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Some weirdness in the air during the fall of 1910

Published November 06. 2010 09:00AM

Some may blame it on the harvest moon, but there were some eerie new stories that were reported in the local papers during the fall of 1910.

Several local fires - one the result of carelessness and the other the work of a suspected arsonist, made it a very destructive time of the year.

In early October officials believed that a fire that destroyed the St. Elmo moving picture theater in Lansford was deliberately set. A Mr. Kelly, who played piano at the theater, reportedly saw the fire from his boarding house in Summit Hill and sounded the alarm.

During and after the fire, officials said "a strong scent of kerosene oil was detected." Shortly before the blaze started near midnight, a man passing by the theater said he heard a noise like someone walking inside the building. A boarder at the St. Elmo Hotel said he heard a sound similar to "some person walking on the roof of the theater."

Another fire, this one on the No. 2 slope of the MaryD Coal Company, burned fiercely on Oct. 12, shooting flames 25 feet in the air. About a half dozen men were at work in the slope, which was about 300 feet deep, when the fire was discovered and quickly spread. Fortunately they were able to scramble to safety.

"As soon as the fire was discovered, a stream of water was turned into the slope and was kept playing on the flames all night," the Courier reported.

It was suspected that the fire, which originated in the pump house, may have started after one of the men carelessly threw a match on the floor after lighting his pipe.

There were also individual stories that were both strange and sad. Early in the month, Frank Meyers, a Tamaqua man who worked at the No. 14 colliery, was walking to work along the railroad track when a train came along and he decided to hop on. This was especially dangerous for Meyers since he was subject to seizures. While attempting to jump on, he fell, his right arm landing on the rail and was quickly severed by the heavy wheel. He was taken to the Panther Creek Hospital where his arm was amputated at the shoulder.

A Shenandoah man named John Thumm worked as a salesman for Armour, the Chicago-based meat packer, which made him a frequent visitor to Tamaqua. One day, Thumm received word from his former home in Allentown that his 74-year old mother had fallen and broken her hip. Given her advanced age, hospital officials reported "her recovery is doubtful."

While visiting her at the hospital three days later, Thumm was summoned home due to his brother's sudden illness. On arrival, he found that his brother had suffered a paralyzing stroke and was dead.

The shock of the brother's death and the injury to the mother greatly upset Thumm's invalid sister, and the woman collapsed. Her condition too was listed as serious. In less than a week, he had lost his brother, while his mother and sister were in declining health.

Another dual family tragedy involved the Bynon family of Lansford. William Bynon, 25, was used to taking friends to see the burning mine at Summit Hill. While leading a personal tour on the evening of Oct. 2 he was telling friends about the site when he got too close to the edge of the cave-in site and, according to the Tamaqua Courier, simply "disappeared from sight."

When rescuers reached the bottom, a distance of about 80 feet, they found Bynon barely alive. The popular, self-made tour guide died while being brought to the surface.

Ironically, just a few months earlier, his father was found dead at the bottom of a cave-in between Lansford and Coal Dale. According to the Courier report, the elderly man "got bewildered" while returning to his home and fell into the cave-in. He was found by William's brother.

Later in the month, a pastor from Schuylkill County dismissed the phrase out of the Christian lexicon to "turn the other cheek." On Oct. 17, Rev. William Kelly was returning home to his parish of St. Mary's Church in Branchdale, near Minersville, when he was targeted and pursued by three foreigners. One report stated that the attackers "rained volleys of stones and other missiles at him."

Once he reached the safety of his rectory, the priest retaliated in force.

"He secured a weapon and gave chase to his assailants," the Tamaqua Courier reported. Two of the three were captured.

A more upbeat story with Christian values emerged out of Lancaster. Rev. H. D. Boughter, pastor of the Church of God, was handed an envelope by a man who was asked to give it to 80-year-old Uriah Douglas.

Rev. Boughter delivered the envelope to Douglas personally and after opening it, he found five $100 bills. A note from the sender stated that he had wronged Douglas some 45 years earlier and wanted to make things right.

Douglas recalled that in 1865 a horse and team had been stolen from him and believed that this may have been restitution.

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