letters home (continued)

My post yesterday letters home has sparked interest in Chester County genealogy buffs and thanks to Tina S. of West Chester, we have some pieces to the puzzle of my soldier letter writer, William Rapp of New Tripoli, Lehigh Couny PA.

But before then a note: I got them from a friend who purchased them at auction.

Tina first messaged me when she found more on William’s mother, Florence. This is what she said:

Hi. I have found that Florence divorced her husband and raised her son herself before 1940. …lHer parents were John A Kuntz 1854-1938 and Mary Alice Rex 1858-1945.

Florence must have been one plucky lady. Divorce for women at that time was extraordinarily difficult.

Here is her obituary:

She was a teacher, and obviously a very independent lady for her time. She lived with her son until her passing at 92. She was a teacher for 43 years!

Tina is looking for relatives we can contact. Much like Finding Your Roots on PBS. What Tina has learned via Ancestry.com is no one seems to be looking for William. Perhaps his descendants and relatives did not know he existed? Only more research will tell.

Tina discovered an article written about William in 2006 in the Morning Call.

Man’s lifetime home dates to a 1770s log cabin

HOUSE DETECTIVE

April 30, 2006|By Frank Whelan Of The Morning Call

There is a house on the edge of New Tripoli out on Decatur Road about a stone’s throw from the 19th century brick Ebenezer UCC church. A simple white shingled little place, it began its life as a log cabin. There is history here and that is my beat. They call me the house detective.

On a certain bright April morning I found myself bouncing west with the home’s owner, Jayson Boushell, 28 year old real estate guy who works with his wife, Jessica, at Countrywide Home Loans.

As the country opens up before us Boushell is telling me about the house and the unique fellow who lives there.

His name is William Rapp, and it is his story about the house I had come to hear. Although he has purchased the house, Boushell says that it was part of the agreement that Rapp would live there as long as he wanted to.

History is made rich by the people who occupy the buildings, so I was pleased for the opportunity to learn about Rapp’s life while he was an occupant of the house.

We pull up to the house and Rapp is there to greet us. He is 83 and does not get around as much as he use to. But his mind is sharp.

Rapp has lived here almost all of his life, at least since the early 1930s, in this old building. Most of that time was spent living with his mother, a school teacher who once taught him in a one room schoolhouse….Rapp had been in the service in World War II in both Europe and Asia, crossing the Rhine and waiting for that invasion of Japan that never to happened. He went to Muhlenberg College, later got a degree in industrial engineering and worked at Bethlehem Steel…..

William’s father’s name was Louis Rapp. He is a bit of a mystery.

Tina through her genealogy research discovered Louis Rapp (William’s father) was born in 1888 but was living with an Aunt & Uncle in 1900 at age 15 in Brooklyn, NY and in 1910 he is with a different family member of his mother’s. He is 22 and still in Brooklyn.

Tina is looking for 1920 to see what turns up.

Tina also through her genealogy research has NOT found the divorce of William’s parents Florence and Louis Rapp yet but they were together in 1923.

Florence then reportedly gets ill in January 1928 through April 1929. It says an attack of jaundice. We don’t see him with her after that time in 1923.

In 1930 Louis Rapp is living in Philadelphia- or Chester Pa (not sure). The WWII registration says he’s staying in Washington DC in 1942.

Louis , like the son he seems to have abandoned, also apparently signs up for WWII. Were they in Washington DC and surrounding area at the same time we wonder?

Stay tuned! I will also post more when I get through more of the letters! Initial research indicates that family members may have the surname Rex, and some quite possibly either live or used to live in Chester County.

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letters home

Sometimes I am inexplicably drawn to things. That happened today when I bought a pack of letters a son wrote to his mother throughout World War II.

His name was William Rapp. The letters are from him to his mother. Her name was Florence Rapp and she lived in New Tripoli Lehigh County.

The letters start in November of 1942 when he is at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.

The first letter I read he is telling his mother about a Veronica Lake movie he saw called “I Married a Witch”. That made me smile because I remember watching it as a little girl on the black-and-white television in my parents’ breakfast room – I loved that movie!

I have not read all the letters yet, although I have sat here obsessively reading them since I got home a little while ago.

The letters progress from being hand written on stationary to War Department V-Mail Service letters.

The V-Mail letters are like photo copies of the original letters and shrunk and mailed in tiny envelopes.

From Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum:

V-Mail or Victory mail, was a valuable tool for the military during World War II. The process, which originated in England, was the microfilming of specially designed letter sheets. Instead of using valuable cargo space to ship whole letters overseas, microfilmed copies were sent in their stead and then “blown up” at an overseas destination before being delivered to military personnel

I never knew about this mail process until I bought these letters. It’s fascinating.

William, or Billy as he sometimes signs his letters, is a prolific writer. And the letters stretch well into 1945. They go from London to France to I’m not sure where – I will learn that as I finish reading the letters.

But in these letters the soldier writes home to his mom, we learn about life in wartime Europe although I daresay it seems he sanitized the conditions somewhat to spare her feelings and keep her from worrying.

He speaks about seeing a play in London with, and a vacation pass of sorts where he went on a trip to Scotland.

We have a glimpse into a soldier’s life in France during World War II when he speaks about learning to sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground covered with pine needles.

One letter that really got to me so far was writing to his mother after he learned his grandmother had died.

Another letter, I learned he had been at Muhlenberg before war broke out.

I found his obituary. He passed away in 2007:

The Morning Call: William R. Rapp Obituary

William R. Rapp, 85, of New Tripoli, passed away on Tuesday, September 11 in his home, where he enjoyed gardening and chess. Born in Allentown, he was a son of the late Louis and Florence M. (Kuntz) Rapp. He was a 1938 graduate of Slatington High School with honors, fourth in his class and a member of the National Honor Society. Graduating with senior honors from Muhlenberg College in 1942, he was admitted to the A.S.T.P. at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and subsequently attended the Georgia Institute of Technology for one year studying mathematics and engineering. Bill served active military duty overseas in both the European and Pacific theaters of War during World War II in the Army attaining the rank of T/4 with the 3186 Signal Service Battalion. He attained a military specialty in that capacity although he saw no combat in the Pacific because the war ended before he reached Manila, Philippines.

Once he returned to the Lehigh Valley, Bill was employed by PP&L for four years being given a special training program. He was a commercial representative in Lancaster County and wrote ad copy. He was employed by Bethlehem Steel Corp. for 26 years dividing his time between industrial engineering and computer science. He was a member of Chapter 77 of the Industrial Engineering Society while employed as an industrial engineer. In computer science, he wrote FORTRAN programs for mainframes, principally I.B.M. Bill also wrote several in-house papers for Bethlehem Steel for maintenance, and also for providing for the combination mill at Saucon Mills as well as multiple machine interference factors.

He owns a copyright in a development of Ellipse Odyssey written in basic language of an Apple Computer. He was a member of New Life Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Tripoli. Survivors: There are no immediate survivors.

Services: Graveside services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday, September 14, Ebenezer Cemetery, New Tripoli. No calling hours. Arrangements by Keller Funeral Homes, New Tripoli. Contributions: To be made to the church, c/o the funeral home, P.O. Box 75, New Tripoli, PA 18066.

Published in Morning Call on Sept. 12, 2007

And now I, a perfect stranger, have some of his letters home. I don’t know their journey on their way to reach me since the obituary states he died without survivors. I’m not sure that he ever married.

There are so few of the greatest generation left. And when we speak about honoring veterans, these are the small stories we should remember. The stories of good men who throughout our history, have fought for our freedoms.

Thanks for stopping by.

path and price of freedom

I sit and reminisce once in a while.  What a long, strange trip it has been. This life we live has highs and lows, ups and downs, triumphs and sorrows.

We all lead ordinary lives and eventually something hits us and just doesn’t sit right. Then you become active where you live.  It is somewhat of a NIMBY prospect (Not in My Backyard) because you often do not realize how wrong something is until it is happening in your own backyard.

Trust me; it is far easier to just be a sheeple in your community accepting at face value verbatim whatever local politicians and power brokers tell us must be so. (You know the theory of they say it is so , so it must be so?)

Some assert that it is far easier to just vote the way you are “told” — and yes, volunteering in local elections many moons ago I literally heard someone say that as they walked an elderly person into a polling place say “Now you just vote the way we told you to.”  That very memory is one of the things that always makes me tell people to vote in all elections, including local .

You don’t realize that our vote is such a powerful voice.  Check out the candidates…and also whenever able check out who supports them financially as that always tells an interesting tale.

If you are in a group trying to enact change, never, ever back a candidate for political office when they come calling.  Ask them to take YOUR position, i.e. what are they willing to do for you? Don’t be used by politicians. They are public servants, they work for us.  That also means that anyone at any time should be able to speak to an elected official.  If they as politicians, do not have time for everyone, replace them with those who do have time. Keep replacing until you get the ones you want representing you.

I have never had the desire to run for elected office.  I don’t have the long-term stomach for the games and the inevitable deal making.  Politics however will always fascinate me and repulse me. It makes for interesting people watching, that is for sure.

I have, however, had the privilege to know some amazing elected officials in my life from the most local of levels to Harrisburg to Washington D.C.  Like me, like you, they are just people.   I have no hero worship, just appreciation for some of them because they do care and they do work darn hard to make a difference.

We live in a dangerous and somewhat crazy political climate right now.  As Americans, we have watched in horror as people have shot up schools, Congressmen on ball fields, random people in malls and movie theaters.  A week ago today we all awoke to the news that Las Vegas was the scene of a massacre engineered by a mad man.  All those poor people were doing was listening to music at a concert.

Yeah, we need to have a conversation about gun control, but NO ONE can do that CALMLY in this country.  All people and officials on both sides of the issue do is SCREAM at each other.

We live in a crazy political climate and most of what we hear out of a sitting United States President appears on Twitter.  In my opinion , as an American citizen,  I not only find the behavior embarrassing that we even have a Tweeter in Chief, but somewhat removed from everyday reality.

Along with friends I have fought eminent domain for private gain.  It was a whirlwind and we fought all the way down to Washington, D.C. alongside folks like ordinary people from Long Branch, NJ , Cramer Hill Camden NJ, Coatesville Pa (Saha Farm), and Suzette Kelo of New London, CT (as in the U.S. Supreme Court Case.)

Another time, other friends and I found ourselves the recipients of a congressional commendation for a specific volunteerism campaign we had initiated and completed.

I have done what I have done because I believe in community and a sense of greater good; because it was the right thing to do.

Along the way I have grown less idealistic and naïve.  Sadly, I can be jaded now.  But as you age and watch how bloody cruel and duplicitous human beings can be to one and other, you change.  But you have to remember the good in people, as hard as that is at times.

I am just a person.  I was not born with other than an immigrant pedigree.  Italian, Irish, and Pennsylvania German.   To me that makes me a quintessential Pennsylvanian.

I believe in our Constitution and the freedoms our founding fathers fought and bled and died for.  Yes, the same values and freedoms that subsequent generations of Americans have fought and marched and bled and died for. It seems as Americans that we have been perpetually fighting for our rights and freedoms.  But is that not the very nature of preserving and enhancing freedom?

As an American born in the birthplace of American rights and freedoms, I believe in the First Amendment.

Be independent-minded in life.   You will be glad of it.

main line airport marker dedication

I was unable to attend the Main Line Airport marker dedication ceremony yesterday, but my dear friends at the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society were kind enough to provide this photo.

Support your local and county historical societies wherever you live.  They do the good deeds, and trust me, to get even a non-Commonwealth of Pennsylvania historical marker approved, takes some doing!

Learn about the Main Line Airport HERE

And HERE

And HERE

a gift of chester county history from south dakota: learning about hiram woodyard

Above is the grave of Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.

In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”

The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:

This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.

In other paperwork, the same author continues:

Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.

 

This fascinating information would have been something my friend the late (and missed) Al Terrell, would have loved.  He and I shared another soldier (it’s how we both became interested in the site),  Joshua Johnson  (Pvt., Co. K, 45th Reg., United States Colored Troops (USCT) (Civil War). I find this to be incredibly historically significant as the army began to organize African Americans into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863.

Al was so excited this time last year when grave after grave was uncovered, including Hiram Woodyard, whom we knew had started out life as a slave.  As a freed slave he did so much, including by all accounts being a revered community leader, and he fought for a country which had originally enslaved him.

This new information (and I will embed everything shortly within this post), did not come to me via Chester County.  It came to me all the way from Winner, South Dakota, thousands of miles away!

This information started to arrive on September 12, 2017 from Eleanor Miller, who along with her sister, Grace English, once lived in East Whiteland at 416 Conestoga Road.

In the first packet of information was a letter and here is an excerpt:

Enclosed please find the papers in regards to my grandparents’ home. (Charles and Stella Rost, 418 Conestoga Road.)

I married and moved away from my home, 416 Conestoga Road, in 1967…In 2012, Malvern Patch identified the house on 414 Conestoga Road as Hiram Woodyard’s.  I believe they were incorrect….My sister and I try to visit Bacton Hill once a year.

To follow (embedded) is what Eleanor sent to me.  It is part of Hiram’s history she gained through personal research.  This is such a treasure to receive!

Ebenezer is hanging in there and one of Al’s sons still comes back and cuts the grass and weeds when he has time, but Ebenezer needs ALL of our love.  I put out the plea once again if anyone can interest the AME church in their own important history, please do.  These old souls belong to us and all of our history in Chester County as well as being crucially important historically to the AME Church and black history in general.

Say a prayer in remembrance for the old souls buried at the ruins of Ebenezer on Bacton Hill road in Frazer, and remember Al Terrell too.

Pax

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

Hiram Woodyard Chester County Paperwork

Hiram Woodyards House

The House That Hiram Built

 

preservation party with a purpose

When you go to a party at Duportail it’s alway fabulous. But it’s especially fun when it is a Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust event.

This evening was the preview party for the TPT Historic House Tour which is Saturday, September 23. (You can still buy tickets and it’s so awesome a day!)

This event is courtesy of my dear friend Pattye Benson who is President of the Trust and Innkeeper at The Great Valley House of Valley Forge.

The preview party was terrific and as always wonderful food and gracious company.

And the music. The music was fabulous! We had the pleasure of listening to the CPFA Jazz Mavericks from the Center for Performing and Fine Arts in West Chester. These young musicians were incredible!

A wonderful evening and all about historic preservation. All proceeds benefit the Living History Center at Duportail.

Remember you can still sign up for the house tour! It’s going to be amazing and there will be a stop at another favorite place – Life’s Patina at Williwbrook Farm! (It’s their fall sale weekend)