By JIM ZBICK
Maybe it was the cold winter that numbed the senses, or the pressures of work and putting food on the table that drove some to desperation, but some weird news stories surfaced in the early weeks of 1910.
In one rather morbid episode, brothers Elmer and Edwin Fink left their home in Jordan Valley, Lehigh Valley, by sleigh with a load of produce bound for markets in Lehighton and Mauch Chunk. After dropping their load and leaving for home late in the day, Edwin complained he was not feeling well so he lay down in the rear of the sleigh and Elmer took over the reins.
Elmer was under the impression that his brother fell asleep from fatigue but when they arrived back home, his brother's body was lifeless.
"Across the lonely (Blue) Mountain in the darkness, the brother in all probability drove with a corpse, for it is not known when the young man died," a Tamaqua Courier report stated.
The science of blood transfusion dates to the first decade of the 19th century, with the discovery of distinct blood types that led to the practice of mixing a donor's blood with the recipient. Many patients died during early experimental surgeries. It was not until 1901 when Austrian Karl Landsteiner discovered human blood group that blood transfusions became safer.
The medical practice was still being perfected when, on January 18, 1910, four young Tamaqua men employed as brakemen by the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad Company, volunteered for a blood transfusion to aid a fellow employee, Warren Hauser, 39, who worked as a freight conductor. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia for the operation. He was accompanied by Dr. A. B. Fleming.
The Courier reported that Fleming returned to Tamaqua after several days with the news that there was no hope for Hauser "unless several strong healthy men would allow some of their life blood to be taken and given to the sick man."
Four fellow workers – Joseph Spots, Clayton Stahler, Oscar Wannamaker and Albert K. Berry – stepped up to help Hauser. Unfortunately, the bid to save their co-worker came too late as Hauser was considered too weak to have the operation. He was brought back to Tamaqua and died in his home on Pine Street on Jan. 20.
Other new methods and innovations were transforming the medical community. In early 1910, St. Francis Hospital In Hartford, Conn., used electricity as an anaesthetic on a patient whose toes were frozen after exposure in a snowstorm and was told that amputation was necessary.
During the technique, an interrupted current of 54 volts of electricity was sent through the affected part of the body to be operated on. Today, the preparation sounds like an execution scene out of The Green Mile. The patient was blindfolded, and straps with electrodes and attached wires connecting to a battery were fastened on his legs.
When the electricity had numbed the legs below the knee, surgeons amputated the toes. After the operation, the patient said he felt no pain, and reportedly even joked with attendants.
Another story concerning the railroads proved that even a bird can inflict damage on a heavy locomotive.
Edward Gessler, an engineer from Philadelphia for the Reading Railway, was running through Lorane at about a mile a minute clip when his locomotive struck a large crow. On impact, the bird came crashing through the heavy glass on the engineer's side of the cab. Gessler suffered facial cuts and was unable to continue the run.
Another strange incident occurred on Jan. 29 at Locust Summit. Bert Maloy, an engineman on the Shamokin division, was preparing a fire for the engine. He and several firemen went into the nearby woods for some firewood. Along with smaller pieces, they found an old tree stump which they threw on top of the pile of burning wood. The door on the engine, however, was left open.
When they returned a few minutes later, they were startled to see that four huge black snakes had crawled out into the tender, followed by about a dozen smaller ones.
Maloy said he disposed of the largest snake, which measured over six feet, but the others escaped.
A York County farmer, Richard Koch of Wrightsville, was the unfortunate victim in another animal story involving his "incorrigible" cow. After recapturing the runaway, a chain with a heavy log was placed around its neck to keep it anchored on the return trip home. The animal, however, rejected its harness restriction and again took off running. One swipe from the wildly-swinging log struck Koch in the head, fracturing his skull.
Another strange story occurred in Boston during a viewing at a family's home, which was quite common. Margaret Landers, 23, had gone to the home to pay her respects to the family of a Mrs. Geary.
While Landers was left alone with the body for a few moments, she managed to sneak a diamond ring, valued at $150, from the finger of the corpse lying in the casket.
Fearing detection, she then swallowed it. Later, she admitted stealing the ring and then, to everyone's astonishment, swallowing it to avoid detection.
Investigation was ongoing since recovery of the ring as evidence was dependent on the woman's natural bodily functions.