A Bitter Night – NOT

“On Sacred Ground: commemorating survival and loss at the Carlisle Indian School,” an article written by the then Managing Editor of Central PA, the monthly magazine for PBS affiliate WITF, begins, “In the middle of a bitter night in October 1879….” Knowing that the train arrived in Carlisle at 12:30 a.m. on Monday, October 6, 1879 and living in the Carlisle area for more than three decades, I am well aware of the fact that the weather in the first week of October tends to be mild here. She cited no sources to support her assertion that the weather was bitter, so I did a little research.

I quickly found out that the National Weather Service wasn’t collecting meteorological data for Carlisle or even Harrisburg at that time. The NWS does consider data collected in Philadelphia from as far back as 1872 as reliable enough for its record keeping. Daily highs for October 5 and 6, 1879 were both a balmy 79 degrees. Lows for these dates were 56 and 62, respectively. But Philadelphia is not Carlisle. Neither is Wellsboro, a town about 150 miles north of Carlisle (less as the crow flies). Wellsboro resident H. D. Deming recorded temperatures three times each day at his home. The Agitator reported that Deming’s temperatures were 84 at 2 p.m. on the 5th, 64 at 9 p.m., 50 at 7 a.m. on the 6th, and 86 at 2 p.m. This was unseasonably warm weather in a place that is normally cooler than Carlisle.

Although local newspapers provided no weather data, they did provide some anecdotes that, when coupled with the above data, show that Carlisle’s weather was anything but bitter when the first group of students arrived. The Carlisle Herald wrote, “For a wonder the weather was not only all that could be desired, but a trifle too much so, if we are permitted to judge from the extremely warm weather, which would have done credit to midsummer.” A week later, Gettysburg’s The Star and Sentinel declared, “The weather continues phenomenally warm, dry and dusty.” One wonders who does the fact checking for WITF.

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