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, January 15, 2012

Historic Fulton Theater

Fulton Theater
 Conestoga Massacre
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

 Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes
(Image Credit / IMDb + Disney Pictures / 1968)
The Fulton Theater is a cultural icon in Lancaster that has been providing quality entertainment and hosting community functions for the city's residents for over 150 years.  About a decade ago, I had the privilege of getting a backstage tour of the theater while attending a graduate level college course.  The theater still offers the tours upon request.  Ironically, I have never seen a show at the Fulton but recently had that chance thanks to a friend who gave me a pair of tickets to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  It had been one of my favorite Disney movies when I was a kid starring Dick Van Dike as the fumbling inventor Caractacus Potts, who overhauls a former race car that ends up changing his life for the better.  A car that can convert into a sea worthy boat or fly across the sky with the push of a button... How cool is that?  On a Saturday afternoon in June, Katelyn and I went to the Fulton to experience professional live theater in the city.

The Former Lancaster Jail
The Fulton Opera House / Theater was built on top of the remains of the building that previously occupied the location on the corner North Prince Street and West King Street in the city of Lancaster.  The former structural resident of the intersection was the Lancaster City Jail that gained notoriety during the French and Indian War that raged between France and England on both sides of the world from 1754 through 1763.  In the last year of the conflict, the Native American tribes in the contested Ohio Valley banded together into an Indian Confederacy called Pontiac's Rebellion.  Indian war parties attacked British military forts and isolated settlers cabins along the Appalachian Mountains.  In previous years, the Quaker dominated Colonial Assembly of Pennsylvania had been slow to support armed resistance against Native Americans because it violated their religious and pacifist ideologies. 

 Conestoga Massacre / 1844 Etching
(Image Credit / Pennsylvania State Archives)
A group of Scotch-Irish immigrants, living along the Susquehanna River in an area that today would be Dauphin County decided to take matters into their own hands.  A band of men from Paxton (Paxtang) Township formed a vigilante gang bent on revenge against Native Americans for the unanswered acts of violence against defenseless settlers in the frontier.  The Indians responsible were more than 200 + miles away to the west but an easier target was a short distance away in nearby Lancaster County.  The Conestoga Indians were the last surviving members of Susquehannock Nation living east of the Mississippi River along the Conestoga Creek just outside the city of Lancaster.  On the morning of December 14, 1763 a group of 50 men known as the Paxton Boys attacked the small village killing six Native Americans and burning their cabins to the ground.  The mob disappeared and returned to their homes in Western Pennsylvania without immediate pursuit from local authorities.   

Remaining Wall of the Lancaster Jail
Later, Governor John Penn declared the violent acts of the Paxton Boys a homicide and placed the remaining 14 members of the Conestoga Tribe in the Lancaster Jail for their own protection.  The Paxton Boys were furious that the local government was protecting the Indians over the needs of western settlers and decided to take action in response to Governor Penn's words.  Two weeks after their initial attack, the Paxton Boys returned to Lancaster city, broke into the jail and dragged the defenseless Indians, pleading for their lives, into Prince Street where they killed every one of them and mutilated their slain bodies.  Of the dead were 8 children and not one citizen who witnessed the carnage in broad daylight attempted to stop the attack.  It was soon known as the Conestoga Massacre and thus ended the treaty signed by their ancestors with Pennsylvania's founder William Penn in 1701 giving them the right to peacefully live on protected land within Lancaster County.  The Holy Experiment had failed.    

The Fulton Theater Circa 1880
(Image Credit / Pennsylvania State Archives)
Warrants were issued for the murderers but not one person came forward to name a single conspirator and the crimes went unpunished.  Native Americans of remaining nations within the colony discretely traveled to Philadelphia where they were given asylum in an army barracks within the city by the Colonial Assembly now led by Benjamin Franklin.  The Paxton Boys would attempt one more time to eradicate the colony's Indian population through genocide by marching a mob of 250 men to Philadelphia where they were confronted by soldiers of the colonial militia, British infantry, and Ben Franklin himself, who eventually defused the situation through deliberations. Many of the Native Americans remained at the barracks in Philadelphia out of fear for their safety but sadly, a third died of the smallpox virus in the overcrowded accommodations.  The members of the Paxton Boys were never brought to justice and faded into obscurity along with the ghosts of the massacred.

Remaining Door / Wall of the Jail
The Lancaster Jail was later demolished and became a construction site for the future theater and opera house.  The rear stone wall facing away from North Prince Street remained intact and was incorporated into the new building.  As a result, a connection to the Conestoga Massacre in 1763 still remains attached to the theater.  A small plaque mounted on the exterior of the rear wall remembers the event.  The theater was completed in 1852 and was named for local resident Robert Fulton, who was an inventor and pioneer in steam technology.  He is most noted for successfully applying steam power to river boats with the launch of the Clermont in 1807.  His work in the field later led to two way travel on the Mississippi River during the Transportation Revolution.  His image is incorporated within the front facade of the theater in the form of a life-size sculpture that stands within a center window well, just above the lighted marquee.  
 The Fulton Theater Today
Katelyn and I headed down North Prince Street in search of parking and pulled into the Prince Street Garage right across the street from the Fulton.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the streets were alive with pedestrians exploring the city.  The theater just went through a major 9.5 million dollar renovation project in 2005 and the exterior of the building looked unchanged compared with historic photos I had viewed researching Lancaster's history over the years.  The only modern addition was the lighted marquee of the art deco era that gives the theater its bright glitz at night.  Just inside, we entered the Steinman Lobby and were shown into the beautiful theater.  The concave shaped lines of seats were covered in bright red fabric which gave the old classic feel of a bygone era permeated with class and style.  The ornate moldings that joined walls and ceilings were painted in shades of red and gold suggesting wealth.  The colors of the space were complimented by marble columns and elegant chandeliers, making the theater feel like a palace.  The theater itself was the star of the show.

The Interior Theater Entrance
Our seats were amazing, located right in front of the stage, four rows behind the orchestra pit, front and center.  I asked an usher if I could take a few photos of the theater's interior before the musical began and was surprised to get the ok, with the promise to put my camera away when the show began.  Scouts honor!  I was curious to see how they were going to produce a musical with a car on a small stage.  It turns out the complex sets full of Caractacus Potts' contraptions were amazing and somehow navigated their way within the confined space of the stage.  The car was incredible and looked like it could still win the British Grand Prix.  The musical production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was fun, full of humor, and right up Katelyn's alley!  The child actors didn't miss a note or step and put on an amazing performance.  We were both more than impressed!  

Theater Seating / Mezzanine Level
At the midway point in the story there was a break for a fifteen minute intermission to stretch our legs and seek the facilities.  We passed out a side door to the bathrooms and ran right into history.  Part of the plaster wall was purposely removed to reveal part of the original jail wall in the form of a segmental arched doorway.  A mounted plaque gave a full description of the artifact identifying the arch as part of the third expansion construction project of the former jail.   The lights dimmed signaling it was time to get back to our seats before the curtain opened for the next act.  The second half of the show included 30 local young actors playing the children hiding underground from the dreaded Child Catcher... I hate that guy!  The Fulton operates several community outreach programs including those designed to encourage young people to become involved in the arts.  I was later told many of the child actors in the performance were associated with those programs.  

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
(Image Credit / Fulton Youtube Clips)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a true treat for kids of all ages.  The entire performance was outstanding, ranking at the top of my limited theater experiences.  It brought back a lot of memories of when I saw the film created by Walt Disney Productions in 1968 on the Sunday night Disney anthology television series entitled the Wonderful World of Walt Disney.  Sadly, they just don't make movies like that anymore.  After the show, we took a few more minutes to see the parts of the lobby and theater that we missed.  Much of the theater's lobby was decorated with framed advertisements from past productions over the years.  I appreciated how they preserved and paid tribute to so much of the theater's rich history and even acknowledged the negative events associated with the Conestoga Massacre.  You can't help but think what would have been lost if the Fulton would have been razed at some point to build a new modern theater.  

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
(Image Credit / Fulton Youtube Clips)
The Fulton Theater became a not-for-profit organization in 1963 and has dedicated their efforts to encourage the arts through various programs that impact approximately 100,000 people annually.  The theater itself was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a member of the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.  Katelyn and I loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang despite the fact, we were singing and humming the songs for a minimum of two weeks.  Please support this historic theater!  For more information please visit their informative web page outlining the various programs and upcoming plays, musicals, and events. 

Fulton Theater / Opera House

A Narrative of the Late Massacres
(Image Credit / Pennsylvania State Archives)
"The barbarous Men who committed the atrocious Fact, in Defiance of Government, of all Laws human and divine, and to the eternal Disgrace of their Country and Colour, then mounted their Horses, huzza'd in Triumph, as if they had gained a Victory, and rode off -- unmolested!"
"The Bodies of the Murdered were then brought out and exposed in the Street, till a Hole could be made in the Earth, to receive and cover them."

"But the Wickedness cannot be covered, the Guilt will lie on the whole Land, till Justice is done on the Murderers. THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT WILL CRY TO HEAVEN FOR VENGEANCE."

  • The angry words of Benjamin Franklin / 1764
Benjamin Franklin

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