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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…

Gator Caught in Penn's Creek

The October 3, 1895, edition of the Middleburgh Post (Middleburg, PA) featured a short but peculiar blurb about a man who caught a two-foot-long lizard while fishing near Centreville.  For the record, Centreville was the name formerly given to the village of Penn's Creek.  The name was changed after a dispute with another village with the same name in Crawford County.

According to the article:

F.B. Bolig accompanied by C.E. Sampsell, candidate for sheriff, while fishing for bass in Kerr's dam, caught a lizard or alligator or resembling such and is over two feet long.  Fred says the animal is alive and doing well.

(the original article can be viewed here)

Gowen City Ghost

In 1907, newspapers across Northumberland County published a story about a haunted oak tree in Gowen City.  According to reports, the locals believed that the mysterious lights and unexplained explosions witnessed in the village were related to the suicide of a prominent resident named Monroe Whary, who had killed himself one year earlier by blowing his head off with a stick of dynamite.

Here's one account of the Gowen City hauntings, as published in the February 21, 1907 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

Lights, dancing, now wan and nebulous, now bright and glaring, low moaning sounds and again the sounds of a heavy explosion haunt the oak tree at Gowen City where Monroe Whary killed himself last winter by placing a dualin stick on his head.  Gowen City people hurry by the moaning old oak and look askance at it when in the dead of night the mysterious sounds are heard.  

So firmly do several people in the little hamlet near Shamokin believe that the miner's spirit has come …

Bedford County Man Lost His Head

A stark reminder of just how dangerous everyday life was back in the 19th century.  From the Huntingdon Journal, February 13, 1871:

On Friday last the most horrible death that it has ever been our lot to record occurred at North Point, Bedford county, at the "Old Scott" colliery, worked by Richard Langdon, Esq., of this place.  Philip Chamberlain was ascending the shaft in the car, and it supposed that his head struck the frame in which the car works, and his neck caught upon a pin.  His head was instantly torn from his body and remained transfixed to the pin, while the headless body fell to the bottom of the shaft, breaking both legs and one of his arms...

(we think that was the least of his problems at this point)

...When the head was discovered it was fast on the pin, with eyes wide open, staring apparently at those who gathered around; and the man whose duty it was to attend below was paralyzed when he discovered a headless body lying before him.  It was the most shocking…

The Deadly Umbrella Duel of 1912

Since time immemorial, duels have been fought with all kinds of weapons, from swords and knives to muskets, revolvers, and... umbrellas.

Yes, that's correct.  Umbrellas.  Worst of all, the two men involved in the duel were religious leaders.  Just read this article, which appeared in the May 21, 1912 edition of the Fulton County News:

Hurt in Umbrella Duel

Allentown.- Alexander Machibuta lies in the Allentown Hospital in a critical condition from a wound in his lung, inflicted, it is charged, by the steel point of Nicholas Krastischin's umbrella.  Krastischin is locked up pending the result of his alleged victim's injuries, which the surgeons say are fatal.  A Northampton church is divided in two factions, it is said, and the men involved in the affair are looked upon as leaders of the rival divisions.

At the close of the services the men met on the street, each carrying an umbrella, and a quarrel ensued over property rights in the church and on the question of proselytizing…

How many balls can you fit in your mouth?

It's amazing the types of stories that were newsworthy in small towns before the age of radio and television.  Take the following article, for instance, which appeared on page five of the Thursday, Oct. 12, 1899 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

A Colored individual, with a mouth resembling a cave, after being twice arrested, once at Catawissa on Saturday and again here in town on Monday for being a public nuisance, was shipped to Danville, last night.  He would have preferred to remain here this week, but our people didn't appear to take very kindly to his unconventional specialty, of storing billiard balls, plates and saucers in his tremendous orifice.

(view original newspaper article here)



Interestingly, this type of entertainment was rather common during the early 20th century, as evidenced by the above picture.  The man is a famous sideshow performer known as "Three Ball Charlie", who toured with carnivals during the 1930s.

If Three Ball Charlie looks familia…