Home > Uncategorized > Grave Robbing my Great-Great-Uncle

Grave Robbing my Great-Great-Uncle

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of work, short play readings, full play rehearsals, and various other commitments that have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m inclined to be a masochist when it comes to any and all things creative, I’ve come into possession of a fascinating item.

Earlier today, my father gave me a pocket Bible (New Testament) that was printed in the late 19th Century. Beyond the novelty of having an old printing, it’s been in my family for over 120 years. Specifically, it once found its way into the coat jacket of  my great-great-uncle, Sgt. Charles Marshall Hallgate.

Charles served during World War I in the 14th Canadian Infantry (Company B 1st Division) and was killed in action on April 24, 1915 by shell fire in Ypres, Belgium. He was 25 years old at the time. My father’s research unveiled a mention in a published text that provides some further details regarding my family’s involvement in World War I:

“The Troy mother who stands first in the number of sons she gave to her country is Mrs. John Marshall Hallgate, of Fales Court. Mrs. Hallgate’s five sons all saw active service. One of them, Sergeant Charles Marshall Hallgate, was killed while fighting with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in the first battle of Ypres. John Marshall Hallgate served with the United States Navy, while the other three sons, William Marshall, Fred Marshall and Garnett Runsen Hallgate, all fought with the Canadians.”

Landmarks of Rensselaer County by Rutherford Hayner (1925)

The inclusion of the name “Hallgate,” as you might imagine, sparked my interest. My first assumption was that it was one of those situations where a name was lost due to clumsy clerical work or, as was the case with the Hungarian side of my family that changed their name from “Machara” to “Mahar,” was an attempt to further ingratiate the immigrant family to a more traditional American aesthetic. As it turns out, Hallgate was the name of my great-great-grandmother’s second husband. She remarried when my great-grandfather was about a year old and he, along with his three older brothers, were formally and legally adopted by their new step-father. Some time after returning from the war, my great-grandfather made the decision to drop the name “Hallgate” altogether. This step was not taken to spite his step-father, but rather as a tribute to his lineage and the biological father he never knew.

John Marshall (nee John Marshall Hallgate) was my great-great-grandfather. The service of others in the Canadian military was, at least initially, attributable to a sense of national pride for their homeland. Seeing as how the United States had not yet entered the war, the four elder sons made the decision to enroll in the Canadian military (Garnett Runsen Hallgate was a step-brother brought into the family by the aforementioned union). By the time John was old enough to enter into active service, the Lusitania had sunk and the Americans had been officially dragged into global conflict.

All of this gathered from a small pocket Bible.

So now we arrive at the subject of the pocket Bible itself, which belonged to my great-great-uncle Charles Marshall Hallgate. As hinted at in the title of this blog, the book was actually on his person when he was shot and killed in Belgium, making this a particularly special family heirloom. It was given to his brother, who eventually gave it to his son, and so forth in direct lineage until it landed in the hands of yours truly. I suppose if one were superstitious or otherwise uneasy with the concept of death, they might find the acquisition to be a bit morbid. Myself, I’m touched by the gesture and find the whole thing fascinating.

Equally fascinating is a little mystery included in it – a penned prayer inscribed on the inside covers on both ends of the book. One of the facts lost to time is whether the handwriting belonged to Charles or his younger brother, who received the book after Charles was killed in action. Unfortunately we are at a loss for handwriting samples from Charles or John, so the question of its author will have to remain unsolved and left to speculation.

Initially I thought I’d prefer for it to have been written by Charles, the soldier whose journey to the New World did not eliminate his sense of pride, duty, and obligation for his homeland; an English patriot finding solace and peace amongst unimaginable horrors and cruelty via a pocket Bible and a personal inscription. Having thought more about it, though, it actually might make for a better story if the author was John: a Bible retrieved untarnished from the corpse of a deceased soldier arrives in the hands of his mourning younger brother, who then pens an earnest prayer for his beloved brother’s soul.


Photo 8

The book in question

Photo 13

Front inside cover

Photo 12

Back inside cover

Also, if anybody has any suggestions in terms of protective cases and/or storage of this item so as to prevent any further damage to it, it’d be greatly appreciated.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. cuteellaisbold
    August 13, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    What a wonderful story and treasure! I have no suggestions other than don’t spill your ice water on it.

  2. feefeelarue
    August 13, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    What a cool thing to inherit dude! You can get one of those frames that hold 3D items I think they’re called window boxes!! Used to have em at Target could also try Restoration Hardware.

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