Posts Tagged ‘pennsylvania history’

diamonds.jpgIn 1922, York resident Herbert M. Rothery was 64 years old and at the top of his profession. His work was well-known in Europe, although nobody knows it was Rothery. Rothery was a jewel thief, in fact, newspaper reports called him the “Dean of Diamond and Jewelry Thieves.”

The York Dispatch noted that Rothery “is known not alone to the police of the United States, but has for years been sought by the authorities of the European continent. In England, where he once escaped from the Marlborough prison, his record is known to Scotland Yard and for years he was sought, without success, by the London metropolitan police.”

His escape from Marlborough prison was made in 1892, and he remained at large in Europe after that. He continued stealing and making good his escapes. He was feared because his targets were usually expensive hauls, and his getaways were clean.

“Men of Scotland Yard and continental police came to recognize Rothery’s work through it thoroughness and the absolute lack in any case of any definite trace or clue to the identity of the perpetrator of the crime,” the newspaper reported.

Rothery had a police record that dated back to 1886, according to an article in The Jeweler’s Circular. He fine-tuned his skills in Europe until his work was feared for its effectiveness and respected for it professional manner.

The York Dispatch also noted further evidence of Rothery’s success as a thief, writing, “Rothery bears evidence of prosperity, wears expensive clothing and has a distinguished air.”

Then he disappeared from Europe and never returned.

He began stealing again in the United States, but these were smaller jobs and sloppier. Now in his 60s, his skills may have been fading.

Although he was caught and imprisoned several times, he managed to escape despite extra precautions being taken. One of his techniques was to effect a disguise by dying his hair, goatee, and mustache.

He came to live in York for reasons unknown. He roomed with a family on Philadelphia Street near Pine Street. From York, he would make out-of-town trips for days and sometimes weeks, always returning.

“While he was living quietly in York last year, detectives believe, Rothery was planning big jewel and diamond robberies which, because of his arrest in Baltimore, he never got the opportunity to execute,” The York Dispatch reported.

He was arrested in 1919 in Baltimore after selling stolen jewelry to a fence. He was released on bail, but when his case came to trial, Rothery didn’t show, and by that time, he had also left York. He was finally arrested again while in St. Louis in 1922.

At that time, he was wanted in Syracuse, N. Y., for jumping bail; Washington, D. C. for jumping bail; Baltimore for escape; Ft. Madison, Iowa, for escape; Cincinnati for robbery; Buffalo, N. Y. for robbery; Sioux City, Iowa, for robbery; New Orleans for robbery; Denver for escaping from a cop after being charged with assault to kill; Atlanta for robbery; Omaha, Neb., for robbery; and Richmond for robbery.

“For many years he has been recognized as one of the most dangerous thieves operating against the jewelers of the country,” The Jeweler’s Circular noted.

The article also said that he was able to continually make bail because he had “powerful friends in New York and Chicago” who were willing to pay it when needed.

Once the extradition claims were sorted out, Rothery, who also went by the alias Henry McClelland, was sent back to Baltimore where he was sentenced to four years in the Maryland State Penitentiary there.

His luck had finally run out, and his long career had come to an end.




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This is the third in a series of articles about the civilians who were taken as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.



Salisbury Prison for Union soldiers in North Carolina.

Eight civilians from Gettysburg were arrested during the 1863 battle, taken south, and imprisoned in POW camps where they endured brutality and starvation.


The arrested men were George Codori, J. Crawford Guinn, Alexander Harper, William Harper, Samuel Pitzer, George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle.

“Both Pennsylvania and the U. S. government informed the Confederacy that they had taken noncombatant civilians, and demanded their return. Because it refused, and since it was regarded as an act of state terrorism, the U. S. Secretary of War ordered the U. S. Army to seize 26 Confederate civilians and hold them as counter hostages at the Fort Delaware Prison on the Delaware River,” according to the Gettysburg Times.

The fort is on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River between Delaware and New Jersey. It had granite and brick walls that ranged in thickness from seven to 30 feet and were 32 feet high. Conditions for prisoners there were unpleasant, although not as unpleasant as things had been in Salisbury Prison for the Gettysburg civilian prisoners.

One Union doctor wrote of his visit to the prison and was recorded in The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies. “The barracks were at that time damp and not comfortably warm, and I suspect they have been so a part of the time during the winter…Some, perhaps a large majority, were comfortably clad. Some had a moderate and still others an insufficient supply of clothing. The garments of a few were ragged and filthy. Each man had one blanket, but I observed no other bedding nor straw. Nearly all the men show a marked neglect of personal cleanliness. Some of them seem vigorous and well, many look only moderately well, while a considerable number have an unhealthy, a cachectic appearance.”

In early 1865, the Gettysburg civilian POWs finally got their hearing before General Winder in Richmond. “He called some of us disloyal Pennsylvanians. I told him I was loyal to the backbone,” Samuel Pitzer wrote after the war.

This led to their release and they began returning home to Gettysburg in the middle of March 1865.

The return of the prisoners was a surprise to many because most of them had been presumed dead after the battle. Emanuel Trostle’s wife hadn’t given up hope that her husband still lived and was rewarded for her dedication when he returned home. He went on to lead a successful life as a shoemaker and a farmer.

He died in 1914 at the age of 75. He would have been alive to see the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and perhaps, the same men who had captured him during the battle. It is not known whether he attended the reunion, though.

George Cordori’s return on March 13 got a small mention in the Adams Sentinel. The joy of his return lasted only two weeks. He died of pneumonia at the age of 59.

“For a number of years he had had an attack of this dangerous disease almost every winter, but during the past 18 months, though suffering the privations incident to the life of a prisoner of the South, he informed us his health was very good,” the Gettysburg Compiler reported. It is believed he caught a cold riding the crowded transport that brought freed prisoners to Annapolis and dropped them off.

Ironically, three days after Codori died, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate released a joint resolution asking “That the Secretary of War be respectfully requested to use his utmost official exertions to secure the release of J. Crawford Gwinn, Alexander Harper, George Codori, William Harper, Samuel Sitzer (sic), George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle, and such other civilians, citizens of Pennsylvania, as may now be in the hands of the rebels authorities, from rebel imprisonment and have them returned to their respective homes in Pennsylvania.”

Here are the other parts of the story:

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slingshotThe famous line from the movie “A Christmas Story” is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” A variation of that line is said throughout the movie whenever the young boy who is the center of the story expresses his wish for a Red Ryder B-B Gun for Christmas.

However, a bigger threat to young boys’ eyes during the later decades of the 19th Century and even into the 21th Century was not a B-B gun, Red Ryder’s or otherwise. It was the bow gun and its sibling, the sling shot.

Though crossbows have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until 1868 that Howard Tilden patented “The Flying Comet,” a toy bow gun for children. He wrote on his patent application that, “the object of my invention is to provide for children a mechanical toy, that shall be once harmless and amusing.”

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way.

Case in point, the Franklin Repository reported in 1890 that, John Zullinger, an 11-year-old boy who lived in Orrstown had injured his right eye playing with a bow gun at his home.

“The little fellow was using a horse shoe nail to shoot at a mark, and while drawing up the bow, the string slipped and the nail struck fairly upon the ball of the eye inflicting a dangerous wound,” the newspaper reported.

John’s father brought him into Chambersburg the next day to have a doctor look at his eyes and see what could be done. The prognosis was not good. It appeared as if the youngster would lose most of his sight in his injured eye.

“This is another warning to boys not to play with dangerous toys. That there have not been some bad accidents in Chambersburg with this ‘cat and dog’ nuisance is almost a marvel,” the newspaper reported.

The newspaper article noted that because bow guns and sling shots had been such a problem in Philadelphia recently that the city police went through each public school in the city and searched the pockets of the boys in the schools. If they found any sling shots or bow guns, the toys were confiscated.

“There have been a number of fatal accidents from them in the city. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a similar raid here,” the newspaper suggested.

There’s no reference as to whether such a raid ever took place in Chambersburg, but it is not hard to believe that it wouldn’t have. It wouldn’t be much different than the no-tolerance policy that schools nationwide have for weapons being brought into the school.

As far sling shots and bow guns, they can still cause problems for young boys who test the limits of their toys. Only last year, a 12-year-old Roseville, Minnesota, boy was killed when he was hit in the chest by a rock from an oversized sling shot.

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An old Bakerlite telephone. They were heavy, connected to the wall, and actually had to be dialed.

At 2 a.m. on January 5, 1958, the Fayetteville operator-assisted phone system went dead. The signal lights on the switchboards blinked out and would never again notify an operator of an incoming call. Paul Musselman, district manager for United Telephone, flipped a switch and a new system of circuits and lights sprang to life. Fayetteville had entered the modern communications age.

“We are sure our customers will like this new, faster and more versatile telephone service. It is easy to dial, and if customers follow the brief instructions which appear in the new telephone directory, they will enjoy fine results,” Musselman told the Public Opinion.

Residents could call directly between Fayetteville and Chambersburg, though long distance and information services still required operator assistance. The operators in the Fayetteville office of United Telephone at 250 Lincoln Way East had been allowed to transfer to job openings in Chambersburg or take early retirement.

United Telephone Company of Pennsylvania had previously been known as the Cumberland Valley Telephone Company of Pennsylvania based in Carlisle when it began offering phone service in 1915. Today, United Telephone is a subsidiary of  CenturyLink, Inc.

The switch from operator-assisted phone calls to direct dialing had been planned and worked on for months. With help from the Stromberg Carlson Company, United Telephone had strung miles of wire, installed new equipment and added circular phone dials to each phone in the Fayetteville area. Phone directories with all of the 1,000-plus phone numbers also had to be printed up.

The switchover was not unexpected. Fayetteville was a growing area and the time had come where the existing phone system needed to be expanded to handle the additional capacity.

“Fayetteville, one of the fastest growing telephone exchanges in Pennsylvania, now serves over 1,000 telephones, an increase of approximately 300 per cent in ten years,” the Public Opinion reported.

When a customer picked up a phone handset, he now heard a hum instead of an operator saying, “Number please.” However, customers couldn’t simply dial the phone numbers they used to ask an operator for. The changeover in systems also required that each user get a new phone number.

All of the new phone numbers in Fayetteville began with FL and were followed by five digits. When speaking a telephone number like FL65032, a person would say, “I need Flanders 6-5-0-3-2.”

The call volume after the switchover was light at first, but then it quickly picked up. By the afternoon of the first day for the new system, it was handling double the volume of phone calls that the old system had handled.

Because direct phone dialing was a new concept to most residents, seminars were set up at the local school to provide instruction on how to use the new phones to both students and adults.

While many areas did not get direct dialing until the 1950’s, it had been around since the 1930’s, though only in smaller areas. By 1959, when Fayetteville got direct dialing for local calls, direct-dialing long distance had been around for more than seven years.


Many switchboard operators had to look for new work as direct dialing telephone service was introduced throughout the United States in the mid-20th century.

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In many municipalities, people covered their faces to try and avoid infection from the flu.

Through November of 1918, the cases, and more importantly deaths, from Spanish Flu decreased. People started breathing a sigh of relief without it going through a surgical mask. Then Adams County then suffered what only a few places around the country saw, a second spike in the flu.

By the end of October, the Gettysburg Times was reporting that 23,000 Pennsylvanians had died from the flu. That represents roughly ¼ of 1 percent of the state’s population that died in one month and the month still had five days left in it when this was reported.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the flu peaked in Philadelphia during the week of Oct. 16. On that day, not that week, 700 Philadelphians died. Pittsburgh saw its peak three weeks later. So Adams County most likely saw its peak somewhere in between.

The emergency hospital at Xavier Hall in Gettysburg lifted its quarantine at the end of the October and by this point 148 people who had been sent there had died.

Residents were confused about the flu, which only added to their fear of it. The way Spanish Flu struck across the county was inconsistent. The Halloween parade in Gettysburg was cancelled, but the bans on public gatherings were slowly being lifted.

The second wave of Spanish Flu hit particularly hard in the Fairfield area and the eastern part of the county. One doctor was quoted in the Star and Sentinel as saying, “I have just come from four homes. Three or four people were sick in every one of them. One of the families had both parents and the two children ill. I have another family in which there were six cases.”

Reports said the second outbreak wasn’t as pervasive, but it could still be deadly. This is typical of locations where there was a second outbreak.

Adams County moved into the 1918 Christmas season cautiously. Dr. B. F. Royer told the Gettysburg Times, “With the approach of the holiday season too much stress cannot be laid on the necessity of avoiding crowding in the stores, many of which are poorly ventilated.”

Christmas 1918 was somber. A lot of people had lost someone they knew to the flu. Officials urged people to do their shopping early when fewer people would be in the stores. Church Christmas programs were cancelled for fear of having too many people in a confined space.

The Compiler reported that the Stoner Brothers died within 24 hours of each other. They were farmers who had been married for two years and were both in their mid-20s.

The Gettysburg Times reported that Charles Walter who had been sick for two weeks with the flu died on January 2 at home of his parents just before they had to leave for the funeral of their daughter who had died earlier from flu.

The Gettysburg Times reported another unusual case associated with Spanish Flu in 1919. A man named Roy Dice said he had caught the flu, survived and Dr. Swan told him he could start sitting up. Dice began to feel pains in his leg. It quickly swelled up and turned blue. Then gangrene set in and he wound up having his leg amputated.

By January 18, 160 soldiers had died from the flu, most of them at Camp Colt, according to the Star and Sentinel. In Gettysburg, 19 people died and four in Cumberland, Straban, Freedom, Highland townships. This is incorrect simply from counting the obituaries. It may simply be the number of people who were listed as dying specifically from the flu. However, pneumonia deaths at this time were from a complication from contracting the Spanish Flu, and these deaths were roughly equal to those who died from the flu.

Even using the low numbers, Gettysburg’s population was 4,600 at the time. This represents roughly 4 percent of population dying in just a few months.


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An emergency hospital filled with Spanish Flu patients. This shot was not taken in Gettysburg, but Gettysburg had similar hospitals.

Though it was a different war and a different century, Gettysburg found itself once again occupied by an army. Young men were sent there to learn to fight the Germans in World War I.

They trained to fight the enemy using a piece of state-of-the-art military technology called the tank. The problem was that no one could see the enemy that they were fighting in Gettysburg. It moved indiscriminately through camps and communities injuring and killing men, women, soldier, children. It made no difference.

Before Spanish Flu disappeared, it had killed about 50 million people worldwide or more than four times the population of Pennsylvania.

A factor that played into the spread of the flu and how deadly it was that the U.S. was cramming soldiers into military camps all across the country. The closeness of the quarters helped the flu spread and with more young men contracting the flu than normal, deaths among that age group also increased.

This helped contribute to the W-shaped death curve of the flu. Generally, when flu is fatal, it is with the youngest and oldest in the population, those whose immune systems are weakest. Spanish Flu’s death curve also spiked in the middle with 20-30 year olds, giving it a W shape.

During the first week of the outbreak, no mention was made of the problem in the local newspapers. Yet, the problem was growing. It had already reached epidemic status in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia by Oct. 4.

A headline in The Compiler in early October proclaimed, “The Answer to the Scourge is a Demonstration by Community to Flight It to the Limit. Never has Gettysburg been so stirred as by the scourge of Influenza. Never has the heart of the town been so wrung as by the scourge carrying off the soldier boys who as answered their country’s call in defense of her principles.” This announcement seemingly came out of nowhere since the paper hadn’t been reporting on the buildup to what was a health problem in the county.

Father W.F. Boyle offered Xavier Hall as a hospital. Father Boyle believed that it would be easier to control the flu if you could isolate the sick from the healthy. It was a good idea, but it was too late. Sixty-four cots were set up in the hall as it was transformed into an emergency hospital that quickly filled up.

Prof. Lamond, director of the local Red Cross, sent for nurses to care for the sick. In a show of community spirit, Mrs. Burton Alleman of Littlestown had schoolchildren canvass the town for donations for the hospital. They raised $100 and collected 59 water bottles, 10 fountain syringes, 15 ice caps, 500 sputum cups and 25 serving trays.

Two days after the hospital opened, county schools were closed, which was a common defense against the Spanish Flu. It was also announced that in less than two weeks, 92 soldiers had died at Camp Colt.

By Oct. 12, The Compiler, which had proclaimed that the flu was abating locally just a few days before, now said that it was the “most heartrending epidemic the town has ever been through. … Distress has pervaded the hearts of our people but around this dark cloud is the glow of the wonderful demonstration of our people in town and country and nearby places.”

Warnings were issued and sick families quarantined. Some people even took to wearing surgical masks.

Camp Colt now had 100 dead soldiers. This was one out every six soldiers at the camp and many of the 500 remaining were sick with the flu.

Several of the nurses caring for the soldiers in the emergency hospitals contracted the flu and wound up becoming patients themselves. One of the nurse aides died and even Prof. Lamond caught the flu.

This is one of the insidious ways that the Spanish Flu worked. Many communities were already shorthanded medically because doctors had been drafted to serve in WWI. As the remaining doctors became overwhelmed with their additional workload, many of them caught the flu. The remaining doctors found themselves working longer hours with contagious people. This would wear them down and make them susceptible to flu and the process would repeat.

The dead soldiers were taken to the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in town until arrangements could be made to ship their bodies home. As each body was taken to the train depot, it was given a military escort. This must have been a depressing sight for residents to see 100 times as each soldier was taken to the train that would return him home.

Half of the front page of the newspapers was taken up with obituaries of people who died from the flu.

George Pretz was the author of the lyrics for the Gettysburg College fight song. He was also an army doctor who died in Syracuse. When his wife, Carrie, heard he was sick, she started up to New York, but she didn’t arrive until after he had died. His brother-in-law, Edgar Tawney, “went to Hanover on Monday for flowers and while sitting in an automobile was stricken and being brought home died early Tuesday morning.”

A similar story to this one is that George Stravig, his son, brother and sister all died within a week of each other because of the flu.

By mid-October, all pretense of optimism was gone. A Gettysburg Times headline proclaimed: “Death’s Harvest Still Continues.”

Then a week later, the reports were suddenly upbeat. The Times declared that the flu was all but gone from Camp Colt.

But the Spanish Flu wasn’t done with Adams County yet.




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Nurses help a patient suffering from Spanish Flu in 1918.

It seems that every few years the world holds its breath hoping not to catch the flu even if it isn’t spreading among humans. The latest strain of flu has only struck 108 people, but it has killed 22 of them and has spread beyond the borders of China.

Flu is part of life, though, so what do people fear?

They worry that history will repeat itself.

In 1918, the world was at war and about 50 million people would die as a result of it in the fall. It was not World War I that killed all those people. The death toll from the war was 16 million. However, the Spanish Flu was more than three time deadlier in only a fraction of the time.

It was called Spanish Flu because it apparently first appeared in Spain and was that year’s flu strain. When it first appeared in the U.S. in the spring of 1918, it was highly contagious, but it wasn’t any more deadly than a typical flu strain. The problem with the flu virus is that it mutates and some of those mutations can become deadly.

Remember the SARS scare? That killed a few hundred people out of a worldwide population of 6.9 billion.

Now imagine the terror people felt about a flu that killed 2 to 3 people out of every 100 across the world died. If the Spanish Flu struck today, the lethality would be around 185 million.

The Spanish Flu not only killed more people than World War I, but it killed more people in one year than the Black Plague did in 4 years. It was so devastating that human life span was reduced by 10 years in 1918.

Here’s how Gina Kolata described a Spanish Flu attack in her book, Flu, “The sickness preyed on the young and healthy. One day you are fine, strong, and invulnerable. You might be busy at work in your office. Or maybe you are knitting a scarf for the brave troops fighting the war to end all wars. Or maybe you are a soldier reporting for basic training, your first time away from home and family.

“You might notice a dull headache. Your eyes might start to burn. You start to shiver and you will take to your bed, curling up in a ball. But no amount of blankets can keep you warm. You fall into a restless sleep, dreaming the distorted nightmares of delirium as your fever climbs. And when you drift out of sleep, into a sort of semi-consciousness, your muscles will ache and our head will throb and you will somehow know that, step by step, as your body feebly cries out “no,” you are moving steadily toward death.”

Spanish Flu first appeared in Adams County near the end of September 1918. It almost always it made its first appearance in any community during the last week of September, whether it was here or in Europe where there was fighting. This could indicate that that there wasn’t a flash point location so much as this was a strain of flu that mutated. That is a point that is argued, though. Some have tried to set an origin point. Boston and in Kansas are the most-common locations suggested.

The Gettysburg Compiler reported on Sept. 28 that the flu had broken out in Camp Colt, Gettysburg’s army training camp. At this point, they believed that it had come from soldiers who had been exposed to it in Camp Devens in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which is one of the places where the flu was believed to have started.

To combat Spanish Flu at Camp Colt, 500 soldiers were getting daily throat sprays, which were believed enough to stop the flu. The newspaper reported, “The epidemic seems to be well in hand with treatment before the severe stages.” However, within this first week of breaking out, 125 men had been hospitalized and five had died. These were the men who had come from Camp Devens.

The problem wasn’t well in hand, either. By the time the Spanish Flu was finished with Adams County, so many people had died that it would be nearly 40 years before the county saw a death toll that high again.


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