Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Haunting in Hickory Run

Hickory Run Cemetery
Hickory Run State Park
Hickory Run State Park, located a stone's throw south of Interstate 80 at the western edge of the Pocono Mountains, attracts countless visitors each year who come to explore the natural features of the park. The park’s 15,990 acres has more than forty-four miles of hiking trails for those seeking adventure. The most common destination in the park is the large boulder field which became a National Natural Landmark in 1967. In 1993, it would be declared a State Park Natural Area.

But I wasn't here to explore the boulder field.

I parked at the office and stepped out into the cool afternoon air. While others who were parked in the lot crossed the wooden bridge and hiked along the Shades of Death Trail, Zech and I crossed the road, pausing long enough to take some pictures of Hickory Run before walking up the trail that led to the old cemetery. Though not handicapped accessible, the path is an easy walk up the bank to the cemetery.

The cemetery rests beneath a canopy of pine allowing their needles to carpet the ground hiding many of the broken stones. Despite the road being only feet away, the area seemed so quiet and peaceful. Many of the stones that remain are weathered and the cemetery is in poor condition overall, but that did not stop me from studying the stones of those who originally settled the area. At one time a stone wall surrounded this piece of sacred ground, but most of the wall has vanished with time though it does still exist in a couple places around the perimeter of the cemetery.

Studying the stones, one date immediately caught my attention. October 30, 1849. It was the tragic events that happened in the early morning hours that would become the origin for one of the parks enduring stories.

Grave of Elizabeth
"Lizzie" Gould
The community of Hickory Run grew around the lumbering industry and at one point six saw mills existed on the creek. Floods in 1849 pretty much wiped the town out and a fire in 1875 wiped out many of the remaining mills and destroyed acres of forest. Only a handful of buildings remain from the time the community existed; these include the present park office and the chapel. Other foundations can be spotted among the trees and the old cemetery remains hidden on the hillside overlooking Hickory Run.

One of the early settlers in the area was Isaac Gould. Isaac and his wife, Susan, settled along Hickory Run about two miles above the town of the same name. They built a small cabin along the stream where they raised their seven children. Isaac made his living in the lumber industry and had several saw mills in the area.

Upstream from the Gould home, another saw mill was being constructed and the dam for this mill was being built on top of loose rock and quicksand. Isaac had approached the Philadelphia owner begging for him to halt construction, but Gould's pleas were ignored.

In October of 1849, Gould's fears were increased as a series of storms flooded the area. Weeks of rain had weakened the dam even more and on October 30th, tragedy struck.

Susan was at home alone with Joanna, Elijah, Caroline, and Winfield (the baby); Isaac was away that evening on business. I want to note that many versions of this story include other children of Susan and Isaac. Their daughter Susan had sadly passed away in 1836 and the youngest two, Isabella and William, had yet to be born.

Their daughter Elizabeth, who is most often referred to as Lizzie in most versions of the sad tale, arrived near dusk on the evening of October 29 after spending the day running errands. Her return brought news from town; many feared that the dam would not last through the night. Despite those fears Susan remained at the house, putting the children to bed. As the children slept, Susan remained awake that night watching and listening for danger.

Grave of the West children
At four o'clock that morning, she heard the noise she had dreaded. It started as a low rumble that grew louder and louder. I can only imagine the fear she felt as the realization that the dam had finally given away overcame her. A wall of water slammed into the Gould cabin with enough force that the building was lifted off of its foundation and moved roughly five hundred feet downstream. The wall of water was high enough that it completely submerged the one and a half story cabin.

After the wall of water had passed, Susan managed to break a hole in the roof and got her children onto the roof where they called for help. Two mill hands arrived in the aftermath of the destruction to help the family. All of the children were found safe, except one; Lizzie was missing. An initial search failed to find her.

Susan told their rescuers that she was not able to find Lizzie, but claimed that she could hear her calling out for her. Though none of the others could hear the phantom voice, the mill hands followed Susan and soon discovered Lizzie's lifeless body beneath a pile of driftwood near the house.
 
Lizzie was not the only one who lost her life that evening. Winfield, the baby, would later die from overexposure to the cold that night. The town blacksmith, Jacob West, lost his wife, Elizabeth, and four of his children (Diana, Jacob, Ursula, and Scott) in the flood waters of that fateful night. All of them are buried in the Hickory Run Cemetery under one stone.

Later investigation would prove that the dam collapsed due to being built on unstable ground.

As Zech and I explored the cemetery, I could not help but be overcome with a feeling of sadness. So many young, innocent lives had been lost in a disaster that could have easily been prevented. This feeling of sorrow seemed centered around one particular stone. When I passed the stone the first time I failed to notice whose grave it was. Zech knelt to look at it and revealed that it was the grave of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Gould.

Legend claims that Lizzie never found peace. Many have reported seeing the ghost of a young girl roaming the park. She has been spotted playing along the banks of Hickory Run and also in the forest surrounding the old cemetery. Some visitors have seen her walking along Route 534, which runs through the park. Others claim that on cold, rainy nights the sound of her crying can be heard.

But Lizzie may not be the only ghost haunting the park. Some have heard the sound of a woman’s voice calling out Lizzie’s name late at night. Could Susan’s ghost also be haunting the park searching for her daughter?

Zech and I finally left the cemetery after paying our respects to those buried there.

Hickory Run
Though we did not see her that day, I did have something that caused me to scratch my head and would cause me to return to the park to photograph the cemetery again. When I arrived home after our visit, I started going through the pictures I had taken that day. Every single picture turned out clear and in detail, except the three close-up pictures of Lizzie’s grave. All three of them were out of focus and it was only the pictures of her grave. I’ve been back to visit her grave a number of times since and have taken a number of pictures of her grave without any issues. I can't say it was paranormal, but I have a hard time figuring out why only three of forty-some pictures of the cemetery did not take correctly. I will admit it may have been something I did and just didn’t realize it, or maybe Lizzie did not want her stone photographed that day.

If you choose to visit this old cemetery at Hickory Run State Park, please use caution and respect. Though they are still legible, the stones are old and fragile. It seems each time I visit there are more stones broken, so please watch your step and be respectful.

To find Hickory Run Cemetery park at the office and look straight across the road; you'll see Hickory Run and the old chapel. Walk across Route 534 diagonally to the right and you should see an unmarked trail going up over the bank. The cemetery is roughly forty to fifty feet from Route 534 and if the leaves are off the trees, you can see some of the monuments from the road.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lena Miller: Queen of the Gypsies

Grave of Lena Miller
Oakwood Cemetery, Sharon
I arrived in the town of Sharon late in the day, knowing it would soon be dark, but hoping I had enough time to find one grave among the thousands buried among the rolling hills of Oakwood Cemetery. Entering through the gates of the cemetery I was immediately overwhelmed by the true size of the cemetery. With almost fifty acres of rolling landscape, I realized that I had not done the amount of research I should have done in order to narrow my search down.

Looking at the choices I had I randomly turned left hoping that my choice was correct and I began scanning the graves as I passed them. Thankfully I had selected the correct direction, soon the granite obelisk came into view.The narrow roadways allowed little in the way of parking and only after making a second pass of the gravesite did I find a place where I could park that would allow any other vehicle to pass safely.

I respectfully made my way among the stones to the grave I sought. To most this stone was just another stone among the thousands that dot the landscape. The otherwise plain stone stands out due to the decorations that adorn it; hanging from the cross that tops the stone were countless beaded necklaces and around the base of the simple marker were coins and other trinkets left by those who have made the trip to visit this particular grave. The handful of words that marked the grave did little to indentify the importance of the person buried here: “ Lena Miller, Died May 10, 1921.”

I stood in silence and in full respect of the special lady buried here. To most the name Lena Miller means nothing, but she holds a special place in the minds of many, for buried in one of the plots beneath the marker is a Gypsy queen.

I was standing before royalty.

The simple stone fails to reveal
The identity of Lena Miller
Born Powonia Mitchell on September 15, 1889, in Chicago, Lena was the daughter of Louis and Mary Granch Mitchell, who were the king and queen of the Russian Gypsies in North America. Lena was one of eleven children having seven sisters and three brothers.

Lena grew up traveling with various carnivals and circuses where she learned the art of fortune telling. What an experience that must have been to those who visited her in the tent where she applied her trade and to have their fortune told by gypsy royalty.

The life of a gypsy family was a harsh one. They moved from place to place and often were only allowed to linger near a town for a limited amount of time before authorities would send them on their way. They would bounce from traveling show to traveling show as they criss-crossed their territory trying to make a living.

Not only did they have to worry about upstanding community citizens, they also had to worry about other gypsy tribes. In 1915, Lena’s own sister Louise was kidnapped by a rival group and was held prisoner for two years before being rescued and returned to her family.

Lena would marry Frank Miller and together they had six children. As partners they worked a number of carnivals, having left the Wolfe’s Superior Shows to join the Wallace Brothers Circus on May 1, 1921. The carnival arrived in Sharon and set up in a field at the corner of Clark Street and Sharpsville Avenue, just across the avenue from where she would be interred days later.

Lena had been suffering from pneumonia for almost two weeks and on May 10 Lena died at the age of thirty-two in the tent where she lived and from where she worked. From the time they arrived in Sharon, she had been under the constant care of Dr. Harry Milliken. A few moments before her death, she called her eldest son to her, embraced him, and gave him a kiss before reclining on her couch and passing on.

The top of Lena's tombstone
Decorated with beads and other necklaces
What happened next, the town of Sharon would never witness again. Members of the Mitchell Gypsies would descend upon the community. The number varies, but between one and four hundred and possibly up to one thousand members of the clan descended upon the town.  Ceremonies were held by her eighty-four year old father while her body lay in state for three days as more and more members of the clan arrived in town.

Lena was adorned with silk garments and fine jewelry as she lay in an oak coffin ordained by silver and a satin lining. In her hands were placed a wax cross and around her were tributes paid out of respect.

The morning of May 13 her body was moved from where it had been held in state to Oakwood Cemetery. More than five thousand residents lined the streets to watch the procession that started with the large brass band from the carnival, followed by the Reverend Tralean Dameon from the Greek Orthodox Church in Farrell (just south of Sharon) and his assisstants. Next was the hearse that carried her body with the pallbearers (who were her cousins) walking alongside the hearse carrying flowers to adorn the grave. Next in the line were her parents, then her immediate family and other members of the clan who wore the bright traditional clothing of their clan. Falling in line behind the procession were the curious onlookers.

The procession was so long that it took more than thirty minutes for it to pass any given point along the route. Local police sought the help of the carnival workers to help with crowd control as the procession passed through town. It is believed that this was the largest and longest funeral recession to ever pass through Sharon; over two hundred automobiles were packed into the cemetery and that does not include any horse drawn wagons which had also joined the procession.

Once they arrived in the cemetery, a forty-five minute sermon was delivered by Reverend Dameon. After he concluded, Frank stepped forward to kiss his wife farwell, followed by the other members of the immediate family. The tradional preparations were done and her face covered with a satin sheet before the casket was finally closed.

A heavy silence, broken only by sobbing, filled the air as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Mourners then approached and dropped coins into the grave as a means of paying for any sins she may have committed while alive.

The large crowd remained until a heavy flagstone was lowered atop the casket and coins. While the crowd slowly disbursed, the family remained until the gates of the cemetery were closed for the night. A gypsy guard was permitted to remain at the gravesite for ninety days.

Sadly the events of those few days would be forgotten by most. Carnivals came and went and sometimes the grave would be visited by those who knew her, but when the carnivals stopped coming to town, Lena was nearly forgotten. Locals would tell of the day the gypsies came to town and their memorial for their dead queen, but to the world outside of Sharon she was mostly forgotten.

I set my tribute of a silver dollar at the base of the stone, pushing it down into the dirt and moving the grass so it wasn’t easily spotted before leaving her resting place as the last rays of day disappeared beyond the distant hills.

If you choose to visit Lena’s grave, please do so with respect.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Along the Way: The Stockton Mine Disaster

Sign along the road marking the site of the disaster
The collection of houses known as Stockton lies approximately two miles east of Hazleton, and in all honesty, it is one of those places one has to want to visit in order to get there. The only reason I knew I was on the correct road was due to its name: The Stockton Mountain Road. At one point though I passed the intersection with Stockton Road, but the directions I had at hand told me to stay on the Stockton Mountain Road.

A little over a mile south of this intersection I saw the sign for the memorial and parked in the grassy area next to it. Stepping out into the cool autumn air I quickly took in my surroundings. The wooden sign at the edge of the road marked the disaster and a short walk away was another memorial. This one was a granite slab surrounded by an iron fence.

Walking over to it, I noticed the names written on it. Elizabeth Rough. Margaret Rough. Isaac Rough. Elizabeth Rough. George Swank. William Swank. Next to the granite marker is a second stone; this one was a government marker provided for veterans and I noticed it was for Isaac Rough.

These victims didn’t appear to be miners, but instead appeared to be members of two families; the Swanks and Roughs. I suddenly realized that I was not standing at a memorial for the disaster, but instead was standing at a cemetery for the victims.


The marker for those whose bodies were never recovered
The mine disaster happened on December 18, 1869, at five in the morning. That morning the ground shook before opening up, swallowing two homes as the mine shaft collapsed. The shaft was part of the East Sugar Loaf Mines. A note: there does seem to be a debate about how often the mine shaft was being worked. Just about every article I’ve come across begins by saying that the shaft had been abandoned for close to fifteen years, but ends with the statement that two miners working in it were believed to have perished.

After I first posted this article, I received a note from a good friend who were up in the region. David states that often companies would pay other to go into the mine and "pillar rob." To "rob the pillar" means that the miners would destroy the pillars that were holding up the roof of the mine. As the pillars were being destroyed more weight was being supported only by the walls of the mine. The unsupported weight would eventually cause the roof to collapse. Looking into this a little deeper, it also appears that many of the small one or two person operations would apply this tactic, going into the abandoned mines and "robbing the pillars."

Early in the morning of December 18, 1869, a hole opened up, dropping three houses roughly forty feet into the mine with no warning. The first two houses that fell into the mine belonged to the Swank and the Rough families. A third house also fell into the opening, but those inside managed to escape. Those who were unable to escape were killed as the mine collapsed. Another note: there is some debate on how far the buildings fell. The original articles state that they fell forty feet. However a later article that covered the placing of a stone for Isaac Rough states they bodies were buried under four hundred feet of earth. I do believe that the four hundred is a misprint.

The official list of victims is: George Swank, his wife and three children; Mr. Rough, his wife, daughter, and mother. Please read the after note about the victims at the end of the article.

One girl did manage to survive the disaster. One young girl (I’m not sure which family the girl was a member of) managed to escape the house, but the ground crumbled under her feet and she fell into the pit. Landing on top of the ruins, she would quickly be rescued.
Marker for the six bodies
That were never recovered
After saving the young girl, rescuers began the task of recovering the deceased. By the evening of December 19, the bodies of George’s wife and two of his children were recovered; they would be interred at St. John’s Cemetery near Hazleton. The bodies of Mr. Eaton and Mr. Baker, listed as miners in newspaper accounts, were recovered on Monday evening, but their identities remain elusive.

The cause of the disaster was due to the closeness of the shaft to the surface. Only twenty feet of earth existed between the surface and the mine shaft. When the mine collapsed, the falling dirt blocked the shaft off, making it impossible to recover the bodies via the mine. If these men were "pillar robbing," then they may have caused tbe disaster that occurred that fateful day.

In 1924, a marker for Isaac Rough was placed at the spot, honoring him for his service with the Twenty-Eighth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.

I finished paying my respects to those buried here and to those who lost their lives in the mine collapse and left them in the silence of the cool afternoon sun. If you choose to visit, please be respectful of the area.


Marker placed in 1924
Honoring Isaac Rough's military service
An after note: In doing the research for this, I’m still pondering how many perished that day. The official count is ten people killed in the disaster. However, I've done a number of counts, and ten is not one of the numbers I've come up with.

Possibility Number One, using the newspaper accounts at the time of the disaster: George and his wife, their four children; Isaac Rough and his wife, daughter, and Isaac’s mother; plus two miners. This gives a total of twelve killed in the disaster.

Possibility Number Two, using the newspaper account for the dedication of Isaac’s tombstone: George and his wife and their nine children; Isaac and his wife and two children. This one has no mention of Isaac’s mother or the miners. This gives a total of fifteen victims.

Possibility Number Three, using cemetery information: Six are buried at the cave-in spot and three bodies were recovered. This count brings the total to nine victims. Adding in the two miners listed as being killed, that would bring the total victims to eleven. This is the number that I believe to be correct.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

In the Line of Duty: Sergeant Timothy McCarthy

Grave of Sergeant Timothy McCarthy
LIncoln Cemetery, Chambersburg
“So whose grave are we looking for?” Zech asked as he entered through the gates of Lincoln Cemetery.

“I’m not going to tell you,” I replied. “But you’ll know it when you see it.”

“Like that one over there?” He pointed to a small stone nearby.

“Yeah,” I replied as I looked other to where he pointed. “Like that one over there.”

I found a place to park the vehicle and we walked over to the memorial. The stone itself looks like many of the others surrounding it except for the large plague affixed to it. The large plague, in the shape of a Keystone, marks the resting place of Sergeant Timothy G. McCarthy.

Born in Killarney, Ireland, on July 25, 1888, McCarthy served four years in the British army, having lied about his age. When he was to ship out for a tour in India, his mother provided him fare to go to America instea because she was afraid he could contract the fever and die in India like one of his brothers had. With the outbreak of World War One, he joined the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant due to his former experience in the British Army. Returning home he enlisted with the Constabulary in Massachusetts and on September 1, 1919, he joined the ranks of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Throughout his career McCarthy remained a dignified officer; he was remembered for his swift, yet just, action. He was known to accept any case given to him and seeing it through from start to finish. Due to his military experience he was a leader who had the respect of other officers.

But his dedication and honesty isn’t what McCarthy is most remembered for. He is noted for the bond he shared with his partner. He found a loyal and trustful partner in a German Shepherd dog named Omar who was always at McCarthy’s side. They remained inseparable to the time McCarthy gave his life in the line of duty.

On May 11, 1931, Sergeant McCarthy and Omar left the Troop “E” headquarters in Harrisburg and drove to Chambersburg. Accompanying the duo was Private Philip Dunne, a new recruit in the police force. The trio spent the night at the police substation in Chambersburg before continuing to McConnellsburg the next morning. Joining them on this leg of the journey was Private Russell Knies of Chambersburg. Upon their arrival in McConnellsburg, the group met with Glenn Yonkers (also spelled Younkers in some references), the sheriff of Fulton County and Deputy Roy Sipes

Sheriff Yonkers had contacted the state police to help in assisting with the apprehension of Marshall Lodge. Lodge was a thirty-one year old mountaineer who was known to have mental problems with an explosion temper. Lodge was known to always be heavily armed and the community feared the presence of the muscular six foot tall man.

Knowing that Lodge would recognize the sheriff and his deputy, the plan was for the troopers to approach the house and apprehend Lodge. McCarthy’s plan was to peacefully approach and talk to the man hoping to prevent any unnecessary violence. The sheriff would drive the group to a spot nearby and then wait while McCarthy and his men approached the house. With this being the plan, the groups set out for the Lodge homestead in Crystal Spring, about twenty-five miles away.

When the group arrived at a hill overlooking the Lodge homestead, roughly four hundred yards away, the sheriff asked Sergeant McCarthy what his plans were. McCarthy supposedly replied that he was going to go arrest Lodge. The car with the State Police officers in it, passed the sheriff’s and drove toward the Lodge house.

As McCarthy and his men pulled into the yard, Mrs. Lodge (Marshall’s mother) was spotted entering the house. Despite the fact that Marshall was a dangerous man, his mother entered warning him of the arrival of McCarthy and his men.

The group approached the house and Mrs. Lodge stepped back out on the porch and invited the men inside. The group stepped up on the porch and McCarthy stepped into the kitchen of the house.

He asked Mrs. Lodge how her boy was doing and she replied “he was doing very bad” and “had been so for the past couple of days.” A noise to the right of McCarthy caused him to turn and face Marshall Lodge who suddenly appeared in the doorway that led upstairs.

Sergeant McCarthy's Memorial
The silence of the room was broken by McCarthy as he greeted the madman. Before any of the officers could react, Marshall swung up his right arm and shot the sergeant at point blank range with a .22 revolver. Letting out a string of curses, Lodge slammed the door shut and fled upstairs.

McCarthy, though mortally wounded called out “I am not hurt. Get him! Get him!” The men guided the dying sergeant into the yard. Private Knies, who was now the senior officer, ordered Private Duane to get McCarthy to the car and see how badly he was wounded. They barely made it off of the porch before McCarthy slumped to the ground for the final time.

Knies reentered the house to apprehend Lodge. Mrs. Lodge refused to let the officers take her son and remained between the two men. Marshall began to fire at the officer, unconcerned for the life of his mother – Knies did not try to return fire as he feared he would hit Mrs. Lodge. Having little options, Knies retreated out onto the porch. He attempted to peer through a window to see where Marshall was at in the kitchen and was greeted with a bullet that wounded him above the right eye.

Knies and Duane retreated to the car to obtain tear gas as Marshall continued firing wildly at the two officers. They managed to get to safety behind the car. They opened the door and were greeted by a brown streak as Omar bolted from the car. He crossed the yard and paused for a moment at the body of his fallen partner before charging towards the house. Around the house he circled, paused to bark and growl at the spots where Marshall lay hid.

Knies started toward the house with the tear gas. Lodge saw him coming and opened the front door and fired the shotgun at Knies as he attempted to cross the yard. As Knies retreated to safety behind the car, Lodge peppered his backside with another blast from the shotgun. In the fire fight, one of the bullets hit Lodge in the arm.

Trooper Duane was sent to a nearby farmhouse to call for help as Knies, Yonkers and Stiles kept the house surrounded. A call for help brought local police, state police, and armed volunteers to the Lodge homestead. With bullets flying, it was amazing that no one else was hit.

At some point, Marshall realized that Omar’s barking was informing the officers of his position and he shot Omar. Despite his injury, Omar continued barking until he no longer had the strength to do his duty and he managed to crawl to the fallen McCarthy and lay down beside his body as bullets continued flying through the air.

Finally Mrs. Lodge appeared at the door and one of the officers called out saying that if Marshall would surrender they would not to shoot him. She reentered the house and a couple minutes later reappeared to tell the officers to come and get him. Several entered the house to find Marshall standing there. They disarmed Marshall and took him into custody.

Sergeant McCarthy, a veteran of the force for twelve and a half years, was buried with full honors in Lincoln Cemetery, complete with “TAPS” being played and a twenty-one gun salute. Not a penny from his estate was used to pay for the burial; donations from state and local police officers and the Chambersburg community covered the expenses.

Marshall Lodge was taken to the hospital in Chambersburg where his right arm was amputated. He was committed to the Institution for the Criminal Insane at Fair View in Wayne County. Marshall spent the remainder of his life there, dying in 1969.

Trooper Knies would eventually recover from his wounds and returned to duty. He would advance through the ranks and in 1963 retired as a Major in the force.

Trooper Duane, at the urging of his parents, retired in June 1931.

Omar, despite the shot that should have been fatal, recovered from his wounds too. He was presented with the American Kennel Club Medal of Heroism in November of 1931, having the distinction of being the only dog decorated with the award by the State Police.

We left the spot in silence as we remembered the fallen officer. I wanted to tell Zech the rest of the story, but the dog lover in me knew I would cry if I spoke the words.

The story goes that the day Omar returned to duty, he walked over to the box that held Timothy’s belongings, sniffed the crate and lay down beside it. He refused to move and constantly cried for his dead partner until the box was finally removed.

Sergeant Timothy McCarthy is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chambersburg.  When entering the cemetery, go straight ahead. His grave is under some trees to the left. Please be respectful when visiting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dorcie Calhoun: A Man With A Vision




Marker for Dorcie Calhoun
New Maple Grove Cemetery
 Author's Note: This article continues the story that started in “The Kettle Creek Project.” That article can be found here: The Kettle Creek Project.

It started with a dream, a dream so vivid that it would stay with the young man for years. In this dream, he was pointed to a location where he would dig to find great wealth. Years later, the farmer would dig at that spot to discover a hidden fortune buried beneath his farm in Leidy Township in northern Clinton County.

I know it sounds crazy to follow the instructions received in a dream, however according to one man who had such a vision, it worked. Even though it took years before the dream came true, his dream came to fruition. When it did, he became an overnight millionaire bringing riches into the Kettle Creek Valley that had never been seen by those living there nor has it been seen since.

This was the reason I had arrived at the New Maple Grove Cemetery. I had returned to the remote region of Clinton County to pay my respects to Dorcie Calhoun. A mere ten years before the construction of the Alvin Bush Dam and the Kettle Creek Reservoir, Dorcie would bring changes to the landscape of the valley, both physical and economical.

The truth of the situation may be a little different than Dorcie remembered. Even his own mother, though supportive of her son, admitted that Dorcie’s story of having a dream to find the gas was a little doubtful. And as his story is pieced together, I can understand why she was doubtful.


Pennsylvania Historical Marker
For the Leidy Gas Fields
The story of the discovery of the Leidy Gas Fields starts on January 2, 1905 with the birth of Dorcie Calhoun at the family homestead along Kettle Creek. The old farmhouse was located where the Leidy Bridge crosses the creek, just north of the present-day Kettle Creek State Park, along the road to New Maple Grove Cemetery. It was here that Dorcie would spend the majority of his life, living on the family farm.

Exactly when Dorcie realized that there was natural gas located beneath the family farm is not known. Dorcie's story changed slightly over the years as he told and retold his story about the discovery that would change the face of the Kettle Creek Valley. One of the first claims he made was that as a young boy he saw bubbles rising out of the stream at various places, bubbles caused by escaping gas, which is much different than discovering it through a dream.

In the 1930s, the state sent experts into north-central Pennsylvania, including the Kettle Creek Valley, in search of Natural Gas and those experts all agreed that there was no, or little, natural gas to be found in the valley. Despite the claims of these experts, Dorcie held onto his belief that there was an unseen wealth beneath his feet.

There does seem to be some debate on what the experts did and did not say. Some sources claim the experts said there was no gas at all in the Kettle Creek Valley. Other experts thought that there was a high possibility that natural gas existed in the valley and the area could be rich in the fuel.

In the late 1940s the New York State Natural Gas (later to become the Consolidated Natural Gas Corporation) believed gas was there, but was unwilling to take a chance on drilling without first evaluating the region. The company had drilled wells in Tioga County, northeast of the Kettle Creek Valley without any luck in finding the elusive gas fields they believed were present in the region. With those wells producing only a small amount of gas, they were unwilling to take the chance of drilling in the wilds of the Kettle Creek Valley.

When Dorcie was around seventeen, his father leased a piece of land to a group called the Clinton Natural Gas and Oil Company. They did drill for natural gas and hit a shallow pocket that was commercially worthless. After the company went bankrupt, Dorcie’s father bought some of the piping, which he used for the chimney of their house. So despite his stories, Dorcie was aware that gas was in the valley.

Despite what the experts did and did not say, most locals thought he was crazy and a dreamer as he continued to claim he had a dream that showed him the wealth.

The Leidy No. 2 fire
Postcard part of author's collection
However, there were those who became believers of Dorcie's dreams and by 1949 he had enough investors in his idea that he was able to buy a used oil rig. The investors bought $100 shares in the Leidy Prospecting Company. The top investors were Jack Smyth, editor of The Renovo Record and his mother, Minnie, who supplied most of the cash Dorcie needed to move forward. The thing that convinced locals to support his exploration efforts came from the state report the experts had produced, which also discredits Dorcie’s dream version.

A note of interest: Jack Smyth would later state that the main reason he supported Dorcie’s efforts was because he had misread the report. Had he read it correctly, he probably would not have supported the effort.

I cannot even imagine the looks his friends and neighbors had when the truck bringing the ancient, beat-up oil rig arrived at the farm from Bradford on one rainy day in 1949. The drilling rig was erected on the family farm and drilling began.

The whole venture was literally in danger of falling apart from the start. The rig had to be carefully watched twenty-four/seven as pieces broke here and there almost every day. The rig was very unstable and was constantly threatening to topple over and at one point was being held up by a series of cables. The rig itself was originally designed to drill to depths of two thousand feet though the men kept pushing for it to drill deeper and deeper into the earth. And the more the pushed the rig's limitations the more it threatened to collapse.


The Leidy No. 2 fire
Postcard a part of author's collection
On January 8, 1950 the impossible became real. At the depth of 5,659 feet the drill struck a pocket of natural gas and Dorcie became an overnight millionaire. The wealth from the gas fields brought revival to a region that had yet to recover from the Great Depression.

Dorcie started claimikng he drilled where his dreams instructed him to do so. However the rig had not been erected at the location Dorcie originally planned. Due to the rainy conditions it was set up where the truck got stuck in the mud, about halfway up the hill to the selected location. Seeing the truck could not go any further, the oil rig was erected and drilling began. According to a number of experts later on, had Dorcie drilled where his dream told him to, he would have missed the pocket of natural gas.

The second well Calhoun drilled would be troublesome from the start. On June 12, 1950, they hit a pocket of natural gas. The pressure behind the underground pocket was enough to send the drill rocketing back up the shaft and crashing into the metal drill rig. A spark set off a huge fire and a flame that shot over a hundred feet in the air and burned for three days before being extinguished.

For ten years, the region went through a boom as companies drilled for the hidden wealth beneath Kettle Creek. However, by 1960, the boom was over and the Leidy Gas Field was exhausted. The sudden influx of wealth into Western Clinton County was gone. The overnight millionaires lost everything as companies pulled out of the valley in search of gas elsewhere.

It is a little hard to see
(hard to see on the original)
But in the center is the flame from the Leidy No. 2 fire
Postcard a part of the author's collection
While gas is still being harvested in the region, the boom and wealth of the 1950s has long since passed. Dorcie Calhoun would continue to purchase drilling outfits and would drill here and there, but with little or no success. When he died in 1975, he had lost the millions he had in the prime of the gas boom and died in near poverty. Dorcie is buried with his parents in the New Maple Grove Cemetery.

Kettle Creek State Park now exists over the Leidy Gas Fields. Nature has reclaimed the land once stripped and covered with wells. At the upper end of the state park, a blue historical marker remembers the gas boom. Across the road from the marker a bridge crosses Kettle Creek. On the other side of the bridge, turn right and follow this road which leads to the New Maple Grove Cemetery. If you drive counterclockwise around the cemetery, Dorcie's grave can be seen easily from the roadway.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Kettle Creek Project

Kettle Creek State Park
From the overlook at the Alvin Bush Dam
Stepping out of the vehicle, I could not help but take in the beauty of the area. However, I was not on this hilltop overlooking the Kettle Creek Valley merely for the view. On this hilltop is the resting place of many early settlers and strangely the second resting place for many of them. Yes, you read that correctly. The New Maple Grove Cemetery is the second resting place for many of the early settlers of the Kettle Creek Valley.

Growing up, I was no stranger to the Kettle Creek Valley. I can remember my parents driving through the Kettle Creek Valley while on a weekend drive. The valley meant enough to me that, as a part of a photography project while I was in 4-H (in my younger years), I had taken pictures of the Alvin Bush Dam that were included in it.

The Alvin Bush Dam was built in the 1960s as a means of flood control in order to save the towns downstream from the flooding of the West Branch of the Susquehanna. The erection of the dam created the 167 acre Kettle Creek Reservoir.

What I did not realize growing up was how the construction of the Alvin Bush Dam and the flooding of the Kettle Creek Valley affected those living there. Before the dam could be built, the task of removing the bodies of those buried in the valley had to be completed. The descendants of those resting in the Kettle Creek Valley had two choices. The first choice was the government would move the bodies at no cost to the family to either the New Maple Grove Cemetery or to the North Bend Cemetery at North Bend, located down river from Renovo. The second choice was the government would move the bodies to a cemetery of the family's choice, but the family would have to pay for the transfer and reburial of their kin.

New Maple Grove Cemetery
Kettle Creek State Park
Not surprisingly, most chose to have their loved ones buried in one of the two government selected cemeteries, although a handful of people chose to have their loved ones buried elsewhere.

As I stood there admiring the view of the valley, I allowed my mind to drift back to the first time I visited this cemetery a couple years earlier.

It had been a "normal" day of exploration of North Central Pennsylvania. Zech and I had set out early that morning in search of historical markers and other wayside monuments and while I had a handful of places I wanted to see, our journey eventually found us in the Kettle Creek Valley. I made the detour to snap a couple of pictures of the "Leidy Natural Gas Boom" historical marker when Zech pointed out a sign labeled "Cemetery."

 Of course my curiosity got the best of me and we crossed over Kettle Creek, took a right and continued on the dirt road, hoping we picked the correct route. About half a mile later, we made a sharp right and up the hill we went - within seconds the cemetery was in sight. We were greeted that morning by a large flock of turkeys that were feeding among the stones. They quickly fled at our appearance.

A marker at the entrance to the cemetery announced that we were entering the New Maple Grove Cemetery, but at that time I really had no idea the importance of this piece of sacred ground. Zech and I made our way around the cemetery, studying the older stones, taking pictures and making notes.

I was caught up in my own thoughts when Zech called for me. "Any clue what these numbers are for?" he asked as he stood looking at a small granite square with a number chiseled into it. I had to admit that I did not have the slightest inkling to what the numbers meant, but looking around I could see a number of similar stones in the immediate area. 

Grave of one of the unknown bodies
Buried at New Maple Grove Cemetery
That evening a quick search for the cemetery provided me with a lot of information about the cemetery we had visited. The stones that only bore numbers on them marked the graves of the unknown dead who were moved to this location. While the unknown now residing in the New Maple Grove Cemetery are marked with granite stones, those unknown dead now resting in the North Bend Cemetery are marked with metal ones.

As I read the history of the cemetery and the Kettle Creek Valley, I could not help but feel sad over the fact that these loved ones had to be moved from their resting place and moved to other locations. In all, eleven cemeteries had to be moved to escape the flooding of the valley.

The largest of the cemeteries that had to be moved was the Maple Grove Cemetery (also referred to as Trout Run Cemetery in some reports). The new location was named the New Maple Grove Cemetery in honor of the original church and cemetery. The church, which was built around 1868 and is still used for special occasions, was also moved with the bodies to the current location. Of those buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery, 82 were moved to New Maple Grove while 117 were reburied North Bend.

The second largest cemetery moved in 1960 was the Calhoun Cemetery, which is also referred to the Minnie Calhoun Cemetery in some records. One hundred and forty-five graves were moved from their original resting place. This cemetery was originally on lands owned by the Calhoun family and was located near the Leidy Bridge over Kettle Creek. Workers moved 98 bodies to New Maple Grove and 46 to North Bend. One reburial is not listed in the totals, so I'm going to assume that the body was reburied elsewhere. Reading the history of this cemetery, I was saddened even more to learn that of the 145 people buried in the Calhoun Cemetery, 54 of them are listed as unidentified/unknown.

The number of bodies removed from the Botsford Cemetery is open to debate. A total of eight bodies are listed as being discovered there, but only five bodies were removed to the New Maple Grove Cemetery. All five bodies were listed as being unknown.

The Brooks Family Cemetery had four bodies removed to the North Bend Cemetery. All four bodies were listed as unknown. One body was marked as a veteran, but his identity was not known nor could I find which war he fought in at this time.

New Maple Grove Cemetery
The Campbell Cemetery had six unknown bodies removed to North Bend. Edith Beck, who was living in Indiana, Pennsylvania, at the time, stated she was sister to three of the deceased and niece to one, but I could not find any other information as to the possible identities.

The Edwin Calhoun Cemetery had one burial removed. Edwin's infant son, George, was reburied in the New Maple Grove Cemetery. This private cemetery is also referred to as the Wild Rose or Red Rose Cemetery in some references.

The Pfoutz-Stow-Summerson Cemetery, also known as the Ox-Bow Cemetery originally had twenty-four bodies that were to be removed. In the process of removing the bodies, an additional twelve bodies were discovered by the workers. All of the bodies were relocated to North Bend.

Six people were buried in the pioneer cemetery known as the Pfoutz-Wertz Cemetery and were removed to North Bend. This cemetery held the remains of Simeon Pfoutz, the first settler on Kettle Creek. According to Linn's History of Centre and Clinton Counties Simeon, who escaped death after a number of panther attacks, tested his luck one time too many. On August 26, 1856, Simeon had picked up a rattlesnake to show a young friend that it was not harmful - the snake bit him and he would die as a result of the strike.

The Sullivan Cemetery was originally laid out by early settlers Garrett and John Mulcahy. Garrett selected the location of the cemetery so the waters of Kettle Creek would not disturb his eternal slumber. He would rest peacefully until the Kettle Creek Project. While the seven bodies buried here could not be identified, they were all removed to the New Maple Grove Cemetery, where none of them will ever be disturbed by the waters of Kettle Creek again. I just want to note that if their graves are disturbed by the waters of Kettle Creek, we are all in serious trouble.

The Earl Summerson Cemetery had four burials relocated in the North Bend Cemetery.

The final cemetery to be removed was the Summerson-Moore Cemetery. For some reason, the records for the cemetery relocation refer to it as the Proctor Farm Cemetery (after the owner at the time) rather than the name locals had always known it. Five graves were moved to North Bend, while the majority of them (42 burials) were moved to New Maple Grove Cemetery.

Grave of Dorcie Calhoun
New Maple Grove Cemetery
Not all of the cemeteries in the valley had to be removed. Roughly a half-mile south of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker, on the hillside overlooking Kettle Creek, members of the McCoy family still rest. The handful of graves escaped being moved during the Kettle Creek Project.

Returning to the present, I returned searching for one grave. A member of the Calhoun family, one man who would change the landscape of the Kettle Creek Valley ten years before the Army Corps of Engineers would permanently alter the face of the valley.

Unfolding the paper with my handwritten directions on it, I found the man's resting place in a matter of minutes. I had arrived at the resting place of Dorcie Calhoun.

This will be continued in Dorcie Clahoun: A Man With A Vision..