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Berry-pickers' success ended in road disaster

Published July 23. 2011 09:02AM

On a hot day in mid-July 1911, a party of six Coal Dale residents enjoyed a bountiful day of berry-picking on the mountain north of Tamaqua.

The group, which included four women and a father and son, estimated they had picked enough berries for more than 100 quart jars.

"After filling all our pails, buckets and baskets, it was about 7 o'clock and we climbed into the milk wagon to commence the return journey to Coal Dale, via Tamaqua," said Mrs. Charles Herring, 42, whose 11-year-old son Leonard and husband Charles, were also on the trip.

Mrs. Herring, the mother of seven children, said the wagon, was small and "we were pretty crowded, but not any more so than we had been on many previous occasions when we went berrying."

Seated at the front of the wagon along with Charles, the driver, were Mrs. William Schultz, 32, the mother of three children, and Mrs. John Remaley, 32.

Sitting on store boxes in the rear with Mrs. Herring was Mrs. Henry Herring, 42. Standing up between the two was Leonard Herring.

Before the return trip, Charles had taken the precaution of putting a large block of wood over the springs to give the wagon better braking.

The main road leading back into Tamaqua was quite steep and as the rig reached the top of the hill, several in the group called out for the horse to stop. To gain better control, Charles wrapped the reins around his hands and he also yelled for the horse to slow down, but the commands only frightened the animal as the scene quickly deteriorated into panic.

Mrs. Charles later described how her husband, determined to slow the rig, had tried to apply the brake harder but his foot slipped and the brake loosened.

"This frightened the horse still more and it dashed down the mountain at a terrible speed, with the wagon making a dreadful noise," she said. "We were all badly frightened for we were going faster than passenger trains run. In fact, it seemed that the horse was just being carried ahead and at a greater speed every second."

It all happened so fast, the passengers had little time to react.

"None of us had time to jump, for it all happened within a few minutes and we thought it would be more dangerous to jump than to take a chance by sitting still," Mrs. Charles explained.

"Calling to us that his foot was slipping, Charley ask us to sit still while he stood up to better keep all his weight on the brake," she continued. "In rising he must have pulled the horse to the left side of the road and the next it landed with a deafening crash against the large rocks which protruded from the road. All we could see were thousands of sparks when the wagon parted in two pieces and all was dark.

"The next I knew I found myself standing on the right side of the road, a mass of blood and holding onto a heavy guard rope. In a few seconds Leonard came up to me, calling that he was hurt and a man spoke to me and asked to let him help me into his automobile.

"I looked around but could see nothing. I heard several moans and I fainted. When I came to I was in the hospital."

Abe Ray, who lived a short distance below the scene of the accident, saw the frightened horse dash past his house pulling only two of the wheels from the rig. He and several other neighbors rushed to the scene where they found a scene of complete destruction.

The Tamaqua Courier reported that "the impact was so great that the wagon was smashed to pieces and all of the occupants thrown out, some being hurled a distance of 150 feet."

Ray ran to the telegraph office across the Schuylkill River for medical help.

Doctors arrived within 15 minutes but by then, two of the passengers - Mrs. John Remaley and Charles Herring - were already dead and another, Mrs. Henry Herring, 42, soon died at the scene. All three suffered massive head injuries.

Rushed by automobiles to the Panther Creek Valley Hospital were Mrs. Charles Herring, her son Leonard, and Mrs. Schultz. Mrs. Herring, suffered facial lacerations and a sprained back, but was able to return home after a day in the hospital.

Her son Leonard, the least injured, was treated for a cut hand and discharged. Shultz, who suffered severe facial lacerations and had several teeth knocked out, said she remembered nothing from the time the wagon struck the rocks until the time she regained consciousness at the hospital.

"It cast a gloom over the whole town and Panther Creek Valley," the Courier stated. "Old residents of this section state that the accident was one of the worst the town has ever experienced."

The bodies of two of the victims - Mrs. Remaley and Mrs. Henry Herring - were interred in the Lutheran cemetery in Tamaqua, while Charles Herring was buried in Summit Hill.

Days after the tragic event, people from the surrounding area continued to visit the accident site where a day of leisurely berry-picking ended with an accident nightmare.

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