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Along the trolley lines, danger & death

  • FROM THE BRAD HAUPT COLLECTION One of many trolley accidents. This one at the bottom of South Street, running headlong into the Lehighton Exchange Hotel sometime around 1905. James Blakslee Jr. is believed to be the first man in an overcoat at the…
    FROM THE BRAD HAUPT COLLECTION One of many trolley accidents. This one at the bottom of South Street, running headlong into the Lehighton Exchange Hotel sometime around 1905. James Blakslee Jr. is believed to be the first man in an overcoat at the rear of the car, with cane and white goatee.
Published January 18. 2014 09:00AM

(Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part article on the trolley cars in Carbon County, written and researched by Lehighton resident Ronald Rabenld.)


Special to the TIMES NEWS

The trolley was surely viewed with both excitement and trepidation. Surely, it made it easier for residents of local towns to visit one another. Still others complained of its dangers.

Just like the railroad accidents of those days as well as like the reports of car accidents today, the newspapers were filled with sensational accounts of injuries and fatalities from the trolleys.

An investigative perusal of the "Carbon Advocate" and the "Lehighton Press" newspapers from 1894 until 1910, finds 33 fatalities from trolleys occurring in the surrounding area. Ten of those fatalities happened in the immediate Lehighton, Jim Thorpe, and Panther Valley vicinities.

The first death reported in the local papers was in February of 1894, occurring near Harrisburg. Sixteen year old Myra Brown was coasting on her bobsled that collided with an electric car. Hugh Callery (five years old) was beheaded in Easton in November of 1894. John Edwards of Williamsport was struck on Christmas Day 1894 when the motorman was unable to stop the trolley in time. Snow-covered tracks were to blame.

Trolleys - and later cars - were considered a menace to those still conveying themselves by horse. In Bethlehem in January of 1895, Aaron Arner's horses became frightened, throwing him into the single-tree and he was dragged two blocks. "His skull was crushed and his face mashed. He cannot recover."

The first local death occurred in December 1897 in Mauch Chunk. "Johnnie," the seven-year-old son of Daniel O'Donnell, was beheaded by an electric car in front of the court house. Another boy, John Schlechler, age nine, was badly injured when struck by a trolley in Allentown. He was still alive when taken home but later died. His last words to his mother, "Don't cry mamma, I'm not hurt much."

The second local death also occurred in front of the court house in September of 1900. A farmer from Pleasant Corners in Mahoning Valley was making his only his second trip to Mauch Chunk to peddle his produce. He and his family of six had only recently relocated here from Allentown.

With his seven-year-old son Warren at the reins of his wagon, the horse became agitated as the trolley approached and lurched across the tracks. The car struck the wagon, sending the boy hurtling. He was somehow saved by the efforts of the conductor.

However, his father was not so lucky. Farmer Lewis A. Wehr was cut in two. It was said that it took "quite a time" to remove his body from under the car. He was only 38 and was buried back in Allentown, where his family eventually returned.

In August of 1906, the carriage carrying Milton Whetstone, a cashier at Citizens' National Bank, and fellow cashier, Daniel McGeehan, was struck while crossing the line two miles east of Lansford. McGeehan, 26, claimed the lights showed "safe" to cross. He recuperated in Ashland Hospital. Thirty-three year old Whetstone was killed.

Deaths by pranks

and foolishness

In Lehighton, seventy-three year old Daniel Wert died because of Robert Crum's recklessness. Sixteen-year-old Crum was trying to race the street trolley with his horse and buggy. Wert was crossing the street on foot "directly under a big arc light" at the corner of Second and South Streets but did not hear the approaching danger.

He was run down by Crum's buggy. He was a Civil War veteran of the 173rd PA Infantry Regiment, Company D, and is buried in Gnaden Hutten Cemetery.

Wert's death was the first of three local trolley deaths due to pranksters and foolishness. In September of 1901, Caroline Frederica "Carrie" Martz, eight years old, was playing in her yard with her neighbor friend Lillian Ryan on North Street in East Mauch Chunk.

Up above on the hill, a group of "reckless" boys uncoupled a trolley, causing it to run away uncontrolled into the Martz family yard. Lillian Ryan survived her injuries. Carrie Martz died from a crushed skull.

Another death occurred as a result of a prank on the Fourth of July in 1902. Miss Bertha Stuckley was walking along the street in Mauch Chunk when a passing trolley exploded a "signal torpedo."

The intended purpose of these torpedoes was for a safety warning to be deployed by workers in remote areas on regular freight and passenger lines if a track became obstructed due to a delay or a disabled train. They were not intended for the use within neighborhoods and cities.

Upon the explosion of the torpedo, a piece of metal hit Stuckley. The wound caused her death by blood-poisoning only a few days later. The youngsters probably had no idea their prank would lead to her death.

Murder along

the trolley

The first use of a trolley used in a criminal escape happened when former state representative and hotel owner James Griner murdered his step-daughter, Mrs. Caroline Shiffer.

Mrs. Shiffer had filed a $260 judgment against him for back-pay owed to her as cook at his hotel. He confronted her in the dining room of his "Pullman Hotel" in Duryea, firing three times missing with the first two.

The third shot pierced her heart. He was said to have "coolly" jumped into a passing trolley and rode it to Pittston where he gave himself up.

An even grimmer tale occurred outside Lehighton in the Beaver Run area, "below the safety switch on the south-side of the Flagstaff." A Slovenian from Lansford by the name of Yohuba Olexin had his body mutilated and leg cut off by the trolley on the night of September 26th, 1906.

Oddly though, no moans or sounds were heard by the trolley men and passengers who quickly investigated the body. They also determined his head and hands were as cold as someone who was dead for at least several hours.

The coroner's investigation concluded he was murdered and placed on the tracks as a cover. They blamed the deed on a group known as the "Black Hand Society." The paper claimed such a group existed among the "foreigners" of that time. Olexin's brother's murder in Lansford several years before was also attributed to the same society.

Not even the well-connected to the rail industry were immune from its accidents. The Superintendent of the Packerton Yards, Edwin G. Rouse was severely injured in a trolley wreck that occurred while he was visiting his uncle in Bangor. The paper said he "badly" sprained his back.

The deadly leap

at the Flagstaff

In 1910, two trolleys collided just below the crest of the summit at Flagstaff. The car loaded with 28 passengers was considered an "extra car." They were making their way up the mountain from the Switchback Station a few minutes behind the regularly scheduled car.

Unknowingly, a repair car conducted by William Hatrick entered the line near the Beaver Run wagon road intersection between these two cars. The repair car was headed directly toward the extra car, down the incline at a "lively rate" of speed. Seeing the repair car coming toward them and trying to avoid a collision, the extra car driven by motorman Adam Daffner quickly reversed itself back toward Lentz Trail.

According to jury's inquest, (which occurred within the rapid space of a week of the accident) and despite Daffner's and Conductor Howard Minnich's pleas and attempts to calm them, telling them to remain seated, many of the passengers became "hysterical."

Though strongly dissuaded and some being physically restrained from doing so, a small group of women were still able to successfully jump from the moving car. Those women being Mrs. Herman Beissert, Miss Lottie Beissers, Misses Bertha and Vivia Perschel, Miss Alice Boyle, and Miss Mary Cunningham.

Unfortunately, their leap was onto a steep embankment that caused their bodies to roll back onto the tracks. The repair car passed over and killed Mrs. Beissert and was said to only "mangle" Cunningham and Boyle.

Both the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central Railroads had special hospital cars. The Central car arrived first, dressed what wounds they could, and transported the victims to St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem.

Cunningham was from Mauch Chunk and Boyle was a teacher from Lansford. Boyle lost her left foot at the ankle and with a fractured leg was said to be "improving nicely." Mrs. Beissert was buried in her home town of Newark New Jersey. The inquest laid blame on the drivers of the repair car.

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