Story of Masonic Apron – Found at the Battle of Gettysburg on Culp’s Hill – Harrisburg Lodge Thirty-Six Years Later Discovers Owner and Returns Apron
Gettysburg Compiler, Wednesday, May 5, 1909
Lost by one Federal soldier in the sudden shifting of an army corps at Chancellorsville, Va.: found two months later by another at Gettysburg, Pa.: presented to Perseverance Lodge of Masons, Harrisburg, and finally after a lapse of almost forty-six years returned to the original owner. That is the history of a Masonic apron belonging to E. L. Fonda, of Averill Park, New York, which has recently come to light.
The history of the apron unfolds a leaf from the past and brings back again stirring memories of the Civil War. The story of the apron, as far as Perseverance Lodge is concerned, opened at Gettysburg, on July 3, 1863. It was found lying among the rocks on Culp’s Hill, at the conclusion of the second day’s struggle oy John Kunkle of Harrisburg. Mr. Kunkle presented it to Perseverance Lodge on October 12, 1863.
For some years the apron was hung on the lodge room walls, but finally it was taken down and stored with many other relics in a drawer in a cabinet. In March, 1908, Dr. John M. J. Raunick, at that time worshipful master of Perseverance Lodge, in rummaging through the cabinet, came across the old apron. He examined it closely and discovered on the back the stenciled name, E. L. Fonda, and also the name of the Massachusetts manufacturer of such emblems.
Hoping to find the original owner, if he yet lived, Dr. Raunick wrote to Boston, asking if a man of that name lived there or whether any record of the sale of the apron had ever been kept. He received a negative answer. This occurred in March of last year. His next move was to write to the adjutant general of the war department. There also nothing could be learned.
Two letters were next written to the secretary of the war department. In answer to the second he received word that a man answering to that name of E. L. Fonda had enlisted on August 11, 1862, in the 14th New York Infantry, which was a part of the Army of the Potomac.
Then Dr. Raunick wrote to the adjutant general of New York and the Grand Lodge of Masons in that State. They could impart no further information. A third letter to the war department brought an answer referring him to the pension department.
It was at this point that the doctor received the most encouragement. From the pension department he learned that E. L. Fonda lived in Waterbleit, New York. Four letters Dr. Raunick dispatched to Waterbleit. Not one was returned and no answer was received. The fifth letter the doctor made very strong and insisted upon a reply.
A short time afterwards, namely, March 17, 1909, a letter was received from Averill Park, N. Y. It was written by Edward L. Fonda himself. He said that he had received a package of several letters, written by Dr. Raunick and was now answering the first. He also stated that he intended looking at once into the cause of delay.
“I moved from Waterbleit to Aver hill Park a short time ago,” wrote Mr. Fonda. “I was born in West Troy, now Waterbleit, Albany county, New York, on March 11, 1831. I bought the apron in 1853, after I had joined the Pawtucket Lodge, Lowell, Massachusetts, and remember distinctly wearing it for the first time at Bunker Hill, when the statue was unveiled there to General Joseph Warren.
“I enlisted in the 14th New York Infantry in 1862 and we were assigned to the Army of the Potomac. The apron I had with me, stored in my knapsack. On May 1 our regiment was transferred across the Rappahannock river to join the rest of the army. This was the opening day of battle of Chancellorsville, and in the hurry of forming I lost my knapsack. I did not miss it until in the midst of the fighting, hours later, and I never expected to recover it.
“I took part in the battle of Gettysburg, where you say it was found. Our regiment was stationed at Little Round Top. My full name is Edward Learned Fonda, and I now reside on a farm a few miles from Averill Park.”
Through this letter and several sub sequent ones Dr. Raunick had no trouble in identifying the owner and finally the matter was placed before Perseverance Lodge. It voted unanimously to present the apron to the original owner. The apron was sent to Mr. Fonda on April 15, 1909, and two days later a letter of fervent thanks was received from the happy veteran.
“The apron,” he wrote, “is nearly as good as new and I must thank Perseverance Lodge for taking such excel lent care of it. My wife had pressed it and fixed the frayed ends and we have it hanging in the parlor.
In his letter Mr. Fonda enclosed a photograph of himself and this was hung with a photograph of the apron in Perseverance Lodge room, nicely framed.
It is the hope of Dr. Raunick that even after the lapse of years he can find somebody who can bridge the gap between May 1, 1863 and July 3, 1863. Was it a Confederate or a Federal soldier who dropped the apron at Gettysburg? Will the answer ever be given?
The apron is of white satin with an area of about 24 inches by 18 inches. It is embroidered with blue and upon it is painted a square and compass, the symbol of Masonry.
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