By jim zbick
Some of the hot weather experienced this past week was similar to what people in our area had to endure a century ago during the summer of 1910. Just like today, as people flock to the beach or air conditioned malls to escape the heat, residents a century ago were trying to find relief from scorching temperatures which topped the 100-degree mark in many areas during mid-July.
The Tamaqua Courier reported that trolley cars running through the Panther Valley Creek and Schuylkill valleys were crowded with people riding for miles in the hope of being able to cool off.
Even church attendance was affected.
"The attendance at the churches was small in the evening and in several sanctuaries the conventions were cast aside and the men were privileged to remove their coats," one writer observed. "When the services were at an end, it was noticeable that when the congregation arose there was a gentle tugging as the people awoke to the fact that their clothes showed a strong inclination to stick fast to the seats."
On July 18, an intense storm system struck southeastern Pa. and Delaware. One 27-year-old woman in Chester County was killed instantly after being struck by lightning while standing at a well near her home.
T. Elwood Allen, a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad, was also struck by lightning during the storm while "working an instrument." One eyewitness said he arose, took a few steps, and then fell, unconscious.
"He was terribly shocked, and for some time he lay as though dead," the Courier reported. "He may recover."
A house and several barns in that area burned after being struck by lightning.
A cloud burst accompanying the storm turned streams into raging torrents in minutes. The strong currents washed away bridges and area grain farmers also experienced severe crop damage.
In Northeastern Pa., one woman became the victim of another threat which often accompanies hot, dry weather – brush fires. Mrs. William Fairchild, the wife of a farmer living in Dushore, Sullivan County, was at home when a spark from a passing locomotive started a brush fire in the nearby woods. Due to the severe drought conditions, the flames spread rapidly.
Mrs. Fairchild, who was alone at the time, tried to protect her home by fighting the blaze but soon found herself surrounded by a ring of fire. When she tried to run through the flames, her clothing caught fire and as one grim writer reported, "she was fairly roasted alive."
Although not directly weather-related, a number of other tragedies rocked the region during the hot summer of 1910.
In Ashland, a teamster in town gave 12-year-old Jimmy Burns permission to ride one of the horses up Main Street.
When Jimmy's friends heard about it, they came to witness the proud moment and voice their encouragement. Unfortunately, the well-intentioned shouts of encouragement frightened the horse, which broke out into a run.
"Jimmy tugged at the reins but that only angered the horse and he started on a wild dash down the thoroughfare," a reporter stated. "When they saw the boy's peril, people ran out on the street and tried to stop the animal by waving their hands and shouting."
This frightened the horse even more, and it reared, throwing Jimmy headlong onto the street. He was quickly taken to Miners Hospital but there was little to be done for his severe skull injury and he died about a half hour after being admitted.
An even more bizarre accident involving a prominent Nesquehoning family occurred in late July of 1910.
William Bechtel, proprietor of the Bechtel Hotel and also the manager of Nesquehoning's Panther League baseball team, was playing with his young daughter on a couch in his home when according to the Tamaqua Courier, he "was suddenly seized with paralysis of the left side."
Bechtel was "boosting" his little girl in the air when she landed heavily on his side. During that activity, a breastpin which the girl was wearing came open and when she came down on her father, the point of the pin penetrated his breast near the heart.
"Almost instantly, his left side became paralyzed," the newspaper report stated.
Doctors and specialists were at first baffled but then came to a consensus that "when the pin entered his breast, it struck one of the nerves leading to the brain, which caused the paralysis."
Another tragedy was reported in St. Clair that month after a family of four mistakenly ate a batch of poisoned toadstools. The Courier reported that when the physician arrived at the home, he was attacked by the father who was "driven insane by pain and grief."
The physicians was reportedly "badly beaten about the head before he could overcome the sufferer."
The four family members were then driven to Pottsville Hospital in an ambulance.
"There is not hope for the children and but slight hope for either of the parents," the report stated.