December 23, 2011

“The Dark Christmas: A Tale of the Susquehanna”

Location: Marietta, PA, USA
Stereoview by Thomas Cummings of the Susquehanna River near Marietta, c. 1870s
(Image sold on Ebay)

Today’s post takes us to the Weekly Mariettian newspaper of December 21, 1861, and two Christmas-related items printed on its front page. First, we have a heroic tale of a dramatic ferry crossing from a generation or two before the Civil War, and even before the Susquehanna River town of Marietta got its name. The Rev. A. B. Grosh, author of the story, told a tale from local lore about how a Christmas Eve attempt presumably from the early 1800s to cross the ice-laden Susquehanna River nearly resulted in the drowning of the entire party. It’s a somewhat odd story to read, as I have trouble envisioning the mechanics of how ice chunks kept falling in their boat, but the story reminds us of how Lancaster County in the 1860s wasn’t too far removed from a situation where transportation across the Susquehanna River couldn’t be taken for granted. <Click here> to read “The Dark Christmas: A Tale of the Susquehanna.”

Also from that same page of the newspaper is a sad poem by one of Lancaster’s more prominent (and eccentric/brilliant) citizens, Simon Snyder Rathvon (bio). Born in Marietta, Rathvon by day ran a tailoring operation in Lancaster, but his true passion was entomology and the newly developing agricultural sciences. He was a prolific author, writing under the penname, “Grantellus,” and contributed frequently to Lancaster County newspapers. His poem remembers his son who had tragically drowned while playing in the Conestoga River near Lancaster in June 1861, and mourns the loss which he felt so acutely during the family’s first Christmas after the incident.  <Click Here> to read “We Shall Miss Him.”

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