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The Johns Farmhouse Story

Richard D. L. Fulton

Among the mass of paranormal photographs taken over the decades, one occasionally encounters a photograph that includes a house or structure that no longer exists, or a plantation-like stairway with Victorian inhabitants apparently standing upon it that never existed.

But how about a farmhouse that appears in a Civil War picture 16 years before the farmhouse was built? As strange as that may sound, there is actually a rational explanation for the strange “apparitions.”

On July 1 through July 3. 1863, a ‘terrible storm’ swept through Gettysburg as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac collided on the fields and hills in and surrounding the quiet country borough of Adams County.

The battle that raged for three days ultimately climaxed with the so-called “Pickett’s Charge,” which failed in the final attempt of Confederate General Robert E, Lee to break through the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge under the command of Union General George A. Meade.

The cataclysmic charge and the defense of the Union line was commemorated in a painting known as the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama, which has been on display at the various incarnations of the Gettysburg Battlefield Park’s Cyclorama for decades (including initially at a building at the entrance to the national cemetery).

In the 1880s, French artist Paul Philippoteaux painted four versions of his “Pickett’s Charge” cycloramas, including one which went on display in Boston in 1884. In 1913, the Boston version was purchased and displayed in Gettysburg for the 50th Anniversary of the battle and was displayed in a building near the entrance of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Philippoteau’s painting was ultimately purchased by the National Park Service in 1942 and was moved to its first NPS home, a building within the park. In 1963, the painting was moved into a new visitor center, and again in 2005, the painting was moved to the current visitor center.

While the painting had to be restored (it had actually been cut into pieces before it was purchased in 1913), no one caught onto, or covered-over the farmhouse that didn’t exist.

The farmhouse in question appears at the left flank of Pickett’s Charge, essentially in the background. As it turns out, the farmhouse was constructed in 1879 by Samuel Bushman (now commonly referred to as being the William Johns farmhouse).

So how did it end up in a Civil War painting? According to Mike Tallent and Ron Frenette, who purchased the old farmhouse in 2014, Philippoteau never left France to view the battlefield, but instead, he had hired photographers to take photographs of the areas to be painted. The photographs were taken in the very early 1880s (before the paintings were executed), after the farmhouse had been built.

Thus, unaware of the unintended anachronism, Philippoteau included the 1879 Bushman home in his “Pickett’s Charge” painting.

Well, at least the land the farmhouse sits upon—which stands on the corner of Johns Avenue and Culp Street—did see plenty of fire and fury on July 4, 1863, as can be testified to by the voluminous number of bullets, shells fragments—even unexploded artillery rounds—that have been collected on the farmhouse property, and those of the neighboring properties that now comprise the Colt Park development.

The property and those surrounding the farmhouse turned up more than just relics. The front of the Johns farmhouse all the way from Culp’s Street to King Street was a temporary Confederate mass grave (the bodies were subsequently removed). In 1882, a trench was dug 300 yards from the farmhouse wherein 15 Confederate bodies were found. Again, in 1914, two more bodies were recovered near the barn, next to the farmhouse.

 Civil War history aside, in 1913, Gettysburg served as the host to the Civil War Veterans’ Reunion, and the sprawling encampment all but encircled the farmhouse property. In 1918, Camp Colt (where the War Department trained the U.S. Army’s first tank unit) was established and basically encompassed the same ground as did the 1913 veterans’ reunion. More than 150 troops encamped in Camp Colt died from the Spanish Flu in 1918.

The Johns farmhouse and the land it was built upon didn’t get much of a break when it came to being witness to tragic events.

In 1922, during the Marine maneuvers at Gettysburg, death came precariously close to landing in the front yard of the old farmhouse when a warplane fell from the sky, killing the pilot and his passenger.

Highly-decorated World War I Marine infantryman Captain George Wallis Hamilton—turned Marine aviator in the aftermath of the war—was piloting a de Havilland DH-4B dive-bomber on June 26, along with passenger, Gunnery Sergeant George Russell Martin, at the head of the Marine column as the column approached the Gettysburg Battlefield.

The more than 5,000 Marines had marched from Quantico to hold their Civil War-theme summer maneuvers and battle reenactment in Gettysburg, and squadrons of bi-wing airplanes flew overhead, as if patrolling the skies during the Marines’ advance.

Hamilton was in command of the lead squadron as it approached the battlefield. The squadron was in the process of preparing to land at an impromptu airfield the Marines had constructed on the Culp Farm near the intersection of Old Emmitsburg Road and Long Lane.

As Hamilton’s squadron circled to position themselves to land, the other pilots, as well as other witnesses on the ground, stated that the captain’s “DH-4B airplane #6157 went into a tailspin from a left turn from which it did not recover, and crashed to the ground,” according to the crash investigatory Record of Proceedings.

The crash occurred in the area of Johns Avenue and Culp Street, just missing a carnival that had been set up along Steinwehr Avenue, precariously close to the front yard of the Johns farmhouse.

Hamilton was found deceased in the wreckage, but Martin was still alive. He was transported to the Warren Hospital (Gettysburg Hospital), where he expired a short time later. Because both were engaged in Marine activities at the time of the crash, they then both became the last line-of-duty deaths to have taken place on the old Civil War battlefield since 1863.

Today, the site of the crash is marked by a memorial wayside dedicated to the two aviators who had perished on June 26, 1922. The memorial was created by a consortium of area residents, members of the Gettysburg and Emmitsburg Marine Corps Leagues, and the Gettysburg Heritage Center.

A photograph of the Johns farmhouse was included in the wayside, as it was the only nearby structure that had existed in that area at the time of the crash. Johns farmhouse owners Mike Tallent and Ron Frenette played instrumental roles in not only raising the funds to erect the memorial and designing it, but also in helping to create the subsequent dedication ceremony when the memorial wayside was unveiled.

The memorial wayside dedication was held on June 26, 2018. Members of the US Marine Corps Historical Company, Marines from Fort Meade, and a Marine bugler from Marine Base Quantico participated in the dedication ceremony.

Frenette stated at the ceremony that the book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg by Richard D. L. Fulton and James Rada, Jr., had inspired the effort to create the memorial to the two aviators.

Fountaindale Volunteer Fire Department Adams County Company #3

State and county lines are no barrier when it comes to fighting fires. The Fountaindale Volunteer Fire Department is located in Adams County, Pennsylvania, but when needed, they provide mutual aid to Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, as well as Franklin County in Pennsylvania.

Dave Martin has been Fire Chief of Company #3 for thirty-five years. He said that the most unforgettable incident during his years with the department was the Jacks Mountain fire in December 1998. The fire burned for three days and consumed eighty acres. Forty-five fire departments from Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania fought the fire, which almost reached the homes in the development at the top of the mountain. However, the fire was contained before any homes were damaged.

Chief Martin said that the company was founded in 1946, and started with only one fire truck. The fire station was not built until 1974, so the fire truck was housed in a garage next to the current station.  At that time, there was no 911 service, so calls were routed to the home of Earl “Polly” Shindledecker.  He and his wife took the calls and pushed the button to blow the siren.  The department has grown significantly, and the equipment now consists of a rescue engine, engine tanker, brush truck, and special unit.

Current officers are Keith Rudisill, President; Dale Buffington, Vice President; Sarah Ginn, Secretary; Karen Rudisill, Assistant Secretary; Peggy Martin, Treasurer; Dave Martin, Fire Chief; Sam Ginn, Deputy Fire Chief; Steve Yingling, Lieutenant. Board of Directors are Charles Berger, Chris Corle, Sam Ginn, John Ruppel, and Steve Yingling.

The department also has five junior members, who have been active in the department since they were fourteen years old. Junior members attend trainings and take classes where they learn the basics, as well as learn teamwork, leadership, responsibility, and discipline. They also help during fire calls by getting equipment for the firefighters. They plan to continue their training and become interior firefighters when they are eighteen.

Fundraising is critical to an all-volunteer organization.  Karen Rudisill said that they have had great community support for their events, which include twice-a-year drawings/dinners at the Fountaindale Fire Station and the monthly Bingo that is held at the Fairfield Fire Hall.  However, they are always looking for more volunteers. You don’t need to be a firefighter to help. If you can make sandwiches or bake cakes, you can be a valuable social member.

Community outreach is also important. They assist with fire prevention activities at Fairfield School and participate in the Carroll Valley National Night Out. Community events include the annual Christmas party, parades, and fire truck rides at the Blue Ridge Library.

In the short time that I spent with the members of Company #3, I could see that they are dedicated volunteers who work hard to provide service to the community, but it was also obvious that they have fun and enjoy being together.  Check out their Facebook page and call them when you are ready to volunteer.

Pictured are: Junior members (in truck) Lida Fitz, Colleen Rudisill, Olivia Scott, Claudia Rudisill; (standing) Dave Martin, Arley Scott; (seated) Dale Buffington, Becky Buffington, Peggy Martin (holding granddaughter, Emma Ginn), Sarah Ginn, Karen Rudisill, and Keith Rudisill.