Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sandy Flash & Square Tavern

Square Tavern (photo by Mary Ann Fiebert of the Delco Times)
James Fitzpatrick was a highwayman who specialized in robbing victims traveling the West Chester Pike in the mid-to-late 1700s. He was popularly known by the name Sandy Flash, and although a royal pain in the behind to law officials, who he often contemptuously taunted, Fitzgerald was a bit of a folk hero, cast in the Robin Hood mold.

The gallant was reputed to have given gifts to the poor and was never known to steal from the needy or mistreat a woman; there were enough rich dudes running around to keep him rolling in pounds sterling. If business was slow, he'd ride into town and find a likely target to refill his larder.

In 1778, Flash went to the Square Tavern in Newtown Square and relieved its patrons of their cash. That led to his downfall, as he was finally captured after that last bit of larceny and sentenced to hang; his death warrant was said to have been signed by none other than Ben Franklin.

After repeated unsuccessful escape attempts, he was hung, more or less...actually, his legend goes that the rope was too long and his toes touched the ground, so the hangman jumped on his shoulders (kinda lazy, if you ask us) and in effect strangled the outlaw to death.

The Square Tavern is famous on its own merits. Built in 1742, it also is known as the Square Inn and the James West House, noted as the childhood home of American artist Benjamin West. It weathered some rough times, but after being restored in 1981 and again in 2008, the building on Newtown Square and Goshen Roads is a museum and home to the Delaware County Tourist Bureau.

Sandy Flash and the Square Tavern seem fated to remain forever linked. Visitors to the historic building have reported seeing mysterious lights - orbs, if you prefer - flashing through the windows. Local lore has it the lights are the spirit of Sandy Flash returning to the scene of his last crime.

Why would Flash gently haunt the Tavern? No one is really sure, but Widener University's folklorist Joseph Edgette, who related this tale to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dan Hardy, said "'s fascinating to know that Fitzpatrick's story is still alive today because of stories of the haunting."

And what better reason to haunt a house than to keep your name on people's lips through the centuries?


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