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'Dog days' brought some bizarre stories during 1909

Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

The Tamaqua Courier reported a number of bizarre stories during the dog days of summer in 1909.

One involved a tragic copycat incident inspired by a new craze sweeping the land - moving picture shows. The cinema business was in its infancy during the first decade of the 20th century, but thanks to Thomas Edison and other inventors, they were beginning to make an impact on the entertainment world.

It was only a matter of time before youngsters tried to imitate what they were seeing on the screen. Children were most easily influenced by the early westerns, and during the summer of 1909 Thomas Kane, a 10-year old in West Burlington, N.J., tried to act out a "hold-up" scene he had seen at a moving picture show.

It had a tragic ending.

After watching the western flick, Kane grabbed an old musket from his father's home and paraded through the streets, ordering all the children he met to throw up their hands.

Four-year-old Francis Lord was playing in the street in front of her home when the boy approached.

"Hold up your hands or I'll shoot you dead," Kane demanded.

The little girl did not understand the order and continued playing. Kane then raised the heavy musket and fired the loaded gun at close range.

The girl died within a half hour.

Another tragedy involved a firearm accident in Wilkes-Barre in early August.

Mary Owens, 17, was hanging clothes in the yard when she saw a rat threatening her chickens. She got her father's rifle and fired at the rodent but the bullet struck her mother instead. The horrified teenager saw her mother slump to the ground as she took the bullet through her lungs.

The hard economic times and the hot weather were ingredients for a number of burglary attempts. In late July, robbers targeted Schlossar's Boarding House on Pine Street. William Griffith, who was boarding there at the time, was awakened at 1 a.m. by a noise at the rear of the home.

Through the window he saw a man with a file trying to pry open another window and immediately sounded an alarm. The would-be robber fled quickly, leaving only a set of footprints.

About a month earlier, robbers broke into the home of Benjamin Beddall in Girardville during the night. The home was also occupied by his wife who was recovering from a serious neck injury after falling from her porch and landing on a picket fence. Miss Laura Beddall, a trained nurse from Tamaqua, tended to her mother and occupied an adjoining room.

After breaking into the home one Friday night, the intruders used chloroform to sedate the elderly couple along with Laura. The robbers then went through the house but found only a diamond stickpin.

The previous night, Laura reportedly hid cash and other valuables in a secret location which the thieves were not able to find.

Some good news-bad news stories involving dogs occurred during mid-August. The good- news item involved an alert dog in New York City which helped avert a catastrophe when fire erupted in the basement and shot up the airshaft of a five-story apartment house.

Incredibly, a dog broke through the panel of a door to "sound an alarm." About 20 families, some only scantily dressed, fled in panic from the burning building.

The bad-news story involved a dog in Wilkes-Barre, but in this case Frank Harrovich, the owner of the canine, was held just as much at fault. Harrovich reportedly struck a boy and then set his dog upon him.

The dog knocked the boy down and then bit him in the back. One reporter said the attack was so traumatic the boy lost "lost power of speech, through fright."

Physicians believed he would recover. Harrovich was arrested.

Another strange story from Wilkes-Barre that summer did not involve an animal, but insects.

In mid-July Willard Smith, working as a messenger for the United States Express Company on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, was driven from his car by a swarm of bees that had escaped from a hive in the car. Badly stung, Smith found refuge in the mail car of the train while it was en route to Wilkes-Barre.

Another larger story involving insects was reported at an island in the Gulf of Mexico around the same time. Inhabitants of the island went to bed one night without screens or mosquito bars. When they awoke the next morning, the air was black with mosquitoes.

The "plague of mosquitoes" was blamed for smothering to death thousands of cattle, which choked when the pests crowded into their mouths and nostrils.

One reporter stated that the inhabitants were scared to venture out of doors and that the farms were abandoned.

Closer to home, one of he most bizarre accidents of the year involved Mrs. John Armour, wife of a Philadelphia broker who was vacationing at the family's summer home in New Jersey. The woman was fixing her hair when she placed a bottle of hair tonic too close to the gas flame being used to heat her curling iron. The cork on the tonic bottle blew off, the liquid caught fire and in a second sprayed over the woman.

The tragic incident claimed her life.

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