Gettysburg, Ghosts, and Getaways

Despite yesterday’s flurries, I think spring has finally arrived. We had a pleasant long weekend in Gettysburg during spring break. Below is a quick post, highlighting some of our adventures:

We stayed at General Lee’s Headquarters and were fortunate enough to have the upstairs room in the actual stone building where Robert E. Lee met with officers and staff during the battle. People kept telling us the building was haunted, and we did experience a few odd events while there, but nothing too scary. Just a few steps away is the Appalachian Brewing Company (excellent food and craft beer).

hotel

 

kids little round top

Our favorite battlefield activities were hiking Big Round Top, Little Round Top, and Devil’s Den. If you ever visit, take one of the many bus tours. The tour guides are usually old history buffs, offering unique stories for tourists. I also recommend parking at Big Round Top and slowly walking the trail to Devil’s Den. Take your time and stop and listen every few minutes.

P Devils Den

If you enjoy ghost tours, we found a respectful and informative candlelight tour. Dan, from the Black Cat Tour Company, connected the paranormal through history, economics, and post-battle events. Adams’ County also has many wineries. In addition to a collection of reds and whites, they serve hard cider from their orchards. We found three within a 20 mile radius (all of which have shops with tasting rooms in the city of Gettysburg).

Chad little rt

I also recommend touring the Visitor’s Center, walking Pickett’s Charge and the National Cemetery, and stopping at the old Catholic Church, which served as a field hospital where nuns tended both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Thanks for reading and Happy Spring!

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Civil War Sweethearts and a Character Witness for a Cannibal

Alferd_Packer

While I am not ready to share Dad’s entire memoir, I am prepared to share sections. Here is a memorable story about the Irish side of the Roche Family written by my father, George Roche III.:

…My dad’s family roots were Irish on his father’s side and Scots-Irish and Welsh on his mother’s side. The Roche’s were Baltimore Catholics from County Cork, following the 19th Century lure to the “land of opportunity.” The next generation, my Great Grandfather Roche came to Denver as a young man, following the lure of the West. My Great Grandmother Roche was quite a character. She had been a former girlfriend of General Lew Wallace, Civil War leader, governor of the New Mexico Territory and author of Ben Hur. From all family reports, Great Grandfather Roche remained jealous of Lew Wallace for his entire married life. The colorful General Wallace was a frequent cause of controversy at the Roche dinner table.

Your colorful Great Grandmother Roche had another claim to fame as well. In the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado during the rush of silver and gold strikes in the 1870s, a party of five miners and their guide, Alferd Packer, were trapped in a crushing blizzard and were not seen again that winter. The next spring, Packer walked out of the mountains, alone.

Subsequent investigation revealed that Packer had survived the winter in a cave, where he had killed and eaten the five prospectors. At the trial, the judge, in his summary to the jury, addressed Packer, “There were only seven Democrats in Huerfano County, and damn you, Alferd Packer, you ate five of them!” That summation to the jury became the basis for an appeal and second trial some years later. Packer was already a confessed murderer and cannibal, so the second trial revolved around questions of Packer’s character.

In the famous second trial, a case watched closely across the country and especially closely in Colorado where the trial occurred, his attorney’s defense was based on finding anyone who had known Packer during his life and had a positive comment to make. Great Grandmother Roche had grown up in the same Pennsylvania town as Packer and had known him as a boy. There was nearly a divorce in the family when Great Grandfather Roche discovered that his wife was to testify as a character witness for America’s only convicted cannibal. My Grandfather Roche would seldom mention these stories and when he did, it was always said with a pronounced sigh.

Today, you can see a plaque at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s cafeteria, fondly named by the student body in the 60s, “The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill.”

Just an Old Fashioned Love Story

heart cherries valentines blog

I wasn’t going to post anything for Valentine’s Day, but I was cleaning out a box of old family papers and came across a story written by my great-grandmother (Dessa Hagee Roche), retelling how her father (Jeremiah Hagee) proposed to her mother (Ellen Coble). I checked another family memoir and saw a brief mention of this day, known as “the episode of cherries,” so it must be another one of those stories that was, for a time, passed down through oral tradition. As the story faded over time, I’m glad someone took the time to write down what happened in the summer of 1867.

Jerry was a familiar figure at the Coble home. He had been coming to see Ellen, and bringing her home from church and other gatherings for about two years. There was no doubting his intentions; one day he would propose.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Coble. Where is she, Mrs. Coble?”

Ellen heard the voice from her bench under the apple tree in the garden. Her heart throbbed violently in her.

“Good afternoon, Jerry.” Her mother’s clear voice carried from the kitchen where she was busy canning cherries as fast as Ellen could seed them. “Ellen’s out in the yard pittin’ cherries.”

On the rustic table before her were large pans of cherries and the old cherry pitter that Grandma Perry had brought with her when they had moved west and settled in North Carolina. It was a hand-wrought contraption that pushed the seeds out of the ripe cherries without smashing them. But the red juice popped out in all directions.

Ellen had been working with the usual serious concentration that she applied to all her tasks in helping her mother run the busy household. Her hands were wet with cherry juice, her apron was splashed, and her face must be spotted and smeary.

Realizing her appearance, panic seized her and quickly jumping up, she found herself running to hide in the orchard. Her bare feet carried her quickly along, but not fast enough to escape the owner of the stout army brogans she heard pounding after her. “Ellen, Ellen!”

Then he caught her and although she had only promised to think about marrying him, and talk it over with her mother, he was kissing her, her eyes, her mouth, and every last red spot on her face, neck, and hands.

“Ellen, you are the sweetest girl in the world!” This time a kiss on the chin, “sweet enough to eat.”

“Oh Jerry, please, you mustn’t! I haven’t spoken to Mother yet. Please, Jerry, I’m all covered with cherry juice!”

“But you will, Ellen, you will marry me? Won’t you?” He held her gently in the ring of his arms. Her silky brown hair curled softly around her face. The whiteness of her skin was accentuated by her pretty red mouth and the spots of cherry juice on her face. Her large brown eyes in the small childlike face looked into his blue eyes with serious candor.

“There is no one to take my place. Mother would have to do all the housework and take care of the babies alone!”

Not giving up, he said, “Maybe we could live near by, so you could come over and help your mother some each day.”

He held her hand as they walked back to the table and bench under the tree. Her ankle length dress was made of flowered gingham with a full skirt, under which her bare feet moved unconsciously toward the apple tree. In the summer time she never wore shoes at home, only at church, meetings, or school. The soft soil felt warm and caressing to her feet, and the grasses were cool and clean.

She knew little about life outside of their Illinois farm, but she had watched Jerry transform himself into a farmer after enlisting in the Union Army at 16 and surviving four years of hardship, deprivation, and finally, Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” He was anxious to dedicate his future to taking care of her and making a life together. Calming down from the afternoon’s events and accepting this path, Ellen began her new adventure.

She said, “Yes.”