Reliance Colliery, located south of Mount Carmel on Locust Mountain, saw many tragedies since its construction in 1867. Of these, the explosion of September 2, 1926, is perhaps best remembered, which claimed the lives of four miners and badly burned several more.
However, one remarkable tragedy that took place in the shadows of Reliance Colliery didn't involve a miner at all, but a middle-aged Lithuanian woman named Annie Metzgas. Her death in 1903 didn't warrant more than a few sentences in local papers, but the stories of her ghost haunting the surrounding hills kept the residents of Mount Carmel inside their homes at night for weeks after her unfortunate demise.
On Friday afternoon, July 10, a powerful thunderstorm swept over the area. It came suddenly, catching Annie Metzgas by surprise as she was picking huckleberries on the hill near the colliery. Annie had arrived in the country just a few months earlier, and barely spoke a word of English. She shared a home with her daughter, Mrs. Matthew Simonaitis, at 202 West Second Street, and was picking berries so that she could sell them in order to earn enough money to bring her husband to America.
When the storm clouds gathered overhead Annie made a run for it, eventually reaching a schoolhouse. She was spotted by Frank Lewis at around 3 o'clock, who was making repairs at the building, and he told her to go into the coal shed to get out of the driving rain. She didn't understand English, and the fact that the man had to yell in order to be heard over the terrible downpour probably frightened the poor woman; instead of seeking safety from the storm inside the shed, she continued to run, heading toward a clump of trees along the road.
Lewis went back to his work and didn't give the woman any thought until later that evening, when he was told that a miner named Wilson Blue, who was on his way to Reliance Colliery for the night shift, had found a dead woman beneath some trees. Blue found her face down in the dirt, near the base of a tree that had been charred by lightning. Blue notified his boss, Andrew Maurer, who in turn notified the undertaker. After the body was identified, it was taken back to the Simonaitis home, where it was later examined by Coroner Dreher.
According to Coroner Dreher, the back of Annie Metzgas' head was charred and her hair was scorched. The lightning strike had been so powerful that the heels of both her shoes were blasted off, and the tin pail she had been carrying was crushed.
Shortly after Annie's death, stories began to spread about a ghostly figure of a woman seen by several witnesses around Reliance Colliery. One witness, a young man, claimed that on the night of July 27 he encountered an apparition on the same stretch of road where Annie had been struck down. The Mount Carmel Item published an account of the incident:
Ever since Mrs. Annie Metzgas met her death by lightning near Reliance the place has possessed its terrors for supertitious. One young man declares that night before last he saw the apparition of a woman come in the road before him and disappear in the woods three times, the last disappearance being in a flash of blinding light. His tale is corroborated by another who professes to have had the same experience last night.
Was it merely a case of an over-active imagination? A hoax? Or did witnesses see the wandering soul of the poor Lithuanian woman whose life was suddenly snuffed out in a blinding flash one stormy summer afternoon in 1903?