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Former Pa. mansion caretaker writes biography of former boss

June 07, 1999

Glen ClumpBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The late Henry Prather Fletcher - Greencastle native, former GOP national chairman, U.S. ambassador to five nations and Rough Rider - has 6,500 papers on file at the Library of Congress, but none is more relevant to his hometown than a handwritten history by his former gardener.

Local historian Glen Cump, 85, has spent most of the last 20 years researching the lives of local residents, particularly Fletcher.

From 1947 to 1951, Cump was a part-time caretaker for Fletcher, who owned Rosemont, a Victorian estate built in 1871. Cump lived next door to the estate that, before it was torn down, ran for a block along Ridge Avenue.

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After retiring as an insurance salesman in 1979, Cump began going through old newspapers, collecting and reading more than 100 books on local history and interviewing older residents.

Much of his research has centered on Fletcher, about whose life Cump lectures to local groups. He also writes articles for the Echo Pilot weekly newspaper.

Cump worked for five years for Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown, became foreman of a dynamite crew during the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1939-40, did a stint in the Navy during and after World War II, and worked for Landis Tool Co. and Fairchild Aircraft before selling insurance for 20 years.

Then he took time to do the research he loves.

"If there's anything to be had on local history, I have it," Cump said. "You don't need to go to the library."

He said he'll leave his collection of papers and books to the Antrim-Allison Museum in Greencastle.

Fletcher lived spring and fall at Rosemont, had a summer home in Newport, R.I., and spent the winter months at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Cump said.

He last spoke with Fletcher in his yard at Rosemont as he was leaving for Newport. Fletcher died there shortly after on July 10, 1959.

Fletcher was born in 1873 and bought Rosemont in 1921.

As a Rough Rider, Fletcher rode up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War with Teddy Roosevelt. After the war, he practiced law in Chambersburg, Pa., later joining the Army and becoming an officer, according to Cump's history.

Eventually he was given foreign service duties by a string of U.S. presidents, the history says.

According to Cump, William Howard Taft appointed Fletcher minister to China, Woodrow Wilson sent him to Mexico and later named him ambassador to Rome, Warren G. Harding promoted him to assistant secretary of state under Charles Evans Hughes and named him ambassador to Belgium.

Then, in 1924, Calvin Coolidge appointed Fletcher ambassador to Italy, where he met Benito Mussolini, Cump said. One newspaper account of the time said Fletcher had become a paid propagandist for the Italian dictator. Cump says Fletcher denied that.

Fletcher joined Herbert Hoover's goodwill mission to South America and was Republican National Chairman in 1934 during Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term. He advised Harry S Truman at the Benton Woods Conference, the forerunner to the United Nations.

Among Fletcher's most prized possessions were a dining room set giving to him by the Empress of China and two iron gates at the front of the mansion. They were giving to him by Mussolini.

Asked why he has invested so much time researching Fletcher, Cump replied, "If you want to get information on a local person who is a good subject, you don't get it all at one time. You have to add to it bit by bit. ... That's my way of working.

"Then I like to share what I've learned."

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