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A busy spring for the news

Published May 07. 2011 09:00AM

By jim zbick

Local residents had their thirst for news well satisfied during the spring of 1911.

A variety of stories - ranging from the action-packed to the humorous to the scandalous - made front-page news in the Tamaqua Courier.

The scandalous and tragic life of Rev. J. A. Bennett, a former Lansford pastor, had area residents buzzing that spring. For those who were familiar with the pastor's wandering and lustful lifestyle, news of his sudden demise on the West Coast was not all that shocking.

While pastoring the Methodist Episcopal Church in Lansford in the early 1900s, Bennett mysteriously disappeared while supposedly attending a church conference in Harrisburg. The local gossip mill had been buzzing about the pastor's personal life for weeks prior to his trip and disappearance. The stories concerned his neglect for his wife and four children and his consorting with a member of the church choir.

During the church conference trip, his wife found a letter in which Bennet said he would never be heard from again. He also denied all rumors of leading a double life, claiming that he had always been faithful to his family.

When Harrisburg police found a suitcase and an overcoat lying on a bridge spanning the Susquehanna River, they began looking at the case as a possible suicide. No body was discovered, however, and several months later, Bennett surfaced in New York state.

There was a reconciliation between the pastor, his wife and children, and by this time they were living in Lancaster. All was going well before another alleged romance with a member of his church choir was charged. This time, he abandoned his wife and children and eloped to the West Coast with the young girl.

About eight years later, Bennett reportedly deserted his "girl-wife" for another church-goer in Los Angeles. With this woman, however, the wandering pastor met his doom.

"They lived together about a year, but when he attempted his old tricks on her, she followed him to a small town outside of Los Angeles where he had gone with another young girl," the Tamaqua Courier reported. "When she discovered his cupidity and black past record, she lost no time in putting a bullet in his heart. He had trifled with the affections of a girl-wife once too often.

One of the top action stories of the spring of 1911 involved a Pottsville constable named S. A. Hogan, whom one Tamaqua reporter identified as a "terror to evil doers."

Andrew Shamus of New Philadelphia found out just how persistent the constable was one day when Hogan showed up at his house with an arrest warrant. Shamus, whose license to sell liquor had expired, was charged by a wholesale liquor firm for "secreting his goods with intention to defraud a creditor." After closing his establishment, he began hiding his stock.

When Hogan showed up, Shamus was hiding in the upstairs of his house. Hogan, suspecting Shamus would bolt, was going up the steps when Shamus jumped out the window. Just like in the movies - but without the benefit of a stunt man - Hogan followed.

"The constable leaped after him and, with the assistance of Constable Fogarty of New Philadelphia, succeeded in capturing the fugitive," the Courier reported. Shamus was committed to jail in default of $5,000 bail.

More drama, this one involving a barking dog, helped avert a tragedy in Middleport. Early in the morning of April 13, a number of residents were awakened by the persistent barking of a dog. After peering out the window they saw the home of Andy Simons on High Street in flames. The family was aroused and rescued seconds before the house became a mass of flames.

"A few household articles were saved but the house burned to the ground," the Courier reported, "at a loss of $1,200."

That same day in Mahanoy City a mother's "forgetfulness" nearly cost the lives of her three small children. Mrs. Morris Janowicz, whose husband Morris was a shirt manufacturer, was alone in the house with her children when she discovered a fire in the cellar of the home, which was caused by an overheated furnace pipe. She managed to grope her way through the smoke to the outside but a reporter stated she "never thought of the little ones until the firemen arrived."

By the time firemen reached the tots, they were unconscious "and more dead than alive." Three doctors worked on them for an hour before they were finally able to resuscitate them.

When it comes to frivolous lawsuits, one of the funniest cases involved Edward Stewart of Lansford who was arrested for butchering a man's hair with horse clippers. It began when William Seip, a miner for L. C. & N., came into Stewart's stable while the latter was clipping a horse.

When Seip asked if he could have his hair clipped, Stewart accommodated him. When Sept got home, however, his sister went ballistic at the sight of the poor crop job.

She swore out a warrant for Stewart's arrest, alleging that her brother had been intoxicated when he asked to be clipped with the horse shears. Rather than give bail for so trivial an offense, Stewart opted to go to jail for a day.

A grand jury, however, ignored the case and Stewart was liberated, ending "what promised to be a very interesting and unique case," the Courier stated.

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