Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering the Walter L. Main

Lion at the top of the Walter L. Main Train Wreck Memorial
A couple years after I had first visited the memorial to the wreck of the Walter L Main Circus train disaster, I set out to visit the graves of the victims. Five of the six people who were killed in the wreck are buried in Central Pennsylvania: Robert M. Gates, Barney Multaney, William Lee, William Heverly, and James Strayer. The history of the train disaster can be found here: Walter L Main Train Wreck.

I had to wonder how many people outside the circus and Tyrone realized that the victims of the Walter L. Main Circus disaster were buried within a thirty minute drive of the wreck site. This was a fact that I never realized until I started looking into the final resting places of those victims.

Setting out early one foggy morning with Mike, we went in search of those killed in the wreck. The first one we sought was Robert M. Gates, who was the final victim of the train wreck. Robert was employed by the Tyrone repair shops and had been sent to McCann’s Crossing to help with the clean-up. The group was in the process of pulling the tender (the car that carries the train’s fuel) back up the hillside by using large, long ropes when the rope he was helping to pull broke. The rope struck Robert knocking him down. He stood up and immediately fell back down and died soon after from his injuries. The only visible injury on Robert was a cut on his head but the rope had struck him in the chest causing massive internal injuries.

Upon arriving at Graysville Cemetery, Mike and I spread out in search of Robert’s grave. “Are you even sure he’s buried here?” Mike asked as we walked the cemetery grounds searching the stones for Robert’s grave..

“No, I’m not,” I had to admit. Robert was the only victim that I did not have a site of burial. What I found in his obituary was a notice he was being buried from his parent's home near Pennsylvania Furnace. Though we did not find Robert’s grave, I found his parents in a partial list of Graysville Cemetery.

Graves of William and Katharine Gates
Graysville Cemetery
Their son Robert was killed during the clean-up of the wreck
 A walk through the cemetery that foggy morning, we discovered William and Katharine Gates, along with a handful of other Gates family members, but no Robert was buried among them. We left the Graysville Cemetery and made a stop at the nearby Pennsylvania Furnace Cemetery. The visit to Pennsylvania Furnace Cemetery proved to be an interesting walk, but again no Robert. More research is going to be needed to find his final resting place, but seeing he was a member of the Presbyterian Church, which stands at the base of the cemetery, I believe he may be buried on the grounds of Graysville Cemetery.

The next stop Mike and I made that day was at the Grandview Cemetery in Tyrone. I found that three of the people killed at the Walter L Main Circus train disaster were buried in Grandview Cemetery. I knew that Barney Multaney and William Lee were buried in Grandview Cemetery, but a quick glance through the cemetery records told me that William Heverly was also buried within the borders. Through some emails, I had a general location of Multaney and Lee's graves, but nothing other than a burial plot for Heverly.

Graves of Barney Multaney and William Lee
Grandview Cemetery, Tyrone
 Finding the graves of the first two took very little time, though I somehow missed them on the first pass. Entering the cemetery grounds, drive straight on the road through the cemetery. Their graves are on the right side of the road almost to the end of the road. The graves are a couple rows back and marked by a small green marker that stands over them.

I stood there in silence remembering the accident and all of those killed during the wreck. Though the circus stopped here for years after the wreck to pay tribute to their fallen family members, very few people visit their graves anymore.

Grave of William Lee, Grandview Cemetery
Grave of Barney Multaney, Grandview Cemetery
Note: His stone spells his last name as Multany
Reading the information on the sign, I discovered some conflicting information: William Lee may have been born in China, but was listed as being from Nebraska, while Barney Multaney was from New York. Note: Among the listed dead is a William Mutterly (of nearby East Freedom). He appears on the initial lists of those killed in the wreck, but then disappears from the listings. My personal thoughts are his name was confused with William Multaney, which is why he was on the list of the deceased.

After paying my respects to Multaney and Lee, I realized that the plot number I had in hand was seemingly meaningless. The overall size of Grandview Cemetery prevented me from walking it to find William Heverly's grave. Heverly was a brakeman on the train and when the train derailed he jumped clear; unfortunately he didn't jump far enough and was crushed beneath the wreck.

It took almost two years, but I managed to find the final resting place of William Heverly. I arrived that day to find the headstone that I am convinced is his. The stone has been toppled and while the name Heverly is clearly engraved on the base, I could not find a name on the rest of the stone which is standing next to the base. There is a Forrest Heverly listed as being buried in the same plot and I found Forrest’s tombstone, so I am convinced that the old stone is the marker for William’s grave. Note: In many lists, there appears a William Henterly, a brakeman from Tyrone. Henterly and Heverly are the same man.

Grave of William Heverly, Grandview Cemetery, Tyrone
The years have not been nice to his memorial
To find William’s grave, stand at the graves of Multaney and Lee and look uphill towards the woods. His grave is in almost a straight line behind their graves, to the left of the mausoleum at the top of the hill and behind the small wall that borders the top roadway.

The final gravesite Mike and I visited that day was the grave of James Strayer. The reason James was on the train that day is unclear. Papers at the time list him being on the train because he had recently been hired by the circus, along with his friend John Eddings. Other newspapers at the time claim the two boys were on board hoping to get work with the circus. A third newspaper article, and the one most believe to be accurate, claims that the two boys had merely hitched a ride to Lewistown to see the next performance of the circus and were planning on returning home after that show.

What is known is both boys were thrown clear of the wreck. John ended up with scratches on his face. James landed a couple feet away with internal injuries that claimed his life less than an hour later. John accompanied his friend’s body back to Houtzdale, were he was buried.

Mike and I arrived at the Saint Lawrence Cemetery in Houtzdale to pay our respects to James.

“Where are we going to start?” Mike asked.

“Those old stones over there,” I pointed to the rear, left hand side of the cemetery. Within minutes Mike announced he had found James’ resting place. After paying our respects to him, we made a quick stop at the memorial for the train wreck before ending our day of showing respect to those who died in the wreck.

Grave of James Strayer
Saint Lawrence Cemetery, Houtzdale
The only victim not buried in Central Pennsylvania is the circus treasurer Frank Train (also spelled Traine in many articles). Frank was trapped under the wreckage and begged for people to help him get out before he died. Newspapers reported it took close to two hours to remove the wreckage off  him and as the last piece of lumber was removed he passed. Frank’s death is even more tragic when it is learned that Frank was tired of being away from his family and had approached Walter Main about leaving. Walter talked Frank into staying with the circus until after Lewistown to which Frank agreed. Sadly Frank never made it to Lewistown. His body was returned to his family in Indiana for burial.

Newspapers of the time record a couple more deaths, but I have not been able to verify them. William Evans (of Williamsburg) and Louis Champaign (of Rochester, NY) have been placed on some lists of the dead. These two names show up in the lists of the victims for months after the wreck before disappearing. Some have suggested that these two men were injured and died some time after the wreck occurred.

The aftermath of the wreck of the Walter L. Main Circus forever connected this community, this region, with the circus now and forever. Though the victims of this tragedy have been forgotten by most, they lie forever in the gardens of stone in our own backyard.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Wreck of the Walter L. Main

Memorial for the Wreck of the
Walter L. Main Circus, Van Scoyoc Road, Bald Eagle
Early one morning I set out in search of a monument that I grew up hearing about. The monument is a memorial to the train wreck that happened between the small communities of Bald Eagle and Vail in Blair County. The disastrous train wreck occurred near McCann’s Crossing, located east of Tyrone, in the early morning hours of Memorial Day, 1893. The memorial for “The Great Circus Wreck of of 1893” stands along Van Scoyoc Road roughly a half mile from old Route 220.

Arriving at the monument, the first thing I noticed is there is very little parking at the spot. Though the memorial is in a small, grassy spot near the abandoned railroad bed, a ditch along Van Scoyoc Road prevents cars from pulling safely off the road. Thankfully, there is very little traffic along this road, so I pulled to the side of the road and turned the four-ways on, and hopped out of the vehicle to visit the memorial to pay my respects to those who perished there.

Walter L. Main was born in Chatham, Ohio in 1862; his father, William, handled the team of horses that pulled the big top for a traveling wagon show. Walter worked with and owned a portion of a number of circuses, but they had all failed. In 1885, Walter had convinced his mother to mortgage the family farm so he could start up his own circus, “The Walter L. Main Circus.” This year, with Walter in charge of his own circus, his ventures would prove profitable.

The year 1893 Walter Main had one of the largest circuses he had operated. The circus traveled by train from location to location and consisted of seventeen large cars; each one averaged between seventy and seventy-five feet in length. Among the creatures and features of the Walter L. Main Circus that year were: 130 horses (including Snowflake, a white stallion valued at $35,000), two elephants, two tigers, three lions, two panthers, camels, anteaters, kangaroos, a gorilla called "Man Slayer the Ape," and various snakes and exotic birds. The circus also two bands that traveled with it.

Walter L. Main Memorial
The old railroad bed is atop the hill in the background
The circus started the 1893 season on May 1 in East Liberty and traveled throughout western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio that spring. It had made it as far east as Lock Haven before arriving in Houtzdale on May 29. Though attendance had been low all spring due to constant rain, both shows at Houtzdale were well attended and the circus was looking forward to visiting Lewistown the following morning.

To go from Houtzdale to Lewistown, the train would descend the Allegheny Front, on the Tyrone and Clearfield Railroad line that roughly followed the present-day Route 350. The steep grade was a dangerous one and as the engineer prepared the train for the descent, he had the conductor wire the Tyrone train yard for an additional support engine. After some discussion, it was decided that one engine should be enough to safely bring the circus down the mountain. It would also to save the circus some money. If the railroad superintendent had realized that the circus cars were nearly double the length of ordinary train cars, no doubt he would have sent a second engine possibly preventing the tragedy that was about to happen.

With a single engine and hand brakes, the train began its descent down the Allegheny Front into the Bald Eagle Valley. The hand brakes were applied at various points on the train, yet by the time the train rounded the curve at Mount Pleasant, it was gaining speed and out of control. Sparks were flying as the train rounded the curve at Gardner and continued to rapidly descend the mountainside. At the speed it was traveling, the train should have derailed when it went around the turn at Gardner, but managed to remain on the tracks.

Plaque telling the story of the wreck of
The Walter L. Main Circus
The train did not make it around the next sharp curve located at McCann’s Crossing as car after car slid off of the track and down the thirty-forty foot embankment. Many lives were saved because the sleeper car was placed at the end of the train cars. As it derailed, it came to rest against a wrecked car which prevented it from sliding down the embankment.

The immediate aftermath was silence. People started staggering out of the ruins, unsure of what had just happened. Then the air began filling with the sounds of the dying; not human, but animal. Despite the train being destroyed  only five circus employees were killed in the wreck and one local was killed the clean-up.

One tiger attacked a zebra, leaving it with claw marks, before killing one of the "sacred cows" and disappearing into the woods. The tiger wandered off and attacked a cow being milked by Mrs. Friday. A neighbor heard her screams and shot the tiger while it feasted upon the cow. The mounted tiger's skull still exists at the Tyrone Sportman's Club.

Neither elephant was seriously hurt and remained nearby eating grass. The gorilla found a temporary home on a nearby stump and hissed and howled at anyone brave enough to approach. It was finally roped and tied to a tree. More than fifty of the horses that made up the circus were killed, including Snowflake, who lasted most of the day before passing.

By noon, the town of Tyrone responded to the tragedy; businesses offered food, drink and aid to the injured. By Thursday of the following week, a big top had been erected in Tyrone and the circus was performing again.

Lion at the top of the monument plaque
Of the strange claims and sightings after the wreck, one of the strangest came from a couple of travelers on Warriors Ridge near Alexandria. They claimed as they were crossing the ridge between Alexandria and Huntingdon, they spotted a kangaroo bounding away. Note: Most sources place this sighting near Alexandria, but some state it was near Warriors Mark, which is closer to the wreck site. Wherever the sighting may have happened, nobody else ever reported seeing these kangaroos again.

Another story that was told after the train disaster involved gigantic snakes. Residents would claim that the saw large snakes along Warrior’s Ridge in the time after the train wreck. Many think these claims are the start of the Monster of Broad Top, a giant snake that has been reported in Huntingdon County.

The initial cause of the accident was supposedly due to the elephants shifting in their car (the elephant car was the first to go over the bank). The official cause was speed: the train was traveling too fast down the mountainside. The speed prevented it from safely negotiating the turn. Those aboard the train differed in opinion, claiming that the train was never out of control, but the wreck was the result of an axle breaking on one of the cars. The broken axle caused the car to fall off the tracks dragging the rest of the cars in line off the rails with it.

The Walter L. Main Circus would return to the region in 1895. During this visit, and all future visits, the circus band would take time to visit the graves of two of their members who were buried in Grandview Cemetery in Tyrone. Walter Main sold his circus in 1904, but it would remain in name until 1937. Walter would pass away in 1950 and is buried in Pittsburgh next to his wife.

The Great Circus Wreck of 1893 memorial was erected in 1975 at the site of the train wreck and more recently a memorial service is held at the spot of the disaster,

If you choose to visit the memorial, please be aware that it is on private ground, so please be respectful of this sacred piece of land when visiting.

Please note: The location of the circus train wreck and the monument is along Van Scoyoc Road near the community of Vail. I’ve found that the wreck location has been listed in various sources as Latrobe, at the Horseshoe Curve, “Near Pittsburgh,” and at the Bennington Curve. The Bennington Curve had a train wreck, which was the “Red Arrow.” The wreck of the Red Arrow occurred February 18, 1947. The misidentification of the Walter L. Main wreck at the Horseshoe Curve, might be due to a similar sounding name. There is a McCann’s Curve on the western side of the Horseshoe Curve, while McCann’s Crossing is near Bald Eagle.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Killing in Karthaus: The Murder of Clara Price

The Clara Price Memorial
Route 879, east of Karthaus
On the hill overlooking the West Branch of the Susquehanna, roughly a mile east of Karthaus, on the north side of Route 879, rests a small granite marker that travelers can pass by without realizing its existence. Those who do stop to visit the marker are greeted with a very simple statement of remembrance:

Clara Price
Murdered 1889 By
Alfred Andrews

Unfortunately many visitors leave thinking that this is the gravestone of the unfortunate girl – growing up even I was guilty of this believing she had been buried at this lonely spot, but Clara Price does not rest here. She rests with her parents in the nearby Keewaydin Cemetery on the opposite side of the West Branch.

Clara was the daughter of David and Margaret Price; in 1889 she was sixteen years old. Clara had sought employment doing chores at the home of Eugene Meeker, which was located roughly two miles east of Karthaus. On the morning of November 27, Clara set out to walk home, visit her parents and do some shopping in town. Sadly she never arrived home.

A strange note about Clara’s age: using her tombstone as a source, I come up with her being sixteen years old. However, many of the newspaper sources state her age as being eighteen. I’m not sure why this is the case.

A number of people saw Clara walking towards Karthaus that morning. Some of these witnesses reported seeing a man wearing a brown derby hat walking quickly in the same direction. The man they saw would be identified as Alfred Andrews. Andrews was a native of England who moved to America when he was eighteen years old. He was described as a short, stocky man with a distinct walk. Note: A number of newspaper articles refer to his unique walk, but I’ve never been able to determine what was unique about it. I’m guessing he might have had some sort of limp to make his walk distinctive, but again that is just a guess.

Alfred was married and had two children at the time of the crime. After arriving in America, Andrews found work doing odd jobs around the region spending time in Altoona, Lock Haven and roaming as far west as Pittsburgh. Andrews was familiar with Karthaus having spent some time there too. At the time of Clara’s murder he was living in Brisbin, just north of Houtzdale.

A couple days before the murder Alfred Andrews set out to rob the general store in Karthaus. That morning Andrews hid in the woods east of town, on the opposite side of the West Branch of the Susquehanna. While hiding out and planning his robbery, he followed a number of peddlers, hoping to rob them of their goods, but the opportunity to go through with his plans never occurred.

Along the way Alfred came across Clara as she headed towards Karthaus on the narrow dirt road. The next people to see Clara were a trio of hunters heading towards Karthaus. They would be James Marsteller, William Oswalt, and James Bechdel who came across the body of a young lady lying in the middle of the road. Immediately after discovering the lifeless body of Clara Price, the trio ran to Karthaus to contact authorities about the crime.

Clara Price 's Tombstone
Keewaydin Cemetery, Keewaydin
There were no witnesses to the brutal crime, but it was determined there were signs of a struggle. The coroner discovered she was shot three times: one bullet hit her in the back and pierced her heart, one near the left ear and entering her brain and one entered her chest. Ripped clothing suggested that somebody had attempted to sexually assault Clara before killing her. Tracks showed that her killer had chased her for roughly fifty yards before ending her life, but however the numerous tracks around her body only added confusion to the scene.

One of the last people to see Clara alive was Mrs. Watson. She saw Clara pass by, followed immediately by a person she would later identify as Alfred Andrews.

Alfred would next be spotted at Moyer’s lumberyard, about a mile away from the murder scene. He had arrived there to seek a job, but never saw the foreman, so he returned to his home in Brisbin. A couple days later he was arrested for the brutal murder and sent to Bellefonte to await trial. Alfred was not the first person who was questioned by authorities. He, however, was the only one to admit that he was in the area at the time of the murder.

The evidence presented at his trial in January 1890 was circumstantial. Authorities presented their case with sixty-some witnesses but they could only state that they saw Andrews that morning. Alfred stated that he had been on the road that day, had thought about robbing a peddler, followed him for a short distance, but giving up when the chance failed to present itself. Instead he followed the road to Moyer’s lumberyard where he attempted to find work. Failing to find the foreman, he returned to his home.

After two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury returned with its verdict of guilty. The testimony and circumstantial evidence was enough to convict Alfred of the murder.

Alfred was sentenced to be hanged for the crime and on April 9, 1890, the sentence was carried out. In the time after his sentencing Alfred became remorseful for the murder. He even had a booklet printed about the crime in hopes of it selling to provide some income for his family. After his death, Andrews was buried on the ridges overlooking Milesburg, but rumors at the time believed his body was given to a medical school for dissection.

Clara Price's Tombstone
Keewaydin Cemetery
Growing up I heard the story of the murder of Clara Price a number of times. However, since I started taking a closer look at the case I found some things that have caused me to ask questions about what I thought I knew. Before I go into these issues, I want to state I do personally believe that Alfred Andrews did murder young Clara Price. However there is some things about this case that I have a hard time with.

First, Andrews was convicted completely upon circumstantial evidence. There were no witnesses and the evidence at the scene was nil. The muddy shoe prints could have been made by almost any man. Around her lifeless body there was a mess of tracks – by the time authorities arrived there was no possible way to determine who made which tracks. How they could distinguish anything and make one set of tracks out of the mess is a mystery to me.

A second issue I question deals with the blood evidence presented. Alfred had blood on his shoes that he claimed was chicken blood. Authorities stated that the blood was human. It had been five days after Clara’s murder and I have no clue how they could tell that the blood had been human.

The third issue I have is the shooting itself. Alfred would state later he fired five times at the fleeing Clara. Three of the bullets hit her. One in the back. One on the left side. One into her chest. If Clara is fleeing from her attacker how did two of the bullets enter her body from seemingly impossible angles? There is one possible explanation, but it goes against the confession Alfred would present after being found guilty. If Alfred shot Clara in the chest first, she tried to run away, glanced back to see if he was following her. In the process of looking back, a bullet hit her in the head, which caused her to fall to the ground. Alfred then stood above her and finished her off with a shot in the back. But this theory contradicts the version Alfred presents in the confession he wrote and also the version presented by the prosecution. 

A fourth issue deals with the question: was Clara sexually assaulted? Andrews admitted he assaulted her, but never admitted he sexually assaulted Clara (he states he tried to force himself upon her)  until after he was found guilty of her murder. I find it odd that he would have attempted to sexually assault her in the middle of the day on a path that was being well traveled at that time. In his confession, he admits to a number of crimes growing up including arson and theft, but there were no other assaults or murders that he admitted There is something that would explain the condition of the clothing. Alfred admitted he knew Clara, so she more than likely could identify him. If he grabbed her to threaten her. her clothing may have become disheveled during a struggle to get away from Andrews.

With the issues of Andrews’ confession (which came out only after he was found guilty) I have to ask why did he admit to killing Clara Price? I have a theory that may explain the confession. I believe that Andrews made the confession as a means of avoiding being hanged. Only months before Seely Hopkins was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law. I believe Alfred thought if he confessed to the deals of the crime he would be spared the hangman’s noose.

He failed and on April 9, 1890 Andrews became the sixth man hanged in Centre County for murder on the same scaffold Seeley Hopkins was executed on less than a month before.

Friday, April 21, 2017

From the Files: A Strange Midday Darkness

The Reading Eagle, September 2, 1881

Port Jervis, Sept. 2 – There is a good deal of comment here over the unusual condition of the sky. The sun has been obscured all day, although no ordinary clouds have been visible. A haze prevails which is so dense that the mountains are obscured, and this forenoon a dense bank of haze moved eastward over the valley. There are no forest fires in the immediate vicinity, and there is no odor of smoke in the air. The atmosphere has been more or less hazy for a week. Nothing like the present dark condition is remembered. It is necessary to use gas in rooms not well lighted.


A note of interest: While the residents of Port Jervis note that there were no nearby forest fires and there was no noticeable smell of smoke, there were a number of them burning across Pennsylvania and New York at the time, which may account for the dark haze. The same edition of The Reading Eagle reports these fires and also the drought that was affecting the farmers in the region.

From The Files: Knife Blade in the Skull

The Reading Eagle, August 29, 1881


Valentine Kemmerer, of Pottsville, complained of a pain in the head. Doctors examined his skull and cut out a piece of the bone which contained a piece of a steel knife blade, about one and a half inches long.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pennsylvania Place Names: Almost Counties

David Poyer, who is one of my favorite writers and a Pennsylvania native, wrote a series of novels about a fictional county in northwestern Pennsylvania. While his fictional Hemlock County does not really exist, the map of Pennsylvania would have had a different look had the bid for new counties been successful.

Some counties that almost existed, but did not make it through the Legislature, would appear again, but with a different name. Eagle County would be denied, but would be petitioned again and formed as Clinton. Even Clinton County’s neighbor Lycoming, was almost called Muncy County. Sinnemahoning County would be renamed in Honor of General James Potter while Fulton County was almost called Liberty. Union County was nearly named Buffalo and an early suggestion for Wyoming was Putnam County.

Penns County: One of the earliest failed bids to form a new county began in 1824. The desire was to form the new county out of the northern portion of Berks County, with the county seat being Kutztown. The attempt would renew in 1838 and the vote on the bill resulted in a tie and the county bid failed. There would be other unsuccessful attempts in 1847 and 1849 at creating  Penns County.

Windsor County: A proposal in 1838 wanted to create the county out of northern Berks and Southern Schuylkill Counties. The county would have taken its name from Windsor Township located in present-day Berks County. It was attempted again in 1850 without success.

Jackson County: The effort which was attempted in 1845 and again in 1849, would have been named in honor of President Jackson.

Madison County: The attempt to create Madison County happened in 1847 and was barely defeated in the Legislature. The attempt happened again in 1845 and 1855, but President Madison would not have a Pennsylvania County named after him. 

While I have not been able to determine the size that Jackson and Madison Counties would have covered, both wanted to use land that was a part of Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties. My guess is that these attempts were driven by the same people who used the different names to create their own county.

Conestoga County: An attempt in 1845 to create a county out of Berks, Lancaster and Chester Counties. The town of Churchtown would have been the county seat. The name would have come from Conestoga Creek which flows through the region.

Lee County: A final attempt to carve a new county out of Berks County happened in 1852 with Bernville as the county seat. The origin of the proposed name is unknown.

Anthracite County: The county (which was to be named after the coal mined there) would have been created out of Schuylkill and Luzerne Counties. The plan was set in motion in 1853, but seems to have failed early in its planning stages.

Marion County: The attempt to create this county was fueled by residents of Titusville who desired to have their community as a county seat. The first attempt was in 1858 and a second attempt occurred in 1870. The county would have been formed out of portions of Warren, Crawford and Erie Counties and would have been named in honor of General Francis Marion..

Quay County: In the 1890s there was an attempt to create a county named after Senator Matthew S. Quay. The county would have been created out of Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne Counties. The bill passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Daniel Hastings. Thankfully the county never came to be – in 1896 Senator Quay was charged with misappropriating state funds and was removed from office.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pennsylvania Place Names: Penn's Rivers

The Susquehanna River, Marysville
Place names fascinate me. The origins of the names of towns and natural features within Pennsylvania’s borders have always been of interest. Who is the Delaware River named after? What is the origin of the name Allegheny? What about the Susquehanna? And the Delaware? Let’s take a look at some of these Pennsylvania waterways and how they came to be named. Please note: these are not all of the rivers within the state. We'll be exploring those other rivers in the future.

Delaware River: The headwaters of the Delaware River are in the Catskills of New York state. The West Branch begins near the town of Jefferson and forms the northeastern border of Pennsylvania. The East Branch of the Delaware begins near the town of Roxbury, New York and joins with the West Branch south of Hancock, New York. The waters form the entire length of the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey before emptying into the Delaware Bay.

The Delaware River is named in honor of Sir Thomas West, an English nobleman and the first royal governor of the colony of Virginia. Sir West was the Third Baron De La Ware. The river was named in his honor in 1609 because the English believed that he had “discovered” it, though there is no evidence he actually visited it. The Lenape called it the Lenapi Wihituck which means “the rapid stream of the Lenape.” The Dutch who settled in the area referred to the river as South River until the English took control of the land.

Susquehanna River: The Susquehanna, like the Delaware has two major branches. The North Branch of the Susquehanna starts near Cooperstown, New York. The Susquehanna dips into Pennsylvania passing through Susquehanna Depot and Great Bend before returning back into New York State. The River returns to Pennsylvania near the town of Sayre.

The West Branch of the Susquehanna starts near the community of Carrolltown in Cambria County. The two branches of the Susquehanna join near the community of Northumberland. The combined Susquehanna flows southward into Maryland before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

The river is named in honor of the Susquehannock Indians who once lived in the region. The word Susquehanna comes from the Algonquin meaning “muddy waters," but local legends state the name translates to “mile wide, foot deep,” referring to the river’s dimensions of being wide, but shallow.

Ohio River: The Ohio River is formed by the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers where they join in Pittsburgh. It flows westward exiting the state near East Liverpool, Ohio coming to Cairo, Illinois where it empties into the Mississippi Rivers. The river’s name is derived from the Iroquis word ohiiyo. Ohii means “river” and yo means “good, or fine.” The Ohio River literally translates to “Good River River.”

The headwaters of the Allegheny River, Coudersport
Allegheny River: The headwaters of the Allegheny River are located northeast of Coudersport on the western slope of Cobb Hill. Cobb Hill has the distinction of having it waters going to three different waterways. Waters from the northern slope of Cobb Hill flow into the Gennesse River and the St. Lawrence River, while waters from the southern slope are part of the Susquehanna watershed.

There are three possibilities for the origin of the Allegheny River. The first possible origin comes from the Delaware language, translating to “Good River.” When the Delaware were forced westward, they translated the Iroquis word into the Algonquin language, which is oolik-henne. Oolik means “best” and henne translates to “stream.” The word meaning “most beautiful stream” was anglicized into Allegheny. The second possible origin of the name comes from the Delaware word eleuwi-guneu, which means “endless.” A third possibility is the name being derived from the tribal name Allegewi (also referred to as the Talligewi) which means “people of the cave country.”

Monongahela River: The Monongahela River begins in Fairmont, West Virginia where the West Fork River joins with the Tygart Valley River. The river flows northward entering the state near Point Marion, where it joins with the Cheat River. Moravian Missionary David Zeisberger states that the name Menawngihella translates to “high bank.” The Lenni Lenapi referred to the river as Menaonkihela, meaning “where banks cave in or erode.”

Ohiopyle Falls on the Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle State Park
Youghiogheny River:  Starting near Silver Lake, West Virginia, the Youghiogheny jumps over the West Virginia and Maryland state line until it enters the state southwest of Addison, Pennsylvania. The river crosses the border as a art of the Youghiogheny River Lake. The river empties into the Monongahela at McKeesport. The name comes from the Algonquin word meaning “a contrary stream.” An interesting fact about the Youghiogheny is that it is the only river that flows northward through Maryland – all the other rivers in Maryland flow southward.

Juniata River: The Juniata River has its start near the town of Alexandria in Huntingdon County where the Little Juniata (forms near Altoona) and the Frankstown Branch (it forms near Claysburg in Blair County) unite. A third branch of the Juniata known as the Raystown Branch (it forms in Somerset County east of the community of Berlin) joins near the community of Ardenheim just east of the town of Huntingdon.

The origin of the river’s name is believed to be a corruption of the Iroquois word Onayutta which translates to “Standing Stone.” Onayutta was an Iroquois village that existed where the town of Huntingdon is located.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Amanda Straw Snyder: The Dance of Eternal Spring

The Dance of Eternal Spring
Italian Lake, Harrisburg
The sun had barely risen in the sky when I arrived at the small cemetery that rested in the shadow of the Blue Mountain. Crossing the damp grass I paused at the entrance gate to the old cemetery.

Before I even entered, I realized why my contact suggested I visit this sacred place before the leaves turned green. Briars covered many of the graves and would make finding the one grave I sought a little more of a challenge. I stepped through the gate and paused at the first grave I came to. I was filled with a sadness as I discovered the words on the old, fragile stone could no longer be read.

Carefully stepping around the old stones, I read the ones that I could, searching for one famous grave among the many veterans resting here. At the rear of the cemetery, almost hidden by browned leaves, amid a small patch of brambles, I found the grave I sought. The flat stone was very simple and gives no hint of the interesting life the lady buried here lived. The stone merely states: “Amanda S. Snyder, June 2, 1875, Oct 29, 1972.”

Amanda was born in the Fishing Creek Valley, north of Harrisburg. When she was eighteen years old she moved in with a relative in Philadelphia to attend the Pierce Business College. She began performing in vaudeville where she was discovered by George Gibbs, an artist, to be his model. She was noted for her small stature, brown hair, and hourglass figure which was popular at the time.

At the start of her modeling career, she adopted the professional name of Madeline Stokes. As a part of her modeling, she would pose nude. Knowing her family would not have approved of her career choice, she changed her name so her family back home would not know what she was doing.

By her mid thirties, Amanda was in high demand and often sought after. She was known to have an unmoving pose. Once she struck a pose, she could go nearly twenty-five minutes without moving. After the taking a short break, she was able to return to the exact position without correction. Amanda’s ability set a record while she was modeling for a statue. She remained in a plaster cast that covered her entire body for nine hours.

Amanda posed for some famous artists of the time including John Sloan, Robert Henri, and N.C. Wyeth. When not modeling for famous artists, she had a tour schedule visiting art schools In Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Illinois. She graced many magazine covers of the times including The Delineator, The Metropolitan Magazine, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Amanda retired from modeling in 1914 (at the age of thirty-eight) after marrying artist Albert Snyder. They moved to a farm near Utica, New York, and she remained there until his death in the 1930s. After his death, she returned to the Fishing Creek Valley. In 1952 she moved into the Homeland Center in Harrisburg were she remained until her death in 1972.

My interest in Amanda and her life began after I stumbled upon an article about Italian Lake in Harrisburg. Located in the middle of Italian Lake is the sculpture known as The Dance of Eternal Spring and the three dancing nymphs are modeled after Amanda.

The dancing myphs
Top of The Dance of Eternal Spring
The story of the statue begins in 1909. That year Milton S. Hershey commissioned Giuseppe Donato, an Italian sculptor who was living in Philadelphia, to create a fountain for the grounds of Hershey’s estate. A verbal commitment was struck and Hershey gave Donato two thousand dollars as a down payment on the fountain.

Donato settled on Amanda as one of his models and set to work creating his masterpiece.

When finished, Donato presented the fountain to Hershey who refused to pay for it or even have anything to do with the fountain. Stokes in her later years claimed that she was extremely pleased with the fountain and Donato’s work.

The exact reason why Hershey refused the fountain is not clear. A popular thought at the time was Hershey was shocked at the dancing nudes and was afraid of what his Dutch neighbors would think. While this is a possibility the subject of the nudes was never brought up during the trial.

Another reason, and possibly the true reason, was the price tag of $30,000. Hershey refused to pay for the work and it sat for two years in a crate at the Hershey Railroad station.

In 1909, Donato sued Hershey in the Dauphin County Court. Donato claimed when he was commissioned to create the fountain despite the cost. Hershey claimed he wouldn’t pay ten dollars for anything from Donato’s studio and Donato responded by claiming the fountain that Hershey eventually purchased wasn’t worth the cost of demolishing and tossing into the Susquehanna River.

The end result was the jury awarded Donato a verdict of a little more than $23,000.

Even after paying for the fountain, Hershey refused to accept it and eventually gave it to Harrisburg officials who promptly placed it in storage while trying to figure out what to do with it. At one point it was going to be placed in Riverfront Park, but that never happened.

While the debate was going on, the fountain sat unassembled in its original packaging. A frustrated Donato was so upset that his fountain had yet to be displayed that he supposedly claimed that the The Dance of Eternal Spring could be melted down for bullets, so at least it was being used for something, but hoped that the city could find a place for it so its beauty could be seen by all.

In 1920 the statue was placed in Reservoir Park at a location that was hidden behind shrubbery. The fountain was moved to the Municipal Rose Garden that was located along Third Street in 1938. On September 15, 1938, the fountain was dedicated as a part of the Municipal Rose Gardens. It sat there until February of 1971. The hospital was planning on expanding and asked the city officials to remove the statue.

Donato’s fountain was going to be returned to storage. Rose bushes from the Memorial Gardens were salvaged by Reverend Doctor Bell and planted behind the Grace United Methodist Church. Bell argued before the council that the fountain should not remain in storage but as a part of the city’s heritage it should be displayed. He suggested Riverfront Park, but settled on Italian Lake. Amanda also addressed the council on the future of The Dance of Eternal Spring. At the age of ninety-eight she was described by reporters and still being very sharp and charming.

In July 1971, spectators watched as a crane lowered the fountain onto a small island in the midst of Italian Lake. Amanda was among those watching the fountain being lowered to the place that would become its home.

A story goes that after The Dance of Eternal Spring was first erected that Amanda and a friend from Fishing Creek Valley visited the fountain to view it. Her friend, not knowing Amanda’s lifestyle when away from Fishing Creek Valley, asked her if she could ever image posing as a nude model. Amanda, keeping her modeling career a secret, replied she could never image posing nude.

Amanda’s likeness can be seen in other places across the state. Her likeness can be spotted in the murals done by Violet Oakley that adorn the state capitol building. These murals are located in the Governor’s Reception Room, the Senate Chamber, and the Supreme Court Room. Amanda was also the model for Alexander Stirling Calder’s Sun Dial which stands in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

Grave of Amanda Straw Snyder
Fishing Creek Valley
A note about the name Straw: Amanda’s last name was Straw, from the German name Stroh. Interesting while her parents use Straw and most of her siblings used Straw, many of the family descendants have returned to using Stroh rather than Straw.

An interesting note about the 1938 moving of the statue: The moving of the fountain created a lot of interest at the time. How would the nudes be transported from place to place? Would citizens be offended by the nude figures being transported through the city? One group said they would cover it with a sheet. Another suggested they would move it at night. Another suggested they would cover it up and move it at night. Another suggested the use of a large covered truck. The debate seemed to come to an end when a city official stated he did not think it would necessary to cover the fountain during transport. When it was moved it was placed on the back of a truck bed and moved without incident.

A note about Italian Lake: How did Italian Lake get its name? The origin of the name is not clear. A popular version of the origins of the name is this place was once very popular place for the local Italian community. Another version of the park name came from the Italian Hotel that once stood on the spot where the park now exists.



Friday, April 7, 2017

Along the Way: Hedda Hopper

Grave of Hedda Hopper
Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona
"You're kind of young to know who Hedda was…aren’t you?” the groundskeeper asked as he curiously stared at me.  Before I could answer the question he continued, "What do you know about Hedda?"

"Not a whole lot,” I answered honestly. “I know she was from Altoona and her columns were the forerunner of the gossip papers."

"Hollidaysburg,” he corrected. “She was born in Hollidaysburg. You know we used to have a lot of visitors stopping at her grave, but fewer and fewer come to visit her nowadays." He paused for a moment before suddenly blurting out, “Follow me.” I followed in my vehicle as he drove the lawn mower through the grounds of cemetery towards a place near the entrance. Parking along the drive, we walked over to the small, simple stone that marked the resting place of Hedda Hopper.

Hedda Hopper was born Elda Furry in Hollidaysburg, daughter of David and Margaret Furry. When she was three he moved his family to nearby Altoona.

While still in her teens Elda ran away from home for New York City, where she performed in a number of choruses on Broadway. Within a few years, she turned her focus on acting and was soon touring the United States performing in a number of plays. By 1915 she had left the touring performances behind and headed to Hollywood to act in the movies.

It was during her time touring that she married DeWolf Hopper, Sr. (their marriage lasted from 1913-1922), the owner of the touring company she performed for. Due to the fact he kept calling her by the names of his previous wives (this was his fifth marriage), Elda approached a psychic who proclaimed Elda should adopt the name of Hedda, which she did.

Hedda’s first movie was Battle of Hearts and over the next twenty-three years she would appear in more than 120 movies. She often was portrayed as the distinguished society woman. By the mid-1930s, her movie career was coming to an end.

In 1937, Hedda would be offered the chance of a lifetime: she would produce a gossip column. Known as “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood," her gossip column found no boundaries as she exposed the darkest secrets of Hollywood. It was during her stint as a gossip columnist that she developed a feud with Louella Parsons, also a Hollywood gossip columnist, who started the whole "celebrity gossip" market. Hopper began her stint in the gossip market by feeding Louella information about what was going on in Hollywood. When Hopper was offered the job by a rival newspaper to write her own column, the two began a bitter feud. Both Louella and Hedda had power in the words they wrote and anything they said could help or hinder a person's career.

Hedda's column attacked all of Hollywood as she held nothing back. She would often accuse stars of homosexuality; at the time this would have destroyed their careers and any chance of them landing or keeping a leading role. In later years she would be a part of the "Red Scare" witch hunt accusing a number of Hollywood players of being Communists.

At the age of 80, Hedda Hopper died of pneumonia. Her body was returned to Altoona and buried in the family plot in Rose Hill Cemetery. While she hadn't made it big in the movies, the world has never been the same thanks to her career in "journalism" that we see every time we go to the store today.

We stood in silence for a minute or two before the groundskeeper announced that he had to get back to work. I finished paying my respects, snapped a couple pictures and left her to rest with her family.

Hedda is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona. Finding her grave is a little tricky, but I’ll give the best directions that I can. When entering the cemetery, the road splits. Part of the road goes to the left; but you want to drive straight ahead. Park immediately before the road splits again. Look for the grave stone of William Rudy in the section on the left. Hedda is buried in the row of stones behind William's grave -- it will take a little bit of a search to find it, but it is there.

A note of interest: Hedda was born on May 5, 1885, but she often stated that she was born on June 2, 1890. The exact reason is murky, but most sources believe it was so people thought she was younger than she actually was.

Another interesting note: While I was talking to the groundskeeper he shared with me a story that I can neither prove nor disprove. He claimed that the former groundskeeper told him that Hedda was only partially buried here. The story goes that the family had her cremated and had some of her ashes buried here and some were scattered atop Brush Mountain. Again, I can’t prove this to be true, but it still makes an interesting story.