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Showing posts from 2018

Notorious Outlaws: Kid Squeak

Dominick McKenzie, better known as Kid Squeak, was widely known throughout the Coal Region as a prizefighter-- and a colorful criminal. In the boxing ring he never amounted to much; although he faced dozens of opponents, his fights were almost always relegated to preliminary bouts. However, as a criminal, Kid Squeak was far more accomplished.

Kid Squeak earned his nickname on the rowdy streets of Shamokin as a teenager, presumably because he was the type of juvenile delinquent whose mouth always got him into trouble. It also didn't help that, at a mere 110 pounds, Kid Squeak was far from being a heavyweight. But the frequent drubbings he took in the ring didn't discourage him; by most accounts, he was scrappy and always put up a respectable fight.

McKenzie first entered the professional ranks in 1926 at the age of 17. In March of that year he was beaten by Mount Carmel's top bantamweight, "Pet" Muldoon, and fought to draw against Shamokin's Tony Scicchitano.…

Mule eats miner's tool box

While Frank Shiffka of the United Mine Workers grievance committee was investigating complaints from miners in Nanticoke in 1937, he came across a complaint from one miner who was angry that he was being charged $4 for a new toolbox that had been eaten by a hungry mule. The following article appeared in the Shamokin News-Dispatch on March 17, 1937.

An unimaginably horrific way to die

Everyone knows that a steel mill can be a dangerous place to work. However, out of all the possible ways there are to die, it's difficult to envision anyone losing a life the same way that 25-year-old Thomas Alles did at the Lackawanna Steel Company mill in Lackawanna, New York in 1910.

Yes, I'm aware that this is a website devoted to weird things that have happened in Pennsylvania, not New York, but since Thomas Alles was born, raised and buried in Wilkes-Barre, it's close enough.

Herman Schultz: The first and last man hanged in Pike County

Hundreds of criminals have been hanged in Pennsylvania, but only one man has ever lost his life on the scaffold behind the historic Pike County Courthouse in Milford. In some ways this is a remarkable fact, considering that the cupola-topped red brick courthouse has stood at the corner of Broad and High streets since 1873. Yet the county's first-- and only-- execution wouldn't occur until twenty-four years after the last brick had been laid into place.

In fact, the whole story of Herman Schultz and his execution is remarkable; he was initially cleared of any wrongdoing in the death of his wife, and he may have lived to a ripe old age had it not been for his two sons, who ultimately sent him to the gallows in December of 1897.

Herman Paul Schultz arrived in this country sometime in the 1870s, and took for his wife a lovely young woman named Lizzie Kiefer. They settled in New York City, sharing the same dream of freedom and prosperity that had lured countless other German immig…

Killed by train hours after burying mother

Lost Treasure: The Hunt for Hopson's Diamonds

One of the greatest treasure hunts in Pennsylvania history took place in October of 1928, after airmail pilot "Wild Bill" Hopson suffered a fatal crash near the village of Polk in Venango County. Hopson had been transporting more than $50,000 worth of diamonds (a treasure worth nearly $720,000 in today's currency), and although more than 300 diamonds were eventually recovered, it is believed that nearly one hundred of the valuable gemstones are still out there waiting to be found.

On Thursday, October 18, 1928, the luck of veteran aviator William C. Hopson finally ran out. Hopson, known to friends as "Wild Bill", had been a night flyer for eight years, delivering mail between New York and Cleveland. He had flown the famously dangerous Bellefonte-Cleveland route over the Allegheny Mountains countless times without incident, though many of his colleagues had not been so lucky. And so, when a shipment of 900 pounds of mail and a fortune in jewels had to be delive…

Advertise on Pennsylvania Oddities!

Think online advertising is a poor way to reach your target audience? You're probably right. You may plunk down $200-$300 for a simple ad on Twitter or Facebook, only to have it seen (or not seen) by a few hundred users who live a thousand miles away. Great if you have an online business... not so great if you have a pizzeria or a barbershop (last I checked, no one is driving from Seattle to Scranton for a haircut).

And forget about newspapers. The circulation of a local newspaper these days is worse than that of a diabetic with peripheral artery disease. Radio? Television? Sure, that's great-- if you've got money to burn and none of your potential customers have ever heard of Pandora or Netflix.

How about a ridiculously affordable way to reach people who live in the same town in which your business is located?

If that sounds appealing to you, then keep reading.

Established in 2013, Pennsylvania Oddities has seen a steady rate of growth, presently averaging over 300,000 v…

Notorious Outlaws: Red Nose Mike

If a Hall of Fame existed for Pennsylvania criminals, 19th century outlaw Red Nose Mike would have gotten inducted on the first ballot with the greatest of ease. After he was hanged in 1889, the blood-thirsty killer with the curious nickname became part of Luzerne County legend. A great deal has been written about Red Nose Mike over the years-- much of it true, but some of it grossly exaggerated, and these exaggerations only served to spread his infamy and reputation throughout every corner of the state. Here is the true story of Michael Rizzolo, the heartless bandit known as Red Nose Mike.

Rizzolo, who earned his colorful sobriquet because of the unusual protrusion and color of his nose, was operating a commissary near Laurel Run when the Lehigh Valley Railroad was constructing its cutoff over the mountains from Coxton to Mountaintop. The contractor in charge of the cutoff construction was a man by the name of Charles McFadden, who employed a large number of workers.

October 19, 188…

Exploding tree stump kills 7-year-old girl

In 1925, a farmer near Hanover was removing tree stumps from his property by blasting them with dynamite. Unfortunately, a young child named Ethel Crouser was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although she was walking along a road 300 feet from the farm, she was struck by the stump and killed instantly. The above account of the tragic accident appeared on December 11, 1925 in the Canonsburg Daily Notes.

Death by coffee

This eye-catching item appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 9, 1898.

The Poltergeists of Pitcairn

Fifteen miles west of Pittsburgh lies the borough of Pitcairn, once home to a major switching yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Pitcairn is still a railroad town, although the old Pitcairn Yard, which dates back to 1892, is now property of the Norfolk Southern Railway. The borough is also home to the very first Fox's Pizza Den location, which still stands on Broadway after more than forty years of continuous operation. Today, the chain boasts over 250 locations in 28 states.

In October of 1912, East Broadway in Pitcairn was also the home of troublesome poltergeists who not only frightened away an entire family who lived in the house, but also led to the discovery of a perplexing murder mystery-- one that remains unsolved to this day.

On the night of Monday, October 28, the families of George and William Rainey left their large, yellow house on Broadway and vowed never to return, even though they had moved in only a week earlier. The trouble began shortly after their arrival, whe…

Skelp, Scalp, or Scalp Level?

History buffs from the Sinking Valley region of Tyrone Township, Blair County, have long debated the origins of the name of the tiny village the sits about fifteen miles north of Altoona. On modern maps, the name of the village appears as Skelp, and sits at the foot of Skelp Mountain. However, older maps and newspapers variously refer to the village as Scalp, while others have referred to the village by another name, Scalp Level.

I've pondered this mystery for quite some time, and concluded that the name was changed from Scalp to Skelp because, well, who wants to live in a place called Scalp? Another possibility is that the word "scalp" brings to mind bands of blood-thirsty Indians roving about the valley with tomahawks in their hands, intent on slaughtering innocent, God-fearing white settlers, and so the name was changed out of political correctness.

I finally put some effort into solving this mystery, but came up empty-handed. There really is no definite reason why t…