My Visit to the Jennie Wade House

I have lived near Gettysburg for almost twelve years and have never really “toured” Gettysburg.  So I thought it would be fun to checkout a local legend I had heard about from a few customers of mine at the restaurant I waitress at.

A few single ladies came into eat a few months ago.  I asked them what brought them to Gettysburg and they said that they drove all the way here (I forget where they said they were from) just to stick their finger in the bullet hole at the Jennie Wade house to see if the legend actually worked.  “What legend?” I asked them.  Well the nice ladies told me that there is a legend that says if a single woman places her ring finger in the bullet hole in the door, she will receive a marriage proposal within a year!  Wow, I thought this was pretty interesting.  I’m slightly superstitious, but I don’t know about this one.

Well the subject never came up again until my first semester at college when I had the opportunity to write a cover story for my feature writing class.  Ghost stories and legends always interested me so I thought back to the legend that the ladies a few months back had told me about.  I mentioned the subject idea to a friend of mine at work, Nancy, and she told me that her and her friends went to the Jennie house and stuck their finger in the hole too!  She then smiled and said two weeks after they did it, her boyfriend of two years, Adam, who we both worked with, proposed to her at the beach.  Oh, I definitely need to write a story about this one, I thought.

Well I wasn’t sure about sticking my finger in the hole, but I thought, why the heck not?  Might make for a nice spin on my story by saying I did it too…let’s see what happens lol.  So I did the  tour thing, which only costs $7 by the way!  My tour guide, Sara Meyers, a History Major from Penn State University, was very friendly.  The lady who I had spoken to on the phone said she would be great to talk to if I had any questions, because she was a history major and all.

I was a little nervous at first, as I showed up with my little voice recorder, and camera phone hehe.  I pulled in to an empty parking space in front of the Jennie Wade House.  Most of the parking lot seemed to be empty, which I was kind of glad to see, that way I could have the whole place to myself.

I walked up to the gift shop doors, opened them and made my way to the front desk where I was greeted by a girl named Sara Meyers, my tour guide who I spoke about previously.  I bought my ticket, then followed Myers next door as she lead us into the Jennie Wade house and began the tour in the first room of the home, called the parlor.  Luckily it was only me on the tour so I had a chance to talk one on one and walk through the house taking pictures without worrying about tourists getting in my snapshots lol.

I noticed an old wooden framed bed in the corner of the room, which I thought was unusual for a bed to be in a living room.  Myers explained that during the time of the war, Georgia, Jennie’s older sister, had just given birth to her son a few days earlier.  The family had moved her bed down into the parlor where her and her baby would be safe, and where the family could keep an eye on her.

I noticed bullet holes in the fireplace mantel next to the bed posts.  Myers told me that many stray bullets came through the windows during the battle and struck the mantel, and even the bed post as Georgia lay in bed after her son was born.  Wallpaper now covers the once white-washed walls, covering the bullet holes that struck them years ago.  Myers and I made our way from the parlor into the small kitchen in the back of the house.  My lovely tour guide then began to tell me the story of Jennie’s last day on earth that fateful July morning.

Jennie Wade had been kneading biscuit dough for Union soldiers in her sister Georgia’s kitchen the morning of July 3rd.  Jennie and her family had not been staying with the sister very long, see the battle had made its way up through town after the Union had lost, so Jennie and her family went to stay with the sister, where they thought it would be safer from war.  Jennie would have been kneading biscuits on her dough tray in the middle of the kitchen floor, but because of gun shots going off outside of her sister’s home, she decided to pull her dough tray behind the kitchen door and work on her biscuits there, thinking she would be safe from stray bullets.

However, that July morning at approximately eight thirty in the morning, shots were fired, and a stray bullet that had been fired somewhere near the Farnsworth House down on Baltimore Street punched through the kitchen door, into Jennie’s left shoulder-blade, then pierced her heart, killing her instantly.  This event marked Jennie as being the only civilian casualty during those three days of battle in Gettysburg.

Of course I had to ask Sara about the legend behind the bullet hole.  The legend that has single women coming from all over the country, to try their chance at love and luck.  Myers told me about twenty to thirty woman a year send emails and letters saying that the legend actually works!  Wow!  Posted on the door itself was a letter from a woman explaining her love story.  So I tried it out, took a picture of me sticking my finger in the door.

According to Myers, many women come every year to put their ring finger in the bullet hole. Emails and letters from woman who have actually tried doing it and have gotten married or engaged have been received too, Myers explains. Maybe the legend lies in the fact that the bullet came through the very door the legend is attached too, and went through her heart.

“A lot of reason why I think people have the legend here on the door is because this is the last door it [the bullet] went through before it struck Jenny and killed her,” Myers said.

 

I should have brought a few of my single girl friends with me, but I still had fun.  It’s kind of bittersweet what happened to poor Jennie.  She had a sweetheart named Jack Skelly who was injured at the battle in Winchester, and wound up dying from his wounds.  When Jennie was killed as the result of a stray bullet to the heart, she was found with a picture of her lover in her apron pocket.  Some say that if he wouldn’t have died and Jennie wouldn’t have been killed, that the two would have wound up getting married.  It’s like a tale of star-crossed lovers who couldn’t be together in this life, but in the afterlife.  They’re actually buried near each other at the Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.  Some say this is how the legend began with the love story of Jennie and Jack.

“A lot of people say if Jack would have gotten out and Jenny would have survived they would have ended up getting married,” Myers said.

Although the love story was cute indeed, and tragic, I was just as interested in the history of the story of Jennie’s death and the war as well.  Continuing my tour, Sara Myers, my guide, said the was going to press a button, leaving me with a talking soldier replica to finish out my tour.  As she exited the room, a light lit up the wax figure of a civil war soldier, as he began talk about the morning of July 3rd, and the screams that came from Georgia’s house that day.  As I listened, I made my way back into the parlor, snapping shots of the bullet hole sin the mantel and the time period furniture.

I eventually made my way up the narrow creaky steps leading to the upstairs rooms.  The window I passed by as I got to the top floor had original rippled glass paneling.  The floor boards, as Sara explained earlier, were the original floors, as the downstairs floor were not.  The first bedroom I walked in, there were only two, it’s a small house, had a few time period furniture pieces in it.  The sign on the wall read that during the war, the rooms upstairs were used for storage only.

Making my way into the next bedroom, I noticed a huge whole in the wall where you could see right through into the other half of the house where the McClain’s lived!  The hole had been the result of a shell that came through the roof of the house just days before.  I climbed through the hole in the wall and checked out the other two rooms on the McClain’s side of the house.  Skipping down the stairs to the kitchen, there were a bunch more time period pieces of furniture and lots of photos hanging on the walls.  The pictures were of the Wade family, one of the blood stained floor board that Jennie bled on, and letters from Jack Skully that were framed and hung on the kitchen door.

I wandered around for a bit, I walked outside, and followed the steps leading down to the basement.  The cellar was damp and musky, giving off an eery feeling.  It was pretty dark down there, so I took a few pictures of the spot where the soldiers who found Jennie had laid her body to rest.  In the back part of the cellar, there were a few photos hanging on the wall of orbs and paranormal investigations.  After about ten minutes, I wrapped up my tour and made my way back into the gift shop to thank Sara for the tour and to look around a bit at all the souvenirs.  What a fun thing to check out if you’re ever in Gettysburg.  A neat little story yet tragic and lovely at the same time!

Check out my link at the bottom of my blogroll on the main page for more info!

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