Abraham Lincoln’s northbound train chugged into Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, on the late afternoon of Wednesday, November 18, 1863. The president was on his way to Gettysburg to deliver the dedicatory remarks at the ceremonies to dedicate the new Soldiers National Cemetery, where thousands of soldiers who “gave their last full measure of devotion” now lay.
For several days before the ceremony, trainloads of spectators or participants arrived at Hanover Junction to await west-bound trains through Hanover and New Oxford to Gettysburg. The quantity, and length, of trains increased before peaking on the 18th and the morning of the 19th. At various points in the day, large crowds waited at the countryside depot or the nearby Junction Hotel.
The crowds attracted several pickpockets.
The victims included prominent York miller and hardware store owner Philip A. Small.
Here are a few period newspaper clippings detailing that long-ago rash of slight-of-hand thievery at the junction.
On November 18 and 19, several southbound trains from Harrisburg arrived in the borough of York, where those Yorkers fortunate enough to have tickets for the few available seats crowded on board. At least one pickpocket was active on the 19th, according to the York Gazette of November 24, 1863.
“Mr. John Thomas, of this borough, had his pocket picked at the depot, last Thursday morning, while embarking on the train to participate in the ceremonies at Gettysburg. The thief succeeded in obtaining his pocket book, containing a promissory note for about $7,000 and about $50 in money. The book minus the money was thrown from the car window about three miles from this borough. The thief has not been found.”
The thief likely took the Northern Central Railway train down to Hanover Junction, where pickings were even better. It appears that several thieves were on hand to greet the crowds waiting there on both the 18th and 19th. From the Philadelphia Ledger…
“The most systematic robbery of purses by pickpockets we ever heard of was greatly increased by the apparent absence of police at Hanover Junction, and the want of all time and system in running the cars. The thousands of dollars stolen from the pockets of ladies and of gentlemen in the boldest manner, without any apparent attempts to check the evil or guard against it, needs explanation.In everything beside, the arrangements were excellent, and we allude to this because as it is certain there will be pilgrimages made through coming years to Gettysburg, so we hope that at Hanover Junction and on the railroad, accommodations will be provided system and more exact order and time tables introduced and police sufficient to protect the unwary traveller.”
The unfortunate victims at Hanover Junction included P. A. Small. He and his traveling party, like many of York’s citizenry, were on their way to be part of the throng that was assembling at Gettysburg (a gathering later estimated at some 15,000 spectators). From the York Gazette…
“P. A. Small, Esq., also had his pocket book taken in a crowd at Hanover Junction, on the same day. The amount contained was inconsiderable.”
At least Small was only carrying pocket change, unlike John Thomas and many of the others whose pockets were picked. People later gather up “a half peck” of empty wallets and pocketbooks that the criminals had discarded after procuring their contents.
The thieves likely took the Hanover Branch trains to Gettysburg, where even more pickpockets were active.
The Pittsburgh Daily Commercial had this to say in its November 24, 1863, edition:
“Over one hundred persons are said to have had their pockets picked at Gettysburg on Thursday [the day of Lincoln’s speech]. Next day a half peck of empty pocket books was found near Hanover Junction.”
No one was arrested.