Skip to main content

The Shamokin Circus Riot of 1913

Early 20th century photo of Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus


When the circus comes to town, a good time is usually enjoyed by all. Unless that circus happens to come to Shamokin. Many coal region towns have a reputation for toughness, and Shamokin is no exception. Of course, as a Mount Carmel grad, I happen to think we're just a little bit tougher than our rivals in Shamokin (I could insert a wisecrack about the Coal Bucket here, but I won't). Nonetheless, the following story is pretty entertaining.

It comes from the June 14, 1913 edition of the Mount Carmel Item and, as you can tell by the reporter's opening sentence, it's plain to see that even back in 1913 there was no love lost between these two battling coal towns.


Shamokin Roughnecks Attack Circus Folks

Shamokin youths showed themselves in their true light again yesterday when they made things generally miserable for the members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus, which exhibited in that town yesterday, caused riots and endangered the lives of many people who attended the show. Shamokin is not likely to have another circus for some time to come and if they do it is not likely that they will get much patronage as it is dangerous to attend a circus in that town.


Almost as soon as the show arrived at Shamokin, the rough-necks of the town picked a fight with canvas men and started a riot that had to be stopped by the county sheriff. Last evening a young man by the name R. Shankweiler claimed he was hit on the head by a canvas man. His friends gathered together a crowd of toughs and bums, cut the tent ropes and side walls of the tent and threw stones into the tent while the performance was in progress, endangering the lives of performers and spectators, only a few of whom were from this town.


After the performance was over they got on the hill south of where the circus was located and threw stones and dynamite down on the tents. The performers left their dressing tents and ran to their cars while the canvas men were delayed several hours in getting down their big tent. One of the dynamite explosions wrecked a large wagon. The toughs also threatened to blow up the circus train but didn't have enough nerve to go near the car. 


Early this morning a riot ensued between the rough-necks and the canvas men and one negro was badly hurt. Henceforth circuses will give Shamokin a wide berth.

Popular posts from this blog

Mount Carmel's Mysterious Suicide Cell

Tucked away at the head of North Oak Street in Mount Carmel is a quaint shop housed in a tiny historic brick building. The Shop at Oak & Avenue is a must-see destination for visitors, offering an impressive variety of gifts and handmade jewelry. It is a gem in an otherwise drab coal town whose glory days faded away with the demise of the steam locomotive and the trolley.

While this quaint small town gift shop gives off a pleasant appearance, the history of the building-- one of the oldest in the borough-- is tinged with horror and death. For this tiny building, erected in the 1880s, served as Mount Carmel's first city hall and jail, and this jail had a rather dark distinction of being the site of the cursed and mysterious "suicide cell".

History records six suicides taking place in the basement cell, along with scores of other attempted suicides. For a reason that has defied explanation, this tiny jail in this tiny town seems to bring out the darkest demons lurking wi…

Natalie, Pennsylvania: A Murderer's Paradise

When a miner named Michael Wanzie was murdered in June of 1905, it was evident that something wasn't quite right in the tiny village of Natalie. Although the scenic mountain village had a population of less than two hundred, the slaying of Michael Wanzie was the fourth murder committed in the village in less than a decade.

By 1924 the population had nearly doubled, thanks to a building "boom" that saw the construction of 40 new homes during the preceding year by builders employed by the Colonial Collieries Company, owners of the Natalie Colliery. Twenty of these homes, many of which still stand today, were built by the Evert Construction Company of Kulpmont. In 1923 there were 56 homes in the village, housing 375 residents. By April of 1924 that number would swell to just under 400 residents and 93 homes.

Although the building boom lent a measure of respectability to the village, Natalie was still imbued with a notorious reputation as being one of the most lawless places …

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 …