Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
" The Homestead ", unrecognizable from how it looks today, in 1866 as it was dedicated. Grant is supposedly one of the officers although Meade was there that day too. The building served as O.O. Howard's HQ 13 years before. Guessing he's in this indistinct image somewhere in the center clump. Gettysburg casualty Private Amos Humiston's , 154th New York, children, their mother possibly one of the dots floating behind the children on the right must be there, too.
Thread contains some of the awful history suffered by children in the still standing Homestead. Intent isn't to shock-horror, intent is to see hope come full circle. Gettysburg citizens did it again.
In 1866 the same station in Gettysburg, PA that welcomed Lincoln saw the arrival of more illustrious citizens.General Meade was back in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Simon Cameron, a couple of mayors, a governor and another general or two were entertained at the ( Edward ) McPherson home before retiring to recruit strength for the next day's celebration. Not happy with having risen to the challenge a few years previously, Gettysburg citizens were at it again. The Homestead, a home for orphans and initially, widows of the war was opening. Funding hadn't been difficult, how could it be with Private Amos Humiston's story a nationwide sensation? The anonymous death in July, 1863 of a man holding his children's photograph caused a nationwide search and nationwide support for the family discovered to be Humiston.
And so The Homestead, an orphanage for children of fallen men was born. The first ' matron ' was fittingly Philinda Humiston, her three children now housed where their father died. During her time there before remarrying and moving from Adams County, The Homestead fulfilled promises made. Indeed, it grew new, financial wings although the 1867 incorporation moved an onus of power to Philadelphia. It was an unwittingly fatal decision. Too much centralized power can be dangerous but it was an orphanage. Devoted to a promise made to dead soldiers everywhere because of one, a lovely monument to humanity evoked by tragedy, what could go wrong? And why would it?
This is generally accepted as an image of The Homestead's children playing in the back yard. I can't say either way?
Rosa's treatment of the children was increasingly barbaric. Her demands to be vindicated fell on extremely deaf ears as horror story after horror story was confirmed. At the time of this article, an increasingly infuriated civilian population was still demanding the situation be addressed.
In 1877 David McCaughney ( remember him? Elizabeth Thorn's bury-em-quick boss and builder of hotels to house tourists? ) wrote a letter to The Compiler you just know he regretted. In it, he claims ' two large girls ' from The Homestead were irresponsible, guilty of tearing and otherwise destroying a perfectly nice set of clothing, challenged authority and were not deserving of being believed. They'd been forced to wear boy's clothing as bizarre punishment for some infraction. . Good old reliably oleaginous David claimed they mangled their clothing and just wore boy's clothing to replace it. He paid for it, Gettysburg citizens having been made increasingly aware of a situation now apparent inside their cherished Homestead. Heck, they'd been raising holy heck over it but were powerless to act. The power to investigate lay in the Philadelphia organization. I can't tell whether their refusal to act quickly lay in McCaugney's claims the abused children fleeing The Homestead were lying or if it was so bogged down by layers of beaurocrocy it became too cumbersome for swift action.
Remember Jack Skelly? Another Gettysburg Skelly took action, the GAR being notoriously disinclined not to, when things became outrageous.
A Rosa J. Carmicheal had come to Gettysburg's famous orphanage as matron following Philinda Humiston's marriage. It didn't take long- and i'm going by civilian accounts of the era- to ascertain all was not well in the Homestead nearly from the start of her employment. Gettysburg civilians- a few big pants notwithstanding- had risen to the challenge of suffering humanity in their midst in 1863. They rose again.
Piteous cries coming from an outhouse attracted attention one cold night. A small boy was rescued, locked in as some punishment. The once pristine clothing typical of children at the home slowly became tattered, the orphans unkempt and they vanished from Gettysburg's various community gatherings and celebrations. Those ' two large girls ' escaped and their stories of the horrors endured by children inside the home were as awful as anything the town had seen since 1863. Carmichael's dismissmal was called for- instead, she pretty much barricaded herself inside the building. Refusing to budge and defensive, Rosa was permitted to stay despite the outrage now rampant among citizens. Until another Skelly war hero took action.
There are more examples of what happened inside The Homestead after Philinda's marriage and departure. A LOT more. The town had been familiar with this bright memorial to hope in their midst. It came as a shock when the tawdry, awful stories appeared one by one in the form of abused children.
It was left to the GAR and Gettysburg citizens in the end. Their sheer numbers, outrage, actions in arresting a child abuser and continued pressure made those in charge take action- and Carmicheal vanish. She did indeed vanish, poof- as if she never existed. That was probably fortunate for her- Gettysburg knew her for what she was. I can't find her and haven't tried. She's not our real history of who we are. May she rest somewhere, her story a repulsive distraction and you know she's accounting for it elsewhere.
It doesn't have to be an entirely tragic story. For a few years the pride of the town, for a few years shelter for fallen men's families, for a few years the home of the children on whose faces their father's eyes rested in his last moment on the planet, for a few years a place of refuge built by love- and it's what's best remembered. Despite the ghost tours through Rosa's cellar prison for ' bad ' kids a few laughing ghosts of the children cherished there and made welcome by an entire town remain.
We're familiar with Amos and Philinda's children and the photograph that began it all. It remains a haunting story, their home at Gettysburg as citizens opened their hearts a story of hope. The rest? Another lesson culled from time's vast vault- take care of the children. Always.