Skip to main content

Practical Joke Gone Awry

19th century blacksmiths at work


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 causes pain that endures for an hour.  For a time it was feared the boy would lose his life, but hopes are now entertained for the boy's recovery.  

It is dangerous to fool with hydrocholoric, nitric, or sulphuric acid and as yet no one knows what may result from this unwarranted and unjustified attempt to play a practical joke.

(the original article can be viewed here)

Interestingly, it appears that neither of the perpetrators were ever arrested for this horrific joke which probably resulted in the permanent disfigurement (and near death) of a child.  Newspaper searches of the time show that, in the months and years following this incident, H.D. Stahlnecker continued to advertise in the Middleburg paper, while blurbs about Warren Bowersox's prowess as a hunter regularly appeared in the Middleburgh Post.


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 …

The Kulpmont Mob Murders of 1939

When most Pennsylvanians think of coal region history, their minds invariably turn to the Molly Maguires, Yuengling beer, pierogies, and the Pottsville Maroons professional football team. However, there is a side of coal region history that is seldom discussed; a dark, violent side that resembles something out of a Martin Scorsese movie starring Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.

Many Pennsylvanians would be surprised to learn that, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northumberland County was a haven of organized crime, a place where gunshots rang out as regularly as church bells, leaving in their wake a blood-smeared trail of terror. Perhaps the most chilling mob murder in the county took place in early 1939, not far from the curve on Brennan's Farm Road in Kulpmont.




A Gruesome Discovery

On the morning of Thursday, March 2, 1939, two brothers from Marion Heights, Paul and Mickey Mall, set out from their Melrose Street home in order to engage in some bootleg mining at Brennan…