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Two tragic deaths rocked Lansford residents in 1912

Published October 13. 2012 09:01AM

Within a month during the fall of 1912, Lansford residents were shocked by the deaths of two noteworthy persons in town.

In September, Spenser Herbert, who the Tamaqua Courier described as a fine pianist and "one of the best read men" in the Panther Valley area, died in his home of "chronic Bright's" which was an an older classification for the different forms of kidney disease.

Herbert, just 21, had rallied a number of times from his sickbed before finally succumbing to the disease. Surrounded by his family members and friends, he found the strength to say a final heart-wrenching goodbye.

"He turned to his friends about the bed, waved his hand not feebly but with strength and courage and announced, 'Goodbye boys, I'm going.' With that he fell back on the pillow, turned his head slightly and was dead," the Tamaqua Courier stated.

While many were prepared for Herbert's death, no one in Lansford could have imagined that within a month, it would also lose Morgan Morgans, a popular police officer in town.

The Lansford Record described Morgans as a "fearless, but cool headed" officer and "was much feared by law breakers and local bums who generally gave him a wide berth."

Even his reputation outside the town was well known. On reporting the death, The Mauch Chunk Daily Times called Morgans a "popular citizen" and "a fearless and efficient officer."

The tragic night

On the night of his death, Morgans was investigating some "suspicious characters" seen around the Ridge House, a hotel operated by the Thomas family. Members of the family, including Mrs. Phillip Thomas' 18-year-old granddaughter Florence, had been concerned in previous days after seeing men lurking about the property.

Morgans was on another police matter that evening when he passed the Thomas lot and noticed two men crouching near a fence. At Mrs. Thomas' request, Morgans returned to the hotel later in the evening to investigate.

Mrs. Thomas saw Morgans arrive on the property. Seeing a light on in the cellar, the officer investigated. Carrying a flashlight, he found "a number of burnt matches," furthering his suspicion that someone had indeed been on the property.

After returning to the front yard, Morgans was asked what time it was by someone - possibly David Thomas - and answered "it is just 15 minutes of two."

On hearing the activity outside, Florence and her aunt, Miss Rebecca, turned on the lights and rushed down the stairs. Seeing the lights come on, Morgans walked to the side porch and rapped on the dining room door.

Witnesses remembered hearing the officer announce himself with either, "This is Morgans" or "This is the police."

When Florence Thomas, who was armed with her Uncle David's revolver, opened the door she was surprised to see a large figure standing in the doorway. Morgans meanwhile, believing she had opened the door to let him in, made a step forward when Florence fired the gun at point blank range. After the bullet struck the officer above the right eye, his body reeled and fell off the porch.

"Miss Thomas, realizing her tragic mistake, stepped out on the porch, threw down the revolver, and cried out 'I've shot him!'" the Courier stated.

Attorney W. D. Lewis was one of the first officials on the scene and was soon joined by Doctors Young, Buckley and Neumiller. Morgans was immediately transported to Panther Creek Valley Hospital in Neumiller's automobile.

Morgans never regained consciousness and died about two hours after the shooting.

"While the community is mourning the loss of a good and faithful officer who died at his post a martyr to duty, his wife and five children are mourning the loss of a devoted husband and a kind indulgent father," the Lansford Record reported.

A coroner's jury consisting of James McGilloway, Dr. Franklin Mauer, Harry Pry, Donald Neumiller, John L. Boyle and Warren Holmes, ruled the shooting accidental. Although Florence fired one shot, two other spent cartridges were found with the revolver. David Thomas reportedly fired two shots on a previous night to scare off robbers.

Florence's aunt Rebecca stated that when the girl awakened from sleep that fateful night, she did not know that the police were moving about the property. The girl then believed that the activity she heard was caused by robbers trying to get inside the home.

"She said they did not hear Morgans announce himself and the girl did not recognize him when she saw the man standing in the shadow after throwing open the door," the Courier stated.

Three days later, Rev. Teilo Evans of the Welsh Baptist Church conducted funeral services for Morgans who was laid to rest at the GAR Cemetery in Summit Hill.

No one blamed Florence who the Courier described as "one of the most popular and best pupils in her class."

In a sad irony, the brother of the slain officer was a member of the same graduating class.

"He and Miss Thomas have been close friends," one writer said in sad reflection.

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