These deaths have sent me on a personal exploration: Why do some deaths, both personal or distant, pull me in? Why do they bother me and linger on in my thoughts? Why write a blog post about them? Is it some sort of vigilance born out of my own fear or am I just a poignancy junkie?
|The Rabenold gravesite at Lehighton Cemetery - Leroy's gave is out of frame to the left of Aquilla. Charles and Susan are rear left.|
Leroy Splidle Rabenold was born in 1907. He was the son of my dad’s oldest and unwed aunt, Aquilla I. Rabenold. He may have been working at Zale’s Silk Mill in the dip of the kettle of old Mauch Chunk or according to my dad, the mill in the Packerton dip. A shuttle broke free of the loom and struck him on the head. He was fourteen, and as the story goes, had quit school and was only working there one week.
|Zales Silk Mill on the East Side of Jim Thorpe today.|
Mamie told Jennie's story with the emotion of someone who was there, though she would only have been twelve at the time. Jennie was sixteen and was said to be “quite handsome.” She and her friends were crossing the trestle that carried multiple lines. They crossed one set and avoided a southbound train that was steaming along. In all the hiss and rumbling rattle, they didn’t notice the northbound train in the next set.
|The double tracks at the Glen Onoko train station.|
It was said that Jennie’s friends had enough wherewithal to jump into the neutral space between the two lines unharmed. However, Jennie’s fright froze her. Her body was torn beyond a recognizable form.
The bystanders, perhaps her friends, loaded her remains onto a train. According to the papers, “her death caused a gloom to pervade the entire valley.” Her parents were sent to pick up her remains at the Jersey Central Rail Station in Lehighton.
Jennie had lived with her parents Nathan and Alvena Rex. Alvena was a sister to my great grandmother Susan Mosser Rabenold. The Rex’s lived on the farm next to the Maple Tree Inn (now the Maple Tree Tennis Club) of the Mahoning Valley.
|The Maple Tree Inn today. The former home of Nathan and Alvena Rex, just east of the Gombert farm.|
Myrtle Rabenold was my grandfather's sister and 'Mertie' was sent to live with the Rex's after Jennie's death. But this remedy, may have only compounded their pain. She died seven years later. She was eleven. Her grave lies along with Jennie's and their parents in Mahoning Valley’s St. John’s Cemetery.
|Over 100 gather to celebrate Andrew Gombert's 25th Anniversary. That's Andrew on the step with raised arm.|
|The Gombert farm house as it looks today, just west of Lehighton.|
Next door to the Rex's, Jonathan and Annie Gombert received my grandfather Zach Rabenold when he was around sixteen. He and some of his siblings were "farmed-out" due to family need. He was sent to make his way in the world and also to help keep an eye out for his sister Mertie.
Jonathan Gombert was a one-armed Civil War Veteran wounded at Antietam, Maryland. When Zach came to live with him, Gombert had recently been elected as county sheriff. It was said that Zach was an orderly at the Carbon County Prison (today known as "The Old Jail"). At the farm, Zach was a general farm-hand and learned how to run a tack shop.
Years later, Zach's death was said to have saved my father's life. Zach died in 1950 when my Dad was a 20-year-old Marine fighting in Korea. While on leave from duty to be with his mother, the First Provisional Marine Brigade was wiped-out at the Chosin Reservoir. My Dad later returned to find the remnants of his unit, the living transformed into shells of men with "thousand yard stares."
Gombert's son, Andrew, took over the farm shortly after Zach began living there. He and his wife Annie celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary there in 1909. It was a grand occasion with over 100 family members gathered on a snowny lawn and along the gingerbread porch to pose for a picture. Perhaps Zach was there among them.
It was shortly after this day, when Andrew met his end. He was out tedding the hay, no small task when feeding 70 head of milking cows. Whether it was too much of his wine (as he was known to be fond of drinking) or a snake that startled the team (as some have said) that caused Andrew to fall off the rear plank is unknown. That evening, the horses returned to their barn with the rig and Andrew still in tow. His mangled body was found among the metal tines. He was 43.