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Is Bergdoll’s Gold in Vera Cruz?
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

Bergdoll purchased this Wright Model B bi-plane for $5,000 in 1912.  In 1933, it was donated to the Franklin Institute.  The bi-plane is shown hanging in Aviation Hall at the museum.

        Over the past few months, one television show has been drawing more and more viewers each week to the Travel Channel and building quite a reputation for the historical oddities presented.

        The host, Don Wildman, takes viewers into the vaults of the nation's museums to unearth wondrous treasures from the past and share tidbits of history that otherwise would never be brought to light. But on a recent episode, a trip into the archived pages of the Town & Country could have helped.

        In the episode, Wildman made a stop at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for a look at a Wright Model B Flyer hanging from the rafters of the esteemed science museum.  But it wasn't the airplane designed by Orville and Wilber Wright that was the subject of the episode; it was the plane's notorious owner, Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, and a secret stash of gold reportedly hidden by the accused draft-dodger.

        Grover was a son of Lois J. Bergdoll, the brewery millionaire from the City of Brotherly Love.  Of all of the members of this wealthy family, perhaps Grover is the best known.  Born in 1893, he became somewhat of a daredevil during his early adult years.

        Shortly after Wilbur and Orville Wright's Model B airplane became the first flying machine to be manufactured in quantity, Grover purchased one.  For the mere price of $5,000 (that's $100,000 in today's terms), he was able to obtain the aircraft.                However, there was a catch.  The Wright brothers insisted that none of their planes could be purchased until the buyer took flying lessons at their factory in Ohio.

        Bergdoll was rich enough to acquire the plane and obtain the required skills.  He became one of the 119 flyers who trained with the famous siblings.  During the training, Bergdoll and Orville Wright became good friends.  As a matter of fact, Orville thought Grover was one of the "best natural pilots he had ever met."

        In 1910, one of the first wars began in which airplanes were used.  The Mexican Revolutionary conflict lasted until 1920.  Early on, Bergdoll and several other American pilots went south of the border to man Pancho Villa's primitive four-plane air force.  It was a controversial move at best since the United States supported the government of Venustiano Carranza, Villa's enemy.  The American sentiment towards Carranza prompted Villa to turn against his northern neighbors.

        Grover Cleveland Bergdoll earned a nation-wide reputation when he dodged the draft during World War I.  With the help of his mother, Bergdoll spent several years evading federal officials.  The long arm of the law finally caught up with Grover in 1920 when he as captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.  His internment didn't last long.  Six months after he was jailed, Bergdoll escaped.  He fled to his mother's hometown of Eberbach, Germany – but not before he received a very large sum of money.

        Reportedly, Grover was involved in some illegal activities prior to his flight from prison.  While staying at a hotel in Hagerstown Maryland in 1921, he received a very large payment for those activities: $150,000 in gold coins.  He skimmed off $40,000 to take with him to Germany.  The other $110,000 was placed in five valises and buried in five different locations.

        For the next two decades fortune hunters, including the United States Government, tried to locate the Bergdoll gold.  Some believed it was buried in the woods south of Hagerstown, others believed it would be found near Harper's Ferry, the region where Grover told officials that he hid the gold.  At Bergdoll's direction, federal sleuths searched the Maryland sites and found nothing.

        Not mentioned on the Bergdoll episode of Mysteries at the Museum, was the suggestion that the gold may have been buried in Lehigh County.

        According to accounts in the Town and Country, Reading Eagle and even the New York Times, it is plausible that some of the gold may lay beneath the Earth's crust just outside of the Dillingersville tunnel, near Vera Cruz, Pa. – a few miles north of the Upper Perkiomen Valley.

        Members of the Bergdoll family owned a 44-acre property in Lower Milford Township that was once the home of the Schuylkill Stone Company, which was also owned by Bergdoll family members. 

        In addition to owning the quarry, the Bergdolls made many visits to the area.  In 1921 the land surrounding the pit was described as "wild and unfrequented."  The tracks of the Perkiomen Railroad crossed the property near the tunnel.  It was reported that "various members of the Bergdoll family repeatedly made trips … to see the property.  During their trips they frequently made stops with residents in the vicinity, sometimes spending the night there."

        A New York Times story alleged that Bergdoll hid out on the Vera Cruz property for a period of time after his escape from prison.

        While in Germany, Bergdoll's Model B biplane sat in storage at the family airfield near Philadelphia.  It was in excellent condition.  He had made 748 flights with it, logging 312 hours and 34 minutes without incident.  In 1933 it was donated to the Franklin Institute where it still hangs on display today and is described as the most intact Wright airplane remaining in the world (including the one at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.).

        In 1939, Grover returned to the United States.  The government retuned 80 percent of the $535,000 in property it has seized from him while he was a fugitive.  Then he was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to complete his prison term.  He was released in 1945 and returned to his farm in Downingtown, Pa. 

        There were stories circulating that the mental strain on the eccentric Bergdoll during his years in exile, as well as those living behind bars, were too much for him.  He spent most of the rest of his life under psychiatric treatment.  He died in 1966.

Reportedly, his gold was never found. 





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