Coming in the next quarterly newsletter…

Of the five Civil War generals buried in Montgomery Cemetery, Matthew Robert McClennan is perhaps the least known.  Born in 1834, McClennan worked as a printer before the war, opening his own shop on Main St. in Norristown.

McClennen ad

The advertisement shown here is from a local newspaper called The National Defender dated August 15, 1871.  The Historical Society of Montgomery County is the only repository holding a near complete run of this paper which was publishing in Norristown from 1856 until about 1900.

The paper also ran an obituary for McClennan upon his death in June 1872.  The men who served under him in the 138th Regiment, erected a monument to his memory in Montgomery Cemetery.

McClennen obit

You can read more about McClennan’s life and military career in Ed Ziegler’s article in this winter’s newsletter.

Benjamin Harrison Song Book


This song book from the 1888 campaign of Benjamin Harrison and running mate Levi P. Morton is a great example of nineteenth-century political propaganda.  While today it is typical for a candidate to have a campaign song, these days such songs are usually pop songs not one written just for the campaign.  The Harrison-Morton song book contains over a dozen songs.  Some are patriotic, such as “My County ‘Tis of Thee” and “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean,” but most are concerned with the main issue of the election, Protection (Harrison) vs. Free Trade (incumbent President Grover Cleveland).  Most of the songs are parodies written to the tune of familiar songs like, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “Marching Through Georgia.”

Interestingly, there is a song titled “The Star Spangled Banner” but it is not the song based on Francis Scott Key’s poem that we are familiar with today.   This version is to the tune of “The Old Oaken Bucket,” a nineteenth-century song associated with Harrison’s home state of Indiana (though it was written about a town in Massachusetts).  Our “Star Spangled Banner” did not become the national anthem until 1931.  At this time, “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” and “Hail, Columbia” were more common at political and patriotic rallies.


Harrison won the White House in 1888, but only for one term.  While in office, six new states entered the Union, but an economic downturn and higher prices due to Harrison’s protective tariff voters to change their minds.  In 1892, Grover Cleveland became the only president to regain office having once lost it.

Maybe you thought Steve Martin invented that?

The Historical Society of Montgomery County has several hundred rare books, that is books published before 1850.  The titles cover the Dewey Decimal spectrum with religious works, history, science, home economics, and fiction.  One of the most curious books is this German language work from 1798, Das Natüralichen Zauberbuchs (The Natural Magic Book).  This book contains instructions on all sorts of parlor tricks and science experiments meant to impress your friends. Numerous woodcuts illustrate the various tricks.  The one illustrated here translates as “A lock put on one’s mouth, or to thrust an arrow, knife, rapier, or something else iron through one’s head.”


Other bits of natural magic include card and rope tricks, smoking tobacco through water, mathematical riddles, and how to make bird calls with your hands.

The best way to preserve antique books like this one, is to keep them in an acid free, archival box, to protect them from light, pests, and other environmental hazards. Currently, HSMC is conducting a fundraising campaign called “Boxes for Books.”  For only $10 you can purchase a custom fitted box for one of our rare books.  The box will be labeled with your name or the name of a person you wish to have remembered.  We’ll even let you know which book your donation has saved.  Contact the Historical Society for more information.

A New Leg for a Bootmaker

Although this prosthesis looks  ‘steampunk,’ it dates to around the Civil War.  Its owner, Joseph Detweiler Hagey, enlisted as a private in July of 1862 with Company I of the 138th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, under the command of Captain Augustus G. Feather of Norristown.  He fought in a long list of battles and skirmishes, such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.  At the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864, Hagey was wounded in the leg.  The injury required his leg to be amputated below the knee.



After he was discharged in June of 1865, he returned to Hatfield and worked as a bootmaker.  He became dissatisfied with his government-issued prosthesis, so he decided to make something new and different.  His hand-crafted prosthesis is made of wood covered in leather, with metal springs.  The foot is made of two separate pieces of wood shaped like a human foot and held together with leather, so that the toe can bend.  The bottom of the foot is covered in leather to make for more cushioned walking.  The ankle is movable due to the metal springs which attach it to the metal calf.  Leather straps act like a garter to hold the prosthetic leg in place around the knee.  This fascinating piece of technology is in the collection of the Historical Society.