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A skeleton at the fairgrounds


Bowman Field: The scene of foul balls and foul play.

Most residents of Lycoming County venture to Hughesville each summer to enjoy the Lycoming County Fair, but many people might be surprised to learn that Hughesville didn't become the site of the county fair until the early 1900s. Prior to that, the Lycoming County Fair was held in Williamsport, on a swath of land near the present-day site of Bowman Field.

Even more people would be surprised to learn that this site was the scene of a brutal murder that took place more than a century ago. It is a tale of murder with a twist of irony, and it is one of the strangest stories in the colorful history of Williamsport.

On July 11, 1908, workmen were digging a sewer in western end of town when they unearthed the skeleton of a woman beneath a pile of rocks not far from a spring. Judging by the condition of the bones, it was evident that the woman had died decades earlier. Based on its worn teeth, it appeared that the skeleton belonged to a woman who was approximately fifty years of age. A crack in the skull, discovered by Coroner Hardt, indicated foul play. Hardt made a thorough investigation but was unable to identify the woman, although he surmised that the woman had been killed by a single blow to the head with a wooden club. Without any clues to go on, it seemed that the murder would forever remain unsolved.

As luck would have it, a discovery made by a local resident  a few years earlier would put the mystery to rest.

T.C. Simpson, the son of one of the first pioneer families of the West Branch, had come into possession of a diary owned by his father. In the old diary Mr. Simpson had written about an outlaw named Swope who had come to Lycoming County in search of work. Swope, who was originally from Harrisburg, was said to be a giant in stature and a man with a very bad temper. In Williamsport he became enamored with a middle-aged woman named Nancy, who soon disappeared and was never heard from again.

Years later Swope found employment at a lumber camp in Little Pine Creek timber country. One day he found himself in a quarrel with some trappers. During the altercation one of the trappers struck Swope over the head with a wooden club and fractured his skull. Realizing that he was about to die, Swope gave a deathbed confession to the men in the lumber camp (one of whom, presumably, was T.C. Simpson's father).

With his life fleeing his body, Swope recounted meeting Nancy one evening at the spring. Swope became enraged when the woman rejected his advances. He struck her on the head with a wooden club and killed her. Ironically, this, too, was how Swope would die years after he committed the dreadful deed. He confessed to carrying her body a few feet away from the spring and then digging a shallow trench with a stick. He placed Nancy's body into the ditch and covered it with stones and leaves. According to Mr. Simpson's diary, Nancy was 50 years of age when she disappeared.

Sadly, it appears that not much is known about the unfortunate woman who remained buried in a shallow, unmarked grave at the old Lycoming County Fairgrounds, even though hundreds of thousands of fairgoers surely must have walked within feet of her moldering bones during the years, from the day she was buried until the day she was unearthed by workmen.

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