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Historic portrait returns to Emmitsburg

Rick Fulton
Gettysburg Times


Members of Emmitsburg Town Council gather near a portrait believed to be that of William Cole Emmit, son and grandson of the founders of Emmitsburg. The portrait was presented to council at Tuesday nightís meeting. Council members accepting the gift are, from left: Glenn Blanchard, President Chris Staiger, Denise Etris, Joyce Rosensteel and Clifford Sweeney.

(9/3) A one-of-a-kind portrait mostly likely representing the son of the founder of Emmitsburg was presented to the town Tuesday during the town council meeting.

The painting is represented to be that of William Cole Emmit, son of William Emmit, the founder and namesake of the North Frederick County community.

Michael Hillman, president of the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society, who presented the painting to the town Tuesday evening, was instrumental in arranging for the return of the painting to the town.

Hillman advised the council that there is always a chance that somewhere down the line some future historian might challenge the paintingís identity because there is nothing on the painting that states the image is of William Cole Emmit.

However, the portrait came with documentation, including a letter preserved from Emmitís niece describing who is in the painting and Emmitís background.

As a precaution, Hillman advised, "Letís leave the door open on that (that the painting is beyond reasonable doubt a portrait of Emmit)."

Council President Christopher V. Staiger thanked Hillman for the presentation and efforts in working out the transfer of ownership involved.

"We greatly appreciate your help and tenacity," Staiger said.

The donation follows the trail of a 2002 letter requesting information sent to an incorrect address for the historical society by Madeleine Fisher, Audubon, Pa., seeking information on a painting that had been in the family and reportedly depicted William Cole Emmit.

Hillman eventually contacted Fisher and the process was begun to acquire the painting for the town.

The portrait shows the individual believed to be Emmit wearing a Jacksonian Period military uniform.

Hillman now believes the uniform reflected an honorary title of major that had been bestowed on Emmit, possibly by Governor Stokes of North Carolina, Emmitís father-in-law.

The portrait came into the Fisher family during the late 1800s and had remained in the family ever since.

"Itís been in her family for three generations," Hillman stated.

Fisher was adamant that she wanted the town to have the painting.

"She had it appraised Ė the picture and frame Ė at thousands of dollars," Hillman said previously, "but her goal was she wanted to return it to the people of Emmitsburg."

The Fisher family donated the portrait without compensation.

The portrait was hung Tuesday in the town meeting room as soon as it was presented, between two original maps of the lands that became Emmitsburg.

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