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Affairs of the heart made good news copy a century ago

Published October 10. 2009 09:00AM

Affairs of the heart have always been a good source of news copy. Local newspapers a century ago often ran stories about romance, scandal and marriages gone bad.

The Tamaqua Courier regularly served up spicy copy about romance that would even satisfy today's appetite for gossipy news on the entertainment shows on television. One story that appeared in the Courier in September of 1909 also shows how society's views have changed in respect to marriage and divorce.

This particular divorce case, involving a Schuylkill County couple both in their sixties, was called "pitiable" by one Tamaqua newspaper man. The man involved was Vincenti Klicks, an immigrant who was described as being "stooped by his years of hard work."

His wife took him to county court, charging him with desertion and nonsupport. After taking the witness stand, she told of the couple's emigration "from the old country" and how they were able to purchase a home with the savings they had accumulated in their native land. She also told how they had lived happily for many years and had been blessed with a number of children.

The wife's story struck a chord with the court. Vicenti was ordered to pay $12 a month for support, and directed him to enter a bond of $200 "to keep the peace."

In a more bizarre case earlier in the year, a White Haven man made the news by trading his wife for a hunting dog.

Michael Kossler and his wife of several years resided on the banks of the Lehigh River near White Haven. There, according to one reporter, they "appeared to live a life of peace and happiness."

According to the writer, the marriage deteriorated when the couple had "a dispute over a trivial matter and both agreed to disagree."

At about the same time that the couple was having marital problems, an insurance man from Freeland appeared at the house to deliver a policy written on the wife. After learning of the domestic turmoil, he offered his dog in exchange for the woman. Michael Kossler, being an avid hunter, promptly accepted.

The insurance man left with Mrs. Kossler for New York. They planned to sail for Hungary and start a new life together there.

Her husband, meanwhile, seemed pleased with the arrangement.

"Kossler seems to be perfectly satisfied with the transaction," the writer quipped, "and he says he got the best of the bargain."

Two elopement stories made news during the fall of 1909. One involved 15-year-old Sallie Reifsnyder of Tamaqua. The young runaway bride-to-be took a train to Philadelphia to meet her boyfriend, Frank Nahf, 24, a plumber.

They then left for Wilmington, Del., where they sought out The Rev. George L. Wolfe, known as the "marrying parson." When the parson discovered that she was only 15, however, he refused to marry them.

The couple then tried getting a license from a magistrate, but Sallie this time lied, saying she was 18.

Sallie's parents, meanwhile, were unaware of their daughter's elopement. All the while the young couple was in Delaware, the parents thought she was staying at the home of her sister on Railroad Street in Tamaqua. They were shocked to receive a telegram from her, saying: "Am married, will be home on (railroad) sleeper."

Sallie's parents were waiting at the station when her train rolled into town. Her husband was expected to come later. Judging from the news report, the young bride's homecoming was not a joyous occasion for her or her folks.

"The parents were waiting for the child-bride, took her home and locked her in her room," the writer said. "Mr. Reifsnyder promised to give the young groom a sound trouncing before he gave them the paternal blessing."

A second elopement story out of Baltimore proved much more tragic since it led to the death of an elderly family member. William King was a 19-year-old who worked in the office of the Pennsylvania Railroad. After meeting his girlfriend, Mary Joslin, also 19, in Baltimore, the two eloped to Philadelphia. There, they wired their parents about the marriage and "begged forgiveness."

King's grandfather, Benjamin Scott, who had been in ill health, was so overcome by the news of his grandson's marriage that he had a stroke and died at his home.

Finally there was the case of Stella Jones, who worked as a cashier for the Pittsburgh and Ohio Milk Company. She was arrested for stealing $8,000 from her employer in order to satisfy her boyfriend, Gilbert Esler, who was also posing as a physician around Pittsburgh.

A newspaper report stated that "she had given the money to Esler for fear he would refuse to marry her had she rejected his demands for funds."

It wasn't exactly the kind of firm foundation a young couple would want to build their marriage on.

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