They Fell to Their Deaths

While writing this post I could hear the voice of my mother inside my head saying, "You're such a nice young man, why do you have to write about such nasty things? This is probably why you're still not married." But I believe that most people are strangely fascinated by the gruesome. Haven't all of us at one time or another, while driving by the scene of a car crash, slowed down to take a peek, perhaps hoping to see a head rolling around or a limb strewn about? Okay, maybe it's just me.

During my travels and adventures, I've often driven past a tall building or bridge and thought to myself, "Hmm, I wonder if anyone has even fallen off of that thing". If you're like me (cursed with a love of the morbid side of history), you just might enjoy this article, which details some Pennsylvania landmarks and the unfortunate people who went to their maker after falling off them.

1. Hotel Sylvania (Philadelphia)

This art deco masterpiece, currently the site of The Arts Condominium Apartments, opened as a hotel in 1923 and continued to operate as a luxury hotel into the 1970s.

Who: Bernard F. Camp
When: January 21, 1930
How: Camp, a 33-year-old stockbroker from New York, jumped from his window on the 12th floor. It was presumed that Camp committed suicide because of financial troubles.

2. St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church (Philadelphia)

This church, located at 10th and Christian Streets in the Italian Market neighborhood of South Philadelphia, was originally founded in 1843.

Who: Frederick Boyle
When: December 21, 1891
How: While engaged in plastering the inside of the steeple, a wooden plank of the scaffolding weakened, causing the 36-year-old laborer to plunge forty feet to his death. He was killed instantly, striking his head on one of the pews on the St. Joseph's aisle. "The pew on which he struck was smashed to pieces," reported The Philadelphia Times.

3. Fidelity Trust Building (Philadelphia)

Designed in the Beaux-Arts style, this Broad Street landmark is better known as the Wells Fargo Building. The 29-story skyscraper was  erected for the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Co. in 1928 and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Who: Frederick Swanson
When: December 1, 1927
How: Swanson, a 33-year-old stonecutter, fell to his death from the nineteenth floor during the building's construction

4. Immaculate Heart Catholic School (Chester)

Now known as the Saint Katherine Drexel Evangelization Center, this building at the corner of Mary and Norris Streets in Chester was constructed in 1883 and run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Who: John Shaw
When: September 14, 1903
How: Shaw, a 48-year-old carpenter, fell thirty-five feet from the roof to his death onto the sidewalk along Mary Street. His skull crushed and neck broken, Shaw died instantly.

5. Smithfield Street Bridge (Pittsburgh)

Built in 1883, this bridge spanning the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh is one of the city's most iconic structures and is a National Historic Landmark. It is also a popular place to commit suicide. Daniel Griner was the first recorded suicide victim to jump from the bridge in June of 1889.

Who: Unidentified
When: May 26, 1931
How: An unidentified but well-dressed man, who appeared to be around 24 years of age, was observed by numerous witnesses jumping from the bridge. Although his body was later recovered, the man's identity remains a mystery.

6. Panther Hollow Bridge (Pittsburgh)

Built in 1897, this historic bridge carries Wilmot Road over Panther Hollow in Schenley Park. It is famous for its monumental bronze sculptures by artist Giuseppe Moretti of four panthers, located at each corner of the bridge.

Who: Luigi Brazaleone
When: September 19, 1909
How:  Brazaleone, 40, wagered that he could walk the railing across the bridge. After a few steps he promptly plummeted 150 feet to his death, thus losing the bet.

7. Carnegie Library (Pittsburgh)

Who: John J. Poland
When: March 1, 1905
How: Poland, a 21-year-old structural ironworker, fell from the roof and was killed instantly during a construction project

8. Dunbar Borough School (Dunbar)

This schoolhouse in Fayette County, also known as the Furnace Hill School, operated until 1974 and is presently boarded up. According to local legend, it is also haunted.

Who: William Erlacker
When: August 21, 1909
How: Erlacker fell forty feet from the top of the building while repairing the roof. He fractured his skull and died a few days later at the state hospital in Connellsville.

9. State Capitol Building (Harrisburg)

Three fatalities occurred during the construction of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building. This fact was actually celebrated as good news, as the building's contractors estimated that one death was expected to occur for every $200,000 spent on construction. According to the April 12, 1904 edition of the Harrisburg Daily Independent, there was a "quota" of 20 deaths estimated for the building's construction. This, of course, is something the tour guides never tell you when you are a child on a field trip to Harrisburg. 

Who: A.J. Lyter
When: April 12, 1904
How: At 11:20 in the morning of April 12, Lyter fell four stories to his death during construction of the building's northern wing. While installing iron girders a pulley broke, striking Lyer in the head and knocking him off balance from the scaffolding. He fell 100 feet into the basement of the building, gasped and convulsed for about five minutes, and then died.

Who: Owen Roberts
When: May 25, 1903
How: Roberts was killed while standing in the rotunda, from a tile that fell onto his head. He died instantly.

Who: William Campbell
When: January 9, 1904
How: Campbell, a mason's apprentice, slipped from the scaffolding and fell three stories to his death into the basement.

10. Land Title Building (Philadelphia)

The Land Title Building at 1400 Chestnut Street is one of Philadelphia's oldest skyscrapers. Comprised of two towers, the first was completed in 1898, while the second was completed in 1902. In 1978, the skyscraper was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Who: Harry C. Brewer
When: November 23, 1910
How: Brewer, an employee of the Blackston Credit and Adjustment Company, committed suicide by jumping from the 12th story. He landed atop an adjacent two-story building and died from his injuries an hour later.



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