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Showing posts from 2013

Columbia County Woman Struck By Race Horse

One of the more unusual stories to come from Columbia County.... From the Oct. 17, 1907 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

Mrs. Emma Polk, of Iola, attempted to cross the race track at the fair grounds on Friday, and was struck by the race horse, Billy Cole, as he was warming up for the first heat of the free-for-all.  She was thrown several feet.  She was taken to the hospital, where it was found that no bones were broken, and she went to her home that day.  It is a dangerous practice to cross a race track when it is doing business.

(view original newspaper article here)

Man's Head Hammered into the Ground

We all know that being a lumberjack is a dangerous job, but even most lumbermen would find the death of William Jarvis Corbin to be shocking.  From the October 1, 1884 edition of The Forest Republican:

A most appalling accident occurred near Lickingville, Clarion County, on Thursday last, resulting in the death of Wm. Corbin.  On that day he was engaged in falling timber, and when a tree had been nearly sawed in two, and was about to fall, Mr. C. ran to get out of the way.  The tree split, as is frequently the case, and kicked back, the butt end catching Corbin and crushing him to the ground with awful force.

The bones in both legs and arms were literally crushed to pieces; his head and neck were jammed into the ground a distance of six or eight inches, while his heart and liver were torn out, his heart being found several feet away.  It is said by those who witnessed the accident and saw the unfortunate victim afterwards, to have been a horribly sickening sight, as it certainly must h…

Three Headed Baby Born in Jefferson County

From the January 16, 1898, edition of the DuBois Express:

An unusual freak of nature was born at Beechtree recently.  The details are authentic but the parent's named are omitted for obvious reasons.  When born, the child, a male, had three heads, two growing out of each side of the central one, immediately behind the ears.  The central head was nearly perfect, except that it was flattened slightly on the top, but the two heads growing out of either side, while small, were almost perfectly developed.  The child lived a few days.

The parents were offered a considerable sum to allow the doctors to have possession of it, but they refused and it was buried in the Catholic cemetery.

(view original newspaper article here)

The Mystery Coffin of Loyalsock Creek

A very unusual story which appeared in the Bloomsburg Columbian on April 24, 1902:

A mysterious, well dressed stranger arrived at Montoursville on Thursday and offered to pay Sheffer & Son, undertakers of that town, $200 if they would take a coffin twenty miles up Loyalsock Creek and bury it in a secluded spot to be designated by him.  The only provision that he required was that they sign an agreement to bury the coffin without opening it and ever afterward keep the matter a secret.

He said the coffin would arrive from St. Louis and that it was to be met at the train and immediately conveyed to the chosen place of burial without further question.

The undertakers declared they would not bury a coffin unless they knew what it contained.  The stranger was apparently much perturbed when he found his proposition was not accepted.  He then declared that if the strictest secrecy was promised he would withdraw the stipulation that the coffin should not be opened if they would agree, after …

Hard Up For Friendship?

Here's an interesting story about a robbery which appeared in the July 12, 1899, edition of the Juniata Sentinel and Republican:

Postmaster Geo. C. Wagenseller of Selinsgrove was returning home from Shamokin Dam the other night when two highwayment stopped his horse in a covered bridge across Penn's Creek and demanded his money.  He had left his pistol at home so he handed over the $16 he had in his pocket.  He wanted to give them his watch, but they refused to take it.  He invited him to go with him to Selinsgrove and have a drink, but they declined.

(view original newspaper article here)

Skeleton Found in Rafters of K-Ville Hotel

The Kleinfeltersville Hotel is known throughout Lebanon County as a great place to get a meal or enjoy live entertainment.  As a musician, I had performed at this venerable establishment many years ago and even though the food was terrific and the service was wonderful, I couldn't shake the "creepy" feeling which seemed to linger in the air.  While I have never heard of the Kleinfeltersville Hotel being haunted, it's the type of old building (the hotel dates back to 1857) which would certainly make a wonderful home for spirits.

Interestingly, in 1902 the skeleton of a child was found in the building's rafters.  Though I've spent hours researching this story, to the best of my knowledge, the identity of the child has never been established.  If anyone out there has more information about this strange discovery from 1902, please contact me at

Here's one account of the discovery, as it appeared in the July 10, 1902 edition of the Fulto…

Gold in Sullivan County

From the Bloomsburg Columbian., May 01, 1902:

Peter Gilmore, a Sullivan County farmer, has found gold on his farm.  Recently he discovered what he thought was gold quartz and sent some of it to an assayer, who yesterday returned the analysis, showing that the quartz contains gold to the value of $1.40 per ton.

As mines in the Western fields producing as low as 30 cents per ton are operated, Mr. Gilmore is elated, and all land in the vicinity has taken a sudden rise.

Unsolved Mystery: The Skeleton of Mocanaqua

In 1884, the bleached bones of a skeleton wearing the tattered remnants of an army uniform was found beneath the outcropping of rocks above present-day Lee Road.  The skeleton has never been identified.  Could it have been the skeleton of a deserter from the Union army?  Or perhaps a cave-dwelling hermit who had once fought in the Civil War?  Unfortunately, it seems to be a mystery that will remain unsolved until the end of time.  Here's the newspaper article about the skeleton, as it appeared in the August 8, 1884, edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

A man named Michael Boylan, a resident of Teasdale City, was looking for young foxes Sunday afternoon at the foot of the high rocks along the road leading from Shickshinny to Wanamie.  Under an overhanging crag, in sight of the road, he came upon the bleached skeleton of a man.  Mr. Boylan made known his discovery and quite a crowd collected.  Mr. F.D. Yaple, who was returning from Nanticoke about this time, saw the bones, secured a…

Snake With Ears Found by Berks County Man

An 11 foot long snake with ears?  According to this story, which appeared in the October 1, 1875 edition of the Reading Eagle, a farmer killed such a snake and had it stuffed.  Could the hood of a cobra have been mistaken for "ears"?  The average length of a king cobra is around 12 feet, so that may be a possibility, although it begs the question:  Just how the heck did a cobra get loose in rural Pennsylvania?

A large snake, supposed to be of the swamp species, was killed on Saturday afternoon last, about one mile and a half from Beckersville, this county, by Elhannon Hauser.  Mr. Hauser was out on a hill cutting wood when a boy named Garman told him that in the road just below, a large snake was lying.  Mr. Hauser left his work and went to the place and the snake did not move, when he struck it with a stick and killed it.  It measured 11 feet 4 inches.  The most surprising thing is that it had two well developed ears on its head, two and a half inches long.  It was skinned…

Wire Cuts Man to Pieces

This article from the August 5, 1879, edition of the New Bloomfield Times gives an extremely graphic account of a gruesome accident which occurred in Cambria County.

A Frightful Accident

A terrible accident occurred at the Rod Mill, at Johnstown, Cambria County, on the 19th ult., which resulted in the horrible death of a promising young man.  The victim's name was Richard O. Jones, and he lived with his step-father, Wm. S. Jones, on Market Street, between Main and Vine.

The accident happened at the Rod Mill, where he was employed as "sticker-in" at the finishing rolls, his work being to catch the end of the wire rods as they came through the rolls and guide them through the last pass before they are wound upon the spindle at the north end of the building.  At quarter after 5 o'clock Saturday morning, only fifteen minutes before the usual quitting time, one of the long red-hot rods, whose end he had just inserted in his part of the rolls, became twisted as it was guid…

Boy Mangled by Trolley

From the Scranton Tribune, May 27, 1896:

Reading, Pa., May 26.-- The 2-year-old child of John Oplinger was horribly and fatally mangled by a trolley car at Nineteenth Street and Perkiomen Avenue, this city, today.  The lad had been playing in the street, and running to get out of the way of a coming milk wagon ran in front of the car.  He was immediately removed to the Homeopathic hospital.  His leg was amputated below the knee.

He also received internal injuries from which he died at 8 o'clock this evening.

Bearded Skeleton Found in Mine

From western Pennsylvania comes one of the most unusual and curious stories we have stumbled across.  A man named John Nevin made a discovery beneath the ground that was so bizarre, it caused him to faint.    So what did he find?  The November 10, 1892 edition of the Pittsburgh Dispatch explains:

Half sitting, half hanging was the dressed and booted skeleton of a man found in a coal mine in Braddock township.  Tuesday evening John Nevin discovered this weird, ghastly spectacle.  As his little lamp revealed to him the hideous sight, Nevin fell in a faint.

This is the most complete mystery unearthed in Allegheny county for many days.  The district where this case comes from is well suited as a birthplace of mystery.  The skeleton was found in Corry's deserted coal mine.  The old pit is on a hill above Copeland station and a half mile back from the railroad.  It has been over 11 years since any mining has been done there, the opening having become dangerous.  The land up on the hill b…

40 Injured at Funeral in York

In 1907, a double funeral for two murdered boys at a church in York County turned to a frightening scene of chaos, which resulted in babies being thrown out of windows and the contents of the caskets spilled onto the floor.  When it was all over, dozens were injured- some fatally.  From the November 28 edition of the Fulton County News:

Forty Injured During Frantic Stampede in York- Ghastly Scene in a Church

York, Pa. (Special).-- During the progress of the funeral at Quickel Church, near Zions View, this county, of William and Curvin Hoover, the youths who were murdered Saturday at Pleasuresville, a panic occurred among the several thousand persons assembled and about 40 were injured.  A rumor that the roof of the church was about to fall in, followed by a creaking noise and the collapsing of several stoves, caused a mad rush for the exits.

Cause of the Panic

The panic occurred shortly after 12 o'clock and at the most solemn part of the service.  When those present heard a creaking …

Human Hand Found in Lycoming County

The following is from the September 6, 1895 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

A Mystery in Lycoming County-- Part of the Remains of a Corpse Discovered in the Woods

The citizens of Cammel have been living in a state of suppressed excitement since Thursday evening, because of a miraculous yarn told by a young man of 20, who, while coming through the woods from English Centre, came across a ghastly find- a human hand.

The wayfarer lost his way when about two miles from Cammel, which took him into the wildest recesses of the forest.  Evening was fast approaching, and as the young fellow did not fancy the idea of spending the night in so undesirable a place he kept pushing on, trusting more to luck than anything else to bring him to English Centre or some habitation where he might rest free from the dangers which lurk in this region.  

In pushing his way through an opening into a spot less densely grown with shrubbery and trees, the young fellow declares that he found a vest lying on the …

Cut in half and disemboweled!

This is one of the more gruesome newspaper stories I've stumbled across thus far (from the Dec. 27, 1895 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian):

Cut in halves and disemboweled, the body of a young man 18 to 20 years was found Friday evening by the crew of Central train drawn by engine 319, midway between the Catasauqua and Lower Catasauqua stations of the railroad.

The men came across the ghastly sight about 6:30 o'clock.  The body was lying across the tracks near Bower's slaughtering house.  The corpse had been cut in two by the wheels of the cars.  The entrails lay scattered about.  The body was still warm.  It was supposed the young man had fallen off that same train and met his horrible death.  The body was removed to Undertaker Stewart's morgue and Coroner Yost was notified.

The circumstances connected with the case are extremely sad.  The youth, who was still a mere boy, was handsome and well-dressed.  He wore a blue suit, tan shoes, blue overcoat, and derby hat.  Fr…

"A Troublesome Ghost"

In 1891, a family from Schuylkill County put up with nightly paranormal activity as long as they could; but when the ghost began climbing into bed with them, they decided that it was time to move.  From the July 25, 1891 edition of the Shenandoah Evening Herald comes this report of a haunting in Mahanoy Plane:

From "red-row", a row of houses owned by the P. & R. company and situated on Railroad Avenue, opposite the round house, Mahanoy Plane, comes a gruesome tale of ghoulish revels and hideous scenes enacted at the watching hour of midnight within the walls of a large double house.  Up to within two or three weeks this house was occupied by a very respectable family.  The sights the members of the family claim to have seen during their residence in the house are calculated to make the flesh of the most unsuperstitious person crawl.

They say the nightly revels commence at about the hour "when church yards yawn and graves give up their dead", at which hour there …

Man's Eyes Blown Out By Dynamite

Considering the dangers of living and working in the Coal Region during the late 1800s and early 1900s, it's amazing that anyone ever lived past the age of 20.  In the "good old days", death seemed to lurk around every corner.  A man could survive a mine cave-in, only to be trampled by a spooked horse while crossing the street, stabbed in a drunken bar-room brawl, or stricken with cholera.  No matter how lousy your job may be, it's pretty safe to say that you won't end up like John Dorrish.  From the Oct. 22, 1912 edition of the Reading Eagle:

John Dorrish, 50 years, employed at Packer No. 5 colliery*, was caught in a dynamite explosion and had both eyes blown out, his head badly injured, and both hands so badly mangled that they will have to be amputated.  His condition is critical. 

*Colliery was located about one mile east of Girardville.

Was the Queen of Babylon Buried in Fayette County?

In the summer of 1878, a group of boys from Fayette County made an astounding discovery.  The story, which first appeared in the Brownsville Clipper, was later re-printed in other newspapers.  The following is the article which appeared in the August 7, 1878, edition of the Somerset Herald.

The Brownsville Clipper publishes a remarkable story of the discovery of a mysterious cave, on Dunlap's creek, near that place.  It appears that some boys had been given some powder by a party of sportsmen, who were engaged shooting glass balls on the Fourth of July.  The boys went down to the creek, dug a hole in the bank, and fired a charge of powder in it.  It made a terrific explosion, and after the smoke cleared away, they discovered a large hole in the ground.  The boys had dug down till they came to a micaceous sandstone.  The explosion shattered this stone to pieces which covered up the entrance to a large circular hole extending nearly six feet into the sand rock, at an angle of about …

Bellefonte's River of Beer

Not all of the newspaper stories we feature on this blog have to do with gruesome acts of violence or gory accidents.  The following, taken from the May 2, 1901, edition of the Middleburgh Post, is one such example:

River of Beer Wasted

Mathew Volk, proprietor of the Roopsburg Brewery, near Bellefonte, who was granted a brewer's license at the recent License Court, was unable to raise the $259 necessary to pay the license fee, and therefore left for other climes.

The failure to renew the license left the internal revenue collector with about one hundred barrels of beer on hands.  Being possessed of no legal warrant to sell the stuff, he settled the matter by emptying the whole lot into Spring Creek.

Gruesome death in Columbia, PA

One of the most interesting things about old newspapers is the way in which they describe fatal accidents.  Today's newspaper stories are bland and watered-down compared to stories from yesteryear.  This article is one such example, from the Fulton County Times, September 1, 1910:

Scott Hamaker, superintendent of the pipemill of the Susquehanna Iron and Steel company, met a horrible death in the mill at Columbia, Pa., last week.

The protruding key of a knuckle on a belt caught the tail of his coat, and he was drawn on to the belt and carried to a shaft which was making 1200 revolutions a minute.  Hamaker's body was whirled around this.  Three feet away was an iron trough, and with every revolution his legs struck it, both members being hammered off, piece by piece, clear up to the hips.  His feet later were picked up thirty feet away.

Below was another shaft, against which his arms and thighs hit with each revolution.  Every bone in his body was broken.  He lived twenty minutes …

Man Boiled Alive in Vat!

There seems to be an infinite number of ways for a person to die, but the strange death of a Philadelphia night watchman in 1903 has got to be one of the most horrible.  From the May 7, 1903, edition of the Fulton County News:

Philadelphia (Special).-- J. Schlicking, 60 years old, of Seltzer and Salmon streets, a watchman at the Allen Dyeing Company's plant, Frankford avenue and William street, fell into a vat of boiling potash during the night, and the next morning early his skeleton was found by fellow-workmen protruding from the fiery bleaching liquid.  Schlicking was subject to attacks of vertigo, and it is believed that he was overcome immediately after turning on the steam under the big vat and pitched headfirst into the caustic liquid.

(view original newspaper article here)

Goodling's Head Sawed Off

One night in the October of 1900, a 65-year-old farmer named Adam Goodling from Juniata County was allegedly shot in the head by Absalom Barner, with whom he had been feuding.  The prosecution declared that no expense would be spared in bringing Barner to justice, and they were correct- the day after Goodling was laid to rest, the prosecution paid two doctors to dig up the victim and saw off his head, which was used as evidence at Barner's murder trial.

From the Middleburgh Post, January 17,1901:

Goodling's Head Sawed Off- Grave reported to have been opened and the victim's head secured as evidence.

Barner, the man accused of the murder of Adam Goodling, near Liverpool, on the night of October 2, will have a ghastly piece of evidence to confront when he is called before the court for trial.  Some time ago it was announced that the grave of Goodling had been opened and shot extracted from the dead man's head to be used in the trial.  The prosecution has gone a step farthe…

Young Lad's Head Cut Off by Train

From the June 22, 1910 edition of the Reynoldsville Star:

John Allison, the eight-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. William Allison, of Punxsutawney, was struck by the B.R.&P. flyer Thursday afternoon and instantly killed.

The youngster with several other little tots were playing along the tracks about the time the train came along and, instead of getting out of the way, they remained on the track as long as possible.  Young Allison overestimated the time he could stay on the track and before he could get away from the oncoming train it struck him and cut the top of his head completely off, death being instantaneous. 

A number of people witnessed the accident, which happened at Lindsey, and immediately went to the rescue of the youngster but death had occurred before they reached him.

(view the newspaper article here)

Mother Whacks Baby with Hatchet

On the South Side of Pittsburgh in July of 1891, Mrs. Mimmer struck her eight month old baby on the head with a hatchet.  While this crime may seem unbelievable, wait until you read about the reason for her deplorable actions.  From the July 6, 1891 edition of the Shenandoah Evening Herald:

Pittsburg, July 6.- Mrs. Mary Mimmer, of the South Side, while laboring under an attack of religious insanity, attempted to kill her eight-month-old babe by hitting it on the head with a hatchet.  The baby's cries attracted the attention of a woman who lives in the same house and who prevented her from finishing her deadly work.  Mrs. Mimmer says her child was a second Christ, and it was her duty to kill it.  The baby cannot live.  Mrs. Mimmer was placed under arrest.

(view the newspaper article here)

Skeleton Found in Tree

In 1902, two woodsmen in northern Pike County made a rather unusual discovery- the remains of a murdered man inside of a tree trunk.  From the November 20, 1902 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

Two woodchoppers cut down a tree near Pond Eddy, and in the stump they found the skeleton of a man.  Clothing was found with the bones.  There was a hole in the tree, but it could only be reached by a ladder or by climbing.  About 10 years ago a shoemaker named Vandermark suddenly disappeared.  Many supposed that he had money and had been murdered for it.  The skeleton is believed to be his.  The murdered man must have been cut in pieces before being put in the hollow of the tree, as the hole was too small to admit the whole body.

(view the 1902 newspaper article here)

A Sea Monster in Milton

As an avid runner as well as a resident of Milton, my evening jog takes me down Golf Course Road to Route 405, down Front Street, across Locust, and back to Golf Course Road- a course that's 5 kilometers right on the button.  At two points along this course I pass Muddy Run, a tiny stream which meanders through Wynding Brook Country Club and empties into the Susquehanna, near the site of Fort Boone.

During many a moonlight run I've stopped at the bridge over Muddy Run to stretch, and on a few occasions I've been startled by loud splashes in the creek.  Whether the splashing is caused by a fish or a beaver or some other creature is hard to say. 

Then I came across a peculiar newspaper article from 1878 in which it is claimed that a local man, while fishing in Muddy Run, encountered a "sea monster" with a head as big as a horse.  Although I haven't been able to find any other reports of sea monsters in the Milton area, my evening jogs are now a little more int…

School for Murderers

Pennsylvania has a long history of organized crime, from the Molly Maguires of the 19th century to the violent street gangs of today.  In the early 1900s, there was the Black Hand Society- an offshoot of the mafia which terrorized citizens and law enforcement from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and all points in between.  Unlike many gangs of the era, the Black Hands were highly organized; as you can see by the following article, they even operated a school for murderers.

From the January 9, 1909 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

Notwithstanding that some people scout the idea that there is in this country an organization known as the Black Hand it is only necessary to read the newspapers to discover that such an organization exists and that it has its ramifications in every part of the Commonwealth where ignorant and debased foreigners reside.

The discovery in Pittsburg of a school in which young Italians were being taught to murder for profit or revenge ought to sufficient to prove t…

Mutilated Baby Found in Creek

Disclaimer: This blog was created to share some of the more shocking and unusual stories from Pennsylvania's past, and even though we enjoy chilling tales of murder and gruesome stories about accidents and disasters, there are some stories that make even our skins crawl.  The following is one of them.  If you have an aversion toward graphic violence- especially violence which involves innocent children- you may wish to skip this blog post.

In the spring of 1897, a chilling discovery was made by the citizens of Shenandoah.  Inside a shoebox that had been tossed into Shenandoah Creek in the dark of night were found the remains of a mutilated newborn baby.  Witnesses claim that the box had been thrown into the creek near the Indian Ridge colliery by a woman in a black bonnet, who then fled into the night.  Her identity has never been discovered, and the remains of the victim somehow managed to disappear, thus making the incident one of the most disturbing unsolved murders in the hist…

Body in a Well

The sad tale of Anthony Konitskuski, whose killer has never been caught.  Just one of the hundreds of unsolved murders which plagued the Coal Region in the 19th century.

From the Scranton Tribune, May 12, 1897:

Mahanoy City, Pa., May 11- The body of Anthony Konitskuski, swollen and disfigured, was fished from a thirty foot well in New Boston village today.  Appearances indicated that he met his death by violence and his body was thrown into the well to cover all traces of his whereabouts.  The well is the main supply of the six hundred residents of the New Boston village, and Konitskuski's remains have in all probability lain there for about two weeks before being found.

The body was discovered by Mrs. Cragg, who pulled it to the surface while trying to fish out a bucket which had become unfastened from the rope and had sunk to the bottom of the well.  The body no sooner reached the surface than the woman saw what a horrifying discovery she had made.  In a very short time more than…

The Mob and Marion Heights

To the casual observer, the borough of Marion Heights is a sleepy coal mining town, one of hundreds of similar soot-stained villages dotting the landscape of the Coal Region.  Prior to 1901, this borough of less than a thousand souls didn't even exist, and back then the village went by the name of Kaiser.

I grew up in Kulpmont, just a stone's throw away from Marion Heights, and the tiny village always fascinated me.  Being a descendant of Italian immigrants who toiled in various mines throughout the Coal Region, I used to love the stories my grandfather and other older relatives told me as a child.  Often, these stories revolved around the "gang warfare" which pervaded the region throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These clashes were the result of various ethnic groups who settled in the Coal Region, arriving from places like Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Serbia.  Being strangers in a strange land, they banded together and formed fraternal clu…

Practical Joke Gone Awry

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I love reading old newspapers.  It's amazing how much times have changed; things that happened in everyday life a hundred years ago would never be tolerated in this day and age.  Take the following story, for instance, about a blacksmith who burned a young boy with acid- just for the fun of it.

From the Middleburgh Post, October 3, 1895:

On Saturday afternoon H.D. Stahlnecker, the blacksmith at the West end of the borough, and Warren Bowersox, a son of Curtis Bowersox, as a joke poured strong acid down the back of John Wagner.  The acid used is similar to sulphuric acid and had been utilized by the blacksmith to burn corns out of horse's hoofs.  In a few minutes after the acid had been applied to the boy the solution ate the seat out of the boy's trousers and began gnawing at his flesh.

Any person can imagine the amount of pain the boy endured when it is known that a single drop of undiluted acid applied to human flesh cause…