would not be hard to slip or fall along the path and I imagine a number of accidents have occurred here over the years.

I stayed a little further away than necessary, preferring to enjoy my view from a distance.

The trail leaves the top of the waterfall and goes uphill. Yes, to descend down into the gorge, one first goes uphill before going down. After the trail turns back to the falls, are were able to see the falls for the first time in their full grandeur.

Halfway down, when the main trail switches back, a side trail leads to an overlook of the falls. The rocky ledge that was bordered by a straight up wall on one side and a steep drop on the other caused me to fall back, though the other three eagerly went out onto the rock shelf that was halfway down the falls.

Ganoga Falls
Photograph courtesy of Kevin
"There's plenty of room out here," Susan called as I got as close to the ledge as I was going to go. The brain was strongly overriding the sense of adventure as I stared over the edge. It still seemed to be a long way to the bottom. For the first time in our trip, my fear of heights started to overtake me.

"I'll be waiting over here for you," I replied. "Take your time." After they were done taking photos, we continued down the trail to the base of the falls. One of the most beautiful falls and the most popular destinations in the gorge, the Ganoga Falls have been the site of countless weddings. I personally cannot wrap my mind around the fact that - no matter how beautiful the falls are - the wedding party would want to hike this far to share their vows.

As we looked at the falls and the kids - both young and old alike - playing in the water, I will admit that I was taken in by the natural beauty of the falls.

Along the trail, we started encountering stacks of rocks. These were not natural, but obviously man-made. They were on ledges and on the rocks in the middle of Kitchen Creek. At the base of Ganoga Falls was the largest one we encountered along the trail. It was as tall as I was - somebody had too much time on their hands to take the time to stack the piles of rocks in random places. And though not a natural formation, it was fun to watch for the piles of rocks that began appearing in strange places in and around the creek..

Ganoga Falls
Photograph courtesy of Susan
The largest of the falls in Ricketts Glen at ninety-four feet, Ganoga Falls is not named for an Indian Tribe like the others in the glen. Ganoga, according to Dr. George Donehoo in A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania, has its origins in New York state. Ganoga was a Cayuga Indian village meaning "Place of the Floating Oil."

Most writers and photographers agree that this is the waterfall that is the true gem of the park. While it is a beautiful waterfall, and the most impressive, it is not my favorite of the park. We'll get to my personal favorite after visiting a couple more of them first.

Again, please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls

A note of thanks: A big thank you goes out to Susan and Kevin for joining me on this adventure and also for allowing the usage of their pictures in this article..

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Along the Way: Cayuga Falls

Ganoga Branch of Kitchen Creek
Above the Cayuga Falls
I want to start with stating that the trails winding through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh are steep in spots and can become slippery. Please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls and please wear proper footwear.

Leaving Oneida Falls (which can be found here: Oneida Falls) behind us, our group of explorers continued down the gorge to the next waterfall. The rockiness of the trail was increasing as we descended deeper into the glen, We found ourselves stopping more and more to take pictures of the stream, the rocks, and the sky. Having just recently purchased a new camera, Susan and Kevin were teaching Zech and I some tricks and tips to make our pictures better.

By the time we left the Oneida Falls, the number of hikers on the trail had increased. The cool weather and recent rains had caused many people to visit the state park and enjoy the sites. While most grabbed a picture here and there, we knew where most of them where headed - to see Ganoga Falls, the largest in the park.

We, however, had a stop at one more waterfall before continuing to the park's gem.

Cayuga Falls
Photograph courtesy of Kevin
The smallest of the named waterfalls is Cayuga Falls, which is an eleven foot cascade. Photographing this waterfall was the biggest challenge of the day - most people merely passed us as Susan, Kevin and Zech tried to figure out a way to photograph the falls in such a way to bring forth their beauty.

A couple of books and websites state that this waterfall has no really photogenic appeal, but I would disagree. Of the waterfalls we visited, this small waterfall holds its own in comparison to its larger competition in the glen. The Ganoga Branch of Kitchen Creek flows around a large rock before flowing over the rocks to the creek below.

I believe the reason that most fail to appreciate it as much is because it is very hard to photograph as a whole. While we were there, the thing I heard my three companions mutter the most was that the nearside of the falls was bathed in sunlight, while the far falls was in the shadows of the trees. Finding the perfect shot is nearly impossible.

The falls are named in honor of the Cayugas, who were one of the five original members of the Iroquois Confederacy. The "People of the Great Swamp," made their home in the Finger Lake region of New York, along the shores of Cayuga Lake. The traditional homelands of the Cayuga were destroyed in 1779 when General Sullivan marched into New York State and burned most of the Cayuga villages to the ground in an effort to crush the power of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Cayuga Falls
Sadly when the other members of the Iroquois Confederacy were given reservation lands in New York, the Cayugas were overlooked. Those Cayuga living in New York survive on Seneca reservations.

We left the falls and continued along the trail. We had only gone a short distance before we could hear the sound of falling water. We had arrived at the gem of Ricketts Glen. We had arrived at Ganoga Falls. The sound of the water was deafening.

With the roar of the water around us, echoing from the rocky walls of the glen, we prepared to descend the trail to the base of Ganoga Falls.

Again, please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls

A note of thanks: A big thank you goes out to Susan and Kevin for joining me on this adventure and also for allowing the usage of their pictures in this article.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Along the Way: Oneida Falls

Oneida Falls
I want to start with stating that the trails winding through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh are steep in spots and can become slippery. Please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls and please wear proper footwear.

Leaving the splendor of Mohawk Falls (which can be found here: Mohawk Falls) behind, the next waterfall is a short walk deeper into the Ganoga Gorge. The trail between Mohawk and Oneida Falls is not as steep as the trail as it is in other places in the glens. I was amazed that the creek seemed so quiet and still compared to the rushing waters over the ledge just a short distance above us. And while the water fanned out over the falls, the stream seemed to narrow at this point – there was nothing that would suggest the magnificent waterfall we had just passed, nor hinted at the falls we were about to see.

Our quartet passed some workers clearing out brush along the stream. At the time I wondered why they were anchored securely with ropes to the banks. Obviously, the waters, though shallow by my standards, were running much faster then they appeared to be moving.

Unnamed falls entering Kitchen Creek
Between Mohawk and Oneida Falls
Where the group was working, an unnamed (or at least I cannot find a name for it) stream cascades over and around boulders entering into the Ganoga Branch of Kitchen Creek on the opposite side of the gorge from the trail. Though we could see the waters of this unnamed creek dropping among the rocks, getting a good picture of it was almost impossible. We were able to get a couple pictures of the base of these unnamed falls, but the growth farther up the hillside prevented any decent pictures of the rest of the waterfall. I could not help but wonder if the workers were going to clear out the brush to allow visitors a view of these falls also.

After a short walk we arrived at the next major waterfall in the Ganoga Gorge. Oneida Falls is one of the smallest named waterfalls in Ricketts Glen State Park. Having a drop of thirteen feet, only two other named waterfalls have a shorter drop. But the short drop does not take away from the beauty of Oneida Falls.

Oneida Falls
These falls are named in honor of the Oneida Indians, one of the original members of the Iroquois Confederacy. Their name translates to "The People of the Upright (or Standing) Stone." Traditionally their lands were in Central New York, west of the lands held by the Mohawks. The Oneidas have a unique distinction among the members of the Iroquois Confederacy: they, along with the Tuscaroras, were the only members to support the colonists during the American Revolution.

Unlike Mohawk Falls, the Oneida Falls are much easier to photograph. One can easily, but with caution, step from stone to stone into the middle of the stream to get pictures of the waterfalls.

While researching the history of the glen and the waterfalls, I've read in many different places how photogenic this particular waterfall is. A couple different sites even went as far as stating it was more photogenic than Ganoga Falls and many called it their favorite waterfall. I can understand why others have made this claim: Oneida Falls is a block (or sometimes called classic) waterfall, the type people think of when they think of a waterfall.

After finishing our pictures of Oneida Falls, we continued down the trail to the next of the next major falls.

Oneida Falls
Picture courtesy of Susan
Again, please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls

A note of thanks: A big thank you goes out to Susan and Kevin for joining me on this adventure and also for allowing the usage of their pictures in this article.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Along the Way: Mohawk Falls

Mohawk Falls as seen from the trail
I want to start with stating that the trails winding through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh are steep in spots and can become slippery. Please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls and please wear proper footwear.

It could not have been a better day for hiking; the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. There was a coolness lingering in the air, though it promised to be a warm day once the sun climbed to its place in the sky. Idealistically, it was the day to go for a hike.

Joined by cousins Susan and Kevin and my brother Zech, I was filled with excitement as I mentally prepared myself to explore a portion of the state I had never visited before.

Mohawk Falls
Photo courtesy of Susan
Standing at the top of Ganoga Glen I realized why the falls remained hidden from Colonel Ricketts for years. The woods absorbed the sound of the falling waters of Kitchen Creek until I was almost on top of them. The water ran swiftly past and I now could hear the waters roaring ahead. The rain two days before had the waters running rapidly and all four of us knew that we were in for an adventure.

Crossing over the branch of Kitchen Creek, we started the descent into the gorge.

The first waterfall that we encountered as we descended into Ganoga Glen was Mohawk Falls. These falls are roughly thirty-seven feet tall and are named in honor of one of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Mahawk Falls
The Mohawks were one of the three "Elder Brothers," which allowed them a veto power within the Confederacy. The Mohawks were located on the Eastern Front of the Iroquois Confederacy and served as a blockade to any advancing settlers. They have been called "The Eastern Doorway," due to their location. If any outsiders were to enter the lands held by the Confederacy from the east, they would have to first go through the lands of the Mohawks. The Mohawks traditionally lived in the Mohawk Valley of New York, but their lands stretched beyond that, northward into present-day Ontario and Quebec.

I've discovered that Mohawk Falls is actually two falls in one. The top portion of the falls is a nine foot drop, forming a wall of water. The water then cascades down the rock formation to the base, over a series of smaller steps on the rock wall, for an additional twenty-eight feet.

Mohawk Falls from its base
Photograph courtesy of Kevin
Photographing Mohawk Falls can be done from the trail, but the best shots come from scrambling down the bank to a spot near the base. We followed a trail that had obviously been used by many and found that near perfect spot near the base of the falls to take a couple of pictures. If you choose to go off path please use extreme caution.

As I stood there taken in by the first waterfall, I could not even start to imagine the other falls. I was studying the map and the falls when Susan pointed out that I was in for a treat; if I liked this one, I was going to be completely blown away by Ganoga Falls.

Ever so cautiously, we made our way along the trail to the next major waterfall; Oneida Falls..

Mohawk Falls
Picture courtesy of Susan
Again, please be careful while visiting and hiking the area of the falls.

A note of thanks: A big thank you goes out to Susan and Kevin for joining me on this journey and also for allowing the usage of their pictures in this article.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Along the Way: Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge

Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge
Ashtabula, Ohio
I had just made the left turn onto Seven Hills Road from Route 11, heading towards Chestnut Grove Cemetery when Zech asked if I noticed the sign that announced a nearby covered bridge. We were visiting Ashtabula, Ohio, to pay our respects to Philip Bliss, the noted gospel writer who died in the Ashtabula Train Disaster that happened here on December 29, 1876. More information about Philip and the disaster can be found here: Philip Bliss and also here: Ashtabula Train Disaster.

I admitted I had not seen the sign, so I found a spot to turn around and followed the signs. At the first intersection, we turned left onto State Road. A short distance later we could see the covered bridge before us. A parking area before the covered bridge was on the left and I pulled into it. The gated road that led down to the Ashtabula River was open so I drove down to the lower lot.

We got out and took in the covered bridge before us. “They definitely built covered bridges much differently in Ohio than back home,” Zech marveled as we both just stared. What I didn’t realize at the moment was the Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge in the United States and the fourth longest in the world.

Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge from parking area
On the estern bank of the Ashtabula River
Bridge from the western bank of the Ashtabula River
We followed the old roadway to a point under the bridge and stared up at the bridge that towered ninety-three feet above us.  The bridge was constructed in 2008 at a cost of $7.78 million and has a length of 613 feet. The Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge was built in four sections and each one being supported by three concrete pillars.

At one time another covered bridge existed here. The road to the lower lot was the originally State Road and the covered bridge, known as the Crooked Gulf Covered Bridge. This covered bridge was bypassed by another bridge in 1945 and was finally lost to time and progress in 1949.

After we took some pictures from below, we drove up to the upper parking lot. We immediately noticed that there were two walkways (one on each side of the bridge) and decided we had to go investigate this a little more. Walking along the road, we finally were at the bridge and entered the walkway that paralleled the road. I want to state that the path to get to the covered bridge – it was a busy road and there was a lot of traffic the day Zech and I visited, so please be careful walking along the road.

Walkaway inside the bridge
The feel of cars passing by at fast speeds both felt and sounded weird. The bridge gently vibrated as vehicles passed and the sounds of them passing echoed along the bridge

And then the first big truck passed through the bridge. I’m not sure which of us felt fear the most as the bridge bounced as the truck passed. I’m not going to lie – while I knew that the bridge was safe, I was ready to get off of it.

We arrived at the far end of the bridge and decided we were going to walk back on the opposite side of the bridge. We quickly crossed the road on a blind turn and began our return trip on the opposite side.

Road inside the bridge
Once we had returned to the parking area, we stopped at an information pavilion to read about the bridge and the Indian Trails Park. After we finished reading, we took a couple more pictures before driving to the western side of the bridge. We followed the old road to a small parking area. After taking a couple pictures from this side, we headed towards the Ashtabula Train Disaster site.

I want to note again: the traffic the day we visited was heavy. The road curves at both ends of the bridge and traffic was moving quickly. If you choose to visit, please be cautious as you walk along the edge of State Road and keep an eye on any children.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Searching for Sallie

The lone grave of Sallie Youker
Near Harrison Valley
"Are you sure we're on the right road?" Mike asked.

I had already lost count on the number of times he had asked the question since we had turned onto the narrow back road of northern Pennsylvania. The road twisted around the hilly farmland that I was quickly falling in love with; the crest of each hill provided a new and exciting view of the Potter County countryside. However, if we went any farther north, we would be in New York. From our current location we were only a couple of miles from the border.

Crossing the border wasn't on my list of concerns at the moment, I was quickly running out of road and I was convinced that Mike was correct and my research had failed me. At first I was sure I was on the correct road, but we had yet to find the Lone Grave. Doubt was quickly replacing the excitement I had at the start of this leg of our journey.

The end of the road was in sight when I noticed a young man planting trees along the road. I hit the brakes and backed up to ask him for help.

"You're really going to stop and ask for directions?" Mike gave me a strange look at the idea. “I didn’t think you ever asked for directions,” he laughed.

"There’s a first time for everything," I jokingly replied.

“Are you sure we should ask him?” Mike questioned. “He looks busy.”

“Hopefully he has a minute or two to spare.”

The young man walked over as I came to stop. “What’s up?” he asked bluntly.

"Have you ever heard of the Lone Grave?" I asked. He gave me a blank stare. "It’s also called the Lonesome Grave.” He still stared blankly at me. “I'm trying to locate it. I thought I was on the right road, but obviously I'm not."

The young man continued to stare at me without speaking. Though Mike wasn't talking, I could hear him thinking, "I told you this would be a bad idea stopping to ask for directions." I was beginning to agree with him as the young man just stood there motionless.

"It is a grave of a young woman that sits all by itself along one of the roads in the area," I offered hoping that it might make a connection.

Grave of Sallie Youker
"Oh," I saw the light come on in his eyes. "You mean the Bed Frame Grave?”

“The Bed Frame Grave?” I asked.

“Yeah, it is a single grave along the road with a bed frame around it."

I wasn't sure what type of material made the fence that surrounded the grave, but seeing he had a revelation about a lone grave, I was hoping it was the same one I was searching for. "Yeah, that's the one," I agreed.

"Ummm...yeah...," He looked around for a couple of minutes before he finally produced some direction that included the phrases "Where the road goes right and dirt goes straight," "Turn on the first road past the tin building in the middle of the field,” and “If you get to the old rusty tractor along the road on the right, you went too far.”

I thanked him for the directions and pulled out. Before we covered the hundred yards to the first intersection, Mike spoke the words that I was thinking: "Those were some interesting directions."

Yet the directions were spot on. In less than ten minutes I was standing at Potter County’s Lone Grave. Surrounded by a fence made of iron rods, I could see why the young man referred to it the "Bed Frame Grave" – the fence did remind me of an old bed frame.

Walking over to the stone, I knelt to read the words. “Is this the right one?” Mike asked as he walked over to join me.

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s her grave.”

“Who was she?” Mike asked. I imagine that this question has been asked many times before and will be asked many times again by those who pass the small plot.

Her name was Sallie Jane Youker and my search for her remote resting place started a couple months previously when I received an email from a reader named Barb asking if I had ever heard the story of the Lone Grave. I had heard of a number of lonely graves that are scattered along the back roads and remote regions of Pennsylvania's woods, but this one was new to me. She didn’t know the exact directions, but knew it rested in the hills north of Harrison Valley.

The story she heard was the grave belonged to a lady who had died and her husband hid her death by burning their house down before fleeing out west. The information Barb had sent wasn’t much, but it was enough to start with and I soon had information about the Lone Grave. What I discovered was, while her version had some elements of the truth in it, the story was wrong.

Sallie Jane was born July 23, 1823, the eldest of the five children of David and Emily Kibbe. She married Jonas Youker and together they had a son named David.  More about the Youker family, please see the note below.

Top portion of Sallie's tombstone
Sallie died May 11, 1861 at the age of thirty-seven as a result of smallpox. When her husband and son came down with the disease Sallie nursed them through it until she too showed the signs of smallpox. While her family survived the plague, in her weakened state, Sallie became a victim of the disease.

While Jonas and David were still recovering, Sallie’s brother took action. He built a coffin and braving the chance of catching smallpox, placed his sister in it. He dug a hole and buried her in this lonely spot not far from the place she had called home. Her brother still weary from burying his sister, sent word out to stay away from the Youker house and would set the home on fire to destroy the plague before it could be passed on to any of their neighbors.

Soon after the incident, Jonas and David left the area and would eventually settle down in Michigan.

Silence filled the air as Mike and I paid my respects to Sallie. The mixture of forests and farmland made the location, no matter how remote, a beautiful place to eternally slumber. After I finished paying my respects to Sallie, we set out in silence, leaving her to peacefully sleep among the fields of northern Pennsylvania.

If you choose to visit Sallie’s grave, please do so with the respect she and her resting place deserves.

A note or two about Sallie’s family: While digging through a number of family trees online I discovered that Sallie’s story often includes two children. I’ve only mentioned David in this entry because he is the only child I can determine Jonas and Sallie having. If there was a second child, I was not able to find an identity for this second child. Jonas would get remarried and have other children, but I can find David as the only offspring of Jonas and Sallie.

Sallie was the daughter of David and Emily Kibbe, early settlers in the area. David had migrated into the region and would marry Emily McNutt from Harrison Valley. This union would produce a number of children. In one of the family trees I found the name of Sarah as being one of the children of David and Emily. At first the differences in names puzzled me, because the family tree shows that Sarah married Jonas Youker. After digging a little deeper, I discovered that Sallie was a popular nickname for Sarah during the 1800s, but I’m not able to determine if her birth name was actually Sallie or possibly Sarah.

A note of thanks: I want to thank Barb for bringing the story about The Lone Grave of Sallie Youker to my attention.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beyond Gettysburg: The Death of Corporal Rihl

Grave of Corporal Rihl
Along Route 11, north of Greencastle
Along Route 11, on the northern side of Greencastle, stands a familiar blue Pennsylvania State Historical Marker. Like many of them in the Cumberland Valley and Gettysburg region, the title of it states "Gettysburg Campaign." While many are tempted not to look at them, thinking that they all state the same thing, each marker tells a different part of the Civil War in Pennsylvania.

I slowed as the marker came into view and pulled off the edge of the road. Braving the traffic, I crossed Route 11 to take a better look at the information presented about the importance of the spot.

"Here on June 22, 1863, the First
N.Y. Cavalry attacked the Southern
advance force of cavalry under
Gen. A.G. Jenkins. Here died the
first Union soldier killed in
action in Pennsylvania, Corporal
William H. Rihl of Philadelphia,
serving in a Pennsylvania unit
assigned to the New York Regiment."

Reflecting on the words for a moment, I turned to see another monument located only a couple yards in front of where I had parked. Hidden by trees was a large granite marker and the name etched in the front was clearly visible: Rihl.

I made my way quickly back across the Carlisle Pike and up the small set of steps to the marker. This was not just a memorial to a fallen hero, but as I read the granite shaft I instantly recognized this marker was a gravestone, something I had not realized when I was planning my visit to the area. I took a deep breath as I realized I was treading on sacred ground.

The year 1863 would eventually become the turning point of the Civil War with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. The spring of that year saw the morale of the Confederate army strengthened with a victory at Chancellorsville; and, with their victory at the Second Battle of Winchester, the path was opened to a northern invasion.

While the Confederacy had suffered a devastating blow with the loss of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, the Union army was in a vast array of confusion. General Hooker's lack of motivation had allowed the Confederates to safely retreat time after time. General Hooker's plans of attacking Richmond were changed with the Confederate victory at Winchester and he was forced to abandon his plans and slowly and very reluctantly followed the Confederate army northward.

On June 28, he resigned his position and General Meade was appointed the head of the Union army and started after the Confederate army.

As the Confederate army moved into the fertile lands of the Cumberland Valley, actions were being taken all over the state to prepare for the attack. More information about the defense of the Keystone state can be found here:Fort Couch and also here: Bedford County Entrenchments.

One of the faces of the memorial
On June 23, 1863, an advance cavalry unit under the command of Confederate General A.G. Jenkins, arrived in Greencastle. However they were not the only ones scouting the area as the First New York Cavalry also arrived in the region. Attached to this cavalry was a unit from Philadelphia, which included Corporal William H. Rihl. A mere twenty years old in the early summer of 1863, Rihl would sadly take his place in the history books as the first Union soldier to die in the Gettysburg Campaign.

William Rihl was born and raised in Philadelphia and would be mustered into service with Company C on July 19, 1862. Their unit was assigned a place with the First New York Cavalry. The First New York was also known as The Lincoln Cavalry because it was the first volunteer cavalry force raised in the war. See the note below for more information about the First New York Cavalry.

Company C was led by Captain William H. Boyd and on June 14, they were assigned to guard a wagon train. As the wagons made their way up the Shenandoah and Cumberland Valleys, they were constantly being harassed by members of General Jenkins' cavalry. On the 17th of June, the wagon train arrived in Harrisburg, and, deciding that the supply train did not need their help anymore, Captain Boyd turned his attention towards the Confederate cavalry.

Not wishing to waste any time Captain Boyd had his men immediately head towards Chambersburg in hopes of finding General Jenkins' men. Arriving there, he found that they had left the city, so his men rode to Mercersburg in search of the Confederate cavalry. Again they failed to find any Confederates there, so they headed towards Greencastle.

A group of the southern cavalry, led by Captain J. A. Wilson, spotted Company C as they approached Greencastle. Captain Wilson was commanded to fall back if his men encountered the Union Cavalry and draw them into a trap. Captain Wilson took position along the Carlisle Pike, hiding in a wheat field near the Fleming Farm.

Captain Boyd and his men came to a rest to the northwest of the barn on the Fleming Farm. Worried that the Confederates were hiding somewhere nearby, he sent two men out to scout for them while the remainder of the unit rested.

The two men selected for scouting duty were Sergeant Milton Cafferty and Corporal  William Rihl.

As the two men came around the house, they were instantly fired upon by the hidden Confederates. Corporal Rihl was struck in the face and killed instantly. Sergeant Cafferty was shot in the leg and taken prisoner. He was placed in the home of Mr. Card to recover from his wounds with instructions to stay there until his captors returned for him, which they never did.

At the sound of the gunfire, the remaining thirty-three men remounted and fled for safety, leaving the two young men where they fell. A number of Jenkins' men buried him in a shallow grave. A couple days later, local residents dug up his body and had it properly buried in the nearby Lutheran Cemetery on Washington Street in Greencastle.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the skirmish
On opposite side o Route 11 from Rihl's grave
Twenty-three years later, the young man's eternal slumber would once again be broken. In 1886, his body was removed from the cemetery and reburied at the location where he was killed. On top of the grave was placed a large monument remembering his sacrifice.

Walking slowly around the monument, I paused on each side to allow the history recorded on the Rihl Memorial to fully sink in.

"To the memory of Corporal William H. Rihl, Co. C First N.Y. Lincoln Cavalry, who was killed on this spot,  June 22, 1863"

"The first Union soldier killed in action in Pennsylvania"

"An humble but brave defender of the Union"

"Erected by Corporal Rihl Post, G.A.R., of Greencastle, Pa"

As I stood there taking in the history of this spot, I could not help but be overcome with sadness at the fact this young men was cut down at such a young age. Yet at the same time felt a strange sense of pride as I realized he was willing to serve to preserve the Union.

After paying my respects I left this small piece of Civil War history, a place passed by many and forgotten by most, to stand in silence beside the busy traffic of Route 11.

Please, please, please use caution if you cross Route 11 – all the times I’ve stopped here the traffic has been heavy. The steps going up the hill are not evenly spaced, so please be careful going up and down them. As always, if you choose to visit, please do so with the respect the honored dead buried here deserves.

Some notes about the First New York Cavalry: There are a number of versions of the encounter at Greencastle. I used Beach's “The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from April 19, 1861, to July 7, 1865.” This account differs from the popular version that records the death of Corporal Rihl as occurring during a skirmish where Boyd's men charged wildly into the southern cavalry. Beach fought with the First New York and used his recollections, insights of others, and various letters and correspondences to compile the history of the unit he fought with.

The First New York also had a number of other firsts. On August 7, 1861, they were the first volunteer cavalry to enter the war. On August 18 of that year, Private Jacob Erwin was killed during a skirmish at Pohick Church near Lorton, Virginia, becoming the first volunteer cavalryman to be killed in the war. On March 9, 1862 Lieutenant Henry Hidden became the first cavalry officer killed in action while preparing a charge at Sangster's Station, Virginia. Another first, though a sad one, involved Private William Johnson, who on December 13, 1861, was the first Union soldier to be executed for attempted desertion to the enemy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Along the Way: Moose McCormick

Grave of Harry "Moose" McCormick
Lewisburg Cemetery
 During my visit to the Lewisburg Cemetery to pay my respects to baseball pitcher Christy Mathewson (more information about him can be found here: Christy Mathewson) I knew I had to visit another baseball player buried nearby. Continuing down the roadway from Mathewson’s grave, I stopped at the spot where the roadway turned to the left. I continued straight ahead into the section of graves on the left in search of one grave among the stones.

Although I had directions to his grave, it took a little longer to locate the final resting place of Harry “Moose” McCormick. Though his stone is simple and very plain, his (unlike Mathewson’s) was decorated with small baseball bats and baseballs left by others who had stopped to pay their respects.

Harry was born February 28, 1881, in Philadelphia, one of five children. Harry’s father died when Harry was five years old and under Pennsylvania laws he was an orphan, so he was able to attend Girard College for free. While attending Girard, Harry would get the nickname “Moose” due to being larger than most of his classmates.

After graduating from Girard, he attended Bucknell University starting in 1898. Here he was involved with track and field, basketball, baseball and football, having taken over the fullback position from Christy Mathewson. McCormick did not graduate from Bucknell with his class, having left in 1903 to play baseball for the Jersey City Skeeters of the Eastern League. In 1904 he was signed to the New York Giants.

As a member of the Giants, McCormick played outfield, but only for fifty-nine games. He was traded to Pittsburgh mid-season and he played sixty-six games with them. At the end of the season, Harry was traded to the Phillies, but rather than continuing playing baseball, he went to work as a steel salesman. In 1908, Harry resumed playing baseball, signing with the Phillies. He appeared in eleven games with them before being sold back to the Giants.

The Giant’s manager John McGraw realized that McCormick had a problem: Harry was not known to be fast. McGraw decided to make McCormick a pinch hitter. The decision paid off and McCormick appeared in seventy-three games, hit seventy-six hits, and had thirty-two runs batted in.

Reproduction of Moose McCormick's
baseball card
Part of author's personal collection
McCormick’s career was not one that was memorable. In researching his life’s story, I found that his name mostly appears with a strange event known to baseball historians as “Merkle’s Boner.”

The game was played on September 23, 1908, when the Giants were playing the Cubs and the two teams were locked in a pennant race. As the game entered the ninth inning the teams were tied at one run apiece.

The Cubs were retired one, two, three at the top of the ninth inning, bringing the Giants to bat.

First up was Cy Seymour who grounded out to second. The second batter was Art Devlin who hit a single, putting the winning run on first. Harry sent a ground ball to second and reached first on a fielder’s choice.

Next up to bat was Feed Merkle. Merkle hit a single down the right field line allowing McCormick to reach third. Al Bridwell was next to bat. After noticing that Merkle was taking a very long lead, Bridwell stepped out of the batter’s box to stare at the nineteen year old. Merkle returned to first base and stayed much closer to it.

Bridwell drove the first pitch past the second baseman, allowing McCormick to reach home and Bridwell arrived safely at first. Merkle for some reason, whether he wasn’t thinking or he was trying to avoid the crowd that began to flow onto the field, turned and jogged back to the clubhouse without touching second base.

The Cubs threw Merkle out at second, which nullified McCormick’s run. The rule states (in simple terms) that any runner forced out on the third out nullifies any runs that cross the plate.

After many appeals, the decision of the umpires stood. The practice of cutting off and heading to the clubhouse was a common practice at the time, but in this one game it was enforced. If it wasn’t for the importance of this game, with the winning team winning the pennant, Merkle’s error probably would not have even been noticed, nor enforced.

The game would be replayed October 8 to break the tie between the Cubs and Giants. The Cubs won the game and went on to win the 1908 World Series.

An interesting note: Christy Mathewson was the starting pitcher of the game in which “Merkle’s Boner” occurred.

McCormick would play the 1909 season, but left baseball to become a salesman in 1910. He returned to the Giants in 1912 and would retire from the sport at the end of the 1913 season. He would go on the couch the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1914 and 1915.

In 1917 he enlisted in the United States Army and fought in France during World War One. He served with the 167 Infantry Regiment of the 42 Infantry Division. McCormick remained active in the army he served as a civilian director in the United States Army Air Force during World War Two. After the war he returned to Lewisburg and was employed by Bucknell. He died in 1962.

The sun was finally setting as I finished paying my respects and I left Harry resting peacefully in the cool evening air.

As always, if you choose to visit, please do so with respect.