Posts Tagged ‘Adams County’

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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Some thought that it might be a killer that waited in hiding to pounce on the unsuspecting. Others thought that it was where other killers hid their dead. It was both, and while cautious, the residents of McSherrystown didn’t fear the pits of sand around them, perhaps because the body count accumulated over decades.



This shot of an old sand quarry give you an idea of how the McSherrystown quarries might have looked. Courtesy of http://www.rossbullock.co.uk.

In September 1901, a dead newborn baby was found in one of the sand holes from the quarry in McSherrystown. “The body was wrapped in the sleeve of an undershirt, which was next bound with a cloth and then enclosed in newspaper,” the New Oxford Item reported. A coroner’s inquest determined that the baby had been born alive, but no marks of violence were found on the body. The child may have suffocated in the sand. The parents were never found.


Whether or not the baby was the first person killed by the sand, he was not the last.

In December 1905, the New Oxford Item reported, “The ghastly discovery was made by several school boys, who, on their way home, while passing over the hill, saw a bundle lying in one of the sand holes. A scramble was made for possession of the bundle, and on picking it up the paper covering tore, and the body of a male child rolled to the ground.”

The boys were frightened at first, but they were boys. They quickly recovered and began spreading the story of how they had found a dead body.

The coroner’s inquest was only able to determine that the child had been dead for about a week when he had been found. Once again, the killers were never caught.

The sand holes around the town gave up their secrets reluctantly and then not all of them.

In October 1907, a horse and cart were buried under 20 feet of sand. The driver, Levi Reed, only narrowly escaped the same fate.

Reed had been loading the wagon with rough sand that needed to be put through the crusher to make it finer. “Levi Reed, who was near the horse, felt the tremor as the sand shifted and quickly he succeeded in reaching the edge of the bank, thereby saving himself from being drawn in,” the New Oxford Item reported.

A month later, Reed had another close call in the sand holes, but his partner, John Frock wasn’t so lucky. They had a contract to supply sand for the building of the York and Hanover trolley and were loading a wagon with sand. “They were working at the base of a jagged wall of sand above. Without warning this wall of sand shifted, sliding with force to the bottom of the hole,” the Gettysburg Compiler reported.



This shot of an old quarry shows how close they could be to residential areas. 


The sand buried Frock, and he suffocated. Rescuers dug his body out from beneath two feet of sand.

In 1914, Urban Gouker fell 20 feet into one of the sand holes. He sustained multiple broken bones. He was lucky. At least he lived.

Another resident who was lucky to avoid being killed in the sand holes was William Farley. He was driving his car on Third Street in McSherrystown and failed to make a turn in the road. His car slid off the road and into a sand pit 25 feet below.

“Although the machine, a touring car, landed in an almost perpendicular position, with its radiator buried in a heap of rubbish in the pit, the driver crawled from the automobile apparently unhurt, but later was reported confined to a bed at his home suffering from pains in his head,” the Hanover Evening Sun reported.

In December 1915, the Gettysburg Times reported that residents of McSherrystown had seen the shadowy form of a woman had been seen wandering near the sand holes, supposedly searching for her lost child. The newspaper pointed out that it was a ghost story that circulated from time to time in the area.

“Fictitious as the story is, it, however, recalls the fact that the dead bodies of three infants have been found in these quarries, at various times, within the past twenty years, the last child having been found one Sunday about ten years ago, wrapped in a white sheet,” according to the newspaper.

Besides hiding bodies, the holes were also used as the town dump. This created a fire hazard from time to time as the trash would catch on fire.

In 1930, a group of school boys hit the mother lode in a sand hole when they found cases of unopened beer buried in a hole. It was believed that the beer had been seized in a raid in which law enforcement officers had failed to dispose of the alcohol properly.

The boys, who were ages 7 to 13, found the treasure trove. “One boy had two cases of it in bags. They drank some of it and sold some at five cents a bottle to anyone who cared to take a chance,” according to the Hanover Evening Sun. Some of the boys also imbibed and were drunk when the police found them.

The 1930s also saw the town begin to fill in some of the sand holes, which had fallen into disuse. One area was filled in and turned into a playground. Other areas were partially filled in, which at least reduced the depth that someone might fall. However, some holes remained open even into the late 1940s when one hole was used as a local swimming hole.

It also allowed the sand hole to claim a victim by drowning when an 81-year-old man was accidentally knocked into the hole and died.

When the last hole was filled in, all of the secrets hidden in the sand were covered over, and given the depth of the holes, may never be discovered.

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The WWII POW camp at Gettysburg. Courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.

Gunter Habock was imprisoned in Gettysburg, but rather than considering it a trial, he enjoyed his time here as a prisoner. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that he returned to Gettysburg in 1970 to show his wife and son where he had spent part of World War II.


“He was a boy of 15 in 1939 when Hitler’s Brown Shirts demonstrated for possession of the Polish Corridor and remembers the Polish army in the city,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

An 18-year-old Habock was in Danzig in 1943. He was studying architecture when he was drafted into the German Army.

Habock had served in the war as a paratrooper in the German army, but he had been transferred to infantry when the Germans lost all of their planes at St. Lo, Normandy, after the Allies strafed the location. He was sent to fight in July 12, 1944, and captured along with 24 other paratroopers on July 28.

The captured Germans were taken to Le Havre, where 42 ships waited to sail to the U.S. These ships were loaded with 2,000 German prisoners.

The ships docked at New York and the prisoners were off loaded onto trains to be transported to various prisoner of war camps in the U.S. Several hundred were put on a train to Carlisle. At Carlisle, trucks were waiting to take about 100 of the prisoners to Gettysburg.

Gettysburg housed German prisoners of war from May 31, 1944 until February 1945. It was one of hundreds of POW camps throughout the country during the war.

The early POWs had to build their own camp at Gettysburg. They constructed a 400-foot by 600-foot stockade surrounding the camp along Emmitsburg Road next to the old Home Sweet Home Motel. During this construction phase, the prisoners were housed at the National Guard Armory on Confederate Avenue.

They were primarily put to work supplementing the work force at nearby orchards and canneries. Habock spent a lot of his time working at Peach Glen.

“I ran the cider press and drank lots of apple juice!” Habock told The Gettysburg Times.

Later, he would work at a fertilizer plant in York and loading pulpwood onto trucks and railroad cars in Ortanna.

For their efforts, the prisoners received 80 cents a day. The remaining amount of their daily earnings, which was usually between 50 and 60 cents an hour, was sent to the federal government. According to the National Park Service, the federal government received $138,000 from the Gettysburg POW camp from June 8 through November 1, 1944. On days that a prisoner didn’t work, he received 10 cents a day. The prisoners were paid in coupons, which they could use as cash in the camp exchange.

Habock left Camp Sharpe in February 1946 and was sent to Indiantown Gap, then to Ft. Meade, Md., and finally to Camp Shank, N.Y. From there, he was returned to LaHavre in June 1946 and discharged in Babenhausin, Germany.

He returned to his hometown of Danzig, but found that the Russians had expelled all Germans from it so he and his family had to be relocated to Hanover, Germany.

He earned his degree and became a contractor building apartments and homes. The married in 1947 and went on to have three children.

The Habocks flew into Ontario on vacation and visited Niagara Falls before visiting the sites where Habock had been as prisoner.

“They visited the Peach Glen plant today, where Habock found many changes,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

While in Gettysburg, he met with Eugene Clapper who had also been captured at St. Lo. However, Clapper had been captured by the Germans and sent to a German POW camp. As the two compared notes on their POW experiences, Habock told Clapper, “It was much worse for you than for me. I had enough to eat and the work was not like that.”

At its peak in July 1944, the Gettysburg POW camp held 932 prisoners of war, some of whom, like Habock returned after the war to visit Gettysburg as guests.

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The program from the Adams County Sesquicentennial pageant in 1950. Courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.

On a hot evening in July 1948, a group of Adams Countians met in a room that was made even hotter by the presence of so many people. The air conditioning was cranked up and everyone got down to the business of planning a celebration of Adams County’s sesquicentennial. The committee had been formed at the suggestion of the Adams County Historical Society.

“Anniversary celebrations are both entertaining and informative,” wrote Leighton Taylor, chairman of the Adams County Sesqui-Centennial Association. “They promote good will and fraternalism, encourage enterprise and initiative, and create a just and pardonable pride in progress and achievement. Moreover, with subversive elements trying to destroy our American Way of Life, we need a revitalization of our patriotism and love of country. This we think can be done most efficiently by reminding Adams Countians, in dramatic and colorful presentations, of their free institutions, their exalted and favored position as American citizens, and of the unparalleled progress made by them and their forebears during the County’s 150 years.”

Brothers of the Brush

With two years of planning, Adams Countians began noticing something different during the summer of 1950. “The rumor that there is a razor blade shortage was spiked Tuesday. …  beards, goatees, mustaches, and sideburns have begun to sprout on manly countenances as countians join in the spirit of things by permitting the facial hair to grow freely,” the Gettysburg Times reported on August 5th.

The men had joined the “Brotherhood of the Brush” in preparation for the county’s 150th birthday party. The men had agreed not to shave their beards for a month. At the end of the celebration, prizes would be awarded for most-luxuriant beard, best full-face beard, blackest beard, reddest beard, grayest beard, most-typical beard and best old-time costume with matching beard. A special award was also given for the man who tried his hardest to grow a beard and failed.

Harold Ecker was a young man in his 20’s at the time of the celebration. Besides participating in some of the events during the sesquicentennial, he was also a Brother of the Brush.

“I went to Atlantic City while I was growing a beard and someone wanted to know if I was a Jewish rabbi,” Ecker said. He eventually won second place for the reddest beard.

The Brothers of the Brush paid 50 cents for a badge that explained why they weren’t shaving. Shaver’s permits were also sold for $1 that gave them permission to shave. During the sesquicentennial celebration a Kangaroo Court was also set up to fine any male who was caught shaving without a permit.

The 50 participants showed up at the county courthouse on September 2 to have three Gettysburg barbers judge their beard-growing efforts during August. Some of the men had trimmed their beards in unique ways or added large rubber noses or other features to their faces. More than 2,000 people showed up to watch the judging. “So large was the audience that it nearly overwhelmed the ‘Brothers of the Brush’ and the judges and practically blocked traffic on Baltimore Street,” the newspaper reported.

While the whole thing was a fundraiser for the sesquicentennial, it was also fun for the participants and even the barbers.

“Barbers had a ‘field day’ harvesting the Brothers of the Brush following the parade Saturday,” the newspaper reported. “Most in mock seriousness asked the bearded contestants how long they had been growing the beard, asked how often they shaved, and then threatened to charge 50 cents for each and every shave that had been missed. All finally settled for 50 cents for one shave.”

The Parade of Progress

The sesquicentennial celebration covered five days with each day filled with events and having a different theme. “Adams County’s biggest birthday celebration ever came in its 150th year,” the Gettysburg Times noted in 1975.

The party began on Wednesday, August 30 with Queen’s Day. The other days’ themes were: Patriotic Day, Youth Day, Adams County Day and Freedom of Religion Day. Each day, other than Freedom of Religion Day” featured its own themed parade.

The festivities began on Wednesday, August 30 at 10 a.m. with an “aerial bombardment” as the program described it. Everyone on Adams County was encouraged to blow whistles and honk car horns. Churches range their bells.

More than 10,000 people turned out to watch the “Parade of Progress” on Saturday, September 2. It was billed as one of the largest parades in the county’s history with 34 floats “representing practically every possible scene in the county’s history,” according to the Gettysburg Times. Old cars, buggies, costumed participants and 14 bands and drum corps also participated in the parade.

“Back then, we had some beautiful floats in the parade,” Ecker said.

The Littlestown Rotary Club won the $100 top prize for the best float. “The wigged and costumed persons on the float danced the minuet while others played the harpsichord and violin as the float passed the judges’ stand on Lincoln Square,” the newspaper reported.

The Gettysburg Exchange Club won second place with a four-unit float that portrayed the history of Adams County including Mr. and Mrs. James Getty following up in a buggy. Lincoln Logs placed third with a replica of a log cabin on their float with Bernard Fraser playing Abraham Lincoln.

Roland Kime participated in the parade with the Senior Extension Club. “We were on the bed of a truck square dancing,” Kime said. The Senior Extension Club also performed square dancing demonstrations throughout the celebration.

Things were so busy on Saturday night that the newspaper report noted that it took 45 minutes to drive through town.

Freedom’s Frontiers

The keystone event of the celebration was the performance of “Freedom’s Frontiers.” It was an original 20-scene theatrical performance that featured a cast of 500 in historical costumes acting out the history of Adams County. It also featured ordnance supplied by Letterkenney Army Deport. The show played four nights of the celebration. Each performance filled the Gettysburg College stadium.

George Sipes was a sixth-grade student living in East Berlin who also played one of the 16 students in an early classroom scene in the pageant.

“We just sat in a classroom and didn’t say a word,” Sipes said. “We never even got to see the play. As soon as we were done, we got in a car and left.”

Sipes said that Archie Himes, the man who played the teacher in his scene, knew the boys from around town and sports games. He gathered them together one afternoon and asked, “Who wants to be in a play in Gettysburg.” A few of the boys raised their hands and they were immediately cast. Luckily, they also didn’t need to do any rehearsals for their part either.

Donald Ullery, executive secretary of the Adams County Sesqui-Centennial Association, wrote after the celebration that “a large, curious group of people gathered to witness the display.”

Other events

During the days, visitors could walk the main streets of most of the towns in the county and view historical displays in business windows. The businesses were competing for prizes and Thomas Brothers Department Store in Biglerville won the top prize. The display “contained authentic items of a country store of many years ago, according to the judges,” the newspaper reported. You could see a pot-belly stove with a live cat sleeping next to it as well as a cracker barrel.

You could also watch historical vignettes performed in various towns. Ecker’s wife and daughter dressed in costume to perform in one near the St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg. He said that they performed every three hours or so during the day.

Children and adults could enjoy midway games and sports at Gettysburg College.

Visitors purchased wooden nickels that could be used as cash during the celebration, but apparently none of the 10,000 wooden nickels that had been sold were ever redeemed.

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