By JIM ZBICK
Pottsville's courtroom was a busy place during the first month of the second decade of the 20th century.
The Tamaqua Courier reported that 19 murders were committed in Schuylkill County during 1909, a number it considered "nothing less than appalling."
"Schuylkill County needs moral strengthening," one writer said.
Four of the murders came during the last two months of the year. A victim in one of the shootings in early December was John Robinson, a black man from Lorberry, near Tremont. The defendant was Harry Kimmel who hailed from the same area.
On the night of the shooting, Kimmel testified he was on his way to church in a nearby village when he heard Robinson arguing with two other men in the bushes. When Kimmel went to investigate he was told to get away, and soon after Robinson emerged and began throwing stones at Kimmel.
Kimmel later testified he heard one "whiz past his head."
Robinson then began chasing Kimmel down the road and, while on the run, Kimmel reached in a pocket, took out a revolver and loaded several cartridges. He then pointed the gun over his shoulder and fired two shots, which he said he did to scare off his pursuer. One of the bullets struck Robinson in the abdomen, and he soon died from the shot.
Kimmel fled to his sister's house and soon, after telling his father, was advised to turn himself in. In the trial a month later, a jury took two hours to return a verdict of not guilty in the shooting.
Several other court-related matters made news in January 1910. Judge Brumm laid down the law to what he termed "scallywag" jurors, stating that persons could only be excused for the most urgent reasons, such as personal injury or an illness in the family. He stressed the need for a "better class of juries in the county" because of the miscarriages of justice which he said occurred in the past year.
The judge refused to excuse several jurors because he considered their reasons "purely of a business nature."
"His honor stated that each citizen is supposed to possess sufficient patriotism to sacrifice business for jury duty in order that the disposition of cases and the work of the courts not be interfered with," the Courier stated.
One newspaperman also found fault with those attorneys who did not "believe in the integrity of the men drawn as jurors." He felt they were just trying to draw attention to themselves – likely for political reasons.
"The desire of all good citizens should be to strive unceasingly to rehabilitate the county by restoring to it the fair name it bore in years gone by when it did not have so many liquor licenses or so many long-fingered political sycophants as it does today," the Courier writer stated.
After stating that "Schuylkill County needs moral strengthening," he then took aim at one of the newspaper's favorite targets: the saloons.
The writer was appalled after hearing several boys testify just days earlier that their fathers had taken them into a saloon, allowed them to consort with the men there, and even bought them drinks.
"With such things to contend with it is obvious that the work of raising the moral standard of the county will not be an easy one," he stated. "But still the task is not an impossible one by any means. The thing to do is to bring about first, a stricter observance of the law; second, to take the police from beneath the domination of political influence; and third, to close down every "dive" saloon.
Another writer stated his feelings in an opinion titled "Shameful" on Jan. 28. He used some heavy sarcasm to drive home a point on the county's proud heritage.
"What a beautiful heritage we are building up for our children, and for their children," he sarcastically stated. "The time is right now when the resident of Schuylkill County will have to blush with shame for his community, the community in which his father and grandfather were reared," he wrote. "The charge has been frequently made that Schuylkill County is the most depraved spot in the commonwealth. What have we done to deserve such an assertion? What has THE COURT DONE?"
Another writer stated in his opinion that every man and woman should take part in the regeneracy of the county.
"Those 19 murder cases sound a terrible warning," he said. "If it is not heeded, you know not how soon the foul waters of crime may lap over your own door sill."