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Showing posts from February, 2017

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.