Too Old To Be Guilty


If we followed the logic of a 1787 Philadelphia judge, old folks could rule the dinner table and the streets

On This Date In History: In May 1787, an old woman in Philadelphia was grabbed and attacked by a group of people who cut her head in an ancient tradition of bleeding out any spells she may have cast. They thought she was a witch. This year there has been a heat wave in the Eastern United States.  The media tends to latch on to Global Warming  these days but the truth is, it has happened before.  In early July 1787, a big heat wave was going on in the city of Brotherly Love. Dogs and horses died. The fields were dry and tempers grew as hot as the weather. No word on whether anyone blamed Global Warming in 1787.   However,  at the same time, 55 men were gathered in Independence Hall arguing over the forming Constitution. If you look at the painting of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to the left, you will note the central figure is General Washington. Just about every painting you see will feature the Father of the Country prominently. That is because he is largely credited with holding the conventioneers together. Not by words but simply by his presence. His silent, strong leadership was what everyone looked toward to get them through the turmoil. Another person in Philadelphia did not have the General to save her.

Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Love

The old woman who was tormented in early May was a German known as Korbmacher. During the heatwave, a little boy died. Some on the streets of Philadelphia chose to blame her and attacked her again On This Date in 1787. The Pennsylvania Evening Herald story read, “We are sorry to hear that the poor woman who suffered so much some time ago, under the imputation of being a witch, has again been attacked by an ignorant and inhuman mob. On Tuesday last she was carried through several of the streets, and was hooted and pelted as she passed along. A gentleman who interfered in her favour was greatly insulted, while those who recited the innumerable instances of her art, were listened to with curiousity and attention.”

Korbmacher Means Basket Maker In German

Eight days later, Korbmacher, which means basket-maker, was dead and the Philadelphia Witch Hunt was over. The newspapers wrote that they hoped justice would be done to those who had perpetrated such a beating on a person, let alone an old woman. Well, a trial did get underway as several people said they would testify against some of the alleged attackers. Three things are interesting about the trial. First was it was held just prior to Halloween also known as All Hallows Eve or Witches Eve. Second, there is no record of the results of the trial. The third, and perhaps most intriguing is the commentary about the innocence of Korbmacher from the bench by the judge:

Judge: Old ladies are innocent

Judge: Old ladies are innocent

“what! that a poor wretch whose sorrows and infirmities have sunk her eyes into her head, and whose features are streaked with the wrinkles of extreme old age, should therefore become an object of terror, and be endowed with the powers of witchcraft — it is an idle and absurd superstition! If, however, some damsels that I have seen, animated with the bloom of youth, and equipped with all the grace of beauty, if such women were indicted for the offence, the charge might receive some countenance, for they are indeed calculated to charm and bewitch us. But age and infirmity, though they deserve our compassion, have nothing in them that can alarm or fascinate our nature.”

James W von Brunn probably wishes his judge was the the 1787 Philadelphia judge

So according to the judge…Korbmacher was innocent simply because of her age.   If we used this judge’s logic today, then the 88-year-old man who killed a bunch of people at the Holocaust Museum in Washington would be set free because of his age.  Carrying out the judge’s logic in 1787, if  Korbmacher  had been young in the “bloom of youth” well then she may very well be guilty of being a witch because everyone knows that young women have a way of putting men under their spell!!!  How’s that for justice? All of this on the same streets that were at the very time witness to the construction of the very document that governs justice for all for this great nation. This witch tale is not remembered by most but it did make its way into a book that was reviewed by The  Spectator.  The author of the book was surprised to find that there is nothing in the record to show that any of the members of the Constitutional Convention made any notes related to the Philadelphia Witch Incident because it was widely reported at the time.  It’s too bad that General Washington didn’t go for a stroll at the hour of Korbmacher’s demise…his presence alone could have done what the Constitution could not.

Weather Bottom Line:  The biggest benefit of the Friday’s front was the rain.  We needed it as we are behind both in the near term and also for the year.  The second best thing about it was a slight reduction in humidity levels.  Dewpoints in the mid to upper 60’s have brought some relief.  The heat was brought down a bit but we’re still going to be lurking around the 90 degree mark for the weekend.  This front represented a change in the long wave pattern: i.e. the jet stream.  The ridge that had been limiting rain activity will be broken down such that for at least the first half of the week, disturbances will be allowed to move in that will initiate rain and t’storm activity and also afternoon heating will be enough to support afternoon and evening storms.  That is something that we haven’t seen for a  few weeks so the prospects for rain will be enhanced for several days, which is a good thing.

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