Sunday, January 29, 2017

Gettysburg: Views from Seminary cupola, destroyed in 1913

        Hover on the 1863 Lutheran Theological Seminary image for a present-day view.
         (THEN: Mathew Brady  Library of Congress | NOW: John Banks, Oct. 23, 2016)

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At about 5 p.m. on Aug. 18, 1913, a "wonderful electric storm" swept over Gettysburg, causing great damage throughout the area. "Old residents of Gettysburg without exception declare Monday evening's storm or series of storms to have been the worst in their experience," a local newspaper noted the next day.

A  cropped enlargement of Brady's 1863 image
of the Lutheran Theological Seminary
shows the cupola in greater detail.
"It seemed to be one continuous performance of thunder and lightning, crash after crash," the Gettysburg Compiler reported on Aug. 20. "With it came great gusts of wind that tore up trees and the rain fell in blinding sheets."

A bungalow on Springs Avenue, near the Lutheran Theological Seminary, was struck by a "cold bolt of lightning," shattering a brick chimney. As the storm swept westward, lightning struck the barn of George W. Jacobs, killing two cattle and causing several thousands dollars' worth of damage. Later that evening, another storm wreaked havoc with a traveling circus in town, tearing its big tent to shreds and killing one of its trick horses.

"The roar and confusion in the animal tent is said to have been worth going miles to see," the Compiler reported.

But the most notable "victim" of the storm was a historic building on the great battlefield. A bolt of lightning struck the Lutheran Theological Seminary, destroying the famous cupola that was used as an observation point by Union General John Buford on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863. The four-story, brick building on Seminary Ridge also was used as a hospital by both armies.

Thankfully, the Compiler reported, "firemen bravely fought the flames and prevented further destruction of a building worth four or five fire engines." The Seminary building was protected by a slate roof, preventing the spread of the fire, and the metal floor of the cupola helped confine damage to the historic lookout point.

Impressed with the prompt response by firemen, the Lutheran Theological Seminary treasurer donated $25 to the Gettysburg Fire Company, and plans quickly were devised to restore the cupola to its original appearance. Insurance covered the cost of restoration ($764.25), which was completed in 1914.

The building now houses the excellent Seminary Ridge Museum, where, for $4 more than the seminary's donation to the Gettysburg Fire Company more than 100 years ago, you can check out the museum exhibits and get a 30-minute guided tour of the cupola.  (It's $27 if you are 65 or older.)

On a beautiful, blustery October afternoon, I shot the images below of the battlefield and town from Buford's long-ago vantage point. Click on each image to enlarge. (Hat tip Codie Eash, Seminary Ridge Museum lead visitors services assistant, for aid on direction of images.)

LOOKING NORTHWEST: Reynolds Woods in middle distance, Chambersburg Pike at right.
LOOKING SOUTHEAST: From right, Cemetery Hill (by water tower), Culp's Hill, Wolf's Hill in distance.

-- Adams (Pa.) County News, Aug. 23, 1913.
-- Gettysburg Compiler, Aug. 19, 20 and Sept. 10, 1913.
-- "Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Theological Seminary of the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States,” (Gettysburg, Pa.: Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Abdel Ross Wentz Library), May 21, 1914.


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