Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How NOT to treat a hero

Western Pennsylvania is rich with history, and rich with good stories. Over the years I have collected these stories and filed them away in the dark recesses of my mind. I did not know at the time what I was going to do with all of these tales, but later in life I did find them very effective in boring my kids to tears. When many families were taking daytrips to amusement parks and other fun spots, I dragged these poor kids to just about every historical site within 200 miles of our home. They were good sports, and proved to have a remarkable talent for recalling these educational jaunts in later years.

“Dad, today in history Mr. So and so was telling us about the Battle of Lake Erie. I already knew what happened, we talked about that.”. I did something right.

Now, my dear reader, I will use them to bore you to tears.

Speaking of Lake Erie, after the Revolutionary War this lake was to be the northern boundary of the newly formed United States. The British had agreed on this point, along with setting the Mississippi River as our western border. General Washington was just fine with this. It was taken for granted that the British would leave the area now occupied by Ohio and Eastern Indiana and head for Canada. The British in actuality did not leave, nor did they intend to do so any time soon. The trade in pelts trapped in this area was making them rich so they were in no hurry to leave. They utilized friendships with the local Indians to fight a proxy war on their behalf and supplied them with ball and powder. The Indians under Chief Little Turtle were more than happy to help because they stood to lose as much as the English if the Americans settled west. Little Turtle’s victories against the American Generals Harmar and St. Clair had given the Indians significant momentum. Enter Anthony Wayne.

“Mad” Anthony Wayne was a successful veteran of the Revolution and highly respected by Washington himself. He named Wayne to head the new “Legion of the United States” and was sent to Pittsburgh to prepare a body of men to turn the tide on Little Turtle. Wayne moved his headquarters to Cincinnati and waited for the order to attack. On September 11th 1793 Wayne began his campaign north. He drove the Indians ahead of him, and the chase ultimately ended at the Battle of Fallen Timbers just south of modern Toledo. Wayne moved south and set up Fort Wayne in Indiana, and the Indians were forced to sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. Thus ends the boring history text book lesson, now it gets interesting.

Anthony Wayne was a hero, but as most heroes that outlive their heroics do, he lived out the short time he had left with the mundane chore of overseeing the dismantling of British forts on the frontier. Late in 1796 Wayne had a serious case of gout and suffered mightily waiting for his personal doctor, J.C. Wallace, to arrive to attend to him. Wallace had served at Fallen Timbers under Wayne. Anthony Wayne died in Erie on December 15th, 1796. At his request he was buried in Erie in a wooden coffin marked with his name and date of death on the lid in brass tacks. End of story.

No. Twelve years later, in 1808, Wayne’s seriously ill daughter decided that she wanted her father’s body removed from Erie and brought back to be buried in the family cemetery plot in Radnor, Pa. She sent her brother, Isaac Wayne, to Erie in a two wheeled carriage called a sulky to bring him home. Isaac recruited none other than Dr. Wallace to assist him in this task. They went to the Old Blockhouse and dug the General up. This is where the problems began.

When the body was exhumed, it was apparent to all present that Anthony Wayne had hardly decomposed at all. The body was in amazingly good shape for twelve years of burial. Isaac couldn’t very well toss the still fleshy body into the sulky and head back to Radnor. After some heated deliberation they decided what was the best thing to do.

They got a kettle and boiled up some water. Anthony Wayne, hero, was cut up and his flesh was boiled and scraped off of the bone. The bones were put in a box on the sulky to be taken to Radnor, and the rest of him was put back in the grave in Erie. It is said that the original kettle is on display at the Erie County Historical Society, but this has been debunked.

“Mad” Anthony Wayne, hero of Fallen Timbers, occupies two graves hundreds of miles apart in Pennsylvania. It is very doubtful that this arrangement would be appreciated by Wayne, and the say on dark quiet nights around the Blockhouse in Erie you can still faintly hear the rumbling of the sulky, and the clicking of the hero’s bones.

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