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Showing posts from January, 2015

The man who sawed off his own leg

In the late 19th century there lived a man in Susquehanna County named Jerdon Blair, who was perhaps the toughest sonuvabitch the Keystone State has ever seen. A few years after surviving a cave-in that left him buried alive for more than a day, Jerdon developed gangrene in one of his legs. He took matters into his own hands (literally), by attempting to saw off the infected limb. But, as you will see from the following story, that was the easy part. It gets worse-- much worse-- as Jerdon discovers that amputation is best left in the hands of trained professionals.

From the April 17, 1895 edition of the Scranton Tribune:


Jerdon a Man of Nerve

Montrose, Pa., April 16-- In this little village clustered on the bosom of the grandest hills in Susquehanna county dwells a negro, Jerdon Blair by name, whose career has been interesting. He has for some time been a charge of the town and does not enjoy an enviable reputation, notwithstanding the fact he was a regular preacher at the church attende…

The Cambria County Gypsy War of 1901

When I was a boy, my grandmother often warned that if I didn't behave, I would be sold to the gypsies. Even though I had no idea what gypsies actually were, I imagined that it would be a pretty fun adventure; traveling from town to town in a horse-drawn wooden wagon alongside swarthy mysterious nomads, telling fortunes and reading palms for a living. In my young and impressionable mind, being a gypsy was the next best thing to being a real-life pirate.

Little do most Pennsylvanians realize that gypsies actually roamed the Keystone State in former times, and in astounding numbers. While gypsies were regarded by some as harmless vagabonds, the common consensus was that gypsies (or "gyps", as they were known to those who abhorred them) were a public nuisance. In fact, in 1909, Pennsylvania Governor Edwin S. Stuart signed into law legislation which required bands of gypsies to pay a fee of $50, to each county through which they traveled, for a license to camp within the stat…