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 July-August 2012

July-August 2012

 

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The Little Drummer Boy

Was Annie Glud Telling Tall Tales?

Courtesy of Hundley Family Collection

     She is now buried under a redstone marker near Millionaire Row in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery, but Annie Glud lived a very colorful life. According to her, anyway.
     Glud announced that she had cross-dressed as a boy to join her father when he went off to fight in the Civil War; her mother was dead, and he didn’t want to leave her with strangers (because the safest place for a child is on the battlefield). She served as drummer boy, calling herself Tom Hunley (her maiden name was Hunley), and the only person who ever figured out her gender just happened to be General Ulysses S. Grant, who pledged to keep her secret.
     That’s not so very impossible; documented cases exist of women who fought disguised as men. What makes this a little hard to swallow is that Glud didn’t tell the world until 1899, 34 years after the war had ended, and when the only two people who could confirm her story were dead.
     She stated that her 1899 play Tom Hundley, The Drummer Boy (available online as a Google scan) constituted an autobiographical telling of her life — with her last name slightly altered with the addition of a “d.” Her father’s decision to bring her to Gettysburg and Richmond was based on a deathbed promise to her mother to never desert her. That does sound credible — but Glud’s depiction of the battlefields doesn’t. She writes that a sergeant says of the 10-year-old her/him: “Say, where did that little chap come from? He looks like he came out of a picture-book; and yet, the men tell me, he has been in a great many hard-fought battles, and is not afraid of anything.”
     In the play, Tom marches with feet red with blood and is discovered after a battle with a dead soldier’s head in his lap, giving the poor soul sips of water from a canteen. General Grant says to her father, “There must be some recognition of your faithful service, and also a suitable reward for your little ‘Joan of Arc’ … seek me out when this war is ended.” When Tom grows up and resumes her female identity, she marries a brute who throws their baby across the room and sits to sharpen a razor to slit her throat: melodrama of the worst sort. As you might
imagine, a policeman happened by at just the right moment to prevent the murder!
     “My intent is not to disparage a good lady’s name,” writes San Diegan Cynthia Reyes on her wordpress blog YesterYear Once More. Reyes took an interest in Glud’s story and, armed with a www.Ancestry.com subscription, digitally searched newspaper archives for mentions of the drummer boy. “But after reading a few of the articles, I began to question the authenticity of her story.”
     Reyes’s blog lists strange account after strange account, which slowly builds a case for Glud’s unstable mental health. Not only did this woman claim to have drummed her way through the South, she invented and patented a fuel-saving fire grate, discovered gold in the Shasta mountains (“a Klondike craze in miniature,” she told the Kansas City Journal), and found more of the same at Sixth and Franklin streets in downtown Oakland. She had happened by men digging to establish a light pole and was compelled to fill her valise with dirt from the hole. Panning the next day, she pocketed more than $5 in gold. “Plans are being evolved to tunnel under some of the houses,” reported the Oakland Tribune in 1901.
     By 1908, Glud was advertising in the classifieds, wanting to unload “180 acres of gold-bearing gravel” in exchange for land or a house. She was calling herself a private detective in a 1904 article, and more disturbingly, two years later was harboring three teen boy runaways in her home while the parents were frantic: “Mrs. Glud called at the police station this morning and stated that she had been caring for [one of the boys] for some time and she asked that the police arrest him and place him in jail for a short time, so that he would learn not to run away.”
     As if things weren’t wacky enough, she petitioned the city council in 1907 to consolidate the cities of Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda, under the new name, “City and County of California.” There’s more; check out Reyes’s excellent blog at http://yesteryearnews.wordpress.com for those surreal tidbits (two words: bear statue).
     “Normally, I don’t weigh in on these articles,” Reyes told me. An amateur historian, she began collecting stories to share with elementary school classrooms, and then decided to post them on her blog. “But for young girls reading this, what if they take it for fact? I totally believed Annie was a drummer boy at first, but the more I researched, it started to dawn on me that she might’ve been making it up.”
     Oaklanders at least outwardly accepted Glud’s story, and she proudly rode atop floats in the annual Armistice Day parades. A dot-matrixed 1927 newspaper photo of her on such a float, drumming away, shows what appears to be a man. Perhaps she really did face some transgender issues and glommed onto the idea of recasting her youth in a more dramatic way. Reyes conjectures that Glud may have been inspired by The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, a story so popular it was a poem, play and song.
     Whatever the truth, the story reminds us of a horrific war whose sesquicentennial we began marking a year ago. In states like Virginia and Tennessee, battlefields provide ample reminders, but here on the West
Coast we need accounts like these — even if they were false and manufactured because, as Glud wrote in her play, “Did [others] deserve the applause of the world more than she?”

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