T h e Y e a r i s…1 9 02

by James Rada, Jr.

Courtesy Photo of Gravemarker

The Story of the Barefoot Wanderer

Amanda Wisensale handed the lunch pail to her daughter, Ellen, and sent her off to deliver the lunch to William Wisensale. Amanda let her daughter know not to dawdle. Although Ellen was 14 years old, she had mental problems, so Amanda had to be specific with her.

Ellen took her responsibility seriously and set off to the limestone quarry along the Hanover Turnpike, where her father worked. It was June 1902, and Ellen walked barefoot from the family home near Hanover to the quarry along the dirt roads in the area.

William was hauling a load of limestone in a wagon when his daughter reached the quarry. Missing him, but knowing he would want his lunch, the girl followed where she thought the wagon had gone along the turnpike.

As the time grew later, Amanda realized her daughter hadn’t returned home. Assuming Ellen had gotten distracted and was playing, Amanda found one of her other children and sent him to the quarry to fetch his sister and make sure William had his lunch.

No one at the quarry had seen Ellen, and the boy hadn’t seen her on his way there. When William heard this, he stopped work for the day. He returned home to talk with his wife and then started searching for his daughter.

“He followed her to Littlestown, and from there, two miles out the Taneytown road, where all trace of her was lost. A number of people noticed her as she went through Westminster,” the Emmitsburg Chronicle reported.

Meanwhile, Ellen kept walking. “The road was rough and she was barefooted, and the sharp gravel cut her feet,” the Washington Post reported. “Still, she had set out to find her father, and she did not wish him to go hungry a minute longer than necessary; so, she trudged along, looking to the right and left, but seeing nothing of him.”

Ellen reached Westminster around 9:00 p.m. Joseph U. Smith saw the young girl walk past his office. He walked outside to see why the youngster was out so late. “She appeared bewildered and could not tell who she was or where she was going,” the Emmitsburg Chronicle reported.

He took her into his office and started gently questioning her. Smith noticed Ellen was carrying a basket full of food. He asked her why she hadn’t eaten it.

“This is papa’s dinner,” she answered.

He eventually learned she was from Hanover and what her father’s name was. Smith called Hanover and was connected with William Wisensale.

“How the child managed to get from the Taneytown road to the Littlestown turnpike is a mystery,” the Chronicle reported. “She trudged the whole distance without shoes, and the bottom of her feet were full of blisters.”

When William reached Westminster, 18 miles away from Littlestown, he thanked Smith profusely. He explained that his daughter had been “suffering mentally for several years,” the Chronicle reported.

Because of Ellen’s diminished capacity, she could never live on her own. She lived with her parents until they grew too old to care for her. She was admitted to the Adams County Home in 1917 and remained there for another 11 years.

She died there on October 20, 1928. The cause of her death was listed as dropsy, an old term for edema. This is a swelling of soft tissue because of water accumulation. Although any soft tissue could swell, it’s likely she died from congestive heart failure brought on by the edema.

Her funeral was held in one of her brothers’ homes in Hanover, and she was interred with her parents at Christ Church Cemetery near Littlestown.

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