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Graffiti inside Mercersburg restaurant could be nearly 170 years old

October 22, 2008

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - A local historian and archaeologist began investigating Flannery's Restaurant on the Square last spring for clues about the building's past.

On behalf of the Franklin County (Pa.) Underground Railroad Coalition, Tim Rockwell went into the building's attic to look at old political slogans painted on the plaster stairwell walls.

A press release distributed Tuesday morning said Rockwell was amazed by the age of what he found as well as the possible connections they establish to those who might have used the tavern as a station on the underground railroad nearly 170 years ago.

"It is clear that in over a 10-year period some one person or a group went to great lengths to record support for their political party and later, given the other symbols, likely turned that into action by engaging in the secretive and dangerous underground railroad," Rockwell said in the release.

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He identified references to presidential candidates of the American Whig party of the 1840s. Covering 1838 to 1848, the slogans are painted in large black script on a plaster wall with many dates, symbols and names clearly visible.

"FOR PRESIDENT HENRY CLAY OF KENTUCKY," "PRESIDENT Z. TAYLOR" and "TAYLOR, FILLMORE AND THE WHIG PARTY" in letters 6 inches high and nearly 3 feet long are a few of the largest ones. The dates "1838," "1840" and "1848" stand out in other areas. An opposite wall has a faded, but readable "TARIFF OF 1842," an issue of the day.

Rockwell believes two large drawings of ship anchors are the traditional Christian symbols for "hope," and are similar to one that appears near the old Franklin County jail in Chambersburg, Pa., which might have been a station on the underground railroad.

Rockwell said he believes a prominently painted notation "Pr: 13" near one of the anchors might refer to Proverbs 13 in the Holy Bible.

The Whig Party elected William H. Harrison as president in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848.

"How and why these slogans came to be written by lamp light in such an out-of-the-way place is still a mystery," Rockwell said. "Other less well known names are there also and await more research and perhaps better answers."

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