Sunday, October 08, 2006

Talking Spirits VIII: Lamson and Bridgton

I mentioned in previous entries that guides on the “Talking Spirits” tour often point out a few interesting graves not on the tour and share the story behind them. As we left General Harnden behind and continued along, our guide pointed out the monument of James Morrison, who, he said, used to keep pigs in the basement of the unfinished Capitol building, just below the assembly, and would rile them up whenever the legislature ran on too long. Intrigued by this tale, I looked him up in FOREST HILL CEMETERY, a book published by Historic Madison, Inc., according to which, Morrison was not alone: “legislators,” it says, “were fond of using long poles to stir them up to drown out the speeches of their political opponents.”

It seems that Morrison was a bit boarish himself. Contracted to finish the Capitol in 1838, the Territory later sued him for failure to account for the money—one of his many shady dealings. He was a Territorial treasurer, owned property in three states, and was partner in a mercantile firm. He committed suicide after one of his many partners brought suit against him, and five months after his death, his estate was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $23,400 to three of his former partners—quite a large sum of money in the 1800s!

Continuing on, we next met Albert Lamson (played by Jason Valentine), a lieutenant with the 104th New York Infantry taken prisoner at a hospital near Gettysburg in July of 1863. Lamson spent ten months in Libby Prison, followed by a string of southern prisons, finally ending up at Camp Sorghum near Columbia, SC. In the autumn of 1864, he and another prisoner, Lt. E.E. Sill, affected their escape. Ordered to gather wood from the surrounding forest, they used forged paroles to slip past their captors during the day and hid in the woods until dark. They headed west through swamps, mountains and woods with dogs nipping at their trail. Subsisting on turnip root and tree bark, they used a firefly to light their compass as they followed a spur of the underground railroad.

By December they reached North Carolina, where they found aid among loyal mountaineers before recaptured by the Confederates. A Cherokee Indian was assigned to each, with orders to kill if either tried to escape, but being ever vigilant, the two once again managed to slip away. For three days they slept in the snow, eating bark and winterberries to stay alive, finally reaching the Union line at Loudon, TN—ironically about the same time Sherman liberated Camp Sorghum and set fire to Columbia. Asked later if months of enduring hardship were worth it, when rescue was so near, Lamson would only say that freedom was worth any price.

After the war, Albert Lamson went west to Wisconsin where he married Flora, daughter of James Gorham (another name familiar to Madisonians). They settled on a farm near the present-day Nakoma neighborhood, before moving to what is now Wingra Park. Pioneers in the strawberry industry, they delivered a variety of fruits and vegetables to town in a one-horse wagon.

Edward Bridgman (portrayed by Ben Conklin) was among the forty “free-staters” led by John Brown who fought off some 300 pro-slavery border ruffians at the August 30, 1856 battle of Osawatomie, Kansas Territory. He was the second to last survivor of the uprising, and served three years as a member of the 37th Massachusetts. He came to Wisconsin in the 1870s, where he served as government storekeeper on the Menominee reservation at Keshena. He and his wife were homesteaders for many years before arriving in Madison in 1901 where he was deacon at Pilgrim Church and served as chaplain of the local GAR. A popular Memorial Day speaker, his wartime experiences were immortalized through the many letters he wrote home.


Babe King said...

sounds like you're having a great time. My fav gravestone reads "I told you I was sick!" Tomb reading is so cool- great way to study history

Heather said...

It was indeed a good time, and I have enjoyed learning more about those highlighted during this year's tour during the past week. I'm already looking forward to next year's tour! *G*