Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Along the Way: The Story of Sydney's Stone

Wetmore Cemetery, North Warren
Sydney's Stone is on the right side
The large stone in line with tree in the cemetery
The GPS announced I was arriving at the Wetmore Cemetery in North Warren. I slowed down some but the traffic on Route 62 prevented me from finding a good place to pull off so I was past it with only a glimpse of the sign for the cemetery atop the small, but steep bank.

I found a place to turn around and returned toward the cemetery. I pulled into the lot across Route 62 and studied the cemetery on the opposite side of the road. For a moment I debated on parking and taking my chances crossing the four lanes of Route 62, but the constant traffic quickly pushed that idea out of my head.

From where I sat I could see a car lot next to the cemetery and decided to go there and see if there was any place to park. Pulling into the lot I could see some parking places, but part of me really didn’t feel comfortable parking my vehicle in the midst of a used car lot.

I did another quick search and found mention that a road to the cemetery off of South State Street led back to the cemetery. I drove slowly along the road until I found a dirt road (that appeared to be a driveway) but I could see the cemetery at the end of the road. I drove down it, and stopped near somebody’s garage, staying far enough away that I wasn’t blocking entry into it. There were some people standing outside the nearby house but they didn’t say anything as I got out of the vehicle and walked across the patch of lawn and into the oak grove that was home to the Wetmore Cemetery.

I took in my surroundings before I set foot onto the sacred grounds. The sign for the cemetery and a fence exists along the eastern side of the cemetery at the edge of the embankment. Pieces of fencing still exist on the other three sides of the cemetery, but most of it has become a victim of time. On the north side of the grounds stand two granite shafts. These mark the original entrance into the cemetery, but are nearly hidden by trees and brush.

Many of the stones in the cemetery are either broken or merely field stones. The oldest stones have weathered over the years and are difficult to read. Only a handful of modern stones exist scattered around the cemetery grounds.

The small cemetery was originally called the Jackson Cemetery due to its location on lands owned by Daniel Jackson, an early settler. Daniel is believed to be buried within the grounds of the cemetery; Jackson Run (on the western side of Route 62) still bears his name. Upon his death he willed his property to a Mr. Winters who then donated the piece of land that the cemetery rested upon to the Conewango Township supervisors. The cemetery became known as the Wetmore Cemetery after the lands surrounding it were purchased by the Wetmore family.

Spotting the stone I was convinced was the one I came in search of, I carefully made my way through the old stones. The writing was hard to read, but I could make out enough to know that this was the grave I was searching for. This stab of sandstone marks the resting place of Sydney Berry.
In the course of history, Sydney barely made a mark while he was alive. However the erection of his monument secured him a place in regional history. Though I was familiar with his story, as I stood there reading the inscription on his tombstone sent shivers running through me.


The grave of Sydney Berry
Wetmore Cemetery
The badly weathered stone bears witness
To his death
Allow me to share with you the story as it is inscribed on his tombstone.

Sydney N Berry
Whose Death
October 29th AD 1839
Was Caused
By a Fall of This Stone
Aged 32 Years
Though didst it well, oh cruel stone
To let thy fatal weight on one
So well prepared
Now guard thy victim’s mouldering dust
While to it’s home of holy rest
His spirit fled

Yes, the rock that caused Sydney’s death would be the rock that would mark his resting spot on the sacred piece of land known as Wetmore Cemetery.

Sydney was employed to help construct the Hazel Street Bridge that crossed the Allegheny River. The Hazel Street Bridge was a covered bridge that existed from 1839 to 1855 and was the first bridge over the Allegheny River at Warren.

The understanding I've always had when I've read about his death (which due to the passage of time is very little) is that he was at the site of the bridge when the accident occurred. However, I did stumble upon an article that states Sydney was at the sandstone quarry when the accident happened. The sandstone was being quarried to build the piers for the covered bridge to rest upon. While helping to quarry the stone to be used, one of the rocks shifted and fell, striking and killing him.

Which version is correct, I'm not sure, but it happening at the quarry does make a little more sense in my mind. Sydney's remains would be buried in the Wetmore Cemetery and from the rock that claimed his life a marker was formed.

If you choose to visit, I ask the you do so respectfully. Please be careful when moving through the cemetery, many of the older stones are extremely fragile.

A note about Sydney's family: At the time of his death, Sydney was married to Janet Sill Berry. They had two children, Gurdon and Elias. His wife was pregnant at the time of the accident with their third child, who would be named in honor of his father. Sadly young Sydney passed at the age of three and rests near his father. 

Sometime after the death of young Sydney, the family moved out of the area. I found that Sydney’s two surviving sons are buried in Titusville, but where Janet rests remains unknown at this time.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Speech - 2006

Grave of Samuel Ellenberger
Member of Co. D, 98 Regiment, PA Infantry
Ross Cemetery
Many places claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In Pennsylvania, the town of Boalsburg is one of those places that calls itself the birthplace of the day now set aside for honoring those who have served. Besides Boalsburg, twenty-three other communities lay claim to being the first place to celebrate Memorial Day. Despite the conflicting claims, in May 1966 President Lyndon Johnson settled the debate by declaring Waterloo, New York as the "official" birthplace of Memorial Day.

While many people have forgotten the origins and the traditions of Memorial Day, some places still take the time to honor the dead who have served our country. Originally the celebration was to honor those who fought in the Civil War, it has adapted to remember all soldiers who have served in all wars.

A while back I had the privilege of serving at Ross United Methodist Church, a small church at the junction of Marengo and West Gatesburg Roads. One of the honors while serving there was taking part in the annual Memorial Day Service.

The small congregation of Ross United Methodist Church continues the tradition of decorating the graves of those who fought. Traditionally, the women of the church have met on the Saturday before Memorial Day to prepare flower bouquets that will decorate the graves of those soldiers buried in the Ross Cemetery. On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the local VFW comes to the cemetery and the flowers are placed on the graves of the soldiers, followed by the firing of a salute and the playing of Taps.

In honor of our soldiers who have served over the years, I want to share a speech delivered in 2006 at the Memorial Day Service at Ross United Methodist Church.

Grave of Michael Rhodes
Co. H, & Regiment PA Volunteers
Ross Cemetery
I want to thank-you for coming out this beautiful morning to join with the congregation of the Ross United Methodist Church. This morning we pause from our busy everyday lives to decorate the graves of those who have served and lie on this sacred piece of ground.

I'm honored that I've been asked to share a couple words with you this morning as a part of the annual Memorial Day Celebration here at the Ross Church and Cemetery.

Many places call themselves the birthplace of Memorial Day. From Charleston, South Carolina to Columbus, Mississippi from just down the road in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania to Waterloo, New York - the "official" birthplace of Memorial Day - all of them have claimed to be the first to decorate the graves of the fallen Civil War soldiers.

Newspapers from the late 1860s suggest that Confederate widows were the first to decorate the graves of the fallen and this took place before the end of the war. The story goes that while the Civil War raged on, a small group of grieving women - mothers, wives, daughter, sisters and other loved ones - were cleaning the graves of their recently fallen Confederate soldiers in Friendship Cemetery at Columbus, Mississippi to place flowers upon those graves. While cleaning the graves of the Confederate soldiers, they noticed nearby a number of graves belonging to Union soldiers that were overgrown with weeds. Grieving their own fallen, the women understood that these Union soldiers were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleaned the lots, along with their own, and placed flowers upon the graves of the Union soldiers.

The tradition of decorating the graves of the Civil War dead quickly spread throughout the communities of the northern and southern states. The idea of honoring the dead on both sides of the great conflict was a gesture of healing and reconciliation in a land ripped apart by war.

Sadly, the day set aside to remember the fallen dead has been forgotten by the younger generations. The parades that celebrated our soldiers who fought and sacrificed for our freedoms have been silent and no longer fill the streets. The graves of those who have served are forgotten and often not decorated with flowers. The ceremonies celebrating and honoring the dead have been pushed aside as people go about their everyday lives. In short, Memorial Day has become just another day for many.

But in the small towns of America, the day has not been forgotten; the dead who have served are remembered and still honored. Taps are still played and the honor guard still fires salute.

That is why we are gathered here this day. We come to celebrate and remember the lives of those who have served in all wars. The flowers have been placed on the graves of those who answered when their country called them. They have given their all to ensure the freedoms we to often take for granted.

We gather to remember our brothers, our forefathers, our friends, and our loved ones. They served to defend our nation and ensure the freedoms we enjoy every day.

In all honesty, the words I say this day will probably be forgotten by the time you get home, but the deeds of these servicemen - these loved ones - buried here on this sacred piece of ground will never be forgotten.

Thank you for joining us and I ask that you would please remove your hats as we have a moment of silence followed by a salute to those who served followed by the playing of Taps.

John Wrye
I was unable to determine which
Civil War Unit he served
This Memorial Day, amid the busy schedules of this weekend, I ask that you take a moment and remember those who have served this country to allow you the freedoms we all celebrate..

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.