Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Chester P. Mertz

Chester P. Mertz lived without entanglements.  He was not timid.  He was not brash.  

And he’d be upset with me for writing this.

I am not sure how much of his story I can tell and still keep my word.  

And for that, this might be my hardest blog post to date.

The Mahoning Mertz's were a big family.  Chester's father Ambrose "Amby" was one of fifteen children.  Most lived to adulthood.

His mother Sarah was a distant Mertz cousin of Amby.  She was one of five daughters.  Her sister Lillian married Moses Heilman and their large family grew up next door to Amby and Sarah's small family of three:  Chester was an only child.

Sarah and Lillian's sister Carrie Mertz lived in the home of her parents next to all her cousins and her school.  She was from the old notion that for a woman, once you chose to teach, you either married and resigned or never marry.  

She never drove or married and taught school across the street at the Sandel School (Today's Union Sunday School, where Chester continued to play the organ up until recently).  Carrie was one of several of Mertz family that relied on Chester to drive them and to take care of them in the later years. 

This is the school all the Mertz and Heilman children attended.  Carrie taught all of them at one time, First through Eighth grades.  The fourth sister, Elsie Mertz Mosser was also a teacher.  One of them took a horse and buggy past today's Charlie Snyder Tractors to teach in the one room schoolhouse there.

And even though it was the Depression, and the children had a wide range of farm and chore duties, growing up there immersed in love and family sounds so ideal today in a society that is rushed and somewhat fragmented, distanced from each other with too many modern responsibilities and technology's crutch of false connectedness.

His 1931 class picture looks like something from "Our Gang."
This is the 1931 picture of the Sandal School First through Eight grades taught by Chester's Aunt Carrie Mertz.  Chester is bottom row, third from left.  Two rows above him are a pair of twins with piercing eyes.  If anyone knows any other people in this picture please let me know.


So suffice it to say this is all I am comfortable telling for now.  But as I see fit and as I feel his story needs to be told, I will re-visit this post and add more.  But as for now, this is all.

So many people knew Chester.  He was so social, he seemed to be everywhere.  And yet, he rarely if ever, thought of himself first.  It's hard not to make a god out of him.

He was my number one reference point, he was my Mahoning Valley local history instant Google search.  He always answered his phone or always returned the call.  I feel a tremendous loss of knowledge, a void that is saddening me more as the reality of his departure is sinking in.

There are several posts on this site where Chester's wit and wisdom still lives.

Today was the day we buried him, a day we all said goodbye to the best of friends.

Chester was always diligent and faithful to all his family and friends.
Chester weeds at the grave of his parents, just up the slope from his own grave,
leaving little unfinished burden on others.

Last June I finally got the call I'd hope I'd get from him.  He said he wanted to sell me his truck.

We celebrated the sale with lunch at the Boulevard, chicken barbecue with a cup of beef, barley and vegetable.  It was Chester's treat.

We did some porch sitting.  One of the best porches in all Mahoning Valley.  We said our good byes with enough said.  And as his truck left the driveway that night, I could hear Chester call from the kitchen, “Now mind the gas gauge.” 

Dear Chester,
It must be hard for you
To see them all so proud.
But Chester

Could you play,
Just a little?

That lets me close my eyes, 

Some ragtime,
Something new,

But play it from your shoulders,

Like Joplin used to do.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Stumble in, Fall Out" - The Life and Art of William "Hicks" Bergenstock

Hicks was living as caretaker on a remote piece of unoccupied land owned by Tom "Spook" Doughtery in Meckesville.

“Aren’t you afraid to live out here, all by yourself?” asked the young visitor.

William "Hicks" Bergenstock outside Berger's Hotel in Albrightsville.
Most who knew him considered "Hicks" to be his last name.
His paintings were simply signed "Wm. Hicks."
His gravestone simply reads "Bergenstock."
Picture courtesy of Jean Keiper.
Hicks answered by reaching beneath his pillow.  His arm swept through the air in a circle, retrieving the revolver in one motion.  

But his index finger deflexed on the return arch.  The two reeled from shock of the crack as dust swirled around the sunlight coming through the plank and clapboard wall.   
The youngster had to promise never to mention it to anyone what happened, least of all to Spook.

The one room shanty was one of many homes for Hicks.  Both as a child and throughout his life, he moved around a lot.  

Besides Spook, Hicks lived with Roger Meckes, at Bergers Hotel, at the Getzs, and with anyone who would take him in, in exchange for paint or wall-paper hanging. 

Hicks cultivated a simple and happy life, enriched by his artistic and musical talents even though it sprouted from a childhood garden of turmoil.
Hicks' Mandolin - A gift from Hicks to Jean Keiper.
She remembers Hicks singing to her and teaching
her guitar and mandolin as a little girl.
One of his favorite songs: Red River Valley.

Adversity can pull a family together or it can tear it asunder.  

William Alfred "Hicks" Bergenstock was born to Alfred and Emma (Beidler) on January 25, 1890.  He was the grandson of a Civil War private, Henry Bergenstock. 

Alfred and Emma Beidler married at Allentown’s Salem United Methodist Church when he was twenty-one and Emma was one day shy of her eighteenth birthday.  The next year, Alfred’s father died.

Their family soon followed.  Alfred and Emma first had three boys and then four girls.  William or “Hicks” was the second oldest.  All were the men worked as moulders in an iron works early on.  
His paintings were signed with a simple "Wm. Hicks."   Either this was more
convenient than
writing out "Bergenstock" or he simply preferred to be known
by Hicks is unclear.  His talent was undeniable. 

For Mabel's 15th birthday in 1911 there was much music and merriment.  

Hicks sang bass in a quartet self-proclaimed as “Holy-tare-ra Rib-and-tare-re” with fellow iron moulder Adam Strohl (baritone), Peter Brendel (second tenor) and “Monks” Reese (first tenor).  

Hicks also played some “ragtime” songs on the piano.  The night was complete with food and a session of haas-im-pfeffer cards too.

A similar time was had later that year for the 20th birthday of brother Walter on Halloween.  This time, it was sister Mabel who gave the musical entertainment. 

(Mabel’s son, Russell Dauscher would later distinguish himself musically, playing trombone in the Allentown Band, Les Baer Orchestra, his own Russell Dauscher Orchestra, the Pioneer Band, Catasauqua Band, and the Dorney Park Riverboat Band.)
One of William "Hicks" Bergenstock paintings that remain at Chubby
Berger's Hotel in Albrightsville.

The Bergenstock family seemed to be on a pleasant path in 1911.

But there were unsteady tremors.

It was another year and another move into another rented apartment.  Father Alfred testified on behalf of Landlord Ed Henninger owner of a hotel known for its salacious and unsavory characters which was targeted by the Anti-Saloon league of Philadelphia.  
All the Bergenstock boys started work by the age of fourteen or younger.  And they all moved out by 1915.  Likewise the four sisters married their way out of the house by the time they were 18.  

Hicks seemed to bounce from job to job too.  At times a moulder, then in a shoe shop, then back as an apprentice in the steel works.  Somewhere along the way he lost an eye and permanently injured his right side.

He had a manner of walking that involved lunging forward by lifting his entire hip and leg as a stationary unit.  An injury that certainly could have occurred in the iron works in his young adult years. 

All three brothers were of the age to serve in World War I, but only Walter has a draft card.  Perhaps Hicks had already been disqualified due to physical impairment.

By 1917 Alfred was brought before the Allentown Aldermen on at least two separate occasions for desertion and non-support of his wife.  He offered some money to her, but Emma refused it on the grounds it wasn’t enough.

Hick’s brother Private Walter “Ellsworth” suffered a “serious wounding” in battle in September 1918.

The final unraveling of the Bergenstock family occurred on August 17th 1928.  

Alfred was estranged from Emma and living at the Order of Owls’ home in Allentown, working there as bartender.  At around 3:00 pm, Alfred placed a gun to his head and ended his life at 60.

Very little is known of Hicks during the twenty year period between the great wars.  

He disappears. His name is absent from all census and city records.

We do know creativity lurked within his mind taking shape in music, painting, and in making miniature toys of wood.  
Jean Keiper of Albrightsville has many fond memories of Hicks as a
young girl.  Like most people, she accepted for fact that his name
was William Hicks.  Not only did he sing for her and took time to
teach her to paint, he also gave her these miniature toys.  Several
residents of the area have similar items and paintings.

The wood work was a leftover from his shoe cobbler days.  

Many residents of Albrightsville still cherish these items made by Hicks.

One of his longest residences was at the American Hotel in old Mauch Chunk (today’s Inn at Jim Thorpe).  He lived there from at least 1940 to 1942.

Toys in Scale: The cradle is only 5 inches long.

It appears during this time he permanently severed all ties to his family.

On his draft card, Hicks put down Ben Freed as the person who would always know him.  (Freed owned the American Hotel and Hicks no doubt painted for him.)  (Hicks' brother Walter answered the same question on his draft card as "No One.")

Today, residents of Albrightsville have nothing but fond memories of him.

During one stay with the Getzs, Arsula Getz watched Hicks walk backwards up the back stairs to his room.  When she pressed him for a reason, Hicks replied, “So I won’t have to turn around when I come down tomorrow.”

One of many of Hicks' paintings that survive in the area.  A talented fine
art painter, he survived on painting interiors of homes and exteriors of barns.

When one Albrightsville couple was set to leave on a short honeymoon to Allentown, Hicks slipped one of his glass eyes into the bride's suitcase, explaining he could "look out" after them while they were gone.

Hicks lived a nomadic, bucolic life, never owing to a master.

Owning little in possession, still he rarely imposed on others for things like rides to town.  

Otherwise, he was as free as a bird.  He lived as though somehow whatever he needed would always be provided.

For one of his last homes, Hicks had permission to squat in a small, one-room house across from the Albrightsville Fire Company.  Neither a drunk or a teetotaler, Hicks knew how to have a good time.  A sign at the road welcomed all of similar spirit: "Stumble in and Fall out."

He lived the longest of everyone in his family, further evidence of a life well lived.

William Alfred Bergenstock died in Lehighton in February 1982, just after his 92nd birthday.  

One of his last paint jobs was for St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Albrightsville, the little white church with its own little graveyard atop a plateau in Northern Carbon County, a green patch of paradise of solitude for Hicks.

This last exchange assured Hicks of his final resting place there. 

He painted Christ's ascension, transcending the earth through the clouds.

A simple marker marks the end of a life that knew how to live a simple and happy life.

One of Hicks' final works, it assured his final resting place.
St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Albrightsville.

Hicks is nearly in the far corner of St. Paul's graveyard.  A simple marker
reads "Bergenstock."

The Remains:

Alfred Bergenstock defended the reputation of Ed Henninger, an Allentown saloon owner, in court.  He either moonlighted or patronized his hotels (the Astoria and American) in Allentown.  

The Philadelphia Anti-Saloon League brought the case to trial in Allentown in 1909 after a sting operation.  They produced a long list of women (of dubious backgrounds) who were called to testify. 

One woman was accused of feeding her infant while drinking a beer.  Livelihoods were questioned.  Detectives testified the rates quoted to them by these women as $4 for a short time or $7 for overnight.  

Two of women refused to take the oath upon the Bible because they eschewed belief in the Christian faith.  Researching the names of these young women reveals a subculture of struggled and shortened lives.


None of the brothers ever settled and stayed in one place very long.  All of them seemed restless.  They boarded in short stretches mostly with strangers, occasionally with a sister, doing manual labor jobs.  

Only one of the three brothers may have married.  There is some evidence that Walter "Ellsworth" was briefly married in 1922 to an Elenoria Buchert.  If so, they had one child, Charles, who died after 25 days in September of 1922.  

None of Walter's subsequent records show he was ever married.  Severely wounded in action in September 1918, his 1934 application for veterans benefits declares no wife or children.  His WWII draft card answered "No one" to the question "Who will always know you?"  He is buried alone in Allentown's "Grandview Cemetery."  He died in February 1960. 

At one point Walter lived with Mabel’s estranged husband in Whitehall.  Mabel supported herself and their son by working in a cigar factory in Allentown.


Sister Helen spent the last 10 months of her life at the Allentown State Hospital.  A year prior, she took a near fatal dose of bichloride of mercury.  She died nearly two years later of the effects.

Though Alfred had deserted her in life, Emma stayed true to him in death.  She arranged herself to be buried next to him in Highland Memorial Park in Allentown.  

Helen is buried with them.   She was the youngest and first of the siblings to die. It is unclear where her surviving husband Charles is buried.  


Oldest brother Edward Henry Bergenstock apparently drifted his way out to Ohio.  Social Security records indicate an "Edward H. Bergenstock" born in Pennsylvania on 1 December 1888, died there in November 1963.  His headstone in Highland Hills Ohio gives no birth information.  There is no record of him having a family there.


Along with his father, two friends of Hicks also took their own lives.

Adam Strohl, an early friend from the iron foundry and quartet partner, drown himself in the Lehigh River in 1935.  He left a widow Emma at 529 Hickory St in Allentown.

American Hotel owner Ben Freed was two years younger than Hicks.  Of Jewish-Russian descent, he emigrated here from England.  He distinguishing himself locally by owning movie houses in Weatherly and White Haven before purchasing the American Hotel.  He served America in WWI.

Freed took his own life feeling despondent over the loss of control over his bowels, bladder and legs in 1959.  He took a heavy rubber band to tighten a plastic bag over his head.


Mabel seemed to have been the one who held the family together.  Her name appears more than any other on important family papers and death certificates.  

Their mother Emma lived her last years in her home.  Mabel's husband Calvin appears to have deserted her sometime after Emma’s death in 1936.

Sister Eva is buried with her husband Fred Brown in Northwood Cemetery in Emmaus.

Mabel's estranged husband is buried in St. Mark's in Allentown.  

There's no record of a grave for Mabel.  


There is no way of knowing whether Hicks knew about the deaths of his family and friends.  Those who knew him cannot recall him ever talking about his family.  

Speaking to two relatives of his alive today, a nephew and great nephew, neither man can recall knowing more than being related to the Bergenstocks.  

Neither man knew their uncle nor had any evidence from his life.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Albrightsville: The Fire and the Fury Part 2 - "The Fury"

So the Devil was Waiting…
“…Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?...So I run to the rock, please hide me…But the rock cried out, ‘I can’t hide you’…I said, ‘Rock, what’s a matter with you rock?  Don’t you see I need you, rock?’...So I run to the Lord, ‘Please hide me Lord, don’t you see me prayin’?’… The Lord said, go to the Devil…So the Devil was waitin’…” ~Nina Simone “Sinnerman”
“Most men there serve as guides during the hunting season.  Otherwise they grow potatoes or do a little lumbering.  Hardly anybody but hunters ever go in that section and when they want a deer, one of those swamp men will get him one.” ~Samuel W. Hofford, clerk of U.S. court in Scranton in 1933 and former Carbon County resident.
Long-line of undertakers and hunters of the Pine Swamp - Henry C. Melber (l) with sons Ed Melber and Harry Melber with his son Nathan Melber, proudly display their readiness for bird hunting, a tradition that is still carried on by the successive generation (5) of Melbers being undertakers and hunters.  Henry was the originator, starting as a furniture maker in Mauch Chunk.  Great, great grandson Tom Melber and his son Nathan continue in Jim Thorpe and Weissport today.    
Everyone fights their own war.

Folks in the Pine Swamp had no more, and most likely no less, distress than most anyone else.

But it was a devil’s sequester: far from the “city” life of say Mauch Chunk or Lehighton. 

People vanished here.

The embrace of a bear.
Jacob Hait brought the Pine Swamp bruin down with a gunshot, presumed it to be dead, and knelt beside it “to draw the blood.”  
Jacob Hait grew up in Tannery and later lived in the Pine Swamp,
though no census record exists for him after the 1880 Census.

With one mighty and final stroke of power, the bear swiped a paw downward, breaking Hait’s neck and drawing his face into his mouth.

They found both Hait and the bear in a death embrace. 

His parents, John and Sally Hait, show up in the records in Tannery in the 1870s and 1880s with Jacob, Eliza and other children.  The article of Jacob’s death said he lived in the Pine Swamp, but no record exists of him after the 1880 Census.

The Pine Swamp was so rural, many folks were simply invisible to the Census takers of those days.

“Stumble in and fall out.”
“Hicks” Bergenstock lived the life of a hobo.  He’d traded in paint: painting interiors of farmhouses and exteriors of barns in exchange for room and board. 

At times he traded the isolation of the Pine Swamp for the bustle of city life in Mauch Chunk, painting while living in the American Hotel. 

By the 1940s, he squatted on a patch of land across from the Albrightsville Fire Co, his mailbox said it all: “Stumble in and Fall out.”

Hicks is remembered today for his painting of Christ in the clouds at St Paul’s Lutheran.  His final and most permanent residence is there, in the rear of the church graveyard, a stone’s throw from his only other known address.

 “R.D. Ritter’s” wife packed on ice.

At least one swindler succeeded in using these north woods as cover for a con. 
On a summer day in 1892, teary-eyed “Ritter” (hereafter known as the “Swindler”) appeared before undertaker Harry C. Melber of Mauch Chunk to make arrangements for his wife.

Harry made the sober arrangements with the Swindler, promising a coffin and six chairs, for the weary mourners to sit upon, to be delivered up to Tannery the following Monday.

Harry’s bill of service came to $36.12.  Forthwith the Swindler provided him with a check for $42.00, drawn from the “Second National Bank of Wilkes-Barre.”  Harry coughed up the $6.12 difference in hard-earned currency and the con was complete.

The ever faithful Harry set out early Monday morning, up and over the dusty mountain road, the same used by the stage coach (today’s Old Stage Road), finding no said wife on no said ice.

And then there was blood.
Two murder-suicides occurred with two months, and later, two suicides occurred between two sister-in-laws within ten days.

Two Murder Suicides:
Benjamin and Ellamanda Kresge were longtime homesteaders of Leonardsville, near Hayes Creek.  Their daughter Margaret “Maggie” Kresge received many proposals from “Big John” Woblan, by some accounts the two were lovers.  Big John worked at the neighboring Mel Dotter farm.
Margaret "Maggie" Kresge - Killed
by her lover in Kidder Township.
Just why she objected to his overtures is unclear.  However on a Thursday afternoon on September 19, 1912, he gunned Maggie down in the kitchen of her parents’ home. 

Big John then went to shoot himself, on her back porch.  Maggie was just nineteen and John was 25.  She is buried in White Haven from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church there.
The home of Maggie Kresge near Hayes' Creek.

Two months later, Irwin Hawk lost control of his jealousies with his fiancĂ© and did the same to Mary “Mae” Gibson.

Irwin was the son of Jacob S. and Mable Hawk.  Jacob was a Civil War veteran, county commissioner, wintergreen distiller, sawmill owner, and hotel keeper who was born in Albrightsville.  His lumbering operations were disrupted in the Great
Benjamin Kresge and his horse Collie.  Benjamin
and Ellamanda were parents of Maggie.
Fire of 1875 (See Post #1 of “Fire and Fury”.)

Son Irwin, age 27, worked for his father as both a lumberman in the Pine Swamp as well as a bartender at the family hotel on Susquehanna Street in Mauch Chunk.  Mae Gibson, aged 28, worked there as a house keeper.

She died of two bullet wounds to the chest on November 29th, 1912.  Irwin died the following day in Palmerton Hospital, of a single shot to the right side of his head.

At first arrangements were being made to have her body taken to family back in New York City (she was born in England).  

However, through either a bittersweet change of heart or perhaps just for convenience, the two were buried side-by-side in Old Albrightsville Cemetery.

Ever faithful H. C. Melber handled the arrangements.

Sister-in-Law Suicide #1:
Roger Meckes was a hearty lumberman in the Pine Swamp, also known as Carbon’s “Christmas Tree King.”  

He also competed with Robert Getz for title of “The Potato King."  Over the years he employed different area men in this pursuit.  
April 1927 Scranton Republican - Mellie Meckes

Norman Eckley Sr., now of Lehighton, formerly of Meckesville, picked for Roger at $4.00 per day. 

Roger took leave each fall to the woods of Maine and Canada to secure freight cars of Christmas trees to resell here in Carbon, taking young Getz’s, Kibler’s, and Henning’s over the border to Quebec with him as helpers. 

Meckes was could be a hard man and known to be a bit of a rake.  His wife could bake a variety of pies, and still he’d hunger for what wasn’t there.

Whether out of kindness or opportunity, Rog’ even employed young widowed boarders and their sons to work his farm and timbering interests. 

Roger and his first wife Mellie (Eschenbach) took in his widowed, invalid step-mother (Rosanna Himmelberger) as well as his own children.  He also had for a time an adopted son George Shupp (whose mother Sarah Shupp bled to death near the end of her last pregnancy).

Mellie Meckes sought to schedule her own death, her opportunity was found in the death of Roger’s cousin Amandus Meckes.

Roger took the older children along with him to Amandus’ funeral which left Mellie at home with the eight-month-old, a toddler, and her sickly step-mother-in-law.
A young Roger Meckes from a family portrait with his
three sisters (Courtesy of Jean Keiper of Meckesville).

She took care of her morning duties and breakfast dishes.  She even churned some butter.  She saw Rosanna’s needs and tucked-in her eight-month-old.  

Then she took Roger’s .38 revolver for a 300-yard walk down Mauch Chunk road, in the fields beyond her back step, far enough, she’d hoped, to mute the sounds of her last sin.

Roger found her there upon his return late that night.  She was thirty-three.

Maria Getz answered the call of domestic assistance for Meckes.  Maria was the daughter of Freeman and Arsula Getz of Albrightsville.  (Grandson Charlie Getz still lives on their farm.) 

What was to be simple, temporary assistance, turned into either a romance or a permanent business arrangement.  Maria became Mrs. Roger Meckes the Second.

Sister-in-Law Suicide #2:
If one had any Pine Swamp gossip to dole, prudent discretion was certainly necessary.  Though these neighbors were flung apart on dirt roads and up the wilderness of sawmill creeks, their bloodlines made them tighter than a woolen girdle left out in the rain.
Pittston Gazette - May 1927 - Ella Meckes Altemose

The family names of Christman, Dotter, Eckley, Getz, Henning, Hibbler, Kibler, Meckes, and Van Horn dotted the limbs of most people’s family trees.

One “undercover” Meckes was Mrs. Ellamanda Altemouse, wife of Milton.  She was Roger’s sister and Mellie’s death ten days before encouraged her to do the same.

Milton knew Ella was fragile.  She battled private wars of depression for years.  He was always careful to take precautions with her during her downswings.  The shock of Mellie’s death seemed to resonant an ever increasing bleakness inside her ever darkening mind.

The children of Samuel and Isabella (Ziegenfuss) Meckes:
from left: Ellamanda, Emma Jane, Amelia and Roger.
Ellamanda married Milton Altemose and died in his arms.
The picture is circa 1900 (Courtesy of Jean Keiper).
Her extended morning absence to fetch fresh water wasn’t noticeable, until Milton went to shave and realized his razor was missing.

He found her in the woods, her neck opened from ear to ear.  She died moments later in his arms.

Thus this little hamlet of fewer than ninety people suffered two suicides in two weeks.  “Mental disorders” were blamed in both deaths.  She was 52, ten years younger than husband Milton.

Blurried Lines:
In June 1878, Rueben Serfass hired the 17-year-old wife who lived “up the road” to assist his wife, Caroline. 

Caroline Groat married George Brown in 1875 when she was just 15 and Brown was a spry forty-five.
The Carbon County DA took some flak from the local papers
for its handling of the Brown vs Serfass case in January of 1879.
The Brown's were represented by Gen. Charles Albright himself.

Both Caroline Brown and Caroline Searfoss had young, still nursing newborns.  

Emma Searfoss was born in February of 1877 and George Brown Jr. was born eight months later.

Both parties were satisfied with the arrangement.  The Browns received extra “pin money” and the Serfass’ increased their domestic bliss with a lightened load, for Emma was their seventh child, age twelve down to newborn.

Then one night things went south.

Mrs. Serfass made an overnight visit to her aging father in Towamensing.

Upon her return, Mrs Serfass found her home humming and gleaming.  She found all the coziness of the tidying and fresh baking to smack of a “crookedness hatched out of Gommorah.”  

The enraged Mrs Serfass gave Caroline Brown the boot.

According to later testimony of the Serfass', Mrs. Brown had forgot her place.  

Also according to the Serfass' testimony, the case against Mr. Serfass resulted from Mrs Brown feeling ashamed and jilted by her ousting of Mrs. Serfass.

However the Brown's maintained that Reuben was imposing certain extra domestic demands upon his young servant woman.
The record shows the young Mrs. Brown was a “novice making herself understood in English.”  The court hired regionally and nationally known character “Pit Schweffelbenner” (Mauch Chunk resident editor Captain Edward H. Rauch) to translate her testimony in her case against Reuben.

The trial exonerated Reuben.

Soon after, the Browns moved to Franklin Township.

Love and Death of Arlington Hay.
Some say similar passions were at work in the death of Arlington Hay, a handsome and well-liked man of the Pine Swamp.  A World War I veteran, he married Evelyn Wernett on May 30, 1920, in the city of Allentown.
Arlington Hay was a popular
and handsome man of the Pine
Swamp.  A WWI veteran
he died, some say poisoned,
early on in his marriage.

Family loyalty dictates who to believe.  Those in the Hay tree say Evelyn had fallen for Claude Kibler while Arlington was overseas, but married Hay anyway despite finding this new love.

They say she poisoned him with a pesticide used by local apple growers known as “Paris green,” so named for its use in that city to control the rat population back in the 19th-century.

Arlington fought a three-day battle with “indigestion due to drinking stagnant water,” which are the same symptoms of the said poison.

Hay served in WWI as a corporal in the 305th Motor Supply Train from April of 1918 until August of 1919. 

Brash Boy Bandits.

Edward and Joseph Lewis were hucksters from White Haven. 

Hucksters Edward and Joseph Lewis of White Haven robbed
by Frederick and Charles Wernett in May 1919.

During the broad-daylight robbery, one of the Lewis brothers had his ear creased from a pistol.  It took place four miles from the Wernettt Hotel.  

Suspicion quickly fell upon two rascals belonging to landlord Charles Wernett:  Frederick (age 20) and Charles Wernett Jr (age 18), brothers of Evelyn Wernett Hay Kibler. 

Their denials could not save them from a hearing before Squire Granville Rehrig in Mauch Chunk.  Not only were they innocent they claimed but they knew who did it.  It was the Van Horn brothers, most likely Harrison and either his brother Austin or Monroe they said. 

Magistrate Rehrig wasn’t fooled and immediately sent the Wernett’s to Judge Barber.  They were fined $500 each with costs and to serve not more than ten nor less than eight years in prison. 

However, it appears they served four years or less.  Charles Jr. married a Bethlehem woman in Lehigh County almost four years to the day of the incident.  He lived out his life in Bethelhem until his death in the 1970s.

Older brother Frederick worked for their father, who had a farm, lumbering and stave mill.  He also ran the Charles Wernett House with his brother Xavier until it burned down in October of 1948.  Frederick died of throat cancer in Bethlehem in the 1960s. 

Enter the one-armed school teacher.
Harry Wilkinson left his hometown of Freeland to teach.  Either from birth or accident, he was without his right arm.  

Early on, he was a night watchman in a Freeland Silk Mill, later turning to teaching: first in Foster Township and then, fatefully, a job in the Meckesville School appealed to him.
H.C. Wilkinson left Meckesville for Big Creek -
Seen here with graduates of Franklin Schools.  He
was Assistant Principal with B. M. Shull of Lehighton.

It wasn’t long before some “bad blood” developed between the new teacher (who was also serving as deputy game-agent) and the Henning family. 

Aquila Henning Jr., the 18-year-old son of “Quilly” Henning was arrested by Wilkinson for a game law violation some months before.

The rest of the story and the true motives of those involved is a Carbon County mystery lost to time.

What is known is that one of the dogs used by the Wilkinson family was shot and killed.  Earlier, according to Robert Wilkinson’s testimony, Aquila Henning Jr. taunted Wilkinson with threats against the family’s dogs.

Later, according to Robert, upon entering a clearing, he indeed found one of his dogs shot to death.  At the same time, “obscured behind a stump” was the elder Henning, Quilly,  who just took a potshot at Harry Wilkinson, scraping the top of his head.  (Some say two dogs were shot, others say one.)

Robert Wilkinson felt he needed quick action to prevent a second shot from killing his brother.   So he shot Aquila Henning Sr. with buckshot, flooding his lungs with blood.  

Harry Wilkinson quickly summoned help to carry Quilly out of the brush and arranged for a vehicle to take him over an “ancient logging” road, over the mountain to the Palmerton hospital.  He arrived there alive.

Some of Quilly’s last words to the staff included his denial of knowingly shooting at Wilkinson or his dogs.  He died within hours.

The subsequent trial sought justice for what the Henning family saw as murder. 

However the law saw it as justifiable self-defense and Robert Wilkinson was acquitted.

There were two other suits brought to court over the case.  
Woman of the wilderness: Annie Henning
Still dressed in black a year later, the “backwoodsman’s wife” Annie Henning, was back in court in November of 1933. 

She refused to take the $4,000 from the New York Life Insurance Company policy.  Annie was holding out for the $8,000 double indemnity clause she felt was owed.  

The witnesses called were as “characteristically rustic as herself.” Annie sat, unmoved, next to her counsel as Robert Wilkinson described the details of Quilly’s death with the accent “peculiar of those of that area.” 

At 31-year-old who looked to be still in his teens, his testimony never wavered. 

New York Life’s attorneys saw it as no accident, meaning they favored the Wilkinson testimony which proved in their eyes that Henning's malice is what resulted in his death. 

So they refused to double the payment.

 Annie returned home broken-hearted.

The Case versus Wenz:
Old Albrightsville Cemetery - Aquila's marker from the Wenz Company of
Allentown stirred controversy, depicting Henning as a victim of an ambush
by a one-armed man and accomplices, some with faces of dogs.
Five and a half years later, Harry Wilkinson sues the Wenz Memorial Company of Allentown for $50,000 in damages, claiming the tombstone falsely implies his guilt in Henning’s death. Hennings stone says an “innocent soul sent to eternity.”  It replaced the usual “BORN” and “DIED” language with “SHOT.”

It also shows what could be considered dog-faced images that could be human or canines.  But central to it all, stands a one-armed man looking like he’s part of an ambush in the woods.

The Reclusive Harrison Van Horn:
The Van Horns were a knock-about family of Meckesville for a time.  They still lived the hard life of private day to day lumbering when times were at their leanest.  Their home was a ramshackle cabin of their dead parents.  Harrison, Monroe, and Austin Van Horn were unmarried and still living in the ramshackle cabin of their dead parents.

(My mind travels to the unmarried Ward brothers of upstate New York, subject of the document “Brother’s Keeper.”  Delbert Ward was charged in the smothering, some say mercy killing of his older brother William.)

The Van Horns held constant struggles in their bellies and upon their backs, and were known to be reclusive, even by Pine Swamp standards.  Roger Meckes would help them with odd jobs when he could.  But Meckes was gone, his farm sold at sheriff sale to Robert Getz.  Getz, taking pity on the Van Horns, offered them free firewood from the Meckes farm to help them through the winter.

How much wood they were entitled to take became a matter of opinion.  Meckes tried to talk to Harrison but found him too unreasonable, so he called in the state police to mediate a suitable outcome.

A pauper's grave - The Van Horn family eked a rough
and tumble existence in the Pine Swamp.
With the state police on approach to the Van Horn cabin, Harrison went “berserk” and shot.  He was forty-nine.    

Charles and Liza Van Horn died in the mid-1930s with little more than with which they were born.  Their graves in the Old Albrightsville Cemetery are marked still by the temporary markers placed there over eighty years ago.


"Tweety's" Place Today - Just below the Old Albrightsville Cemetery along Mud Run.

I have a strong nostalgia for this place.  

I started fishing there when I was 7, sleeping overnight in the bed of my brother in law’s pickup.  We’d always pass “Mrs. Tweetie’s” place, the small plank home just below the Old Albrightsville Cemetery on the edge of Mud Run, and we’d see her either drawing water from the creek or even washing her clothes.

Looking back on those memories now some 35 years later makes me wonder how people thrived and succumbed to the withering and bleak winters of this final frontier of our county.

"Mrs. Tweetie" would spend her time alone mostly.  Sometimes her out of state sons would pay a visit for a time.  When the creek froze in the winter she would grudgingly accept the hospitality of the Getzs, but only until the cold snap broke and the water flowed again.

Then one day, in the late 1970s she was no longer there, the last of her kind, gone but not forgotten.

Afterword and Sidenotes:
Curious Connector:
~Hannah “Almite” Christman was perhaps born of the wrong age.  For by the age of twenty-nine had produced two sons, Aquila Henning (by John) in 1893 and Harley Getz (by Ira in 1899) and one daughter Jesse R. Hawk Serfass in 1888.  Quilly of course was killed by Robert Wilkinson in 1932 and Harley worked for Roger Meckes in his Christmas tree wholesaling. 

Hannah “Almite” Christman was living with William and Ira Getz in 1900, when son Harley Getz was just a newborn.  Robert Getz was Ira’s brother.  Hannah’s sister was Arsula Christman Getz who married Freeman Getz.  Oddly, in the 1910 Census Ira was living with his brother Robert and so was Hannah (as a “servant”) and son Harley was listed as a “cousin” to Robert.

In 1910, Ira is head of the house with his father William still living with him.  Also there, is Hannah Christman with both Aquila Henning and Harley Getz.  Ira still lists Harley as his “cousin.”  Aquila had a son he seems to have named after his half-brother Harley.  

Hannah’s daughter Jesse married Rodger Green who also worked for Robert Getz, he was killed by a fall on the head in 1919.  Quilly Henning’s father John Henning also worked for Robert Getz.

It was Harley who saw his mother through her old age in East Greenville in 1950.  She hemorrhaged from her lungs from tuberculosis in 1950.  She’s buried beside her parents in Albrightsville, retaining her God-given name, never marrying.

Albert Henning, the old postmaster at Albrightsville for over 40 years, was the step-father of Claude Kibler.  His step-daughter married Harley Getz, who as of Albert’s 1961 death, was still living in Greenville, Montgomery County.  His sister was married to James Getz of White Haven.

~Harry C. Wilkinson spent his later years in Franklin Township’s Big Creek area with his second wife, Gladys Markley, one of the teachers he supervised in Franklin schools. 

His first wife, “Bessie” (Elizabeth) Hibbler Wilkinson raised their two children, Elizabeth (“Betty”) and Harry Junior, in Mahoning Township.  She supported herself in a dress factory.  They lived by Hammel's Gas Station near Pleasant Corners.

Harry died due to a failed surgery to fix the diverticulitis in his intestines.  His obituary failed to mention his children.  He was survived by three brothers and two sisters, including the one who fired the fatal shot on Henning, Robert.

~Annie Henning lived a long and austere life, spending her final years in the Packerton Dam area.  She would return to the swamp from time to time, no doubt visiting Quily’s grave.  Her former neighbors, always delighted to see her, would take her in for lunch and coffee. 

Known for her quiet piety, it’s been said that she made lengthy prayers before eating, some up to five to ten minutes long.  She died in 1980, a forty-eight year widow.

The “Kings” of Meckesville:
Robert Getz, the “Potato King,” harvested over 300 acres of potatoes on farms in Monroe and Carbon Counties.  Getz’s father was Wilheim/William Getz (1824-1910), a founding father of Albrightsville. 

According to Norman Eckley, Roger Meckes was also known as the “Potato King.”   Francis ‘Franz’ Wernett, father of Charles Sr. and the Wernett who started the hotel who was mentioned above was known as the “Huckleberry King” of the Pine Swamp in the 1870s.

Getz’s two sons, Luther and Lawrence took over the substantial land holdings of their father, making their own mark in real estate and other businesses that their descendents successfully run today.

Roger Meckes died alone and poor.  His 76-acre “Fairview Farm” was sold from under him at Sheriff Sale and purchased by Robert Getz.  Marie died in 1954.

Roger's seventy-six-acre “Fairview Farm” and homestead, at the western edge of “Meckesville,” was purchased by Robert Getz and later became part of the Mt. Pocahontas development, the clubhouse today being his former home.
Roger spent his final years in an Odd Fellows nursing home near Harrisburg.  He is buried next to his first wife Mellie at the Gilbert Cemetery in Monroe County.  He died in 1958. 

Many in the area owed their employment to Roger Meckes and Robert Getz.

The Meckes’ share the same graveyard with Sebastian Kresge, founder of the 600-store chain Kmart, which began as the “S.S. Kresge Company” five & dime stores. 

~The economy of this wilderness was much different than today.  Roger “the Christmas Tree King” Meckes found it profitable to harvest in the wild, his cost to cut and transport smaller trees was around 15 to 25 cents.  These trees were resold in the towns of Carbon County for 50 cents to one dollar.  This of course was before the plantation style tree farming common in Carbon County today. 
Christmas trees being sorted for freight delivery from the Pittsburgh Daily
Post - December 1902.  Men like Roger Meckes ensured trees came to
Carbon from the wild woods of Maine and Canada long before the current
plantation-style of farming existed.

Interesting to note that Carbon County has supplied the White House tree on five occasions in recent years, four times by Chris Botek’s Crystal Spring Farms and once by Bustard Farms. Botek has provided the state tree in Harrisburg nineteen times in the last twenty years. Perhaps these men owe a tip of the hat to Meckes.

~It is unclear, but Jacob Hait looks to have left a wife and at least one daughter when he passed.  The 1900 Census shows his mother Sally “Heydt” living out her widowed days in Lehighton with Jacob’s sister Eliza Everett, wife of Nathan. 

~Captain E. H. Rauch published his still renowned “Rauch’s Pennsylvania Dutch Handbook” with translation from Dutch and from English the same year as the Brown vs. Serfass trial.  
Edward H. Rauch was a long-time
newspaperman, starting papers
all over the Lehigh Valley.  He was
also a highly regarded expert
in putting the Pennsylvania Dutch
dialect down in written form.  He was
also instrumental in fulfilling the
promise of construction of
the inter-urban trolley line from
Flagstaff over the mountain
to Lehighton.  

If not the penultimate in Pa Dutch writing works, no legitimate discussion of the written Dutch word can occur without citing Rauch.  Published in 1879 it is still in print by Penn State University Press and required book for Pennsylvania Studies.
~The Hawk Run and Hawk Falls derives their names from the Jacob S. Hawk family farm, which is along Rt 534 just before entering Hickory Run State Park.  The Hawk farm was mainly across the street from the 25-foot natural falls parking lot.  A must see spot of beauty in Carbon County (From Rt 903, you will see parking on both sides of the road just be the Turnpike overpass.  Hawk Run empties into Mud Run.  The Turnpike Mud Run Gorge Bridge is said to be the highest on the pike.)

Jacob Hawk's grave at the Old Albrightsville Cemetery.

Civil War Veteran, Commissioner, Lumberman, and Hotelier Jacob S. Hawk of Albrightsville lived to be a seventy-six year-old widower with senility.  

On August 27, 1916, he wandered into the path of a car and was killed.
Rauch is either the man seated at the terminus of the rail or the one standing with his cane on it.  Rauch "Schweffelbenner" was said to have driven the connecting "Golden Spike" on the trolley line connecting
Lehighton to Mauch Chunk's Flagstaff. 


January 1879 – Trial of Caroline Brown versus Reuben Serfass.  Same year “Pit Schweffelbenner,” E. H. Rauch, of Mauch Chunk publishes his definitive Pennsylvania Dutch handbook.
19 August 1892 – H. C. Melber gets swindled.
19 September 1912 – “Big John” Woblan kills Maggie Kresge for refusing to marry him and in turn kills himself.
29 November 1912 – Irwin Hawk duplicates the Kresge murder by killing his fiancĂ© Mary Gibson in Mauch Chunk.
23 May 1919 – Frederick and Charles Wernett Jr rob the Edward and Joseph Lewis of White Haven.
1 December 1920 – Jacob Hait killed by blackbear.
28 October 1922 – Arlington Hay dies of “severe indigestion.”
19 April 1927 – Mellie (Eschbach) Meckes kills herself.
1 May 1927 – Ellamanda (Meckes) Altemose kills herself.
24 November 1932 – Aquila Henning Sr shot by Robert Wilkinson; ruled justifiable homicide.
14 August 1952 – Harrison Van Horn killed by state police; ruled justifiable homicide.
This 1958 Pocono Record news account describes the successful
hunt of one of its native sons.  Albert was the son of Howard and
Martha "Toots" (Dotter) Henning.  Albert was in the Air Force, married
Pearl Smith of Branson Missouri and eventually retired back to Albrightsville.

One group of hearty Pine Swamp lumbermen were the
Boatmen of the Lehigh Canal took to the woods for seasonal work.
Allentown Leader - 26 November 1904 - Nothstein and
Freyman were cousins.  Nothstein was an attorney in
Mauch Chunk (a cousin of mine) who died an
untimely death due to tonsillectomy complications
in 1912, aged 44.

Son Jon, and his girlfriend Nichole, Kim, me and Solly - Hawk Falls - May 2015