The Haunting of Lock 49 East

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Monday, July, 14 2014 11:52:54 pm   , 758 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 43271 views

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, August 17, 1875, following a trolley ride to near the Harrisburg (Penn Street) Bridge, Louisa Bissinger of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, walked with her three children, Lillie (age 9), Mollie (age 6), and Philip (age 3), across the bridge and then two miles down the Union Canal towpath to lock number 49 East (having told them they were going on a picnic). At the lock, she loaded the basket with rocks, some of which she had got the children to gather along the way. Then she tied the basket to her waist, held her unsuspecting children tightly to her, and plunged with them into the murky waters of the canal. Though Louisa, weighed down by the basket of stones, sank immediately, the children struggled to stay afloat.

A witness to the event, who could not swim, ran for a boat at nearby Gring's Mill, across, on the west side of, Tulpehocken Creek, but ultimately he reached them too late. Louisa and her children were drowned.

Louisa's commission of this her final desperate act came about as the culmination to her husband's longtime "undo respect" toward her and his open courtship of another woman whom he eventually brought into their home. A newspaper story, date-lined "Reading, Pa., August 21," explained that an argument had led to Louisa being ordered from the house and told to take the two girls, but to leave their brother, who was the youngest. Expecting her fourth child, a fact not known to most others until after the tragedy, and determined that she would not let another woman raise her children, Louisa decided to kill herself as well as her offspring.

Captain Philip Bissinger, the husband, long a respected, prominent, and prosperous member of the community nonetheless had to be placed under police protection soon after the drownings and was nearly killed by members of the procession of about a thousand persons who had attended the funeral. "When the bodies were lowered into the graves," the newspaper reported, "the people hooted Bissinger, and made a rush for him." Only the quick action by policemen assigned for the occasion saved his life. He was hurriedly placed into a carriage and taken away. A shot had been fired before then and yet another was fired as the vehicle reached the cemetery gate. Later, in an attempt to defend himself from public calumny, Bissinger wrote the newspaper that it was his wife who was to blame for listening to what he said were baseless rumors concerning extramarital affairs. Fred Eben, Captain Bissinger's former brother-in-law, answered Bissinger's remarks to the press, calling him "the murderer of my sister and your four children."

Louisa and the three children she drowned that sad summer day are buried in Reading in the Charles Evans Cemetery, next to the graves of two of her three other children who died before the tragic murder-suicide. Philip Bissinger remarried, and he and his second wife are buried in the row of graves adjacent to the graves of his first wife and children.

It is said that the ghosts of Louisa and her children haunt the towpath near the lock. The legend states that since the time of the tragedy, people walking the towpath have sometimes seen Louisa and her children gathering stones. The spirits vanish as the viewer watches them. Others have reported hearing children's voices in the vicinity of the lock, as well as cries for help which cease when they approach near the site of the drownings. Charles J. Adams III, an Exeter Township author who has written much about ghosts in Berks County and environs, writing in Ghost Stories of Berks County (1982), related his attempt to try to investigate the presence of ghosts at the lock. Disappointed by the lack of spectral evidence, he and several reporters who had accompanied him were leaving the area when suddenly one reporter clutched his chest and was unable to breathe or speak. Adams conjectured that the event could have been the result of a spirit attempting to enter the reporter's body.

Today the Union Canal is dry; however, the Berks County Parks Department maintains the towpath as part of its facilities for jogging and cycling. The park would be an interesting and enjoyable place to visit. Who knows, it may also be a place where you can see a ghost!

Illustrations: 1) Louisa Bissinger 2) Captain Philip Bissinger 3) Gravestones of Louisa and her children: L to R: Mother, Mollie C., Lillie, Philip, Infant, Louis P. 4) Graves of Captain Philip Bissinger and second wife.

Maypops (Passiflora incarnata)

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Wednesday, July, 02 2014 07:45:46 pm   , 609 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 194232 views

One of the most beautiful, intricate, and complex flowers seen this time of year throughout the southern area of the United States is that of the Maypop (or Purple Passionflower) plant, Passiflora incarnata, one of the more than 500 species of the genus Passiflora. The Maypop is a fast-growing perennial herbaceous climbing vine with clinging tendrils, large, trilobed (trident-shaped) leaves, and spectacularly-colored blooms, some of which give rise to an edible, egg-shaped, berry-like fruit, which contains an abundance of gelatinously covered seeds.

One of nine species of Passiflora native to the continental United States, the Maypop ranges from Texas in the south and west, northward to Kansas, thence east to Pennsylvania, south to Florida, and west to Texas, inclusive of all states within that perimeter. The Maypop is a subtropical representative of its particular plant family and thus can withstand cold temperatures down to -20C (-4F) before the roots die.

The most notable feature of these hardy perennial plants is their amazingly complex and beautiful flowers, called "passion flowers" by 16th-century Spanish missionaries, thus the name, Passifloraceae, for the family, and Passiflora, for the genus. The different components of the fascinating flowers were seen by the missionaries as symbolic of the crucifixion of Jesus: the ten sepals and petals represented ten apostles (excluding Judas and Peter, one who betrayed and one who denied), the colorful filaments were the crown of thorns, the three stigmas represented the three nails which fastened the Christ to the cross, and the five anthers were the five wounds he received during the crucifixion.

The five sepals and five petals open wide and flat underneath rings of variegated filaments that surround a central stalk which bears the ovary and stamens. The five sepals are green on the underside of the bloom but white on their top sides, thus giving the appearance of additional petals. The actual petals range from a light blue to white.

The flowers are rather too large and complex for pollination by honey bees, but larger bees such as carpenter bees and bumble bees have an easier time of it and are particularly attracted to the spectacular blooms of the Maypop.

Why are they called "Maypop"? Some online sources say the name combines the month the flowers first bloom (though here in central-coastal Texas, they are mostly first seen in June) and the sound one hears when one steps on the rind-enclosed fruits, which are actually a berry, being composed of numerous seeds (white while the rind is still green; black once the rind turns a yellowish-brown and begins to shrivel before ultimately drying out completely, whereupon it releases the seeds).

The fruit (including the rind and seeds) is edible and the pulp-covered seeds make a tasty juicy snack on hot summer days. The green rinds, when used for food are best cooked, since too many eaten raw can burn the mouth. (Young seeds of the immature fruits can be eaten. When the fruits ripen, the seeds, of course, get tougher, so be careful how you dispose of them or you'll have a yard filled with Maypop plants. By the way, if you have Maypop planted along a fence, you can control their spread by mowing them where you do not want them growing, or by simply pulling and snapping off the unwanted plants.) The fruits can be made into jelly, though I have not tried making any. The vines attract and feed a variety of insects, particularly the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia), the Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), and the Julia Butterfly (Dryas iulia).

USDA map showing the native range of Maypops (Passiflora incarnata)

Wild Irises of Texas

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Monday, April, 14 2014 02:23:03 am   , 320 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 37382 views

To me some of the most spectacular wildflowers are irises, which are now blooming throughout this coastal area of Texas along the banks of rivers, streams, and lakes, especially small shallow bodies of water commonly called flag ponds.

According to the website The Biota of North America Program, Texas has five native species of wild iris (often called "flags") growing wild in many parts of the state. The native North American species growing wild in Texas are the following:

  • Iris brevicaulis (also known as the Zigzag Iris)
  • Iris fulva (commonly called the Copper Iris or Red Flag)
  • Iris giganticaerulea (known as the Giant Blue Iris or Giant Blue Flag)
  • Iris virginica (also called the Great Blue Flag or Southern Blue Flag)
  • Iris x flexicaulis (sometimes called Iris hexagona var. flexicaulis or Iris flexicaulis, an apparently naturally-occurring cross of brevicaulis and giganticaerulea)

Barbara Medford, writing for the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists only four Texas natives: "Iris brevicaulis (zigzag iris), Iris fulva (copper iris), Iris hexagona (Dixie iris), and Iris virginica (Virginia iris)." Problematic for me is that the bonap site page on irises shows the Dixie iris as native to Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Medford does not list the Giant Blue Iris as a Texas native. Also, if Iris x flexicaulis is not related to the Dixie Iris, should they both be called Iris hexagona? (Confusing! And why I am showing pictures here of the irises that have been growing on the slough I live on, with no attempt made to identify them by scientific or even common names.)

Texas also has an Old World species, Iris pseudacorus (referred to as the yellow flag, yellow iris, or water flag), growing wild, as do many other states. These exotics are growing also on the slough. They were brought here from a neighboring slough where they were growing wild.

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