Monday, May 30, 2016

Along the Way: Mineral Spring Falls

Mineral Spring Falls
The water is barely flowing in drier times
I discovered Mineral Spring Falls quite by accident.

My destination for the day's journey was the Loyalsock Canyon Vista. I had driven past the waterfall before dad brought it to my attention, saying that he thought there was a waterfall just off the road.

Backing up I quickly discovered that he was correct. Located up a narrow cut, the waterfall was roughly fifty yards from the road which made it easy to get to and photograph..

Finding a place to safely park, I grabbed the camera and followed a small path over the bank to the waters of Mineral Spring Run. The stream is named after Mineral Spring (a sulfur spring) near the junction of the run and the East Branch of Double Run. If you follow the Loyalsock Trail over the bank (opposite side of Mineral Spring Road than the waterfall) it will take you past the Mineral Spring. I personally did not go exploring in that direction.

Mineral Spring Falls
Rain/melting snow makes it
A little more eye catching
Note the ice hanging on to the left of the falls
I was immediately taken in by the narrow hollow which had been cut out by the waters of Mineral Spring Run. Centuries and centuries of erosion had cut away at the rock making unique, eye-catching formations.

Rock hopping up the stream, in seconds I had arrived at the plunge pool of the falls and began a photographing the falls. Mineral Spring Run descends roughly twenty to twenty-five feet over the rock face to a shallow pool at its base. The falls appear to be a slide type waterfall; this type of waterfall is one where the water drops and slides along a slope while consistently maintaining contact with the underlying rocks. The waterfall also appears to be of the fan variety – narrow at the top and widens, or fans, out as it descends.

The day I first visited the falls, it had not rained in a couple days so water was barely coming over the rim. A couple months later, with the snow melting, Zech and I made a second trip to get much better pictures of Mineral Spring Falls. This time the water was flowing rapidly over the ledge.

While most like seeing a lot of water going over the falls (including myself, because what’s a waterfall without water?) my favorite pictures are actually of the first visit when a mere trickle of water was flowing. To me, it gives a more serene setting, especially with the leaves floating in the plunge pool.

Mineral Spring Falls
A number of things when photographing these falls to keep in mind.

1). The waterfall can be seen and photographed from the road.

2). The best place (in my opinion) to photograph the falls is moving upstream to the start of the plunge pool.

3). Be careful going up and down the stream bed. The rocks are wet and can be slippery.

4). Mineral Spring Falls is best shot after a rain.

Mineral Springs Falls
Finding Mineral Spring Falls is fairly easy. From World’s End State Park, follow Mineral Spring Road. Roughly a mile the road splits – the road to the left goes up to the Loyalsock Canyon Vista. Follow Mineral Spring Road to the right for another mile and a half and the falls will be on the left.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Along the Way: Footprint Rock

Footprint Rock, Ohio
Rock in foreground
“What’s on the agenda for today?” Zech asked as we finished packing the truck.

I rattled off a list of places we were going to try to get to ending the list with: “But first we’re going to stop at Footprint Rock.”

“Ok,” he replied, obviously not impressed with the name.

Having read about this rock many, many years ago I knew I had to make the short detour to visit it while I was passing through the region.

In mere minutes after leaving Richmond, Indiana, we were standing at Footprint Rock in Ohio. A small brown sign along the road marks its location and if you’re not looking for it, it is easy to miss – we were looking for it and almost missed the sign. A number of older directions talk about the abandoned gas station that was located here, but it had been demolished by the time of our visit.

Footprint Rock
Can you see the footprint?
Located on the northern side of Route 40, the rock is roughly four miles east of the Indiana/Ohio state line. Reading some comments people had posted over the years I thought it was in the middle of a field, or even in a slightly more remote location,  but instead it is only a couple yards off of Route 40. At one time the rock was a major attraction in the area, but after the interstate was built, traffic on Route 40 lessened and many forgot about this strange rock formation.

"So what is it?" Zech asked as we studied the rock and its strange footprint in the middle of it. Of course we took pictures of it from every angle and did a shoe size comparison of it. Locals claim that it is the footprint of a prehistoric man. Some have claimed that it is the footprint of a man-like dinosaur. 

The Footprint
“Optical illusion?” Zech asked. I had to agree that this was the case. The footprint is easier to see and make out if you’re looking at the rock from the east or west, along the lines of the grooves caused by erosion. The added fact that water was in the footprint also made it easier to distinguish.

Footprint Rock is a neat thing to visit if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t make a special trip just to visit it. Of course, if you do get to that part of Ohio and stop, let me know what you think.

Strange Side Note: A couple years back a rumor began circulating that if you placed your bare foot in the print, closed your eyes (and in some versions count to three) and reopened them you would be transported back in time for a brief second or two. A rock that allows for time travel.... I personally did not test that theory...

A close-up of the Footrpint

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Along the Way: The Coffee Pot

The Coffee Pot, Bedford
On a recent trip to the southern part of the state, I was treated to one of the most unique buildings I've ever visited. Though I had heard about it years ago, I honestly thought it had been demolished. I was surprised to learn I was wrong and the building had not disappeared as the years passed it by.

Standing along business route 30 in Bedford is a unique piece of Americana – resting at the edge of the county fairgrounds is a giant, two-story coffee pot.

Originally designed and built by Bert Koontz in 1927, it was erected to attract people to his gas station. The Coffee Pot was originally on the northern side of Route 30, almost directly across from the spot it now occupies. It initially served ice cream, burgers, and beverages to those exploring the Lincoln Highway and the Allegheny Mountains.

The Coffee Pot
The construction of the Route 30 bypass and the Pennsylvania Turnpike meant less traffic and fewer visitors. The gas station and the coffee pot became victims of progress. The Coffee Pot became a bar for a few years while the gas station became a drive-through beer distributor. Seventy years after its grand opening, the coffee pot was a mere shell of its former glory. After being empty for years, it was slated to be torn down.

In 2003, shortly before it was scheduled to be razed, the building was saved. The Bedford County Fairgrounds bought it for one dollar and had it moved across the street to its current location. A small fortune was spent moving and repairing the building. A year after it was moved, it was reopened as a visitor's center.

The Coffee Pot was easy to spot as I entered Bedford; after all, it definitely is an attention catcher. The metallic gray coffee pot had red framing around its windows and door. And, in case you missed it, the words "The Coffee Pot" are painted onto its side. Though it is still classified as a visitor's center, the building appeared empty the day I visited.

The information sign outside The Coffee Pot
As I investigated the Coffee Pot and its surroundings, I was surprised by the number of people who stopped and took pictures. While there, three other families stopped to take pictures. It seemed to still be a very popular place to visit. One older couple stopped and asked if I would take their picture. They were from England and were traveling from Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio. They were going to follow Route 30 as far as they possibly could before picking up the interstate into Columbus. They thanked me and continued on their journey.

I took a couple more pictures before heading homeward, glad that this unique building had been saved for other generations to visit.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Hooded Grave Cemetery

Sign at Mt. Zion Cemetery, Catawissa
A while back I received an email from Eric who asked: What do you know about the Vampire Graves near Bloomsburg? I've always heard that the cages placed over the graves because they were victims of vampire attacks. The cages were to keep the vampires from coming out of their graves and attacking locals.

My immediate thought was - I never knew that there were vampire graves in Pennsylvania. I have read about the vampire cases that plagued New England and even visited the grave of Mercy Brown (the last case of a supposed vampire in New England) while in Rhode Island years ago, but I had never heard of any cases involving vampires in Pennsylvania before.

An internet search at the time provided pictures of the graves and looking at them, I had an idea come to mind about the origins of the iron cages and their purpose. With a little more research, I was convinced my hunch was correct.

Merely reading about the iron caged graves was not enough to satisfy my curiosity, so early one morning I set out to find the Hooded Grave Cemetery and the strange graves. I found myself standing at the entrance to the cemetery in the hills south of Catawissa.

Asenath's Grave
The cemetery has a large sign that welcomes visitors to the Hooded Grave Cemetery, a small cemetery with hardly any parking available for the curious visitor. The official name of the cemetery is Mt. Zion Cemetery, but most know its adopted name of Hooded Grave Cemetery due to the strange structures that stand amid the stones of the small cemetery. The parking for the cemetery is almost no-existent and the driveway on the side towards the house is posted private, so I parked along the edge of the country road, pulling as far off as possible to allow vehicles to safely pass. Jumping out of the truck, I made for the closest of the structures. Originally there were three of these cages, but one was taken down in the 1930s due to its poor condition.

The first grave I came to was Asenath (Campbell) Thomas, consort of John Thomas. The stone is broken and lay at the head of the cage, but the words are still legible. She had died June 26, 1852 at the age of twenty. I believe she died in childbirth; a nearby stone belonged to her daughter Asenath who would join her in the afterlife in November of that same year.

I could merely stare at the strange structure in front of me. Though I had seen many pictures of these graves before, seeing them first hand caught and kept my attention. In all of my wanderings, I had never come across such structures before. For the record I have yet to see something similar in my journeys.

Standing about four feet tall, roughly three feet wide, and six feet long, the cages stick out amid the handful of old stones that are scattered about the hilltop. The sides of the cages are made of a stiff, criss-crossing wire mesh. The roofs are curved iron bars that obviously took time to construct. As far as I could tell, the structures are merely placed on top of the graves and not concreted into place and I was unable to determine how deep the cages were driven into the ground.

Asenath's Grave
I crossed the cemetery to the edge of it to visit the second of the cages. The stone was in great condition. It was the grave of Sarah Ann (Thomas) Boone, the wife of Ransloe and sister of John. Sarah had died on June 18, 1852, only a couple days before her sister-in-law Asenath...

A grave near Sarah's caught my attention due to the death date: Rebecca Clayton had died only a couple of weeks before Sarah and Asenath on May 12, 1852. After returning home, a check of the name showed that she was Sarah's cousin. Could the third cage have been located above her grave? Or was it standing guard over the grave of the infant Asenath? Either of these graves could be possible. All of the information I found about the graves did not provide an answer to whose grave the third cage once stood over.

The official explanation of the origins of the cages is not known. It was never recorded anywhere what the reason was for their erection atop the graves in this cemetery. Many different theories, from the wild and bizarre to the possible have been put forth.

Among the strange origins for the cages include that the women were vampires (and in some versions werewolves or witches) and the cages were to keep them in the grave. If that were the case, I don't think iron would stop a vampire (or a werewolf or a witch for that matter). While there were still cases of supposed vampires still going on in New England, I have not encountered any cases of vampires in Pennsylvania during this time period. With that in mind, I immediately tossed those strange theories away and looked for more plausible ones.

The first theory is that they were used for decoration. The Thomas Family was known in the region as iron workers and it could be possible that they had the cages made in memory of the deceased. The graceful curves on the roof of the cage shows master craftsmanship and they would have only wanted their best when they placed the cages on the graves of their loved ones. I think this is a good theory, but then why aren’t there cages on the rest of the family members buried here?

A second theory is the cages were designed to keep out animals. The newspapers of the 1850s often tell of "wolves" digging up the graves of the dead. Unfortunately, what the newspapers do not say is that most of these "wolves" were dogs running loose - by the 1850s wolves had been almost completely exterminated in Pennsylvania. While this is another good theory, why wouldn't they cage all of the graves?

Sarah's Tombstone 
So what were the cages supposed to be used for?

The third theory (and the one that immediately came to my mind) is that they were used to deter body snatching; that is to prevent grave robbing. More common in England and Scotland, mortsafes were iron cages placed atop graves to prevent bodysnatching. Only a handful of them still exist around the world and if these cages are indeed mortsafes, then they are the only ones in America (or at least they are the only ones in America that people are aware that exist).

By the 1850s the demand for bodies to dissect in the the medical schools ran high. Most often the medical schools used the bodies of executed murders, but those bodies were few. The medical schools often turned to purchasing bodies from men who would go and dig up a recent burials. These bodies were often used, abused and then tossed aside with no dignity when they were done being used.

The 1840s had a number of very violent incidents involving people attacking medical schools that had stolen the bodies of loved ones. The February of 1852 saw a violent riot in Cleveland, when a mob attacked and burned a medical school building when the remains of a stolen body was discovered there. While riots at medical colleges were common at campuses that dissected cadavers, this riot should be noted as one of the last of the anatomy riots in the country.

It may be possible that these fears were strong among the family members so these cages were a result of those fears. Or maybe the family knew of a plot by local doctors and placed these cages as a means of deterring them from stealing the bodies of their loved ones. Not to sound morbid, but the bodies the schools usually received were men - the demand for the bodies of women to be dissected were in a higher demand.

Asenath's grave
As I stood there I could not help but wonder what the truth of the cages were. While we may never know exactly what they were originally used for, I personally believe that the amount of grave robbing going on at the time. For some reason, members of the Thomas Family had a reason to fear for the remains of their lost loved ones and as a result placed these iron cages over their graves to protect their remains.

After paying my respects to those buried there I left the mystery of the Hooded Graves on the hilltop, not finding definite answers, but leaving with my personal conclusions. The truth may never be known about the origins of the hooded graves, but I can say I did not encounter anything out of the ordinary during my visit.

If you visit the Hooded Grave Cemetery, please use caution and respect. Parking is very limited. The structures are interesting and should not be messed around with so others can come, investigate and make their own conclusion to the origins of the cages.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Big Band Sound of Jimmy Dorsey

Grave of Jimmy Dorsey
Shenandoah Heights
A trip through Pennsylvania’s coal country found me in the small community of Shenandoah Heights, just north of the town of Shenandoah. Two lines of row houses bordered the narrow road I drove along in search of the Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary Church Cemetery. I definitely felt like an outsider as I traveled along the narrow street - every person seemed to turn and watch me pass by.

Arriving at the end of Schuylkill Avenue I could see the Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary Church Cemetery directly across the road from me. This cemetery is the first of a series of cemeteries along Cemetery Road (also listed as Ringtown Road Raven Run Road on maps). The large monuments within the cemetery were definitely eye-catching, but I came in search of one particular grave – the grave of a native son whose name is forever connected with the Big Band Era.

It was in the coal mining town of nearby Shenandoah that James "Jimmy" Francis Dorsey was born on February 29, 1904, the oldest of three sons. Less than two years later, his brother, Thomas, Jr, would be born. His father, a coal miner turned music teacher, taught his boys, James, Thomas, Jr, and Edward, to play and appreciate music. Jimmy and Tommy would start out playing cornet, but Jimmy would soon learn and excel at the clarinet and alto saxophone while Tommy would perfect playing the trumpet and trombone.

The brothers would form their first band, Dorsey’s Novelty Six, while they were still teenagers. The band would later be known as Dorsey’s Wild Canaries. In 1927 they began recording on their own label: The Dorsey Brothers and Their Concert Orchestra, though it did not officially debut until 1934. During this period of time, the lead vocals for their orchestra was Bing Crosby.

Dorsey Family Tombstone
Their combined orchestra did not last long. Tension and rivalry ran high among the brothers and less than a year later Tommy left to form his own band. On the night of May 30, 1935, the tension between the two exploded. As the band started "I'll Never Say 'Never Again' Again," the two started to argue about the tempo and in the middle of the performance Tommy walked off the stage, abandoning his brother and the band.

Tommy would form his own orchestra and of the two brothers, Tommy's is the one that is often remembered. Tommy was referred to as the "Sentimental Gentleman of Swing." The fact Tommy in 1940 had a young Frank Sinatra singing with his band also helped with the popularity of his orchestra.

Jimmy's Orchestra continued without his brother and retained an international following. With popular singers Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell, his orchestra had a series of hits throughout the 1930s and 1940s including "The Breeze and I," "Tangerine," "Contrasts," "So Rare," and "Maria Elena." In all he had eleven number one hits, including "Pennies from Heaven," with Bing Crosby as the featured vocalist.

In 1938 he was featured in the famous “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” column. His unique ability – he played the entire “Flight of the Bumblebee” in two breaths.

Close-up of the Dorsey's Stone
Despite their personal issues, the brothers briefly reunited in 1947 for the highly fictionalized film The Fabulous Dorseys but they did not reconcile until a couple years later. With the Big Band Era declining, Jimmy was forced to disband his orchestra. In 1953, the brothers reunited and joined forces to form one orchestra: The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey.

The brothers hosted a Jackie Gleason produced show called "Stage Show" from 1954 to 1956, where they introduced an unknown singer to the world, a young singer who would change the face and sound of music. On January 28, 1956 a young Elvis Presley would make his first television appearance, almost eight months before his "hip swinging incident" on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Tommy passed away unexpectedly in his sleep in November 1956 and Jimmy took over the band. He rerecorded an earlier single, “So Rare,” and it charted at number one, giving Jimmy his biggest hit. Sadly, Jimmy had been diagnosed with cancer and was in the last stages of it. Just months after his brother's death, Jimmy rejoined him when he passed away on June 12, 1957 in New York City. Jimmy was buried with his parents and youngest brother, Edward, in the family plot in Shenanodah Heights.

Memories of their music popped into my mind as I stood before the grave of Jimmy Dorsey. No, I'm not old enough to remember it first hand, however, I discovered them in college, in a music class. The professor I had for music was a fan of the Big Band Era and introduced my class to music most of us had never heard before. I grew up listening to older country, gospel, and "oldies," missing out on the modern country, rock and pop from the late 1980s/early 1990, so the introduction of Big Band Music was something relatively new to me.

While taking his class, I was introduced to The Glenn Miller Orchestra when they made an appearance at Lock Haven University that year. Little did I knew at the time that Glenn Miller had once been a part of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in the early 1930s.

In the years since, I've learned to appreciate most music. However, listening to the sounds from the Big Band Era, I realize how much the current generation is missing out on with their "music" of today. I'm not saying the artists today are bad, but (in my opinion) the 1930s and 1940s produced some of the best music ever. Back then it was actual music, not just noise.

Standing there in front of his grave I paid my respects to him and I couldn't help but recall the lyrics from "The Breeze and I" - "The breeze and I are saying goodbye...Ending in a strange, mournful tune."

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Trial of Patrick Hester

St. Mary's Cemetery, Mount Carmel
Hester's grave is on left about two rows back
This entry is part two of two. This story starts in “The Murder of Alexander Rea," and can be found here: Alexander Rea.

On October 17, 1868, Alexander Rea was robbed and killed on the road between Mount Carmel and Centralia. Four men, including Patrick Hester, were initially arrested for the crime. Three of the men were tried and found “Not Guilty,” but Hester was never brought to trial. He returned to his tavern at Locust Gap Junction and his everyday life.

I arrived at St. Mary’s Cemetery in search for the final resting place of Patrick Hester…and realized I was at the wrong St. Mary’s Cemetery. Pulling up the online maps I found a number of cemeteries in the area, and  soon arrived at the correct St. Mary’s Cemetery. Within seconds had located Patrick’s grave.

Patrick Hester was born May 4, 1825 in County Roscommon, Ireland. In 1846 he immigrated to America and initially settled in Minersville. Hester would later move to Locust Gap Junction where he opened a tavern called the Junction House. He would become involved in a secret society known as the Ancient Order of Hiberians (AOH), which was founded in 1836. To belong to the AOH one had to be Catholic and of Irish descent. AOH assisted Irish immigrants in obtaining work and helped them with a variety of social services. Hester would rise to become county head of the organization.

However, the AOH in the coal regions has been intertwined with the Mollie Maguires. Some claim they were two separate organizations while others claim that they were one and the same. After reading through a number of trial transcripts and histories of the region, I personally do not believe that the AOH were Mollies, nor do I believe an organization known as the Mollie Maguires existed. However, I do believe that various members within the organization promoted violence and helped to hide those members wanted by authorities.

Patrick was no stranger to violence. On May 26, 1872, Hester and three others wanted to bury a man named Brennan (who was supposedly a Mollie) on the grounds of St. Edwards Catholic Cemetery in nearby Shamokin. However according to Father John Koch, anyone associated with the Mollies should not be buried in their cemetery, and attempted to stop the burial. Hester beat up Father Koch and tossed him out of the cemetery. He was sentenced to three years in Eastern State Penitentiary, for rioting.

In 1877, almost ten years after the murder of Alexander Rea, Patrick was once again arrested for the murder of Rea. He, along with Patrick Tully and Peter McHugh, were accused of the crime by an informant known as “Kelly the Bum.”

“Kelly the Bum,” also known as Daniel Kelly, was born Manus Cull (also spelled Coll and Kull in newspaper accounts) and in 1865 arrived in America from Ireland. Cull was a noted liar and thief. In 1869, he was convicted of highway robbery and spent some time in prison. In November 1874, he was again sentenced to three years in the Pottsville Prison, this time for grand larceny. Cull soon began telling a tale that he would repeat until he sat in a courtroom and told the same story. On January 6, 1877, in exchange for his testimony, Governor Hartranft gave him a full pardon for his crimes.

Grave of Patrick Hester
and wife Catherine
In February 1877, Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh, and Patrick Tully were tried, with Cull being the prosecution’s prime witness. On the stand Cull claimed that on the evening before Rea’s murder a group of men, including the three accused, gathered at an Ashland tavern owned by Thomas Donohue. Donohue was one of the three men tried in 1869 for the crime and was found “Not Guilty.” In Cull’s testimony, Donohue was not at the tavern the evening the crime was planned, but was aware of the plans.

While in the tavern Hester informed the men that Rea would be carrying the company payroll (worth around $18,000) with him and the group had an opportunity to get rich. The group set out the next morning and along the way Hester gave Cull his pistol because the one Cull carried was no good. After that Hester left the group to go to Shamokin.

When the group stopped Rea he was ordered out of his buggy so the robbers could search for the payroll. Rea handed over his pocketbook (his wallet, but referred to as his pocketbook in the newspapers) which contained sixty dollars, and his gold pocket watch. When they realized that he was not carrying the payroll, McHugh made the decision to kill Rea. Tully and Cull both fired the first shots and Tully supposedly fired the final shot into Rea’s head ending his life. Cull farther testified the group split the sixty dollars between them and gave him ten dollars, the pocketbook (which he threw out after leaving the scene of the crime), and the gold pocket watch which he later sold. Hester was not at the scene of the crime and did not receive anything from the robbery.

Cull would also mention that he knew Hester through a secret society that often called themselves the Mollie Maguires. The prosecution’s closing arguments seemed more focused upon the men being Mollies and a fear that Mollie Maguirism would take root in Columbia County rather than looking at the facts of the murder.

The defense produced more than twenty witnesses that all stated that Cull was a notorious liar and should never be trusted. Despite the testimonies against Cull’s credibility the jury found all three guilty of the murder. Hester’s verdict would be appealed to the state supreme court, who found Cull’s testimony credible and upheld the verdict of the lower courts.

The date of the execution was set for March 25, 1878, and was an absolute disaster. The scaffold had been sent up from Pottsville. This was the same scaffold that had been used in the majority Mollie Maguire executions. Sheriff Hoffman marched the men through the grounds of the crowded prison yard and past their soon to be coffins. As the nooses were placed around their necks, Patrick gave his final words, “I’ve got nothing to say of any account. If it hadn’t been for my enemies I wouldn’t have been here. I forgive all my enemies and hope God will do the same.”

As soon as the traps were sprung, the crowd rushed forward in a morbid attempt to get a better view, pushing and shoving other people out of the way and surprisingly nobody was trampled to death. Sadly the nooses were not placed correctly and the three men strangled to death over a period of twelve minutes rather than having a quick death. A nearby shed that held spectators collapsed killing thirteen-year-old Sunny Williams and Joseph Engst fell from the roof of a nearby hotel and was killed.

Hester was returned to Locust Gap and buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. McHugh and Tully were buried in unmarked graves in Wilkes-Barre.

Close-up of Patrcik's Tombstone
Now before I continue, I want to clarify that what follows is my opinion, especially after reading through regional newspapers and countless articles.

I cannot deny that Patrick Hester was seemingly a violent man, but honestly I believe he was railroaded in this trial. First, Hester would have known that the payroll had already been distributed the day before the crime. Owning a tavern, he would have been aware that the miners had been paid, especially seeing the miners enjoyed a good drink or two. Second, if he planned the robbery, then why didn’t he get a share of it? The person who received the majority of it was Cull, who got his share of money, the pocketbook, and the pocket watch.

I believe that evidence points towards Cull as being the ringleader and the organizer of Rea’s murder. Cull had many times held up travelers, robbing them of their goods and he was also known to beat up and rob drunk miners. Cull was banished from Hazleton for robbing a man. Looking at the Cull’s testimony, he reveals an interesting point – Hester did not plan it, but merely mentioned that Rea was known to carry a lot of money on him on days the payroll was to be distributed.

I’ve read Tully’s confession and there are some things about it that I question because in one moment he is saying Hester is innocent and the next he was guilty. However, one thing he did insist on was Cull had told a number of lies on the stand.

Hester was executed for a murder he did not plan nor participate in. So why would somebody want Hester dead? Might have it been the judicial system of that day? Might it have been all the work of the special prosecutor of the Mollie trials? But that conspiracy is another story for another day.

I paid my final respects to Patrick Hester before leaving the cemetery. I left with even more questions that will never be answered; and even more doubts in my mind of him being guilty in Rea’s murder. But only he knows the truth…and he’s not talking.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ghosts of the Garman

The Garman Theater, fall of 2010

The ”Ghosts of the Garman” was originally written as a part of “The Lamplighter’s Tour,” which was a walking tour of Bellefonte’s haunted history. That year I had the pleasure of writing two different stories for the tour and this is one of them. The second piece "Haunted Hastings Mansion," will be posted soon,

Also, before I start this article, I must make a sad announcement: the Garman Theater is no more. On September 9, 2012, the historic theater burned to the ground. A new building has been erected on the ashes of the ruined theater. The Garman stood along East High Street, across from the Centre County Court House.

The Garman’s place in Bellefonte’s history was a unique, yet important, one. Erected in 1890, the stage of the Garman Opera House brought a variety of entertainment to town. The Garman's stage had the privilege of having George Burns and Gracie Allen, Harry Houdini, and a number of Wild West shows, along with other one-act shows grace its stage. Supposedly the song “After the Ball is Over” was first performed on the stage of The Garman.

The theater continued vaudeville entertainment until silent films began in the early 1900’s. First it was silent films and then it moved on to the "talkies" of the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Unfortunately, when the multiplexes made their debut in the 60’s, downtown single screens lost their appeal and the Garman (which was known during the 50’s as “The State Theater”) stopped showing film in 1961.

After the theater closed, a local furniture company used the Garman as a warehouse for thirty years. It was scheduled to be torn down when several downtown businessmen came together and bought the Garman. The theater went through a number of owners, each improving it until a movie theater once again came to Bellefonte in the late 1990s. I spent more than a couple hours in the theater, preferring the old theater to the more modern multiplexes in the region. The years the movie theater was open, in the 1990s and 2000s, left me with a lot of great memories.

Though it is gone, the theater was – like many other theaters – rumored to be haunted. Reports of ghostly activity in the Garman had existed since I can remember, though nobody is exactly sure who it is that haunted the historic building. Reports over the years include a light seen floating on the balcony, lights turning themselves on and off, strange shadows appearing, a mysterious light appearing in the window, and objects being moved by unseen forces.

Who haunted the theater? It could have been any of the actors or actresses who graced its stage. One possibility was it was the ghost of Harry Houdini, who promised he would return after his death to perform on the stages he stood on while he was alive. Houdini had an interest in the paranormal, so it would be no surprise if he returned at least once to perform on the Garman’s stage.

If not Houdini, maybe it is the ghost of another actor or actress, who may or may not have been famous, but nonetheless fell in love with the beautiful theater and returns nightly to act out their lines once more.

Another possibility was the ghost of an employee who died while working here. Rumor states that an employee fell to his death while rebuilding the inside of the theater. Of course, word of mouth also states that every theater or entertainment complex is supposedly haunted by the ghost of somebody who had supposedly died during its construction. I doubt that this is the case seeing I have never read anywhere of somebody dying while remodeling the Garman.

I have been told that during the conversion of the Garman from a warehouse back into a theater, the contractors were often the victims of ghostly pranks. More than once tools would disappear only to reappear later at a different location. Maybe the phantom construction worker needed to borrow them to make a quick fix of his own.

However, a previous owner tells this story about the Garman. He claims that the ghost who haunts the stage is the ghost of an understudy to a famous actress. Her name long forgotten, she, along with another understudy, had been in a constant struggle to fill the actresses role. Upon arriving in Bellefonte, the lead fell ill and the two understudies had the chance to fill the lead role. One of them, knowing she probably would not get the part, tricked the favored one into leaving, falsifying a report that her mother was ill. The poor girl ran to the train station and waited for the next train to return home.

While waiting at the train station, word was received that the favored understudy's mother was not ill. The girl hurried back to the theater only to discover her rival was receiving the applause for the performance. Distraught, the favored understudy ran out into the road and was struck and killed. Though the story has all the parts of a great romance, it too is merely word of mouth with little evidence that this really ever happened.

So who haunted the Garman? We may never know. However, I do have two stories to share. The first comes from Ryan B. who emailed shortly after the original article was posted. Ryan writes: “This happened a year or two before they started showing movies in the place (The Garman). With nothing to do in town, my girlfriend and I would often just walk around searching for something to do. One evening we were sitting on the steps of the courthouse talking with some other friends when she pointed at the Garman and asked "what is that?" We all turned to where she was pointing. In the second floor window was a glowing ball of light. It hovered there for a minute or two before didn't move away from the window, it just vanished." In a second email, he added a couple more details. "It was roughly the size of a baseball and it glowed bright yellow. Whatever it was, it seemed to be giving off its own light. It freaked my girlfriend out enough that when they started showing movies there, she refused to go see any."

I must share an event I witnessed at the Garman one summer afternoon. That day a handful of us were greeted with an interesting event that will probably keep us scratching our heads for awhile. While watching the movie, the video suddenly stopped and the house lights came on. Then lights behind the screen flickered on and off a few times, the house lights snapped back off, then on, then off one more time and the movie resumed. We were apologized to as we left the theater that day with the owners stating, "We're not exactly sure what was a technical difficulty."

Strange indeed...very strange indeed.

With the Garman now gone and apartments being built there, it will be interesting to see if the spirits that lingered here finally were freed or will they continue to haunt the new building. Only time will tell.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Murder of Alexander Rea

Rea family plot, Fairview Cemetery, Danville
Alexander's is the stone on the right
This entry is the first part of two articles.

I parked at the entrance to Fairview Cemetery in Danville and studied the field of stone – I knew where I had to go to find the grave I sought. This was not the first time I visited this cemetery, having stopped years ago with Mike to seek out the grave of a man who played an important role in regional history. The man I came to pay my respects to was murdered over a century ago and while three men were executed for his death, they may not have been guilty of the crime at all.

But I’ll get to that shortly – I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

I walked along the roadway that passes through the cemetery and within minutes was standing before the grave I sought. Here was the final resting place of a man who sought to improve the lives of miners and their families and was rewarded by a senseless and brutal murder. The simple stone lists Alexander Rea along with his wife and two children; a similar stone next to this one is the grave of his son, Alexander.

When it comes to Alexander’s early life, little is known. In fact, little has been revealed about his life before he moved to Danville. What is known is he was born in Flemington, New Jersey on May 3, 1924. He studied at Lafayette College and after graduation took up engineering at the Franklin Institute. Following his completion of studies, he moved to Danville.

Alexander's grave
In 1852, he helped bring the railroad into the Mahoney Valley and later would have it extended into Centralia. In 1853, he accepted a position with the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron Company and set up a temporary office in the Bull’s Head Tavern. The following year Alexander married Ann Garretson of Danville and within a year they moved into a house just south of the tavern Bull’s Head.

Alexander saw an opportunity for growth in many areas, including a town to house workers.
Rea immediately set about laying out a town around the tavern which he named Centreville. When the post office was established, the community was informed there was already a Centreville post office in Pennsylvania. The Post Office Department required that the post office be renamed. Alexander renamed the post office – and the town – Centralia, hoping it would become a center of industry. In 1866, the community of Centralia became official with a population of 1,300 people.

But Alexander would not see his town grow and flourish.

The morning of October 17, 1868, Alexander’s life came to a violent end. It was not a mining accident that claimed his life, but a senseless act of violence. Alexander left his family at Centralia and headed to Mount Carmel to pay some bills. Also on his agenda for the day was a planned stop at the colliery he ran along the way.

About halfway between the two towns was a watering trough for horses and he made it as far as there, when he was approached by a group of five men. The group of robbers, who had been spotted lingering near the watering trough by a teamster who passed by earlier, thought Alexander was carrying the company payroll (about $18,000) with him. The group of men searched his buggy and failed to find any trace of the payroll. Instead Rea only had his pocketbook with sixty dollars in it and a pocket watch on him.

Suddenly afraid that he could identify the robbers, they shot him.

That evening his horse arrived at the house without Alexander and a search was started and went until it was too dark to see. A group of men camped out on the mountain that night and early the next morning they discovered his lifeless body, lying face-up along the road between Mount Carmel and Centralia. Alexander had been shot six times – twice in the left breast, twice through the neck and twice in the head. His body was then carried a short distance into the woods and concealed under some brush.

Within a month, four men were arrested for the crime. Thomas Donohue, John Duffy and Michael Pryor (also spelled Prior in many of the newspapers) were arrested and charged with the murder of Alexander Rea. A fourth man, Patrick Hester was also wanted, but was in Illinois at the time. When he returned, he turned himself in to the authorities.

Close-up of Alexander's grave
The first of the trials was that of Thomas Donohue. Thomas owned a tavern in Ashland and it was at his place that the plan for the robbery supposedly came about. Here, according to the prosecution, Patrick Hester planted the idea of robbing Alexander Rea. When the star witness could not remember places and details, the jury came back with a verdict of “Not Guilty.” The moment the verdict was read Donohue was arrested again – while still in the courtroom – for attempting to rob Major Claude White near Pottsville on two different occasions. The judge demanded his release until Donohue was out of the courtroom. As soon as Thomas left the courtroom he was rearrested and taken to the Pottsville prison to await trial for those charges.

Duffy and Pryor were the next two trials and both were found “Not Guilty.” The newspapers reported that no evidence was presented in the trial of Michael Pryor. Patrick Hester was not tried and let go.

The death of Alexander Rea was the start of a period of violence in Centralia. Theft ran rampant and fighting in the streets seemed to increase dramatically.  The living conditions were so bad that many of the leading citizens fled from the town and it was not safe to be outside after dark. The violence would increase until 1874 when Michael Lanathan was shot and killed and Thomas Dougherty was murdered on his way to work. The murders happened within a month of each other and were shrouded in mystery. As far as I’m able to tell, neither murder was solved, but locals whispered it was the work of the Mollie Maguires. It took these two murders for law to return to Centralia.

As I stood there paying my respects to Alexander Rea, I could not help but feel angry. After all he did for the miners and the town of Centralia, he was shot down coldly in a robbery gone wrong. Ann must have felt the same way because shortly after his murder, she moved with her family back to Danville.

It would take ten years before another group of men were arrested and brought to trial for Alexander’s murder, due to the claims of a man known to locals as “Kelly the Bum.”

The second part of this articles can be found here: Patrick Hester.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Point Pleasant, West Virginia
“Is that what you’re looking for?” mom asked as she stared at the statue that stood in the Mothman Park (formerly known as Gunn Park) which was in the middle of Fourth Street. “I think I’ll just wait here,” she spoke, obviously not as impressed with the statue as I was, though it looked nothing like I imagined. Making my way across the icy road and sidewalks, I found myself staring face to face with West Virginia’s most famous monster.

Returning home from a stamp show in Little Rock, we detoured south to avoid the major snow storm that was buffeting Ohio and Pennsylvania. After a scenic detour through Huntington, West Virginia, I found myself heading northward on Route 2, which parallels the Ohio River most of the way. Along the way to my destination I enjoyed beautiful views of the river and the gigantic ice columns hanging from the large rocks that overlooked the road.

An hour of driving the scenic route, I had my first view of my destination; the large bridge that spanned the Ohio River was instantly recognized as the Silver Memorial Bridge at carries Route 35 across the Ohio River. Located in Henderson (about a mile south of the original location) the bridge was opened in 1969, replacing the Silver Bridge that collapsed two years before. I crossed the Kanawha River and was soon in the community of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

While the history of Point Pleasant is rich, to most the town brings one name to mind – mothman.

Plaque at the base of the mothman statue
The story of the creature that came to be known as the mothman started in early November 1966, when a strange creature was spotted by five men digging a grave in a cemetery near Point Pleasant. They watched as the creature lifted from a tree at the edge of the cemetery and passed overhead. What they described as a being that appeared like a man with wings.

On November 15, one of the most famous sightings of Mothman happened by two young couples in the abandoned TNT area as the creature flew alongside their car in speeds over one hundred miles an hour. They described it as a man with wings and it had two large glowing eyes.

The creature would be sighted countless times over the next year, mostly in the area of the old TNT plant. When active, the plant had produced ammunition during World War Two. It was the perfect hiding spot – a wooded region with thick undergrowth and numerous abandoned bunkers that had been used to store ammunition provided a place for the creature to remain hidden..

But mothman was not the only thing that would plague the area over the next year. On November 16 a glowing red light was spotted hovering over the abandoned TNT factory. This was the first of many sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects that would be reported. The witnesses also reported seeing a large gray figure with glowing eyes.

And then to add even more hysteria to the town already on edge, reports of Men in Black appearing to witnesses started.

So what did this mysterious creature look like? Compiling the most credible of the witness statements, it was roughly seven foot tall, had gray or brown skin, was wider than an average man and human-like legs that allowed it to have a shuffling walk. The strangest part of the description was it had glowing red eyes that appeared to be set near the top of its shoulders – none of the witnesses ever claimed to see a head on the creature as far as I am able to determine. It had a pair of bat-like wings that allowed the creature to glide, but it could take off straight up into the air and emitting a humming noise when it flew. It never spoke (at least nobody reported it speaking), but some reported hearing it giving off a screeching sound.

One of the final times the creature was spotted was shortly before the Silver Bridge collapse on December 15, 1967. The bridge collapse would kill 46 people - 44 are buried in Gallipolis, Ohio, while two of those killed were never recovered from the icy waters of the Ohio.

The week of Christmas, 1967, the town would receive another strange visitor – another Man in Black arrived. He appeared to a number of residents, wanting to speak to them about the UFOs they had been seeing After questioning a number of them, he seemingly disappeared back from wherever he had come.

Close-up of mothman's head
Mothman has become a part of American folklore. Remember mothman’s description from witness reports? As I stood here taking in the statue of the creature, I must admit it looks nothing like the common description of the creature. Instead, this statue reminded me of the possible offspring of a Sleestak from Land of the Lost and a Cylon from Battlestar Galatica, with a little bit of butterfly DNA to give it wings.

Definitely not what I always thought mothman looked like.

The day I visited, the museum dedicated to the mothman was closed. So after taking a number of photos, I made my way back to the truck and made my way home, traveling through the famous TNT area. The wilderness of the TNT area allowed my mind to venture into the origins of the mothman and I could not help but wonder if the mass hysteria that haunted the region was caused by a simple misidentification. Many believe that the first sighting was possibly an owl. Looking at the earliest sketches of the monster I would tend to agree, But what caused the panic and the bizarre situations that John Keel recorded in his book "The Mothman Prophecies?" I have no answer.

However, the mysterious mothman was only one of the strange events that happened here. According to many the land is the victim of the Cornstalk Curse. Cornstalk was a Shawnee chief who was murdered by the white settlers he called his friends. Though he raided the settlements, after his defeat at Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, he pursued a path of peace. In 1777, he was seized by Colonial soldiers who feared he was going to incite his followers to join the British forces.

On November 9, Cornstalk’s son, Ellinipsico, arrived as was also detained at Fort Randolph. The next day a soldier was shot and killed by an Indian near the fort. Soldiers rushed to the room where Cornstalk was being held and shot him, then his two companions and then Cornstalk’s son. His murder changed the Shawnee from a neutral people to feared killers who raided the frontier settlements.

West Virginia historical marker
Remembering the disastrous
Silver Bridge Collapse
According to lore with his dying breath he cursed the land. Over the years a number of bizarre accidents have plagued the area from train wrecks to floods, from the bridge collapse to airplanes crashes. However, as I read the lists of those disasters, it is odd the number of strange things that have happened, but to me these events are so far apart in years and location for me to call it a curse.

Leaving Point Pleasant and the TNT region behind, I left with questions unanswered and maybe one or two added to the list. One day I would have to return to investigate the area a little more when the weather was warmer...sadly, my journey discovered no new sightings of the creature.