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Bizarre happenings, tragedies marred Halloween season in 1911

Published October 29. 2011 09:01AM

By jim zbick

Participation in Tamaqua's Halloween parade in 1911 was quite simple. The only requirement was to wear a mask.

Hundreds of mummers took part in the unofficial procession.

"Many fantastic and original costumes were on display on Broad Street and there was a good deal of good-natured jostling and pushing in the crowds, lots of weird and ear-splitting noise producers in use, but it was all orderly and respectable with no evidence of rowdyism," the Tamaqua Courier reported.

A large indoor ball was held by the Haymakers' Association at Walker's Hall. Winners of a $3 prize for the best costumed couple were Tillie Maurer and Millie Biekleman, while Sophie Kanute and Mrs. John Delzeit won a $2 prize for being the "most fantastic costumed couple."

Some bizarre and tragic stories emerged during the Halloween season in other parts of the country.

Courier readers were chilled to learn of an ax murderer on the loose in the small town of Ellsworth, Kansas. Investigators there had no motive in the grisly murders in which a couple and their three children were hacked as they slept in their beds.

Another family tragedy occurred in Parkersburg, Va., on Halloween eve when a distraught man broke down the door of his wife's parents' home, shot them both, and then seriously wounded his wife. He then turned the gun on himself.

There was no motive but one source reported that the rampage was the culmination of "numerous quarrels."

Several poisonings also made front page news.

In Philadelphia, 15-month-old Hazel Griffith awoke from her sleep, went to her mother's room, climbed onto a chair near her bed and took several strychnine tablets from a table. After swallowing the pills, she fell to the floor.

Her mother, who was paralyzed, desperately tried to raise her hand and prevent the girl from taking the tablets. The girl's father had just returned home when he heard his wife's frantic screams. The girl later died in the home of the family physician.

A mine tragedy in Dover, N.J., took the life of a dozen workers for the Wharton Steel Company. One reporter said the men were "caught like rats in a trap" when the water poured into an abandoned shaft, drowning them all.

Some strange local stories also occurred during the Halloween season. One incident involved Charles Deem of Mahanoy City and Paul Wallavage, a co-worker at the North Mahanoy Colliery. After months of bullying, taunts and insults by Deem, Wallavage decided to lash back.

After shoving Wallavage out of the way one day, Deem added to the insult by stating "Get away, your breath's bad."

Wallavage retaliated by grabbing a bar and throwing it at Deem. One reporter said after Deem was hit, he fell "like a log."

Wallavage, 45, the father of four children, was charged with murder. In defense, he said he had been taunted "practically all his life" about his taste for garlic, which led to Deem's bad breath remark.

"He says he had no intention of killing Deem, but that he could no longer bear the taunts and jeers of his fellow employee," the writer stated.

At about the same time, Tamaqua readers learned of a strange and near-tragic incident on the day of a wedding much closer to home.

The day was expected to be a joyous occasion for the bride, a "pretty Lithuanian girl" who resided on Dutch Hill. A group of her fellow countryman decided to start celebrating early, which, according to one writer, was not unusual.

"While the American class of people do not celebrate weddings until the ceremony has been performed and the reception is in progress, the Lithuanians adopt a different plan," he said. "They celebrate from the time the wedding is first announced and usually there are some sore and battered heads before it terminates."

In this instance, the drinking began early in the morning and lasted the night. An trivial argument over the bride's age turned physical when one combatant named Philip Ambrose was bullied into a corner and his assailants "commenced to scalp him alive" with a knife. The assault left him "more dead than alive."

One final story during late October involved the appearance of a doomsday prophet named William Newly, whom the Courier referred to as the "Great Pacifier." Newly claimed his mission in Tamaqua was to "separate the sheep from the goats."

A reporter said Newly was "wandering the streets with a vacant expression, hair hanging long over his shoulders."

Not impressed by Newly's appearance or his message, Tamaqua's police chief hauled him off to jail

"He will have considerable time to meditate and converse with the drunks and other prisoners who were serving time," the reporter joked.

After an examination, two physicians supported the police chief's action, determining that Newly was "totally unbalanced and unfit to be at large."

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