Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Presidents, Travel

A Hoosier Wedding in Lincoln’s White House.

Lincoln White House Wedding photo

Original publish date:  June 11, 2020

Sometimes, I need to dig up a historical story for no other reason than I need a smile. And nothing makes me smile more than sharing a story with an Indiana connection. A story that many of you have never heard before. A story that might just make you smile. This is the story of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and a White House wedding. The only wedding to take place during Lincoln’s time in the White House.
In March of 1862, a 19-year-old Mount Sidney, Virginia woman named Elizabeth Amanda Sheets wanted to marry a 28-year-old farmhand living in the same town named James Chandler, a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Problem was, Elizabeth’s parents disapproved of the engagement, let alone a wedding, to the much older man, so the couple decided to elope. After several months of a secret courtship, the young couple obtained a marriage license and boarded a stagecoach bound for Harper’s Ferry to get hitched.
125 miles later, as they approached the outskirts the town, they were turned away because of the build-up of Federal forces there readying themselves for the soon-to-begin military campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. With no other options, they traveled on by stage, 63 miles away to Washington, D.C., a city neither was familiar with.
And so it was that this couple from the Rebel state of Virginia found themselves in the Union Capitol of Washington at the height of the Civil War. Luckily for them, during the war between the states, D.C. was the equivalent of Las Vegas. The stagecoach driver informed the couple that they could be married in any public building there. What’s more, the driver suggested they go and knock on the door of the White House and ask “Honest Abe” to marry them.
It sounded like a good idea to the starstruck couple, so they traveled hand-in-hand to the Executive Mansion to be joined in holy matrimony in the grandest of styles. While walking towards the White House, they asked a man who was coming towards them if it was true that they could get married there. The stranger replied that he did not know, pointed towards the front door and told them to knock and ask for themselves.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Smith
White House Doorman Jeremiah Smith.

Tradition states that the door was answered by President Lincoln’s legendary doorman, Jeremiah Smith, a subject of past columns. Further tradition states that after President Lincoln heard of a young couple seeking some place to be married, he took them to the East Room and summoned a Baptist minister. The White House Historical Association reports that “a group of women then entered the room, along with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, to serve as witnesses for the ceremony. After the minister announced their marital status, the president and first lady shook their hands, served an elegant dinner, and invited the newlyweds to spend the night.”
Thus, again according to the White House Historical Association, “Abraham Lincoln was credited with seeing to the marriage in the White House of a couple he did not know.” The incident first surfaced in the September 27, 1901 Indianapolis News in a story headlined “Married in a Parlor of the White House” less than two weeks after the assassination of President William McKinley. Then, as now, I’m guessing the world was in need of a little good news.
Screenshot (79)The 57-year-old widow, now known as Elizabeth Chandler, was living a quiet life in Anderson, Indiana; her husband James Henry Chandler having died six years earlier on Sept. 19, 1895, at the age of 61. The article recorded widow Chandler’s remarks about her White House wedding 44 years earlier made during a family dinner held in her honor at Rochester, Indiana. According to Mrs. Chandler, President Lincoln “shared in the happiness of the couple by suddenly finding it possible to have a wedding in the White House.”

 

The article understates the obvious by noting, “inasmuch as she is probably the only woman living in Indiana who has the distinction of having been a White House bride… Mrs. Chandler does not regard the circumstances of the wedding as being anything out of the ordinary so far as she is concerned.” The story broke “like a romantic picture out of the past” in newspapers all over the state and was soon picked up nationally. Over the next three decades, widow Chandler’s story proved irresistible whenever there was a wedding in the White House or an important Lincoln anniversary. On February 17, 1906 (a few days after Abraham Lincoln’s 97th birthday) the Indianapolis News ran the story on the day President Teddy Roosevelt’s outspoken daughter Alice married Ohio Congressman Nicholas Longworth at the White House. White House Wedding ChandlerThe story reemerged in 1909, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and again in November 1913 as President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Jessie prepared to marry Francis Sayre.
While it is difficult to prove whether the wedding actually took place, each succeeding story contained more details about the event. Elizabeth later recalled how President Abraham Lincoln led the couple up the stairs of the White House and into a big room all draped with flags. Elizabeth said she recognized the president because she had seen his picture. The young bride remembered that Lincoln summoned a messenger and, upon his arrival, the messenger and the groom left the room while Elizabeth remained with the president. Lincoln spoke to her about the war and asked whether she would be willing for her husband to fight for his country. When Lincoln noted that talk of war upset her, he changed the subject and began telling the blushing bride jokes and tall tales.
z inaugural-receptionAfter the minister’s arrived, Lincoln rang a bell and then led the wedding party into a big room, Elizabeth recalled. The president stood alongside the minister and not only did he give the bride away but also acted as the groom’s best man. Elizabeth recalled how he smiled throughout the ceremony. She stated that a Cabinet member stood up with them, but couldn’t recall his name or that of the minister. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were the first to shake the newlyweds’ hands. Elizabeth’s most vivid recollection of the nuptials was how scared she was. The president chatted with them awhile and then returned to his office with the unnamed Cabinet member. Elizabeth had worn a plain white cashmere dress for the ceremony. Afterwards, the couple was taken to separate rooms in the White House to change clothes, where Elizabeth changed into a navy blue cashmere dress.
According to the White House Historical Association, “a social function was being held at the White House that evening and when those present learned there were newlyweds in the house, they came ringing bells and compelled the couple to come and and join the party. The couple were greeted with handshakes and questions about where they were from and where they were going.” Elizabeth recalled that all of the guests were Northerners, and being a Virginian, she didn’t how nice Northerners were until that night. The newlywed described how she and her new husband hardly got a chance to speak during the evening because of the constant requests for her to dance the Virginia Reel.
After the party, the newlyweds were invited to a fine dinner in a room with the longest table she had ever seen. Elizabeth recalled that a hot punch was served and how everybody would stand up and drink while someone said something. The dinner lasted until the early hours of the morning. Because of the late hour and inclement weather, Elizabeth recalled that President and Mrs. Lincoln would not allow the couple to leave and insisted they stay the night. The next day, armed with a pass signed by the President himself, Mr. and Mrs. Chandler went up the Potomac River to Harper’s Ferry. From there they returned to Mount Sidney to deliver the news to the parents that they’d just got “married in the White House.”
Screenshot (156)After their fairy tale wedding in the White House, James and Elizabeth Chandler moved to a farmhouse in Augusta County, Virginia, near Mount Sidney. The couple’s home was in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and in the path of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. In a move that would have certainly dismayed their wedding host, 28-year-old James Henry Chandler joined the Rebel Army, enlisting as a private in the 52nd Virginia Infantry Regiment at nearby Mount Meridian on June 15, 1862. The regiment, organized the previous August, was made up of mostly Augusta County men. Perhaps because James was never paid his promised enlistment bounty, he remained in the Confederate service for only a month before going AWOL on July 17, 1862.
Chandler returned to the regiment May 23, 1863, where he remained until Oct. 14, 1863, when he was captured at the Battle of Bristoe Station, Virginia. Many years later, Elizabeth said her husband surrendered and asked permission to fight in Lincoln’s army. POW James Chandler was sent north to Washington and after some explanation and investigation, permission was granted. James took the oath of allegiance to the United States government on Dec. 13, 1863. Sixteen days later on Dec. 29, he enrolled as a private in Co. A, 1st New Jersey Cavalry. The following day he was mustered into Federal service under the name James Grimes.

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James Chandler’s Grave at Miller Cemetery Middletown,Indiana. 6/16/20. (Author’s Photo)

As a Federal soldier, James was promoted to the rank of corporal Nov. 1, 1864, and then sergeant June 1, 1865. At war’s end, Chandler was mustered out of service on July 24, 1865, but apparently did not return home for quite some time afterwards. Mrs. Chandler stated that, from the time he left the Confederate army in October 1863, she did not hear from him for five years and thought him among the dead. When he finally returned, he found his Virginia home intact and his wife working for a neighbor, awaiting his return. Likely because of the stigma associated with switching sides during the rebellion, the couple relocated to Henry County, Indiana. In 1868, the first of their five children was born. Census data reveals that the Chandlers were living in Jefferson Township in 1870 but by 1880 had moved to Fall Creek Township where they established a farm.

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The author at Elizabeth Chandler’s House- 2819 E. Lynn St. Anderson, Indiana. 6/16/20. 

After James Henry’s death in 1895, Elizabeth moved to a little unpainted house at 2819 E. Lynn St. in Anderson (the home still stands). She was living there when her White House wedding and Lincoln connection was revealed in 1901 and remained in the home until her death in the home at the age of 92 on Sept. 2, 1934. Elizabeth and James Chandler are buried on the east side of Miller Cemetery in Middletown, Indiana. It should be noted that the only couple ever married in Lincoln’s White House are surrounded by the graves of 15 former Confederate soldiers, the largest gathering of former Rebel soldiers in any cemetery in Indiana.

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The Author at Elizabeth Chandler’s Grave at Miller Cemetery Middletown,Indiana. 6/16/20.

Officially, there have been either 17 or 19 weddings conducted in the White House depending upon which source you use. These include nine presidential children and one president, Grover Cleveland. Because the Chandlers were not related to any of the official families and it was hastily arranged, the Chandler wedding does not register among the official records. However, the wedding date is contained in James Henry Chandler’s papers issued by the Pension Department. Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth was granted a Federal pension as a soldier’s widow by virtue of James’ service in the Civil War. However, those records do not note Chandler’s singular status as the only soldier who fought for both sides who could claim President Abraham Lincoln as his best man.

Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Travel

Where have you gone Mr. Bendo? A Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Mr. Bendo at Ralphs Muffler shop

Original publish date:  June 20, 2011              Reissue: April 30, 2020

To many Hoosiers, summertime conjures up images of cozy family car trips spent searching for the odd and unusual sites that allow us all to forget about life for awhile while providing memories that will last forever. Don’t let today’s high gas prices keep you from enjoying that summer road trip. The average price for a gallon of gas hovers around $3.80—that’s lower than a month ago, but about a dollar more than last year at this time. Yes, gas expenditures can add up quickly, but don’t let that deter you from jumping in the car and driving all over our fair state.
Most of you know that I have a particular affinity for the Historic National Road. My love for the Road is rooted in the roadside Americana sights I remember from my childhood cleverly designed to draw my eyes towards them like a beacon on the horizon. I suspect that many of you can easily remember those larger than life roadside attractions that used to dot our cityscape like Mr. Bendo, the giant muffler man and the TeePee restaurants. Most of these old landmark roadside attractions have been torn down or rotted away, but a precious few still stand as a testament to a simpler era.
z SAM_0050These unique roadside attractions began popping up along our highways in the 1930s and flourished into the 1960s. But the 1950s were their heyday. The Ike Era fifties was the decade of car culture; gas was cheap and families took to the open road, many for the very first time. The US interstate highway system was authorized in 1956 and construction began almost immediately in many states. Until then, families relied on connecting state road systems that took them on meandering journeys through big cities and small towns alike.
Beginning in the 1940s, roadside attractions started to spring up around the country in an effort to lure visitors to stop based on the exterior appearance alone. In the days before air conditioning and drive-through restaurants, the promise of free ice water and clean restrooms was a sufficient lure. However, in an effort to make themselves standout from the ever-crowded landscape, some roadside attractions began to feature exotic animals, games, quirky shopping or just really big things–such as the world’s largest advertising mascot signs.
z 7374044e29c0c9fe7eaffa4bc3b43652Although modern construction has ensured that you are never far from fast food and gas, if you drive highway 40 today, it is easy to imagine how that drive must have felt back in the day. Today, driving along many of Indiana’s classic highways (Michigan Road, Brookville Road, Washington Street, Lincoln Highway) traces of old gift shops, restaurants, amusement parks and motels dot the landscape. Many of you can easily recall the giant TeePees that crowned the roof of the aptly named “TeePee” restaurants on the grounds of the state fairgrounds and on the cities southside. For me, I’ll always remember the giant coffee pot that formed the roof of the “Coffee Pot” restaurant in Pennville near Richmond on the National Road.
z 0ea70e6809d2cc438252268b0bc6d223But, who remembers the “Mr. Bendo”, the muffler man? These giant statues routinely stood outside auto shops, usually with one arm outstretched while towering over the road with a muffler resting in his curved hand. Spotted in various incarnations all over the United States, these advertising icons were extraordinarily popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Legend claims that all of the original Muffler Men came from a single mold owned by Prewitt Fiberglass (later International Fiberglass). The first Muffler Man was allegedly a giant Paul Bunyan developed for a café on Route 66 in Arizona. Later incarnations were Native Americans, cowboys, spacemen and even the Uniroyal girl, who appeared in both a dress and a bikini. These behemoths either elicited fear or joy, but never failed to spur the imagination. Locally, you can find one of these “Mr. Bendo” statues at 1250 W. 16th St.
Today, you can get in the car and drive around Indianapolis in search of these classic old statues along with other oversized oddity signs. There are many websites and clubs devoted solely to cataloging and photographing these roadside oddities for posterity. Most of these Hoosier relics are outside of the city limits proper, but they can be found easily on a one-tank-trip. By the way, most importantly, bring your camera. Here is a partial list of these roadside oddities to give you a place to start.
z Warm-Glow2Closeby, there is a giant Uncle Sam and his two smaller nephews on Shadeland Ave (between Washington St and 10th). There are two giant globes, one on Michigan Road on the way to Zionsville and the other near the pyramids visible from the interstate. There is a large dairy cow on South Shortridge Rd (between Washington St and Brookville Rd) sitting behind a 10-foot chain link fence topped with barbed wire and guard at the gate. There are two large swans in the middle of ponds, one on Mitthoffer (Between 21st St and 30th St) and the other on Pendleton Pike. Incidently there is a big fiberglass cow at 9623 Pendleton Pike near the afore mentioned swan.
z e5df8b44d78817301a4bfadcf066fe45The old Galyan’s bear statue sits on the edge of the Eagle Creek Reservoir. When Dick’s Sporting Goods purchased Galyan’s, the company donated the statue to the City of Indianapolis. There are two huge bowling pins, one at Woodland bowl on the northside and the other at Expo bowl on the southside (visible from I-465). Don’t forget about the giant dinosaurs hatching from eggs at the Children’s Museum on the corner of 30th and N. Meridian Streets near downtown.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there is the world’s largest toilet in downtown Columbus, part of a giant house display. Once you make it up to the top floor of the “house”, you can jump in the toilet and slide down to the bottom. Near Centerville, there is a giant candle visible from I-70. In Fortville on the Mass Avenue extension (Highway 67) there is a giant pink elephant wearing eyeglasses and drinking a martini. In Franklin, a furniture store at 4108 S. US Hwy 31 has a towering chest of drawers and what they claim to be the world’s largest rocking chair.
z mr-happy-burger-1If you’re traveling to Logansport, you can visit three giant statues in the same town; Mr. Happy Burger on the corner of US Hwy 24/W. Market St. and W. Broadway St. features a fiberglass black bull wearing a chef’s hat and a bib as does the Mr. Happy Burger located at 3131 E. Market St. along with a giant chicken statue at 7118 W. US Hwy 24 (on the north side) that you can see from the road. Muncie has two giants; A big fiberglass muffler man stands alongside the scissor-lifts & heavy equipment in the Mac Allister rental lot at 3500 N. Lee Pit Rd. and a Paul Bunyan statue is the mascot of a bar named Timbers at 2770 W. Kilgore Ave.
z giant-sneaker-at-a-shoe-store-in-new-castle-indiana-BMA2NHThere is a car-sized basketball shoe at the Steve Alford All-American Inn on State Road 3 in New Castle and you can visit the towering, thickly-clothed “Icehouse man” painted in cool blue colors, the mascot of a bar named Icehouse at 1550 Walnut St. in New Castle. A balloon-shaped man with a chef’s hat, known by locals as “The Baker Man” is perched atop a pole with his arm raised in a friendly wave at 315 S. Railroad St. in Shirley, Indiana. And of course, who can forget the giant Santa Claus that greets visitors to Santa Claus, Indiana.
z INNCAicehouse03I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, perhaps many, but if this list helps stir up some old roadside memories among you, or better yet, gets you charged up to take an inexpensive holiday in search of roadside oddities, well, then it was a worthwhile read.

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Amusement Parks, Disney, food, Pop Culture, Travel

Disney Eats McDonald’s. PART I

Disney and Ray Kroc Part I
Ray Kroc & Walt Disney-World War I Ambulance Corps.

Original publish date:  January 16, 2020

There has been a lot of hubbub going around lately about the latest Star Wars movie “The Rise of Skywalker” from Walt Disney studios and the new Star Wars themed lands in Disneyland and Disneyworld’s Hollywood Studios known as “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” Disney purchased Star Wars parent company, Lucasfilms, for $4.05 billion in cash and stock on Oct. 30, 2012 and recouped their investment in just a few short years. The four Disney Star Wars movies alone grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office. That figure doesn’t even count any monies generated by the franchise in merchandising or at the theme parks, which opened in 2019.
What would you think if I were to tell you that the Disney / Star Wars merger was not the first “big idea” to land on the house of the mouse doorstep? There was another big idea that was nearly floated out of Anaheim over fifty years ago. And this one came from “Uncle Walt” himself. Well, to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, Walt Disney’s rumbly tummy anyway. Believe it or not, there was a time when Disneyland and McDonald’s nearly partnered up.

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Disney Star Wars.

This was not a proposal made by a couple of opportunistic bandwagon jumpers, there was history behind this love affair. Walt Disney and Ray Kroc first met in a Connecticut Army camp in 1918 while both were teenaged dreamers known only to their families. Both men were born near Chicago, Illinois less than a year apart. Walter Elias Disney in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood on December 5, 1901 and Ray Albert Kroc in Oak Park, Illinois, on October 5, 1902.
In mid-1918, Walt Disney dropped out of high school at 16 and attempted to join the United States Army to fight against the Huns, but he was rejected because he was too young. Undeterred, Disney forged the date on his birth certificate and joined the Red Cross in September 1918 as an ambulance driver. Ironically, Walt began his ambulance corps training at a burned down amusement park near the University of Chicago where he was taught by mechanics from the Yellow Cab Company how to repair motors and drive cars over rough terrain.
Likewise, Ray Kroc dropped out of school, lied about his age and joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver at the age of 15. Disney was shipped to France, arriving in November, after the armistice. The only action Disney participated in was drawing cartoons on the side of ambulances. As for Kroc, the war ended shortly after he enlisted. In his 1977 autobiography “Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s”, Ray Kroc said this about his old war buddy, “In my company, which assembled in Connecticut for training, was another fellow who had lied about his age to get in. He was regarded as a strange duck, because whenever we had time off and went out on the town to chase girls, he stayed in camp drawing pictures. His name was Walt Disney.”

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Ray Kroc: Soldier.

While training to be a driver in Ambulance Company A, Disney and Kroc became friends. Ironically, at the same time, a couple of young idealistic writers, also from Chicago, were serving in the ambulance corps; Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. These four men shared not only an occupation but a desire to revolutionize American writing, entertainment and pop culture. However, this article ain’t that deep and talking about Hemingway and Dos Passos is above my pay grade. This article is about pop culture at it’s finest.
After Ray and Walt returned to the US, independently, they both headed out to Southern California seeking fame and fortune. Disney as an animator, even though the cartoon industry was headquartered in New York City, and Kroc as a businessman, even though California was still a relative unknown in the business world. Disney struggled for a time but finally caught on in 1928 with a cartoon about a mouse called “Steamboat Willie”—the first cartoon with synchronized sound. For Kroc, it would take a little bit longer for his ship to come in: 26 years to be specific.

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Walt Disney: Soldier.

Disney’s story is well known, but Kroc’s story might be worth a revisit. Kroc was working as a traveling salesman for the Mixmaster Corporation when he met two brothers who were tearing it up in San Bernardino. Richard and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, who curiously shared the same middle name (James), developed a restaurant using what they called the “Speedee Service System.” The new restaurant proved a rousing success, especially with teenagers, and the brothers were soon making $40,000 a year, big money back then.

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The McDonald’s Brothers.

By 1953, the brothers had set their sights on franchising with a goal of making $1 million before they turned 50. Their first step was to buy eight shiny new milkshakes machines. Curious why one business would need eight machines, Ray visited the McDonalds’, took one glance at the brothers’ method of cooking hamburgers “assembly-line-style” to get the food out to the customers more quickly and he immediately saw dollar signs. In 1954, the McDonald brothers partnered with Ray Kroc. Around this same time (April 1954) Walt Disney unveiled his plans for a bold new concept in family fun parks he planned to call Disneyland.

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Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse-Opening Day at Disneyland July 17, 1955.

As soon as Ray Kroc heard the news about this new mega-fun park, he knew that hungry teenagers would flock to it by the carload. Kroc knew that he’d finally found the perfect place to build his first McDonald’s franchise. In late 1954, Ray sent a letter to his old ambulance corps buddy, it read, in part, “Dear Walt…I look over the Company A picture we had taken in Sound Beach, Conn. many times and recall a lot of pleasant memories.” Then Kroc cut to the chase, “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.”
Walt responded cordially to the former Red Cross ambulance driver’s note by saying that he would be handing the proposal over to the Disneyland executive in charge of concessions. Walt explained that he was “currently confining his activities to the creative side” while the Disney Company “raced to complete the theme park on time.” The Disney Archives has a copy of Kroc’s letter and Walt’s response. Kroc claimed he never received a response from the vice president in charge of concessions.
z AuntJemimasPancakeHouse2From there, well, nobody knows. For the answer, you need look no further than the fact that there are no McDonald’s at Disney. It should be noted that there were SOME franchise restaurants in Disneyland during those first first years. They included the Aunt Jemima pancake and waffle house in Frontierland and the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship in Fantasyland.
z chickenoftheseaTo his dying day, Ray Kroc insisted that the reason the “world’s first McDonald’s” was not featured inside Disneyland at the park’s July 17, 1955 grand opening was because the head of concessions had tried to force Ray to raise the price of his french fries by a nickle (from 10 cents to 15 cents) for the Disneyland crowd. Kroc, the man in charge of McDonald’s franchising, believed that he was being charged a franchise fee by virtue of Walt Disney Productions tacking on a concessionaire’s fee. Kroc, the consummate businessman, said he wasn’t about to give away 1/3 of his profits while gouging his customers. Great story, but by the time Disneyland debuted, Kroc had only opened one McDonald’s franchise (in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955). So he had no loyal customers to offend…yet. Well, no customers within 2,000 miles anyway.
z McD des plainesIt is more likely to say that while the executives in charge of Disneyland’s concessions were undoubtedly intrigued by Ray’s “fast food” proposal, “war buddy” or not, Kroc just didn’t have enough experience in the restaurant business to take that gamble. So, despite how Kroc spun the tale to reporters from the 1950s forward, while there was some discussion of putting a McDonald’s inside the theme park, the project never really made it past the talking stage. But Ray Kroc would never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Ray Kroc eventually bought the brothers out in 1961, a year after Walt Disney received TWO stars on the Hollywood walk of fame: one for movies, the other for television. All business partnership questions aside, the parallels between the two men continued. Both men were vehement conservative Republicans. Disney famously wore a Barry Goldwater for President pin to the White House in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Presidential medal of Freedom to the animator. Kroc donated $255,000 to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972, and was accused by some, including N.J. Senator Harrison Williams, of trying to influence Nixon to veto a minimum wage bill making its way through Congress (which was a $ 1.60 per hour by the way).
Both men were brilliant businessmen. Both were always looking to the future. Both would be categorized as “control freaks” today. And both men were among the first to market their product specifically to children. But there was one major difference. While Kroc had a legendary temper and was famous for holding a grudge, Disney retained a childlike innocence and truly enjoyed people. While it is true that the Golden Arches never made it onto Main Street USA, they still found a place in Walt Disney’s heart. Or maybe it is more accurate to say, his stomach.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walt Disney , the ultimate imagineer, was one of the first businessmen in America to utilize a personal airplane for business and travel. Actually, he had three. Although Walt never got a pilot’s license, he frequently sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Lillian Disney disapproved strongly of her husband’s desire to fly. Once, after Walt announced from the cockpit: “This is your captain speaking”, Lillian jumped from her seat and stormed towards the cabin. Walt quickly backed off by saying: “No, not the captain. This is the commander in chief of the whole damned outfit!”
Walt’s first plane was an eight­ passenger Beechcraft Queen Air Model 80, which Walt bought in February of 1963 and used until 1965. The twin engine turboprop, nicknamed “The Queen” by Disney, had a top speed of 247 mph, a list price of $135,000 and a large circular logo of the “Mickey Mouse Club” near the nose. Legend states that it was this plane that Walt used to fly over central Florida to pick the spot for his Disney World complex nine months after purchase.

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Walt’s Grumman Gulfstream G-159 Tail Number N732G.

In March of 1964, the small cabin of the Queen Air necessitated an upgrade to a used Grumman Gulfstream G-159 one, tail number N732G. This new tan and brown plane was a significant upgrade with a cruising speed of 350 mph at 30,000 feet. It was a smooth ride to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, while Walt was busy working on his “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and “It’s a Small World” projects. At one time it was the most highly utilized Gulfstream I in the country.
In July of 1965, Walt purchased a Beechcraft King Air Model 90, which he used from 1965­ to 1967. The Beechcraft could carry 10 passengers, including a flight crew of two. It was powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney PT-6 Turboprop engines, capable of cruising at 270 mph at 23,000 feet. Fully equipped, its list price was $320,000. Perhaps most importantly, this new plane carried the tail number N234MM. The King Air was fast and quiet, but the Gulfstream could get in and out of smaller airports much easier. So by 1967, the Gulfstream eventually ended up with the N234MM tail number and the forever designation as “Walt’s Plane”.

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Walt’s Beechcraft King Air Model 90-Tail number N234MM.

Disney pilots originally used “two-three-four-Metro-Metro” as their radio call sign but it soon morphed into “two-three-four-Mickey-Mouse” which was not a standard ICAO Aircraft call. Soon the FAA enroute controllers were also calling it “Mickey Mouse.” According to friends, Walt took delight in every aspect of flying. He loaded the luggage, served the drinks and supervised the galley. Even those with a passing knowledge of McDonald’s Ray Kroc’s personality realize it would find it hard to imagine the Golden Arches CEO doing any of that. z Gulfstream_WDA_BA_Altimeter
Walt’s “problem” was that he always liked to fly as low as possible, to study the landscape. Perhaps by decree of Lillian (or the insurance company) Walt ended up with his own personal seat in the back equipped with an altimeter and air speed indicator on the wall and a telephone direct to the pilot. During the 1960s, as Walt Disney was flying around the country overseeing World’s Fair attractions, selecting movie sets, participating in lawn bowling events (yes, he was a world class lawn-bowler) and planning more self-titled mega-theme parks, he would often land his plane to search for… a McDonald’s hamburger.

NEXT WEEK: Part II of Disney East McDonald’s

Auctions, Creepy history, Criminals, Hollywood, Museums, Pop Culture, Travel

“Bonnie & Clyde” Part IV

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Original publish date: October 17, 2019

There have been some changes to my “Bonnie and Clyde” story series in the years since I first wrote it. Some nationally, others personally. This past September, my wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. For our milestone anniversary we visited Las Vegas, Nevada. Which is an odd choice since neither of us gamble. Oh sure, we visited many casinos, but mostly just to say we did it. The casinos on the strip are slick and flashy and a must see but our favorites were the old casinos on Fremont Street where the Vegas legend was born. They ooze with historic personality and, in my opinion, are the real attraction for history loving visitors to “sin city”.
original_whiskey-petesOne of those “must see” old timey casinos is located about 30 miles southwest of the Vegas strip in a desert town called Primm, Nevada not far from the California border. Known as “Whiskey Pete’s”, the casino covers 35,000 square feet, has 777 rooms, a large swimming pool, gift shop and four restaurants. The casino is named after gas station owner Pete MacIntyre. “Whiskey Pete” had a difficult time making ends meet selling gas, so he resorted to bootlegging and an idea was born. When Whiskey Pete died in 1933, he was secretly buried standing up with a bottle of whiskey in his hands so he could watch over the area. Decades later, his unmarked grave was accidentally exhumed by workers building a connecting bridge from Whiskey Pete’s to Buffalo Bill’s (on the other side of I-15). According to legend, the body was reburied in one of the caves where Pete once cooked up his moonshine.
z 70184836_2595583403806240_2376225759279710208_nOh, I forgot to mention that Whiskey Pete’s is also home to the Bonnie and Clyde death car. As detailed in part III of this series, the car has had a long strange trip to Primm. The bullet-ridden car toured carnivals, amusement parks, flea markets, and state fairs for decades before being permanently parked on the plush carpet between the main cashier cage and a lifesize caged effigy of Whiskey Pete himself. According to the “Roadside America” website, “For a time it was in the Museum of Antique Autos in Princeton, Massachusetts, then in the 1970s it was at a Nevada race track where people could sit in it for a dollar. A decade later it was in a Las Vegas car museum; a decade after that it was in a casino near the California / Nevada state line. It was then moved to a different casino on the other side of the freeway, then it went on tour to other casinos in Iowa, Missouri, and northern Nevada. nfdbw6-b88265181z.120141120184822000g7f6eg40.10Complicating matters was the existence of at least a half-dozen fake Death Cars and the Death Car from the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie (which was in Louisiana and then Washington, DC, but now is in Tennessee).” Just in case of any remaining confusion, the Primm car is accompanied by a bullet riddled sign reading: “Yes, this is the original, authentic Bonnie and Clyde death car” (in all caps for emphasis).

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One of the facsimile death cars on display in Gibsland, Louisiana.

The car is encased in a glass cage and guarded by reconstituted department store mannequins dressed as the famous outlaw couple. And, after 85 years, the bullet holes, shattered glass and torn interior are just as shocking to our eyes as they were to those of our Great Depression ancestors. The doors are permanently shut (so there’ll be no more sitting), the bloody upholstery is long gone and covered by plastic and the steering wheel’s bakelite outer casing has been torn to pieces by long dead souvenir hunters . The car’s Swiss cheese exterior is still impressive and cringeworthy, even if you can’t stick your fingers in the holes. 20190908_100429The walls surrounding the death car are festooned with authentic newspapers detailing the outlaw lover’s demise and letters vouching to the vehicle’s authenticity. Cases contain other Bonnie and Clyde relics like a belt given by Clyde to his sister and classic candid photos of the star-crossed lovers and their families.

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The car is a must see, but my interest was equaled by the presence of Clyde’s shredded death shirt, peppered by innumerable ragged holes both front and back. A nearby placard proclaims: “Marie Barrow [Clyde’s sister] has personally signed the inside hem of the shirt to attest to the garment’s authenticity,” while another reads: “Bloodstains are evident throughout the shirt,” it continues, although time has faded them considerably. A closer examination of Clyde’s blue shirt (adorned by a repeated pattern of white snowflake flourishes) attests that the diminutive desperado wore a size 14-32. Sadly, try as I might, I was unable to view the object of my search: the Indianapolis H.P. Wasson’s department store tag. Amazingly, the shirt remains mostly intact. Although cut at the shoulders (giving the shirt a rather macabre looking superhero cape appearance) only a few of the buttons are missing and the single pocket that once covered the law breakers heart is unscathed. The exit hole in the back of Clyde’s collar is sure to elicit a gasp when the viewer realizes that this was the death shot, the one that severed Barrow’s spinal cord.
bcend-realcbA movie, obviously created many years ago, recreates the event using newsreel footage, landscape photography and contemporary interviews with family members and eyewitnesses. Here, it is revealed that the shirt was found, decades after the outlaw’s death, secreted away in a sealed metal box along with Clyde’s hat. The film itself has become a piece of Americana and the images of Bonnie’s torn and tattered body left twitching in the car, resting silently mere yards away, are equally breathtaking. Nearby, although not nearly as shocking as the Bonnie and Clyde death car, another bullet-scarred automobile is on display. This one first belonged to gangster Dutch Schultz and later, Al Capone. Signs around the car proclaim that the doors are filled with lead and, judging by the pockmarks of the bullets denting the exterior, it is true. Although, like every casino, Whiskey Pete’s job remains separating gamblers from their money, both cars are on display 24 hours a day for free.

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Just in case you find yourself in Las Vegas and want to take a side trip to see the death car, there is another stop along the way that is a must see for history-loving Hoosiers. In between Primm and Vegas lies a mostly abandoned mining town (population 229) known as Good Springs. The town is home to, according to legend, the oldest saloon in the state: The Pioneer Saloon (built in 1913). This is the saloon where Clark Gable spent 3 days slamming beers after receiving word of the plane crash and while awaiting confirmation of the death of his beautiful wife, Fort Wayne native Carole Lombard. The 33-year-old actress was the highest-paid star in Hollywood in the late 1930s. She died while returning from a war bond tour in Indianapolis on board TWA Flight 3 when the plane slammed into Mount Potosi, which is easily seen in the distance.
adventure-32301-original-1476134635-57fc06eb943f4The interior of the Pioneer Saloon remains unchanged. It is easy to imagine Gone with the Wind star Gable drowning his sorrows at a rickety table or bracing himself against the cowboy bar and it’s brass boot rail. Ask and the bartender will point out the cigarette burn holes in the bar caused by Gable when he passed out from a mixture of grief and alcohol during his somber vigil. The tin ceiling remains as do the ancient celing fans (it gets HOT in the desert) and the walls are peppered with bullet holes left by cowboys who rode off into the sunset generations ago. The bar’s backroom is a shrine to the Lombard / Gable tragedy but sadly most of the relics on display there are modern photocopies and recreations. Locals claim that Carole Lombard’s ghost haunts the saloon in a desperate attempt to contact her grieving husband. The saloon is also reportedly haunted by the ghost of an old “Miner 49er” who appears drinking alone at the far end of the bar before vanishing into thin air. Millennials flock to the bar as the birthplace of the game “Fallout: New Vegas” which also has a small shrine located there.

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Clyde Barrow’s Bulova wristwatch.

Ironically, in the years since I wrote this series and during the month of our 30th anniversary visit, Bonnie and Clyde have populated the headlines once more. On September 20, 2019 several personal items related to 1930s Texas outlaw were sold by a Boston auction house for nearly $186,000. The Bulova watch that Clyde wore when he and Bonnie Parker were killed sold for $112,500 (it had given to his father, Henry Barrow, after he retrieved his son’s body). A sawed-off shotgun that was used by the Barrow gang in 1933 sold for $68,750. A draft of a Dallas police “wanted” poster for Barrow sold for $4,375, a bullet-proof vest used by the gang sold for $ 30,000 and a bloodied bandage from the Barrow Gang sold for $3,000. 2215
The Western Field Browning Model 30 shotgun had been found after a gun battle that left two lawmen dead. On April 13, 1933, five lawmen assembled outside 3347 ½ Oakridge Drive in Joplin, Missouri to confront what they believed were bootleggers operating out of an apartment above the garage. Instead, they quickly discovered that they were up against the Barrow gang. While Bonnie, Clyde, and their associates escaped, they left behind almost everything they owned at the time: Bonnie’s poems, a bevy of weapons, and several rolls of undeveloped film. Those photos, featuring images of the nattily dressed couple clowning for the camera by pointing various weapons at each other, hit the newspapers and firmly established the myth of Bonnie and Clyde as star-crossed lovers on the run. The couple would be killed a year later.

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The Joplin garage hideout today.

After the shootout, Detective Tom DeGraff found the shotgun in the Joplin garage, and took it home as a souvenir. When he registered it under the National Firearms Act in 1946, he included an affidavit noting its origins. What’s more, the same shotgun can be spotted in images printed from the film rolls left behind at Joplin. In one photograph, it leans against one of the Barrow Gang’s cars. In 2012, the same auctionhouse sold several of Clyde’s guns for hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a 1911 Army Colt 45 Pistol for $240,000. This pistol was removed from Clyde’s waistband after the duo was gunned down by lawmen in 1934. Frank Hamer, the leader of the ambush that killed Bonnie and Clyde, kept it as a trophy.

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Bonnie Parker’s Colt .38 Special Revolver.

That September 2012 auction also included Bonnie Parker’s Colt Detective Special .38 revolver, carried by her at the time of her death. A notarized letter, dated December 10, 1979, spectacularly identified this gun by stating, “My father removed this gun from the inside thigh of Bonnie Parker where she had it taped with white, medical, adhesive tape. My father said that one reason she had the gun taped to the inside of her leg was that, in those days, no gentlemen officer would search a woman where she had it taped.”

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Frank Hamer’s note.

Included with this gun and mentioned in this letter is a framed handwritten note from Frank Hamer, written on the back of an old Texas Ranger Expense Account form, reading “Aug/1934 Davis hold onto this. Bonnie was ‘squatting’ on it. Frank.” Many of the guns carried by Bonnie and Clyde ended up in the possession of Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer as an unexpected bonus for his service. Hamer was promised that he could take anything the outlaws had in their possession at the time of their capture.

 

Other auction items included five original items collected off the floor of Bonnie and Clyde’s car: a woman’s silk stocking stained with blood on the foot and leg area, an unused .45 caliber bullet and casing from the Peters Cartridge Company with the date of 1918, a side temple from a pair of eyeglasses, a small wood-handled flathead screwdriver measuring 4 1/2″ long and an empty Bayer Aspirin tin; all of which sold for $11,400. This lot was accompanied by a notarized affidavit from the woman whose grandfather originally acquired these relics directly from the ‘death car’ after receiving permission to take them. Letter reads, in part: “My grandfather, Zell Smith, was a traveling hardware salesman who traveled that area of north Louisiana. He was also a friend of Sheriff Henderson Jordan. My grandfather was in Arcadia in 1934 on the day that the ambushed car was pulled into Arcadia. He, like many others, rushed to see the shot up car, and Sheriff Henderson let him and others that he knew ransack the car for souvenirs. My grandfather grabbed a handful of stuff off of the floor of the car, which the outlaws had been living in. He said the car was full of trash.”

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Bonnie Parker’s poetry book.

Last month’s auction included a little black book of 10 poems that Bonnie wrote in 1932 while jailed in Texas for a bungled hardware store robbery. Five of the poems were original compositions drawn from her life on the run with the Barrow Gang. The titles reflect the female outlaw’s life at that time: “The Story of ‘Suicide Sal,’” “The Prostitute’s Convention,” “The Hobo’s Last Ride,” “The Girl With the Blue Velvet Band,” and “The Fate of Tiger Rose.” Bidding for Bonnie’s poetry book reached about $25,000 before the lot was withdrawn by the consignor.
9334476db7b58cc57c37051c41acec99During the Great Depression, some viewed the duo as near folk heroes, like Robin Hood and Maid Marian. And, although Hoosier outlaw John Dillinger reportedly once told a reporter that Bonnie and Clyde were “a couple of punks”, he and his fellow gang member Pretty Boy Floyd reportedly sent flowers to their funeral homes. The Barrow gang killed a total of 13 people, including nine police officers. They finally met their match on May 23, 1934, when six police officers ambushed them and shot some 130 rounds into the car. Dillinger outlasted Bonnie and Clyde by about two months – he met his maker on July 22, 1934. Truth is, proceeds from auctions of items associated with these outlaws over the past two decades (which number in the millions of dollars) far outdistance the proceeds of all of their robberies combined.
wnl5boo20jpzFor my part, when we told our 25-year-old son about our anniversary trip to Las Vegas, he remained nonplussed by saying, “I would only want to go out there to see a town called Primm.” To which we said “been there, done that.” His reply, “I’d also like to go to a little town called Good Springs.” We answered, “Been there too.” He concluded by saying he’d like to see an old dive bar named the “Pioneer Saloon.” He was shocked when we said we went there too. Of course, the reason he wants to venture out there is video game related, not history related. Nonetheless, he was chagrined by our answers. I guess we old folks aren’t so square after all.

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Civil War, Gettysburg, John F. Kennedy, National Park Service, Presidents, Travel

Gettysburg’s Bill Frassanito: Father of “Then and Now.”

William A. Frassanito photo
Historian Bill Frassanito and Alan E. Hunter

Original publish date:  September 19, 2019

Over the past decade there has been a subtle yet perceptible shift in historical genre on the Internet (particularly on Facebook) known as the “Then and Now” movement. If you are a fan of historical photography, or of the time and space continuum theory, then no doubt you have noticed these images. They consist of a blended pair of photographs, usually landscapes or buildings, one old, one new, both morphed into a single image for comparison. They are eerie reminders of a shared place and time probably best described by William Faulkner in his classic Requiem for a Nun as “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” If, like me, you’re a fan of this genre you need to thank one man: William A. Frassanito of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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Bill Frassanito posed in the Sniper’s Nest at Devil’d Den.

Mr. Frassanito first popularized the “then and now” movement in his groundbreaking book “Gettysburg. A Journey in Time“. He followed up that classic with two similar books on Antietam, another on Grant and Lee in Virginia and three more on Gettysburg, including his seminal study of Early Photography at Gettysburg. Mr. Frassanito was among the first to conduct a historical comparison based on identifying topographical elements found in archival photographs that remain consistent on the landscape today. Bill’s work sent a shockwave through the historical community that resonates to this day.
I interviewed Mr. Frassanito at the Adams County Historical Society research center (368 Springs Avenue Gettysburg) a couple times during the past few months. I was in Gettysburg looking for information on Osborn Oldroyd, whose father was a one time Adams County resident and former owner of a textile mill in the county. Most of my readers will recognize the Oldroyd name as a near constant in this writer’s work. early-photography-updated_1024x1024Needless to say, I was pleased with my visit to and pleasantly reminded how invaluable places and people like these are to the preservation and education of history. After the ACHS helped fill in some blanks in my research, I turned my attention to author Bill Frassanito. He is intensely private, yet unassuming and modest in demeanor. Although an author by trade and historian by nature, Mr. Frassanito has the soul of a teacher.
When I asked Mr. Frassanito how he developed the concept fot the modern “then and now” movement so prevalent on the Internet nowadays, he modestly answers, “I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time and that today is tomorrow’s history. What I tried to do in the use of ‘then and now’ was to have the reader experience the photograph, but it’s not just the ‘then and now’, it’s the maps that allow people to go and stand on the spot and experience what the photographer experienced. So it’s a total picture used in a systematic fashion book after book after book. I didn’t invent the concept, but I took it to a level that was completely unprecedented. When my ‘journey’ book came out in 1975, there were about a dozen modern books on the battle of Gettysburg available. Now there are zillions on every aspect of the battle.”Picture106
When asked if there are any more books on the horizon, Bill answers, “My first book came out when I was 28 in 1975 and the last came out in ’97 and I’m through writing. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I was much sharper 20 years ago than I am now. I’m especially pleased that part of my legacy are people like Garry Adleman and Tim Smith, and they constantly mention my work, so I do have a legacy. I’m not going to be around forever but I do know that 100 years from now there will be a group of people that are very familiar with the role my pioneering work played, so the average person probably won’t know about me but the experts will know indefinitely. I laid the foundation so when new stuff surfaces they will know how to fit it in.”
512DBQHBXZL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_When asked what first drew him to Gettysburg, he explains, “My first trip to Gettysburg was in 1956 when I was nine years old, and I was just awed by all the monuments, cannons and stuff. I started my research when I was a kid and much of the research for Journey in Time was done when I worked it into a Masters thesis (he is a proud Gettysburg College alum). “When you went to Gettysburg College, I was the high school class of ’64, college class of ’68, at that time all the male students had to take either phys ed or ROTC for two years, after that you made the decision whether you continued on to advanced ROTC, then you were a part of the Army and you got paid. From there you are committed to, after graduation, serving for two years as a second lieutenant, then on to grad school.”
Frassanito continues, “I was accepted to Gettysburg College my senior year in high school. I went to high school in Long Island. I spent a weekend at the college as a senior. I had some time off and I visited the Red Patch Antique Shop and I asked if they had any old photos and he (the shop owner) brought out a basket full of cased images. Among the photos was an outdoor daguerreotype, which is very rare. I opened up this quarter plate daguerreotype, it was a farmer sitting on a bench with a horse in front of the barn. I asked how much and he said a $1.50, which doesn’t sound like much, but it was worth more back then. On the inside of the case was the name of the photographer, “G.J. Goodrich York, Pa.” Years later I discovered that Glenalvin J. Goodrich was one of the few black photographers in Pennsylvania. But because of the battle, he moved to Michigan.”

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Glenalvin J.Goodrich photo from the Frassanito Collection.

Glenalvin, son of former-slave, opened his first photo studio at the age of 18 in 1847 and later operated his studio out of the Goodridge residence on East Philadelphia Street. Mr. Frassanito has already allowed the daguerreotype to be used in two different books asking only that credit for the photo be given to the Frassanito collection. “Just last year I was contacted by someone who wanted to purchase the daguerreotype and I said I’m sorry it’s not for sale, I have personal attachment to it. His offer kept going up and up and up. His last offer was $10,000. And I told him, no it’s not for sale, I’m sorry. It’s going to go to the Adams County Historical Society. Now, when it is at the Adams County Historical Society, since it’s not Adams County related, if they wanted to make a deal with the York County historical Society, I would have no problem because technically that would be, probably, the most appropriate place.”
510dSFzAnXLBill’s collecting interests are not solely confined to Gettysburg. “All of my stuff is going to the Adams County Historical Society. It will be called the Frassanito collection. Including all my stuff that goes beyond Gettysburg and Adams County. My interest in military history includes World War I and Franco Prussian war, it’s very expansive.” Mr. Frassanito’s interest in all things military came when he saw the 1956 movie “War and Peace” starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda and, he states, “from that time on I’ve been fascinated by Russian history including the Crimean War” (October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia).
“It was 1968, my senior year, my parents came to visit me from Long Island. We rode around the countryside and stopped at an antique shop in New Oxford. I asked my standard question, do you have any old photographs? The shopowner brought out this brown paper bag full of old photos removed from photo albums. Apparently he would sell the empty albums. There were 130 Carte de Visites, I asked how much and he said a dollar.” Among those CDV’s was a rare photo of an identified Franco-Prussian soldier. But more importantly was the discovery of two photos from a New York City gallery. One signed on front “G.G. Sickles”, the other “Susan M. Sickles.” Frassanito thought no more about the photos until years later when he discovered that these were the parents of the famous Gettysburg General Dan Sickles, who lost a leg in the Peach Orchard during the battle of Gettysburg. “I eventually made a connection with the Sickles family and learned that they had no photographs of these relatives.” says Frassanito, “Turns out I have the only photos. They were just stuck in this old brown paper bag.” he says with a chuckle.

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General Dan Sickles.

Bill then details a chance meeting he had with Pres. Dwight D Eisenhower while serving in advanced ROTC as a junior at Gettysburg College. “As fate would have it, they lined us up by size, and as I was the shortest cadet in the unit, I was positioned at the far left of the line, which turned out to be the sweet spot where all the cameras and newspapermen were positioned. Much to my surprise, Ike stopped in front of me and we had a short conversation while the cameras clicked away. It was not a substantive talk and you could of knocked me over with a feather.” That photo can be found in Mr. Frassanito’s updated Gettysburg Bicentennial Album book available for sale at the Adams County Historical Society.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Cadet Wm. Frassanito.

“I’m the definition of a baby boomer.” Bill reveals, “The war ended in ’45 and the millions of serviceman came home and the boom started in ’46. My pop was in the Navy and he got back from the Pacific in December of ’45 and I arrived exactly 9 months later to join my older brother and my parents. I was born in September 1946. The neat piece of trivia of here is that three months before I was born in June 1946, President Donald Trump was born. Two months before I was born in July 1946 President George W. Bush was born. And one month before I was born in August 1946, President Bill Clinton was born. It’s the first time in American history that we have three presidents not only born in the same year, but born in successive months.” Then, Bill says with a wink, “June, July and August and I’m September, so I’m technically the next president. But I haven’t made my final decision yet.”
51ZBRZ32XXL._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Bill continued, “I fortunately survived Vietnam and I put it (his book research) all together when I got out of the Army. I tried to get a job in the museum field but the book took off when I signed with one of the top publishers, Charles Scribner’s. It was later picked up for the Book-of-the-Month club. That became the first of seven books on Civil War photography. I spent eight years and eight months on that project.” One of Bill’s most important discoveries was the “Slaughter Pen” near Devil’s Den. Bill’s book included detailed maps. Bill explains, “The whole purpose of the book was to enable people to re-experience standing where the photographer was. One of the questions I often get is why I don’t update the modern photographs. I’ll never do that as I see them as sort of a time capsule in themselves and I want people to know what the battlefield looked like when I spent five years looking for these spots.”
Another of Mr. Frassanito’s photographic discoveries was to identify the family of General John Reynolds pictured in Devil’s Den on the battlefield. When asked if there have been any more discoveries of historical photography at Gettysburg, Bill states, “As far as early photography of Gettysburg is concerned, the last major discovery were those photos of the posed soldiers in Devil’s Den (made by Frassanito). The hunt for the “Harvest of Death” is still going on. Those are the photos of the union dead. I established that these two camera angles showed the same group of bodies looking at a different direction.” Mr. Frassanito has not been able to pinpoint the exact location for this famous photograph, although many others have approached him with locational suggestions over the years.
4824523984Frassanito notes that the publication of that photo started a search that is still going on 44 years later. There have been two dozen sites that have been suggested as the site of the photograph. “When people make their discoveries it becomes a religious experience. Every one of those sites has major problems. As far as I’m concerned I don’t want to see a faulty location declared the site and have the search end. That’s the biggest mystery for Civil War photography at Gettysburg. And I’m hoping that one day a pristine 1863 version of the original stereoview or negative surfaces.”
Previous to my April visit, I shared, as part of my research at the Adams County Historical Society, the fact that I had just come from researching at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the House Where Lincoln Died. While in Washington, my steward for the day was a young woman named Janet Folkerts who had just learned that she was now the curator in charge of the Vietnam War Memorial wall museum. I was aware that Bill had served (with distinction) during the Vietnam War, so I asked him about his service. He detailed his term of service in Vietnam and shared his story about the wall.
Bill was discharged in August of 1971 and upon returning to Gettysburg in November, Bill began taking all of his “modern” photographs used in his groundbreaking book. “I was there (Vietnam) in ’70 and ’71. I was assigned to the 525 military intelligence group in Saigon. I worked at MACV (aka ‘Mac-Vee’) headquarters (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) which was the nerve center for all of Indochina. I worked at the highest level of military intelligence, so we knew what was really going on. We knew that the war was a lost cause once the US troops left. We had very little faith in the South Vietnamese, there was corruption from the top down. So anyway, I worked in the safest place in Vietnam.” However, once Bill’s work shift was over and he departed, he was on his own.
grant-lee-william-frassanito-1st-ed_1_edb0ce335255c79d8238032d9886a873“I lived about 2 miles away in kind of a slum area of Saigon, it was a hotel we rented from the Vietnamese called Horn Hall. On the main floor was a narrow lobby, and there were two shifts requiring a duty officer, you had to spend six hours just sitting there. You had a pistol and if anything happened, you were in charge. One of the shifts was midnight to six. On the 16th of December 1970 I was assigned night duty at MACV headquarters so my name was removed from the night duty at Horne Hall. Later, we got a phone call that a bomb had gone off that night at Horne Hall and the Lieutenant on duty was instantly killed. And I realized that had I been sitting there, all of my discoveries would have gone with me. And these classic photos of the 24th Michigan and 1st Minnesota would still be misidentified.”
At this point, Bill slides over to the computer and, in somewhat surreal fashion, Googles his own name to find the photo online showing the devastation that may have been his own fate. “It was a 35 pound satchel charge and that’s the seat I could’ve been sitting in. It blew out both walls of this narrow hall and that’s where they found the body of the Lieutenant.” I asked if he knew the Lieutenant, “No, I socialized with the people I worked with, but the officers quarters (where the bomb exploded) you just slept there basically. I knew my roommate but I didn’t know the name of the Lieutenant and I didn’t want it bouncing around in my head for the rest of my life so I made no effort to remember it. Years later, I visited the wall down in Washington and I found out that the 58,000+ names are in chronological order. So I was curious to see, if I had died, where my name would be. There was only one 1st Lieutenant killed in military region three on the night of December 16th, so I found the spot and wrote the name of the officer down. I started wondering what it would have been like for people visiting the wall to see my name there.”

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The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Unsurprisingly, Bill researched the soldier (Gary J. Faculak) and contacted his family to learn more about the man; his hopes, aspirations and goals. Turns out the dead soldier was from Boyne City, Michigan and aspired to own a tour boat and lead tours on Lake Charlevoix (Michigan’s third largest lake) when he got out of the Army. Lt. Faculak is buried in Maple Lawn cemetery in Boyne City. Ironically, the cemetery made headlines in May of 2011 when two special Civil War veterans were honored not far from Lt. Faculak’s grave, thanks to the Robert Finch Camp No. 14 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Two Native American Indian sharpshooters (John Jacko and William Isaacs), buried a century ago in unmarked graves, finally received their long overdue headstones. Both soldiers were members of Co. K of the Michigan 1st Sharpshooters, the only all-Indian unit in the Union Army east of the Mississippi. Both men were also members of the G.A.R.

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Lt. Gary J. Faculak.

What’s more, Bill learned that he was not the only one to narrowly escape death that day. Turns out another young officer (Van Buchanan) had switched shifts with Lt. Faculak that night. “If it hadn’t been for the Internet, I would never have been able to make the connection,” says Bill. Well, Mr. Frassanito, if it hadn’t been for your dogged detective work for a group of dusty, old, mislabeled, long-forgotten photographs, we would have never made the connection either. Well done, soldier, well done.

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Alan E. Hunter delivering Bill Frassanito his Weekly View article.
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Bill Frassanito & Alan E. Hunter at the Reliance Mine Saloon in Gettysburg. You may visit Bill there every Monday, Wednesday or Friday night from 10:15 pm into the wee hours.