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The mystery skeleton of Centralia

Photo of Centralia, circa 1906

When the calendar reads April 1 and a child reports finding a human skeleton in the woods, it's easy to dismiss the child's claims as a joke or a prank. That's exactly what happened to Oscar Fetterman, a 13-year-old boy from Centralia on April Fool's Day of 1917.

Oscar's story, however, turned out to be true, thus bringing to light one of Centralia's darkest unsolved mysteries.

Oscar was roaming the mountains near Centralia looking for teaberries. When he reached the woods that divide Park Street and the Saints Peter and Paul cemetery his eye was attracted to something lying on the ground. He crept closer. It was a human skeleton, clad in dark clothing. A black derby hat and black dress shoes were next to the bones.

Leaving his berries behind, the boy ran back to Centralia as fast as his legs could carry him and told anyone who would listen about his gruesome discovery. Everyone thought it was an April Fool's prank, of course, but Oscar's story spread throughout the small town, eventually attracting the attention of two men, Walter Kimmel and an unidentified friend, who said that since they were going past the cemetery later that day anyway, they would take a look for themselves.

Kimmel and his friend easily located the skeleton, and the cemetery's undertaker and the county coroner were summoned to the scene. They concluded that the man had been dead for about six months. They examined the dead man's clothing, but were unable to find anything that could be used to identify the remains.
As word of the discovery spread throughout the area, a Shamokin man by the name of Joseph Stack traveled to Centralia to view the remains. His son, James, had mysteriously disappeared from home six months earlier. Upon viewing the remains, however, Stack concluded that it could not possibly be his son; James was tall, and the bones were too short. He also examined the scraps of clothing found in the woods and did not recognize them.

Joseph did provide authorities with a possible lead, however. He told investigators of a fellow from Johnson City (which is presently known as Ranshaw) who also disappeared around the same time. Relatives of the missing man came to view the remains, but once again the remains didn't fit the description. Since there were no other reports of missing persons from the area, the bones were gathered into a box and buried in an unmarked grave in the Aristes cemetery (It's unclear why the bones weren't buried in the Centralia cemetery where they were discovered. My guess is that since the Centralia cemetery belonged to the Greek Orthodox church and all the parishioners were accounted for, the church didn't want anything to do with them).

Although a century has passed, the mystery skeleton of Centralia still remains unidentified-- and since the bones were buried in an unmarked grave, it appears that the mystery will forever remain unsolved.


Mount Carmel Item, April 2, 1917
Mount Carmel Item, April 3, 1917
Harrisburg Evening News, April 3, 1917

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