Sunday, April 27, 2014

Penn Haven: Epicenter of Wrecks - Post 1 of 3

Awareness.  Taking everything in.  Then, in a flash of time, a lapse of focus, it’s all set and you’re all in.

The accounts are full of people who, failed to recognize the situation that would cost them a limb, their life, or the multiple lives of others.  This post will examine the more than 120 deaths that occurred from 1874 until 1910 in the Penn Haven area, the epicenter of wrecks for Carbon’s rail history. 
News of the Mud Run Disaster, killing around 60 people made front page
of Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper in New York.  It is one of the
deadliest accidents in our nation's early rail history.

The dangerous curves and steep grades combined with Penn Haven’s paradoxically busy yet remote location to create unparalleled ruin and heartbreak among the many rails of Carbon County.
This junction hosted the confluence of rail traffic from the mainlines of the Central Jersey Railroad (The “Central”) and the Lehigh Valley Railroad (The “Valley”).  It also merged with the Mahanoy and Hazelton Railroad’s (the “M & H”) branch-line (later absorbed by the LVRR). 
An early picture of the Penn Haven Junction looking northward or to
rail workers as a "westward" direction, as these lines of the L.V.R.R.
on the right are heading toward Buffalo New York.  The mainlines of the
Central Jersey appear on the left.  The peaked shadow of the L.V.R.R.
Hotel at Penn Haven, the home of workers and occasional hunters, can be
seen in the Central tracks. 

Junctions are notoriously dangerous places.  But this junction has proven to be a challenge for both man and machine.  Trains of 125 cars or more, filled with the world’s most desired anthracite, rumbled through the twisty Black Creek at grades of nine-percent, to join with those of the Central and the Valley from Hazleton and Weatherly. 

It wasn’t any easier on the main-lines of the Central or the Valley that ran through the Lehigh Gorge with equally challenging grades and curves so severe they nearly turned back onto themselves, almost 180 degrees.  Full trains going upgrade, or westward, sometimes needed special assistance from an extra engine to help in the towing.  
Here is an official railroad map showing the twisting curves of Penn Haven at right to Rockport at left.  Notice
how close Penn Haven and Rockport are "as the crow flies."  The critical, nearly 180-degree tight turning radius
in between these locations is the Stony Creek Curve.  The narrow turning radius of Rockport was lessened
by the tunnel driven by the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1884, the Valley's first tunnel.
Because of the coal wharves and inclined planes that existed here until of 1862 flood, the "old Penn Haven Junction"
was much farther down the river.  After the floods and the legislation forbidding the LC N C from rebuilding the canal, the junction was reconfigured to its more modern layout.  Today it exists as it once did but with the absence of the Central Jersey lines now being the bicycling/snowmobiling trail of the Lehigh Gorge State Park.
Here is a real photo from the 1950s or earlier of the Penn Haven Junction with annotations.  Courtesy of the Central New Jersey Railroad.

Likewise, loaded trains coming down slope, or eastward, sometimes had problems with seized brakes or brake failures resulting in a car being sided as a “hot-box.”

Overcoming these challenges wasn’t always easy.  Mishaps due to equipment failure, the severe winter weather, and simple human error turned deadly.  One accident alone, the Mud Run Disaster of October 10, 1888 accounts for about sixty, or nearly half of the total rail associated deaths here.
An early steam engine, replete with a "cowcatcher" front apron,
is seen here traveling north or "westward" toward Penn Haven.
Photo courtesy of Richard Palmer.

The wreck at Mud Run is considered to be among the worst of the early national train wrecks.  (The Library of Congress even gives it its own title in its card catalog system.)  The initial reports lit up the telegraph wires with over sixty killed and over 200 injured.  (This wreck will be examined in a future post.)

Doctors were on call up and down the entire Lehigh Valley, wherever the tracks of commerce were located.  They stood ready to be pressed into service at a moment’s notice.  The railroads also had wreck crews who similarly were on call awaiting dispatch. 

Each station had a telegraph operator who could relay urgent messages of need to the towns like Lehighton where the specially built and supplied rail cars stood ready.  These had the latest medical equipment such as stretchers and tools the surgeons would need to deal with life-threatening injuries that many times involved the loss of limbs. 

Often times the only assistance the surgeons could provide was to buy the worker enough time to simply say goodbye to friends and loved ones who would gather in bated vigils at their home stations.

If need be, these same cars transport the injured to St’ Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem.  St. Lukes was the nearest local hospital then.  It was built by Asa Packer and his Valley Railroad for that explicit purpose.
The John Wilkes engine as it approaches Penn Haven Junction
on the Central Jersey line.  The photo was taken from the L.V.R.R. station tower.
Tracks to the left are "Valley" tracks and those bearing off to the right are
headed toward Weatherly/Hazleton on the old "M & H" line.  

Likewise, Coaldale’s Miner’s Memorial Hospital (originally named “Panther Creek Valley Hospital”) stood ready near the mines of northern Carbon County for the same reason: railroading and mining were both highly dangerous jobs.  (Which makes it all the more fitting that St’ Luke’s Hospital has taken over the Coaldale Miner’s Hospital.)

There was a medical society known as the “Association of Lehigh Valley Railroad Surgeons.”  The Honorable Dr. Jacob Gilbert Zern of Weissport served as it’s secretary in the 1880s. 

Dr. Zern was originally from Montgomery County and was a veteran of the Civil War.  Certainly, his war experience helped prepare him for the wounded horrors he would encounter as a railroad surgeon.     

Besides serving as the first president of the Carbon County Medical Society, Dr. Zern held several local and state political posts.  He was postmaster of Weissport, mayor of Lehighton, and state representative.  He was an associate judge of Carbon County in 1894 and a state senator in 1902.  

Unlike today’s rail travel that is dispatched and controlled from one station in Harrisburg, each junction was manned to handle these duties.  Penn Haven itself rests on an inside cleft or curve of the mountain.  Many workers lived on site to do a number of jobs, from hitching and unhitching cars and engines, to making safe switchings for the many trains passing through Penn Haven. 
A reverse modern view of the above photo of Penn Haven Junction.  The M & H branchlines are going off to the left,
while the tracks on the right are Norfolk Southern lines, formerly Conrail, formerly L. V. R. R.  The center path,
now the Lehigh Gorge Rail-Trail lines, were at one time the Central Jersey lines.

Worker Deaths Around Penn Haven:

Abram Arner and his wife Mary originally of Lehighton lived there for a time in the 1880s.  Perhaps God was testing him as the proverbial Job of the Old Testement. 
“Abe’s” trouble began around 1881 when he lost his foot in a rail accident (most likely precipitating his move to the junction to be closer to his work).  Troubles continued when in April of 1883, he buried a young child due to illness, had a second child with both legs broken, in addition to his wife being “at the point of death.”

Then, about a month later, infant Carrie May Arner died.  Five years later, their seven year old son Robert William died.  Also living there was another Arner, Andrew, who buried an infant child.  (No other record of these Arners exist, therefore a relationship of Andrew and Abram is not known.)

In October of 1879, the little girl of the Gallagher family living at Penn Haven was struck and killed by a passenger train there.  The child was “thrown high into the air, falling down the embankment, breaking both legs, neck and arms.”  The mother was said to have stood in her doorway of the hotel, watching in frozen, helpless shock.

Both a woman and a two year old young toddler drowned at Penn Haven in separate incidents.  In 1891, a woman from Alden, PA, apparently passing through was said to have fallen into the river.  There was no description of how she could have fallen, nor was there any speculation of foul play or signs of self-destruction.  

Her body was never found.  (There are records of people who traveled to Carbon by rail, purchased poison at local pharmacies, and drank themselves to the netherworld here; more on these in future posts.)
Another view of the junction from the M & H junction lines.  The twin
Valley line station towers hide the Valley Hotel behind it.

In 1886, the toddler daughter of Frank Eck drowned behind their home at Penn Haven.  Eck was the section boss of the repair department on the Valley.  They made their home in the hotel built by and for the lodging of railroad employees.  Some stayed temporary, others, such as “deadheaders” only stayed temporarily when passing through to another assignment. 
A newer picture reveals the ravages of time to these remote buildings.  The dual tower reduced to one.  The roof
of the dilapidated hotel to the rear.

The twenty-room hotel was nestled inside the “Y” of the tracks at the junction, between the dual Valley control and telegraph tower and the Black Creek to the rear.  Across this swift, rocky-bottomed clear watered stream rested a board about eighteen inches wide used to cross the stream.  In the briefest of moments, the child was upon the plank, and with the unsteadiness of her age, wobbled into the waters.  The forceful current washed her into the Lehigh. 

That was one of many sad tragedies to occur here.  Thomas J. Hogan, originally of White Haven, worked as the station agent and operator at the junction for about four years.  In April of 1885, a recently fired and disgruntled “gandy-dancer” (a section-gang or track hand) named Michael Colyer (a “Hungarian” as the paper reported) decided to take out the frustrations of his unemployment on Mr. Hogan. 
A slightly older shot, possibly around 1958, the last year of
when the Richard "Reds" O'Donnell family lived in a ten-room
half of the hotel.

He harassed Hogan by repeatedly entering the station and messy up the paperwork and time tables.  The taunts increased until Hogan tried to physically force Colyer out the door.  To which, Coyler fired two shots from a concealed revolver.  The first shot landed in Hogan’s left breast, causing him to exclaim, “Oh! My God.”  Hogan was able to push him aside as the second shot missed, he left the station, and entered the hotel.  He placed both his arms on the bar, tried to speak and could not.  He sank to the floor dead.

A fireman from a shifting engine heard the commotion, tricked Coyler to come toward him, to which the fireman was able to knock the murder to the floor with a “blow of his arm.”  He was taken to jail in Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe).

In September of 1887, the skeletal remains of a man were found beneath a large pile of rocks at the junction.  Evidence that the man was “foully dealt with” was arrived at by the bullet found lodged in his cheek.

Further examination of accidents occurring around Penn Haven Junction from 1874 to 1910 finds an additional thirty people who lost their lives in falls from trains and from mutilations of being run over at this busy rail hub.

Thirteen of them were rail workers while another seventeen were passengers died at and near the junction.  All of the following died at Penn Haven unless otherwise noted.  It should be noted though that nearly all of the “civilian” causalities were those illegally traveling or walking along the tracks.
The Penn Haven tower after the hotel was razed.

Jacob Booterman, a brakeman for the Valley was run over and cut in two while shifting cars at the junction in February 1876.  Another brakeman, twenty-four year old Bernard Devers who lived at Penn Haven with his parents slipped between the two oil tanks he was coupling and was “crushed in a terrible manner.”  He survived long enough to be taken home to
Here is a modern view of the Jersey Central interlock
control tower at Nesquehoning Junction.
die in the company of his parents (August 19, 1879). 

On September 14, 1880, brakeman Jeremiah Rockwell fell off his train at the junction and killed instantly. 

Martin Gauley/Gawley (b. 1861) and his brother James (b. 1859) both lived and worked out of Penn Haven as the sole support of their widowed mother Mary and their sister Bridget.  (Prior to their father Owen’s death in the 1860s, they lived at Lehigh Tannery).  Martin, a brakeman on a coal train, was killed in Catasauqua when he tried to signal another train and was struck by the No. 1 passenger train.  He had one arm and both legs severed and he “survived but a few minutes.”

Thomas Begley, Central Employee run over at Penn Haven, killed instantly, January 30, 1881.  Another worker, George Zimmerman fell and lost both legs and died en route to Hazleton in August of 1883.

Henry Winterstein, a veteran of the Civil War of 132 PA Regiment, Co G (though Patriotism of Carbon County lists a “Henry Werstein” in Co F), a car inspector on the Valley killed at Penn Haven June 5, 1887.

 George Clevell, a son-in-law of Lehighton native Owen Klotz was killed instantly upon being cut in half falling between two cars in October 1887.

Likewise Edward Green of White Haven was coupling cars at the junction and slipped beneath the wheels and killed instantly (October 1, 1889). 
Here you can see the elevated tracks of the
Lehigh Valley Railroad above from the current trail
and the former Central Jersey tracks just below
Hetchel's Tooth curve out ahead.  About 1 mile
above Glenn Onoko and about 5 miles below
Penn Haven.

Paulolo Zurick, a section hand on the Valley living at Hetchel Tooth (with his foreman Patrick Mulligan) received a visit from his brother he lived and worked at Penn Haven.  That afternoon, after walking his brother part of the five miles back to Penn Haven, Paulolo was struck by a westward near Bear Creek. The train “passed over the remains, mangling them in a terrible manner. 

The paper reported that the “deceased was a Hungarian of more than average intelligence.”  (The accounts are full of less than complimentary attitudes from the “native born” residents toward “foreigners” at this time, especially those from Eastern Europe, and specifically “Hungarians.”)
A postcard from near the water tank station below Penn Haven from
a postcard of about 100 years ago.  Note the finely maintained ballast
stone along these tracks.  The L.V.R.R. was known for keeping
their ballast in impeccable order.  Photo courtesy of Bill Schwab. 

August 24, 1893, Lehighton native and engineer William F. Hofford was cited for heroism, having the “presence of mind that the remainder of the section gang escaped death.”  Two workers were struck and killed. 

Hofford (b. April 1865) was married to Ellen (B. December 1864) and they lived on Third Street.  He remained as an engineer through the early 1900s. 

In 1910, at the death of Maria Culton of Weissport, Hofford purchased the large brick building from the Culton estate and built his own silk mill enterprise.  Hofford had a step daughter named Hellen Hofford (b. 1899). 

On June 2, 1901, conductor Charles Lentz of Hazleton, thirty-six, fell off his train at the junction.  His normal run was from Hazleton to Packerton.  Three cars plus the caboose “passed over his body severing it in twain.”  He left a wife and four children.

John Flick was originally from White Haven but had been living and worked as a flagman out of Lehighton for the Valley Railroad in 1901.  He was a widower of two years with three grown children at the time of his accident in 1910 (Son John and daughters Mrs. Robert Fritzinger and Miss Irene all of Lehighton).  

He fell from his train at Penn Haven on a Monday night on August 8th, severing his legs and other injuries to his body.  When the lights from the lanterns of his concerned comrades reached his face, he said plainly, “I’m all in boys.”

He was “tenderly” picked up by his crew, brought to the hospital car, where “local surgeons” dressed his wounds.  The car was dispatched to St Luke’s in Bethlehem where it was plain he wouldn’t last.  Shortly after 1:30 pm the next day he had passed.  

However he was “conscious almost to the last and conversed with those about him.” 
"I'm All In Boys" - John Flick's grave as he rests at Gnaden Hutten
Cemetery in Lehighton.

Civilian Deaths Around Penn Haven:

My youth was filled with stern warnings and examples of the many people who died along the railroad tracks.  We were told to stay away.  Rail traffic in my youth was greater than it is today, but it was nothing like it was 100 years ago.

The accounts of full of people who either used the rails as a pathway to walk from town to town, or who were tempted to try to hitch a free ride.  An 1880 editorial spoke of the filly of do so for the sake of a “few cents.”  The foolishness of “men and boys” who do so to “gratify a venturesome spirit of deviltry” was a “hazardous and dangerous practice.”

As sorts of characters could be found around the tracks of my youth.  And also into my mother’s youth, who filled my head with stories of “hobos” who passed through town and who worked the sympathies of my grandmother at the family store for ends of meat and other foods.

A stranger in these parts in September of 1877 was killed by the No. 6 train bound for New York known to be working his way to Mahanoy City just below Penn Haven.  His only identification was the name “Gill” “pricked upon his arm in India ink.” 

Later that month, another unknown man, a “supposed tramp” riding on top of the coal cars and somehow fell from the train and was run over and killed at the junction.

In February of 1880, William Phifer, a sixteen year old from East Mauch Chunk, was at Penn Haven and decided to hop a coal train home.  As he he hopped from car to car across the piles of coal, he misjudged and fell between two cars a short distance from the station.  “His body was terribly mangled and his death quick.”

 A traveling salesman from Pottsville was killed after his leg was severed by the passing cars at the Penn Haven station.  William Hadley got off his passenger train at the junction and went inside the hotel to “procure a cork for a medicine bottle that he had with him.”  (Many folks drank “medicine” for whatever ailed them in those days, most times as a thinly disguised motive to drink alcohol among those who had a distaste for intemperate people.)

While in the hotel, he thought he heard his train pulling out without him, in a frenzied rush to his train, he ran into the path of on oncoming freighter.  Drs Latham and J. B. Tweedle of Weatherly amputated his leg above the knee. He was taken to the Gilbert House, but he only survived until the next morning.  His wife arrived later that day and “took the corpse home.”  Hadley was only thirty-eight and left five kids (November 1881).

In June of 1886, forty-five year old John Essling was on his way home to Weatherly from a day in court.  A carpet weaver by trade, he was a witness in a larceny case.  He jumped onto a coal train in Mauch Chunk and rode it until it stopped to take on water from the tank a mile and a half below Penn Haven. 
Another Bill Schwab postcard about a mile and looking
southward toward Glen Onoko.

Being thirsty himself, he jumped off and proceeded to the peaceful, cool water spring coming off the mountain side there.  As he crossed the double Valley lines, he failed to hear the No. 7 passenger train. 

The collision threw him up the embankment, from which he rolled under the wheels, “severing the head and legs from the body.”  Workers picked up the “terribly mutilated” body which presented a “ghastly sight.”  
A modern look at the spring near the water taking station about 1 mile
below Penn Haven.  This would have been the last scene John
Essling's eyes might have taken in before he was killed.
Photo by Ronald Rabenold.  

In August of 1886, two “Hungarians” were walking along the tracks near Bear Creek (about two miles below the junction), were run over and killed by the No. 18 train.
Another “unknown man,” this one about sixty years old was found dead with a “large hole in his head,” somehow affixed to the cowcatcher of a Valley train.  

He was presumed to have been walking between White Haven and Penn Haven and was struck without the engineer noticing (Sunday, December 4, 1887).  No one claimed the body and he was buried in an unmarked grave in “Laurytown” (A small community near Weatherly and Rockport.).

One Sunday afternoon, a “crowd of boys” had gathered to view a train wreck near Penn Haven.  The two o’clock afternoon express train from Hazleton to Philadelphia was running on time and “at a high rate of speed.”   The boys were walking home to Weatherly and they noticed a special train approaching them.  The engineer whistled and waved frantically at them, but they misunderstood. 

The competing sounds of the special train and the express train set the boys into a helpless position in the path of the express.  The men in the special train were “horror stricken” when the “two forms were dashed to instant death before their eyes…the mangled bodies of the two lads were taken by the special train to their homes.”  They were George Reese, age 17, and Albert Weeks, 13, of Weatherly (March 1891).

Similarly, two loggers were also walking along the Valley line between Weatherly who had been working for “Mr. Hawk on the Broad Mountain.”  They came off the mountain and took the track to their “lumbering tent near the Iron Bridge.”

They stepped away from an east bound train but stepped into the path of the No. 6 passenger train approaching from the other direction.  Both were killed immediately.  Both were from Monroe County and married.  One left two children, the other left six.  One of them was named “Dotter” (August 1891).
The Jersey Central refueling and water tending station
as it appears just above the current Jim Thorpe bridge 
near where the new bridge construction is taking place.

On July 2, 1892, two “strangers” were walking below Penn Haven near the water station.  They were walking along the train stopped taking on water, when the No. 6 again rumbled through, catching the boy of about fourteen unaware.  He had his “brains knocked out” and died instantly. 

However, the man, presumed to be his father of about forty-five years, got out of the way of the train in time.  The was severely injured though after being struck by the remains of the boy striking him.  They were found lying side-by-side.  The engineer could not see them due to the curve in the road.  They were taken to Mauch Chunk station and the father died several hours later.  They were believed to be recent immigrants, said to have been “Russian” or “Arabian peddlers.”
News of the death of Jennie Rex as it
appeared on the front page of the Lehighton
Press in August 1901.

Jennie Rex, the “estimable” young lady of the Mahoning Valley too was on an enjoyable Sunday afternoon enjoying the beauty of Glen Onoko one July day in 1891 when the sounds of two competing trains baffled her senses. 

Her friends were able to stand out of the way between the two tracks, but Jenny could not dash off to the side in time and made a vain attempt to outrun the train.  She nearly cleared the end of the bridge when she tripped and was horribly mangled.

Her remains were placed onto the second section of the No. 4 passenger train back to Lehighton where she was brought to the Lehighton station accompanied by her two friends, Frederick Long, Jr. and Miss Mertz.  Jenny was a first cousin to my grandfather, Zach Rabenold who both about the same age. 
Jennie Rex was my grandfather
Zach Rabenold's first cousin.
Jennie's grave in St. John's Cemetery in the Mahoning Valley.
One way the Rex's tried to assuage the grief from the loss of their only child was to take in my grandfather's youngest five year old sister, Myrtle "Mertie" Rabenold.  But Nathan and Alvena Rex once again had their hearts broken when Mertie died just a few years later.  Mertie, my great aunt, is buried next to Jennie.

I grew up intrigued by my grandmother’s emotionally vivid account of this and other deaths of her youth.  Though eighty years removed, her retelling felt freshly painful and I know these stories included here now appear in cyberspace because of the impact these retellings had on me in my youth. 
Jennie's adopted sister Mertie's premature
grave rests next to Jenie.  Mertie was Zach Rabenold's
younger sister.

Mamie was from another time, born in 1889 to German immigrants.  She’s been gone for more than thirty years.  And writing this story makes me miss her all the more.


  1. Hi Ron - great website! It seems a wonder we haven't crossed paths before, considering common interests. I am the membership secretary and vice president of the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society. For years our blue and orange Jersey Central-painted locomotives were stored near the station at Jim Thorpe (the locos are now in Lackawanna paint up at Steamtown). I also help to maintain a Lehigh Valley Railroad Modelers website that is connected with our Society:
    I saw in your profile that one of your interests is cycling, although it said "biking" - a vocabulary pet peeve of mine - I assume you aren't wearing leather and sporting tattoos on your neck. I put in from 3000-4000 miles a year. I have relatives who used to live in the Bear Creek Lake development north of Jim Thorpe. They now live in N.C., but every summer they return to the area, and a dozen or so of us do a family "Tour de Thorpe" up the Lehigh Gorge Trail to Rockport and back.
    I homeschool my sons as a stay-at-home parent, but I also run a small bicycle repair/restoration business from my basement shop. I have a blog detailing some of my adventures on the bike and with the wrench:

    By the way, I graduated in '85 from Bethlehem's Freedom High School with a Georgine Rabenald - any relation?

    -Glen Larimer, Royersford, PA

  2. Hello Glen, Thanks for reaching out!...I am on the trail as much as I can be!...But I am grateful to the many like you who volunteer to preserve these awesome machines...I will definitely check out your blog...sounds like you have a similar mission as mine...Hope to see you sometime and swap some stories!...See you on the road....Ron


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  4. Hi, there. This is such a fascinating blog, but there are so many sad stories.

    My grandmother died in Penn Haven, too young, but of natural causes. That would have been about 1919 when my father was just a little boy. I didn't realize that anything remained at Penn Haven! I do have some old photos.

    My late father was born in Penn Haven, in 1916. I think his parents had a house near the junction. I was told my grandfather had been a railroad foreman. He died before I was born. My dad had some great stories that were told to him by his father - one was about my grandfather being followed home one dark night by a mountain lion as he walked along the tracks. My grandfather was carrying a kerosene lantern and that light was what kept the big cat at a distance. That would have been over a hundred years ago.

    The stories were so thrilling to me as a child. Some of the Native American artifacts found along the river were amazing. My grandfather also found a very badly-rusted Revolutionary War bayonet near Penn Haven. My grandfather told his children about a cavern he and someone else discovered that contained artifacts, but like any thrilling tale of treasure, no one could locate it again!

    During the early sixties, my dad broke his leg (compound fractures) in four places in a motor bike accident when crossing the tracks at Penn Haven. A friend of my older brother was seated behind my dad and my brother was on another motor bike. A train appeared and the boy riding with my dad flinched in reaction to the whistle and they skidded and went over on the grit next to the tracks - not ON the tracks. The train was able to stop for my badly injured dad and he rode on the train to the Lehigh Valley where he was met by an ambulance and taken to (at the time) Allentown Hospital, which was close to our home. He had just wanted to explore the area where he had been born. What a dangerous place!

  5. Well I am so grateful for these insights...priceless!...thank you thank you thank you. Is there any way that you would be willing to share your pictures with me? And perhaps would you be willing to share the names of these family members for future research?...I would really appreciate knowing personal email is fwd to hearing from you...