Thursday, November 19, 2020

HGB Ep. 361 - Fort Delaware

Moment in Oddity - Nixon's Half-Eaten Sandwich (Suggested by: Scott Booker)

Inside Steve Jenne's refrigerator, one will find a Musselman's applesauce jar with a half eaten sandwich wrapped in a plastic bag inside. Seems pretty strange, but it does contain a bit of a treasure. Steve was a 14-year-old Boy Scout on Sept. 22, 1960 when his troop was asked to serve as an honor guard for a very special visitor to their town of Sullivan. President Richard Nixon had come for a visit. The President was scheduled to make a speech at Wyman Park, but before doing that he was served a barbecue buffalo sandwich at the cookout where Steve was serving as honor guard. He tells the story this way, "He took a couple of bites and commented on how tasty, how good it was. Once he left, I just looked down at the picnic table and everybody else was gone and that half-eaten sandwich was still on the paper plate. I looked around and thought, ‘If no one else was going to take it, I am going to take it.’” He took it home to his mom who asked what she was supposed to do with it and he told her to freeze it. So she put it in the plastic bag and in the jar and for sixty years it has been frozen with a label that reads, "Save, don't throw away." The sandwich even got him an appearance on the "Tonight Show" in 1988. Keeping President Nixon's half-eaten sandwich in the freezer for sixty years, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Nixon's Last Press Conference

In the month of November, on the 7th, in 1962, Richard Nixon gave his so-called "last press conference." Nixon had run for Governor of California against Democrat Pat Brown in the 1962 California gubernatorial election. The state had traditionally been a Republican state, but Governor Brown was an incumbent and he won. Nixon sat before a group of 100 reporters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, a displeased man. He angrily told the reporters, "You don't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." As history would later prove, this was definitely not his last press conference and certainly not his most famous one. Experts believed he had permanently damaged his political future, but he won the presidency in the 1968 election. This was a nearly impossible political comeback that would later end in Nixon resigning the office because of the Watergate Scandal. Nixon wrote in his memoir, "I have never regretted what I said in 'the last press conference.' I believe that it gave the media a warning that I would not sit back and take whatever biased coverage was dished out to me. I think the episode was partially responsible for the much fairer treatment I received from the press during the next few years. From that point of view alone, it was worth it."

Fort Delaware (Suggested by: Anthony Ramirez)

Fort Delaware started as a defense for the Delaware River on Pea Patch Island in Delaware. During the Civil War, it would serve as a prison camp for Confederate soldiers that was considered a death camp. The Fort would also be used during the Spanish American War and the World Wars. Today, it is a state park featuring re-enactments, tours and other events. Many groups have investigated there including Britain's Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters Academy and Ghost Hunters used it for one of their Halloween episodes. Join us as we explore the history and haunts of Fort Delaware!

Pea Patch Island was surveyed as a military site by French military engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant in 1794. How the island obtained its name is a bit of legend. It was said that it was the site of a shipping accident in the mid-1700s when it was just a large sandbar. The ship was carrying peas and the crew knew they could not get free from the sandbar unless they off loaded weight, so they left the cargo of peas on the island. The peas rooted and grew and latched onto more silt and the island grew. Thus it was called Pea Patch. Whether that is true or not, one thing that was true was that a New Jersey man by the name of Dr. Henry Gale owned the island as his private hunting ground when L'Enfant suggested it as a military site to the United States military. Dr. Gale had no interest in giving up his island. He should have taken their offer of $30,000 because Delaware got involved at the military's request and after some political wrangling it was found that New Jersey had no right to deed the island to Dr. Gale and that the Delaware River and all the islands within a twelve mile circle around New Castle's Court House were owned by Delaware. Delaware ceded the island to the United States government in 1813 and the government sent Dr. Gale packing, with no payment.

No fort was built right away, but the island was fortified during the War of 1812 with a seawall around the island. A wooden fort was originally begun in 1814, but a more permanent fort was begun in 1817. The design was a star shape. This fort was designed by army engineer Joseph G. Totten and construction was supervised by Capt. Samuel Babcock. The first commander at Fort Delaware was Major Alexander C. W. Fanning. A later commander was the older brother of President Franklin Pierce, Major Benjamin Kendrick Pierce. Now one can imagine that the island was not a good place to build upon if it really was a sandbar that was loosely held together and that would prove to be true. The land was very marshy and shortly after the star fort was completed, it started to sink. Even before completion a section of around 43,000 bricks had to be taken down and the concrete removed and then replaced because of huge cracks that developed. The Army Corp of Engineers was working on a plan to stabilize it when a wood stove in Lieutenant Stephen Tuttle's quarters set the wooden wall of his room on fire in 1831. The fire quickly spread to the rest of the fort and it was a complete loss. An interesting story connected to the fire claims that Brevet Major Benjamin Pierce's wife had recently died and was in her coffin in the fort. Pierce risked his life to save her coffin and body. The garrison at the fort had to walk across the frozen Delaware River to Delaware City.

A new man was brought in to design a new fort, Captain Richard Delafield. His design would take on a polygonal form with bastions built from brick. This fort was to be much larger and Delafield proclaimed it would be a marvel of military architecture. What remained of the star fort was torn down and the rubble was used to reinforce the seawall. In the middle of laying down the base of the fort, Dr. Gale's descendants came along and claimed that they had legal right to the island. A decade long legal battle ensued, so the new fort would have to wait to be completed. The legal fight got so big that President James Polk had to get involved, along with the Secretary of War. In the end, it was ruled that Delaware did indeed own the island and the title given to the US government was valid. Delafield's fort would never be completed. A new pentagonal shaped fort was designed by Army chief engineer Joseph G. Totten, and the construction was supervised by Major John Sanders. The pentagon was slightly irregular and each corner had a tower bastion. There were 4,911 piles driven into the compressed mud to solidify the base. The masonry consisted of granite, brick, cement and gneiss, which is a metamorphic rock made from mica, feldspar and quartz. That type of stone was not used much because it proved to be very difficult to cut and slowed construction. Bricks were used to build the soldier barracks, underground cisterns, officer quarters, casemates, powder magazines, bread ovens and the fort's breast high wall. As is the case with many of these types of forts, masonry arches were used to provide stability. Most of the construction was completed before the Civil War, but it was not officially declared complete until 1868. This is the fort that stands today.

Major Sanders died during the construction in 1858 from complication of "carbunculous boils." The Civil War would be the time when Fort Delaware would get its most use. The fort was fortified with lots of firing power. The seacoast fronts of the fort alone could house 123 heavy cannons. The bastions could hold another 15 cannons and they also had 20 short-range howitzers. The long rear front gorge wall had 68 loopholes for musket firing. As an added protection, the fort had a moat. Captain Augustus A. Gibson took command in 1861. Despite the fort clearly being a place of firepower and defense, it would basically just become a prison. This became a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers, but it also held pirates, political prisoners and federal soldiers convicted of crimes. Some of the Confederate soldiers left their marks behind on the walls of the casements and powder magazines where they were held. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the fort "contained an average population of southern tourists, who came at the urgent invitation of Mr. Lincoln." Confederate Brig. Gen. Johnston Pettigrew was the first Confederate general to be housed here. About a dozen more would follow him.

During the war, a hospital was built inside the fort that had 600 beds. Barracks that were basically wooden sheds were also added and were said to be able to hold 10,000 people. Bunks inside were arranged in three tiers. The death rate for prisoners was 7.6%, which we guess for the time and conditions is probably pretty good. The main cause of death was an epidemic of smallpox that came through in 1863. Others died from malaria, scurvy, pneumonia, dysentery and erysipelas, which is a bacterial infection of the skin also known as St. Anthony's Fire. The first Confederate prisoner to die here was Captain L. P. Halloway and he was given a full Masonic funeral by Jackson Lodge in Delaware City. A total of 33,000 prisoners were held at the fort during the war. Many of the people who died here are buried at Finn's Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey. Their bodies were taken to the cemetery via a slow moving barge that was called the "Death Boat."

Life was actually fairly good at the fort. Prisoners got two meals a day and were allowed to purchase extra food. Meals usually consisted of a small piece of meat, three hardtack and bean soup. Rations were cut for a short time by the War Department because it was mad about how their northern prisoners were being treated by the Confederates. Capt. Robert E. Park of the 12th Alabama Infantry Regiment described eating at the fort in this way, "The mess-room is next to [Division] 22 and near the rear. It is a long, dark room, having a long pine table, on which the food is placed in separate piles, either on a tin plate or on the uncovered greasy table, at meal hours, twice a day. The fare consists of a slice of baker's bread, very often stale, with weak coffee, for breakfast, and a slice of bread and a piece of salt pork or salt beef, sometimes, alternating with boiled fresh beef and bean soup, for dinner. The beef is often tough and hard to masticate."

After the Civil War, the prisoners were released and a small garrison of the 4th U.S. Artillery was left behind. A large hurricane hit in 1878 and destroyed the buildings on the south side of the island and a chapel built by the Confederate POWs. A few years later, a tornado and took out the hospital and did more damage. New guns and batteries were added before the Spanish American War. This would use the new Endicott program created by Secretary of War William C. Endicott. This system spread batteries over a wider area and concealed them behind concrete parapets flush with the surrounding terrain. The new guns had a range of 10 miles. The three-gun battery here was one of two three-story Endicott batteries in the United States. During the Spanish–American War, the 14th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was stationed at the fort. It saw no action. During World War I, Fort Delaware was a back-up fort. Soldiers started dismantling the fort at this time and burying some of the guns.  World War II would find Battery C, 261st Coast Artillery Battalion, a unit from the Delaware Army National Guard garrisoned at the fort. By 1942, the last of the guns were removed from the fort so it was unarmed. The electrical wiring was stripped out as well and at the end of the war it was used as surplus. 

Since the government decided that the fort site would just be surplus, the state of Delaware took back the site in 1947. They transformed it into Fort Delaware State Park and they run a seasonal passenger ferry to and from Pea Patch Island. They offer programs, re-enactments and the thing we always love when it comes to forts is the firing of weapons. This one is an 8-inch Columbiad gun. The island is also a migratory bird rookery, which  is the largest such habitat north of Florida. They host a triathlon in June as well called "Escape from Fort Delaware." It seems that 52 men escaped from Fort Delaware and the path they took is the one followed by the triatholon. It is closed for the season and will reopen in April 2021. We wonder what the ghosts do when all the people are gone. Because clearly, there are real possibilities of hauntings at Fort Delaware.

The Delaware Ghost Hunters lead paranormal investigations of the fort. Ghost Hunters visited for a Halloween special in 2008. During that episode, the team caught the thermal image of a man peeking around the corner at them. One of them also had his jacket pulled so hard that it pulled him backwards. The spirits of Confederate soldiers have been seen in many areas. One such place is on the parade grounds and under the ramparts. They are often seen running. A visitor to the fort captured a Confederate soldier on camera, standing in an archway. Sounds of moaning and clanging chains are heard in the dungeon. This could be the imprisoned soldiers or it could be one of the pirates who were kept here before the Civil War started. A park ranger once saw the apparition of a pirate dressed in a green silk shirt and white silk pants looking out of a window.

General James Archer was a Confederate General during the American Civil War and he had a role in many major battles from Harper's Ferry to Fredericksburg to Sherperdstown to Chancellorsville to Gettysburg. Archer came from a wealthy military family, but he did not seem automatically meant for that life in that he was a very slight man. In school, they called him "Sally" for this reason. He graduated from law school and went into practice, but this all changed when the Mexican-American War erupted. He served bravely doing that and moved to Texas after the war where he ended up fighting a duel. He went back to his law practice, but decided that he preferred the military and was stationed in the Pacific Northwest. When the Civil War erupted, he resigned his commission and went south where he joined the Confederate Army. In 1862, he was given command over three Tennessee regiments. His men gave him a different nickname, "The Little Gamecock," because although he was built small, he was a fierce fighter.

The thing that would prove to be his downfall was sickness. Starting in September 1862, Archer was so weak that he had to direct his troops from an ambulance. He would recover slightly and led his troops to victory in a couple more battles, but the summer heat of 1863 took their toll and by the time his regiments arrived in Gettysburg, he was very ill. The Iron Brigade pushed his men back and Archer sought cover in a thicket, too exhausted to continue. It was here that he was captured by a Union soldier named Patrick Maloney. Archer was sent to Fort Delaware. There he made plans to escape with the other men. They had heard of a plan to ship 600 of them to Morris Island where they would be used as human shields to get the Confederates to stop shelling the fort there. And indeed many of them would end up there and a few were starved to death because they would not pledge allegiance to the United States. Legend claims that Archer was imprisoned under Fort Delaware in the tunnels for a couple of years. The experience drove him mad. He actually was exchanged for a Union prisoner. He returned to the fight, but eventually died from his illness in October 1864. He was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. Because of the legend, people claim that his spirit haunts the tunnels under the fort. This spirit is said to be shy and rarely is seen, which means it could be another spirit.

Prisoners are not the only ones haunting the fort. Guards are here as well. There was an Italian immigrant who joined the Union Army named Private Stefano. He died when he slipped on some wet stairs that he was running down. He broke his neck and cracked his skull. His apparition is seen often near the stairs. He appears most often when people are talking about his story near the stairs. He also will appear sometimes when people call out his name at the stairs.

There is a spirit that likes to clean in the Mess Hall. There was apparently a mantle piece in here at one time and that is what he seems to be cleaning. When he exits, he goes through a bricked up door. He is thought to have been a servant that is carrying on in the afterlife in a residual manner. Right next to the Mess Hall is the kitchen and it has its own ghost. This spirit is a female and she walks into the kitchen and checks all the equipment. Some re-enactors had an interesting experience with her. They were making soup in the kitchen as a demonstration of life in the fort and the ghost suddenly appeared and smiled, checked the equipment and checked the soup. She stirred it for a while. She must have seemed real because the volunteers weren't scared, until she walked through a wall. Perhaps she had once been a cook here at the fort.

A member of the team was taking a group through when they heard a noise near the stove. a metal item that had been sitting on the stove had been picked up and tossed on the floor. In the area where the guns are located, people have been poked and pulled. A local TV station visited in 2009 and they captured a flashlight turning on by itself and it also rolled a small distance as it sat in the middle of a table. A girl on the same tour told the reporter that something had poked her on the elbow. She turned to ask her boyfriend if he done it, but before she could, the tour guide said that spirits liked to poke people in this area and she hollered out, "Yeah!"

A woman named Chris Polo told station WBOC, "All of a sudden, the oil lamp slides across the window sill and crashed to the floor right next to me, I ended up with glass all over. I won't go back up in there, it scared me too badly, it really did." A guy named Scott Debski heard noises his first night on the island. He said, "A short time later, we heard dogs barking and we're a mile from land, there are no dogs on the island, but there were several years ago."

A guy named Kyle McMahon joined Diamond State Ghost investigators for an overnight at the fort in 2018. They got some K2 activity, specifically when they asked for spirits to light it up. The group later hears a voice coming from upstairs audibly. A flashlight turned on by itself in the Mess Hall. This group said that the cook's name is believed to be Susan. When one of the guys asked if she would cook him something because he was hungry, the flashlight turned on by itself. They heard disembodied footsteps and more audible voices in conversation.

Conditions at this prison camp were far better than in many other prisons, but many people still died here. There spirits still seem to remain. Is Fort Delaware haunted? That is for you to decide!

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