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The Recluse of Huckleís Field

Historical Society Note: We are currently attempting to verify the Historical accuracy of this story.  As we uncover relevant material, such as the location of Huckel's Field, we will incorporate it into this web page.

Strange things happen, not in one State, county, city or town, but everywhere. Could we draw aside the curtain of many families or individuals, the things secreted and hid from view of the public would astonish us. There are suspicions resting upon many; nothing more than a suspicion develops; pry into these secrets as much as we will, they remain secrets still. Although voluntarily at some future time these suspected confide the secret to others, secrets never intended to be made known. This will be the last act of John Hartel who appears as the leading character in this written drama.

His parents nursed him carefully, educated him and provided him with a competency, dying when he arrived at his majority; he entered the arena of pleasure, he sought the fountains that quenched his varied thirsts; he ran with the multitude that eagerly traveled from country to country until he had surfeit and became morose, and society lost sight of him. When his friends and companions asked for him, the answer was, John Hartel cannot be found. Thus time went on, until his name was mentioned no more; his gifts to charity were missed, his singing and laughing in the social circle and club, his genial manner and ready wit, all were a note that was sung; no echo, no response. Take notice, the scene changes from the metropolis to a rural one. One day there drove into the town of Emmitsburg, Maryland, a man of thirty, well groomed, his general appearance indicating his social standing, his companion a man his senior, a different type, a business man, the driver a black man. Stopping over night at the Spangler hotel. In the morning they drove off, in the evening returning; this they kept up for days, when they disappeared as suddenly as they came, leaving the people to wonder who they were and what their business was.

In a few days two men, one heavy set the other rather taller than the ordinary man, and of slight build, both past middle life, came to Emmitsburg. After a few days spent walking around the town, they drove through the mountains and ascertained who owned Huckle's field, which they purchased, and proceeded to construct upon it a modern residence of more than ordinary dimensions, having the material shipped by rail ready to put together.

This to the mountain people was a suspicious movement for strangers to make such improvements on the mountain, as one said they can never get their money back. This was the way these people looked upon this enterprise; at length it was completed, when hands were employed to build a substantial fence ten feet high, closely fitting, the boards resembling a stockade, after which trees were transplanted of size sufficient to shade the ground inside the fence, as close together as possible for growth, that they might interlap and make a dense obstruction that no outsiders, even though they had mounted a tree to peer in, would be disappointed and privacy maintained. The old field containing some thirty acres was cleared from brush and stone, and planted with the choicest fruits of every description, besides ornamental trees and vines and several grottos, benches around some of the large trees, in different parts of the ground, all was complete by the first of October, when a car loaded with furniture, boxes, stoves and a great variety of articles sent to complete the arrangements; after all these had been taken to Huckle's field house and properly arranged by the men, the laborers were paid off and dismissed; the curious could now give vent to any and every kind of surmising as to who would live here and why all this secrecy; up to this time these two men divulged nothing. A few old women of the neighborhood neglected their home work to watch and see who came; some peeped in through the little shute expecting to see something out of the ordinary; they wondered and wondered.

One said she heard it was to be a convent, one a place to keep rich people's crazy folks, one sprightly old maid said, it was an old maid's home and she would try to get into it. The interior of the house was in keeping with the outside; every convenience architecture could plan, every comfort expense could devise, every pleasure art and music could supply, and all delicacies the markets have for the taste are here in abundance; the curiosity of the men who helped to haul the goods and arrange the furniture, their surprise at the large library and astronomical instruments was such as to excite them, that they lingered around just to get a peep through the gate; a week afterward all arrangements were now complete. One night the people living along the road leading to the new secluded house heard a vehicle passing by; wondering what was passing, they came to their door to see a carriage pass closed tightly. It came from Thurmont, going to Huckle's field, and returning, when they arrived at the gate, dark as it was, after the occupants had entered the gate, the driver was blindfolded, it was closed, and the driver was set free, driving away under secrecy to tell it to no one. The occupants of the carriage were a black man and his wife and John Hartel.

This the world outside the enclosure knew not; even the men who built the house and planted the trees knew not, nor who it was for, as an agent had employed them to do the work. The mail for this occupant was delivered by a special carrier employed by these men from Emmitsburg, and passed through the tube in the gate into a box on the inside; the only address on the letters or papers, Huckle's field. Now this place receives its share of criticism from the whole county around, for all are on tip-toe of expectation to know what it all means; so much secrecy about this place, it spreads until persons from all over the county know of it. Yes, and in Baltimore, as one of the leading papers sent a special reporter to write it up for the Sunday paper with a kodak to get photographs of this wonderful place and surroundings; the various papers have written articles of interest for the curious except the Chronicle, whose entire space is taken up with foreign correspondence.

The neighbors are interrogated for information; they have none to give; they are no wiser than the people far away. What transpires inside is a conundrum outside. Let us peep over the wall and take a bird's eye view; such information is not denied; books, magazines, daily papers, these the postman delivers daily.

John Hartel's time is spent perusing these; to divert himself he uses his telescope by day and night; he is not lonely; he spends his time either in his library or walking through his beautiful grounds. The approaching winter adds new beauties to the foliage, and the cool breeze calls forth the wanner apparel, the fires are lighted and John Hartel prepares to enjoy the comforts of winter in his new home in solitude, far surpassing that of the gaiety in social life; thus the winter passed away.

In all this time none have seen the occupant of Huckle's field; now that the first flush of excitement is over, of the stranger in his strange abode, he can venture forth and ramble over the hills, which he gladly does as the spring opens, wearing the garb of a workman, carrying his gun. He goes to the neighboring towns; he is not known nor suspected, he sits around the stores and hears the people talk of himself and his beautiful home at Huckle's field, hears speculations and small talk of all kinds, arguments on tariff, expansion, the financial question discussed, Christian and missionary work, weddings and funerals, and sees a few well developed graduates from the saloons as they perambulate the streets; the only person known to the community belonging to the Huckle's field mansion was the black man, who attends to hauling the boxes, provisions, &c., from the station; the black man is questioned again and again, but all to no purpose; he answers not; this makes things more mysterious to the people; he says he is a servant to obey.

Upon one occasion during the month of May a gang of tramps were seated along the roadside near Toms Creek bridge awaiting the ringing of the supper bell at the convent. When John Hartel in disguise passed by he looked neither to the right nor to the left, but kept straight on. One of these tramps noticed his walk, his size, and thought he had seen the man before, not observing his face passed it off, as many men look and walk alike. This tramp has a history to be told later on, full of pathos. Still he concluded to follow the man that passed on toward town, and see if possible his face; leaving his companions of the road he hastened on in the same direction; when he came to Emmitsburg he found the man seated on a box in front of J. A. Helman's store; he passed him to get a good look at his face, then concluded it was John Hartel, an old companion in the social circle in the city; he returned and asked him for tobacco, to hear his voice, when he answered he was convinced he was the man; he knew a cloud was over him, like himself, therefore he would watch him, and ascertain where he lived before making himself known; he asked different persons who that man was, none knew him, but supposed he was a laborer at one of the institutions, or perhaps on some farm; later as he returned to his home, this tramp followed within sight; he saw him turn off the pike below the College; following to the secluded abode he meditated what course to pursue. Once he and John were companions; I know this is he; he will not know me, to expose him I cannot; I will lurk in the vicinity and watch.

If opportunity is given to reveal myself to him I will gladly renew old acquaintance; if not, I will go and all will remain as heretofore; the secret will remain in my breast. Let me see; did John Hartel marry or not? No, they had a break. She was rich like himself and everybody supposed it would be a match, but he had trouble, so had she; they met at Venice and boated together. I heard that was the last time they were seen together; he left her with her parents and immediately returned to London, where he had his letters of credit; settling up he took the first steamer for home. I was told he was infatuated with a black-eyed Italian lady, that she was of royal blood; this the American lady heard, and the boat ride gave her an opportunity to take him to task; he relieved her mind by saying, "I am not engaged to you, you are a little premature in your conclusions; if I am a free-man let me act as such"; to this she replied, " Take me back to my parents," which he did.

She developed into a morose, silent woman, from which she refused to be rallied. Upon her return home she sought a location on the mountain at Emmitsburg, Md., to spend her life as a recluse.

Whilst touring in the old world, Mary Whittier visited the garden of the old convent of Mar Elias; perched on the summit of a rocky spur of Lebanon overlooking the sea, about eight miles from Sidon, may be seen the humble tomb, now almost obliterated, of Lady Hester Stanhope, who died and was buried in this lonely spot, Sunday, June 23rd, 1839. A volume might be written on the life and adventures of this beautiful, talented but eccentric woman, the eldest daughter of Lord Stanhope, niece of William Pitt, whom she served as private secretary. After his death she visited the different countries of Europe, and finally left her native land, taking up her abode among the wild Arabs of the desert; no reason was given for this romantic turn after her life at court, save that it arose from disappointed affection. She greatly admired Sir John Moore, one of the bravest generals in the English army, who fell in Spain in 1809. This accounts for the fact she never married.

The Pasha of Sidon conveyed to her the old deserted convent of Elijah, high up on Lebanon, which she fortified as a castle; her wealth she distributed with a liberal hand; it made her many friends, and enabled her to keep up the appearance of royalty. Adopting the habits of the Arabs among whom she lived, her manner of life and romantic style gave her unbounded influence over the whole land, so that she was virtually queen of Palmyra and as famous amongst the desert tribes as Zenobia of old; for thirty years this highly cultured woman led this romantic life, self-exiled from her home and all her family. Among these cliffs, like an eagle in her nest, she live and died, and was buried alone in her glory, none but a few servants being present at her funeral.

How singular the coincidence connected with her death and that of her early love, both died in foreign lands, but far removed from each other; both buried by strangers in the gloom of midnight, both laid to rest wrapped in the folds of their national flag; no relatives being present to drop a tear upon their graves. What a death, without a friend, male or female; alone on the top of the bleak mountains, her lamp of life grew dimmer and more dim, until it went out. Such was the end of the once gay and brilliant niece of Pitt, the great master of Europe.

After studying the proud, gay and attractive life of Lady Stanhope, Mary Whittier concluded to purchase the top of Carrick's Knob, and so far as practicable follow in her foot-steps; building a mansion on its peak, she could feast her eyes on the landscape below, and bestow favors upon the poor of all the mountain with a lavish hand. So infatuated was she with her plan she erected her tomb and wrote her own epitaph, desiring to set up a motto to govern her during her life and be an incentive for others to follow after her death. She remembered Helen Hunt Jackson, the authoress, whose tomb is on the mountain top above Colorado Springs, and gladly did she adopt this mountain as her home and for her last resting place; here she enjoys the benefit of civilization on the one side, with culture combined, and sees degradation that needs assistance to raise it up, all around her; with an open hand she distributes from her abundance, until she, like Lady Stanhope, has these mountaineers her fast friends. The pathway to her house is dotted with here and there a traveler in all seasons of the year.

After this episode at Venice, John Hartel returned to America. So stung with the sequel of that little tiff on the boat, for he thought of none but Miss Mollie Whittier, he sought for information and found the course she has pursued, he, through remorse, has pursued this course he has taken, for I am persuaded that is he, has become a recluse, because she has gone from the world into a recluseship. That accounts for his selecting the present sight for his residence, from the observatory of which he can see the house on Carrick Knob. This was told me when I had means and mingled with society folks. They have their gossip as well as others. Since I am a beggar, and have nothing, I am an outcast indeed. If I can, without damage in anyway to John Hartel, insinuate myself into his good graces, I will do so honorably. Some think tramps have no honor. I am poor because I lived to fast, and my parents drove me off, but honor they did not deprive me of when they closed their door against me.

I was a student at Mt. St. Mary's College for six years, and these hills and hollows are familiar to me, as to the natives, Toms Creek, how we used to swim in the old swimming hole and skate on the Sisterís dam; Carrick's Knob, Indian Look Out, when each year we planted a pole putting a flag on top, how familiar the scenes; old places to me, the old professors, the Clairvoix boarding house; why I am at home as to the scenes around me. I knew many of the older people, old Leo, the cook, and Leo, the shakey, the small man with the big head; I wonder whether they still live. It is no disgrace to be poor, but to beg it certainly is. I have concluded a course to pursue, I will notice the postman, put the mail through the tube in the gate; I will write a note and do the same. If when I tell him who I am, and he sees fit to disregard me, I will go away and keep my lips closed. If he deigns to meet me, I will be glad to meet him anywhere, if only to talk for a minute. I feel as though some fate has brought me to this spot, and for such a time.

Going to the College I asked for something to eat; I then asked for paper and envelope. "Do you wish to write a letter?" the reverend in the office asked me, I replied, "yes." He invited me into the office, how glad was I to get a glimpse of the interior of that little white building, where I had often in my boyhood gone during the days of the good president, who is now dead; it brought back the golden age to my mind, and I wept, to think from what I had fallen. This was observed by the good father, who was seated at his desk opposite, he said to me, "You appear affected from some cause, what is it ?" I replied that "the truth is mighty," also as said, "murder will out. My boyhood here", I referred him to the College record as a proof of my being a graduate of the institution.

He took compassion on me and lectured me as to my course; I felt the reproof, and then and there resolved to renounce my past ways, asking him to help me carry out my resolutions, he called a young man who took me to the bathroom. When I took a bath he supplied me with a suit of clothes from head to foot, and invited me to remain at the institution until they could find something for me to do, or get me a place elsewhere. I sat down to write the letter, when my mind became confused with the thoughts of the good luck that had befallen me, that I postponed writing for the present. "Are your parents living?" he asked. "I think so," I replied. "Let me write to them for you," said the reverend, to which I willingly agreed. Later in the day I succeeded in writing the following to John Hartel.

"I am James Dillinger; I am the tramp that asked you for tobacco in Emmitsburg, as you sat on the store box in front of a store. You need not fear; I still have honor. If you wish to speak to me it will be in confidence, if not I will go away, and the secrecy you wish about yourself will remain as you have desired, but if you wish to renew acquaintance I will be outside the College gate at the pike at six o'clock tomorrow evening. The clothes I now wear were given me by the institution; I have turned from the tramp to the gentleman and will continue. Yours,

JAMES DILLINGER."

In answer to the letter written to John Dillinger's father came an urgent request for him to return to his father's house, as they have been advertising for him for years; they concluded he was dead. Now the Rev. Father is requested to supply him the necessary funds to travel to New York, and delay not to send him at once. The engagement Dillinger has made to be at the gate to meet John Hartel interferes with his going today. What shall he do, he considers, he may not get back again; having came so near a reunion of an old friendship he could not think of breaking off his engagement. He wrote his father he would be on in a few days. Oh, these days of suspense to an old father and mother whose lost boy was found, to think of that long lost son returning in a few days, he has wondered these twelve years; no tidings from him; how their hearts are rejoicing over the prospects before them.

At 6 o'clock in the evening Dillinger stands at the gate on the pike, looking down the road, the minutes fly fast. No Hartel in sight, perhaps his watch is not with the College clock, allowances must be made always, not in time-pieces only but in people. John was a prompt man in youth, he may by his life alone have changed; have I changed, conscience speak; a tramp yesterday, a citizen in intention today, going home in my right mind, a determination to live a changed life. There comes a man. Is that he? Presently he came near enough to distinguish, it is a black man; when he gets to the gate he asks, "Can you tell me where Mr. James Dillinger is?" "I am he;" "what is your business, are you from Huckle's field?" "I am," he replied; he then drew from his pocket a package; I opened it and found it contained a sealed book with these words written on it: "Break the seals, read carefully, then act accordingly."

I broke the seal and stepped back to a seat on the terrace, saying to the black man, "Wait for an answer;" the first page read, Mollie the last Whittier; then I cut the strings that held the body of the book together and read: At eight o'clock tonight come to the tube and drop this book in; I will open the gate for you; let no one see you; the black man will be in bed.

At eight o'clock I was there, into the tube I passed the book; I heard a bolt drawn and John Hartel stood before me; "step in, old comrade," said he (what a welcome thought I, compared to the many rebuffs I met as a man on the road); I passed in, the gate closed, the bolt fastened and we stood face to face; "Come this way" said he, and he led me to a grotto from which no sound could reach the house, then he said, "Jim how is this, such peculiar circumstances, this secrecy compared to the brilliant lighted hall and the dance." I replied, "John how is it you are here in the bushes?" "Well," said he, "it would take weeks to tell all that has passed through my mind from thoughts to acts, I say it will take weeks to tell all that has happened since last we met, but suffice it to say, I was a fool, and this is the result. Tell me your history, Jim, and then I will tell mine."

I replied, I must leave tomorrow for New York; I have written home, I will be there, all of which I related to John, and the particulars of the Rev. Father; then I commenced my story as follows. When I returned home from college my father concluded I had better get into business at once. I thought otherwise, as six years pent up life ought to have one of recreation, at the end of which I proposed to engage in some calling; he consented, and supplied me with means, and I took a trip around the world, I went around the States from Maine to California, then I crossed the ocean to Europe, and all over the East. When I returned home I had spent all he gave me and had drawn on him for two thousand more. I gambled and lost, I drank, I carried the sign of it on my face and person. He was so disgusted he told me to try the world without money. This I knew meant leave, for I knew him to be a man of iron will. I sought employment, what could I do? If I obtained a position it was but for a short time, as I was not fitted for any work.

I drifted by dint of luck to California, and did any and everything I could find to do, when I engaged to serve as a cowboy; this suited best of all, this went on for two years. I had funds to return, when I thought of the good home and none to share it, as I was the only child, I returned. When I entered the house they could see no return for the care and expenditure on me. After a few days resting my father said, "James, what have you in view?" "Nothing." said I. "Well the world is before you said he." I knew what that meant, and I left the house and took to the road. The last twelve years have been years of a living death. I pity any man that has left his home for the road, and here I can assure you, there are thousands who are tramping that had they, like myself, done the proper thing, would be ornaments to their family instead of disgracing them. They now want me to come home, and I am going. I have tramped from State to State, north and south; I have seen the country. But oh, the remorse that this heart has endured, I cannot tell, I did not wish suicide as many do, nor to be placed on a dissecting table, or buried in a potter's field. Oh, no, yet I did not know what was before me; I did know there was a good home I had deserted by not taking a father's good advice.

There are many men competent to teach, to transact business of all kinds, on the road. There is a fascination about it, especially to those who are friendless and homeless. The variety, sometimes well clothed and fed, other times hungry and almost naked. In some sections people will feed us, in others deny everything; taking it altogether it compares favorably with all callings in life.

"Jim," said John Hartel, "you know how I was left, plenty, to come and go, engage in any business at my pleasure. Mary and I were children together, and by common consent the parents on both sides were satisfied that we marry. She received a fine education, was a musician of high order. I received, as you know, high honors at Yale. We both traveled a great deal. I knew she was in Europe and corresponded with her. My parents died within six months unexpectedly. I concluded to follow her to Europe; if possible overtake her, and return home together. I found her at Venice and gave her every attention, intending to return home on the same boat, and if agreeable marry after we came to New York, as I was alone and did not wish to dispose of the home property.

On my outgoing steamer I met an Italian gentleman and his daughter going home; she had just graduated at Holyoke; she was a lady of finished education; we became companionable, the father included. On the steamer some friends who knew us both, and knew the relations between us, met Mary before I got to Venice; they met her at Versailles, and told her of my attentions to this Italian lady, had they told the truth, but no, it was exaggerated. I thought when I first met her, she had cooled somewhat, or perhaps had become interested in another; she was not as genial as heretofore, but somewhat reserved. I engaged a Gondola, beautiful it carried itself, like a duck on the water; the oarsman could neither speak not understand English. Scarcely had we started when she spoke of the black-eyed Italian girl; I did not attempt to explain, here was my mistake; that was the end of an anticipated life. I returned home, arranged my affairs to live a life of ease and pleasure, which I did for years; I banished woman from my thought, I avoided every opportunity of meeting her or her family.

A few years ago I was informed by Martha Gardner, a cousin of Mary Whittier, she had purchased a mountainpeak at Emmitsburg, Md.; this aroused my sympathies. I concluded as I could not follow her to the different places to which she traveled, but I could erect on this mountain a house, where I could be satisfied to live a recluse, from the observatory of which I could see the house that had within its walls the person that was all to me, that she was safely housed, and it might be my good luck some day to get a glimpse of her in her snow white garb.

I put talent on the road to observe, had ladies to search for her whereabouts to be sure I was right before I took this course. I did hope it was not true and a reconciliation would ensue.

At last I ascertained it was true; she was over there, as he pointed in the direction of the Cliff House, for that reason I am here, not that I wish her to know me, far from it. I wish her to live and die keeping her individuality.

Thus the night was spent in conversation until early dawn. Dillinger left Huckle's field promising to return at sometime to visit John Hartel, but always to observe secrecy, that his friends may be ignorant of him. Dillinger returned home to find his parents old and feeble, this time they were glad to receive him, he is another man, he remains at home to comfort them; in less than one year both pass away; he the only heir to an estate, the income of which yields him a sufficiency; he remembers when a young man, the lady who clung to him as a school boy, a young man and enjoyed his vacation with him, whose letters he gladly replied to when at College, who he forsook in his riotous life, keeping her in ignorance of it all; to his delight she was still a maid, not having sought the company of another since he disappointed her; he finds her, joyfully she receives him, and mutually they rekindle the old embers into a flame, and marry in a fortnight; sitting in his homestead, this he wrote to Huckle's field, telling John Hartel he would visit Emmitsburg with his bride the coming summer.

The house on Carrick's Knob could be seen from all the adjoining towns, Taneytown, Uniontown, Gettysburg; its bright light at night lighted with acetylene gas gave it an impressive appearance none others have. The town people delight to stand and gaze at its brilliancy, as the knob looks more like a light at sea.

John Hartel can sit in his house at Huckle's field and see the flash of light as it penetrates the darkness, and wonder at the stupidity of two re-fined, educated and social beings, whose lives were blighted in youth, who in the maturer period of life had acted so unwisely. James Dillinger and his wife visit Emmitsburg; after a few days spent in town he visited John Hartel, telling him he had visited the Cliff House and conversed with Mary Whittier; he told of Hartel's life and where he was living, when she exclaimed: "Oh, tell him to call and see me!" She had not heard he was the hermit, therefore was exceedingly astonished. I am here for the same reason he is there, to avoid the world; this was too much for Hartel.

That night the buildings were all burned, nothing remained to tell of his mansion but the foundation and chimney. In the grotto lay a paper inscribed, "I came to the mountain for peace, I found it not. The Field is to remain open for all to use the fruits. It shall be called Huckle's field to the end of time." Hartel found a home in the Holy Land where he died, the American consul burying him according to request, where no man can discover his grave.

Mary Whittier lived to do much good; she prepared her last resting place beside the rock at Indian Look Out, erecting a tablet with this inscription: "Life's fitful scenes are over, the mockery of society and the hypocrisy of trusted friends behooves all to do right, regardless of speech or acts, that would serve to point to future happiness in this world, but ends in disappointment here, estranging one from the other, past reconciliation for time, and no desire to renew it in eternity. Do right always." Mary Whittier dying, she was buried in her selected tomb.

One night the lightning flash centered on the Cliff House, and a conflagration ended all the beauty of the peak of Carrick's Knob. If the citizens and strangers go to see this tomb, as they visit the tomb of Lady Stanhope and Helen Hunt Jackson, it will be no greater disappointment than was the entire drama to the actors.