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Showing posts from 2017

Phildelphia's Ghoulish Firehouse

In the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia, just a few blocks southwest from the famously spooky Mutter Museum, stands a modest little firehouse. Built sometime in the 19th century, the humble brick structure is tucked among other larger brick buildings on South 16th Street, making it easy to miss.
It has been years since this charming building housed any fire-fighting equipment; today it's just a private, anonymous building with private, anonymous owners, one of hundreds of such buildings that can be found in any given city.

But, like all buildings, the tiny brick firehouse has a story to tell, and it's strange story might even be more chilling than any of the human oddities that have been displayed a short distance away at the Mutter Museum.

In the fall of 1892 the building at 754 South 16th Street was home to the firemen of Truck E. Even back then it was an old building and had fallen into a state of disrepair. It had been built years earlier as a soap factory, and had…

An interesting window display

Nothing attracts customers to a business like human remains in the window. In 1925, C.W. Ross of Oil City found a human skull while excavating at his property along the Allegheny River.  It appeared that the skull was missing its top, suggesting that the skull had once belonged to a native who was scalped during a battle with an enemy tribe.

As any person would, Ross had a desire to show off his nifty find, and decided to place it in the window of his general store on Colbert Avenue.

The following appeared in the Franklin News-Herald on July 10, 1925.

Ancient Giants in Danville?

Could Danville have been home at one time to the world's tallest man? It's possible. In 1901 workers uncovered a stone footprint measuring 18 inches in length. Presently, the world record for the biggest feet belongs to Rodríguez Hernandez of Venezuela, who stands 7 feet 2 inches tall and has feet measuring just under 16 inches in length. The previous record holder was Sultan Kösen, who still holds the record for the tallest living man at 8 feet and 2.82 inches. His feet measured 14 inches-- 1/3 of a foot less than the Danville stone footprint.

So how tall might this ancient giant have been?

The famous American giant, Robert Wadlow of Illinois-- the tallest person who ever lived-- still holds the record for the largest feet of all time. His feet were just a tiny bit longer than that of the Danville giant, at 18 and 1/4 inches in length. Wadlow stood 8 ft 11.1 in height and weighed 439 lbs. at the time of his death at the age of 22 in 1940.

So, it would be safe to assume tha…

The secret tomb of Salem Lutheran Church

A centuries-old secret lurked beneath the Salem Lutheran Church in the Franklin County village of Pleasant Hall until it was discovered by workmen reconstructing the church in the spring of 1929. Even today, very few people are aware of the secret Indian grave located in the bowels of the church building.

The humble brick church that is visible today, a well-known landmark of Letterkenny Township, was built on the site of the original house of worship, which is believed to have been built in or around 1740. Although historians still debate the date of the original church's construction, it is evident that the church could not have been built prior to 1736, when the title to that particular section of land was still held by Indians.

Several decades later a new church was erected on the same spot, and continued to serve the Lutheran worshipers of the Letterkenny valley without interruption until major renovations took place in 1929, at the direction of Rev. W.J. Schultz. Among the sc…

The Mystery Box of Tamaqua's Odd Fellows Cemetery

In April of 1898, Mrs. Margaret Wyatt of Tamaqua passed away. A quiet, unremarkable woman with a quiet, unremarkable life, Mrs. Wyatt was prepared for burial without much fanfare. She was to be interred at the Odd Fellows Cemetery and the necessary preparations were made by Joseph Southem, the graveyard sexton.

However, as Mrs. Wyatt's grave was being dug, Mr. Southem made a curious discovery, leading to a mystery that has remained unsolved for over a century.

The following comes from the Shenandoah Evening Herald, on April 4, 1898:

Why on earth would anyone bury an empty box in a cemetery beneath a one ton boulder? Who would go through such trouble? Did the box once hold a valuable treasure that had somehow been unearthed before 1898? Or was somebody planning on returning to the spot later with the hopes of burying something that nobody would ever be able to find?

That, of course, is the mystery, and it's a mystery that boggles the mind the more you stop to think about it.
The s…

Petrified Indian found in Clearfield County

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 30, 1898.

Notorious Pennsylvania Outlaws: The Sallada Brothers

Henry and Jacob Sallada, executed for the 1917 Coal Township murder of Charles Schleig, hold a dubious distinction in the annals of Northumberland County history-- of being the first criminals sent to the electric chair by a judge at the county courthouse in Sunbury.

Although the Sallada brothers resided in the Schuylkill County village of Sacramento, in Hubley Township, their criminal exploits often took place over the county line in neighboring Northumberland County, perhaps due to the fact that Northumberland County was known for imposing lenient sentences on hardened criminals.

Henry, the older of the Sallada brothers, was a notorious bandit who had  a lengthy criminal record long before he committed the murder that led to his execution. In May of 1915 he was arrested and sent to jail in Pottsville for stealing $2,000 in gold from an elderly resident of Sacramento, which he buried in a tin can beneath a chicken coop at his home. Police recovered most of the money, though $164 in go…

Stalked by a headless ghost on Christmas Eve

This is the sort of thing that will certainly ruin your holiday. From Dec. 25, 1884:

The Munro Tragedy: Death by Poisoned Candy, Suicide or Broken Heart?

Have you ever strolled through a cemetery, reading the inscriptions on the headstones? And, if so, has your imagination ever been ignited by a grave marker showing that a man and wife had shared the same date of death? Perhaps you pause in front of the marker and take a moment or two to think about the life the husband and wife had once shared together. You wonder about the peculiar circumstances that may have resulted in their simultaneous departures from the world of the living. An automobile accident, perhaps. Maybe a tragic house fire. Disease. Suicide. Possibly even murder.

Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport is the idyllic final resting place of more than 30,000 people, each one with their own unique history. The histories of some of deceased are better known than others; Wildwood is the final resting place of five U.S. Congressman, including Elias Deemer and James Gamble. It is the final resting place of professional athletes like Bob Pellegrini, the football star who once grace…

Ancient Turkish coin found in Fayette County garden

With spring right around the corner, many Keystone State treasure hunters will soon be dusting off their metal detectors while daydreaming of rare and priceless relics and coins, such as the nifty coin found by one housewife in 1932 while working in her garden.

If you're a fellow treasure hunter like myself, the following story-- from the May 26, 1932 edition of The Daily Republican-- ought to get your juices flowing.

April 9, 1890: The Day of the Hangman

Wednesday, April 9, 1890 marked a strange day in Pennsylvania history, as four criminals in four different counties were hanged within hours of each other.

10:34 a.m.-- The Hanging of William Bartholomew

The first of the day's four executions occurred in Easton, Northampton County, when William Bartholomew was hanged for the murder of Aaron W. Dilliard.

The crime for which Bartholomew paid for with his life took place on Friday, Sept. 6, 1889, when he killed his friend, Aaron Dilliard, in order to steal his wife, whom was having an affair with Bartholomew. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Dilliard's wife to assist him in the killing for several weeks, until she finally agreed to help. On the Wednesday night before the murder Bartholomew went to the Dilliard home while Aaron was at work. After sending the victim's 13-year-old son on an errand, Mrs. Dilliard helped Bartholomew devise the cunning plot.

Bartholomew took Dilliard's gun and removed the firing pin, render…

The mysterious tombstone of John Hugh Nelson

In the Maple Creek Cemetery in Washington County is a reddish granite monument that is said to possess the powers of locomotion. I've heard about this mysterious gravemarker many times, and have seen it mentioned on numerous listings of "haunted" places in Pennsylvania.

There's just one problem with this legend, however-- people noticed the odd behavior of the granite monument before the man who had it created even died. The following newspaper report, from the August 13, 1913 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tells about the tombstone of John Hugh Nelson who, apparently, didn't pass away until 1916.

Interesting side note-- The gravemarker is said to have the ability to rotate by its own power. The photograph of the gravemarker on is actually right side up. But every time I attempted to upload it onto this blog post, it keeps rotating onto its side! I have no idea if this is purely coincidental, or if the Findagrave user who snapped the origin…

A police station with a haunted painting?

The following story comes from the October 23, 1898 edition of the Pittsburgh Press and involves a painting of a criminal who was made to pose for the artist against his will. The painting was said to change colors-- and the convict's expression was said to change from frowning to laughing. The official explanation was that the changes were the result of inferior quality oil paint. What do you think?


The Allegheny police department has a mystery picture, and the queer antics of the canvas have excited widespread curiosity. To the casual observer it is nothing more than an ordinary oil painting with very little to recommend it to the eye of the critic. Yet even a person uneducated in the mysteries of colors cannot help but observe the many changes of this picture if he but pause a few moments and study it. The countenance of the subject actually changes, and at times smiles, then assumes a hangdog look, and…

The Monster of Swatara Creek

In October of 1910, a strange creature was spotted in Swatara Creek by numerous witnesses. Some of them attempted to kill the monster by shooting at it, but to no avail. The following story appeared in the Harrisburg Telegraph on October 15, 1910.

Bindnaugles Church, Pa. Oct. 15.-- Last night a party composed of fifteen men and boys, all of them armed, set out in quest of the strange animal that is alleged to have its lair in a cavern along the Swatara creek. The net results of the expedition is that one member of the party claims that he got a glimpse of the mysterious monster and fired a shot at it and missed. That is, he presumes that he failed to hit the beast, as he claims that it shook its head savagely and ran away. Another member of the party verifies this story and says the animal disappeared in Adam Bolt's meadow.

This morning another party, comprising twenty men, visited the vicinity of the cave. While several were watching the place a cry was heard and the watchers turn…

Mount Carmel girl kidnapped by gypsies

Raising a teenage daughter can be a challenge, as Joseph Lucas of Diamondtown would have told you in the summer of 1908. That was the year his fourteen-year-old daughter, Mary, was kidnapped by gypsies. Described by newspapers as "incorrigible" and described by her father as a girl who "has not been a particularly dutiful daughter", it seemed only a matter of time until Mary Lucas-- renowned throughout the Mount Carmel area as a ravishing beauty-- found herself running with wrong crowd.

And there were plenty of wrong crowds to run with in those days-- from the highwaymen who robbed miners at gunpoint on payday to bootleggers, smugglers, and operators of "bawdy houses". There were plenty of ways for an impressionable and pretty girl to go astray, but the furthest thing from Joseph Lucas' mind was the prospect of gypsies.

At least not until July of that year, when a large gypsy caravan set up their encampment at Berry's, a mining patch near Shamokin.…

Young boy blown to pieces

From the Reynoldsville Star, November 29, 1905.

The Clara Price Gravesite

I was a teenager when I first came across the unusual granite marker erected in the memory Clara Price, and it was this very strange roadside monument, which helped fueled my interest in murders and the darker side of Pennsylvania history. Since it's a rather famous monument in central Pennsylvania I never took the time to write about it on Pennsylvania Oddities, but in case you've never heard about it, today I'll take the time to tell you the story about Clara Ida Price and her horrible murder.

Clara Price was, by all accounts, the prettiest girl in the county. The 16-year-old daughter of a well-to-do family, Clara was every bit talented as she was beautiful. She had a remarkable talent for woodcarving and making flies for trout fishermen, and she sold these and other souvenirs from a gift shop in front of the family home along the Karthaus Pike. She was also said to be a skilled singer and musician. By all appearances, Clara Price had a bright future ahead of her-- which…

Poor kid was probably traumatized for life...

If you've ever wanted to give your child post traumatic stress disorder, the following article, which appeared in the Altoona Tribune on October 6, 1903, shows you how to do it.

A Confederate Major in a Yankee Cemetery

The Story of Major George Calhoun Pope

Among the rows of grave markers at the Covenant Greenwood Cemetery in Lebanon County (also known to locals as the Ebenezer Cemetery) is a simple gray headstone carved from granite. It's modest appearance is similar to that of any given 20th century marker in any given burial ground. Look a little closer and you will see that this headstone marks the final resting place of George C. Pope (1843-1913) and his wife Alice (1854-1935). Pass by this grave sometime around Memorial Day and you will see a tiny American flag, and the bronze emblem with its green patina denoting the grave of a veteran. Look a little closer and you will see that George C. Pope was a veteran of the Civil War. Look closer still, and you will see that George C. Pope did not fight for the Grand Army of the Republic-- but for the Confederated States of America.

This would be the grave of Major George Calhoun Pope, a Confederate officer buried in a Yankee graveyard.

September 2…

Mummy found in a garbage dump

A rather strange discovery was made at a Pittsburgh garbage dump in the fall of 1886-- a 3,000-year-old Peruvian mummy. As they always say, one man's trash is another man's museum specimen. The following story appeared in New Castle's Daily City News on October 14, 1886.

The Corpse Found in a Garbage Dump at Allegheny City Turns Out to be a Mummy 3,000 Years Old.

Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct. 14.-- Yesterday afternoon intense excitement was caused in this city and Allegheny by the announcement that the remains of a woman in a nude condition had been found in a box at the Allegheny City garbage dump. The evening papers gave much space to the "ghastly find", alleging that marks on the box indicated its recent arrival in New York by a Pacific mail steamer, and that it had been forwarded to this city by the Adams Express Company.

In rolling over the side of the dump the box was broken and the remains rolled out into the water. The body was that of a medium sized person, and wa…