Our new address

norristown-trolley-main-st-watermark

 

Next week, we should start posting articles again at our new address:

http://hsmcpa.org/index.php/learn/found-in-collection

The blog will now be right on our Historical Society of Montgomery County website, under the “Learn” tab.  We’ll still be sharing new posts on Facebook.  We’re working on a way to continue via email for our email subscribers, and we’ll let you know when we’ve figured it out.

See you next week!

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Nixon and the 1960 Presidential Election

Last month, we received a donation of two objects from the 1960 Presidential Election. The first is a campaign ribbon with Richard Nixon’s likeness. The second object is sheet music for the Nixon campaign song, Click with Dick. Since the 2016 election is in full swing we thought it was an apt topic to share.

The election of 1960 was between two political figures from US history you might recognize, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Besides the famous (and notorious) presidential nominees, the election was groundbreaking for a number of other reasons. The election was one of the closest elections in the popular vote, it resulted in the first, and only, Catholic President, the first president born in the twentieth century, and reached more audiences with the first televised debates.

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Since the ribbon was made for Montgomery County, I started to look in newspapers we have at the historical society to learn about how the 1960 campaigns affected the county. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of information on the overall election and on Nixon’s visit to Norristown. On October 22nd, the day after the last debate in New York City, Nixon held five rallies throughout Pennsylvania. The third rally was held in Norristown’s Public Square at 2 pm. According to Police Chief Robert Baxter the Nixon’s visit brought over 20,000 people. The rally was the largest crowd in Norristown since the celebrations for Victory over Japan Day on August 14 and 15, 1945.

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Richard M. Nixon and his wife Pat at the Norristown rally. Times Herald, photograph published October 24, 1960.

As the ribbon reads, it was made for the Montgomery County Republican Committee. Throughout the twentieth century, Montgomery County was a stronghold for the Republican political party. The County Registration Commission released that there were 189,550 Republicans, 61,654 Democrats, and 6,349 Non-Partisans registered to vote in Montgomery County for the election.

Both nominees spent time in Montgomery County due to it’s potential to impact the election. The Montgomery County Republican Chairman, James E. Staudinger, predicted that “the size of the Republican turnout here may decide the Election at national and state levels… But Pennsylvania will not be [Nixon’s] without a record vote in Montgomery County to wipe out anticipated Democratic majorities in places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh” (Times Herald 10/20/1960, 2).

As part of the plan to get Montgomery County for the Republicans, the committee made signs, buttons, ribbons, and songs. Through the dispersal of ribbons, like our new acquisition, the Montgomery County Republican Committee aimed to promote Nixon everywhere at the rally and the days up to the election.

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The other object donated is the Nixon sheet music. One of the by-gone aspects of political campaigns are individualized songs for candidates.  Unlike today’s campaigns that use contemporary pop or rock songs at rallies, from the mid nineteenth to late twentieth century parties would adapt and create songs for their candidates. Due to the historic nature of the election in 1960, it didn’t take much searching to find other examples of campaign songs.  For your enjoyment please watch the performance of another Nixon rally song, Buckle Dow with Nixon, performed by Brian Dewan on accordion.

“Come on and CLICK WITH DICK,
The one that none can lick. He’s the man to lead the U.S.A.
In Dick we have the one, who truly gets things done, Ev’rytime he has the say.
He’s a man of peace and reason, On the job in ev’ry season;
But he knows how to fight when he is sure he’s right.
So let’s all CLICK WITH DICK. Come on and DICK.”

words by Olivia Hoffman, music by George Stark and Clarence Fuhrman
copyright 1960 by Elkan-Vogel Co., Philadelpha, PA

Although there was no specific mention of Click with Dick in the newspapers’ accounts of the Norristown rally, bands were recorded as in attendance. The Click with Dick song captures his campaign’s themes of safety from his experience and the importance of peace during the escalating Cold War. Nixon’s speech in Norristown highlighted how prepared he and his VP, Henry Cabot Lodge, were with international relations, dealing with Khrushchev, and disarmament.

Despite Republicans efforts, Nixon did not end up winning Pennsylvania or the 1960 election. Although, he later became our 37th President and the only U.S. president to resign. Our new acquisitions provide insight into the landmark election of 1960 in Montgomery County.

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If you would like to learn more about John F. Kennedy’s campaign and advertising, check out this video by Smithsonian curators of American History.

Life, Trial and Confession of Thomas Curley

A phone call earlier this week from a researcher reminded me of one of the more sordid episodes in county history.

On May 18, 1875, Mary Ann Whitby was beaten to death.  A farm hand on her brother-in-law’s farm in Upper Providence named Thomas Curley later confessed to the crime.

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Curley was about eighteen when he murdered Mary Ann “Mollie” Whitby.  He had lived in an orphanage from the age of seven to the age of nine due to his mother’s inability to care for him.  He left the orphanage at nine at his own request and wandered from farm to farm in eastern Pennsylvania.  His employers never seemed very happy with his work.

The day of the murder, Curley was alone on the farm with Whitby, as his employer, Samuel Weikel had traveled with his wife and child to Norristown for the day (somewhat ironically, Weikel had been called for jury duty).  Curley ate the dinner Whitby prepared for him around noon, then went back out into fields until 5 o’clock when he returned to the house.  He then ran to a neighboring farm to tell them that he had found Miss Whitby badly beaten.  He also claimed that while he had been eating his dinner, a tramp came to the door asking for money and Whitby sent him away saying, “you can not get what I have not about me.”

At first, the local people who gathered at the news of the murder did not suspect Curley.  A man they thought might be the tramp was even detained in Norristown, but Curley said he was not the man.

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The Courthouse as it appeared in 1870

Curley was tried at the Montgomery County Courthouse.  He claimed he was innocent, but a neighbor testified that Curley had changed his hat when he went home for dinner.  We have the transcript of his trial in our collection, and the prosecutor spent a lot of time on the hat and boots witnesses had seen Curley wearing in the morning.  Several people noticed blood stains on both.  Two doctors testified that Whitby’s wounds had been caused by an ax, and Weikel’s ax with a dark red stain on it was produced in the courtroom.

Curley’s lawyers brought to the stand other poeple who had seen a tramp that day in Upper Providence and two witnesses who found a bloody shirt by the side of the road in Chester County.

But, the jury didn’t buy the tramp story and Curley was convicted.  His lawyers tired to get the conviction thrown out by claiming several jury members had been reading accounts of the trial in the newspaper.  This attempt failed.  On March 11, 1876, Curley was condemned to death.

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According to the pamphlet about his crime, Curley faced his execution stoically.  His attorneys encouraged him to confess in the hopes that it would lead the judge to mitigate his sentence.

I did strike that girl…I took and got a porter bottle and (smiling) filled it three times from this wine cask, and drank it.  I felt kind o’ queer.  I then went to dinner, I saw that Mollie [Mary Ann Whitby] watched me a little, I guess I must to have felt it a little.  I eat [sic] my dinner and went back to the barn.  I told Mollie, I was going back to Hoyer’s to plant corn.  I went into the entry and up the stops and drank some more wine.  I then saw a new grubbing hoe handled standing on the sill, in the entry near the winecask, I took it up and went to the house in the out kitchen and the door was open.  Mollie was in, I said, Mollie I am going to strike you.  She said, no you won’t, Thomas, and I up and struck her over the head with the grubbing hoe handle.  She fell and never spoke a word.

When asked why he had done it, he said he didn’t know and repeated, “I felt quite queer.”

The confession worked on the jurors who signed a petition to commute his sentence, but the Board of Pardons decided not to stop the execution.  He was hanged at Montgomery County Prison on September 10, 1877.

There’s an interesting footnote to Curley’s execution.  We have in our collection a letter from N. A. Pennypacker to Samuel F. Jarrett, Esq., asking for admittance to the hanging.  The letter is very faded (I tried to touch it up to make it more readable).  He writes, “Mine, I assure you is not a morbid curiosity to witness the death of a human being, but being deeply interested in my profession I desire to see death in all its phases.”  It’s possible that this letter is from Nathan A. Pennypacker, who was a doctor in Chester County during this time.  We don’t know if he got in to see the hanging.

hanging-letter