Autumn Escape

Spice up your leaf peeping with true crime (and local history)

With fall foliage peaking in these last two weeks of October, there couldn’t be a better time for a getaway into the rolling, wooded hills of nearby Chester County. This season, the landscape is forecast to be especially vibrant, thanks to a relatively cool, wet summer.

Indeed, the area’s exceptionally lush greenery no doubt helped one Chesco prison fugitive elude police for two weeks last September. Another contributing factor: the inmate’s elfin proportions – he was barely 5 feet tall, and weighed no more than the average 8th grader (about 120 lbs). Video of his Spiderman-esque breakout went justifiably viral: he effortlessly “chimneyed” between two close walls in the prison’s exercise yard, then climbed down off the roof.

Fun Fact: another prisoner had escaped this same exact way only a few months earlier, but they caught him within 5 minutes so it didn’t make the news. And apparently no one bothered to fix this obvious breach – until two-time murderer Danelo Cavalcante, that is. In an interview after he was captured, he told investigators that he modeled his escape after learning of the previous successful effort (even the guards knew he was up to something).

On the run for 14 days, Cavalcante had the entire Delaware Valley on high alert, with near-constant news updates on where he’d been sighted or recorded on security cameras. At one point, they thought they had him surrounded at Longwood Gardens, but then he stole a dairy van and ditched it in Phoenixville. He was spotted stealing a rifle, and soon the cops had a bead on him, thanks to a DEA plane with thermal imaging that could identify his heat signature through the wooded underbrush he was so good at hiding in.

As officers closed in on him in a log pile outside a John Deere store, he made one last dash through a thicket that quickly ended with a police dog named Yoda biting his head. Soon after, he got a free trip to the State Correctional Institution in Montgomery County where he is still being held, as he is serving a life sentence with no parole.

Back in Chester County, the Prison Board got a talking-to from neighbors who were PO’d they didn’t tighten security after that first guy got out in May. They fired the tower guard on-duty and installed a tin roof over the area where Cavalcante accessed the roof. Here’s hoping his dash for freedom doesn’t inspire any other inmate flights.

From August 31th – September 13th, Cavalcante led cops on a wild chase through some of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful and historic scenery. His manhunt involved prominent Chester County landmarks — worth a visit anytime, but especially now when the trees are ablaze in autumn color.

Longwood Gardens — Like many areas around suburban Philadelphia, the area around Longwood Gardens was once inhabited by the native Lenape Indians. It is estimated that the Lenape tribe was in Pennsylvania for thousands of years before they bartered land with the Europeans.

In 1700, George Pierce, a quaker farmer bought the land around Longwood Gardens from the commissioners of William Penn. In 1798, his grandsons planted an arboretum. In 1850, the Park had gotten national acclaim, and was an outdoor social area. In July of 1906, Pierre Du Pont saved the trees from being cut down into timber. In 1921, Du Pont opened and allowed the gardens to be enjoyed by the public. Longwood Gardens acquired the historic Longwood Cemetery in 2018.

Today, Longwood Gardens is a botanical extravaganza, with 200 acres of formal gardens, open meadows and winding paths with breathtaking vistas and innovative horticultural displays around every corner. Tix $25 with discounts for seniors, students, military plus SNAP/EBT/IPA ACCESS Cardholders. Open 10am to 6pm daily (closed Tuesdays).  1001 Longwood Road, Kennet Square, longwoodgardens.org

The Pierce-du Pont House — Longwood Garden’s oldest building was built in 1730 for Pierre DuPont, a passionate cultivator and collector of plants who used the house to entertain friends and elude the winter blues. Here you’ll find an impressive assortment of tropical specimens and fascinating exhibit covering 300 years of history and horticulture on the site. Pierre’s love of gardening inspired the creation of Flower Garden Walk (600 feet of dazzling blooms) as well as the Main Fountain Garden, a neoclassical design that’s been mesmerizing guests for over 90 years.

The Sheeder-Hall Covered Bridge — This classic red beauty is the oldest of Chester County’s iconic covered bridges. It was constructed in 1850 to transport goods over the French Creek. In 1972, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.  10 Hollow Road, north of French Creek Road in Spring City.

The Old Kennett Meetinghouse — Built in 1710 on land deeded from William Penn, this simple Quaker meeting house is rich in history. It’s historic graveyard saw the first shots of the Battle of Brandywine, as General Maxwell’s small American force surprised the British and Hessians, before being driven back to the north hills of Chadd’s Ford (the soldiers killed that day are buried here). Lots of fascinating Abolition history here, too. 489 Meetinghouse Road, Kennett Square. Westernquarterquakers.org

Brandywine Battlefield — The site of America’s first 9/11 – on this date in 1777, the largest, single-day engagement of the Revolutionary War was fought over a ten-square mile area. More than 30,0000 soldiers engaged as the Continental Army’s George Washington faced off with the Redcoat, Wiliam Howe. Although the British won and soon occupied Philadelphia, the Revolution lived on. 1491 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, 610-459-3342, brandywinebattlefield.org, open Fridays & Saturdays 10am – 4pm (plus events).

The Gideon Gilpin House — Open to visitors at the Brandywine Battlefield historic site, this former Quaker family home was built in 1754 for Gideon Gilpin, a wheat and dairy farmer with six kids. As a Quaker, he refused to take sides in the Revolutionary War but regardless to his wishes, his home was used as a headquarters for Lafayette during the Battle. When the Continental Army retreated, the family hid while the British completely destroyed his crops, livestock, and equipment. His life in ruins, Gilpin declared his support for the Continental cause, and was expelled from the Quaker community for doing so. Tix $8 and include 18 minute film, museum, and guided tours (the house is presented much as it was in 1777).

EPILOGUE: Perhaps the best part about Cavalcante’s capture is what he’s wearing in the photos, a clever choice for anyone hoping to blend in around Philly. Speaking on the arrest later that day, Governor Josh Shapiro joked, “Folks, whoever had their Eagles hoodie stolen, if you could let us know. I’ll do my best to get you one of those new Kelly green ones.” 😆🏈🦅 Go Birds!

About Michael Thomas Leibrandt 11 Articles
Michael Thomas Leibrandt is a Historical Writer Living in Abington Township, Pennsylvania.

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