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Showing posts from August, 2016

Death of an Aviatrix

The mountains of Pennsylvania have been called an aviator's graveyard since the earliest days of flight. One of the great tragedies of Pennsylvania aviation history occurred in Perry County, in January of 1932, when a plane piloted by two daring young women with hopes of setting a world record, crashed into the side of Bower's Mountain, near the site of present-day Colonel Denning State Park.

On Tuesday, January 5, the plane being flown by Ruth Stewart, of St. Louis, disappeared into a cloud bank, seemingly without a trace. With her was a passenger from Toronto, Debbie Stanford. The two female pilots were en route to New York, where they planned to refuel and attempt a one-stop flight to Buenos Aires, in the hopes of setting a new world record. Stewart and Stanford were following a plane piloted by Stewart's parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Woerner of St. Louis. The aircraft remained lost for two days, until its wreckage was spotted from the air by volunteer flyers. The wreck…

The Tragic Fate of Homer Swaney

When Homer H. Swaney, former lawyer, president of the Pacific Steel Company and prominent citizen of McKeesport, lost his life in the sinking of the steamship Clallam off the Pacific coast in January of 1904, it seemed to conclude a strange tale of superstition and native curses.

Four years earlier, Swaney and a McKeesport real estate developer named James L. Devenney traveled to Port Townsend in British Columbia. Among the many souvenirs they brought back was a totem pole that had been carved by the chief of a local Indian tribe. Although British law forbade the taking of Indian relics outside the territory, the two men managed to sneak the totem out of Port Townsend and into the United States.

Misfortune appeared almost from the first moment the artifact was brought to Pennsylvania.

The totem pole was first displayed inside White's Drugstore in McKeesport, where it attracted a great deal of attention. Among those who came to see the relic was James Petty, a newspaper reporter who…

The Broad Mountain Mystery (Part 3 of 3)

When the charred remains of a young woman were found atop Broad Mountain in the spring of 1925, about three miles from Heckscherville, one of the largest police investigations in Pennsylvania history was launched. In spite of three false positive identifications of the remains having been made, more than 175 different leads having been pursued, and reports of more than 60 missing girls having been investigated, the crime has never even come to close to being solved. As late as 1932-- seven years after the discovery of the charred remains-- there was at least one full-time detective from Troop C of the Pennsylvania State Police in charge of running down leads connected to the crime. As late as 1937, Dr. Spencer kept the preserved head of the victim available for inspection at the Fountain Springs Hospital in the hopes that the victim would be identified.

The first two articles about the Broad Mountain Mystery explored the facts and rumors pertaining to the crime and its subsequent inves…

The Broad Mountain Mystery (Part 2 of 3)

On April 28, one local newspapers made a bold claim-- that the Broad Mountain victim was indeed Lillian Tyler. The Mount Carmel Daily News reported that Lieutenant Carlson, who claimed to have found the missing girl working as a waitress in Detroit, did not actually see Lillian or speak to her. Neither did Mrs. Davis, who accompanied the trooper to Detroit. It was widely reported that the searchers had returned to Pennsylvania empty-handed, and had based their findings on third-party information. This conflicted with the reporting of the borough's other newspaper, which held fast to the story that Carlson and Davis had actually met and talked to Lillian Tyler in Detroit.

Things were also getting out of hand in Indiana, as authorities tried to solve a strikingly similar murder in Chesterton. After Margaret Bishop (initially identified as the victim) was found alive and well, the charred body was positively identified by relatives as that of Lucille Sweeney. And, in yet another biza…

The Broad Mountain Mystery (Part 1 of 3)

Schuylkill County can claim dozens of unsolved murders, but it was the gruesome slaying of a young woman in 1925-- a victim still unidentified to this day-- that still holds the undisputed title of Schuylkill County's greatest unsolved mystery. The investigation spanned several years and took detectives on a wild goose chase through the seedy underworld of teen prostitution from New York to Chicago. This is part one of a three-part article on the infamous (and still unsolved) mystery of Broad Mountain.

On the unseasonably Palm Sunday of April of 1925, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Duncan, of the village of Gordon, were hunting for arbutus atop Broad Mountain when they made a sickening discovery not far from the state highway. Turning their car off the main highway onto a side road leading to an old coal drilling hole, they noticed a pair of legs sticking out from the bushes. It was the badly charred body of a girl. Less than two square inches of clothing remained on her blackened corpse, an…

A Ghost in the Furnace

The following unusual story comes from the August 26, 1902, edition of the Wilkes-Barre News, and gives a chilling description of an encounter with a ghost of a former co-worker at Philadelphia's Baldwin Locomotive Works. While it's easy to dismiss ghost sightings experienced by small children with impressionable minds or vagabonds with a penchant for whiskey, there's something extra spooky about a story when it involves a tough-as-nails iron worker sent to the hospital after collapsing from sheer fright. Was James McGlone tormented by a phantom of a former friend? Or was he merely suffering from the effects of overwork and exhaustion? Read the article and draw your own conclusion.

Laborer at Baldwin's Fainted on Beholding Apparition of Workman Who Had Been Killed

Philadelphia, Aug. 25-- In the glare of a furnace at the Baldwin Locomotive works, James McGlone, a laborer, declares he saw a ghost at 3 o'clock this morning. According to McGlone, the apparition was that…