I found it at the Historical Society!

We have a guest blogger today, our board member and regular Thursday volunteer Ed Ziegler.  He shares a story of something he found at the Historical Society.

In the beginning of the year the Society was deaccessioning some of its books. They had culled duplicates and books not related to the County.  I came in on Thursday, my usual volunteer day. Going through the offices I saw a little leather-bound book with no cover sitting on a desk with no other books around. Being curious, I looked at the title page. I was a Heidelburg Catechism from the mid 1800’s. The owner’s signature was in ink on the page. To my shock and delight, the signature was that of my Great Grandmother, Amanda Weisel! In pen it had her address, Warrington Township, where she grew up. It also had, in pencil, her married name, Amanda Reiff and her new home address, Skippack.

Ed's book

So this book, which belonged to her as a girl and which she kept her whole life (she was born in 1855), serendipitously came into my family’s possession. While the book is in very poor condition, it is the signature which is invaluable to us.

Have you ever found something amazing at the Historical Society?  Perhaps you solved a family mystery or discovered an interesting piece of local history.  Write it up and send it in to our “I found it at the Archives!” contest.  The winner will have his or her story published in our next newsletter and win a box of locally made chocolate pretzels!  The deadline is June 30th.

Memorial Day at Montgomery Cemetery

Each spring, Susan and I have the honor of designing an exhibit in honor of Memorial Day.  Though the exhibit is on display for only a few hours during our Memorial Day program at Montgomery Cemetery, we take a lot of time to choose artifacts and papers to display.  This year at Saturday’s program you’ll be able to see one of our most exciting acquisitions of the past year, John Jacob Scholl’s diaries.  Plus, we’ll have a display of some of our county’s men and women who have served our country. I’ve included some of their pictures here.  We hope this display of regular people who answered the call will encourage visitors to share stories of their own family heroes.

    Anthony Stucynski Art Schlagel Franklin Francis Diamond

 Elizabeth Gwynn George J. Wilson U. B. Brown, Sgt

Top row: Anthony Stucynski, Art Schlagel, Franklin Francis Diamond; bottom row: Elizabeth Gwynn, George J. Wilson, U. B. Brown

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday at Montgomery Cemetery for our program honoring the veterans buried in the cemetery.  We’ll walk to the graves of several prominent people in the cemetery, lay wreaths, and learn about their lives.

The event begins at 11am at the gatehouse, located at 1 Hartranft Ave., West Norriton, PA.

A Haunting in Upper Frederick

Board member and volunteer Ed Ziegler arrived at headquarters this morning with an old newspaper clipping from the Times – Herald.  This 1972 article recounted an old legend that might be America’s first real ghost story.  Digging around I found other accounts of the story, one in our own Bulletin of October, 1955.  The pictures in this post come from that article.

It happened in Upper Frederick, around the area now known as Obelisk.  In 1738, nine year-old Susanna Reimer began to see a man, first sitting on a tree stump then standing with other farm hands.  When she pointed the man out to her sister, 17 year-old Elizabeth, her sister said she couldn’t see the man.  Susanna came to believe the man she was seeing was a ghost.

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When the girls told their farmer, Frederick Reimer, about the ghost, he believed them.  Reimer and others believed the ghost was that of a farmhand named “Miller” who had died a few years previously.

The next time Susanna saw the ghost she spoke to him with her sister’s prompting.  The man said that he had died leaving a debt unpaid.  According to the Times – Herald article, he owed a woman named “Steinman” 30 gulden.  Another source, Charles J. Adams III’s Montgomery County Ghost Stories gives the amount as 50 gulden and adds that the ghost said that his widow could not pay the debt.  So the girls promised that they would pay the debt, and the ghost became excited and said that he would go home.  Susanna asked where home was, and the ghost led the girls to a burial lot on the Zeiber farm and jumping into the ground.

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Zeiber Burying-Ground, Upper Frederick

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The Miller grave, Zieber Burying-Ground

Frederick Reimer did try to find the woman named “Steinman” and discovered that a passenger list for an English ship named “Hope” had the names Hans and Katherine Steinman and several families named Miller.  Reimer tracked down passengers on the ship who told him that Miller and Katherine Steinman argued over money Steinman claimed to have lent to Miller, but Miller denied receiving.

At some point, Miller’s widow came forward and claimed that her husband had asked to borrow money, but Mrs. Steinman refused.  Although the story was printed in a book by German printer Christopher Saur and reprinted in a magazine in Germany, no Steinmans ever came forward to claim the money.  Reimer apparently gave up trying to pay the debt.

Many years later, in 1757, Frederick Reimer froze to death on Christmas Eve.  Many in the community wondered if this wasn’t the ghost’s revenge for not keeping the promise to repay the debt.

Sources:

Lafferty, James. “When It Comes to Real Spirit, County May Have Had U.S. First.” Times-Herald [Norristown] Oct. 1972: n. pag. Print.

Adams, Charles J., III. Montgomery County Ghost Stories.  (Reading: Exeter House Books, 2000) 6-12.

Berky, Andrew S.  “America’s First Ghost?” Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County Pennsylvania 10 (1955) 5-11

My Dear Father – I am off for California…

The best part of being an archivist are the human stories you discover.  Going through boxes of correspondence, I recently came across a series of letters from the Harvey family that was donated to the Society by Dora Harvey Devlin.  One letter from 1849 was written by Edward Harvey to his daughter Mary.  Edward Harvey was an Irish Quaker who settled in Merion.

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In his letter he copied a letter from his son, Richard, a doctor, written from St. Joseph, Missouri.  I’ve updated the punctuation to make it a little easier to read.

“My Dear Father –

I am off for California, I have determined to go when gold is said to be plenty.  It costs me nothing to go, so shall not lose much if I failed.  Your last spoke something like a wish to come west – would to Heaven that you had done so long ago, then I should have remained, but as regards me the news came too late.  I have begged and pleaded for years, but of no avail.  I am sorry for it.  If I have luck I should return in 2 years.  If no luck, why I should be back soon as possible.  Write to me at St. Francisco [sic].  I am in a company consisting of 48 men, 14 waggons [sic] and 53 yoke of cattle and 10 Riding Horses, 12000 lbs of flour and 8000 of bacon; sugar, tea, coffee and other things in proportion.  Everyman a rifle, [illegible] and Bowie knife.  God bless you all dear father – farewell

Your aff. son

Rich’d J. Harvey

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Edward goes on to say that he had received another letter from Richard, written 70 miles west of St. Joseph and all in the company were in good health.

Sadly, a later letter tells us what happened to Richard.  In a June 19, 1850 letter written by Richard’s wife, Margaret writes that she has received a letter from a Mrs. Smith of the Prairieville Company.  “She confirmed our worst fears,” she writes. She goes one to transcribe Mrs. Smith’s letter.  Here is the pertinent part:

“The company travelled on together as they left P[rairieville]* till they got to Fort Laramie then they had a division of property and separated as a company.  They took the northern route leaving Fort Hall 60 miles north.  Mr. B[arnett] saw Dr. H[arvey] several times after, and then last time he saw him was west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains some 20 miles at Big Goose Lake.  He was then complaining with scurvy and diarrhea but able to walk and tolerably stout.”

Unfortunately, Mrs. Smith goes on to report that Dr. Harvey died on November 25, 1849 at Lawson’s Ranch, California.  The new widow writes, “that the dear one had all the attention that human hands could administer is to me inexpressibly comforting.”

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Dr. Harvey’s sad story is a reminder of how precarious life was in the nineteenth century and how modern transportation and communication has changed our world considerably.

*I haven’t been able to figure out which Prairieville this was.

“Girls”

Over the past few weeks, we’ve begun processing a large collection of photographs donated to the Historical Society by the Review Archive (http://www.reviewarchives.org/).  The Review was a newspaper based in Roxborough, but it seems to have covered many events in Conshohocken and the surrounding area. One of the more curious pictures we’ve found is this one:

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The back provides us little information:

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“Girls” is no doubt the caption for the photo.  The “4 x 4 1/2″ could be the size of photo in the paper.  “CO/PW” might stand for “Conshohocken/Plymouth-Whitemarsh.”  But that leaves us none the wiser as to who these boys are or what they’re doing.  Is it a celebration?  A fund-raiser?  Did they lose a bet?  Do any of you remember an event like this?

We hope to bring you some more photographs from The Review in the coming months.

A letter from the White House

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Stationary from the Executive Mansion (it was still about a decade away from being called the “White Hosue”).

I just never what I’m going find when I open a folder at the Historical Society.  Yesterday, I was still working my way through personal correspondence files, when I saw a letter on stationary that read, “Executive Mansion, Washington.”  A quick examination showed the signature of Caroline Scott Harrison, wife of President Benjamin Harrison.

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Caroline Scott Harrison was very interested in history and preservation.  Her husband was inaugurated in 1889, the centennial of Washington’s inauguration, which heightened interest in the early history of the county.  In 1890, Mrs. Harrison was one of the founders of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and served at the first President General.

Reflecting her interest in the American Revolution, the letter concerns the purchase of Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge.  The letter was donated to the Historical Society in 1930 by Ellis R. Roberts.  He had apparently offered to contribute funds for the purchase, but in the letter the First Lady explains that the Sons of America had already purchased part of the land.

Caroline Scott Harrison’s official First Lady portrait.

The letter written in October, 1891, and soon after it was written, Mrs. Harrison became ill with tuberculosis.  She eventually passed away from the disease in October, 1892.  Valley Forge became Pennsylvania’s first state park in 1893, and in 1976 that state of Pennsylvania gave it to the National Parks Service.

Pa Museums Statewide Conference

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Your intrepid blogger and archivist with General Hartranft’s equestrian statue.

 

 

If you visited the Historical Society on Monday or Tuesday this week, we might have seemed a little short staffed.  Susan and I were on a road trip to Harrisburg for PA Museum’s annual conference.  We attended some great talks about educational programming, applying for grants, and how to work beer into our events!  We also got to the see State Museum and the John Harris – Simon Cameron Mansion.

I’m sure you’ll be seeing the results of some of the sessions we attended soon.  In the meantime, join us on Sunday at 2:30 for our program on Mary Todd Lincoln.  It will be at our headquarters at 1654 DeKalb St. in Norristown.

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Our curator, Susan, with Gen. Hartranft.