Letters from America’s ‘first kidnapping for ransom’ on display at Germantown exhibition

Historic Germantown will host an Opening Night Event on Friday night for an exhibit showcasing 23 letters involved in what’s believed to be “the first kidnapping for ransom in America.”

On July 1, 1874, two men took a little boy named Charley Ross from his father Christian’s front lawn on Washington Lane in Germantown. Three days later, a ransom letter arrived. “[B]e not uneasy,” the kidnappers wrote. “[W]e is got him.” A second letter which arrived five days later stated their demand: $20,000.

After a five-month investigation that fueled a national manhunt and instigated more than 20 additional ransom notes, the kidnappers were killed in a botched burglary attempt. Charley Ross never returned home.

Author Carrie Hagen, who freelances for NewsWorks, will be on hand for a 6 p.m. reception and talk about her book, “WE GOT IS HIM,” which chronicled the Ross kidnapping.

“For the very first time since 1874, all 23 chilling original ransom letters will be exhibited in the very neighborhood where this extraordinary crime occurred, along with other interesting objects and newspaper clippings associated with this case that rocked not just the city of Philadelphia but the entire nation,” according to a Historic Germantown press release about the event.

After being purchased by an anonymous bidder at a November auction, the letters are on “long-term loan at Historic Germantown.”

At the time of the auction, Historic Germantown Executive Director Barbara Hogue said that the letters “tell an important story in Germantown’s history” and are “expressive, coldly calculating, and, at times, both chilling and poetic.”

Friday’s event will be held at Historic Germantown, 5501 Germantown Ave. The “The Charley Ross Ransom Letters of 1874” exhibit runs through April 25.

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