Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Poem to Mr. Geissler - by Ronald Rabenold

Thank you to all who responded to my questions I posed by email about Mr. Geissler, the German peddler who died June 1st, 1858 in the Weigh Lock of the Lehigh Canal (See post from May 26th).

Responses ranged from wonder to sympathy to creative images of the life of this man.  One included some transcendental reincarnation. 

Somehow, my thoughts returned to the exuberance of life versus the pitfalls of pride and life's journey of finding the edge between. 

Beth, Cris, and Cait, thanks for your indulgences. 
You certainly have the exuberance thing down pat! 

The Mummers show it.
They exude it. They have it,
They encourage it,
The demonstration is there.
Watch the Second Line sometime.
There are spools of it there.

Joshua’s men were lead down from the open sash
With the Scarlet Rope.
Though they themselves used it,
Thereafter they admonished it.

Scarlet Rope.
Had it been another color, my guess
Would be it would still come down as

I think the singer truly had talent.
I overheard the man give it in his own feelings.
The next time will be different,
But it always comes back in the same way.

It is true, there are horses of many colors.
I have seen working show horses
And show horses that really work.

I can see up from his grave.
The unknown peddler who died in the
Coal-sooted water.

I see the faces looking down
As dirt flings through six feet of air.
The lesson is written on their faces,
Held in that unknown grave.

Walking over it,
We can see the empty chamber.
The lock that weighed, where no living water
Now dare pass.

All fall prey to it.
The pieces of the pit
Broken, pitted and carried.

And still we dance,
Dancing along its edge.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mr. Geissler, the drown, unknown peddler: you are not forgotten...

Mr. Geissler was a German immigrant.

He was a ‘peddler,’ traveling patch town to patch town selling perhaps necessaries for the ladies, perhaps pots and pans.

There was a chance that he was an honest man, trying to make a living, trying to establish himself as a man you would do business with.

Maybe he was saintly or maybe he was a scoundrel.

We do know he died on June 1st, 1858. His body recovered from the Weigh Lock along the Lehigh Canal.

Mauch Chunk was a bustling, slowly boiling boom town. It didn’t have the quick flash of San Francisco or Deadwood. But it did attract men seeking their fortunes.

Asa Packer came here near penniless and worked his way through contracts of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, building the Upper Grand section of the Canal to White Haven. This “sizeable” profit was parlayed into coal interests, and eventually the Lehigh Valley Railroad, creating Lehigh University from scratch, dying in the 1880s with 54.5 million dollar estate, the 10th wealthiest man in the world.

So what was Mr. Geissler’s story?

Was it a violent end?

Did he have a wife and children?

Did they ever find out about the particulars?

Were they left holding the bag, wondering if they had been forsaken, deserted? Did they know the true measure of this man, did they know he was doing the best he could?

Were they on his mind as he plunged into the dark, coal-sooted water?

Was their memory of him clouded by his furtive demise?  Did people say he got what he deserved?  Did they scoff at his widow in her black, the crape lingering on the house too long?
All we know is from one newspaper story. It said you are buried somewhere in the Upper Mauch Chunk Cemetery, in an unknown section, an unknown plot.

This weekend, near the anniversary of your death, I hope you come to my mind as I pass the Weigh Lock on my bicycle. I hope your spirit is at peace.

I hope you know, you haven’t been forgotten.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Josiah White - He Was the Hand That Rocked the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution

He was born in Mt. Holly New Jersey on March 4, 1781.  By 1810, he had a simple goal: accumulate $40,000 in wealth, and retire to a quiet farm life by the age of 30.  By the age of 28, he had his money and purchased a farm at the falls of the Schuylkill River.  A devout Quaker satisfied to follow the will of his Maker he was set for a quiet life.

Thankfully to all of us, the nation over, Josiah White did not rest there.  Without his foresight and innovation, this area and this nation would not have reaped the economic effects of the industrial revolution and we would not be enjoying the accumulated wealth we have today.

White and a man named Erskine Hazard had a wire mill in Philadelphia that was hurt by Jefferson's embargo and Britain's blockage of the War of 1812.  Determined not to allow a foreign power determine our supply of fuel again, he sought an alternative domestic energy source our nation's growing industries could depend on.  By 1817 at age 36, he arrived in the Hauto and Mauch Chunk area to inspect the coal lands with Revolutionary War Col. Jacob Weiss.

By 1818, George Hauto, Hazard and White had successfully obtained the rights to the Lehigh River for the transportation of coal.  White himself surveyed what would become Pennsylvania's first railroad and would eventually lead to the birth of the town of Mauch Chunk.  This gravity railway was constructed from Summit Hill following the Mauch Chunk Creek for nearly the entire 9-miles.  Eventually, engine houses were placed atop Mt Pisgah & Mt Jefferson for the return trip, creating the first roller coaster.  The picture above shows the stonework of the crossover about 4.5 miles west of the Mt Pisgah plane in Jim Thorpe.

Pictured here is one of White's numberous inventions. This is a model of the Bear Trap lock that White built to tame the Lehigh River to get the coal to markets.  According to Vince Hydro, noted White historian, White experimented with this dam and lock system along the Mauch Chunk Creek near present day Opera House.  Not to encourage the curiousity of the passersby, they were told they were working on 'bear traps' and most went about minding their own business.  (Mauch Chunk Historical Society and Opera House website.)

This lock system dammed the river to make slack water to make the river more navigatable for the arks carrying the coal.  But a method was needed to have the arks portage these dams.  This necessitated White's genious.  Water pressure from behind the dam would fill chambers that held closed the lock door.  When arks were ready to pass through, the water was shut out of the chambers, releasing the lock door for the ark to pass.  The surging water through the lock sometimes caused the arks to knock their operators right off the boat.

The impact of this industrial leader lives on.  Upon his return from a Society of Friends yearly meeting, and for the purpose of setting up an orphanage/training school in Richmond, Indiana in 1850, White died of typhoid.  He left a lasting impact on the economy of the United States and upon Carbon County, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lehighton Wins Gold - Rabenold, Black, Adams & Haldeman

Go figure.  They were seceded 7th out of seven teams.  But somehow, these scrappy Lehighton kids win the Gold Medal in the Mountain Valley Conference 4 x 400m relay.  Seen here, Jon Rabenold (left front), Nate Black (right front), Leon Adams (back left), and Levi Haldeman (behind Black).
The Lehighton Girls also shocked the League by winning the Team Championship!  This effort was led by League MVP Vanessa Rimbey who won the 100m hurdles, the High Jump, and others.  Sarah Keer took first in Javelin, and Abbie Frey took first in 100m and Long Jump.  Jordan Miller took second in Pole Vault, and the girls 4x100m Relay took second, with Jordan Homyak, Karista Schweizer, Abbie Frey & Rimbey. Outstanding.

Good Luck Next Week at District XI Meet...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Carbon County Fuels Industrial Revolution, Lehighton Students Learn

It always starts with a problem.

How do we engage our youth?
How do we ply them from the techno gizmos and introduce them to the outside, to engage that exploring spirit?

Perhaps the answer lies within the man who seemed to have a great combination of imagination, energy, and focus.
His name was Josiah White and he was born in Mt. Holly New Jersey in 1781.

He grew up on a farm and explored the surrounding waterways.  One can only imagine what dreams he dreamed.  But he explored, he imagined, he innovated.  The result, some have said, that it became his hand that rocked the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.

Josiah dreamed of riches, enough to retire by age 30, to live the will of his maker and retire to the quiet life of his farm.  He had those riches by the time he was 28, he owned a wire-mill in Philadelphia and fortunately for us, he continued on. 
The War of 1812 taught this Quaker, that one shouldn't rely on a foreign fuel supply.  The British blockade and embargo hampered our industrial output.  And soon, Josiah was planning and surveying Pennsylvania's first railroad, the second oldest in the country.  By 1818, he set out to do what two other groups had failed to do: bring the rich hard, blue burning anthracite down from the veins of Summit Hill and Lansford.
The Switchback Railroad was also our first rollercoaster, reaching speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour.  It was innovative.  It was brought to us by an engaged mind. 

And today, the youth of our county have seen with their own eyes what started with one man's imagination.  Students from Lehighton Area Middle School, recently walked to the top of Front Hill, Jim Thorpe and entered the Switchback trail.  They saw where the train station rested atop the long embanked walkway.  They imagined the clickity-clack of the cars ambling down the 9-miles from Mt Jefferson and later heard the actual engine house bell ring.  They explored and hopefully ignited a life long quest for thinking, for innovating in their own lives.
They arrived at the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center (See: ) and were thrilled to see in miniature, the entire Switchback, including it's engine houses and some real artifacts.  Mike Nonnemacher made the journey come to life: how the barney cars pushed, how it was America's second leading tourist attraction (behind Niagara Falls), how it fell to disrepair in the Depression, sold for scrap, and "came back as bullets" when it was bought by the Japanese in 1937.

How do we engage our youth? It all starts with a problem. Do we have the energy and focus to overcome it? Hike the trail. Engage them. Perhaps what started so long ago may help spur a youth's future innovation.  Perhaps new entrepreneurs are now ready to pick up Josiah's mantle. 

Over 50 students and parents of 5th Graders at Lehighton Area Middle School have set out on four tours of the trail, immersing themselves in our partially forgotten history.  Three more evening tours are scheduled. 

The Mauch Chunk Historical Society also sponsors history tours of Jim Thorpe as well.  These local-historian led tours meet at the NJC RR Station every Saturday and Sunday at 11 AM, 1 PM, & 3 PM.  Donations are $10 per adult & $5 per child under 10.  Bill Allison is in charge of the tours and you may contact him at 610-457-0370.  If you would like to know when I am scheduled to give these tours, you can contact me at or C. 610-428-6651.