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Under my hat: Man on a mission

His calm voice and mild-mannered demeanor belied a vigorous, relentless approach to journalism and life.

He was a writer with an insatiable appetite for the unknown and unknowable.

The native of Mahanoy City worked for dailies in his hometown, along with Shenandoah, Hazleton, Tamaqua, Philadelphia and even Montreal when his family lived there.

In his career, he covered news and sports, but reveled in penning human-interest stories that captured the imagination.

His coverage of the historic 1963 Sheppton Mine Disaster was compelling. For instance, he spent time with survivor David Fellin and explored the mysteries of near-death and out-of-body experiences.

Heavy stuff. Fascinating. Conrad was inquisitive to the max.

But his most notable hour happened one warm summer day in June 1981.

While on one of his routine walks through the anthracite mountains of Mahanoy City and Shenandoah, Ed discovered in a coal seam what he believed to be petrified human bones.

On subsequent hunts, he discovered thousands of fossilized specimens that he said were bones, teeth, soft tissue and even a petrified brain.

What it proves, he said, is that man - or a close predecessor - walked the Earth when coal was being formed during the Carboniferous period some 300 million years ago. That statement contradicts established science, and Conrad dedicated himself to setting the record straight. Simply put, humans have been on Earth much longer than generally accepted, he said.

His resulting work on the subject shook up the scientific community. He was invited to the Smithsonian.

He traveled to Switzerland and Germany, where many of his fossil exhibits were displayed at international science shows.

So when science tries to say that humans and pre-humans evolved on Earth no more than 65 million years ago, Conrad begged to differ. The proof shows otherwise, he said.

Not all scientists were on board with Conrad’s theories. Far from it. Many scoffed. They said Conrad’s quest was preposterous. They likened Conrad to a modern-day Don Quixote, taking up a hopeless gauntlet against the lofty windmills of science. He was the subject of criticism and even ridicule.

I spent a day with him in 2005 and interviewed him for a story. I already had known him for decades and so he was comfortable opening up to me about his exploits.

“Man and animals had one thing in common,” he said. “Both were annihilated in some incredible catastrophe that blew them limb from limb and scattered their bones, teeth and soft organs in all directions. A catastrophe occurred and hydrocarbons rained on Earth. That resulted in the formation of oil and coal. It transformed the planet. It was worse than an earthquake. It might have been an asteroid hitting Earth.”

He said it scattered bones in such a way that he had not found a single skeleton intact.

“Are you a creationist,” I asked.

“No,” he said. “My mission is not about labeling people. I do believe in a Creator but I’m not a creationist and I’m not an evolutionist. I’m just someone searching for the truth.”

Like a prizefighter, Conrad sparred inside the ring of scientific scrutiny, always fighting the good fight. Never backing down.

The truth will emerge, he said. Its time will come. And when it does, it’ll be solid as a rock.

Conrad also hoped that a museum devoted to fossils would be established in the coal region.

He believed the history of man is etched in stone and is there for anyone who cares to read it.

He retired from journalism but never retired from his passion to get to the bottom of every story, even if the story was the origins of man.

I cherished time spent with him because I always walked away with a sense of wonder.

Ed Conrad spent his final days at Ridgeview Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Shenandoah Heights.

He passed on Nov. 19 at 81.

Contact Donald R. Serfass at dserfass@tnonline.com.

Journalist Ed Conrad sits on his front porch with pet husky “Blue” in 2005 and explains how he stumbled across fossils that appear to be petrified human bones. ARCHIVES/DONALD R. SERFASS