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Solved: The mystery of Pennsylvania's rock cairns

Hidden in the woods throughout Pennsylvania are countless man-made rock piles. These mysterious structures can be found in a variety of shapes, from beehive-shaped mounds to neatly-stacked piles. They appear to be quite old, which has led to numerous theories on their origin, ranging from the mildly plausible to the downright ridiculous.

The most mundane explanation is that these rock piles were created by 18th and 19th century farmers and pioneer settlers attempting to clear their planting fields. Others have suggested that the mysterious cairns are monuments or markers created by Native Americans. Still others claim that Pennsylvania's man-made rock piles are relics of an ancient, unknown civilization, comparable in size and construction to other mysterious cairns that have been discovered in Wales and Ireland.

These rock cairns can be found throughout the state, but the most well-known examples are found in the remote wilderness of Susquehanna County. Other cairn fields have been…
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Notorious Pennsylvania Outlaws: Eatabite Tibbs

Crime and colorful nicknames go hand in hand, from Babyface Nelson to Prettyboy Floyd to the Sundance Kid. While these outlaws may be more famous or their exploits more sensational, few criminals have been endowed with a nickname as unusual as Angus "Eatabite" Tibbs, the eccentric and charismatic bandit who terrorized western Pennsylvania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while managing to escape from mental asylums and jailhouses and surviving gunshot wounds that would have killed a normal man along the way.

Eatabite Tibbs first earned notoriety as a result of Uniontown's Jasper Augustine scandal of 1895. Augustine, a wealthy and powerful member of the local community, was arrested for keeping "a disorderly house" and was sentenced in November to one hour of jail and a $500 fine. The investigation revealed that Augustine's brothel was frequented by many of Pittburgh's most prominent businessmen. These revelations, along with the striking beau…

A ghostly tale of Mt. Carmel's Reliance Colliery

Reliance Colliery, located south of Mount Carmel on Locust Mountain, saw many tragedies since its construction in 1867. Of these, the explosion of September 2, 1926, is perhaps best remembered, which claimed the lives of four miners and badly burned several more.

However, one remarkable tragedy that took place in the shadows of Reliance Colliery didn't involve a miner at all, but a middle-aged Lithuanian woman named Annie Metzgas. Her death in 1903 didn't warrant more than a few sentences in local papers, but the stories of her ghost haunting the surrounding hills kept the residents of Mount Carmel inside their homes at night for weeks after her unfortunate demise.

On Friday afternoon, July 10, a powerful thunderstorm swept over the area. It came suddenly, catching Annie Metzgas by surprise as she was picking huckleberries on the hill near the colliery. Annie had arrived in the country just a few months earlier, and barely spoke a word of English. She shared a home with her dau…

The Bludgeoning of Biddy Quinn: The first murder and execution in Lebanon County

In 1826, the citizens of Lebanon were horrified to learn that a murder had taken place in their peaceful, idyllic community. In every household in every village throughout the county, the crime was discussed, and continued to be a fixture of local conversation for years afterward. Parents and preachers alike used the murder and the subsequent execution of the killer as a teaching device in order to illustrate the perils of intoxication and the evils of liquor.

Lebanon, then just a tiny town, was holding its Cherry Fair at the time. It was the 25th of May, and the streets were swarming with merry-makers of all ages. The men disappeared into the city's taverns to enjoy a drink, while the women and children ambled from merchant stand to merchant stand by the old market house sampling molasses candy, honey cakes, mint drops and other sweets.

While the residents of Lebanon were frolicking at the fair, about a mile west of town a very different scene was unfolding. In narrow ravine tha…

Camp Michaux: Cumberland County's secret WW2 POW camp

In the heart of some of the commonwealth's most breathtaking natural scenery lies the ruins of a secret army camp used during Word War II to interrogate enemy prisoners. For thirty months the Pine Grove Furnace Prisoner of War Camp operated in the depths of Michaux State Forest, its very existence known to but a select few, where military intelligence officers endeavored to extract enemy secrets about Nazi weaponry and military tactics.

The site, which originally served as a farm for the nearby iron furnaces and later as a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps, has been preserved by the Cumberland County Historical Society with funding from the Community Conservation Partnership Program and other grants. Thanks to the exceptional efforts of the CCHS, lovers of history can now enjoy a self-guided walking tour of Camp Michaux (click here to download) and learn about this rare gem in Pennsylvania's majestic treasure chest of history.

I explored Camp Michaux earlier this week …

Phildelphia's Ghoulish Firehouse

In the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia, just a few blocks southwest from the famously spooky Mutter Museum, stands a modest little firehouse. Built sometime in the 19th century, the humble brick structure is tucked among other larger brick buildings on South 16th Street, making it easy to miss.
It has been years since this charming building housed any fire-fighting equipment; today it's just a private, anonymous building with private, anonymous owners, one of hundreds of such buildings that can be found in any given city.

But, like all buildings, the tiny brick firehouse has a story to tell, and it's strange story might even be more chilling than any of the human oddities that have been displayed a short distance away at the Mutter Museum.

In the fall of 1892 the building at 754 South 16th Street was home to the firemen of Truck E. Even back then it was an old building and had fallen into a state of disrepair. It had been built years earlier as a soap factory, and had…

An interesting window display

Nothing attracts customers to a business like human remains in the window. In 1925, C.W. Ross of Oil City found a human skull while excavating at his property along the Allegheny River.  It appeared that the skull was missing its top, suggesting that the skull had once belonged to a native who was scalped during a battle with an enemy tribe.

As any person would, Ross had a desire to show off his nifty find, and decided to place it in the window of his general store on Colbert Avenue.

The following appeared in the Franklin News-Herald on July 10, 1925.