Jennie White had a knack for scaring small children.
Garbed in a dress the color of her name, she glided like a ghost through downtown Carlisle, causing little boys and girls to scatter in all directions.
An old-timer looking back 40 years described White as “a lunatic from the poorhouse” – weird in the way she wore a man’s high fur hat atop her head. The Sentinel published the anonymous man’s memories on June 30, 1887.
Then as now, 1840s Carlisle had its cast of characters – a unique blend of personalities that left behind lasting impressions that carried on for generations.
The tale of Old Krofty
Some characters developed into local institutions – commonplace fixtures among the crowd of faces milling through the bustle of a busy county seat. Mary Kraftaen was one such person.
Known by local residents as “Old Krofty,” she was 81 when she died on July 4, 1860, according to her obituary published in The Herald newspaper in Carlisle. She was born in February 1780 in Ettingen in what was then the Duchy of Wurttemberg – later a part of Germany.
For over 30 years, Kraftaen kept a vendor space at the downtown market on the southeast corner of the Square in Carlisle. Back then, the market was a series of stalls open to the weather. The large Victorian building is what present-day residents may remember as the Market House, which was built in 1878 and demolished in 1952.
Regardless of the heat or cold, Kraftaen “kept her seat ... dispensing fruit, cakes and taffy to young and old,” her obituary reads. In recalling his years growing up in Carlisle, the unnamed man of 1887 mentioned how Mrs. Krofty used to keep her feet warm in winter with a pot burning charcoal.
“By dint of close saving, she had acquired considerable property, and some years ago, she made a will bequeathing the house in which she resided to the German Lutheran congregation as a parsonage,” the obituary reads. “This will, at her request, was placed in the corner stone of the church ... and on Monday last (July 9), the wall of the church was opened and the will obtained.”
Local historian Merri Lou Schaumann researched Kraftaen for an online article she wrote for the Elizabeth V. and George F. Gardner Digital Library of the Cumberland County Historical Society.
In the article, Schaumann identified Mary as the widow of Lewis Croft, who operated a distillery on North East Street before he died between 1826 and 1830. Mary eventually moved to East Pomfret Street where she resided at the time of the 1850 census. Her home was across from the future site of the German Lutheran Church, which was built in 1854 at the northwest corner of Pomfret and Bedford streets.
But there were other female entrepreneurs operating in 1840s Carlisle. The man, who previously lived in Carlisle, recalled how Mrs. Bolinger kept a small needle and thread store where she sat behind the counter with knitting in hand looking over the top of her glasses every time a customer walked in. He remembered how Mrs. Sanno had a different approach to greeting the public who stopped at her small variety shop. She would promptly answer the door each time the little bell jingled a new arrival.
Mrs. Swartz was known for her popular confectionary and reportedly made the best ginger snap cookies in the world. She may have had competition from Mrs. Fought, who sold beer and mead, and, for the price of a single penny, the largest ginger cake in town, the man recalled.
The men in town were characters in their own right. Edward “Ned” Armor operated a military museum that included shot and shell, old swords and muskets. He believed a military life was the greatest calling on earth. Armor was often seen dressed in a uniform rich with gold-tassel epaulets, gold lace and brass buttons. Astride “a fiery charger,” he sported a plumed chapeau and a sword that dangled from a scabbard on his belt.
As Armor prepared for war, there was already open hostility between the editors of cross-town newspaper rivals The Herald and The American Volunteer. It got so bad it almost provoked a duel before the men called an uneasy truce and even had a laugh over a funny story told by The Herald editor.
That editor was walking in Carlisle one day when he heard a dreadful noise coming from a house. Chivalry kicked in and the editor charged inside only to find a husband and wife in the midst of a domestic dispute. Just then, the couple called their own truce and turned on her would-be rescuer who barely escaped with his life and hardly any clothes on his back.
In the article, the prior resident remembered another close call where local residents cut down a black man named Tom who was trying to hang himself. Tom was later brought before Squire Jacob Todd on charges his suicide attempt created a public disturbance. Very little time must have elapsed because Tom still had the noose around his neck when he stood before Todd in judgment.
Then there was the story of Pompey Jim, an escaped slave the man described as having a “dumpy body, bandy legs and a bald head.”
“He was a regular church-goer,” the 1887 article reads. “He always sat at the end of the gallery next to the pulpit of the old Methodist church. The first thing he did was to place carefully his cent on top of the railing for the penny collection.”
Pompey Jim would then say his prayers before listening to the sermon. Big tear drops would form on his face no matter the topic of that Sunday’s teaching, according to the article.
The man also remembered Henry Whitmore not only as a janitor at Dickinson College, but also as the “religious mono-maniac” who once threw himself head over heels down a long flight of stairs after a spectral voice told him he would be spared by God. Sure enough, Whitmore landed on his feet unhurt on the floor below.
Then there was George Baggs, the so-called “crazy man” who was so paranoid about being touched by a black person that he wore clothes and a hat dyed black on one side and white on the other. “He used to sing almost the middle of the street ‘Glow! Glow! Giddly! Glow!’ and knocked hither and thither the clods with a heavy stick.”
Despite his strange behavior, Baggs had some responsibility ... at least from his own point of view. “In his fancy, he was the market master and collected pennies every market day as rent from butchers and others,” the man recalled. But Baggs was also an opportunist who would claim any chicken, duck or turkey that was smothered or frozen to death on market day.
“He cooked such foul afterwards in the open air at the edge of town in his little iron pot,” the man recalled.
Other downtown characters included:
- “Old George” Keigley, a stocking weaver who ran a junk shop on the side. He had a tendency to buy very old things to resale at outrageous prices for an immense profit.
- Archibald “Archy” Loudon, a book binder and seller who used to purchase rags from residents at a fair price before throwing the rags into his cellar through a trapdoor behind his counter.
- Jacob Squires, a Methodist minister who used to preach the most profound sermons from an old brick meeting house on Church Alley.