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Fallen Tamaqua police officer remembered

Tamaqua’s only cop to die in the line of duty was remembered Friday, 143 years after his tragic death.

Representatives of the Fallen Heroes Wreath Program met with local law enforcement officers at Odd Fellows Cemetery to lay a wreath at the grave of officer Benjamin Franklin Yost.

The ceremony was part of a larger movement by Philadelphia-based volunteers who want fallen officers’ families to know their loved ones didn’t die in vain.

“This is being done across the country, more than 1,000 wreaths,” said retired Philadelphia officer Chip Burnett of Jim Thorpe. Burnett was joined by retired officer Ray Attewell of Jim Thorpe. Both men were accompanied by their wives, Kathy and Rose, respectively.

Active officers taking part were Michael Hobbs, Rick Bekesy and Corey Herring, of the Tamaqua police department, and former Tamaqua officer Charles Whitehead, now with Salisbury Township police.

Guests on hand included Mike and Barbara Mecchella of Philadelphia.

Yost was 34 when killed on July 6, 1875, allegedly by a member of the Molly Maguires, a reputed secret society consisting of Irish Catholic coal miners who fought to improve working conditions.

The ambush-style killing, in which Yost was shot as he made his way up a small step ladder to extinguish a gas lamp at the corner of West Broad and North Lehigh Street, is now regarded as the turning point in the existence of the Mollies.

As a result of the tragedy, Yost’s brother-in-law, Daniel M.B. Shepp, merchant and borough council president, traveled to Philadelphia and enlisted the aid of Pinkerton detective James McParlan.

McParlan infiltrated the ranks of the Mollies under assumed identity to finally bring an end to what some call the reign of terror in Pennsylvania’s southern coal fields.

As for Yost, he suffered for hours before dying at home in his wife’s arms. He was buried a month after his death in a grave in the Shepp family plot, across from the Soldiers’ Circle in a section of the cemetery reserved for Tamaqua’s prominent families.

However, his specific grave remained unmarked for 124 years. Some say it was kept anonymous for fear it would be desecrated by Molly sympathizers. Eventually, the exact location was lost and forgotten until the 1990s when a depression appeared in the ground — likely due to the rotting away of the wood casket containing Yost’s remains.

In June 1999, a grave marker was donated, and the community, in the spirit of education and cultural enrichment, conducted a re-enactment of the late-night shooting and subsequent funeral to recall events of that era and pay tribute to Yost.

Active and retired law enforcement officers taking part in a ceremony Friday to honor fallen Tamaqua policeman Benjamin Yost are, from left: Charles Whitehead, Chip Burnett, Rick Bekesy, Michael Hobbs, Corey Herring and Ray Attewell. ROSE ATTEWELL/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS