High Stepping Ohio Horseman

by Kathy Warnes

When Dr. Hugh M. Parshall was growing up and developing his love of horses in Highland County, Ohio, in the last decade of the 19th Century, there was more than one way to win a horse race.

Despite his tender years, Doc had already seen two or three of them at county fair races. “Old Nick,” one of the contestants, put hooks on all four wheel hubs of his rival’s sulkie and pulled them off at crucial points in the race. Another competitor, “Sleazy Beezy,” carried a mouthful of bird shot and blew it into the ear of any horse who tried to pass him.

But Doc remembered Old Waxy more vividly than any of the others. Old Waxy was the contender who by adding a suspensory ( a bandage for the scrotum) once won a stallion race with a fourteen year old mare!

horseandbuggyTradition around Samantha, Ohio, where Doc was born in 1900,  has it that he started loving horses early. When he was a sturdy kid of eighteen months, he tore up his diaper to make a harness, hooked up one of Elmer Jenkins’ old coon hounds to his go cart and taught him to beat the pole hose to the rail!

Doc’s father Les tended store and sold crackers, cheese and plugs of Hillside Navy tobacco in Hillsboro, about five miles north of Samantha. Then after a time, Les bought a hardware store in Hillsboro, and Doc became a city boy. Since he was stocky, sturdy boy, he played some football in high school, but his real love was still horses.

Every second Saturday was the red-letter day in town. It was stock sale day. On stock sale day, all day, horse traders displayed horses and raced them up and down Short Street to the trading mart. Whether  Short Street was muddy, dusty or frozen, the horses raced every second Saturday and Doc was always there. He carried a buggy whip and examined hocks, hooves, withers and teeth.  One year, word got around Short Street that Doc was looking for a three minute trotter and a three quarters buggy, which was a dead give away to his intentions. Hillsboro belles haunted their mirrors and bit their lips to make them redder. Doc was courting, but his heart belonged more to mares than Misses!

In the meantime, Les moved his family to Beach Street where the mud and dust were deeper.  Then Doc decided that he wanted to become a vet, which surprised Les about as much as a mare dropping a foal. Les gave Doc money to pay tuition and board at a Dayton College and he seemed to be on his way. Then Doc found her. She was the perfect filly. He paid for her with his college money. Her name was Princess Mac and she was a snappy filly with a local pedigree, which was plenty good enough for Doc.

Using a borrowed sulky, Doc drove Princess Mac ten miles down the pike and entered her in the 3:30 trot and pace at the Rainsboro Fair. His unexpected arrival upset some apple carts. One old time driver took him behind a barn and gave him some advice. The old timer told Doc it would be foolish to win and give Princess Mac a record that would put her into faster class races.

“The thing to do is finish second,” the old timer told Doc.

Following the old timer’s advice, Doc finished second. He also finished second at JImtown, Wilmington, and several other fairs. Then it dawned on him that the sage veteran who had given him the advice to finish second had finished first himself whenever possible. Doc won the next race, sold Princess Mac for $1,450, vowed to always win if possible and went home to repay Les and be forgiven.

Instead of being angry, Les told Doc about a special race horse he had just seen. Doc said that he wasn’t interested in race horses.  He just wanted to go to college. Les took him to see the horse and sealed Doc’s fate. He studied veterinary medicine in the winter and raced horses on the cotton candy circuit in central Ohio and adjoining states all summer. Starting with his first season, he became one of the leading drivers in the country.

In his gangling colt days, Doc had a rough track to travel. At an average race, about eighteen horses started in three tiers on a thirty foot track. Judge Roy Reynolds held his whiskers to one side and yelled “Go!” Every drive shut his eyes and pulled for the rail. On the first turn, the air was full of hubs, spokes, tires and drives. Any horse that got safely around the turn was home free, unless he got bird shot blown in his ear or overheated.

Hillsboro turned out to be Doc’s place in the sun, not Goshen, Lexington or Randall. He came back to his home town when he was 21, and won every race at the fair and every heat of every race. He became Hillsboro’s favorite son.

On all of the Grand Circuit tracks Doc was famous for two things – his colors and his watch. Doc got his colors when Tom Murphy, the former champion, grew old and decided to retire. He bundled up his flag and sent it to Doc, along with his racing crown. Doc used this for his good luck charm and soon became known as the red, white and blue man of the tracks.

His other trademark was a match. Although being a horseman, he never smoked, as a boy Doc always carried a stem of timothy in his mouth. As he grew up, he replaced the timothy with a match and carried one in his mouth for every race. He denied being superstitious, but he was never seen without a match in his mouth!

Eventually, Doc met a pretty human filly by the name of Ulah Duncan, married her, and the newly-weds moved to Urbana. In time, they had three sons that Doc loved as well as he did any of his horses. World War I broke up Doc’s horse racing for awhile, but he served mostly in Southern Camps and learned a lot more about horses.

In 1929, Doc accomplished a horsemanship miracle. He bought a crippled outlaw pacer named Counterpart. Counterpart hadn’t raced in two years and was so vicious that nobody dared enter his stall. Doc cured Counterpart and tamed him so well that his sons played marbles under his hooves. Doc also drove Counterpart to a straight heat triumph in the $25,000 Kalamazoo Derby, chewing his match all the time.

In 1934, Doc was still chewing his match as he drove Lord Jim to victory in the Hambletionian. His other entry, Muscletone, was driven by his brother Daryl and finished second.

In 1939, still chewing his match, Doc drove Peter Astra to win his second Hambeltonian, and he chomped on his match when he drove King’s Counsel, a two-year-old, to the record time of 2:01 1/4.

For two generations, Doc dominated harness racing and for thirteen successive seasons, he won more races, more money, and developed faster horses than any other man in the country. He drove more heats in two minutes or less than any driver ever did. He won practically every big stakes race in the country and twice captured the Humbeltonian. Altogether, he participated in more than 1,000 races, sporting his red, white, and blue colors. In three other years, he was first either in races won or in money.

Besides expertise, Doc had horse sense. He owned, trained and drove hundreds of great race horses. His hunch about Counterpart turned out to be correct and he loved Counterpart the best because the horse paid for his home in Urbana, helped educate the boys, and paid the feed bills. King’s Counsel, he sold for $20,000. He wasn’t as lucky with Promoter, a colt who seemed to be a sure champion. Promoter fell and hanged himself in his stall. Another of Doc’s horses was Fearless Peter, a Peter Volo colt and half brother of Peter Astra. Doc expected him to win the Hambletonian and as a two-year-old, Fearless Peter seemed unbeatable. Then he turned pacer and although he won 17 races as a three-year-old, pacers didn’t run the Hambletonian.

In 1941, Doc had about fifty of the fastest harness horses in the world in training at Pinehurst, his horse training farm. They were entered in practically every big stakes race in America and rivals complained that Doc had cornered most of the champions of the United States. He was traveling like the Ringling circus with about a quarter of a million dollars worth of horses, fifteen or twenty thousand dollars in trappings and equipment and an army of assistants, drivers, secretaries, and shin sores.

Then a string of misfortunes befell Doc, ending with World War II. There were cold, wet springs, bad luck, cancelled races, reduced purses, higher express rates, skyrocketing feed bills and the War. Doc owned about 12 high-priced colts himself and being caught with 40 or 50 horses under these conditions was risky. He shed horses, trying to get from under before harness racing died entirely. He also tried to get into the Army, but was considered too old at 44.

In 1944, Doc trained only a few selected horses and became a racing judge when the Army turned him down. He was a champion judge too. No driver could put over any trick on Doc.  He had seen them all, including the famous suspensory!

In the winter of 1944 and the spring of 1945, Doc trained a string of nine two-year-olds for Mrs. Thorne Smith, a wealthy horsewoman from Milbrook, New York, and Miami, Florida. He had an eye turned toward developing a Hambeltonian candidate for 1946.  Mrs. Smith surprised everyone by marrying Doc’s kid brother Daryl, an Army officer. Daryl was a pretty good horseman himself and suddenly, Doc’s boss!

Doc didn’t worry about it, not him. He was in fine physical condition, down to 205 pounds and eager to trot. As long as he heard his wife’s laughter and the tinkling of ice in a highball glass, Doc was happy.  As long as he could hear the baying of a coon hound under an October Ohio moon and the rhythm of hooves of trotting horses on Highland County clay, he was happy!



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Clarence and Mildred Beltmann: Persevering Through Hard Times

by Kathy Warnes

(This interview was one of many I did of World War II veterans.  I post this in their honor and in appreciation of the sacrifices of all veterans.)


Clarence and Mildred Beltmann of Hubertus, Wisconsin, were in separate branches of the armed services during World War II, but they managed to persevere through the hard times and to survive Clarence’s five months in four German prisoner of war camps.

Back then the Beltmanns were both from Milwaukee and they went together for four years before the war. Clarence enlisted in the army the night before Pearl Harbor and became a mess sergeant after attending cooks and bakers school. He joined the 9th Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, and sailed overseas on the Queen Mary. After leaving England and France, Clarence ended up on the Siegfried Line during the Battle of the Bulge.

The date was December 18, 1944, and the time was about 5 pm in the afternoon. Dusk blanketed the besieged town where Clarence and his company fought a German morter barrage from inside the few houses that still stood in the village.

Meanwhile back in the United States Mildred was working as a teller at the Marshall & Illsley Bank in Milwaukee, but she wanted to do something for the war effort. In the fall of 1943, she enlisted in the Navy because “it sounded exciting and my mother said I would never do it.”

Mildred didn’t know exactly how long she would be a WAVE, but she counted the days until the war would be over so she and Clarence could be married. She underwent her boot camp training as a specialized store keeper at Hunter College, New York, and she was assigned to the U.S. Naval Receiving Station based in Chicago. Here she did many phases of storekeeping in the disbursing office until October 1945.

On January 16, 1944, Clarence’s mother, Mrs. Mable Thoss of Milwaukee received a telegram from the secretary of war informing her that “your son technician fifth grade Clarence W. Beltmann has been reported missing in action since December 20 in Luxembourg.”

Another telegram dated April 7, 1945, informed his mother that Clarence was a German prisoner of war. Both his mother and Mildred were happy about this telegram. “When I read that one, I knew there was hope again,” Mildred said.

In his diary which he calls “Notes of Prisoner Life,” Clarence described how his company was taken near Befort, Luxembourg on the Siegfried Line. His company was called to defend a gap between the first and third American armies. He estimated that the Germans outnumbered the Americans 20-1 in this sector and they quickly surrounded his unit. After a night of combat, an explosion from a German bazooka hurled their small group to the floor and flung a few others to the opposite wall.  The men checked their condition and they discovered that they were badly shaken and a few of them suffered broken bones from the concussion. Clarence had a dislocated knee and a badly wrenched back.

As the morning progressed and regiment after regiment of Germans marched past the house, Clarence’s unit realized they were witnessing a major offensive. The group voted and decided to surrender because there was no food and water in the house and it seemed improbable that the American Army could rescue them.

As Clarence puts it:  “Two of the men being married, we decided to surrender instead of resisting. We therefore marched or rather crawled and hobbled downstairs not knowing whether we would be shot or taken prisoner…”

The men were taken prisoner and before this ordeal ended, Clarence would be quartered in four German POW camps or Stalags. One of the things he remembers best is the terrible food and sanitary conditions. “We had coffee, black bread and soup that wasn’t fit to eat,” he wrote. He recalled sleeping on the floor on straw which had been used by prisoners for months. Most of the prisoners had lice and dysentery.

Describing long marches to different camps, always just a step ahead of the Russians, Clarence recorded the ups and downs of POW life. He utilized his time by writing his diary, including poetry to Mildred and making a belt of buttons from uniforms of many different armies, including British, French and German. Eventually the Germans were in a complete rout and the Russians and Americans joined forces at Rostock. Liberation drew nearer for Clarence and his fellow prisoners.

During his last days as a POW, Clarence wrote, “Many Americans have been going into Barth souvenir hunting and quite a few have been killed by German snipers or by drunken Russian soldiers who insist on firing their guns to terrorize the populace. I decided to stay close to the Stalag as I had come this far and intended to reach home in one piece.”

On May 13, 1945, in the late afternoon, many airplanes landed and the men boarded them early the next morning to start their trip home. The terse telegram Clarence’s mother received on May 29, 1945, said it all for Clarence and Mildred:

“The Secretary of War desires me to inform you that your son, T/5 Beltmannn Clarence W., returned to military control…”

When Clarence finally was scheduled to meet Mildred at the train station in Milwaukee, his train arrived early.  Taking advantage of the situation, he sneaked up behind Mildred and grabbed her. “I was just getting ready to punch him when I realized who it was. I hugged him instead,” she said.

Clarence and Mildred were married in July 1945 and are the parents of two sons and five grandchildren. In 1985, they returned to Barth which was then in East Germany, for a reunion of POWs and their wives. The Russians, East Germans, and Americans enjoyed a four hour dinner and Mildred danced with a Russian soldier.

When Clarence retired from the Prudential Insurance Company, he and Mildred were involved   with Veteran Administration support groups for ex-POWs suffering from flashbacks and health problems. He also did historical recordings of prisoner experiences for the VA library.

He said that “to some prisoners, the war is as real as if it happened yesterday. They still can’t talk about it. If I can help them a little, the whole experience I had was worth it.”


One of the poems Clarence Beltmann wrote to Mildred while he was a POW.


When you’re far away from the one you love

Stop and gave at the heavens above

Whether the time be sun scorched noon

Or a frosty night with a glittering moon.

And there above in that realm of space

I see not a sun or moon, but a face

A beautiful face with a tender smile

Which tells me she’s waiting to make life worthwhile.

Perhaps tonight from here windowpane

She’s gazing aloft on her lips my name

As she prays to God way up above

To watch over, keep safe, and return her love.

So when you’re alone and feeling forlorn

Watch into the night and the coming moon

And remember that westward across the blue

She’s watching and waiting the same as you.

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Do Ghostly Lovers Search for Each Other in Miller Brewery Caves on Warm Spring Nights?

by Kathy Warnes

Frederick Miller

Frederick Miller – Wikimedia Commons

The story goes that on warm spring nights ghostly lovers still search for each other in the caves at Miller Brewery in Milwaukee.

Over a hundred years ago when life was slower and somehow more mysterious, workers at the Miller Brewery on State Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were whispering stories to each other about a ghost who haunted the cooling caves.

The workers glanced over their shoulders fearfully as they went about their business of producing beer for thirsty Milwaukeeans. Some of them swore they felt damp hands on their shoulders.

Frederick Miller Buys a Brewery

The caves were shadowy passageways from the past to the present. In 1850, the Best brothers dug the first cave in the State Street hillside when they built the Watertown Plank Road Brewery.

Frederick Miller bought the brewery five years after the Best brothers started digging their cooling caves. Born in Germany in 1824, Frederick had worked in the Royal Brewing Company at Sigmaringen, Hohenzollern, German. In 1850, when he was 26 years old, Frederick came to the United States with his family. He wanted to open his own brewery and Milwaukee seemed to be the ideal place because of the large population of Germans who brought their love of beer with them when they immigrated.

By 1855, Frederick Miller had enough backing and funds to buy his brewery. He purchased the Plank Road Brewery from Charles Best and his father for $8,000. The Plank Road Brewery was located in the Menomonee Valley, several miles west of Milwaukee. The brewery stood far out of the city, but near to good water sources including the Menomonee River and close to surrounding farms where the grains and other raw materials needed to make beer were grown.

Frederick Miller stood to make a good profit on his beer. After all, beer sold for $5.00 a barrel to the Milwaukee saloons and other businesses that bought it. Thirsty customers paid from three to five cents a glass for Frederick’s beer in Milwaukee saloons.

Frederick Miller Opens a Boarding House for his Workers and a Beer Garden

The remote location of his brewery motivated Frederick Miller to open a boarding house next to the brew house for his single employees. His workers ate their meals in the family house which stood on top of the hill overlooking the brewery. The workers earned their meals and lodging as well as between $480 and $1,300 a year for working for Frederick Miller.

In an 1879 letter to German relatives, Frederick Miller described the kind of meals he served to his employees. They started working at 4 a.m., so he served a six o’clock breakfast which included coffee, bread, beef steak or some other roasted meat, potatoes, eggs and butter. A nine o’clock lunch consisted of meat, cheese, bread and pickles. The midday meal at noon included soup, the choice of two meats, vegetables, and cake. The 6 o’clock evening meal consisted of meat, salad, eggs, tea and cakes.

Frederick Miller introduced several innovations into his new brewery business, including a German beer garden and refurbished caves. He created a beer garden that drew crowds for bowling dancing, family and fine lunches and old fashioned good fellowship. In another letter to his German relatives he wrote, “You can perceive that people in America, especially where Germans are located, also know how to live.”

He also featured good music at his beer garden, both the classics and popular tunes. Many a work worn Milwaukee citizen refreshed his spirit by thumping his glass of good beer on the table at the Miller beer garden and lustily bellowing, “Du, Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen.” “Du, Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen,”a German folk song that originated in northern Germany around 1820, was one of the most popular songs that wafted on the winds of the Menomonee River Valley on a Sunday afternoon. Families also enjoyed birthday and christening celebrations at the Miller Beer Garden.

Frederick Miller Renovates the Best Caves

The Bests had begun to install a system of storing beer in caves which provided cool, undisturbed places for aging after the beer was brewed. The Bests had a good idea, but their caves were small and poorly maintained. Frederick Miller decided to improve the Best system of caves. He built brick caves that amounted to 600 feet of tunnels, 15 feet wide and 12 to 15 feet high, with a capacity of 12,000 barrels. The caves were as cold and clammy as a ghostly hand and formed a natural icebox for the huge beer casks placed along the walls.

Dark spooky caves seem to attract ghosts and the Miller caves produced their own homegrown ghosts. Two of the Miller caves own ghosts achieved lasting fame because of the Romeo and Juliet ending of their romance.

Two Ghostly Lovers Desperately Search for Each Other

On a long ago spring day, a young brewery worker’s smile shone warm and sweet and his sweetheart’s face blushed bright as the wildflowers growing on the hillsides around Frederick Miller’s brewery. The couple had a secret meeting place. Every Saturday night they met at the mouth of a Miller Brewery cave where it opened on the hillside at the rear of the brewery. They strolled through the cool vaults and passed pleasant moments under the lantern light in the shelter of the huge casks.

One Saturday night before his shift was over, the young man had an accident. Some brewery workers testified that he missed his footing on the stairway in one of the caves. However it happened, the young man fell and struck his head. His fellow workers took him home, unconscious.

Unaware of her lover’s accident, the young woman waited for him at their meeting place. After several anxious hours of waiting, she finally went home and her parents told her about the accident. She rushed to her young man’s bedside, but he died several days later without regaining consciousness.

Before the winter snows melted from the hills above the caves, the girl died too. The doctor spoke of lung trouble, but the brewery workers spoke knowingly of the girl’s broken heart.

Shortly after the deaths of the young couple rumors began to circulate around the brewery. Workers insisted they saw the spirit of the girl searching the dark corners of the cave for her lover. Some of them reported that they had seen her lover lingering in their meeting place and some said they had heard him calling her name.

The ghosts searched for each other fruitlessly and freely until about 1887, when the Miller Brewery introduced mechanical refrigeration and the use of the caves began to taper off. By 1906, the brewery had completed the last of the four refrigerator buildings or stock houses, which had a capacity of more than 200 barrels. The caves were abandoned that year.

For over 40 years, the ghostly lovers searched for each other through the caves, abandoned empty reminders of past glories that remained closed and almost forgotten.

Modern Miller Brewery Officials Remodel the Caves and Resurrect the Ghosts?

After Frederick Miller died of cancer in 1888, his sons Ernest, Emil, and Frederick A. and their brother-in-law Carl took over the brewery and incorporated it as the Frederick Miller Brewing Company. They increased the Miller Brewery’s production to 500,000 barrels.

Then in 1952, brewery officials decided to open a portion of the caves to remodel them for a museum and to use as a starting place for tours of the brewery. The remodeling was completed in August 1953. Today’s Cave Museum utilizes about one-third of the original caves, but brewery tours still depart from them. Do modern tour takers feel a ghostly hand on their shoulders and a plaintive voice calling a long lost lovers name?

On balmy spring nights when the lights from the brewery dance over the Menomonee River Valley, do the lovers still search for each other?


Gurda, John. Miller Time: A History of Miller Brewing Company, 1855-2005. Miller Publications, 150th Anniversary Edition, 2005.

John, Tim. The Miller Beer Barons: The Frederick Miller Family and the Brewery. Badger Books, 2005.


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Happy Holidays and a Prosperous New Year!



Christmas is a time for fact and fiction and here some fictional Christmas stories and some factual stories about some of the songs we sing at Christmas time.

Christmas Cheer

Is There a Santa Claus? – Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis P. Church

by Kathy Warnes

Eight year old Virginia O’Hanon wrote the New York Sun a letter asking if Santa Claus really existed.  Editorial writer Francis P. Church answered her letter and their nineteenth century correspondence still resonates in twenty first century Christmas celebrations.

Virginia O’Hanlon Asks The New York Sun About Santa Claus

Some Christmases come with high unemployment rates, losses of loved ones, and loneliness. For some people Christmas brings more care than celebrations. An unnamed Grandpa Scrooge on a recent news broadcast emphasized his feelings by shouting to his grandchildren, “No, Virginia,” there is no Santa Claus!” His rant invoked images of the wistful child, nose pressed against the department store window, experiencing the toys second hand. In many ways, the centuries have distorted Santa Claus, modeled after the good St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, into a symbol of materialism and greed instead of the Christmas spirit of love, goodness, and peace. It’s not always easy to believe in the Spirit of Christmas among a world of doubters.

The Virginia of the grandfather’s rant, eight-year-old Laura Virginia O’Hanlon had the same problem in 1897. The daughter of Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant in Manhattan, Virginia had her doubts about Santa Claus, because some of her friends denied that he existed. She asked Dr. O’Hanlon if Santa really did exist and he suggested that she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper of the day, assuring her that if she saw the answer in The Sun, “it’s so.”

Following her father’s advice, Virginia wrote a short letter to the New York Sun. It read:  “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says ‘if you see it in the Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Editor Frank Church Answers Virginia O’Hanlon’s Letter

“Is There A Santa Claus?” was published on September 21, 1897, more than three months before the Christmas holiday. Francis Pharcellus Church, one of the Sun’s editors, answered Virginia’s letter and addressed some of the philosophical issues behind it. He had been a war correspondent during the Civil War at a time when much of society had seen and experienced great suffering and as a result, felt a lack of hope and faith.

Yet, Frank Church had enough faith and hope left to reply: “Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been afflicted by the skepticism of a skeptical age.”  He added a few sentences about the narrow human imagination and then he said, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”

The New York Sun ran Frank Church’s editorial in September, three months before Christmas. The editors put the editorial in the third of three columns of editorials, buried among such items as “British Ships in American Waters,” and stories about the improvements on the chainless bicycle for 1898. The Sun’s rivals in New York didn’t comment on the editorial and even the Sun mostly ignored it for the next ten years. The people who read “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” found it moving and every year at Christmas requests to reprint the letter and editorial poured into the New York Sun. Over a century later, it still is the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any English language newspaper and the year 2010 marks the 113 anniversary of the letter and editorial reply.

Some people have doubted that Virginia really wrote the letter, questioning if she would refer to children her own age as “my little friends.”  Virginia’s family saved the original copy of the letter and in 1998, Kathleen Guzman, of the Antiques Roadshow authenticated the letter and appraised it at between $20,000-$30,000.

The Real Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis P. Church

Laura Virginia O’Hanlon was born July 20, 1889, in Manhattan. In the 1910s, she married Edward Douglas, but he deserted her shortly before their daughter Laura’s birth. Virginia earned her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in 1910, a Master’s degree in Education from Columbia University in 1912, and a doctorate from Fordham University. In 1912, she began her career as a teacher in the New York City School system, and became a junior principal in 1935. She retired in 1959, and died on May 13, 1971, in a nursing home in Valatie, New York. Her grave is at the Chatham Rural Cemetery in Chatham, New York.

All through her life, Virginia received letters about her letter to the New York Sun and when she answered them, she included Frank Church’s editorial. She credited the editorial with influencing her life positively.

Francis P. Church, was born on February 22, 1839, in Rochester, New York and he graduated from Columbia University in New York City in 1859. In 1863, he and his brother, William Conant Church, founded the Army and Navy Journal and in 1866, Galaxy Magazine. William founded the New York Sun and Frank worked on the paper. In 1897, he wrote his famous editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and earned Christmas history immortality.

He died at age 67 in New York City, and he is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

“Yes, Virginia, “ Still Has Meaning in the Twenty First Century

Historians and other people have tried to explain the popularity of “Yes, Virginia.” The editorial reminds people of their own past Christmases and it stirs memories of the magic of childhood Christmases. The editorial is a bridge to a time when the television and the Internet didn’t exist and it illustrates that despite technological changes, people still have the same hopes and dreams. It is an example of inspiring, quality journalism, and perhaps, most importantly it has a positive, inspiring message. There is enough hope in it to convince ranting grandfathers wise enough to read it that the Spirit of Christmas isn’t found in things or the lack of them, but in hearts.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!”


Church, Francis P. “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. The Classic Edition. Running Press Kid, 2004

“Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” DVD.


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Thanksgiving is a Changing Holiday


First Thanksgiving – Wikimedia Commons

by Kathy Warnes

For many Americans, the tradition for celebrating a Thanksgiving of family, turkey dinners, football and special thanks for blessings goes back to 1621 William Bradford and the Pilgrims and Indians. They are more likely to recall making Pilgrim hats and eating pumpkin pie instead of Timucua Indians bringing squash and Spaniards in helmets serving cocido.

The Grinch Expands Thanksgiving Traditions

The Pilgrims weren’t the first to throw a Thanksgiving feast in America, according to Dr. Michael Gannon of the University of Florida. In 1965, Dr. Gannon published a book called,The Cross in the Sand: The Early Catholic Church in Florida, 1513-1870. In his book Dr. Gannon presents his exhaustive research into the career of Pedro Menendez De Aviles and his role in a Thanksgiving festival in St. Augustine.

“I would be inclined to focus on September 8, 1565, when, 420 years ago, Pedro Menendez De Aviles held a service, attended by Indians, at which he gave thanks for the founding of St. Augustine, “Gannon said.”This was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land,” Dr. Gannon told an Associated Press reporter in 1985 in an interview about his book.

A group of irate New Englanders called Professor Gannon “the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving,” but most people disagreed with him or simply ignored his evidence. Time didn’t erode his research and evidence which has survived intact into the Twenty-first century.

Pedro Menendez De Aviles and the Timucua Indians Share the First Thanksgiving

According to Dr. Gannon, on September 8, 1565, about fifty years before the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles and the Timucua Indians shared America’s real first Thanksgiving.

On that September day, Menendez stepped ashore in St. Augustine, claimed Florida for the Spanish crown, and eventually founded the first North American city of St. Augustine. Then he participated in a special Mass of Thanksgiving that Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoze Grajales celebrated.

After being declared governor and celebrating Mass, Menendez invited the Timucua Indians to join the Spaniards in a Thanksgiving feast. The Spanish probably contributed cocido, a rich stew made with pork and Timucua most likely brought wild turkey, venison, and perhaps alligator meat. They definitely brought corns, beans, and squash.

French Huguenots in Florida Celebrated Thanksgiving in 1564

On June 30, 1564, French Huguenot colonists conducted a thanksgiving ceremony in a settlement near present day Jacksonville, Florida. Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, a French Huguenot explorer, founded the French colony of Fort Caroline located in modern Jacksonville, Florida.

He recorded an account of the thanksgiving ceremony. “On the morrow about the break of day, I commanded a trumpet to be sounded, that being assembled we might give God thankes for our favourable and happie arrivall. Then wee sang a Psalme of thanksgiving unto God, beseeching him that it would please him of his grace to continue his accustomed goodness toward his poore servaunts, and ayde us in all our enterprises that all might turne to his glory and the advancement of our king.”

The next year Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his men wiped out the Fort Caroline settlement.

Coronado Celebrated Thanksgiving Even Before Menendez and the Huguenots

Spanish Explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s records show that he and his men and the friendly Teyas Indians celebrated thanksgiving on Ascention Thursday, May 23, 1541. The Teyas Indians looked on as Friar Juan de Padilla performed the Mass. Reports of the Mass state that the Indians were more baffled by the Mass and the feast than hostile or friendly.

Coronado and his men had left Mexico seeking the Seven Cities of Cibola, but instead they found themselves on the Staked Plains, with no cities or trees and scarce water. They wandered in circles for days and when they finally found Palo Duro Canyon and the friendly Teyas Indians who lived there. They were probably more thankful for their blessings than the Pilgrims were in the century after them.

Native Americans Were the First to Hold Thanksgiving Feasts

Native Americans held Thanksgiving festivals before Europeans ever set foot in America.The Wampanoag Indians, later allies of the Pilgrims, held six thanksgiving festivals during the year.

Native Americans thanked the living things around them- animals and crops- for sacrificing themselves for food and clothing. They didn’t worship the animals and crops, but they thanked them. In their Thanksgiving feasts they thanked the Great Spirit for food, shelter, and clothes. The celebrations included dancing, singing, drumming circles and games.

English Settlers and Indians Give Thanks

On December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers came to Berkeley Plantation, now Charles City, Virginia. The group’s charter specified that their arrival day, December 4, 1619, would be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God. Captain John Woodleaf conducted the service. “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god.”

Besides the 1619 service, the colonists may have held services in 1620 and 1621 before the colony was wiped out in 1622. The service was limited to the Berkeley settlement.

The Pilgrim Thanksgiving, 1621

The Pilgrim Thanksgiving took place in the fall of 1621, between September 21 and November 11th.

The original account of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving comes from a letter from Edward Winslow in Plymouth, dated December 21, 1621 to George Morton in England. It was printed in Mourt’s Relation, London, 1662. Winslow reports that the spring before the Pilgrims had planted twenty acres of Indian corn and sowed six acres of barley and peas. They learned from the Indians how to manure the ground with herrings or alewives which were plentiful. The corn did well, but the barley and peas not so well.

They took in the harvest and Governor Bradford sent four men fowling and they killed enough to feed a large group. The Indians helped and with the kind Massaosit and 90 men they entertained and feasted for three days. They killed five deer and brought them to Plimouth Plantation and gave them to the Governor, the Captain and others.

For three days the Pilgrims and the Indians feasted on venison, roast duck, goose and turkey, clams, eels, corn bread, hasty pudding leaks, water cress, wild plums and dried berries. They washed everything down with wine made of wild grapes.

Presidential Proclamations and Thanksgivings Past

In 1789, George Washington named Thursday, November 26th as a day of thanksgiving.

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation issued with the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, named the last Thursday of every November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

Responding to the appeals of U.S. retailers still trying to recover from the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1939 proclamation moved Thanksgiving up a week to increase the shopping days before Christmas. When he issued the proclamation with the new date, uproar spread throughout the country, but his proclamation prevailed.

Thanksgiving Present

Present day Thanksgiving features more technology and football than in the past, but the tradition of family gatherings and parties continues the spirit of the original Thanksgiving festivities. The centerpiece of Thanksgiving is still being thankful.


Colman, Penny. Thanksgiving: The True Story. Henry Holt & Company, First Edition, 2008

Gannon, Michael. The Cross in the Sand: The Early Catholic Church in Florida, 1513-1870, University Press of Florida, 1st Edition, 1965.

Gioia, Robyn. America’s Real First Thanksgiving. Pineapple Press, 1st Edition, 2007

Grace, Catherine O’Neill. 1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2004.


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Captain Bill Driver and “Old Glory”


Wikimedia Commons


by Kathy Warnes

William Driver was born on March 17, 1803, in Salem, Massachusetts, but his rolling gait became a familiar sight on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee where he died in 1886. He lived a life filled with adventure and he deeply loved the Union, enough to defy the members of his family who equally loved the Confederacy. The flag that he called “Old Glory” has been the center of both controversy and unity.

William Driver Goes to Sea

One Sunday in 1817, fourteen-year-old William Driver was supposed to be on his way to Sunday School in his home town of Salem, Massachusetts. Instead, he went down to the harbor. By sheer determination and persuasion, he talked himself into the position of cabin boy and was on the high seas by nightfall. Eight years later, Bill sailed back into Salem harbor as captain of his own ship, The Seawood.

Captain Driver Acquires “Old Glory”

In 1827, Bill married Martha Silsbee Babbage and they eventually had three children.A version of the story of how Captain Driver acquired his flag goes that the women of Salem including his mother, sewed him a flag with 24 stars . As he was about to sail out of Salem, Massachusetts, harbor, the sailors aboard his ship, the whaler Charles Doggett, hoisted the flag to the mast head of his ship. “There goes Old Glory,” Captain Driver exclaimed and from that moment on “Old Glory” accompanied him on all of his voyages.

Captain Driver made his longest voyage in 1831-1832, when he sailed the Charles Doggett to the South Pacific. During a port of call at Tahiti, he met some of the descendants of the H.M.S. Bounty crew. They had moved to Tahiti from Pitcairn Island where the mutineers who had taken control of the Bounty had marooned them. They wanted to leave Tahiti, so they asked Captain Bill Driver to give them passage back to Pitcairn Island. During the return passed, Captain Driver slept on the deck of the Charles Doggett so the women and children could sleep in the bunks below. Altogether, “Old Glory” and Captain Driver sailed twice around the world and once around the continent of Australia.

Captain Driver, His Children, and “Old Glory” Move to Tennessee

In 1837, Captain Driver’s wife Martha died and he quit the sea to take care of his children. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where several of his brothers lived, taking his belongings, his three children and “Old Glory” with him. In 1838, Captain Driver married Sarah Jane Parks in Nashville and eventually they had eight children.
On every patriotic occasion in town, Bill Driver proudly flew Old Glory from his front porch. By 1860, Captain Driver felt that “Old Glory” looked as frayed as he felt on some days. The versions of the story differ as to what he did to revitalize “Old Glory.” One version of the story says that he replaced the original with another flag. Another version says that he had his wife Sarah Jane and his daughter Mary Jane take the flag apart, cut off the raveled and frayed seams, replace the old stars and add new ones to make a total of 34 – the correct number for 1860.

Captain Driver Remains a Loyal Union Man

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Captain Driver remained a loyal Yankee, even though his sons joined the “Boys in Gray.” When Union flags in town were mysteriously torn and burned, Captain Driver decided to protect “Old Glory” and the flag disappeared from his front porch. Confederate troops in Nashville searched the Captain’s house for “Old Glory” several times, but never found it.

Finally, when Brigadier General Nelson’s wing of the Union troops marched victoriously into Nashville on February 25, 1862, Captain Driver marched alongside them. He hurried into his house and emerged carrying an old quilt. There, between its folds, nestled “Old Glory”. Escorted by Union soldiers Captain Driver marched to the Tennessee Capitol building with “Old Glory” in his arms. He climbed to the dome and triumphantly hoisted his flag to the top.

The New York Times story reports that same night a heavy wind came up and Captain Driver took down the original flag the next morning and sent up a new flag in its place. He gave this second flag to the Sixth Ohio Regiment when it left Nashville for home. The soldiers put the flag in the rear of a baggage wagon where a mule discovered it and ate it!

Despite Differences, “Old Glory” Is the Symbol of All Americans

Captain Bill Driver died in 1886, and he is buried in City Cemetery in Nashville under a marker that he designed himself- a ship’s anchor leaning against a vine covered tree. Captain Driver’s family disputed who owned the original “Old Glory”. Family records indicate that Captain Diver’s daughter, Mary Jane Roland and her cousin Harriet Ruth Waters Cooke bitterly disputed who possessed the original “Old Glory.” The New York Times version of the story says that Harriet Ruth Waters Cooke, a cousin of the family, had the flag and she in turn presented it to the Essex Institute at Salem, Massachusetts.

Other versions of the story say that Captain Bill Driver gave “Old Glory” to his daughter Mrs. Mary Jane Roland in 1873.  He handed “Old Glory” to his daughter Mary Jane and said, “Cherish it as I have cherished it for it has been my friend and protector around the world.”  In turn, Mary Jane gave “Old Glory” to President Warren G. Harding in 1922. President Harding presented it to the Smithsonian Institution and it remains there today.

Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee. William Driver Papers. 1803-1886.

Alan Bostick. March 19, 2006. “See the flag that few around the world.” The Tennmessean, Life section, p. 5.

So Proudly We Hail: the History of the United States Flag”, by Rear Admiral William Rea Furlong and Commodore Byron McCandless, with the editorial assistance of Harold D. Langley, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. PP. 204-205.

“Old Glory: The True Story”, by Mary J. Driver Roland, daughter of Captain William Driver. Printed for the author, 1918.

“The Driver Family Descendants of Robert and Phebe Driver” (Harriet Ruth (Waters) Cooke, pub. 1889:

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The Phantom Plowman – A Spring Ghost Story from Pennsylvania


By Kathy Warnes

One night in March 1886, Albert Cooper, a young farm hand from Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, went courting. As he walked home from his pretty maiden’s house, his thoughts remained back on the porch swing with her. On this evening carrying the scents of spring, amorous Albert Cooper didn’t think much about the history or geography of Lower Merion Township, especially after he saw the ghostly farmer plowing his field.

Lower Merion Township

Farm fields had not always been a part of Lower Merion Township. Before European immigrants settled there, dense forests that sheltered creatures including bears, cougars, wolves, otters, beavers, weasels, turkeys, woodland bison, and bald eagles covered the Township. When the Europeans arrived, they gradually cleared the forests for farm fields and settlements.

The northwestern corner of Lower Merion Township is tucked between Upper Merion and the River Schuykill to the north. Philadelphia borders it to the south, the Schuykill River from the east, and Delware County from the west. In 1886, the Township measured about six miles long and 4 ½ miles wide and it contained about 15,360 acres of land. The soil, a rich loam, helped farmers grow abundant crops of corn, wheat, beans, and other vegetables as well as potatoes, apples, and peaches.

According to township historian William Buck, so many Welsh immigrants from Merioneth, Wales, settled in this section of Montgomery County that it was called Merion Township and divided into Upper an Lower Merion. These pioneer families included names like Holland, Pennock, Robert, Woods, Humphreys, Ellis, and Jones. William Buck writes that William Penn granted land to the pioneer settlers and many of them belonged to the Society of Friends. Shortly after arriving in Lower Merion, they arranged to have meetings for public worship.

Valley Forge is located within Merion Township and during the Revolutionary War, George Washington and his Army’s stay at Valley Forge and the British occupation of Philadelphia from September 1777 to June 1778 made the Township an active  place for both sides. The pioneers of Lower Merion suffered severely from British raids during the Revolutionary War, but only one person from Merion was accused of treason. Bryn Mawr, Welsh for “great hills,” is also found within Lower Merion Township, and in 1886 already featured “a modern female college..”

In 1880, Lower Merion had a population of 6,287 people.The population was about to increase by one farmer.

After An Evening of Courting, Albert Cooper Sees a Phantom Farmer

Hurrying home, Albert Cooper was not thinking about the history, geography, or population of Lower Merion Township, if he ever knew them in the first place. He sped along the woodland path, anxious to get home and dream about his lady love.

As he came to the end of the path that  followed an old forest for miles and emerged from the trees, Albert Cooper heard someone say “Woah!” to a team of invisible horses. Quickly he stopped in mid stride, and looked around for several moments, trying to discover what farmer he knew was plowing his fields at night. His eyes strained to make out the shape of the night plowing farmer and his horses, but he couldn’t see anything. Albert sighed.  His imagination had to be working overtime. After all, the woods were dark and he had been courting! He moved down the path once again, toward home and his soft pillow. He sighed. The pretty maiden had told him that she would use her pillow to dream about him.


“Woah!” Albert heard the same farmer commanding his horses; this time the creaking of their harnesses and their whinnies sounded directly in front of him. The first phase of the new moon occured on March 7, 1886, and Albert watched this new moon creep over the dark tree tops, bathing them in misty light. The shadow of the phantom farmer and his horses and plow blotted out most of the moonlight like an eclipse. Albert could see the farmer gripping the plow with two powerful hands guiding a pair of spirited horses that were hitched to it. The horses trotted quickly with their heads held high and their eyes flashing fire.

Albert stared and stared to make sure his imagination mixed with love sickness hadn’t gotten the best of him. He closed his eyes and opened them. The phantom farmer and his horses were still there.  Albert shivered in time with the jangling of the harnesses. He had just started to run when suddenly the farmer and his horses and plow vanished. Shaking with terror, Albert raced to the safety of his home and bed. He didn’t even wonder if the phantom farmer would spend the night plowing.

The Phantom Farmer Had His Choice of Plows and Crops

The phantom farmer plowed his field at both a good and bad time for farmers, assuming that he hailed from the Nineteenth Century.  New inventions helped farmers meet some of the farming challenges in the late 1800s. John Deere had invented a steel plow capable of slicing through tough sod in 1838 and James Oliver had improved it in 1868. Windmills especially adapted to the plains pumped water from deep wells to the surface and barbed wire allowed farmers to fence in land and livestock. Reapers made harvesting crops easier and threshers helped farmers separate grain or seed from straw. Farmers doubled their production of wheat from 1860 to 1890.


During the last years of the Nineteenth Century, the price of farm crops fell drastically, and farmers believed that low produce prices caused their economic problems. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that wheat prices fell from $1.06 a bushel to 63 cents a bushel, corn from 43 cents to 30 cents a bushel, and cotton from 15 cents a pound to six cents a pound between 1870 and 1897.

American technological advances in farming equipment and methods and increases in farm land and increases in yields per acre stimulated the overproduction that lowered farm prices. Newly created agricultural colleges also contributed to these improvements and their consequences. Could the phantom plowman be a symbol of farming past, present, and future? A prophet? A messenger from the past?

Albert Cooper, the Evening After the Courtship and the Ghost

The next morning Albert Cooper may have cast uneasy glances at the fields surrounding the farm where he worked. Had the phantom plowman followed him home with his horses and plow alongside him? As he went about his farm chores the next day, Albert Cooper probably wondered if he had dreamed the events of the night before and if he had really seen a phantom farmer plowing the field with two horses. After supper he decided to visit Silas Brown’s corner grocery and try out his story on his friends.

Albert told his story to the store loungers sitting around the pot bellied stove in Silas Brown’s corner store. The store loungers scoffed and told Albert to “reform” his story. When Albert insisted that he was telling the truth about the phantom farmer and his horses, a heated discussion flared up and several of the loungers accused Albert Cooper of “drawing the long bow,” which meant exaggerating or lying. Finally, the store loungers decided to visit the scene of the plowing to see if Albert Cooper had been telling the truth or a tall story.

Seven Men Sitting Shivering on a Wooden Rail Fence

Seven men and Albert Cooper sat on the wooden rail fence listening and watching for the phantom plowman. Albert heard them first, the same sounds from the night before. First the phantom farmer halted the horses, and then the creak of the harnesses and their whinnying. Albert and the seven store loungers were so frightened that they had to wrap their legs around the wooden fence rails to keep from falling off when they saw the phantom farmer. He didn’t wear any hat, so his long white hair streamed alongside his long white beard in the wind. The only visible part of the farmer’s face were his glistening eyes which were at least seven feet from the ground, making the ghostly farmer taller than the average human. A phosphorescent glow blurred the outlines of his body as he leaned forward on the plow and guided his steadily moving horses.

The store loungers and Albert thought the plow appeared to be as skeletal as the farmer, but soft, moist earth flew behind it like waves behind a Delaware River steamer. The phantom plowman drew closer and the horses with erect and tossing heads, seemed to breathe fire. The men heard their hoof beats as clearly as a dinner bell. At the corner of the field, the phantom plowman gave them the command to turn and they turned obediently and passed in front of the frightened fence sitters once again. All of the store hangers jumped off the fence and ran home to tell their story.

The Phantom Plowman Finishes Plowing the Field

The next morning, the seven fence sitters, Albert Cooper, and other curious folk went to the field to see if they could find any trace of the phantom plowman. As they reached the field, one of the men said, “I’ll be durned if the thing doesn’t plow sure enough.”

Everyone stared and gasped in astonishment. One half of the field had been plowed with furrows less broad as an ordinary plowman would create, but they were neater , deeper, and straighter than a mortal plowman could manage.

A few days later, the same group of onlookers went out to examine the field again. This time they discovered that the phantom farmer had completed his plowing. The field resembled a brown wavy lake flowing to the horizon. One of the men owned the field and he solemnly swore that he had not plowed an inch of ground in his field. The phantom farmer had plowed the entire field.

Multiple Albert Coopers and Silas Browns appear in the 1880 and 1890s census waiting for the dedicated historian and genealogist to find the ones that witnessed the phantom plowman. The phantom plowman and his horses and plow haunt that particular field in Lower Merion Township, waiting for the fancies of young people to turn to courting journeys and the March new moon to signal that it is time to start plowing again.



Buck, William J. Edited by Theodore W. Bean. History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Cocke, Stephanie Hetos. The Gilded Age Estates of Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania: A History and Preservation Plan. 1987. University of Pennsylvania LibrariesEverts & Peck, Philadelphia, 1884. Part I, Lower Merion.

Hunsicker, Clifton S. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania A History. Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York & Chicago, 1923.

Jones, Dick, ed. The First 300: the amazing and rich history of Lower Merion. Ardmore, PA: The Lower Merion Historical Society, 2000.

Biographical Annals of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Volume I. 1904

Brooklyn Eagle. A Phantom Plowman. Terrified Farmers Watched Him as He Turned up the Soil Perfectly. March 10, 1889. Page 10.

St. Louis Globe Democrat. The Phantom Plowman. March 10, 1889.

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