A couple of weeks or so ago, I was asked by Washington & Jefferson College to do a photo shoot at Major Happer's home for the purpose of constructing a historical marker to be permanently affixed to the inside of the house. The Major's former home serves as the Admissions House for the college who now owns the property. I was told there will be a bronze plaque with a picture to go along with it that will be installed in the main reception area just inside the front door of the building. A formal unveiling ceremony will take place in the very near future.
The photo shoot its self was uneventful, I had arrived with my "Chief of Staff," (and lovely wife) Linda with me along with my friend Jeff Bunner and several of the students that worked on the Proper Remembrance project taking time out from their vacation to attend. Setup outside on the Major's front lawn, the photographer got us all lined up and snapped away. She said she got a nice group photo of us all. The picture will live in the house for as long as it stands.
After that, we got a grand tour of the place, which is mostly offices now, but retains the charm of the original home. I had been there before, and was treated to a quick tour when I was still researching the book. This time, I tried to take special care to notice every detail and appreciate the architecture. The college has done a superb job of keeping the history and blending in the necessities of modern offices. Each of the public rooms are very tastefully and elegantly appointed in a way that showcases the original woodwork and the other features still there. Walking through, you can tell the building is solidly built, not a squeak or creak to be found.
Over the decades, the stately old house has served several owners and purposes. The Piatt family bought the home from the Happer estate after Tilly Happer passed in February 1935. The home was used as a funeral home for many years. Later, it was used as a Bed and Breakfast for awhile.
The Major had the house built in 1890 and spared little expense. A magnificent four story Queen Anne style home with turret, it has the reserved gingerbread in style at the time. A stunning and massive stained glass window with transom graced the stairway that winds it's way up the turret. From the inside, the light cascading through the beautiful glass is breathtaking. I was told it once was insured for $100,000.00. There were many other stained glass windows in the home, but some were removed by the former owners, as were some of the many fireplaces. Speaking of fireplaces. Just wow. The huge fireplace mantles on the first floor are carved from Bird's Eye maple. An expensive wood back in the day, & even more expensive today. They still have their original tile surrounds intact. Every one is different and is sized according to the room it is in. Most, if not all the woodwork in the home is still original and is the same Bird's eye maple except on the upper floors of course. The parlor entrance is a massive pocket door that still works perfectly today and is stunningly beautiful. The window frames are hand carved and even the curved turret frames are perfectly matched. Many of the windows are original and still have the hand blown, wavy glass. Simply amazing.
The exterior of the home is a real beauty. Starting with the foundation made of massive "Cleveland Stone" the building engulfs you in features and color. Even the chimneys are the very same stone. Expertly painted in period colors, the place is amazing without being too over the top, very elegant, yet welcoming as well as you walk up to the massive oak double doors. You don't realize how big this place is until you stand beside it, it's like standing beside the Lincoln Memorial.
Walking through this wonderful old house, I could almost feel the history seep into me. In my mind's eye, I could envision the Major a little awkwardly coming down the winding stairs & into the parlor. I could see him maybe lighting his pipe and selecting a good book to read for the evening. Or arriving home and crossing the stone threshold & through the massive doors and calling out to Tilly while reaching for the evening newspaper.
As the event wound down, I found myself alone out on the Major's front porch at the railing. I became lost in the 1890's, I could hear the clip clop of the horses and the jingle of the harness & the rattle of the carriages passing by. Maybe a pedestrian calling out "Hello Major!" For a mere second I could smell the faint smoke of the wood fired stoves, while I looked right next door at the First Presbyterian church that the Major was a Trustee in for fifty years. I could hear the nineteenth century sounds of the city that A. G. Happer helped lead into the twentieth century all around me. Main Street was merely a block or so away where Happer had his office for so many years. The college he attended until the Civil War broke out so many years before, was right there nearby. Wherever he gazed in any direction, Major Happer could view something good that he had a part in. People he had helped in one way or another were all around him, going about their lives in peace and prosperity.
What a wonderful place, a fitting home for a wonderful man who sought no fame or celebrity or credit, but only to help others as best he could. And that is how & why I became the "Accidental Author." It was a great day today.
Ok, so I have some good news to report today concerning the Major A. G. Happer situation. This is the first of two posts. As most of you know, Happer's house in Washington PA is now owned by Washington & Jefferson College and is used as their Admissions House. Last year, W&J agreed to have a Historical Marker placed inside the house recognizing Major Happer (who is an alum) and his accomplishments in Washington County.
I have recieved notice that they are now ready to get this done! Myself and Mr Bunner and his AP History students who have worked so hard on Project Proper Remembrance have been asked to appear for a picture shoot for the marker next week. This picture will be placed with the marker, which will be permanently affixed to the house. I am so proud of those young people & the work they have done for almost two years. And Jeff Bunner has been tireless in moving forward in the face of adversity. I am honored to be associated with these fine people, and will post more about this after the photo shoot. There will be a dedication ceremony for the marker soon, so stay tuned for more information and pictures. Kudos to W&J for keeping their word and standing up for our history and for ensuring that Major Happer receives at least some of the recognition he deserves but never sought during his lifetime.
I do have some encouraging news to report concerning the Pennsylvania State Historical Marker for Major Happer. We received a letter from Karen Galle who is the Historical Marker Program Coordinator which leads off with the following,
"I am pleased to inform you that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has given Provisional Approval for your historical marker nomination for Andrew Gardner Happer, should you comply with panel recommendations and revise and resubmit a nomination for further consideration."
"Your re submission, which should include 8 copies of a revised nomination form with additional or different documentation depending upon what is recommended in the marker panel comments, will be considered by the panel mid year, so it should be postmarked by June 30, 2018."
The panel summary showed only one issue with the application. " The person, place, event, or innovation to be marked had a significant impact on it's times, and has statewide and/or national, rather than local or regional, historical significance."
The disagreement we had was about what is a statewide and/or nationally significant event. Personally, I think the assassination of President Lincoln and his funeral train would qualify as a nationally significant event.
After a meeting with Mr Bunner and the students at Wash High, it was decided that a new and revised application would be prepared for re-submission. My job was to perform additional research into
this part of the story. Mr Bunner has sent me a copy of the new application and I have written a brand new, eighteen page addendum complete with pictures, links and other documentation showing
without question and with positive proof, that Major Happr did indeed have an impact upon Pennsylvania statewide and an important historical significance nationally as well. All aside from his
Civil War service and huge local and regional impact. I left no stone unturned. No room for misunderstanding. No possible
chance that anyone who examines this addendum, could possibly come to any conclusion other than Happer absolutely did have the statewide and/or national historical significance that the Commission claims to need for application approval. Happer actually qualifies on both counts.
Some of the included information was already provided in the first application in an addendum I provided in a "Readers Digest" form. This time however, I gave them the long & complete version with plenty of additional validation and exciting new & important information that has come to light since the first application was submitted. Not to mention every Commissioner got a copy of my four hundred page best selling book that includes much of the info as well. This time, there can be no mistakes. No excuses. They absolutely have what they say they want and need for approval.
Our new application has been sent in, on time and completely as requested. We are supposed to receive notice IF they find any problems with the application, BEFORE it's voted upon this September, giving us time to send additional info or clarify any uncertainties. So folks, it would appear we are back in the game. The PHMC has tried to reach out to us & resolve our disagreement. We have extended our hand to them in friendship in our response. We are willing to work with them to get this thing done, and forget the "late unpleasantness" that has transpired.
Hopefully, this will be approved this time, and we can provide the long overdue recognition the Major earned with selfless devotion to duty, serving others, and not caring about who gets the credit. After all, that's why I decided to write the book in the first place.
I have an update today on the status of the Major A G Happer project called "Proper Remembrance." Two days ago, I attended a meeting of most of those involved in the project.
The goal was to decide what we should do moving forward after the insane decision by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission to deny Happer's marker. Since we do have significant new information, it was decided to accept the invitation to submit another application to the PHMC next month, to include this newly emerged info & quite possibly... a few surprises as well. The new application will be reviewed by the Commission in September, & a decision rendered then.
So, we will try one last time to allow the state of Pennsylvania to do the right thing and honor Major Happer with the recognition he deserves. If this should fail, we will do this without any state involvement what so ever.
Judging by the number of phone calls, emails, and private messages of support I have received, the entire Civil War community in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is watching and waiting to see what transpires. Hopefully, the PHMC will wake up.
For those who have been following this & want to help, the person in charge of the State Historical Marker program in Harrisburg is Karen Galle. firstname.lastname@example.org You can email her & express your support for approval of the Major A G Happer marker. She's a nice lady & wants to help, so be nice.
Here's an update to my post about the Major A. G. Happer Historical Marker. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission just released the approved markers for 2018. It is a very interesting list as I knew it would be. I will have much more to say about this later but for now, peruse the list & see if you can find even ONE approved marker that is the equal of Major Happer's accomplishments. This commission is an embarrassment to Pennsylvania. The freakin' Slinky warrants a Historical Marker! Who knew!? The Philadelphia Flower Show! Hey there's a real winner there. They obviously did waaaay more in a historical context than Major Happer. Also, yet more abolitionists. I guess every one of them in PA gets a marker. This year Quaker Abolitionists are in style. The ironic marker is the D.T. Watson marker. D. T. Watson was Happers brother in law. I'm going to have a field day with this. More to come in the days ahead.
Barney Ewell (1918-1996)
Lancaster, Lancaster County
African American sprinter who won a gold and two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics. Although the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled because of WWII while Ewell was in his prime, he was able to maintain the highest level of performance at an international level to qualify for and medal at the 1948 Olympics. Member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Benjamin Lay (1682-1759)
Abington, Montgomery County
An early Quaker abolitionist, Lay wrote anti-slavery literature, boycotted products that used slave labor, demonstrated in the streets, and was vocal at Quaker meetings encouraging the
immediate abolition of slavery. Due to his activism, the Quakers became the first religious group to outlaw slaveholding by their members. He also influenced the broader abolitionist movement in the US and Great Britain.
D. T. Watson Home for Crippled Children
Leet Township, Allegheny County
Facility at which patients were first to receive the Salk polio vaccine. By the 1950s it was among the nation’s preeminent facilities that treated children with polio and provided physical rehabilitation. Medical Director Dr. Jessie Wright worked closely with Jonas Salk to develop a safe and effective polio vaccine.
Eddystone Rifle Plant
Eddystone, Delaware County
This 34-acre facility supplied nearly half of all infantry weapons issued to US forces during WWI, as well as over 600,000 rifles for the British army. It was the largest munitions plant in the US during WWI, employing 15,000 workers, 20% of them women.
Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County
Creator of the Joe Palooka comic strip that was syndicated nationwide for more than 50 years. Palooka was a prize fighting, clean living hero. The comic strip gained popularity during WWII, as the Palooka character enlisted in the Army. The strip served to encourage recruitment and to boost morale among American troops. It also served as a tool to sell war bonds and encouraged support of the war effort.
Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall (1806-1882), (1807-1889)
Chadds Ford, Chester County
Quaker abolitionists who were active with the Underground Railroad, collaborating with Thomas Garrett and Harriet Tubman. The Mendenhalls were charter members of the Longwood Progressive Meeting, which broke from the more traditional Old Kennett Meeting in 1853 due to their anti-slavery activism. The meeting hosted national abolitionist speakers such as Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison. Dinah was part of a delegation that met with President Lincoln to advocate for the abolition of slavery just 6 months before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
McAllister Family of Opticians
Beginning in 1799, John McAllister began selling spectacles at his shop in Philadelphia. He became a skilled optician and clients included presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson, as well as other prominent individuals locally and throughout the country. John, Jr. was instrumental in advances in photography. John, Jr., and William McAllister worked and taught at the pioneering Wills Eye Institute. Five generations maintained this distinguished legacy through the mid-20th century.
John Philip Boehm (1683-1749)
Blue Bell, Montgomery County
Founder of the German Reformed Church in America, which developed into the modern day United Church of Christ. One of the most important aspects of his work was establishing governance for churches. He developed a church constitution 60 years prior to the US Constitution. He founded twelve churches and served at another eight as pastor.
Lois Weber (1879-1939)
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
The first American woman film director and a pioneer in early film making. In the era of silent films, she mastered superimposition, double exposures, and split screens to convey thoughts and ideas rather than words on title cards. She also used the nude female figure in the 1915 film Hypocrites and took on progressive and provocative topics, inciting both censorship and artistic praise.
Oliver Pollock (1737-1823)
Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County
A successful merchant and major financier of the American Revolution, Pollock endured bankruptcy and imprisonment. He became agent of the Continental Congress in the Spanish territory of New Orleans and became a friend of Governor Bernardo Galvez, who sent supplies to the Continental Army. Pollock accompanied Galvez in raids against the British on the eastern border. He is credited with financing the 1778 Illinois expedition of George Rogers Clark as well as that of James Willing against Loyalists on the lower Mississippi.
Philadelphia Flower Show
The largest and longest running horticultural event in the nation, the Philadelphia Flower Show features displays by the world’s premier floral and landscape designers. Throughout its history this event has introduced many little-known species. At the inaugural show in 1829, the poinsettia was introduced to the American public. It has been honored multiple times as best in the world by the International Festivals and Events Association.
Richard Moore (1793-1875)
Quakertown, Bucks County
A Quaker abolitionist, active with the Underground Railroad. Moore’s home was a major station on the network. Moore claimed to have assisted more than 600 fugitive slaves in their escape, including William Parker who was involved in the Christiana Riot. Moore also helped a number of fugitives to find jobs and set up residence in Quakertown.
Ruth Plumly Thompson (1891-1976)
Author of 19 Wizard of Oz books, following the death of creator L. Frank Baum. Having earned a reputation as a talented author of children’s literature, Baum’s publisher solicited her to continue the official Oz series. She wrote one Oz book per year from 1921 through 1939, maintaining the series’ popularity through the release of the classic film.
Clifton Heights, Delaware County
Ubiquitous American toy invented by mechanical engineer Richard James in 1943. Following Mr. James’ religious conversion and nearly bankrupting the company in the early 1960s, his wife divorced him. He relocated to Bolivia and Betty James took over the business and turned it into a multi-million-dollar company with international distribution. She was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Slinky was listed on the Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys” for the 20th century.
Penn Twp., Chester County
Country and Bluegrass music venue that operated for over 50 years. Some of the biggest names in the business played here and it became one of the premier venues outside of Nashville. This venue helped to spread the popularity of this type of music nationwide. By the 1980s the mailing list included individuals in 48 states. Bluegrass icon Ola Belle Reed played here for over 20 years with the Sunset Park house band.
William J. McKnight, M.D.
Brookville, Jefferson County
Doctor, legislator and historian, McKnight introduced an Act in 1883 while senator that legalized human dissection, provided for unclaimed bodies to be distributed to medical schools for anatomical study, and made grave robbery illegal. The act served to advance the field of medicine and by extension, physical anthropology and forensic science. McKnight also authored several county histories and the History of Northwestern PA.
Jim's latest book is The Bloody Eleventh: A Regimental History. Released on November 1st 2015 it is flying off the shelves on Amazon.com! Regimental histories have always been popular with Civil War enthusiasts, and this one really hits the mark. Loaded with over 80 period photos and 30 battle maps, it makes it easy to follow along with this amazing story.
The Kindle edition has a special bonus section with additional pictures and maps that aren't in the print edition!
Available worldwide on Amazon.com
Amazon.com 5 Stars!
"This book is not the usual Civil War soldier book filled with dry facts and figures. This book
is a fantastic story about a soldier who had a remarkable military service and went on to do great things afterward. This book is great for the hardcore Civil War buff and the newbie as well, or
anyone interested in Washington County, PA. There are small, fun stories sprinkled throughout the book, told by a member of the 11th Pennsylvania, that really add to the enjoyment. There are
areas that tell lots of information that you don't find in most Civil War books, that help the novice understand exactly what's going on and why. The hardcore buff will enjoy the details
Having the battles mostly as told by the men who were there was an interesting way of telling that part of the story. The author backs up his facts with pages of endnotes. I don't want to give too much away, but this story would make a great TV miniseries. It's unbelievable that the Major is unknown today. There should be a statue of him somewhere."
Great Read! 5 Stars!
We are using this book in our AP United States History course. This is a wonderful account of a man who was a hero, yet has not been recognized for his great and positive efforts in our local community's storied history.
iTunes 5 Stars!
"As a longtime fan of the Civil War and as a lover of personal tales in wartime this book hits a sweet spot for me."
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