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Showing posts from April, 2015

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…

A Haunting at Conewago Chapel

The Conewago Chapel, also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is one of the most historically significant Catholic churches in Pennsylvania. The chapel can trace its history back to 1741, although the construction of the present church, with its thick brownstone walls, wasn't completed until 1787. It was one of the first Catholic houses of worship in the United States and also served as the headquarters for Jesuit missionaries during the era of the American Revolution. While the Conewago Chapel attracts numerous visitors each year, many would be surprised to learn that this quaint country church has quite a spooky past.

In fact, one of the church's priests  has even gone on record addressing the claims that the chapel is haunted. The following is a story which appeared in the August 27, 1903 edition of the Alexandria (VA) Gazette:

A dispatch from Gettysburg, Pa., says that Conowago [sic] Chapel is receiving considerable attention of late in account of the ghostl…

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 …

Bodies Melted by Liquid Steel!

On the 16th of January, 1907, a horrific explosion took place at the Eliza Furnace of the Jones & Laughlin steel works in Pittsburgh. Molten metal rained down on everything and everyone within a 40-foot radius of the furnace, causing unimaginably gruesome injuries to the 35 men who were employed at the furnace. The bodies of more than a dozen men were never recovered, and it is generally believed that these unfortunate steelworkers were "melted" beneath six feet of molten metal. According to the deputy coroner, one victim's injuries were so excruciatingly painful that the young man threw himself into a vat of liquid steel just to put an end to the nightmare.

The following account of the accident appeared in the January 17, 1907, edition of the Cameron County Press:


Were Melted in Liquid Steel

Pittsburg, Pa.-- Partial investigation to ascertain the number of fatalities that occurred at the Eliza furnace of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. Wednesday night, when an accu…