January 24, 1884: George Gilbert's Fall from Grace Subject of Poem


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

January 24, 1884: A tragic town character, George Gilbert was in an unusual drunken condition tonight—unable to walk. He was found lying in the gutter at the American House at 61 South Reading Avenue (now Iezzi’s On Third). A constable scooped him up into a wheelbarrow and took him up the street to Fort Lehman, the Boyertown jail, where he will remain until he sobers up. Gilbert was born into a wealthy family, and his fall from grace was chronicled by the esteemed Boyertown doctor and poet emeritus Thomas J.B. Rhoads, who wrote:

A Youth of comely features and of good address,
Of noble stature and in faultless dress
Here in his father’s mansion swelt at ease
This fortune favored youth who by degrees
Grew up to manhood as the years rolled on
Admired by all, a freeman’s noble son.

Dr. Rhoads continued to describe Gilbert’s enviable military career during the American Civil War, where he fought in all of the major battles of the Virginia campaign with his company, Rush’s Lancers, an elite cavalry unit of Philadelphia blue bloods, without suffering even a scratch, although three horses were shot from under him.

After the war, he became the victim of “demon rum” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?) and “eked out a miserable existence.” When sober, it was reported that he was quiet, inoffensive, and kind, but “under the influence,” he became abusive and insulting if provoked.

He lived by the charity of people who had known him in better days, with the freedom to go where he pleased, no one refused to feed him, and he was welcome to sleep in their barns, when not in fields or on the street.

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