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 within the human soul. The men who died here were not hardened criminals but misguided citizens who had, for one reason or another, run afoul of the law. Yet, in spite of their seemingly minor offenses, something about this dank dungeon inspired them to take their own lives. Among the unfortunate inmates were a pair of brothers who uncannily met their demise five years apart.
Late in the afternoon of March 4, 1930, a fifty-five year old man named Anthony Chlebinski committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt in the jail beneath the city hall. His lifeless body was found hanging against the cell door by two drunks who had been ordered to the jail for a night's lodging. Aroused by the screaming tramps, Chief Burgess Elmer Delcamp cut down the body of Cheblinski, who had been placed inside the cell less than thirty minutes earlier. Chlebinski, strangely enough, had attempted suicide in the very same cell earlier that year, but his attempt was thwarted by Chief of Police Abe Morgan.
But the story gets stranger. Five years earlier Anthony's brother, Stanny Chlebinski, committed suicide inside the very same cell-- also by hanging himself with a belt.
The story of Martin Kulovitch, another victim of the suicide cell, exemplifies the plight of miners in the early 20th century, when the local economy began to sour as demand for coal decreased and mechanization put many more men, most of whom were poorly educated and had limited job skills, in the bread line. Financial woes and the constant stress of poverty often led to domestic quarrels; these domestic squabbles, along with drunken bar-room brawls, produced a steady stream of new prisoners for Mount Carmel's jail.
On the night of February 9, 1928, the Mount Carmel jail was the scene of a suicide carried out by Martin Kulovitch, a forty-three year old miner from South Plum Street who was despondent over his inability to find work. Stressed over the fear of being unable to provide for his large family, Kulovitch had grown increasingly hostile to his wife and, during a heated argument, had threatened to kill her. Kukovitch was arrested and taken to jail. At three o'clock in the morning, one of the other prisoners awoke to find Kulovitch lying on the floor with his head against the cot. Around his neck was a noose fashioned from four neckties. The prisoner's cries attracted Officer Cannon, who discovered that Kulovitch was dead.
|Undated photo of the Mt. Carmel city hall and jail|
Not everyone who sought death found it, of course. Records do not indicate how many attempted suicides occurred in the jail, but a few hours of research through historical newspapers reveals that many men, and even a few women, were cut down from their homemade nooses by Mount Carmel police officers before the evil deed was finished. One such inmate was Anthony Smellgoose.
On November 19, 1911, Smellgoose hanged himself inside the cell using his belt. Alerted by his groans, Chief of Police Abe Morgan raced to the cell and found Smellgoose half dead, dangling from his belt. Morgan cut down the prisoner, who was later revived by a physician. Smellgoose's crime? He had been arrested for smashing a neighbor's windows.
Perhaps there were sinister forces at play. Perhaps a curse.
Oddly, just a few years later, in 1915, Anthony Smellgoose's wife would also have a harrowing brush with death-- also inside a jail cell. Mrs. Mary Smellgoose was locked up in the Hazleton jail when the jailhouse was fumigated and all prisoners evacuated. Someone forget to evacuate Mrs. Smellgoose, however, and she was overcome by toxic fumes. According to the Mount Carmel Item, it required a "heroic effort" to save her life.
Or course, one could also argue that the misfortunes of the entire Smellgoose family were the consequences of their own actions. Mary Smellgoose was also arrested in 1914 after a physical scuffle with police that left her with a broken arm and left a constable named Kline blind in his right eye (she hit him in the head with a rock). During the bitter and harsh January of 1915, the local papers reported that Mary swapped her young daughter's winter coat for liquor at a neighborhood bar. Obviously, the Smellgooses were not models of upstanding citizenship.
In total, six men died by their own hands in the tiny jail in the basement of the old Mount Carmel city hall building, all by hanging. Yet none of the cursed prisoners faced charges that would have resulted in more than a few months of incarceration at the county jail in Sunbury. So what dark and evil menace inhabited the hellish cellar of the old city hall? Is it still there, waiting to claim its next victim? Or has the passage of time put the demon to sleep?