The roots of the tragedy of Allen Frazer may well have been sown in the depression of 1857 that swept the United States. In the 1858 Adams County map, Allen’s father Thomas was listed in a directory of prominent businessmen in Gettysburg—he owned a blacksmith and carpentry shop and, at his peak, employed at least three other blacksmiths. But it is possible that Thomas’s fortunes turned in the 1857 panic. In the summer of 1858, a sheriff’s sale was held to dispose of Thomas Frazer’s home and business, a second business site, and properties in and around the area that totaled forty-eight acres of land. Thomas and his wife Elizabeth then moved with Allen and his six siblings and half siblings to Baltimore.
Just eight months later, Thomas contracted typhoid fever and died. Some time thereafter, probably in the 1860s, Allen returned to Gettysburg to live at the home of Solomon Powers who had previously taken in another young man from Baltimore and was known to welcome into his home and employ virtually all comers. This turn of events likely came from Allen approaching apprentice age—moving him to a family he could work for likely eased the burden at home in Baltimore.
On July 3, 1863, George Briggs of Philadelphia was fighting near the Angle with the 72nd Pennsylvania. He suffered a wound to his back, died shortly thereafter, and was buried on the Schwartz farm near the 2nd Corps Field Hospital. That November, George’s father, Russell, traveled up from Philadelphia to hear the dedication of the National Cemetery and retrieve the body of his son. The smell of death still surrounded the city, as the work of exhuming and reinterring the Union dead would continue for several more months.
It is possible, if not likely, that Russell stayed at the spacious home of Solomon Powers. On November 19, Russell joined the entire town of two thousand plus another thirteen thousand from around the county and beyond who packed into the Evergreen Cemetery to hear Abraham Lincoln and others dedicate the National Cemetery.
The next day, with the help of locals, and possibly Solomon Powers himself who had been contracted to rebury the Massachusetts dead, Russell located his son’s body, placed it in a casket, and brought it to High Street to await shipping back to Philadelphia.
He also brought with him a souvenir he intended to bring home—an unexploded artillery shell that he had either found or bought (the sale of relics was going strong by the fall). Russell sat outside the Powers home with a file where he attempted to extract the fuse. He grew frustrated with the progress and began to strike the shell against a rock. According to a witness across the street, Allen saw what Russell was doing and stepped over to warn him of the danger. A spark flew, and the shell exploded. Russell’s hands were instantly mangled beyond saving, his eyesight in his right eye was gone, and his hearing was severely damaged.
Young Albertus McCreary, who was nearby, saw Allen crumple, covered in blood. According to many, Allen had been nearly cut in half by a piece of the shell–Albertus recorded that Allen’s abdomen had been mostly blown away. Allen looked at Albertus, blinked, then died.
Ever the steward of the downtrodden, Solomon Powers had Allen buried in the Powers family plot. However, to the confusion of many observers over the years, the old stonecutter had no headstone made or placed. Other commentators now believe that Solomon must have expected the Frazer family to claim Allen’s body and bury him in Baltimore. But time marched on and for years, Allen lay in an unmarked grave until the Gettysburg Civil War Round Table and other groups paid for and installed a headstone—a commemoration that took place 157 years to the day after Allen’s funeral.