Happy National Pig Day! March 1 is one of those weird little holidays, like Dance like a Chicken Day (May 14) or Defy Superstition Day (September 13). (See more at holidayinsights.com.) According to Wikipedia, National Pig Day was invented in 1972 by two sisters and its purpose is:
“To accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man’s most intellectual and domesticated animals.”
Not surprisingly, it is mostly celebrated in the Midwest.
I’m not sure if we’re supposed to revere the pig or eat the pig, but it is fairly well known that pigs are intelligent animals. According to this NY Times article,
“Wild pigs live in long-term social groups, keeping track of one another as individuals, the better to protect against predation. They also root around for difficult food sources, requiring a dexterity of the snout not unlike the handiness of a monkey.
Other researchers have found that pigs are brilliant at remembering where food stores are cached and how big each stash is relative to the rest. They’ve shown that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace.”
Pigs have many similarities to the human genome and their valves are even used in human heart transplants. If you just think of them are filthy animals, there is a reason they roll around in the mud: to cool down, because they lack sweat glands.
Chanchitos lucky pig
If you’ve been to Chile or visited certain museums, you may have seen a full bellied clay sculpture of a three-legged pig. This is a Chanchito. It is a good luck talisman. Chanchitos originated in Pomaire, a town in Chile, about 30 miles from Santiago. The land there is rich in clay and therefore pottery has been a tradition since the 17th Century.
I purchased my little Chanchito on a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian (the old Customs House) in Manhattan a few years ago, and it sits on my kitchen windowsill. The museum was made in the Beaux-Arts style and is spectacular. If you are ever in Lower Manhattan, stop by – both for the architecture and Native American history.
If it looks familiar, the building has been featured in many movies and TV shows, including Black Swan, Ghostbusters II, Godfather III. I used to work a couple of blocks away and one day noticed a sign saying a movie was to be filmed there so I asked the crew which one, and they said Batman Forever. My son was (is) a huge Batman fan so I made arrangements to get him there in time and we watched Tommy Lee Jones and company film outside. In one memorable scene, Batman jumped from the left first floor window. In the finished movie, they CGI’d it so it looks like he jumped from 50 stories up. Movie magic..
Today is also meteorological Spring – a good day to put Winter away.
Imbolc Imbolc, or the Mid Winter Festival of Lights, begins February 1. It’s beginning to stay light a bit longer and we are now halfway between Winter and Spring. There are several ways to celebrate this Sabbat. Also, refer to my earlier article, Imbolc, festival of lights for more craft, decoration, and meal ideas (including the most awesome Hungarian Goulash and my fave oatmeal yogurt). Another article, Easy Vegan dinner for Imbolc, includes recipes and photos.
It’s not too cold to connect with nature
We can always connect with nature, even if it local parks and beaches are closed due to snow and ice. Alternatives are to visit a natural history museum, planetarium or zoo. Put suet blocks in a feeder and count the birds and type of birds in your yard. FYI the next Audubon backyard bird count is February 12-15, but why not become familiar with your birdy visitors now. If there’s just too much snow or you have no ambition, you could lay on the couch and watch Cowspiracy on Netflix. Although I personally cannot bring myself to watch it, they are urging people to get involved and take a 30 day Vegan challenge. I have done that and it was not difficult at all. Try my vegan dinner, referred to above. And if you have watched Cowspiracy, please comment below.
As it’s been very cold here and I wasn’t feeling my usual 1 hour park walk, I went to Hicks, a large local nursery on Long Island, established in 1853. It was a good time to go, because all flowering plants are 30% off. I bought a white cyclamen, pictured above. They flower all winter and seem easy enough to take care of – we’ll see..
For those who like correspondences – and I include myself here, below are a few for Imbolc. Use them in your decorations and rituals.
Zodiac: Aquarius (yay, me)
Solar System: Moon
Colors: White, green
Element: Fire (candles)
Trees: Cedar, Rowan, Sycamore
Plants: Grain, Reed
Herbs: Basil, Blackberry
Gems and Minerals: Amethyst, Turquoise
Almost every culture has a favorite New Year’s Day food to bring good luck. In the South, it’s black eyed peas. Spanish celebrants pop 12 grapes at midnight. Lentils are a biggie in Italy and Cubans cook roast pork. My father’s lucky food was creamed herring, eaten every New Year’s Eve and Day, to my disgust. Check out allrecipes.com to find recipes for good luck foods around the world.
Witchy New Year
To inspire the witch in you and begin the new year right, add a little basil to your meal for luck, happiness, clarity and wealth. Stir symbols of what you wish to attract into your life this year, into the pot. It can be a heart, dollar sign, a name, words, place you’d like to vacation, or a symbol that has meaning only to you. Make the spell your own and live this year in positivity.
Historic Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay, Long Island, is rumored to be haunted so I decided to check it out one afternoon. Besides that, it has something to do with the A&E TV show Turn, about George Washington’s Culper spies during the Revolutionary War. I learned this house was also the setting for the first Valentine and first Christmas tree in the U.S.
Raynham Hallhas a pretty interesting history. If you can’t get there, check out their website, which is where I found most of the information in this article. Here, I tried to simplify and define their info, as when I visited the house I was completely confused reading the histories, and I know if I was confused, I can’t imagine what the fifth graders who visit get out of it. If you just want to read about the ghosts, scroll down – I’ve included a few videos and an EVP.
Raynham Hall was bought by Samuel Townsend in 1740. He had been living in his father’s home in Jericho. He wanted to move to nearby Oyster Bay to be closer to the waterfront, as he owned a shipping business with his brother Jacob. The original house was 4 rooms with an apple orchard across the street and a narrow meadow that led to the harbor. Soon after the purchase, he enlarged the house to 8 rooms. When a lean-to was added on one side, the house became a saltbox(structure with 1 side of the roof sloping downward much lower than the other side). It was called The Homestead and later renamed Raynham Hall by Samuel’s grandson, Samuel, when he renovated it in the mid-1800’s in the Victorian style of the day. (This Raynham Hall should not to be confused with Raynham Hall in England. More about that one later.) Samuel lived there with his wife, Sarah, their 8 kids, and several slaves.
By 1765, the brothers owned 4 ships, which were used in trading many goods, including logwood (for dying textiles), tea, lumber, molasses, sugar, china, wine, textiles, dye and rum. Samuel also owned a general store in his house, selling the goods he imported from Europe, Central America and the West Indies. He was the town Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk, was a member of the NY Provincial Congress for 3 years, and after the American Revolution, was a NY State Senator from 1786 to 1790. So, Samuel was a successful and respected guy.
At the time of the American Revolution, most people in the town were on the side of the British. Samuel, however, was on the Patriots‘ side. It was an unpopular choice, especially after the Patriots were defeated at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. All of Long Island and New York City were then occupied by the British, and prisoners were treated viciously. Citizens who didn’t toe the line were held captive on brutal prison ships. (By the end of the Revolution in 1783, more than 10,000 people in this area died of illness or starvation. At the time Manhattan’s population was approximately 20,000.) In September 1776 British soldiers came to arrest Samuel and put him on one of these ships. He was forced out of the house and led through town to Pine Hollow. His daughter, sister and her husband happened to be passing by and saw what was going on. The husband paid several thousand pounds (a lot of money) to bribe the soldiers to set Samuel free.
For 6 months Raynham Hall was commandeered by the British and acted as the Queen’s Rangers headquarters. Their commander was Lt. Col. John Simcoe. He lived in the home with the Townsends. British soldiers were in and out, and officer meetings were held every day in the front parlor.
The earliest written evidence of the Townsends owning slaves came from a 1749 receipt stating a man was bought by Samuel for 37 pounds (approximately £5,244 today = US$8,031). A family bible lists 17 slaves. There are no last names, but some of the slaves had the first names of Hannah, Violet, Susannah, Jeffrey, Susan, Elizabeth, Catherine, Lilly, Harry, Gabriel and Jane. This bible also lists births, deaths and a partial genealogy. Elizabeth escaped in 1779 with the British Queen’s Rangers (British soldiers). When Samuel’s oldest son, Solomon, married his cousin Anne in 1782, they were gifted Gabriel and Jane. Gabriel and Jane’s children also became slaves to Solomon, as well as a few others. A “Negro ledger” was found in the home which recorded purchases of goods sold in the house’s general store by area slaves for their masters.
CULPER SPY RING
In 1778 George Washington strategized that since the British had a stronger army than the Patriots, he had to find an advantage, so he created a spy ring. After Nathan Hale, 21, was hanged by the British in Manhattan for being a spy, Washington tapped Benjamin Tallmadge, who had been Hale’s classmate at Yale, as chief recruiter and operator of the spy ring. Tallmadge’s first recruit was Abraham Woodhull, because he was a childhood friend who he trusted.
“A 13-foot statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale stands tall in City Hall Park. Yet no one seems to know for sure where he was actually executed for spying on the British. There are two competing locations. A plaque posted on a Banana Republic store at Third Avenue and 66th Street claims that the 21-year-old American spy was strung up on a gallows within 100 yards of that site on September 22, 1776. The information comes from a British Officer’s diary, which stated that the hanging occurred at “the Royal Artillery Park near the Dove Tavern at the old Post Road, now Third Avenue. . . .” But there’s another plaque, on East 44th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, that says this is the location of Hale’s execution and that the “British Artillery Park” existed here. The building the plaque is affixed to belongs to the Yale Club. Hale was a Yale graduate, class of 1773.”
Hung is the past tense and past participle of hang in most of that verb’s senses. For instance, yesterday you might have hung a picture on the wall, hung a right turn, and hung your head in sorrow. The exception comes where hang means to put to death by hanging. The past tense and past participle of hang in this sense, and only in this sense, is hanged. When someone is hung out of malice but with no intent to kill, as described in the example, hung is the conventional word.
What I get from that is if a person was hung and is still alive, he was hung. If a person was hung and was killed, he was hanged.
CULPER SPY RING, CONT’D.
Getting back to the beginnings of the spy ring, Abraham Woodhull, the first recruited spy, asked Robert Townsend, Samuel’s son, if he would be a spy for the Patriots in New York City. Robert ran a shipping company with his brother and cousin in Manhattan. His business allowed him to circulate about town and hear the whisperings of upcoming British troop activities. His spy code name became “Culper Junior.” Abraham Woodhull was “Samuel Culper Senior.” Washington used the name Culper because it was a derivative of Culpeper County in Virginia. Washington didn’t have a spy name like the above, it was more a code: Agent 711.
I was surprised to learn the spy ring used an invisible ink formulated by James Jay, John Jay’s brother, and G. Washington had a special solution to turn it back to visible. I had no idea that had been invented way back then. They also used a complicated numeric code. See the actual Culper Spy Ring codes. Robert sent his coded messages to George Washington via courier (mainly tavern owner Austin Roe) to Woodhull in Setauket. There, a local woman, Anna Strong, was all for aiding the spies because her husband, a judge, spent years on one of the British prison ships. Anna would signal another spy, Caleb Brewster, using laundry on her clothesline. If a message was ready, she would hang a black petticoat on the line. Brewster would then pick up the message from Woodhull and sail to Connecticut by whaleboat and give it to Tallmadge, who would make notes, and then finally to George Washington. It took Tallmadge too much time, so he ended up using soldiers on horseback to get the message to G. Washington. And, yes, G. Washington complained that it took too long to get a stinkin’ spy message. Sometimes the action would already have happened before the note got to G. Washington. The ring’s greatest accomplishment was to send word to G. Washington that the British were planning to attack the French fleet in Newport, Rhode Island. Washington then bluffed that his Patriots were planning an attack on New York City. The British fell for it and Newport was safe for the French.
(Drawing by Townsend’s nephew, early 1800’s)
ROBERT KEPT HIS SPYING A SECRET HIS WHOLE LIFE
Robert moved back into Raynham Hall after his father, Samuel, died in 1790. He lived there with his two sisters, Sarah and Phebe. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that anyone knew of his involvement in the Culper Spy Ring. At that time, a historian, Morton Pennypacker, hired a handwriting analyst to find out who Culper Junior was, and he discovered it was Robert Townsend.
RENOVATION OF RAYNHAM HALL
Samuel’s grandson, Solomon Townsend, bought the home from his uncle in 1851 and changed the Colonial style house into a Gothic Revival style home. He also added 14 rooms (now 22 total). A large rear wing and a tower doubled the size of the house and altered it into a Victorian style home. This is when he renamed it Raynham Hall, after the Townshends of England. (Charles Townshend wrote the Townshend Acts in Britain, which imposed duties on products imported to the colonies – glass, lead, paints, paper, and the famous tea). The Americans thumbed their nose at this and reduced imports to Britain. Within 3 years, Parliament repealed all of the duties except the tax on tea. A truce was declared for a few years, but then Parliament passed The Tea Act, and that gave The British East India Company a monopoly on the sale of tea in America. And that led to you know what, which started the American Revolution. So, in essence, Samuel Townsend, who bought the house back in 1740, opposed the British during the American Revolution, had a son who was a spy against the British during the same war, and then had a grandson, who renamed his house in honor of a British man who got the ball rolling on this war.
In the early 1950’s the house was restored back to a 1740 Colonial style, except for the Victorian style kitchen and north wing that were kept the same, to show family history in the mid-1800’s and keep a caretaker’s residence. There were additional renovations after that, and the rooms now have been historically restored to the 18th and 19th century history of the home and family. In the Colonial part of the house, the rooms are furnished to show the 1770’s, when it was used as Simcoe’s British headquarters. The Victorian portion of the home is restored to the 1870’s, when Solomon Townsend, the grandson, lived there.
RAYNHAM HALL SOLD TO OYSTER BAY FOR $10
The house stayed in the family until 1933, when owner Sarah Townsend Coles Halstead sold it to the Daughters of the American Revolution in Oyster Bay for $10. (The Wikipedia page says the house had a $20,000 mortgage at that time.) She had previously opened a tea room (they were popular at the time) in the home, but it was not very profitable. The DAR is a patriotic organization composed of descendents of Patriots, so even though it was still called Raynham Hall, it in a way reverted back to the original sympathies of Samuel. The DAR donated the property to the Town of Oyster Bay in 1947, with the stipulation that it remain:
“as a public shrine, and as far as possible, make perpetual a memorial to the brave men and women of revolutionary times, for the use and benefit of the general public of the nation under agreements, covenants and conditions which will best secure to our people the diffusion of knowledge and the inspiration of our forebears in cherishing freedom, love of country and the fostering of patriotism.”
Currently, the Friends of Raynham Hall, Inc. partners with the Town to maintain the operate the house as a museum.
AMERICA’S FIRST VALENTINE
The first Valentine sent in the U.S. was penned by Simcoe (who, as a British Lt. Colonel, lived in the house with the family for 6 months) to Samuel’s daughter Sarah and given to her on February 14, 1779. Sarah was a spinster until her death at the age of 82, when the valentine was found.
Fairest Maid, where all is fair, Beauty’s pride and Nature’s care; To you my heart I must resign, O choose me for your Valentine! Love, Mighty God! Thou know’st full well, where all thy Mother’s graces dwell, Where they inhabit and combine to fix thy power with spells divine; Thou know’st what powerful magick lies within the round of Sarah’s eyes, Or darted thence like lightning fires, and Heaven’s own joys around inspires; Thou know’st my heart will always prove the shrine of pure unchanging love! Say; awful God! Since to thy throne two ways that lead are only known— Here gay Variety presides, and many a youthful circle guides Through paths where lilies, roses sweet, bloom and decay beneath their feet; Here constancy with sober mien regardless of the flowery Scene With Myrtle crowned that never fades, in silence seeks the Cypress Shades, Or fixed near Contemplation’s cell, chief with the Muses loves to dwell, Leads those who inward feel and burn and often clasp the abandon’d urn,– Say, awful God! Did’st thou not prove my heart was formed for Constant love? Thou saw’st me once on every plain to Delia pour the artless strain— Thou wept’sd her death and bad’st me change my happier days no more to range O’er hill, o’er dale, in sweet Employ, of singing Delia, Nature’s joy; Thou bad’st me change the pastoral scene forget my Crook; with haughty mien To raise the iron Spear of War, victim of Grief and deep Despair: Say, must I all my joys forego and still maintain this outward show? Say, shall this breast that’s pained to feel be ever clad in horrid steel? Nor swell with other joys than those of conquest o’er unworthy foes? Shall no fair maid with equal fire awake the flames of soft desire: My bosom born, for transport, burn and raise my thoughts from Delia’s urn? “Fond Youth,” the God of Love replies, “Your answer take from Sarah’s eyes.”
FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE
According to a plaque in the Victorian parlor, the tradition of a decorated Christmas tree originated in Germany and became popular in 1840’s England. The Townsend tree was decorated with fine glass ornaments, tinsel and blazing candles – with a watchful servant standing by with buckets of water.
There are many stories of sightings, smells and sounds of ghosts in Raynham Hall. When I asked the docent, she admitted to a few occasions when she saw a little something that could have been a presence, but could also be explained away as not a presence. The workers did not want to promote a haunted side to the house museum; they wanted to stress the history. I got the feeling that some unexplained things had happened and they did not want to talk about them. However, I found a few videos online of investigations held at the house.
As far as legends go, I had to rely on the internet: wiki and some other sources. Tales about ghosts in the house go back to the 1930’s. An article about the hauntings was written in 1938 by the owner, Julia Cole. She wrote a guest woke up to the sounds of what turned out to be a ghostly white horse and rider outside the bedroom window. The writer thought it was Major John Andre, who had been in the house shortly before he was captured and killed during the war. Others have said this ghost was in the Raynham Hall in England. The article also told about her sister, who saw an elderly male ghost come down the stairs, turn back toward the dining room and vanish. The sister insisted it was Robert Townsend. It should be noted the part of the house he was seen was not built until 13 years after Townsend died.
More recently, a museum patron heard “the swish of petticoats” behind her as she walked past the stairs. When she turned, she saw a bit of a Victorian-dressed figure go by her toward the back of the house. Unexplained noises have been heard in the house and staff has heard footsteps following them in the front hallway of the Victorian part of the house. Noises have been heard in the slave quarters, as well as the smell of roses. This area is not open to the public. Other unexplained smells, such as pipe tobacco and wood fire, have been noted in the first floor of the Colonial area. This is where Samuel would typically smoke a pipe, while relaxing in front of the fire. Sometimes the smell of a baking apple pie or cinnamon could be found in the kitchen.
In 1999 a ghost with dark curly hair, beard and moustache, about 20-30 years old, and wearing a dark coat with brass buttons was spotted at the servant’s entry, looking into the garden. It’s believed he was an Irish servant, Michael Conlin. Since servants’ records were not rigorously updated, it is not known if there was a servant by this name. Many people have indicated a 5-10 degree colder difference in Sally’s (Sarah) room than in the other rooms. She was the woman who fell in love with Simcoe. By the end of the war, he moved back to England and married someone else. Sarah never married in all her 82 years. The valentine Simcoe wrote to her was found after her death, very creased, as if it had been read over and over and over. If anyone is haunting Raynham Hall, it should be her.
The Brown Lady is a famous ghostly figure photographed for the magazine ‘Countylife’ in 1938. You can see her descending a staircase. She and other ghosts have been seen there many times – but in Raynham Hall in England, not the one in Oyster Bay.
VISIT RAYNHAM HALL
Raynham Hall, 20 W. Main St., Oyster Bay, NY. 516-922-6808. Admission: Adults $5. Students $3.Seniors, service people & under 6 Free. Open Tuesday through Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Tri-Spy Tour: There is an interesting tour in nearby Setauket that takes visitors on the actual trails the British and Patriots once roamed, as well as historic sights relating to the Culper Spy Ring. The Tri-Spy Tour can be taken by foot (3 miles), bicycle (15 miles) or kayak (4 hours).
While looking for a Halloween costume, I came across some unique ideas and wanted to share a few of them. If you see an unusual outfit or accessory, let me know!
MISC./CATEGORIES TO CHECK OUT:
ANYTHING from curiology.bigcartel.com. They have book of shadows, Dracula’s Castle, Ouija, tattoo machine (and more) purses, plus jewelry that I’ve never seen anywhere else. They’re in the UK, but that should not stop you! I’ve ordered products from there and it’s no big deal.
Mabon is a Sabbat that occurs at the same time as the Autumnal Equinox. It’s a celebration of harvests, and also referred to as the Witches’ Thanksgiving. Last year I wrote an article about Mabon – read it here. Included there are ideas on decorating, spells, Mabon oil and incense, activities, what to eat, crafts, and places to go. Here are some more ideas for the holiday.
Visit a cider mill or pick apples at the farm
I stopped by Jericho Cider Mill which is on Long Island. While I did not purchase cider, I did buy an apple pie (actually 3 small pies: 2 for my son – apple and apple crumb, and 1 apple crumb for me). If you don’t have a mill nearby, see if there’s an apple orchard you can visit. Check the website pickyourown.com to find locations. If you’re a hiker, there’s a Fall Foliage Map so you can plan when to lace up those boots.
What to do with all those apples: Make applesauce in the crockpot! Peel and core as many apples as you can stand to do (and will fit in the crockpot). Add 1 cup apple cider, 3/4 – 1 cup sugar, and a few tablespoons (I like a lot) of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. I strongly urge you to use what you like, and maybe go easy on the spices, tasting as it cooks. Cook on Low 6 hours or so. Then mash if needed. If you can’t be bothered (and this is a REALLY easy recipe, but I know…), go to Cracker Barrel and buy their Spiced Apple Butter. Or you can buy it online, if you don’t even want to leave the couch. And that’s okay, too!
Every season I change decor in my home – couch pillows, kitchen curtains and tablecloth or placemats, shower curtain and rugs, blanket or bedspread, flowers (real and not). If I have an appropriate wreath or sign to put on the door or out front, I’ll do that. For Mabon, I’ll concentrate on on apples and mums, with colors in the yellow, orange and deep purple range. Yes, we start to see pumpkins now, but I want to save that for Samhain – Halloween. You’ll see above I incorporate my pinecones with glittered grapevine balls and rocks. I collect rocks from different beaches :). The SISU sign was hand stitched and given to me as a gift. It is the Finnish word for Strength and Determination.
Apple spice tea: Pour apple cider in a mug along with 2 whole cloves, 2 whole allspice and 1 regular tea bag (black tea). Steep for a few minutes.
Spiced coffee: I know most of you have a Keurig or equivalent, but if you make yours the old fashioned way using ground coffee, add some cinnamon and cardamon to the grounds before brewing.
Candy corn jello shots: If you like a little buzz in your evenings, abeautifulmess.com tells how to make jello shots that looks just like candy corn – and taste so yummy!
Mabon Tarot spread – wear Amethyst or Topaz while reading
Gratitude – where you’ve been
Grounding – where are you now
Goals – where you want to go
Concentration – what do you need in order to succeed
Obstacles – what to watch out for
Aide – who will help you
Accomplishment – of goals or wishes: either way, yes or no.
Recently I visited my cousin and we made soap, adding herbs and flowers from the garden. It came out pretty good and smells delicious, so I’ll tell you how we did it. It was super easy, quick – and fun.
First we cut up blocks of glycerine soap (available at craft stores like Michaels) and put them in a heatproof cup.
We microwaved the soap at increments of 20 seconds until it was fully melted.
Lavender buds from the garden were added.
We took sage from the garden and broke it up into little pieces.
We threw in some flower petals. Fresh squeezed lemons were added to the melted soap that had lavender mixed in it and fresh squeezed limes were added into the soap with the sage.
Some glitter was also added and we stirred up each batch.
The only place I can definitely say I felt an otherworldly presence was in Gettysburg. There were two incidents.
My son and I stayed at the Quality Inn at General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters (which is now closed and I believe torn down. The Civil War Preservation Trust acquired the land to preserve and restore the site of Lee’s headquarters). Our room, the General Buford Suite, was across the street from the main motel and General Lee’s HQ building. It was an old brick building and we were told that’s where the soldiers would be brought from battle, into the basement, which was put into use as a field hospital.
I’m pretty sure this is the building we stayed in that was part of the Quality Inn – which is not the Gen. Lee HQ building. That was across the street. (See first photo at top of page.)
General Robert E. Lee Headquarters
Mary Thompson was a 70 year-old widow who lived in a stone house located on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg. I learned from the Civil War Preservation Trust that on the very first day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863) General Lee commandeered the house and set up his headquarters there. Mrs. Thompson, her daughter-in-law and her two children most likely found refuge in the basement during the battles. The fact that the house has thick walls and was near the Confederate line would have led Lee to make the decision to choose this house.
The area around Mrs. Thompson’s house saw very heavy fighting. The first day Union artillery was rolled up in front of the house with 3 regiments of soldiers from the state. Although the Union was successful against a North Carolina brigade, they were later forced to retreat. Approximately 2,000 soldiers were captured that day. Because of the heavy casualties around Seminary Ridge, wounded soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy were taken to Mrs. Thompson’s house, where she cared for them and used her own clothing and linens for bandages and rolled the dead up in carpets.
The next day also saw battle, but started out with Confederate forces near the house, along Seminary Ridge. Fighting went from 4:00 til dark. On July 3 two Confederate batteries moved a bit south to fortify the big charge that afternoon. The 3-day Battle of Gettysburg ended up being the largest and bloodiest of the Civil War, with approximately 50,000 dead. The Union suffered 23,055 casualties (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing), and the Confederate side saw 23,231 casualties (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing) according to Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg by John W. Busey and David G. Martin. Nearly a third of Lee’s general officers were killed, wounded, or captured.
It should be noted that General Lee ate in Mrs. Thompson’s home and slept there the first night. Although his staff remained there and notes passed back and forth from the house, he was too busy during the battles to spend much more time inside.
When the soldiers left Gettysburg, “an empty stone house and fenceless yard were all that was left the widow of 70 years.” After the Battle of Gettysburg, thousands of people rushed to the town to see where the famous General Lee posted his headquarters. Although Mrs. Thompson left for a short time after the battle, she lived there until her death in 1873. It was suggested she may have been uncomfortable with her new dubious fame. A fire in 1896 destroyed the inside of the house, but the outside still stood. In 1907 Emma Feister, a tenant, was arrested for “keeping a bawdy house.” Around this time, newspaper articles began suggesting that General Robert E. Lee never had his headquarters in Mrs. Thompson’s house, but in an apple orchard. However, this has largely been discounted as an invented story. In 1919 the Gettysburg National Park Commission placed a marker stating that General Lee’s headquarters were across the street from the house. It is engraved with a quote from that newspaper article by Henry Moyer which states: “My headquarters were in tents in an apple orchard back of the Seminary along the Chambersburg Pike.” – Robert E. Lee.” Lee never spoke these words; they were invented by the War Dept. The National Park Service’s position on the matter is that the headquarters was established in a small tent on the south of the Chambersburg Pike, along with his staff and aides.
Our weird little drive
The first night we arrived in Gettysburg a bit late as we had just driven from West Virginia (where I showed my son my old college, Marshall University). After putting our bags down we wanted to take a ride and see the town. We didn’t know where we were going and after a short distance decided we were tired, it didn’t look like much was happening and we weren’t in the mood to get lost. We decided to just to turn around to go back to our room. I turned into a dark dirt road. Immediately I started having a serious meltdown for no reason. I was in a sheer panic and didn’t know why. I just knew I had to get out of there – fast. I don’t suffer from panic attacks or freakouts and have a good amount of skepticism about ghosts and things, but I was overcome with a huge sense of dread and kept saying, “I have to get out of here” while wildly trying to turn the car around. My son (23 at the time) didn’t know what to do because I’d never acted that way before. It was dark – there were no lights and I didn’t know where the road we turned onto led but I wasn’t about to keep going and find out. There were small ditches on each side of the entrance and I had to maneuver back and forth several times to turn around and get back on the road. Finally we found our motel again and I felt ok. I could not explain what just happened and we decided to forget about it for the night.
The next day we saw that the place where we turned around was Seminary Ridge, a battlefield. I’ve never felt that type of panic before or since, and I’ve been in some strange places. I’ve heard stories about people who have heard battle noises while in modern Gettysburg. That’s not what I experienced, but I cannot deny I definitely felt fear and dread. And that’s not like me.
OK, so that was odd. We just chalked it up to having heard that lots of people have strange encounters in Gettysburg. The other incident was in the motel room the next day. We had a lovely duplex with pull-out sofa, kitchen and dining room on the first floor. The second floor had a big bedroom and bath. There was also a balcony off the bedroom. There were chairs outside on the first floor and we did make use of them. It was a beautiful view.
That afternoon we were sitting in the living room, thinking about what to do that day, and a white ball of light shot up the stairs like a bullet. We both looked at each other for a second, then ran up the stairs. Nothing. It had disappeared. We looked all over, talked to it, tried to coax it into returning, etc., but didn’t see it again. We reluctantly walked back downstairs and tried to rationally figure out what it was. We investigated all of the windows, lamps (were not on), and the street outside. It was not lights from any cars that drove by. It was nothing that we could figure out. It just came out of the blue, ran up the stairs and disappeared.
I learned a few years later the same thing happened to a close friend of mine in her own home – a white ball of light shot up the stairs. This actually happened to both her and her husband, at separate times. Is this a common thing?
Because we were only staying a few days and there is so much to see and do in Gettysburg, we never got around to asking the people at the front desk about the 2 incidents we experienced. I was searching around online to see if other people experienced anything unusual at the Quality Inn and discovered this interesting website written by a former employee that details the many paranormal occurrences that happened there, titled Diary of a Gettysburg Haunted Hotel.
Other things we did in Gettysburg
As I mentioned above, we were only in Gettysburg about 2 or 3 days, and were coming home from a trip to West Virginia where we had visited a church that practices snake handling. So. very. interesting. I will write about that too. Some other things we did while we were in Gettysburg:
Of course we went on a ghost tour, which was great.
Bus tour of the battlefield. There are so many tours, and different ways to tour (bus, your own car, walk, etc.) We were very pleased with the one we were on, as we had a very expressive guide that brought the times back to life.
Shopped in town. One memorable spot was Amy V. Lindenberger‘s art studio, where we saw her work and even spoke to her about it for quite a while. I bought a few of her prints and gave a couple to close friends as gifts. The one I kept for myself is a picture of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy. I love how she’s holding the candle and coded letters are around her. I also bought a book about her, Wild Rose by Ann Blackman.
Also while shopping, we were fascinated by old photographs of Civil War soldiers and some of their personal items in the antique shops.
Although not in Gettysburg, we drove 2 hours to Herr’s Potato Chip Factory for a tour. That was a fun day and I recommend the tour.
So I don’t know. I can’t explain what happened at Gettysburg. I’m always looking for evidence of ghosts and things like that, and although this wasn’t it, maybe I’m getting closer.
The Old Bethpage Village Restoration is a recreation of a mid-19th Century village. The 209 acres contains houses, farms, 2 stores, a church, blacksmith shop, hatter, inn, fisherman’s cottage and schoolhouse. One home, the Powell Farm, is on the original property. There are now 51 reconstructed buildings; not all are open to the public. These other buildings were brought in from different Long Island locations. The grounds represent a typical rural Long Island farm village, with roots found in the settlement of the island by the Dutch and English.
Within the historic village is a baseball field where visitors can watch a game as it was played in the 1800’s, with uniforms as they were worn back then and play is by the old rules. The main difference between baseball then and today is that players did not wear gloves. The games are free if you are in the village, and they attract a crowd. If you’d like to learn more about old-time baseball or see a game, the NY Mutuals are the home team for the Restoration and play in a league that travels around the country.
The village features a Civil War encampment at certain times of the year, holds events for July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They sell produce from the on-premises farm during the summer. Several workshops are available during the year, such as beekeeping. There are also craft shows. A new attraction adjacent to the village, the Museum of American Armor, recreates the sights and sounds of American forces during World War II. Vehicles include a Sherman tank, Stuart light tank, LaSalle staff car, weapons carriers, half tracks, 155mm howitzer, reconnaissance vehicles and anti-aircraft guns.
The Restoration also hosts the annual Long Island Fair, which began in 1842. The earliest fairs were held on agricultural society member’s farms and vacant lots around Mineola and Hempstead. The first permanent fairgrounds were acquired in 1866 in Mineola. In the 1950’s the fair moved to Roosevelt Raceway and then in 1970 to the Restoration. The current fairgrounds and exhibition hall building have been reconstructed to mimic the original. I have been to the Restoration hundreds of times and gone to the Fair for years and won a few ribbons for baking (cornbread, marble cake, spice cake) and honorable mention for my photo taken at Laura Plantation near New Orleans of a slave quarters porch.
The Old Bethpage Village Restoration has another interesting thing about it – it’s haunted.
The Restoration began in 1963 when Nassau County acquired the 165-acre Powell Farm. The first structure to be moved to the property was the Manetto Hill Methodist Church, which had been located in Plainview. After the buildings were moved to the village, the lives of former occupants were thoroughly researched and buildings were restored to a specific period in their history. They are furnished authentically, some with originals from the families of the occupants.
The house of inventor Peter Cooper is part of the village. It was built in 1815 in Hempstead. (Read the highlighted page, a timeline of his life – this guy was unbelievable. He was a cabinet maker, hatmaker, brewer, grocer and inventor. Among his inventions is an endless chain, the first lawn mower, and the first steam locomotive in the country. He was part owner in 3 telegraph companies and supervised the laying of the first transatlantic cable. He was active in the anti-slavery movement, became involved in Indian reform, ran for president in 1876 but lost to Hayes, was head of NYC Public School Society, and built Cooper Union College, which granted full scholarships to all students up until last Fall.)
Ghosts at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration
The ghost stories in this article were told to me by a worker named Joanne. Everyone I spoke to and asked if the village was haunted told me, “Go talk to Joanne.” So I did. There were 12 houses open the day I went: Benjamin House, Blacksmith Shop, Conklin House, Kirby House, Layton Store, Luyster Store (check out the safe), Noon Inn, Powell Farm, Ritch House, Schoolhouse, Church and Williams House. The day’s activities were: basket weaving, blacksmithing, candle making, children’s games, leather work, and slateboard writing.
THE HAUNTED HOUSES:
Schenck Dutch Farmhouse
The Schenck House was built around 1730 in Manhasset and is one of the oldest Dutch farmhouses that remain in the country. Mr. Schenck was a gentleman farmer. When visitors take photos in this house, they frequently get orbs. Movement is also heard upstairs. One time a docent went upstairs while the maintenance man was on a ladder (he had to put a rope on the flue). She heard fabric rustle, as if from a dress. The maintenance man said, “I hear that all the time in here.”
This house belonged to a bayman, Joseph Conklin. He was originally in the carriage business, but later took to fishing, clamming, eel spearing, duck hunting and making decoys. The house, from Smithtown, is restored to 1830. Two different woman saw an 8 year old boy sitting on the upstairs steps and another person saw a little girl. A man has also been seen and it is claimed the ghost said that the house belonged to him and they should get out of there. Several people have seen a woman. She mostly appears at night, standing at the top of the stairs. She wears a long dress from the 1800’s and is surrounded by a bluish white haze.
Although I did not get any specific details, there is a spirit in the reception center.
The Hewlett house was built in the Federal style in Woodbury and is now restored to 1840. Volunteers have had an uncomfortable feeling. Young girls especially do not like to be there. A worker’s 15 year old daughter was crossing the threshhold into the kitchen and felt lightheaded. Security and others have seen a lady in white circling the outside of the house. There are initials carved into a rafter in the kitchen. Sometimes they are there, sometimes they are not. This house has been photographed with a coffin in the front room. The coffin is not normally present; it is only brought in for Halloween and Christmas (“A Christmas Carol”).
The inn was built in 1835 and moved from East Meadow. A voice has been recorded that said, “Who are you?”
The Layton store is restored to 1866 and comes from East Norwich. People have heard boots on the floorboards when no one else was there.
Joanne was working in this house when we spoke. It is from New Hyde Park and built in 1820. The original family lived in it until the early 1960’s. The day I visited the docents had baked an apple pie. (A few of the houses cook and visitors sometimes can sample.) The Williams house was owned by a master carpenter who originally had 100 acres of farmland. The house is restored to 1860 and has 8 bedrooms upstairs – he had a large family with a wife and 6 children. Most of the furnishings belonged to the family.
When I met Joanne she told me she had gotten 2 glimpses in the kitchen of a ghost that very day. She was walking to greet visitors and felt someone there. She claims she hears different spirits walking on the floorboards – it sounds like boots sometimes. EVP’s have been recorded and 1 voice in particular is heard the most. However, there appears to be a little boy and a girl in the home. A medium had told her the boy’s name is George and it was confirmed by a family picture that a George lived there.
One time a cleaning lady was in the house and a voice said, “Put my teacup down!” This same woman opened a window to get a breeze and put a stick in it to keep it open, but the window slammed down twice. The stick was then found on the table. The third time it slammed, the stick was outside by the tree.
Another time a woman working with Joanne said she saw a man walking up and down the hallway – the same man that was in a photo in the house. He was not dressed up in the picture, but looked like he had been walking in the fields. Everyone else in the photo was dressed more formally. One day in February she was cleaning and the maintenance man came down from upstairs. She was telling him some stories and showing pictures. A recorder was on at the time. When she held the picture, a voice said, “Oh Johnny, handsome, O John,” in a mocking fashion. Boxes also have moved to different spots upstairs. One time the faucet sounded like it was running and when they went to turn it off, it had already stopped. A different voice has said to girls who volunteer, “Get out!” It is believed a mother’s spirit is Esther and the 2 children are hers.
Note about visiting the Restoration
The Long Island Fair is a fun time to visit the Old Bethpage Village Restoration, but please be aware that not all of the regular buildings will be open to the public during that time.
Growing up it never occurred to me to question the large elaborately framed picture of a black Mary, mother of Jesus, on the wall of my parents’ bedroom. I never paid attention to it, considered it basically just part of the wall. It was like when you see something all the time, you don’t even see it anymore. I had never even taken a good look at it or thought about why we had a Black Mary when we were white. After my Catholic mother passed away, my father painted the room and somehow Mary never made it back to her usual spot. I discovered her years later – banished to the back of the closet.
The picture, not exactly a painting, was more like a large colored picture on paper, almost like a page that had been ripped from a super sized Polish Catholic magazine, backed with wood and covered with glass. Every time I look at it now, I imagine peeling the picture off the wood and finding an original painting by one of the old masters or something. (I think I saw that on the Dick Van Dyke show when I was a kid.) The only things that keep me from doing that are that I will destroy the picture and it’s highly unlikely my Polish ancestors had a real anything.
Our Lady of Czestochowa
Our Lady of Czestochowa (click for pronunciation), also called the Black Madonna, is an icon of Mary that resides in a monastery in Czestochowa, Poland. The original is a painting of Mary and Jesus made on wood. This wood, according to lore, was a door made by Jesus and the picture was painted by St. Luke. The original painting is 19 X 13 X 1/2″.
The icon is quite beautiful and has an interesting history. The original Black Madonna hangs in the Monastery of Jasna Gora and actually has two different dresses which hang on it and are interchanged every Holy Thursday. One dress is made of precious jewels, the other is elaborately beaded on gold cloth. Even though the jeweled dress is much more valuable monetarily, the embroidered dress is also prized because the beads were assembled by peasant women. There used to be a third dress assembled from pearls of different sizes and shapes, but it was stolen off the altar and was never recovered. The crown, held by two angels, was a gift from Pope Pius X. It is gold and decorated with jewels. A previous crown was a gift of Pope Clement the XI in 1717. That was also stolen, along with the pearl dress. The portrait was painted on a canvas that was glued to a cypress table base. Xrays have shown there were previous canvases and nails before this final portrait was finished.
History of Our Lady
There are no written facts about the painting before the year 1382. Its origin is based on word of mouth and goes like this: Mary, in her later years, had many visitors and people who made pilgrimages to see her, as she was known to be an extraordinary person. Although many came to visit and pray with her, in those times it was mostly the wealthy who were able to travel. A group of virgins who had formed the first congregation of women under her guidance asked St. Luke to draw her portrait. He did it upon a table top in St. John’s home. Sixtus of Sienna stated,
“St. Luke, after completing the life of Christ, with brush and paints made a portrait of His Blessed Mother.”
Legend states that Jesus had built the cypress table that the picture was painted on. When he died, Mary moved to St. John’s home, taking the table with her.
For the next three centuries, the painting was handled and protected by the virgins in Jerusalem and hidden in catacombs. In 326 St. Helena, Constantine the Great‘s mother, located the painting and brought it to her son, who was building Constantinople. A church dedicated to Mary was built and the relic placed there.
Through word of mouth, the painting gained fame and worship as those who prayed before it were given special graces. Some years later, Emperor Izauryn had many holy objects burned in the city, but the painting was spared by his family who hid it in the palace. His wife gave it to Eudoxia, who gave it to her daughter, and so on for 500 years.
As Christianity spread from Constantinople to Russia and Russian rulers married Polish royalty, the painting found its way to Belzki’s Russian castle for the next 500 years. In the 13th Century the Tatars (Mongolians) attacked and an arrow was shot through the painting. This is where the throat scar comes from. When the Tatars came back later for another battle, Duke Vladislaus took the painting to hide it in Opole, Poland. He passed through the town of Czestochowa and decided to place the painting in a small wooden church there for safe keeping.
The next morning when the Duke was ready to leave, the painting was loaded into a wagon, but the horses would not budge. He prayed for guidance. Twice he dreamed that he should leave the painting there, so on August 26, 1382 he brought it to the Church of the Assumption. (This is why August 26 is the feast day of Our Lady of Czestochowa.) The next day Vladislaus signed papers and dedicated the rest of his money to build a church, cloister and convent in Jasna Gora, which is what the settlement was called back then. The Pauline Fathers of Hungary were summoned to care for the relic because they were considered the holiest monks in Europe.
By this time the portrait was already known for its miracles. Poland’s first historian, John Dlugosz (1415-1480):
“Our Lady’s picture, one of ancient origins and famed for miracles, was brought to Jasna Gora by Opolczyk.”
In 1430 Hussites scarred the right cheek twice. They also stole the painting and shrine of mementos that were with it. They was later found beside a stream (which believers say produces miracles) nearby. Besides the cheek slashes, precious ornaments were missing and the base was broken. During the reign of Jagiello an artist tried numerous times to retouch the painting and remove the scars, but was unsuccessful. (Jagiello ruled from 1386 to 1434 so the retouching was attempted between 1430 and 1434.) I read in Novena to Our Lady of Czestochowa, printed by the National Shrine in Doylestown, PA:
“Damage was so extensive that a new canvas had to be placed on the old panel base, preserved as a relic – and the picture was repainted anew according to the sketch on the damaged canvases found beneath the top layers. The restored picture was painted without the crowns and costly dress which we see on recent paintings. The diamond studded dress was added in 1717 at the first coronation of the picture. The crowns were sent as a gift by Pope St. Pius X in 1910.”
As mentioned above, Mary’s face in the icon is black. None of the theories suggest she was African. Speculation is that after so many years of hiding and transporting the painting, it darkened. Another possibility is that because votive candles were burned in front of the icon, dust and soot may have colored the portrait. Back in the day, there was a tradition of kissing holy pictures, and as this picture was greatly admired and respected, surely many, many people venerated it. One should keep in mind that if it is true that if St. Luke did paint the portrait, he did it to her likeness and even though the hues may have darkened with age, the features represent the true Mary.
It is also intriguing because it is not a normal pretty, perfect portrait. Mary’s face has two scars on her right cheek and one slash on her throat. There are seven cuts on the portrait – on the neck, face and above the right eye. It’s still beautiful and the fact that it survived all this time is remarkable. I also find it interesting that although the original sustained damage, all subsequent copies of the image also incorporated the scars.
If you can’t make the trans-Atlantic trip to Poland or the Vatican, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa is in Doylestown, PA. I have been there. An elaborately decorated copy of the portrait is there. It’s stunning. I can’t even imagine what the original must look like in person. The shrine in Doylestown offers masses, novenas and retreats. They have a gift shop, cafeteria, rosary garden, and chapel where you can light candles. There are no hotels on the premises but there are motels nearby.
Miracles attributed to Our Lady of Czestochowa
Many, many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Czestochowa. There is a special book listing the miracles that is kept in the monastery of Jasna Góra. The library at Jasna Gora has 11,000 ancient books, including five texts dating from the 15th and 16th Centuries that contain stories of the miracles. Papal recognition of the miraculous image was made by Pope Clement XI in 1717. A large number of the miracles involve restored eyesight, successful battles, sicknesses cured, and resurrected deaths.
Europeans in the Middle Ages suffered from many epidemics. Cities would be deserted during these times as families abandoned their homes and hid in the woods. Since no one was around to farm the land, the after effect of disease and death would be famine. All of the towns around Jasna Gora were affected by these epidemics, but the city of Czestochowa never suffered from it. The people attributed this to the icon.
In 1655 the Swedes overtook Poland in war and most of the country became occupied. A group of Polish soldiers prayed before Our Lady. The fort at Jasna Gora battled for five weeks and finally the Swedish army retreated. This success was attributed to prayers to the icon.
In 1717 when the portrait was coronated, Valentine Rabenda, a student, was suffering from a problem with his vocal chords and had been unable to speak for four years. While praying for a cure, he cried out, “O Blessed Virgin!” and was able to then speak.
Several decades after this miracle, Poland was occupied by three different powers. Poles would sneak through enemy barricades to visit Czestochowa to draw strength from the icon. Russia knew of this and called the portrait the “main revolutionary.” Russian soldiers confiscated sacred medals and pictures of Our Lady.
In 1957 a reproduction was made to be used as a traveling icon. This picture traveled to every Polish church in the country. In 1966 it was placed under arrest and brought back to Jasna Gora with orders to not travel. A Communist government ruled Poland at that time. An empty frame and burning lamp traveled around the country instead. In 1972 the ban was lifted.