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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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After the Civil War ended, a young 24-year-old veteran returned home and decided that he wanted to be a teacher. He found a job as the schoolmaster for the school in Grantsville, Md., which was then part of Allegany County, Md. Ross R. Sanner was a man who commanded men in battle, and he turned those leadership skills into educating a new generation of young citizens.

“The writer (editor of the Oakland Republican) had the privilege of being one of his primary pupils in 1868 and among the readers of The Republican are many who received their first instructions from this grand old pedagogue and who have ever since held him in grateful memory and high esteem,” Benjamin Sincell wrote in 1916.

Sanner was born in Lower Turkeyfoot Township in Somerset County, Pa., in 1842. He had answered the call for soldiers in 1861 and walked to Uniontown to enlist in the 85th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry as a 19-year-old private. He fought gallantly in various campaigns with his unit and soon started earning promotions, ending the war as a captain.

He was wounded at Folly Island in Charleston, S.C., and spent two months recovering in a hospital. He returned to duty and was injured a second time during the Battle of Petersburg. Sanner was fighting alongside his cousin, Norman Ream, when Ream was injured.

“He was six feet, two inches tall, and Captain Sanner carried him a mile on his shoulder to safety, the Cumberland Press reported. “Later Captain Sanner was wounded in the same battle and the pair became separated.”

It was this wound that caused him to be honorably discharged from the army on September 22, 1864, and he began collecting an invalid pension.

 

Grantsville School2 - pre-1909 (3)

Grantsville School prior to 1909. Photo courtesy of Alice Early.

 

Upon his return home, he attended the Iron City Business College in Pittsburgh and Mount Union College in Mount Union, Ohio. In 1866, he became a teacher in Grantsville, and also a husband when he married Alice C. Fuller.

He would eventually move on to teach in schools in Frostburg; Cumberland; Confluence, Pa.; and at the Soldiers’ Orphans’ School in Uniontown, Pa.

He moved to North Dakota for a number of years to try his hand at wheat farming, but teaching was his passion and he returned to the area once again and became the superintendent of schools in Oakland.

The in 1915, his career came full circle and returned to Grantsville to once again become the principal. They took up residence at the Casselman Hotel and Sanner enjoyed teaching with fewer responsibilities.

“In times of peace as well as of war he has stood by the best principles of government, and his influence over the minds of his pupils and those coming within his sphere has always been exerted for good,” according to Portrait and Biographical Record of the Sixth Congressional District of Maryland in 1898.

Three years after his return to his teaching roots, “Grantsville’s Grand Old School Teacher” passed away in Confluence at 76 years old from cirrhosis of the liver. He was buried at the Confluence Baptist Cemetery.

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Emmitsburg, Md., has a long history of both fires and fire protection. The Great Emmitsburg Fire of 1863 is considered the most-serious fire in the town’s history. By the time the flames sputtered out, 28 houses and nine businesses had been damaged or destroyed. Three of the four corners of the town square were black with fire and three of the towns four blocks were fire damaged. Other reports put the number of damaged buildings at 50 and half of the town destroyed. In actuality, probably about a quarter of the town burned, based on a population of slightly less than 1,000.

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Firefighting efforts improved in 1884 when water from the town’s newly built reservoir was piped under the street to fire hydrants. This provided a more-dependable supply of water to the engines. When the reservoir was dug and the water lines put in, The Emmitsburg Chronicle reported, “When it is considered that the reservoir is located 224 feet above the level of the square, any person can estimate the advantages that must accrue to the village when the improvement is completed. With proper hose at hand, it will scarce be possible for any great fire to occur here, and this security lessening the risks, must diminish the rates of insurance, and we trust that in due time the water power will be availed of for manufacturing purposes.”

Unfortunately, this did not prove to be true because Emmitsburg had its second great fire the following year.

Fire broke out in St. Joseph’s College just before noon on March 20, 1885, and quickly spread. Fighting fires in the large college buildings was too much for the firefighters with Vigilant Hose Company who were doing “grand work, but their efforts were, of course, unequal to the requirements,” according to The Frederick Daily News. Someone telegraphed for the help of fire companies from Frederick and Hagerstown. At the time, St. Joseph’s College was valued at $1 million and the total damage calculated at about $60,000.

What could be considered Emmitsburg’s third most-serious fire happened in December 1909 just days before Christmas. Shortly before noon, the roof of the Rowe property caught fire, which at the time was occupied by the Home Bakery, Harry Hopp, and Mr. Peters.

“The alarm was sounded but by the time a stream of water could be made to play on the burning roof the adjoining properties, the Reformed Church parsonage and the house occupied by Mrs. Virginia Gillelan were ablaze,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

Vigilant Hose Company combated the fire, but “A high wind aided the flames and for a time it was thought that nothing could be done to save the Rowe property although every effort was being made in that direction.”

Lulu Patterson then discovered that the Motter building occupied by Motter and Ruth Gillelan’s store was on fire. This split the efforts of the fire company as they now battled two fires. If that wasn’t enough, it was then discovered that the homes of H. W. Eyster and George T. Eyster were also on fire.

The firefighters didn’t give up, though.

“Inside of an hour the flames had been overcome and Emmitsburg, at least part of it, was saved,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

In all, 10 buildings were lost or damaged in the blaze.

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1918-flu-pandemic So it seems like everyone lately has the flu. Schools are sending warnings home to parents. Hospitals are telling patients with the flu not to come in. The Centers for Disease Control has said that is has hit epidemic level.

So how bad can it get?

The worst to date has been the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. It left about 50 million dead after just a couple months. I wrote about it in my novel October Mourning. I’ve also written about half a dozen articles about it and given a couple talks about it.I continue to be fascinated (scared?) by it.

It killed more people than World War I and in a shorter time frame, too, yet the war had the headlines during 1918. It was estimated that 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish Flu or 10 times more than died in the war.

It killed more people in one year than the Black Plague did in 4 years.

It was so devastating that human lifespan was reduced by 10 years in 1918.

CopsHere’s how it was described. One physician wrote that patients rapidly “develop the most vicious type of pneumonia that has ever been seen” and later when cyanosis appeared in patients “it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate.” Another doctor said that the influenza patients “died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their mouth and nose.”

Public meetings were canceled. Streetcars and other public transportation had to travel with windows open. Plus, you couldn’t spit on the street and needed to use a handkerchief when you cough or sneeze or face a fine in many places.

It wasn’t that the flu was particularly deadly. It was about 10 times deadlier than the average flu, or rather, it had a 2.5 percent mortality rate according to one report I read. While deadly for flu, there are diseases with a much higher mortality rate. The thing about those diseases is that they usually aren’t that contagious. I’ve read that the Spanish Flu struck half of the world’s population.

So turn it into a math problem.

A disease like Ebola kills about 50 percent of those who get it, but there were only something like 21,000 cases last year. So the chances of you catching Ebola, much less dying from it were unlikely.

However, Spanish Flu killed 2.5 percent of those who got it and you had a 50 percent chance of catching it. That means 15 out of every 1000 people in the world, regardless of whether they caught the flu or not, died.

Doctors and nurses, who were exposed more frequently to sick patients, caught the flu. Many died, leaving a heavier burden on those behind. They found themselves at even a greater risk of exposure.

Medical personnel weren’t the only ones affected. Trains struggled to run on time because of sick personnel. Few operators meant that fewer calls were getting through.

StreetcarUndertakers couldn’t keep up with the demand for new graves. Yet, in many places, the ground was frozen so the bodies had to be stored in piles in some towns.

Then the flu season ended and fewer cases were reported. There was a bit of a resurgence in early 1919, but the flu had already started mutating. The new form wasn’t as contagious, and by the fall, the flu was back to being just something that kept people home from work or school for a few days.

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UntitledHere’s the cover for my next book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories and Hidden History Along the Potomac River. It is also the third book in my “Secrets” series.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 29 true stories about the canal and 67 photos and illustrations. My favorite stories include:

  • The chapter about where the original destination for the C&O Canal was. Hint: It wasn’t Cumberland, Md., or the Ohio River.
  • The sad story of the Spong family and how they met their tragic end on the canal. This one might give you nightmares if you’re a parent and even if you aren’t.
  • My third-favorite story is the one of about the connections between the canal and the JFK assassination. Let that sink in. The C&O Canal closed in 1924, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and this story takes place in 1964.

It should be no surprise that the C&O Canal is a favorite topic of mine. I’ve written three novels, a novella, and dozens of short stories about it. I’ve even got an outline for another non-fiction book that I want to write about the canal.

One thing that I find fascinating about the canal is that although it closed in 1924, we are still learning new things about it nearly 100 years later.

Secrets of the C&O Canal will retail for $19.95 when it is released next month. You can pre-order a signed copy and get it shipped free to your home (U.S. addresses only) at this link.

If you’d like to take a look at the other books in the series, take a peek at their Amazon pages.

3 Secrets

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logoIt’s bad enough to get a call that your son’s in jail and needs you to bail him out, but what happens when you show up at the county jail with bail money and the corrections officer has never heard of your son? You may want to look at a map.

James Ridings was a 21 year old from Keyser, W.Va. was driving through Franklin County, Pa., on the evening of April 7, 1961. He was a mile north of Waynesboro, Pa., when he pulled onto the Waynesboro-Quincy road from a side street without paying attention to oncoming traffic. His car hit a northbound car being driven by Kenny Cook, Jr. from Quincy, Pa.

The crash sent Cook’s car off the road and into a tree. The impact pushed one of the front wheels on the car back three feet. Despite the force of the impact, Cook and his wife, Paneye, only suffered bruises and contusions. They were taken to Waynesboro Hospital and released, but their car was a total loss.

Pennsylvania State Police charged Ridings with failing to yield the right of way, and he was taken to the Franklin County jail.

Ridings used his phone call at the jail to contact his parents and ask them to come get him and bail him out of jail. Then he waited in his cell for his parents to arrive. In those days, the trip from the Keyser to Waynesboro took anywhere from 2 to 2 ½ hours depending on traffic and the route driven. That time passed and then even more with no sign of his parents.

Ridings eventually fell asleep and when he woke up in the morning, his parents still hadn’t arrived.

Then the jailer gave Ridings the news. His parents had set out for Waynesboro immediately after his call and made it to Waynesboro in about 3 ½ hours. The problem was it was Waynesboro, Va.

“This morning they phoned a message to their son telling him they were then setting out for Waynesboro, Pa. and Chambersburg,” the Chambersburg Public Opinion reported.

Both towns are named for the Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne. To make matters even more confusing there is also the Borough of Waynesburg, Pa., in Greene County that is named after Wayne.

While it is understandable that Waynesboro, Pa., would be named after Wayne since the general was a Pennsylvanian, his bravery and battle victories during the War for Independence, earned him many namesakes. Besides Waynesboro, Va., there are six other cities, two communities, 14 counties, five towns, a forest, a river, 16 schools, 23 streets and highways, five townships, five villages and at least 17 businesses and structures that are named in honor of the general nicknamed Mad Anthony.

So Ridings’ parents could be forgiven their mistake. They were probably lucky that they didn’t wind up in Waynesburg Borough, the community of Wayne, Wayne County or Wayne Township, all of which are also in Pennsylvania.

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Howard Swain of York, Pa., considered himself an unlucky man, so much so, that even when he was lucky, he saw it as unlucky.

For starters, he was 40-year-old divorced man. It wasn’t a situation he would have wanted, but there you have it. He was unlucky, although the marriage probably wasn’t a happy one so ending it could have been seen as lucky.

Swain was a carpenter by trade, but business was slow so he was forced to live with his sister and brother-in-law in their spare bedroom at their home at 10 N. Pearl Street in York. Again, Swain saw this as unlucky, although he was lucky to have a place to live while he got back on his feet.

Then there was the auto accident in August 1925. Swain was driving a car in which his sister and another woman were passengers. They were driving down a straight hill above Dover, “when suddenly probably due to the condition of the road, for it was raining, the car skidded and was turned over several times,” according to the York Dispatch. Luckily, no one was killed, but everyone got thrown about pretty hard.

Of course, seeing the negative in everything, Swain said that he had internal injuries. He was examined at the West Side Sanitarium and no evidence of an injury could be found.

The following morning, near noon, Swain’s sister heard a gunshot. She ran upstairs and found her brother lying on the floor bleeding. She called to her husband, W. R. Jackson, who rushed to the Reliance Fire House and notified the police officer there. The officer and Jackson went to the office of Dr. W. H. Horning, only to find that he was out. They then went to the office of Dr. L. W. Fishel, who returned with them to the house on Pearl Street.

Someone had already notified Dr. Horning. He was examined Swain, loaded him into his car, and driven him back to the West Side Sanitarium, where Swain had been the previous evening after the auto accident.

It was determined that Swain had placed a .32-caliber revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger in an attempt to kill himself. The newspaper reported, “the bullet of which was deflected from its course by the upper half of a set of false teeth, which was found by the side of the bed in his room in which the shooting took place.”

The bullet had exited at the bottom of his jaw just below his chin. Swain eventually recovered from the accident.

The newspaper noted that “Despondency had been a constant companion of Swain.”  He had even threatened to kill himself over the preceding weeks. The closest he had come to acting on that threat was when he brought home a rusty .32-caliber pistol that was so in need of repair that the hammer could not even be pulled back.

Most likely cursing his bad luck, Swain had tossed it into the cellar.

At some point, he must have cleaned it up enough to use because this was the revolver that he had shot himself with.

Although Swain’s broken plate had saved his life, he probably saw it as unlucky that it had broken.

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