Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Petersen House / Lincoln Part # 3

Petersen House
Lincoln Assassination / Part #3

 The Petersen House in 1865 / 2005
The audience at Ford's theater was in a state of panic, with many poring out into the confused street outside.  President Abraham Lincoln lay slumped over in his rocking chair and appeared to be asleep with his eyes closed.  He was immediately attended to by his wife Mary Todd Lincoln who could see no visible signs of injury to her husband.  The president's head was slumped over with his chin resting on his chest but there was no blood visible on his face or white shirt.  The First Lady spoke in his ear and ran her fingers across the front of his face and head but could not get him to respond.  She cradled the President's limp body in her arms as Clara Harris attended to her fiance Major Henry Rathbone, who was bleeding profusely from the deep wound in his arm.  The 1,500 members of the audience tried to piece together what had just happened and make sense of what they just witnessed.  Several people climbed up on stage and shouted questions up to the President's Box.  As the people came to comprehend that the President had been harmed, their mood turned from concern to outrage.

Tyler on steps of Petersen House
Several people had scaled the steps to the President's Box to offer assistance but found it locked from inside, barred by a music stand by Booth.  They began to pound on the door, pleading to gain access, and began to try and break through, until Rathbone managed to pry open the door.  Several men rushed into the box led by United States Army Surgeon Dr. Charles Leale who went immediately to examine President Lincoln.   He conducted a quick assessment of the President's vitals signs but could not detect a pulse.  With the help of the other men present, he had the president's body laid on his back upon the carpeted floor.  He suddenly noticed that the rear shoulder of the President's coat appeared wet with blood.  Dr. Leale had seen Booth wielding the knife on stage and assumed the president had been stabbed like Rathbone.  He cut open Lincoln's coat and shirt looking for knife wounds but could find nothing amiss.  He opened and peered into Lincoln's eyes, which revealed a serious brain injury.  He examined his head more closely and discovered wet matted hair behind his left ear.  His finger soon discovered the hole where the .44 caliber bullet had entered his head and remained lodged in the middle of his brain.

 Petersen House Front Parlor
Dr. Leale immediately began the process of mouth to mouth resuscitation in a feeble effort to revive President Lincoln.  Amazingly, within a few moments the President suddenly gasped for a breath of air and began to scantly breath on his own.  Dr. Leale now discovered a faint pulse as the President's breathing became stronger and more even.  Dr. Leale had stabilized President Lincoln and saved his life for the moment.  The now crowded box fell silent as the occupants watched the slow feeble rise and fall of the President's chest.  Dr. Leale then uttered the phrase "His wound is mortal; it is impossible for him to recover."   Dr. Leale and the other people present in the box could not bear to see the President die on the floor of a theater and began to discuss where they could safely transport him for an honorable death.  Unable to come up with a suitable answer, they began the task of lifting his body and carrying it down the corridor toward the front of the theater.  Dr. Leale carefully cradled President Lincoln's head as several guards in front of him cleared the gawking crowd out of the way.  Lincoln's body exited the theater's front doors and entered crowded 10th Street, under the moonlit night sky.  

Room Where Lincoln Died
The procession carried the dying president forward into the street without aim, unsure of their destination.  Many in the crowd suggested the President should be loaded into his awaiting coach and taken back to the White House.  Dr. Leale knew he would never survive the trip and instructed the men who were carrying the President to take him inside the nearest house.  A tenant in the Petersen Boarding House had observed the scene from his first story window and opened the door urging them to bring the President inside.  The group carried the fallen President up the curved steps and into the front Parlor of the house.  From there, they carried him to the back of the house to the bedroom of a man who was out for the night and laid President Lincoln on the bed in the corner of the room.  The President was too tall to be laid strait due to the confining head and foot boards of the bed.  As a result, they placed him diagonally across the mattress, propping his head up on pillows.  Dr. Leale then cleared the room, with the exception of two other physicians to complete an extensive examination of the laboring President.   Mrs. Lincoln, accompanied by the expelled group of men, retreated to the front parlor of the house. 

Lincoln Examination / Petersen House
(Illustration Credit / Harper's Weekly 1865)
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had responded to the crisis at the Seward residence, where he had visited the Secretary of State just an hour before the attack.  While at the crime scene, a messenger arrived with the shocking message that President Lincoln had been shot at Ford's Theater.  Immediately, Secretary Stanton, accompanied by fellow government officials, fled toward 10th Street, with his coachman navigating through pedestrians in the crowded streets.  As they arrived on the scene, their coach could no longer penetrate the crowd and needed to walk the final distance to the steps of the guarded Petersen House.  Inside the house Dr. Leale continued to manage the scene, covering the president in blankets to keep him warm, sending for the President's son, spiritual advisor, and others to come to the house.  The examination of the president had revealed no other wounds on his body and he was stable for the moment with a regular breathing pattern.  First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln had made repeated checks on her husband, coming to his bedside, unsuccessfully attempting to get a response from her unconscious husband.

Lincoln Death Watch
(Image Credit / Library of Congress)
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton took control of the scene at the Petersen House, dubbing the house as the temporary Office of the War Department.  He set up a make-shift office in one of the nearby rooms and commanded that all members of the Presidential Cabinet be guarded against any other planned attacks.  He sent word to General Ulysses S. Grant, who had left Washington for Philadelphia earlier that day, to return at once to the capital.  He feared the plot may be bigger than first thought, with Confederate troops marching toward Washington to take advantage of the chaotic atmosphere of the nation's capital.  Secretary Stanton then began a hasty investigation into the two crime scenes by interviewing witnesses to the scenes.  It became quickly evident that John Wilkes Booth was a person of interest, as his name was mentioned again and again, connected with the event at Ford's Theater.  Vice President Andrew Johnson arrived at the Petersen House but allowed Secretary Stanton to continue his command of the unfolding situation.  As doctors continued to monitor the President's vital signs, a massive manhunt began for the assassins in all directions.

Lincoln's Preserved Death Bed
Throughout the night President Lincoln flirted with death as the doctors continued to monitor his heartbeat and breathing.  Finally, at 7:22 the next morning, Lincoln took his last breath and his life expired in the boarding house bed as the morning sun flooded the room with light.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton eloquently stated, "He now belongs to the ages."  Mary Todd Lincoln was not able to raise her emotional strength to enter the room to see the dead body of her husband and exited the house for her coach.  The men in the room began to make the arrangements for the President's body to be returned to the White House.  Soon a farm wagon arrived with a simple pine box coffin to transport the fallen president.  The coffin was carried into the house and later exited down onto 10th Street covered by an American Flag.  The procession back to the White House was solemn and quiet as spectators mourned along the route.  The small back bedroom where Lincoln died was now empty and the house quiet.  

 Lincoln Death Bed
(Photo Credit / Julius Ulke)
A boarder at the Petersen House named Julius Ulke was a photographer and slipped into the room to see the horrific blood stained bed illuminated by the morning sun.  He quickly set up his camera and took a single photograph of the fallen president's death bed.  The room became a sacred space that received countless inquiries from various sources to see the room where the 56 year old president had died.  In 1896, the Petersen House was purchased by the United States Government for $30,000 and became a museum in 1933.  Most of the items in the room had been previously purchased by a private collector and are on display at the Chicago History Museum.  The house has been refitted with period correct furnishings but the one original item still on display at the Petersen House is the blood stained pillow from the bed on which Lincoln died.  

Lincoln's Blood Stained Pillow
It is a shame that all the items from that tragic night could not be recovered from private collections and returned to the Petersen House and Ford's Theater where they belong.  The upholstered rocking chair that Lincoln was sitting in at Ford's theater when he was shot is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan.  The President's blood stained gloves reside at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Museum in Springfield, Illinois.  The carriage the president and his guests rode in to attend the play at the theater can be viewed at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.  The stove pipe top hat he wore to the theater is at the Smithsonian Museum of American History and the items he had in his pockets that night are stored at the Library of Congress.   Museums are not willing to give up their treasured artifacts from the assassination because they are a huge draw, attracting visitation to view their collections.  It's worth the price of admission just to see something associated with the first President of the United States assassinated in American history.  Solemn tokens of tribute to a great man who lost his life to a despicable act of pure cowardice...

 Tyler and Katelyn in D.C. / 2004
 We traveled to Washington D.C. several times as a family and really enjoyed our experience, probably the best family vacation we have ever taken.  We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Hotel located on "H" Street within easy walking distance to multiple attractions and the metro.  During one afternoon of our trip, Tyler and I were able to go off on our own to explore, while the girls did their own thing.  We ended up on 10th Street and were able to tour Ford's Theater and the Petersen House, which we both enjoyed very much.  I was surprised by the various artifacts on display in the basement museum of the theater, from the assassination to the conspirator's execution.  Both sites have since gone through extensive renovations in preparation for Lincoln's 200th birthday celebration.  I have not been back to see the improvements but it is "tops" on my list for my next trip to the nation's capital. 

I relied heavily on this book when writing the three blog postings on the Lincoln assassination and highly recommend it as one of the best history books I have ever read.  Continue to follow the unfolding story of the chase for the assassin conspirators by reading this excellent book!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Seward Mansion / Lincoln Part # 2

 Seward Mansion
Lincoln Assassination / Part # 2

Lincoln's Presidential Cabinet
Earlier that afternoon on April 14, 1865 on the other side of town, David Herold and Lewis Powell had met with Booth to receive weapons and instructions to carry out their part of the triple murder planned that night.  The pair arrived at the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward around 9:00PM and watched as visitors came and went from the busy residence.  They had observed the pattern of the household the previous evening as they had discussed and settled on a plan of engagement.  Now the clock chimed their plan into action.  Soon after 10:00PM, Powell approached the front door, while Herold waited outside holding their horses hidden from view in the darkness.  The Secretary of State was recovering from a serious carriage accident, which had occurred a little more than a week earlier, leaving Seward bedridden with multiple serious injuries.  He was suffering from a broken arm, a broken jaw, and a concussion, among other injuries.  Secretary Seward had drifted in and out of consciousness during a visit from President Lincoln earlier that day.  Lewis Powell knocked on the door posing as a delivery boy with a prescription box of pain medicine sent by Secretary Seward's physician.  He was armed with a .34 caliber six shot Whitney revolver and a large Bowie knife concealed within his coat.

 Assistant Secretary of State Fred Seward
(Illustration Credit / National Police Gazette)
(Photo Credit / Mathew Brady / Library of Congress)
House servant William Bell opened the door asked for the delivery package to be given to him but Powell argued that he was instructed to deliver it to the Secretary of State in person.  The two haggled back and forth until Powell lost patience and forced his way up the steps toward Secretary Seward's upstairs bedroom.   Bell followed, continuing his protest a step behind Powell.  Halfway up the steps he was confronted by the Secretary's son Fred Seward, who suddenly had a pistol pointed in his face that fortunately misfired.  Powell then beat him over the head severely with the butt of the gun, breaking the firing mechanism and causing the remaining five rounds resting in the gun's cylinder useless.  Powell continued his savage attack on Secretary Seward's son until he was in critical condition and unconscious.  Fred Seward would remain in a coma for the next two months.  During the attack, William Bell ran down the steps and out into the streets yelling for help.   Bell's sudden appearance in the street and frantic shouts spooked David Herold, who rode away leaving Powell's only means of escape tied to a tree.

Secretary of State William Seward                         Assassin Lewis Powell / Payne -------------------------------------------------------          -------------------------------------------------
Lewis Powell then burst into the bedroom where he slashed Secretary Seward's bodyguard George Robinson with his Bowie knife.  Seward's daughter tried to block Powell's path to her father but was violently shoved out of the way.  In the dark room, Powell plunged onto the bed, slashing wildly in the area of Secretary Seward's face and neck.  Twice he missed and plunged his knife deeply into the mattress.  Powell's third blow gouged into Secretary Seward's cheek, tearing open his face, completely exposing his jawbone and teeth.  Powell was suddenly distracted from his target, forced to confront Robinson and several others, who had entered the room.  In an action of wild violence, he wounded Secretary Seward's other son Augustus, his daughter Fanny, and his private nurse before escaping out the bedroom door and down the steps.  Halfway down the steps he encountered and stabbed household messenger Emerick Hansell in the back, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Attack on Secretary of State William Seward
(Illustration Credit / National Police Gazette)
Powell, certain he had accomplished his mission, exited the house and discarded his stained knife on the ground.  He was unable to see Herold in the street but found his horse, quickly mounted, and calmly rode away into the night.  Servant William Bell suddenly appeared and ran after him for several blocks shouting for help, however, no one came to his aid.  Powell soon lost Bell but made a wrong turn and got lost within Washington, a city's layout with which he was mostly unfamiliar.   At some point, he was thrown from his horse and wound up spending the night hiding in a graveyard until he found his way back to Mary Surratt's Boarding House.  When he knocked on the door, it was answered by several federal investigators who were in the process of interrogating Mary Surratt herself concerning her possible role in the conspiracy.  Unable to explain himself, he was arrested along with Surratt, taken into custody, and was later detained aboard the monitor USS Saugus.

 Seward's Alaska Treaty of Cessation
(Illustration Credit / Public Domain)
Despite his violent rage at the Seward mansion that fateful night, all victims of Powell's attack eventually recovered from their wounds, including Secretary of State William H. Seward.  He had rolled off the bed onto the floor after he was stabbed in the cheek to escape Powell's reach.  He was also wearing a neck-brace from his carriage accident that slowed Powell's blade, possibly saving his life.  However, the Seward family was not immune to tragedy.   His wife Frances Adaline Seward died of a stress induced heart attack a short two months later, which some said was caused from the assassination attempt.  Sorrow continued to follow Secretary Seward as his daughter Fanny, who helped fight off Powell in his bedroom that night, died in October of 1866 of tuberculous.   He carried disfiguring facial scars for the rest of his life but emerged from the attack as a strong presence in the government.  He continued to serve as the Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson's administration.  His most well known achievement was purchasing Alaska from Russia in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars.  The 50th state became one of the best real estate deals in history for the nation, coming out to two cents an acre.

Assassin George Atzerodt                              Vice President Andrew Johnson
 ------------------------------------------              -----------------------------------------------------
The final assassination target was Vice President Andrew Johnson who was staying at the Kirkwood House hotel in Washington.  Earlier in the day, George Atzerodt booked a room in the hotel and planned to go to Johnson's room that night and kill him in his bed.  However, Atzerodt was an alcoholic and went to the hotel bar to get a drink to calm his nerves before he took action.  He continued drinking and became intoxicated and never carried out the plan.  Instead he wandered the streets of Washington most of the night.  He returned to the hotel bar the next morning asking questions about Vice President Johnson's whereabouts, which raised suspicions.  Investigators searched his hotel room and found a loaded revolver and a Bowie style knife along with a bank book belonging to John Wilkes Booth.   He was apprehended six days later hiding out at his cousin's house in Germantown, Maryland.

Conspirator Group Execution
(Photo Credit / Alexander Gardner)
Andrew Johnson would succeed Lincoln as the seventeenth president but was ineffective and was later impeached, remaining in office by a single vote.   All of Booth's fellow key conspirators stood trial, were found guilty of treason, and received death sentences.  On July 7, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell, and Mary Surratt were executed together as a group, death by hanging at Fort McNair just outside Washington.  The condemned were brought into the yard and walked past four freshly dug graves and matching empty pine-box coffins.   The were led up the gallows and were shielded from the sun by several black umbrellas.  Mary Surratt and David Herold died instantly but Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt both struggled at the end of the rope for several minutes.  Mary Surratt, who's actual role in the conspiracy is still debated, was the first woman ever executed by the federal government in American History.  Few thought they would carry it out and most expected a reprieve to arrive at the last second in dramatic fashion... but it never did.

Conspirator Mary Surratt                              Conspirator David Herold
 ---------------------------------------                         --------------------------------------
John Wilkes Booth was the only conspirator who succeeded in his mission to kill on the evening of April 14, 1865 in the nation's capital.  As a result, he lost his life but in an ironic twist of fate, gained immortality.  The South never embraced the actions of John Wilkes Booth like he had hoped.  Although many in the south despised Lincoln, they trusted him.  His promise to merge the country back together without humiliation or punishment toward the south died with Lincoln that night.  Booth's actions that night did lead to chaos within the federal government but not to the south's advantage.  The road through the Reconstruction Period now promised to be a rough transition for the defeated South.

The Washington Club (Seward Mansion)                            United States Court of Claims
-----------------------------------------------------------                    --------------------------------------------
The Seward Mansion was located on Madison Place across from Lafayette Park.  It was originally built by Commodore John Rodgers who was a naval officer during the War of 1812 who later became Secretary of the Navy.  The three story home later served as a boarding house and gained the nickname of The Washington Clubhouse because it was a frequent hangout for politicians in Washington D.C. before the Seward Family took up residence, in the spring of 1861.  After Secretary Seward rented the property as his home, it continued to be a active location for entertaining and socializing for some of the top government officials in Washington, including President Lincoln.  Throughout its lifespan, the famous landmark building would continue to transform itself, hosting multiple venues, including an opera house, theater, and even a U.S.O. during the World War II era.  Sadly, the building was eventually razed to make way for the large United States Court of Claims office building.  

William Seward with Daughter Fanny
(Photo Credit / Carl Schurz, Reminiscences)

Our final stop in the Lincoln Assassination series will be a visit to the Petersen House located across the street from Ford's Theater where the President Lincoln was carried and laid to rest until his life ended with the sunrise the next morning. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ford's Theater / Lincoln Part # 1

Ford's Theater
Lincoln Assassination / Part # 1

The Peacemakers / Aboard River Queen
(Painting Credit / George P.A. Healy / 1868)
On Good Friday April, 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was in a mood of especially good humor.  General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Northern forces at Appomattox Court House, Virginia a few days earlier.  The war was coming to an end and the president was in the mood to celebrate by going to the theater, one of his favorite pastimes.   He often enjoyed the company of friends on such occasions but had a difficult time finding companions available for an evening of entertainment.  Oddly, many requested guests were unable to attend that evening until Major General Henry Rathbone and his finance Miss Clara Harris accepted the president's invitation.  The play at Ford's Theater that night was a popular British comedy entitled Our American Cousin, starring Harry Hawk.  The play was about an uncivilized American who returns to England to claim his family's estate from his refined aristocratic English relatives.  The President, accompanied by his wife and guests, arrived at the theater and were escorted to the President's Box, named in honor of President George Washington.  A portrait of the first president hung outside the box facing the stage, accented with American flag banners.

Ford's Theater Draped in Black
(Photo Credit / Library of Congress)
The previous day, actor John Wilkes Booth had stood in the crowd outside the White House as President Lincoln gave a speech concerning his intention to give former slaves the right to vote.  The speech added to Booth's rage in the wake of the fall of his beloved Richmond to Union forces and Lee's surrender to Grant.  He stopped in at Ford's Theater to check his mail, when he heard of the president's plans to attend the play that night.  He climbed the stairs and stood outside the door of the empty President's Box and bored a small hole through it with a pen knife that would allow him to view the occupants inside that night.  Booth left the theater and reacted quickly, reaching out to a group of fellow conspirators, many of whom had been involved in Booth's failed plot to kidnap the president the previous year.  They reconvened at Mary Surratt's Boarding House to plan a triple assassination of key members of the Federal Government that night.  The targets included President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.  Booth hoped the chaos created by their actions that night would give the Confederate Government time to reorganize itself and continue the war. 

Ford's Theater Interior / Stage
Around 10PM, Booth returned alone to the rear of Ford's Theater on a rented bay mare and instructed a kid, who worked at the theater named John Peanut, to hold his mount in the alley until he returned in a few minutes.  Booth had acted in the theater many times and was very familiar with the layout.  He had also performed in the play Our American Cousin and knew the lines by heart.  The timing of an outburst of laughter from the audience from a specific line in the play would coincide with Booth's pull of the trigger.  The loud laughter would help muffle the sound of the single shot .44 caliber Philadelphia Derringer he carried in his coat for the task.  Booth's choice of weapon matched his flair for the dramatic in the final role he was about to play upon the stage of the world.  He could have carried a six shot revolver for his task but he was always the actor working his beloved stagecraft. 

 Booth's Philadelphia Derringer
The single shot Derringer had a tendency to misfire and only gave Booth one chance with a single bullet.  He did not carry spare ammunition since it would take more than half a minute to reload.  Instead, he carried a large dagger knife concealed in his coat as a backup weapon.  Booth did not want to be seen by the audience so he made his way under the backstage area through a trap door that led to a long passageway all the way to the front of the theater.  He exited the passageway and entered the Star Saloon, where the bartender who knew him well, poured him his regular shot of whiskey.  He downed the drink and soon entered Ford's Theater and then scaled the steps up to the landing outside the President's Box, which he found unguarded.  Ironically, the single bodyguard assigned to the President that night had abandoned his post during the play's intermission to get a drink at the Star Saloon next door and had yet to return.  

The Presidential Box / Ford's Theater
Booth stared through the small peephole upon the occupants backs and followed the lines of the play in his head coming from the stage below.  As the line he had been waiting for approached, he placed his hand on the doorknob and opened the door slightly to bring his target into full view.  President Lincoln was seated to his far left and the attention of all four occupants was focused on the action below.   He recited the line of the play with the actor on stage and waited for the reaction of loud laughter to the punchline from the audience to make history.   He slipped into the box without detection, stood directly behind the president in the shadows, took careful aim at the back of his head, and pulled the trigger as loud laughter consumed the four corners of the theater.

 Assassination of President Lincoln
(Lithograph Credit / The Granger Collection)
The Derringer fired, filling the air with blue-grey smoke, and as it dissipated, the president's body lay slumped forward in his seat.  Major Rathbone was the first to jump to his feet and lunged at Booth, who pulled the large dagger and sank the blade deep into Rathbone's arm.   In dramatic fashion, Booth then leapt from the box, got slightly tangled in the flag decorations, and landed awkwardly on the stage below.  He faced the crowd and uttered the phrase... "Sic Semper Tyrannis," translated "Thus Always to Tyrants" and turned away from the audience, uttering... "The South is Avenged!"  Booth hobbled from the stage with a small broken bone just above his left ankle and disappeared into darkness behind the stage curtain.         

Assassination of President Lincoln
(Illustration Credit / National Archives)
The crowd was slowly coming into consciousness as to what had really happened.  First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, began screaming in terror from the President's Box and she was soon matched by members of the audience in panic.  On his way to the back door, Booth was confronted by conductor William Withers Jr, whom Booth stabbed twice in the shoulder and neck.   He shoved him aside as he exited the back door into the alley.  Booth was pleased his bay mare was still being attended by stage worker John Peanut.  He grabbed the reigns of his horse from young Peanut, hit him hard on the forehead with the butt of his knife, and kicked him with force to separate his grasp of the reigns as he rode away with haste from the scene.  Several audience members had appeared in the alley and ran in pursuit after Booth without success.  Booth's horse disappeared from view as it galloped around the corner into the darkness of night.

John Peanut Hold's Booth's Horse
(Illustration Credit / Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)
Booth disappeared from view, veering from one alley to another, exiting onto "F" Street and rode toward the Navy Yard Bridge, where he hoped to meet up with fellow co-conspirators before descending south into Maryland.  However, there was no one present at the rendezvous point and he decided to cross the bridge alone before the spreading news could catch up to his location.  As soon as the news would reach the bridges leading out of the city that were guarded by Union soldiers, they would all be closed immediately, trapping him in Washington.  He crossed the bridge without suspicion and turned back to take one last view of the city behind him.  Suddenly fellow conspirator David Herold came into view on his horse and crossed the bridge to join Booth in his escape.  They headed for the Surratt Tavern in Clinton, Maryland where additional weapons had been allegedly hidden earlier by Mary Surratt and her son John.  The manhunt for the pair ended 12 days later at Garrett's tobacco barn in Virginia, with Herold surrendering and Booth being killed by federal troops.  The South never embraced the assassin of President Lincoln.

Recreated Photo / 10:15 PM / April 14, 1865
(Software Photo Credit / Lincoln Box / Steve Woolf)
Following the death of President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered the theater be permanently closed and granted Congress the authority to pay the owner $100,000 to secure the property so that it would never again be used as an environment for public amusement.  The theater became a multiple-use space for the War Department until part of the building collapsed in 1892 killing 22 people and injuring another 68 government employees.  It was repaired and used as a warehouse until 1931, when it was completely abandoned and left empty for the next 35 years.  Following decades of requests from various sources to restore the theater, Congress finally approved the funds for the site to go through a two year restoration, which was completed in 1968.  The space below the theater was converted into a museum that houses an excellent collection of artifacts including the gun used to assassinate the president, the canvas bag hoods used on the heads of the arrested conspirators during interrogations, and the diary of John Wilkes Booth, just to name a few.  Today the theater is a combined historic site with the Petersen House across the street where President Lincoln actually died.  Tune in next time as we continue visiting the sites of the planned triple assassination...
 Restored Ford's Theater Today


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lititz Pretzel Factory Tour

Lititz Pretzel Factory
Historic Lititz, PA

Lititz Pretzel Factory Original Bakery
Americans love their salty snack foods and the key rival to the potato chip was first commercially produced in my home town... Lititz, Pennsylvania.  The pretzel was probably first created somewhere in Europe.  There are even claims that it was invented by Native Americans.  Our first known recorded reference goes back to 610 A.D. where an Italian monk created the treat as a reward for children who successfully learned their prayers.  He named the treats prestiola, the Italian word for little reward.  The traditional unique twisted knot shape is thought to mimic folded arms across the chest, the wings of angels, or even the shape of the Christian Holy Trinity symbol.  It is thought the three holes created by the twist may represent the three images of God, coexisting and connected as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Whatever the shape resembles or represents, the true implied meaning is open to broad interpretation.  However, the one thing everyone can agree on is the fact that pretzels are delicious!

   Twisting Pretzels Factory Tour (2010)    Robert Haines Weighing Pretzels (1940)
 --------------------------------------------------    ----------------------------------------------------
It is also unclear when the concept of the pretzel made the voyage to the New World with some claiming the Pilgrims introduced them shortly after their arrival in Cape Cod Bay on the coast of New England in 1620.  However, pretzels were very popular in Germany where they were called brezels and may have been introduced into the American diet by the Pennsylvania Dutch population as they emigrated from Switzerland and Southwestern Germany.  Most German made pretzels were soaked and boiled in a lye mixture before being baked and were served hot.  They had a soft, bread-like texture, which we would call soft pretzels today.  The first commercial scale pretzel bakery was founded in the small Moravian community of Lititz, Pennsylvania.  The original bakery building has been preserved and is open for public tours.    

Haines Family in the Factory
(Image Credit / Library of Congress / Circa 1942)
The Sturgis Pretzel Factory was started by Julius Sturgis who had owned a bakery for eleven years in Lititz before he switched his business to a full time pretzel manufacturing operation.  The legend told on the factory tour states that a hobo was riding the train that ran just behind the Sturgis bakery.  He was hungry and smelled the baking bread, causing him to stop and ask for a job.  Julius Sturgis had no job available but he fed the hungry hobo. In exchange for his kindness, the obscure hobo gave Julius a recipe for making pretzels.  However the famous recipe truly came about is unclear but the pretzels Julius Sturgis began making became so popular that he quit baking bread all-together and focused full time on baking pretzels by 1861.  The rest is history! 

The Original Brick Fired Ovens
Julius Sturgis is credited with changing the industry by going away from soft pretzels and developing a crispy hard pretzel.  His hard pretzels were smaller in size but had a much longer shelf life of freshness due to their dry texture.  The new style of hard pretzel enabled Sturgis' famous pretzels to be shipped to customers throughout the area, causing product sales to continue to grow.  In 1936 Tom Sturgis, the great grandson of Julius, moved the operation to a much larger facility outside Reading, Pennsylvania where the family tradition continues.  As a result, the Sturgis Pretzel Factory has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating pretzel factory in the United States.

Wood Fired Bakery Oven
The average American consumes just under two pounds of pretzels per year but the average resident in the Philadelphia area eats over 20 pounds of pretzels a year, twelve times the national average!  Wow, that's a lot of carbs!  Philly is best known for their famous soft pretzels that are baked daily and sold throughout the city at street corners to customers in cars waiting at traffic lights.  A friend of mine from Philadelphia says the perfect Philly pretzel is a bunch of several cold pretzels stuck together, purchased from a guy selling them from a stolen grocery store shopping cart, who hasn't bathed in several days.  Sadly, this seems to be the norm around the sports complex in South Philly, where these guys are on every street corner within a two mile radius of Citizen's Bank Park!  I will admit, I purchase them every chance I get and they are delicious!  Something to gnaw on for the drive home!

Pretzel Factory in Action
(Image Credit / Pennsylvania State Archives)
Soft pretzels are still my favorite pretzel.  I can remember my parents buying them at the small stand outside the entrance door of Kmart in Lancaster on the Fruitville Pike.  They sell the Super Pretzel brand everywhere now and you can even buy them frozen at the grocery store and make them at home in the oven but... it just doesn't cut it.  Auntie Anne brought the soft pretzel into the mainstream with huge success by creating a version that in dipped in butter oil to give it flavor.  This is an old Amish recipe that I had tried over the years at various farmers markets throughout Pennsylvania before Auntie Anne went big time.  In my opinion, this just isn't a true soft pretzel with all the various flavors and dipping sauces.  It can cost you about seven bucks to get two pretzels and a dipping sauce that could run upwards of 1000 calories.  It seems more like a dessert pastry than a snack!  A Cinnamon Sugar soft pretzel... Really?

The Famous Lititz Pretzel Sign
Don't get me wrong, I don't claim to be an pretzel expert but I think I have eaten more than my fair share of the national average of annual pretzel consumption.  In fact, I am probably approaching Philadelphia regional levels so I think I am more than qualified to give you my honest opinion.  I am so impressed by the new kid on the block in the commercial soft pretzel franchise war... the Philly Pretzel Factory brand.  These pretzels are true Philly style soft pretzels.  You can buy them stuck together just like in the city but they are still warm from the oven and the sales person's personal hygiene is almost sure to pass health inspection!  What more could you ask for... the best of both worlds!  Ok, so maybe they are still 300 calories each, but they have zero grams of fat and you can get three for about a buck and a half!   How can you pass up a deal this good?  Hey kids... Do you recognize one of your teachers from Warwick Middle School in the photo above?  Answer revealed at the end of the blog!

Lititz Pretzel Factory / Circa 1942
(Image Credit / Library of Congress)
Ok, enough of the sales pitch... My daughter Katelyn and I were downtown Lititz exploring the shops on Main Street when we came upon the Lititz Pretzel Factory marked by the famous giant pretzel outside the front entrance.   The historical factory tour had been closed for awhile as the property changed hands and went through renovations and improvements.  I hadn't been on the tour since I was a fourth grade student at Kissel Hill Elementary during our History of Lititz unit, capped by the field trip to the Lititz downtown area, including the pretzel factory.  Katelyn had also been on the tour as a Kissel Hill student.  She wasn't as excited as me to take a walk down memory lane but... Hey, I was her ride home and she didn't have a choice!  The ticket you purchase to go on the factory tour is a pretzel!  A ticket you can eat... I love this country!

 Old Soft Pretzel Advertisement Sign
The tour was well done, fun and informative.   Each person on the tour received a piece of dough and was taught the proper Julius Sturgis method of twisting the perfect pretzel.  It took a couple tries but we eventually got it.  We were told that the best hand twister of all time could roll and twist over 40 perfect pretzels a minute.  Show off!  The wood fired ovens are still functional and the bakery really hasn't changed since the start of operation.  The tour lasts about a half hour and keeps your attention the whole time.  There is a small gift shop where you can purchase... pretzels!  Most of the renovations have been in this area, restrooms, etc.  Despite Katelyn's pretend lack of enthusiasm, I thought the tour was a great way to spend a half hour for three bucks.  Unless of course you wanted to buy a string of a half dozen Philly Pretzel Factory soft pretzels fresh out of the oven! 

Historic Factory Regulator Wall Clock
In addition to Sturgis brand hard pretzels, I also highly recommend Unique's Dark Splits and Snyder's Sourdough Pretzels.  All varieties are best complimented by a large glass of ice cold milk.  Just in case you wanted my valued opinion.... Enjoy!  

Warwick Middle School Science Teacher
Mrs. Ruth Gallagher rolls her Perfect Pretzel 
(Childhood Photo / Age 9 / Sept 1992)


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