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Life in Emmitsburg in the mid 1800's

A Californian Remembers School Life in Emmitsburg

(Originally published July 24, 1908 by the Emmitsburg Chronicle )

The following contribution to the "Chronicles of Emmitsburg" is from the pen of Mr. John T. Eyster, formerly a resident of this place but now living in Pasadena, California:

"I have before me a sample copy (May 22nd) of your excellent and altogether commendable Emmitsburg chronicle, in which I find recorded interesting recollections and experiences of some of the old timers to which I may add a few as they occur to me now.

"The first school I attended, now long since removed, was in a building situated on the road leading to Gettysburg, just beyond and on the same side of the street as the Catholic Church. Here I entered armed with that most formidable of all books, the 'Yaller-Back Primer. (Formidable because it is the key that unlocks to the grasping and aspiring' young mind all English literature.) It was in this house, I do not remember the name of the teacher, I first started out to hew my way through and, let the 'chips fall as they''

"As I recollect from that time to the end of my school days my progress was decidedly slow and if I was noted for anything, it was for what I didn't learn at school. Since then I have found out that there is a whole lot to be learned outside of school, (much more than the average boys reckons,) and sooner or later most of us learn at least a part of it. Well if I didn't stow away for future use very much 'book learning' while at school, I did have a whole lot of fun at such times when I was not the subject under consideration for correction or chastisement.

I remember going to school to "Jimmy Knauff," as he was familiarly called. It was in summer time and there were but few scholars in attendance. One afternoon it was quite sultry and warm, Mr. Knauff took out his corn-cob pipe and had a smoke, after which he put his feet up on the stand before him, leaned back in his chair and went sound asleep.

He had done this two or three times before. One of the boys had prepared a stout twine long enough to reach from his seat to the chair occupied by the sleeping teacher. To one end of the twine he tied a short piece of cord, not so stout as the long piece, then he slipped up and tied the weak end of the twine to the back of the chair and returned quietly to his seat. After all this preparation he commenced to pull on the string and just about the time 'Jimmy' Knauff 's feet began to slip off the stand he gave the twine a sudden jerk. Snap went the string next to the chair and over backwards went sprawling 'Jimmy' Knauff. In less time than it takes to tell it the boy had his long twine wound up and in his pocket.

The scholars were tittering and laughing all around. The teacher got up, looked dazed and puzzled, as tough he was sent for and couldn't go. wonder if there are any who can Tell and verify this story and thus help me out.

At one time Emmitsburg was noted for having a pretty tough lot of scholars and it was not every teacher that could control them. The trustees took cognizance of the state of affairs and tried to get a teacher who could hold the boys down. Mr. Tearce, as your article calls him, was selected. According to my recollection his name was Pearce; however, we will call him Tearce. Shortly after his term commenced a few of the larger scholars undertook to run things to suit themselves. They were called upon the floor for correction and punishment. One of them refused to be punished he was quite tall and stout suddenly he made a vicious pass or grab for Tearce's throat, but the teacher was too quick for him and grabbed him by the hair of his head and gave him a whirl that brought him to his knees. With the boy in this position Mr. Tearce applied his stick, or whatever it was, upon his back until he cried for mercy. That settled it. The boys went to their seats with a full knowledge of the kind of a man they had to deal with.

"Mr. Tearce was a man of commanding presence and possessed all the attributes that he is credited with in the "Chronicles of Emmitsburg." He was the most successful and best-liked teacher of them all. I remember of attending a term of school taught by the lawyer, Isaac Pearson, as principal, and a young graduate by the name of Biggs. Mr. Biggs was qualified to teach but did not possess the requisite commanding qualities. It sometimes happened that Mr. Pearson's business as a lawyer required his presence down town. Upon such occasions he would leave the school in charge of his assistant, Mr. Biggs. It was not long until the scholars found the weak points in Mr. Biggs, and they were not slow in taking advantage of them. They knew that as soon as Mr. Pearson's back was turned they could do just about as they pleased and he, Mr. Biggs, could not help himself, he could not control them. On some such occasion a few of the boys would commence to titter and it would soon turn into a laugh, so contagious, that, every one in the house must perforce join in it, so the whole house would be in a roaring guffaw. Mr. Biggs would stand at his desk with ferrel in hand and shout, 'Come to order! I tell you to come to order!' but they would all laugh until they could laugh no more. I felt sorrow for him but I had to laugh with the crowd.

"It was not long until Mr. Pearson found this out, and the next time he had occasion to go down town he prepared himself with a lot of switches (good stout ones.) When the time came for him to go down town he started out as usual but stopped at the corner of the house, and waited for results. It was not long until the house was in a roar. Mr. Pearson stepped back and opened the door. No sooner did the boys see him all were silent, you could have heard a pin drop on the floor. Mr. Pearson stepped inside went to his desk and hauled out the bunch of heavy switches and use them on the bigger scholars until he was exhausted. After that Mr. Biggs had no more trouble.

Well I have written, I suppose as much as you are to publish if indeed you will publish any of this. Therefore I will close."

Read other stories in this series of first hand accounts of
life in Emmitsburg in the 1800's

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