Susan reporting,It’s easy to think of America’s Founders only through the images that are left of them, the stoic and often-idealized portraits painted by John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale. But regardless of how posterity venerates them, the Founders were a decidedly mixed group in their behavior, beliefs, and morals, as just…

via A Scandalous Sketch of Benjamin Franklin with a Lady, c1768 — Two Nerdy History Girls

This was an interesting post that I noticed this morning from Two Nerdy History Girls. We know that Benjamin Franklin had a weakness for women, but those descriptions came from words that couldn’t be reconciled with the image of the gentleman on the $100.

I don’t know about you, but my eyes really opened with Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Franklin in “John Adams.” He was a scene stealer in the mini-series. I particularly remember the scene where an angry John Adams bursts into a room to argue with Franklin, only to find the man playing chess in a tub with a French countess.

Now there are these sketches done by Charles Willson Peale when he was still a journeyman artist. According to the American Philosophical Society caption done with the two pictures in this post: While studying art in London, Charles Willson Peale called upon Benjamin Franklin uninvited. Peale accidentally witnessed the well-known Franklin engaging in promiscuous behavior with a lady. Instead of leaving, Peale secretly sketched the scandalous scene for future generations.

Of the two, I think the one above is the most scandalous. Franklin seems to have his hand on the unnamed woman’s breast while she has her hand on his crotch. It is even more scandalous when you remember that this must have been done in public and lasted for a while for Peale to make not one, but two drawings.

My question is: Given society’s tendency nowadays to discount all the good someone does for even one sin (i.e., Thomas Jefferson), is Benjamin Franklin, on balance, a good or bad person?


ShallmarI recently recorded the story of Shallmar for the podcast Wildfulness. I became interested in the story of the town since I first heard about it more than 10 years ago.

Shallmar would have come and gone like so many coal towns in America, except for the national attention it garnered in 1949 when the residents were starving. This is that story.

Also, if you would like to learn more about the story, I wrote Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town. 

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The Stackhouses lived the simple life of a hard-working family. They didn’t have much, but their family was happy. Christmas 1937 had been one of those happy times with the family getting together to share gifts and hearty meals together.

Early in the morning of December 27, the happiness of the season was destroyed.

Bernard Stackhouse, 26 years old, lived with his parents in a four-room home in Catoctin Furnace, Md. Something woke him up and Bernard realized that the house was on fire. His first thoughts were to get to safety, but then he didn’t know if his parents were awake or not. It was around 1 a.m.

“After heroically warning his parents who were sleeping in a room above, young Stackhouse found his exit blocked in the rear by a stone wall and in the front by a searing sheet of flames. The cries of the victim were audible to his parents standing helplessly without,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

Louise McPherson was up late on December 26, 1937. She remained awaked as the late night turned into the early morning of December 27. That was when she wondered at what seemed to be light flickering in the night. She looked out her window and saw that a quarter mile away a building was burning. She thought that it was the barn on the Stackhouse property and called the fire into the Guardian Hose Company in Thurmont.

The fire company, which incorporated two years earlier when it joined the Frederick County Volunteer Fireman’s Association, was using a 1933 Hudson sedan for one of its fire trucks. Mayor William Stoner (who was also a member of the fire company) had been the previous owner and the firemen had converted to a fire truck and added a 40-gallon chemical tank to it. The other truck was a 1927 chain-driven Mack pumper.

When McPherson hung up the phone, she “rushed to the scene but the conflagration had already demolished the greater part of the structure together with the personal belongings of the family,” the Catoctin Clarion.

Carl Stackhouse and his wife were outside, but they were in a panic because their son hadn’t gotten out and they had stopped hearing him yell from inside the house.

When the firefighters arrived on the scene, they poured water onto the flames, but the site remained too hot to enter to try and find Bernard’s body. It was not until 9:30 a.m. that firefighters were able to rake out the debris and find Bernard’s body.

Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed. Bernard had burned to death after saving his parents. The Stackhouses were taken to a neighbor’s house where they received first aid.

The body was view by Stoner in his role of Justice of the Peace and Dr. M. A. Birely. Stoner said that a coroner’s inquest would not be necessary and listed the cause of death as accidental burning, which Birely supported.

According to the Catoctin Clarion, two theories were put forward as the cause of the fire. The first was that Bernard had been smoking and his cigarette caught something on fire. The second was that a new stove that the Stackhouses had received as a Christmas present had overheated and caught something on fire.

Besides his parents, Bernard was survived by three sisters and two brothers. His younger brother, Warren, also lived in the house, but he had luckily been away from home spending the night with relatives.

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o-CHICKEN-facebookIn 1908, a crime wave hit Adams County, Pa. Residents would rush to their windows at every sound. They would peer into the dark searching for lurking figures in the darkness. It didn’t stop until a shootout and a massive manhunt ended with the capture of Ambrose Dittenhafer.

With his crime spree ended, chickens in Adams County were once again safe.

Yes, chickens.

Dittenhafer was a chicken thief.

The 53-year-old Dittenhafer had had run-ins with the law for years. Some involved animal cruelty. One was assault on a police officer, but it was a nighttime wholesale chicken business that sent him to jail for a significant amount of time.

However, in the late fall of 1908, chickens started disappearing from hen houses around the county. No one knew who the thief was, but they had their suspicions.

On election night, Straban Township resident Martin Harman had to go to Hunterstown for some reason. His wife followed him later in the evening. As she headed to Hunterstown, she saw Dittenhafer walking along the road. Something about the situation and Dittenhafer made her suspicious and she told her husband what she had seen when the met up with him.

Harman borrowed a gun, made sure it was loaded and headed back to his farm. He passed Dittenhafer on the way back. Harman turned off the road early to mislead Dittenhafer. Then Harman tied up his horse and hurried across a field to his property. Once there, he hid in his barn to wait.

A few minutes later, someone whose identity was hidden in shadows entered the barn.

“The dark figured selected some fat pullets roosting on the barn year fence and hurriedly placed them in a bag which he was carrying. Next, he made for a willow tree near the Harman farm watering trough. Some well fattened Spring chickens were found slumbering here and Ambrose was in the act of selecting the choicest of those when Mr. Harman commenced action,” the New Oxford Item reported.

Harman fired at the thief twice. The shots, which were probably rock salt, hit the thief. Unfortunately, Harman learned later that his shots also killed several of the chickens in the bag.

Dittenhafer shouted, “Don’t shoot again!”

As Harman approached him, Dittenhafer dropped his bag and ran off. “It is said that in his efforts to escape Dittenhafer divested him of all his clothing possible and cast aside all unnecessary possessions,” the New Oxford Item reported.

For some reason, Harman remained at large for more than a week. Then he entered the Lower Brother’s Store in Table Rock on Nov. 20 and was recognized. Justice of the Peace H. B. Mears issued a warrant that Constable John F. Wolf of Butler Township served on him at the store.

“With a vigorous denial he made a dash for the door, Constable Wolf hanging on to his coat and urging the men about to help him hold the man who was fast making his exit,” the Adams County News reported.

Dittenhafer grabbed the club he always carried and fled out the door. He ran across a nearby field “making decidedly uncomplimentary remarks about Constable Wolf on the way,” the Adams County News reported.

Three days later, a report came in that Dittenhafer was going to return to his home.

Detective Charles Wilson, County Deputy Fred Kappes and Constable Morrison of Straban Township surrounded Dittenhafer’s house and remained in hiding through the night when they thought they saw him sneak into the house.

“Detective Wilson at once rushed in and was confronted by the man’s wife who had a shot gun leveled at him. Not dismayed he hurried through the various rooms after the man, being met in one of them by one of Dittenhafer’s sons armed with a gun. No harm was done,” the Adams County News reported.

However, Dittenhafer wasn’t found. He had managed to escape into the foggy night.

The law officers then organized a large posse of citizens and set off on Dittenhafer’s trail. They followed him for three miles through the fog only rarely catching sight of him.  When he was seen, the posse would fire shots at him, apparently without hitting Dittenhafer.

He managed to double back and he returned to his house. After six hours of pursuit, the posse managed to surround him.

“Here the man realizing that his chances for escape were rather slim made a desperate fight and armed with a razor and his “big stick” was ready for a hand to hand combat. Shot after shot fired into his hiding place and he finally emerged to be met by Detective Wilson whose pistol was pointing straight at his head. Realizing that all was up he surrendered,” the Adams County News reported.

Dittenhafer begged to be let go. He said that he would leave the county if Wilson let him go. Wilson’s answer was to handcuff him and transport him to the county jail.

On February 1, 1909, Dittenhafer pled guilty of “larceny of chickens.” Dittenhafer said that he would leave the county if the judge wouldn’t sentence him to jail time. Instead, Judge Swope sentenced him to one year in Eastern State Penitentiary. Rebecca Dittenhafer pleaded that her husband be allowed to serve out his time in the county jail.

Swope was unmoved. He told her, “If you were to stay here she might feel that she ought to bring some food to you at the county prison and thus spend some of her energy which will be necessary for the support of the family while you are serving her sentence,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Dittenhafer behaved well in the penitentiary and was released a couple of months early. Things did not improve for Dittenhafer as a free man.

“Nobody will give me any work and I do not have sufficient money to support my family,” Dittenhafer told the Adams County News. “It is right in the middle of the Winter and I cannot raise any produce with which to earn a living. No one will give me a job or lend me money, and there you are. If I steal, down the road I go. I want to lead an honest and honorable life now but it’s pretty hard times.”

During his time in prison, his wife and children had been living in the county poor house. Dittenhafer had gotten a new suit and $10 on his release from prison. The money disappeared quickly, though. He had $3 stolen from him after he paid for car fare home from prison, and with the remainder, he bought his son, George, a new set of clothes.

By March, it was reported that Dittenhafer had finally not only left the county but the state. He was said to be managing a farm in Maryland.

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Photo courtesy of the Garrett County Historical Society.

“My camera lens does not lie. It took just what it saw, no more, no less,” Leo J. Beachy once wrote.


His camera captured faces and scenes of Garrett County in the early 20th century. Horse-drawn wagons. One-room log schoolhouses. Historic buildings that have since been destroyed. Weddings and school classes. Dirt roads and mud streets.

“Of all the early Maryland photographers whose work I have seen,” photographer Marion E. Warren said in The Eye of the Beholder: Photographs by Marion E. Warren 1940-1988, “Leo Beachy had a sensitivity for human interest that was unique.”

It is a world that now lives only in the memories of the oldest citizens and for decades after Beachy’s death in 1927, it was believed as lost as the time that had spawned it.

Life as a Backwoods Schoolteacher

Leo Beachy was born in 1874 on a farm call Mt. Nebo near Grantsville. He was the seventh of 10 children born to Jonas Beachy and Anna Youtzy. Leo lived on the family farm his entire life never marrying or having children.

As an adult, he became a school teacher, teaching in small one-room schoolhouses, such as Negro Mountain School, Engle School, and Compton School.

“He wrote an article called ‘My Life as a Backwoods School Teacher.’ It was so sad to read. He was very unhappy,” his niece, Maxine Beachy Broadwater said.

According to the book, Legacy of Leo J. Beachy, Leo won a small Kodak camera as a sales premium from E. L. Kellogg & Co. With this camera, he took his first picture. It was of his mother staring up at the sun.

“When he developed the picture, he wrote, ‘Lo and behold, I thought I was Rembrandt,’” Broadwater said, recalling some of her uncle’s writings.

His interest in photography sparked, he soon found himself a larger camera that took pictures on glass plates. However, he didn’t do much with it at the time and stored it away in a trunk.

“What induced me to take up photography was that I wanted our home photographer to go to that old log school where I taught my first school and take some pictures of it and the great hills lying about it and the rocky Savage River. He never got the pictures for me,” Beachy wrote.

He remembered his camera and took the picture himself. Pleased with the results, he began taking other pictures of classes, places, and people of Garrett County.

Beachy suffered from a crippling disease that caused him to give up teaching. Today, the disease can be identified as multiple sclerosis, though it did not have a name at the time.

Beachy threw his work efforts into photography.

“Aunt Kate would carry him on her back to the wagon and get him on. Then he would drive to where he needed to be and someone there would carry him off,” Broadwater said.

Over the next two decades, it’s not known how many glass-plate photos that Beachy took, but the estimates are in the tens of thousands. He also began making a national name for himself. Motor Trend ran some of his National Road photos in 1925 and National Geographic ran at least one of his photos in 1926 of a Garrett County snow scene.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt also admired Beachy’s work when he judged a photography contest. Beachy had entered a picture of “Speedy” Bittinger on his motorcycle and sidecar delivering mail along the National Road and won the national contest.

Beachy died from complications of multiple sclerosis on May 5, 1927. He was only 53 years old. He is buried in Otto Cemetery, near Grantsville.

beachy_cove_garrett_coA Legacy Lost

Broadwater was only six years old when she helped her brothers load boxes of her uncle’s glass plates onto a wagon to clear out Beachy’s studio so that it could be converted into a chicken house.

“I still feel guilty about it today, but I was young and I did what I was told,” Broadwater said.

The glass plates were taken to a creek and dumped into it where they shattered.

Luckily, Beachy had been a prolific photographer and the boxes dumped into the creek were not the only boxes of his photographs.

A Legacy Found

In 1975, a friend came into the library where Broadwater worked and showed her a set of 75 glass-plate negatives.

“The minute I saw them I knew they were Uncle Leo’s,” Broadwater said.

Then a few years later a man who was renting property next to the old stone Casselman River Bridge, commented to Broadwater that he wished that Dr. Alta Shrock, the founder of Penn Alps, would get rid of the boxes of old glass plates in the old wash house. The boxes were so heavy that they were collapsing the old shelves they were sitting on.

Broadwater called Shrock, who gave her the plates, around 2,500 of them. They had been rescued from a dump many years before, stored away, and forgotten. Kate Beachy had apparently held back some of her brother’s glass plates to preserve them. She eventually forgot about them and when she moved to New York, the new owners of the house found the boxes of glass plates and took them to the dump. Luckily, someone realized they had historic value and rescued them, although he, too, eventually forgot them.

Since that time, Broadwater has worked hard to preserve her uncle’s legacy by caring for the glass plates and displaying the scenes captured on them.

“I never met Uncle Leo, but I feel as though I know him through working on the glass-plate negatives,” Broadwater said.

Her efforts had paid off as he uncle’s talent has come to be appreciated.

In his book, Maryland Time Exposures, 1840-1940, William Stapp, curator of photography for the National Portrait Gallery, wrote, “Beachy’s photographs are entrancing pictures, composed with naïve charm … (They) are compelling, summoning up visions of a style of life blessed by innocence … They reassure us about our past, and thus give us comfort for the present and for the future. That is no mean accomplishment for an unpretentious small-town photographer.”

Remembering Leo Beachy

You can view a documentary about Beachy, “Leo Beachy: A Legacy Nearly Lost”, on the Garrett County Historical Society website. The documentary originally aired on WQED in Pittsburgh.

Life Magazine also published many of his photos in 1990 in a 10-page feature. You can view many of the photographs on the Garrett County Historical Society website or by visiting the Grantsville Museum.

The Maryland Historical Society also has a small collection of Beachy’s glass-plate negatives that it acquired in 2010.

Broadwater has also published four volumes of small books with hundreds of Beachy’s photographs reprinted in them.

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A Woman on Fire



York Hospital. Courtesy of the York County History Center.

Benjamin Witmer of Warrington Township stopped at the general store in Mt. Airy, Pa., on the evening of July 8, 1938, to top of his gas tank with four gallons of gasoline. He was finished with work for the day and driving with his children to Harrisburg to see his sick wife who was in the hospital there.


Anna Mahoney walked out to the car when it stopped in front of the gas pump. She was Luther Snyder’s housekeeper and Girl Friday. Snyder owned the store, but he was busy with a customer inside, so Mahoney stepped in to help, which she often did when Snyder was short-handed.

She started to pump the four gallons into the calibrated glass cylinder on top of the pump. When she was finished, she would insert the pump into the gas tank, turn off the pump, and allow gravity to pull the gasoline into the car’s gas tank.

While Mahoney was doing that, Witmer got out to stretch his legs.

Then things got confusing and understandably so.

“While Miss Mahoney was holding the hose through which the gasoline was being placed in the tank of his machine, he was engaged in conversation with the attendant. Apparently unconsciously Witmer struck a match on the tank of his automobile to light a cigarette. There was a flash of flame which enveloped Miss Mahoney,” the York Dispatch reported.

Witnesses across the street reported seeing Witmer jerk the hose, which was also burning, out of the tank before it caught the car on fire. They believed that the hose caught fire first and Witmer jerked it out of the car to keep the vehicle from catching on fire since his five children were inside. The witnesses said that the burning hose splashed gasoline on Mahoney’s dress, which then caught on fire.

“Miss Mahoney’s screams attracted her employer, who tried in vain to extinguish the flames,“ the York Dispatch reported. He only managed to severely burn his hands as he tried to put out the flames and help the terrified woman.

William Forcht, who lived nearby, was sitting under a tree in his front yard when he saw the fire. He grabbed a blanket and ran to the store. He wrapped Mahoney in the blanket to try and smother the flames.

Dr. W. L. Crawford, who lived in nearby Dillsburg, was called. He quickly came to the scene along with his wife, who was a trained nurse. They administered first aid to Mahoney. Then Snyder and Charles Glasby drove the injured woman to York Hospital where she died the next morning.

It was a tragic end for a woman who had recently received good news. Mahoney, who had a British mother, had been showing friends a letter that she had received from a London attorney that stated she and her brother had a claim on the Ruhanna Johns Estate. It had an estimated worth of one million dollars (about $18 million in today’s dollars). Mahoney had even retained attorney John Brennerman on S. George Street in York to help her and her brother establish their legal claim.

Upon Mahoney’s death, Coroner L. U. Zech and District Attorney Ralph Fisher were notified. Zech was needed to examine the body and decide on whether to hold a coroner’s inquest. Fisher had to decide whether charges should be filed and against whom.

Zech’s examination showed that Mahoney had been burned on three-quarters of her body. He called a coroner’s jury, which convened at the Snyder’s store two weeks later.

Witnesses testified that Mahoney had been about six feet away from the car when the fire started. This seemed to contradict statements from that night that said she had inserted the hose into the car.

Witmer testified that he and Snyder had been the ones to try and put on the flames burning Mahoney. Witmer added that he not only had no matches on him that night, but he hadn’t been smoking. This contradicted some of the witness testimony, but it was supported by others.

In fact, one witness’s testimony was disregarded entirely. Forchst said he saw Witmer strike a match, but in answer to one of Attorney Harvey Gross’s questions, Forchst said he did not see a flame. Gross was serving as Witmer’s lawyer and pointed this out to the jury. At another time in the questioning, Forchst said he saw Witmer with a cigarette in his mouth, and then he later stated he never saw a cigarette. His testimony was so contradictory that it was entirely disregarded.

In the end, the jury could not determine how the fire had started, only that it had and that it had caused Mahoney’s death. It had become apparent, though, that Witmer was not to blame in any way for the death. Her death was ruled accidental from a fire of unknown origin.

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UntitledThough the Franklin County Career and Technical Center in Chambersburg, Pa., cost a lot more to build, served a much smaller community and took a lot longer to build than originally imagined, the result was a vocational and technical school that has graduated thousands of skilled workers over its 41 years. Not only that, but 98 percent of them have been able to remain in the area after graduation because they had the skills that local employers needed.

The idea of a vocational-technical school for Franklin County was first suggested as part of a statewide plan for such schools. At that time, it was envisioned that one school could serve students in Franklin, Adams, Fulton, and part of Cumberland counties.

The idea was kicked around for a couple of years until a group of people from the business, agricultural and education communities formed in 1963 to start looking at how to make the idea a reality. Gradually, the school’s district shrunk until it became Franklin County and the Shippensburg area of Cumberland County.

Industries and businesses in the proposed area were sent 1,680 surveys to determine what skills students needed to have to be employable and what business areas were most in need of workers. About 80 percent of the surveys were returned and that information along with the results of a student interest survey were reviewed by the committee to come up with 22 proposed courses of study.

The proposed school was presented to the school boards in 23 different school districts in two counties for their review. In March of 1964, 108 directors from those boards met in a special meeting to decide on whether or not building a new vo-tech school was a feasible idea.

Clair Fitz, area coordinator of industrial education at Penn State, spoke to the directors about the opportunities a vo-tech school would present. “Saying vocational-technical schools provide sound terminal education for those pupils not planning to continue into college, Fitz added that skills learned in these schools give pupils ‘something to sell’ when they enter the labor market following completion of their schooling. The new skills; he continued, will give the county a better and higher labor market and generally bolster the county’s economy,” reported The Public Opinion.

After two hours of discussion, the vote was unanimous to submit an application for a new school to the state. George Fries, who was a member of the committee, called the vote, “a fine, progressive step forward.”

At this point, it was believed that the school could open in 1966 at the latest and cost $1.2 million to build. The Pennsylvania Department of Education gave the project its go ahead and the search began for a site where the school could be built.

Eventually, 108 acres were purchased in Guilford Springs, but construction issues, including how to get adequate water to the site, delayed the project and increased the costs. Construction began mid-1968.

The school partially opened in the fall of 1969 with 14 areas of study. Another seven areas were added the next semester. The total cost of construction came in at $4.2 million.

“That $4.2 million will pay for a sprawling modern building that features the latest in automotive repair shops, a practical nursing suite, and even a temperature controlled hothouse for agriculture students,” reported The Public Opinion.

Initial enrollment in the school was 227 students from the six participating school districts of Chambersburg, Fannett-Metal, Greencastle-Antrim, Shippensburg, Tuscarora, and Waynesboro. The students attended the vo-tech center for three weeks to train in their skill areas and then their home schools for three weeks to complete their general educational requirements.

The Franklin County Area Vocational-Technical School was formally dedicated on April 19, 1970. In his dedicatory remarks, Superintendent James Gibboney said, “A vocational-technical education will help our youth to cultivate the ability to construct their own environment and to create their own destiny. Through your united efforts, you have placed a monument here. Not a monument of brick and stone and steel, but a monument to the living, to the minds of men.”

Though the name has changed to the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, the school still remains a monument that grows and adapts to provide the county with a skilled labor force.

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