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The students of Arendtsville High School preparing to set out across country in 1937 in their specially outfitted half-ton truck.

The students of Arendtsville High School preparing to set out across country in 1937 in their specially outfitted half-ton truck.

Arendtsville is a small town in south central Pennsylvania 3,800 miles from Alaska. In 1937, a group of teenagers set out from their little community with Alaska as their destination.

The teenagers were students of Arendtsville Vocational High School. The school had first opened as a two-year high school in 1911 on the second floor of the elementary school. Enrollment quickly grew and within a couple years the students moved to the second floor of the fire house on South High Street, according to the National Apple Museum web site.

The students got their own building in 1914 when the school board voted to build a high school on South High Street. The course work was expanded to a three-year program.

This was due to the urging of Edwin Rice, who was a student a State College. His arguments convinced people and support grew for a vocational school. In 1917, Butler and Franklin Townships joined together to establish the Arendtsville Joint Vocational High School.

Rice eventually became a teacher at the new school and every few years, he organized a summer trip for students. “Some teachers, it seemed, taught the subject matter in a very formal way; you either understood the material and passed or, for whatever reason, failed. Mr. Rice went far beyond the subject matter and was truly interested in broadening the horizon of education to the real world,” Wayne Criswell, a former student at the high school, told James Wego in the unpublished article, “The Journey of a Lifetime”.

During the summer of 1937, he planned to take 26 students on “a 9,000 mile journey in six weeks on the road to places only known from textbooks, stories by adults, or perhaps a rare movie,” Criswell said.

Rice had been taking his students on summer trips roughly every other year for the previous 15 years. So the idea of a summer trip was familiar with people in the community, but many, including staff at the high school, thought taking a 9,000-mile trip to Alaska and around the county was too much.

Rice didn’t think so. He’d been thinking about it for years. He knew that financing a trip was going to be hardest part. Each student would need to raise around $1,500, a princely sum during the heart of the Great Depression. Most families couldn’t afford to contribute much. Rice met with the families a few times to explain his plans and how each family could afford the trip.

However, the students were agriculture students so Rice arranged to lease about 30 acres of farmland.

“Every boy had to work on the fields, as part of his share of the expense. The harvested crop, done by the boys, was sold to a canning plant in Gettysburg (Burgoon and Yingling) and, of course, had to be transported to the facility,” Criswell said. The students going on the trip did this for three years prior to the trip.

Students also sold shell seeds during the winter.

By the summer of 1936, enough money had been raised that Rice purchased a half-ton truck with an open bed. It was a new 1936 Ford truck, but it was a demonstrator model. The truck was outfitted to hold all 26 boys and Rice. The open bed had benches installed along the sides and up the middle where the boys would ride. Each bench had a flip-top so that items could be stored inside. There was a clothing rack over the cab and a tarp was stored there that could be unrolled over the bed if it rained. Between the wheels on the driver’s side of the truck a handmade stove and cooking utensils. On the other side of the truck between the wheels, food and a keg of water were stored.

In addition to the money that needed to be raised, each boy had to take $50 dollars in order to purchase one meal a day. Each family also to supply 16 quarts of canned foods, which would be used to feed the boys at other times.

Each boy was assigned a duty that he was expected to do during the trip. For instance, Criswell’s job was to check the oil and water in the truck daily and top them off if needed.

Once the truck was outfitted and the parents’ questions answered, the group was ready to set off as the summer of 1937 began.

The students participating in the trip were: Paul Tate, Lester Carey, Donald Warren, Robert Knox, Roland Orner, Russell Barber, Blair Fiscel, Sterling Funt, Paul Cole, William Oyler, Wayne Criswell, Edgar McDonnell, Glenn Bream, Bruce Hartman, Joseph Redding, Warren Bushey, Orville McBeth, Jesse Fiscel, Rodney Taylor, John Andrews, Fred McDannell, Ralph Cooley, John Linn, Glenn Kime and Samuel Rice (the youngest member of the group at age 11).

image_681x432_from_275,3664_to_2509,5082I bought The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars awhile back. It finally worked its way to the top of my “to read” pile. I wish I had read it sooner because I really liked it.

The main story involves the identification of a dismembered corpse. Once the body is identified as William Guldensuppe, which leads to two suspects, Augusta Knack, Guldensuppe’s lover, and Martin Thorn, Knack’s lover. However, it is much harder for the police to figure out which of the two suspects committed the murder and whether the other was a willing participant or a dupe.

While the pursuit of the murderer makes an interesting story in itself, the secondary story of how the newspapers played up the story to the point of actually becoming part of the story is just as interesting. Reporters planted evidence, interrogated witnesses, and enlisted their readers in the search for missing body parts.

This was the age of “yellow journalism” with the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer competing against each other to be number one.

The story flowed like a bestselling mystery and kept me interested throughout. I kept bouncing back and forth over which of the two suspects committed the murder.

Collins also does a great job of setting the scene. He puts you in the period with colorful descriptions of life in the city.

I found after reading the book that I was searching the Internet looking for the newspapers and books mentioned in the book.

The U.S.S. Princeton burning after she was hit by a Japanese bomb during the Battle of Leyte in WWII.

Before Francis J. Menchey could fight for his country amid the islands of the Pacific Ocean during World War II, he first had the win the battles against the draft boards at home that didn’t want him to fight.

When Menchey graduated from Gettysburg High School in 1943, the U.S. had been at war with the Axis Powers for about 18 months. Like many Americans, the young man wanted to do his part to help his country. Shortly before his graduation, he traveled to Baltimore to try and enlist in the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy rejected him because the physician at the enlistment center said Menchey had a hernia. That was news to Menchey who felt perfectly fine and had never had any indication that he had a hernia.

“Returning to Gettysburg, Menchey consulted his family physician who declared that he was physically fit for service,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

He tried to enlist locally and was told the same thing. He was unfit because he had a hernia. Then the local draft board called for him to enlist, but he was again rejected for a third time as being unfit.

After graduation, Menchey took a job with Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., but he didn’t give up on his hope of serving in the military. He had the plant’s physician examine him.

“There just isn’t anything wrong with you,” the doctor told him.

So Menchey tried to enlist in Buffalo, N.Y., and was turned down for a fourth time.

When he returned to Gettysburg for Christmas with his family in 1943, he was called up for induction by his draft board again. He traveled to Harrisburg where he was examined and finally, on this fifth attempt to join the military, he was accepted. However, he was told that he would be leaving on January 4, 1944, for army boot camp. Menchey wanted to join the navy. He asked to be reassigned to the navy but he was turned down.

“He then appealed to a Navy Commander who ‘changed’ the induction paper after he confirmed Menchey’s statements that his Navy enlistment papers of several months previous were still on file,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Menchey reported to boot camp at Great Lakes and was then sent to corpsmen’s school in San Diego and onto Radium Plaque Adaptomter’s school on Treasure Island off San Francisco.

“Six months after his induction Menchey was at Pearl Harbor and a few weeks later he was aboard a task force flagship en route to his first engagement at Angar in the Peleliu group,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

He also participated in the battles of Leyte, Luzon and Iwo Jima. One time a Japanese bomber strafed Menchey’s ship, wounding 17 men and barely missed crashing into the ship.

The Battle of Leyte was a two-month-long battle against the Japanese in the Philippines. It was the first battle in which the U.S. forces faced Japanese kamikaze pilots. Menchey’s ship was the acting general communications ship for the attack force. It was under an air attack 85 times in 30 days and general quarters was sounded 149 times during that month. Menchey was part of a medical group of six doctors and 27 corpsmen who took care of the wounded and dying who were brought aboard the ship. At one point, they were caring for 215 men with serious injuries and 375 ambulatory wounded. When the fighting was finished, nearly 53,000 soldiers had been killed.

Menchey was given a month-long leave in early 1945 and returned home to visit his family.

“Rejected three time by the navy and turned down once by draft board examiners Francis J. ‘Dick’ Menchey, Pharmacist Mate Third Class, is home from the Pacific wars with four battle stars and an extra star for having survived 85 air attacks in thirty days while his ship was laying off Leyte Island, 13 of his 18 months were spent in the Pacific war zone,” the Gettysburg Times noted.

He was discharged from the Navy in in February 1946. When he returned home, he brought his new wife, Della C. de Baca, whom he had met in San Francisco.

This local hero died in 2002.

PAReport35I am reluctant to write about this topic because the subject of the Confederate flag along with some other recent events have generated more anger and rudeness online than I have ever seen. I’ve watched friends turn on each other and rather than try to speak rationally about a topic, they simply “unfriend” each other on Facebook.

However, other things have happened this week or occurred to me that, I think, had shown me some different angles on the topic that I felt compelled to share because I haven’t seen some of them mentioned.

First off, I’ve seen written in newspaper reports that the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina was flying above the state house. First, this is not true. Second, this is being reported by the media, which seeks to have to public trust them, but can’t get the story right. The Confederate flag is flying above a Confederate memorial on the grounds of the state house. It did fly for years above the state house, placed there by a Democrat administration. A Republican administration moved it to the Confederate memorial. Yet, the Republicans are the ones being accused of being racially insensitive by the Democrats for supposedly doing what the Democrats actually did.

Politics aside, the controversy over the flag has now led to people calling for the removal of Confederate memorials, names, and statues from everything. I have seen more vitriol about this issue than there was among the actual veterans who fought and died under the flags during the Civil War.

In 1913, more than 57,000 Civil War veterans came together in Gettysburg. It was the largest reunion of actual veterans ever held and included both Union and Confederate veterans. Just before the event happened, a rumor spread that no flags of the Confederacy would be allowed. Confederate veterans started to talk about boycotting the event. The organizers heard what was happening and issued a statement that essentially said that all flags from the war would be allowed, but the United States flag would be the largest and fly the highest.

Just about everyone was fine with this. Confederate General E. J. Hunter said, “This is a united country, and has only one flag. The fact that the one flag is the flag carried by our war enemies 50 years ago means nothing any more. We left our sacred emblems home.”

Pictures from the reunion show both flags flying with the United States flag predominant, as it should be.

During the week-long event, former enemies walked together, laughed together, and shared memories. They did not yell at each other and call each other names. They did not belittle each other because one side was the victor and the other wasn’t.

They engaged in civil discourse.

Today, it has gotten to the point that groups want to replace the American flag and remove the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson was a slaveholder. The memorial isn’t there to help people remember that Jefferson was a slaveholder. It’s there because he was the third President of the United States, the man who doubled the size of America, and the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Where I live in Gettysburg, the sponsors of a living history event have said that they aren’t going to allow the Confederate flag to fly at the event. So are they uninviting Confederate re-enactors? Are they only going to tell one side of the story of the Civil War?

These are certainly attempts to rewrite history. I’ve heard “rewriting history” applied to a different interpretation of facts. I may not like the interpretation, but as long as facts are used, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s when the facts are altered, misrepresented, and omitted that I have a problem.

The current efforts against the Confederate flag remind me of when an iconic photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was altered to remove the cigarette holder from his mouth years ago. What it showed was a lie because the group didn’t want to deal with the fact that Roosevelt smoked.

I was working on a newspaper column this week and went to research a subject at the local historical society. In doing so, I found a letter written by a college history professor to the author of an article that ripped apart an article the author had written.

He wrote, in part, “Until the law requires training and license to practice history, we can expect to find almost anything in speech and print which from those whose method is best described as without fear and without research.”

While I don’t disagree with the latter part of his statement, I do disagree with the former. First, it would be a violation of free speech and I was stunned that a professor would actually advocate that. Second, it promoted the government as the gatekeeper for what is correct. That would lead to government-approved speech, and you can see where that will get you with all of the politically correct speech out there.

There are lots of historical stories out there and lots of viewpoints. Let them all be told. Let them even be challenged. Then teach our children to think with their heads and not their hearts so that they can evaluate what they read.

Instead what I see is that the politically incorrect views are being ignored or even written out of history books. There’s no chance of civil debate or one side swaying the other. The topic is simply presented as “settled.” If that was true, the country wouldn’t be ripping itself apart right now.

The old saying goes, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”

Leaving out a full representation of both sides of debate is how it starts.

To see how it ends, look at what happened to other cultures that forgot their roots. That is, if you can find it in a history book.

Ruth Bowie had grown up as a slave during the Civil War. Even after gaining her freedom, she had remained with a former owners until she married Charles Bowie in 1880.

By the turn of the of century, the Bowies were listed as living in log home along Lewistown Pike in Lewistown, which is where they would call home for their rest of their lives. They had had four children together, but none of them lived to adulthood and then Ruth had to deal with the loss of her husband in 1920.

The Frederick News was reporting that Ruth was over 100 in 1946. The newspaper ran a short article noting that Ruth’s doctor had decided that she was too old to continue living alone. Her sight and hearing were still considered normal, but she had hurt her hip shortly after she had turned 100 a year earlier. He doctor wasn’t sure that she could continue caring for herself.

“The first hundred years aren’t the hardest. It’s after the first hundred years that things begin to get tough,” she told the newspaper.

The Frederick Emergency Hospital, which is now the Montevue Assisted Living Center, became Ruth’s new home. She became a fixture there sitting in her low broad-armed chair and relating her quickly fading memories to her friends who would come to visit her.

“For a woman who has had only one day’s schooling in her life, she is remarkably discriminating in her choice of words. There was almost a wink in her smile when she related that she had not gone back to school after her teacher had whipped her on the first day because she was so ‘full of devilishness,’” Mehl wrote.

When her friends visited, they would often bring her treats of chicken, sugar cakes and peppermint candies, which were Ruth’s favorite foods.

“I like peppermint candy best,” Ruth told the Sun Magazine.

According to Diane Grove, administrator at Montevue Assisted Living Center, Ruth was discharged from the emergency hospital on May 22, 1955, at the age of 107.

When Ruth died later that year on November 23, she was the oldest resident of Frederick County. She had also been readmitted to Montevue because of her deteriorating health. The Rev. Charles Corbett officiated at her funeral when she was buried at Creagerstown Lutheran Church Cemetery.

“Every life is important and every story has its place in history but it’s what you do with that life that’s important,” said Dwight Palmer, president of the Frederick County NAACP.

Though Bowie was not a civil rights icon, she represented the goals of the civil rights movement. She had risen from slavery to make a life for herself. She was well loved in the community by people of all colors. Despite the fact that she had no family to care for her, friends had visited Ruth frequently during her time at Montevue. Also, at a time when segregation still existed, Ruth’s pallbearers were all white men who considered themselves her friends.

Creagerstown St John's Lutheran Church 002A JAK

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The Mullinix Farm where Ruth Bowie lived as a slave during the Civil War.

Ruth Bowie was born a slave in Montgomery County, Maryland. When she died in 1955, she was the last person in Frederick County, Maryland, who had been born into slavery.

Slave Life

Letha Brown was a house servant and cook for the Mullinixes while Wesley was a field hand.

“Well she remembers the days of her slavery when custom permitted owners to wield the whip ‘for the least little thing’ and little Ruthie often felt the sting of the switch,” Sullivan wrote.

However, Ruth’s experience with this came from her interactions with Asbury’s wife, Elizabeth Mullinix whom she called “Ol’ Missy.”

Hilton says he has no doubt that Ol’ Missy beat Ruth. “She treated everybody like that not just Ruth,” Hilton said. “Family stories say she was a crazy woman.”

For the most part, Ruth worked in the main house. She was brought up to be a house servant like her mother. She would wash and iron clothes, clean house and take care of the Mullinix children.

“Often she would sit on a three-legged stool, crooning to the baby while her mistress in long hooped skirts worked a spinning wheel across the room,” Mehl wrote.

During Ruth’s childhood, the Mullinix farm switched from growing tobacco to general farming. This meant that fewer slaves were needed to handle the workload.

“Tobacco had blighted the land and general farming wasn’t as labor intensive as tobacco farming,” Hilton said.

So Mullinix reduced the number of slaves he owned. The ones he freed and who chose to remain on the farm help with the raising of corn, wheat and cattle.

The Civil War

As the country split in two during the War Between the States, Ruth had memories of soldiers riding along the country roads in Montgomery County. Some of them would camp near the Mullinix farm, steal horses or just generally frighten people.

Nearly 100 years after the fact, Ruth still remembered the day soldiers broke into the main house looking for food. She heard them coming and hid behind a sugar barrel.

One of the soldiers found her and yelled, “I’m hungry!”

“They’s meat in the pot an’ bread in the box,” Ruth whispered in fright.

The soldiers took the meat and bread and left without causing any more problems except that the family went hungry that night.

Though Ruth could remember the incident past her 100th birthday, whether the soldiers had been Union or Confederate escaped her.

Another day that Ruth never forgot was April 14, 1865, the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

What’s less certain is whether she attended the Gettysburg Address two years prior.

“Now she doesn’t know, but young friends say years ago she used to talk about that great day in Pennsylvania and they’re prone to believe that she was there,” Sullivan wrote.

Ruth stayed with the Mullinixes until she married Charles Bowie in 1880. He had fought in the war on the Union side. After the war ended, he had returned to Frederick County to work for Dr. T. E. R. Miller until he fell off a wagon, injuring his right arm so badly that it had to be amputated.

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Ruth Bowie, “Miss Ruthie”, in the 1950’s.

To most people, Ruth Bowie, or “Miss Ruthie” as she was called, was just a friendly old lady with a sense of humor and a sweet tooth. What they didn’t realize was that she was also a historical figure in the county.

When she died in 1955, she not only was the oldest person in Frederick County (anywhere from 105 to 110 depending on which account was used), she was also the last person in the county who had been born into slavery.

As old as…

No one made an official record of Ruth Brown’s birth in the mid-19th Century. The 1900 U.S. Census listed her as 40 years old, but by the 1920 census, she had aged 25 years.

“Nobody knows just how old Miss Ruthie is, least of all Miss Ruthie herself,” Betty Sullivan wrote for the Frederick Post. Sullivan also noted that Ruth couldn’t remember ever celebrating a birthday as a child.

She is believed to have been born on the Asbury Mullinix Farm in Montgomery County. However, Kay Mehl wrote in the Sun Magazine in 1955 that Bowie was born elsewhere and “’just a toddler’ when sometime before the war she was sold in Montgomery County to a family named Mullinix.”

The Asbury Mullinix farm was located at Long Road off Long Corner Road in Damascus. It was part of a small community called Mullinix Mill, but the buildings burned down long ago.

Ruth’s parents were Wesley and Letha Brown.

Marilyn Veek, a research assistant at the Maryland Room in the C. Burr Artz Library, found the description of Asbury Mullinix’s slaves in the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules. In these documents, slaves are listed by their description and owner rather than their name.

In 1850, Mullinix owned seven slaves, including female aged 28 years, 14 years and 6 months. On the 1860 Slave Schedule, he owned nine slaves, including three females ages 11, 8 and 4.

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The Asbury Mullinix Farm where Miss Ruthie was born and lived. Family stories say that the little girl on the left behind the fence is Miss Ruthie.

“Since Ruth Bowie’s obituary indicates that she may have been born between 1845 and 1850, it is theoretically possible that she could be the female slave aged 6 months in the 1850 and the female slave aged 11 years in 1860,” Veek wrote in an e-mail.

Veek also noted that Ruth’s parents were listed in the regular 1860 census, which implies that they have may have been freed. That census also only lists them as having a single daughter, 1 year old, named Ann.

“One possibility is that they had been freed by Asbury Mullinix, but that their older children had not, and remained as slaves on his farm,” Veek wrote.

Bob Hilton, a great-great grandson of Asbury Mullinix, suggested another possibility. The Browns may have been freed slaves who still worked for the Mullinixes.

“Asbury had a habit of freeing slaves at 30 years old,” Hilton said. “They just never left the place.”

This had to do with Mullinix’s view of slaves. Hilton has a set of letters exchanged between Mullinix and a doctor in Virginia. In the letters, the doctor argues that slaves aren’t even human while Mullinix says that, yes, they are human, but they are like children who need to be taken care of.

The Browns were still living in the same area in the 1870 census. They are listed as having three daughters, Ellen, Mary and Susan. Ruth Brown doesn’t appear in the 1870 census associated with them.

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