(7/20) With the advances in forensic technology is it
possible for blood shed 143 years ago to be detected by a Crime Scene Unit
investigator today? Det. Lt. Nicholas A. Paonessa of the Niagara Falls Police
Department wanted to know the answer and contacted Nancie W. Gudmestad,
Director of the Shriver House Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The Civil War was in its third year in July, 1863, when
General Lee’s Confederate forces waged their first major battle in the north.
Confederate sharpshooters commandeered the home of George and Hettie Shriver
setting up a snipers’ nest in the attic. An eyewitness described how the
soldiers knocked two port-holes through the brick wall of the Shriver’s home to
fire upon their Union adversaries on Cemetery Hill. He described the scene in
the Shrivers’ attic to Tillie Pierce Alleman, the Shrivers’ neighbor, "One of
these sharp-shooters threw up his arms, and fell back upon the garret floor. .
.afterward they carried a dead soldier out the back way. . ." At least two
soldiers are confirmed to have been killed in the Shrivers’ home that day.
Today the Shriver House Museum is dedicated to preserving the civilian side of
the Battle of Gettysburg.
Det. Lt. Paonessa prepared the Bluestar® Forensic
latent blood reagent and saturated the floorboards in the Shrivers’ attic.
After testing an inconspicuous area, he sprayed the areas immediately below
both port-holes where the Confederates fired their muskets in July, 1863. The
results were astonishing! Almost 143 years after the battle and the residue of
blood was still evident making this the oldest blood discovered using Bluestar®
forensics. The floor boards below both port-holes produced a bright green
luminescence confirming the presence of blood. Numerous bright spots, ranging
from ¼" to ¾" in diameter, revealed evidence of blood splatter, and the shadow
of a wiping motion could be observed produced by the cleaning up of the
blood-laden scene. Where the floor boards joined together revealed the
brightest luminescence due to blood running through the slight gaps between the
boards. Photographs of the results can be viewed on the Shriver House Museum’s
Det. Lt. Paonessa took several small samples from the
floorboards for further lab testing. He also took samples from a bottle of
civil war era medicine and jar of salve that were found hidden under the attic
floorboards to be analyzed as well. It is believed that the 5th Alabama
occupied the attic and plans are underway to take a small sample of the
floorboard for DNA testing.
The Shriver House Museum is grateful for the
opportunity to work with Det. Lt. Paonessa. He is pleased to learn that the
presence of blood more than 140 years old can still be detected and, of course,
the Shriver House Museum is pleased to have scientific evidence of the struggle
that took place in the attic of the Shriver's home.
Painstakingly restored in 1996, the Shriver House
Museum is now open to the public as a heritage museum. Tours offer special
insight into the lives of the people of Gettysburg and how the Civil War, and
in particular the Battle of Gettysburg, affected them. The story is told
through the eyes of the George and Hettie Shriver and their two children, Sadie
(7) and Mollie (5), whose home was just a few months old when the Civil War
started. The tour also gives a glimpse into the lifestyles, customs, and
furnishings of the 1860’s.
The Shriver House Museum has earned numerous awards
including the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Historic
Preservation Award. The Museum has been used as a filming site for PBS, A&E,
HGTV, BBC, and The History Channel. For additional information on the Shriver
House Museum or photos of the investigation, please call 717-337-2800 or visit