The Andersonville Christmas Pickle
What on earth could a pickle Christmas ornament and a Civil War prison camp have in common? Sounds like a good story or perhaps the stuff of legends. In 2006, park staff at Andersonville National Historic Site heard about a story going around the internet regarding the tradition of hanging a pickle Christmas ornament on a Christmas tree and its connection to the infamous Civil War prison.
The tradition of trying to find the little ornament shaped like a pickle which was hidden deep among the green boughs on Christmas Eve began many years ago. As the story goes, the lucky one who found the ornament on Christmas morning would either receive an extra gift from St. Nicholas or be blessed with good fortune for the next year. However, the question remains, who started this tradition?
One of many legends gives credit to Private John C. Lower for beginning this tradition that becomes more popular with each passing year. Bavarian-born Lower immigrated to the United States with his family, where he enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry. Private Lower was captured at Plymouth, North Carolina, in April of 1864 and was taken to Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. On Christmas Eve, in poor health and starving, he begged a guard for just one pickle before he died. The guard took pity on him and found a pickle for Private Lower.
According to family legend, Lower said that the pickle - by the grace of God - gave him the mental and physical strength to live on. Once he was reunited with his family, he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree. The first person who found the pickle on Christmas morning would be blessed with a year of good fortune.
Can the story be proven? Probably not. John Lower was a prisoner at Andersonville according to the park's historic records. The rest is all a story passed along as many family legends are done.
In close collaboration with Eastern National, the park's cooperating association, a Christmas tree covered with pickle ornaments is placed in the lobby of the National Prisoner of War Museum each year during the month of December. There is also a display that explains the story. Park visitors have been eagerly purchasing the ornaments from the Eastern National bookstore. They are available for sale at the museum along with an explanation of the Private Lower story.
Written by Park Ranger Kim Douglas, 2007.
Did You Know?
The site of Andersonville prison was owned by both the Grand Army of the Republic and the Woman’s Relief Corp before being transferred to the federal government in 1910. The prison site was administered, along with Andersonville National Cemetery, by the Department of the Army until 1971.