Skip to main content

Strange Drowning

The Susquehanna River, upstream from Catawissa.


To the casual observer, the Susquehanna River is a scenic wonder, lazily meandering through the Keystone State.  Yet this majestic river has snatched away countless lives throughout history, including the life of a Danville man named Charles Gibbons who, in 1905, lost his life in a most peculiar manner.

Here is the story which appeared in the August 17, 1905 edition of The Columbian (Bloomsburg) newspaper:

Charles E. Gibbons of Danville, drowned in a very strange manner in the Susquehanna River at a point near the Pennsylvania Railroad water tank, a short distance below Catawissa, Friday night.  The body was not discovered until Sunday morning.  It was standing in an upright position with the legs imbedded deep in the mud.

It seems that Gibbons and Oliver Wertz, also of Danville, started up the river in a row boat Friday morning in quest of some valuable drift wood.  Neither of them was seen in Danville again until Saturday afternoon when Wertz appeared there making inquiries concerning Gibbons, and was greatly surprised to hear that he had not reached home.  He then explained as follows: They were bringing a raft down the river.  He was in charge of the boat and drift wood.  Gibbons was walking along the shore.  Between 8 and 9 o'clock, a short distance below Catawissa, where the tank is located, the raft parted and while Wertz was trying to repair the damage the boat capsized.  He told his companion to walk along the shore and that he himself would take care of the upturned boat and the wood until shallow water was reached a little farther on when he would right the boat and connect the parted raft.

When shallow water was reached Gibbons failed to put in an appearance.  After waiting awhile Wertz went back to the spot where the boat had capsized and there he found Gibbons' dog lying on shore but no trace of Gibbons.  He did not know what to think of this at first, but finally concluded that the man had jumped a passing freight train and gone to Danville.

He first moment of real apprehensiveness seemed to be when he learned that Gibbons was not in Danville.

His fear was soon shared by others and when Saturday night came on and there was still no tidings from the missing man solicitude gave way to a settled conviction that some dreadful fate had overtaken him.  Sunday morning a large party of searchers started up the river.

The gruesome discovery was made by Edward and Samuel Sainsbury.  A short distance from shore the man's head was seen slightly protruding above the water.  The body was in a standing position.  The man wore heavy rubber boots and his legs had sunk into the soft mud.  Decomposition had far advanced.  The inference would seem to be in view of Mr. Wertz's story that the deceased instead of following Wertz's directions and walking down the shore undertook to wade out into the stream to render assistance.  His heavy boots helped to bear him down and he got fast in the mud.  His companion had passed the spot; there was no other help and death by drowning was the result.

Coroner Sharpless of Catawissa empaneled a jury and a verdict of death by accidental drowning was rendered.  

Gibbons was 44 years old and is survived by a wife.


Profile rock of "Indian Chief" along river near Catawissa.  The road is now Route 42, and the rock can still be seen today.




(the original article can be viewed here)



Popular posts from this blog

Mount Carmel's Mysterious Suicide Cell

Tucked away at the head of North Oak Street in Mount Carmel is a quaint shop housed in a tiny historic brick building. The Shop at Oak & Avenue is a must-see destination for visitors, offering an impressive variety of gifts and handmade jewelry. It is a gem in an otherwise drab coal town whose glory days faded away with the demise of the steam locomotive and the trolley.

While this quaint small town gift shop gives off a pleasant appearance, the history of the building-- one of the oldest in the borough-- is tinged with horror and death. For this tiny building, erected in the 1880s, served as Mount Carmel's first city hall and jail, and this jail had a rather dark distinction of being the site of the cursed and mysterious "suicide cell".

History records six suicides taking place in the basement cell, along with scores of other attempted suicides. For a reason that has defied explanation, this tiny jail in this tiny town seems to bring out the darkest demons lurking wi…

The True Story of Shamokin's Famous "Mystery Head"

Hardly a week goes by that I don't receive an email from a Pennsylvania Oddities reader asking me to write about the Shamokin "mystery head"-- yes, the very same human head, complete with curly hair and mustache, that was put on display in the window of the Farrow Funeral Home (presumably to show off the establishment's embalming abilities) and later displayed at a local mining museum. The head belonged to an unidentified murder victim whose headless body was found in the woods near the Hickory Ridge colliery in 1904, and the head has been a source of local pride and urban legend ever since.

I've resisted the urge to write about the "mystery head" for a few reasons. Having grown up in the area, I heard about it so many times that the story has worn thin. Secondly, the erroneous local legends and false claims are probably a lot more entertaining than the actual truth about the "mystery head". These local legends run the gamut from plausible to …

Mount Carmel's Night of Terror: The Strantz & Yorkavage Crime Spree of 1937

On the evening of April 9, 1937, two bandits with their guns blazing left a trail of carnage through the sooty streets of Mount Carmel and Shamokin. For one of the gunmen, the trail came to a bloody end in Diamondtown after a shootout with police. For the other gunman, the trail led to the electric chair at Rockview State Penitentiary, with 2,000 volts of electricity coursing through his body.



The Ballad of Joe Cabbage and Wild Wally

A reunion of sorts took place in January of 1937, after Joseph Yorkavage was paroled from the Northumberland County Prison in Sunbury. Known to his friends as "Joe Cabbage", the notorious ruffian was released on the 25th and, oddly enough, this was the very same day Yorkavage's best friend, Walter Strantz, was paroled from the infamous Eastern State penitentiary in Philadelphia.

Back in 1919, "Joe Cabbage" was one of three men who staged a failed train robbery in Centralia. The three men dynamited the tracks and then hid in the bus…