I was introduced to the grave of Aquila Henning, and his story, in the summer of 2009 while on a journey through the Poconos. A number of friends living in the eastern portion of the state had told me of the unique stone located in the Old Albrightsville Cemetery and suggested that I visit it in my travels.
Albrightsville, located where Routes 903 and 534 cross in Carbon County, is a small community that one could pass through without realizing it. The Old Albrightsville Cemetery, at the junction of Henning and North Stage Coach Roads, is a small plot of land originally owned by the Henning family, but is now owned and cared for by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Albrightsville.
Arriving at the cemetery my attention was immediately captured by the large memorial that seemed out of place among the other markers that stood on this small plot of land. Finding a safe place to park became an immediate challenge as parking was almost nonexistent. I carefully pulled into the grass along North Old Stage Road and quickly made the short journey onto the piece of hallowed ground towards the large monument I had come searching for.
The side of the monument facing North Old Stage Road had a number of names and dates chiseled into it; it was relatively plain and simple. However, the other side of the memorial was what brought me here. Stepping around the memorial to the side opposite the road, I was taken in by the engraving that covered the majority of this side of the monument.
The picture engraved in the stone tells one version of the death of Aquila Henning, showing the world the family’s version of his death. Standing in the foreground is Aquila Henning with his rifle in hand and hidden in the bushes are the faces of the seven men who were present the day of his death. Two other figures can be seen in the carving. Directly in front of Aquila a one-armed man stands in the laurel pointing a pistol at Aquila and next to the one-armed man is another man kneeling.
If the picture did not raise questions, the words chiseled into the stone will leave visitors with questions about had happened to Aquila. Beneath the engraving are the words: “An Innocent Man Sent To Eternity.” On the left side of the engraving, beneath Aquila’s name is the following statement: “Shot Nov. 24, 1932.”
Who was Aquila Henning and what happened to him? What was this story carved here for the world to see?
While none of the characters on the stone are identifies, in researching the story, I was able to put names to some of the men. The main figure, the man carrying the rifle and staring into the laurel at a one-armed man, is Aquila Henning, the man who rests beneath the monument. The one-armed man who stands among the laurel actually existed: his name was Harry Wilkinson, a local school teacher and deputy game warden. The identity of the kneeling man is most likely Robert Wilkinson, Harry’s brother. Peering from the laurel are seven faces, the other members of the group hunting with Harry and Robert that day, watching the events that were about to unfold. According to the engraving, Harry was preparing to shoot Aquila from ambush.
At the time of the shooting, there was bad blood between Harry Wilkinson and Aquila Henning, Sr. The tension between the two men started when Harry arrested Aquila Jr. for illegally hunting. Heated words were exchanged between Aquila Sr. and Harry over the arrest. The feelings of hostility boiled between the two and it would only be a matter of time before it would turn violent.
On Thanksgiving Day 1932, the fight would turn bloody. Aquila and his son had spent the morning hunting and fate would cause them to run into Harry Wilkinson, his brother Robert, and seven others who in their hunting party. The fact they were all hunting and the two parties encountered each other is the only thing that both sides agree upon.
According to the Wilknson’s version of the events, which is the official version of the shooting, the hunting party was first alerted to the presence of the Hennings by the sound of a nearby rifle shot. Harry came out of the laurel to discover that Aquila Jr. had shot one of the Wilkinson dogs. While Harry knelt to examine the wounded dog, Aquila Sr. appeared out of laurel, stepped up on a stump and took aim at Harry. Aquila fired, but his shot missed Harry, who fled through the laurel. Robert, who was nearby, saw Aquila firing at his brother; he drew his gun and shot Aquila, emptying a load of buckshot into the back of Aquila Henning.
Harry and Morris Getz would take Aquila to Palmerton Hospital. Shortly after arriving at the hospital Aquila passed away from his injuries. Before he died, Aquila was able to give a brief statement. He claimed that he did not shoot the dog or shoot at Harry.
Robert turned himself in for the shooting death of Aquila and was charged with murder. On January 11, 1933, the case against Robert Wilkinson went to trial and after a week of testimony, the jury quickly returned with a verdict of “Not Guilty.” There was no denying that Robert shot and killed Aquila; the jury deemed the shooting as being necessary in order for Robert to save Harry’s life.
Interestingly, during the trial Robert claimed that he had never seen Aquila nor his son before the day of the shooting. However, Robert’s testimony stated he previously heard Aquila Jr. make threats against Harry’s dogs.
The bitterness between the two families did not end at the trial. Five years later, the Wenz Memorial Company provided a stone for the grave, with the picture portraying a different version of the murder than the official one. The scene chiseled in the stone shows Harry preparing to shoot Aquila from ambush, the version Aquila’s widow believed happened based on Aquila’s final words.
Immediately after the erection of the monument, Harry Wilkinson sued the Wenz Memorial Company for damages, claiming that the engraving was all a lie to make him look bad. He lost the case.
As I prepared to leave, I realized that only three people will ever know exactly what happened that fateful day. One died due to his wounds, one claimed he was protecting his brother’s life, and one claimed he was hiding after being shot at and didn’t see the actual shooting. The only thing that is sure is that Aquila would be shot and die from his wounds. The rest of what happened that day remains a mystery.