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Showing posts from 2014

Dead Baby Found in Abandoned Mine

A Montour County Unsolved Murder

In 1901, two teenagers playing in the woods north of Danville discovered the lifeless body of an infant inside of an abandoned mine. Sadly, the perpetrator of this heinous crime was never caught; as was the custom of the time, the body, after a hasty examination, was buried in an unmarked grave in the "potter's field" adjacent to the county poorhouse (presently the site of Memorial Park across from Woodbine Lane). Today, thanks to the miracles of forensic science and DNA testing, such a crime would rarely go unpunished. Tragically, the mystery of the "babe in the mine" will forever remain unsolved.

Here is the newspaper account of the discovery, as it appeared in the March 28, 1901 edition of the Montour American:

The abandoned mines north of the borough have figures in another tragedy, which bids fair to go on record as another "mystery of the mine". Down in the clammy depths of one of the old slopes Sunday was found t…

The Strange Connection Between Bucknell University and the RMS Titanic

Bucknell University sits on a verdant rural hill in the historic river town of Lewisburg, and has a rich tradition dating back to 1846, when a school known as the University at Lewisburg was founded by a group of Baptists from nearby White Deer Valley. It was the alma mater of many notable persons, such as CBS president Les Moonves, novelist Philip Roth and Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, whose name adorns the university's stadium.

Highly regarded for its academic excellence, Bucknell now has an endowment in excess of $720 million; however, the school's future seemed very dim in 1881. That year, teetering on the brink of financial disaster, the University at Lewisburg turned to a charter member of its board of trustees for support. That man was William Bucknell, wealthy real estate broker and builder of gas and water works. Bucknell's donation of $50,000 allowed the university to survive and the institution was renamed in his honor.

For the eerie connection between …

A Cat's Funeral and a Philadelphia Mystery

In April of 1882, a crowd of mourners gathered in Philadelphia to pay their last respects to one of the city's most beloved citizens. However, the dearly departed was neither a man, woman, nor child-- but a cat. Tom, the furry feline celebrity, was laid out in a handsome coffin and buried in the dirt cellar of the Howland & Co. department store on Market Street.

Today, the spot where Howland & Co. once stood is remembered by Philly residents as the site of the historic Bond Hotel, which was demolished in 1990. It was first called the Vendig Hotel at the time of its completion in 1893, and served as the depot hotel for the Reading Terminal, with its main entrance facing Filbert St.

Unfortunately, records of the era do not mention whatever became of Tom's remains when the Howland & Co. store was torn down to make way for the new hotel. Surely, construction workers would've been surprised to discover a coffin while digging the foundation for the hotel. Whatever hap…

The Ghost of Adam Volkovitch

In the early hours of the 14th of August, 1887, a gruesome crime was committed just outside the city of Wilkes-Barre. It was a crime so cold-blooded and heartless in nature that, for several weeks, it became the hot topic of conversation for much of the eastern United States.

On a Friday afternoon, a well-dressed stranger, sporting a gold pocket watch and chain, appeared in the village of Miner's Mills, about three miles from Wilkes-Barre (a neighborhood that is presently Scott Street in Plains Township). The wealthy stranger entered a tavern owned by a man named Fenton and asked for directions to the house of Adam Volkovitch, explaining that he was an old acquaintance. Volkovitch received his friend with open arms and for the rest of the weekend the two men were seen palling around the city of Wilkes-Barre, drinking at taverns all over town and having a good time. The stranger was introduced by Volkovitch as an old childhood friend named Stanislaus Bioski.

Late Saturday night, Vo…

A new way to kill babies

"A new way to kill babies", was the chilling description given by a young school boy in Pottsville to a teacher in 1880. The boy's story ultimately led to the arrest of Mary Newman, a teen mother who was charged with infanticide after she admitted to killing her newborn- by playing a warped game of catch, using the infant as the ball. Below is an account of the sickening story, as it appeared in the February 10, 1880 edition of the New Bloomsfield Times.

Doc killed by mental patient

In 1901, a patient at the Danville State Hospital murdered a doctor while his temperature was being taken. The following is the description of the killing, as it appeared in the April 4, 1901 edition of the Montour American.

Man's head cut off by train

Death by Lemonade

From the July 19, 1910 edition of the Laporte Republican News Item:

Alfred Young, of Weatherly, employed on the farm of Hiram Schuler, in Evergreen Valley, near Hazleton, Pa., dropped over dead in the field after drinking a glass of ice cold lemonade.

The Infamous "Shorty" Jones

During the late 19th century, farmers in northern Dauphin County were terrorized by a gang of mountain-dwelling bandits led by the colorful Thomas Frohm, better known as "Shorty" Jones. Shorty was killed in a shootout with a vigilante posse on the third of September in 1900, and here, from the September 13, 1900 edition of the Middleburgh Post, is the story of Shorty's last stand:

Thomas Frohm, alias "Shorty" Jones, of Sunbury, a member of the band of robbers who shot and seriously wounded Lafayette Strayer and Frank Grim, farmers, last Friday night near Elizabethville, was shot and killed on Berry's Mountain by a posse of Dauphin county farmers. Frohm was detected by Harry Stine, of Elizabethville, hiding behind a log on the mountainside, and was ordered to surrender. He refused, and fired eight shots from two revolvers at Stine, none of which took effect.

A posse was quickly organized, and the alleged robber was soon surrounded by a great crowd of armed an…

Allison Hill's House of Mystery

Today, the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg is regarded as a dangerous place, where gunshots ring out during all hours of the night and drug deals take place in the darkened alleyways behind rows of low-income housing. Local historians are quick to point out that Allison Hill- one of the city's oldest neighborhoods- was once the site of charming Victorian homes, magnificent gardens, and stately churches. Many of these historians, however, are not aware that Allison Hill's sinister reputation isn't a modern creation; In the early 1900s, Allison Hill was the site of one of the most intriguing unsolved murders in Pennsylvania history.

A young girl's skeleton, a rusty razor, and chicken feathers.
These were the items found in the cellar of home at 133 South Fourteenth Street, by plumbers who were digging in the basement of the building in February of 1915. The coroner, Jacob Eckinger, was summoned and immediately concluded that the girl had been murdered. Unfortunate…

Skull Crushed to Atoms!

Those of you who have a soft spot for the gory and graphic depictions of accidents which often appeared in the newspapers of yesteryear will be interested in the following story about a train accident which took place in Harrisburg in 1839. Though morbid, it is nonetheless fascinating that news reporting from the 19th century was full of such ghastly details.

From the Columbia Democrat, July 6, 1839:

One of the most shocking and heart-rending scenes that was ever witnessed in this neighborhood, was presented to the view of our citizens this morning. Our paper had not been worked off, when the news reached our office that an accident had occurred on the rail-road, at the edge of town, causing the death of two individuals. We repaired immediately thither, and such a sight was exhibited as we never wish to gaze upon again.

Upon the track of the rail-road lay the dead bodies of two females, mangled in the most shocking manner; the skull of one of them being completely crushed to atoms, an…

Petrified Human Head Found in Mahanoy City!

The following is a story so weird that it ran in newspapers all over the country in the fall of 1909. The following article was published in the Suwanee Democrat of Florida on October 1, 1909:

Mahanoy City, Pa.-- At a depth of 900 feet below the surface of the earth, firnly embedded in coal, the petrified head of a man was dicovered at Maple Hill Colliery a few days ago. The head is perfect in shape, eyes, ears, nose and even the hair standing in bold relief. Workmen driving a tunnel made the find at a point over which water has been flowing for years.

It is believed to be the head of a man of prehistoric age. The specimen was carefully mined, and after being trimmed will be sent to a Philadelphia museum.

(view original newspaper article here)

Mystery Graves in Dickson City

Founded by German immigrants shortly before the Civil War, the borough of Dickson City was originally known as Priceburg (later changed to Priceville). It was a tiny village which rapidly exploded in population in the 1880s, when the Johnson Coal Company began mining coal in the area. In 1897, employees of the Johnson Coal Company were digging sand from a hillside when they made a shocking discovery: two unidentified coffins. The most surprising part of the story, however, is that no one in the vicinity- including the town's oldest inhabitants- could recall anyone having lived near the hillside.

This is the account of the discovery as it appeared in the Scranton Tribune on October 27, 1897:

While digging sand from a hillside near the Johnson Coal company's breaker at Priceburg Monday, the workmen uncovered two coffins containing the bones of persons who were buried years ago. The oldest inhabitant thereabouts does not remember ever having heard of that plot being used as a buri…

Mastodons in Union County

In 1851, an enormous ivory tusk was found near Lewisburg by a man digging a ditch. Here is a newspaper article describing the incredible find, from the May 10, 1851 edition of the Sunbury American:

We learn from the Lewisburg (Union County) Chronicle that, on Sunday last, the ivory tusk of a mastadon [sic] was found in Kelly Township, while digging a ditch. The tusk was ten feet long, moderately curved, nine inches in diameter at one end, and four inches at the other. It was found two feet below the surface, in a layer of clay, which rested on a bed of sand and gravel. A similar relic was found week before last on the farm of Mrs. Whitmore, in Tunkhannock Borough, Wyoming County, while digging the North Branch Canal. It was about ten feet below the surface, in a strata of sand.

(view the original newspaper article here)

Three Boys Killed in Spruce Creek Tunnel

The Spruce Creek Tunnels have attracted hundreds of Pennsylvania "railfans" throughout the years, but most be surprised to learn that the tunnel served as the site of a heart-rending tragedy in the fall of 1880, when three young boys walking through the tunnel were struck and killed by a train.

From the October 19, 1880 edition of the New Bloomfield Times:

Michael and John Carson, and a 12-year old boy named Samuel Benner, were killed in Spruce Creek tunnel last Sunday, but at what hour and by what train is not certainly known. The bodies all lay between the two tracks that run through the tunnel. It is believed that they were on their way to see the wreck of the trains in which DeHuff lost his life.

(original newspaper article can be read here)

Pittston's Prehistoric Man

In 1901, an interesting discovery was made in the coal mines of Pennsylvania by an immigrant miner named John Silenski.  This story appeared in the Little Falls (Minnesota) Herald on June 28, 1901:

A strange discovery, which indicates that human beings existed in the coal age, has been made in the mines in Pittston, Pa.  John Silenski, a Polish miner, has in his possession a piece of coal with the imprint of a human foot.  The lines are distinct and there seems to be no doubt that it is genuine.  Three prominent business men of the city have seen the specimen and pronounced it a wonder which will disprove the claim of scientists that the earth during the coal age was not inhabited.

Many specimens of fish and strange vegetation have been found in the Pittston mines during the past few years, but the latest discovery has created a sensation among men in Pittston who have made the matter a study.

(the original 1901 newspaper article can be found here)

Treasure in Pike County

From the September 17, 1897 edition of the Pike County Press:

Adam Uhl, of Greeley, sends to the Press an account of a rare find of coins made by Earnest Goetz, a prominent young man, while working on the road at that place.  They were: A five franc piece, dated 1821; a Spanish coin, dated 1809; two United States 25 cent pieces, one dated 1832, one dated 1835, and a Spanish piece, dated 1777. The pieces were found under an oak stump standing along the road which it was desired to remove and on starting to dig under it they rolled down the bank.  There were 5 silver coins and two of copper.  When and by whom placed there and for what purpose can only be conjectured.

Read original article here

Skeleton Found in Bucks County Chimney

For most people, finding a dead person inside your chimney would be cause for great alarm.  However, based on the nonchalant tone of the following newspaper article, from the April 19, 1884 edition of The Carbon Advocate, one might assume that finding a corpse in your home was rather commonplace (maybe it was back in those days).  The story is described in one brief paragraph:

A Skeleton Found up a Chimney

O.B. Fackenthal had men engaged in tearing down the chimney and inner walls of an antiquated house at Springtown, Bucks county, Saturday, to make some improvements.  A human skeleton was found embedded in a flue.  Rumor has it that dark deeds were transacted in this house and the supposition is that this skeleton was a subject of one of the melees.  During the Revolutionary War, the house was a noted resort, being once used as an inn.  At the close of the war of 1812 a number of soldiers, returning from the army, lodged there.  They became involved in a fight the next morning, after …