Jeff Ryan, Author & Speaker

Gathland — Where history and the Appalachian Trail cross paths

“Gath” Townsend (left) hobnobbing with author and humorist Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel L. Clemens; middle) and David Gray, editor of the Buffalo Courier (right) in 1871.

During the Civil War, a twenty-year-old correspondent named George Townsend rose to become the leading journalist of his era. “Gath”, as he called himself, made a fortune, particularly because of his book entitled, The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth.

During his prestigious newspaper career, he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Herald, the New York World (where he covered the assassination of Abraham Lincoln), the Chicago Tribune and the New York Graphic.

But alas, even though Gath became a household name, amassed riches that enabled him to purchase an estate in the Maryland mountains and erect a monument to war correspondents (shown above), he died nearly penniless in Philadelphia. (There wasn’t even enough money left to move his body to the tomb he had built on his estate featuring the inscription, “Good Night — Gath” above the door.)

The state of Maryland purchased the property and named it Gathland State Park. Today the Appalachian Trail passes through Gathland and past the ruins of Gath’s lofty dreams that came back down to earth. It’s a neat place to encounter along what is a very historical section of trail. In fact, the entire route along South Mountain through the state of Maryland was home to intense fighting as Union and Confederate troops positioned themselves for signigicant battles in Harpers Ferry, WV and Antietam, MD.   

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Jeffrey H Ryan is an author, adventurer, photographer and historian. He has written several books about his outdoor exploits, his fascination with hiking trails and the people and places found just off the beaten path. His debut book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America's trail was hailed by the former Executive Editor of National Geographic as "a classic of nature and travel writing" and set off a national tour (in a 1985 VW camper, no less). His books are known for weaving a deep appreciation for history into walks across contemporary landscapes that give readers the feeling they are hiking right alongside. When Jeff isn't trekking, chasing down a great story or spinning yarns from his keyboard, he enjoys sharing his adventures with audiences who love the outdoors. He spends much of his time in his beloved native state of Maine.

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