Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Colonial Valentine

Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson led a life of romance and tragedy. One of the most highly regarded women of her time, she was well educated, the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia physician and the granddaughter of the former Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania. A successful writer and socialite, she hosted famed literary gatherings and counted luminaries of Philadelphia society amongst her closest friends and confidents.

So how did it all go so wrong for her? Disappointed early in love by William Franklin, she went on to marry a penniless Scotsman, whose involvement with the British during the Revolutionary War would cause her not only heartbreak, but lead to the sale of most of her worldly possessions and leave her fighting to retain her ancestral home.

During our Colonial Valentine tours costumed actors tell Elizabeth’s story in candlelit vignettes throughout the historic Keith House. The tours are scheduled for 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, and 8:30 p.m. on February 13. The cost is $12/person, which includes light refreshments and sweets. Reservations and a credit card number are required to hold your space. Call 215-343-0965 for more information.

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Product Line Available on Zazzle

We've created a new product line in our Zazzle gallery featuring images of the tall case clock once owned by Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. The clock was made by William Tomlinson of London and owned by the Graeme family throughout Elizabeth's life. In 1797 she wrote an essay about the clock entitled "A Woman's Mediations on her Old Family Clock."

Here are some of the products we're offering in this collection.

The "tempest fugit" mug and mouse pad feature a close up image of the clock face and William Tomlinson signature. What a great reminder with your morning coffee and email check to make the most of your day.

The "carpe diem" magnet shows the ornate face of the clock and provides another reminder to "seize the day."

And finally our tempest fugit post card allows you to share these sentiments with others.

See the complete product line in our Zazzle gallery for these and other product options. We'll be using other collections items for future products, so be sure to bookmark our gallery and come back.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tour "Horsham's Most Haunted House" this Halloween

Ask any Horsham resident what they know about Graeme Park and inevitably they will tell you it is haunted! Long the source of local lore and legend of the hauntings that take place here, Graeme Park will be hosting its annual Haunted Moonlight Halloween tours on Friday, October 16 and Saturday, October 17 at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, and 9:00 p.m. The tours are $12/person and reservations and prepayment are required. Light refreshments are included.

On the surface, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, mistress of the house in the late 18th century, seemed to have it all. She was the granddaughter of the Governor and the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia physician. She was well-educated and well traveled, a noted poet, and salon hostess who moved in elite circles and held her own intellectually with her male counterparts. She was however, unlucky in love and a victim of circumstances when she got caught up in the politics of the Revolution, and it all went wrong for her very quickly. Her possessions were sold at auction and she was at risk of losing her home. Rumors of her husband’s infidelity were spreading through Philadelphia and her very loyalty to the American government was called into question.

Did the events which haunted Elizabeth during her life prevent her from retiring peacefully after her death? Reports of her ghost have been circulating since 1801, just months after her death, when her friend Betsy Stedman reported “passing her on the stairs” of the Keith House at Graeme Park. Could Mrs. Strawbridge, the 20th century owner of the house, been mistaken when she heard “the rustle of her skirts?” Surely the pilots from the nearby Willow Grove Naval Air Station weren’t imagining things every time they saw mysterious lights over the pond?

Visitors will hear the details of these reports and many others, interwoven with the story of Elizabeth’s life, on these guided candlelit tours. Costumed actors bring to life the events which may contribute to Elizabeth’s unrest through the ages and relay some of the stories that have “haunted” the Keith House since the dawn of the 19th century.

The event is being put on by the Friends of Graeme Park, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Call 215-343-0965 for details. Directions are available on our website at

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Restoration Work on the Keith House

This summer a few restoration projects have been started on the Keith House at Graeme Park. The first, undertaken by the state, is the restoration of some of the window and door sills and framing, which were badly rotted in some places. The original sash were removed so the work could be done, giving us an opportunity to see the 18th century construction, including the boxwood pulleys, ropes, and weights that aided in the opening and closing of the sash. The channels housing these mechanisms where hand chiseled out of solid pieces of wood.

The door jambs were repaired using a dutchman repair to piece in new, solid wood where it was needed and retain the old original wood where we could. Resin helps to reinforce the older wood where it was beginning to deteriorate but was still salvagable. The repairs are apparent on close inspection, but this is considered desirable so that future generations may distinguish the original 18th century work from the 21st century repairs.
The project also includes repainting of all the trim in a blue just slightly different than the current blue. This is based on the paint analysis done in the 1980s. Some of the new paint color has already been applied, but there is still more to do.
A second project that is underway is on the gables of the summer kitchen. The paint was badly peeling and Mike MacCausland offered to take on the scraping and repainting for the Friends of Graeme Park. Since the summer kitchen is a reproduction building, the work can be done by volunteers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yellow Fever Comes to Graeme Park

On Sunday, August 23, 103 visitors enjoyed a day at Graeme Park learning about the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and its effects on the people associated with this Horsham historical site. Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, who owned Graeme Park from 1772, when she inherited it from her father, until 1791, when she sold it to her nephew, was still in residence at Grame Park when the fever struck. While she had sold the property to her nephew-in-law, Dr. William Smith, and his second wife in 1791, the Smiths continued to live in the city and allowed Elizabeth to remain at Graeme Park. When the fever necessitated the Smiths leave the city and seek refuge at their country estate, Elizabeth, not wanting to live as a guest in her ancestral home, prepared to move to a boarding house in Hatboro run by the widow Mrs. Todd.

Elizabeth packs up her belongings in preparation for her move out
of Graeme Park, precipitated by the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.

Country homes like Graeme Park where especially important during outbreaks of disease and fever in the city because they provided those with the means a more healthy environment. In fact, during especially severe outbreaks, such as that in 1793, armed guards were often stationed along the roads and would not let travelers through unless they could prove they had a place to go because the small towns and inns did not want sick travelers out wandering the roads and spreading the disease.

One of Elizabeth's oldest and dearest friends, Dr. Benjamin Rush, used drastic and controversial bleeding and purging techniques in an attempt to cure the fever. Rush began noticing the symptoms of the fever, which included nasuea, black vomit, fever, skin eruptions, incontinence,  jaundice, and death, in early August of 1793. His methods included letting huge amounts of blood from the body in an attempt to rid it of the disease, as well as administering calomel (mercury) and jalap (poisonous root of a plant) as a purgative. His methods were criticized by many other physicians of the time, but after he "cured" himself of the fever with his methods, Philadelphians were lining up to take his cure.

Some of "Dr. Rush's" medicines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

The yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793, killing an estimated 10% of the city’s population, made country retreats like Graeme Park important havens. It was this epidemic that prompted Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s nephew-in-law, William Smith and his second wife, to take up residence at Graeme Park, which they had purchased from Elizabeth in 1791. Not wanting to live as a guest in her ancestral home, their move resulted in Elizabeth leaving her home for a boarding house in Hatboro, and finally to the home of Seneca Lukens, a local clockmaker, where she spent the last years of her life.

A special Living History Theater program, August 23 at Graeme Park in Horsham, will focus on the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and its impact on the residents of Graeme Park and their friends. Costumed actors will present vignettes related to yellow fever in tours throughout the day between 12:00 noon – 3:00 p.m. Admission is $8/regular (12-64); $7/seniors (65+); $4/kids (3-11).

This program is sponsored by the Friends of Graeme Park with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Call 215-343-0965 for details. Directions are available on our website at

Read an article about our event in the Trend newspaper -
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