Sunday, May 25, 2014

Think, Love, and Remember - Memorial Day 2014 St. John's Lutheran, Mahoning Valley

Today is a glorious day. 
We are alive: we have sunlight on our face, we have wind in our hair, and we have dew upon our feet (and sometimes rain that dampens our skin.)   

We have our minds that allow us to think, to love, and to remember. 
It is Memorial Day and to remember is what we must do, to honor those who served America.

Over the course of America’s history, 40 million soldiers have served.
If you could ask any of them, what they missed most while they were away, they’d tell you, they simply missed their home.  They missed things we take for granted: a hot bath, their own comfortable bed, and of course their mother’s home cooking.

We take many things, such as our home and our freedom, for granted.

We have no idea how much these mean to us until they are lost. 
So the next time you are tired, the next time you are hungry, the next time you think you had a rough day, I want you to think about, I want you to remember, the 40 million who have served, think of those who suffered and remember those who died. 

Not all who served died for our freedom, all gave a small, but mighty sacrifice of simply being away from home.

Think of all of them and you will appreciate your freedom all the more. 

This blessed and fertile Mahoning Valley has produced much.  It has produced a wealth of soldiers too.

We have both the living and the dead with us today.

We the living will all eventually join the dead.  It is for us, while we are living, to honor the dead, for their sacrifice, for they too once lived like us, enjoying freedom and all the comforts of home.

We are here to honor all who served our country. 
Look around, there are many among us:

Members of the UVO, Chester Mertz who served in WWII, and many others seamlessly hidden among us.   These men and women know sacrifice.  We the living, promise you, your service will not be forgotten.
Chester Mertz a Navy Veteran of WWII tends to flowers of the grave of
his parents at St. John's Lutheran in the Mahoning Valley.

The dead are also among us, they lay silently here on these grounds:

Oliver Musselman KIA at Antietam,
September 17, 1862.  He was 19.
Oliver Musselman died Sept 17, 1862 at Antietam.  He was only 19.  Jonathan Gombert, also a Civil War Veteran, is buried here too.  He made it home alive.  But he too made a sacrifice at Antietam, giving up his right arm.
The Jonathan Gombert farm today.

Merlin Hollenbach is buried up there.  He was thinking, I’m sure, of his home three days before Christmas.  He landed in Vietnam on his birthday, just a month before.  He was most likely thinking of his mother baking his favorite cookies, wondering how his father was doing setting up the family tree, surely he was thinking of his new wife Irene.  But on December 22rd, 1967, far from his home, Merlin Hollenbach as a medic among the forward observers, died in an ambush, in the swampy jungles of Vietnam.
Merlin Hollenbach was newly married,
twenty-one, and only in Vietnam a month,
serving as a medic, attached to forward
observers.  He was killed
in an ambush.
A memorial from Merlin Hollenbach's family at St.
John's Lutheran.  Hollenbach died three days before
Christmas in 1967.

But not all died from enemy bullets.  Moses Mertz has rested here for nearly 100 years.  He died in France but he lies right over there. We know he had a weakened heart, we know he was in a hospital in France, and he died far away from his family and loved ones.  It has been said of Moses that he died of a broken heart, from an unbearable homesickness…
Moses Mertz, son of Nathan and Sallie Mertz of Mahoning.  As his draft card below reveals, he was a blacksmith's helper in the Lehigh Valley Railroad Packerton Shops.  He listed an exception to military service as a "weak heart."  Some say he died of a broken, homesick heart in France on October 2, 1918, just days before the end of the war.

Today is a Glorious Day.

We are alive: we have sunlight on our face, we have wind in our hair, and we have the dew upon our feet.  

We have our minds that allow us to think, to love, and to remember. 

We have been summoned here,

To think about their sacrifice, to always love our freedom, and
To always, always remember…their sacrifice for us.

More Mahoning Valley Veterans:
WWI: Anthony Dougher was mentioned
in last years Memorial Day address
at St. Peter and Paul Cemetery while
Moses Mertz was mentioned this year.

Daniel Kressley served in Co F of the
132nd PA Regiment.  He was discharged
in January of 1863 due to disability but
re-enlisted in the 202 PA Regiment until
August 1865.

Here is a closeup of the 1907 plaque that stands in the current Mahoning Elementary School built in 1954.  It was originally posted in the wooden one room school house and was erected by friends and classmates of Civil War servicemen who originated from the school.  It contains the following names: Killed: Oliver F. Musselman (Sgt Co F 132nd), Otto Stermer (Co F 132; Antietam), James Eames, John Miller, John Callahan, William Nothstein.  Also listed: Henry Snyder, William H. Fulton (1st Lt, Co G, 132nd), Joseph Acherman, Samuel Eberts (27th), William Stermer, Nathan Stermer, D. W. C. Henline, Thomas Musselman (Co F 132nd; wounded at both Fredericksburg and Antietam), Jacob Nothstein (Co F 132nd; buried at Zimmerman Cemetery), Daniel Houser (Co H 11th), Thomas Strauss, Reuben Reinsmith (Co G 34th), Robert Sinyard, William Sendel, Amon Fritz (75th), Josiah Musselman (Sgt Co A 202nd), Daniel Kressely (Co F 132), Stephen Fenstermacher (Co G 34th), Peter Eberts (4th Sgt Co F 27th Militia), David Eberts (27th), William Eberts (27th), Henry Zellner (Co G 34th), Jacob Strauss, Aaron B. Miller, Moses Neyer (Co F 132), Aaron Snyder (Co A 202nd), Elias Hoppes, John H. Arner (Co F 34th), and James Kresge.  Also listed are teachers Joseph Fulton and James Swank.
Josiah Musselman is buried at the Zimmerman
Cemetery near the old Wos-Wit. 

Josiah Musselman was a seargent in Company A of the 202 Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.  He was the son of Mary (Miller) and Charles Musselman, born November 5, 1837.  He married Emaline  He died on December 20, 1912 and was buried in the Zimmerman Cemetery, Mahoning Township on Christmas Eve.
Thomas Musselman buried at St. John's Lutheran in
Mahoning Valley.

Daniel Creitz of Co I 176th PA Regiment.

Daniel Creitz was born in May of 1836 and was a farmer from Lynn Township.  He served in Company I of the 176th PA Infantry Regiment from November 8, 1862 until October of 1863.  He was the husband to Mary Creitz (b. March 1840) and they had twelve children, nine of whom lived to adulthood.  One of their youngest children, Daniel Creitz had a farm near the Jonathan Gombert farm in Mahoning Township.  By 1900, Daniel Sr. and Mary moved onto the farm with their son.  By March of 1879 Daniel was declared disabled and by September 23, 1915 his widow Mary filed for widow’s benefits.

Henry J. Lange/Long was born in Germany February 16, 1833.  He served in Company G of the 132nd PA Regiment from August 15, 1862 to May 24, 1863.  Henry and many other veterans from the Valley in the 132nd hit a bees hive on the "Bloody Lane" during the Battle of Antietam.  The men had bees covering their bodies and inside their coats while taking hostile fire. He and his wife Sarah farmed the Mahoning Valley and had at least eight children: Henry, Anna, Mary, Alfred, William, Jenetta, George, and Edgar.  He died May 2, 1921.
Henry J. Long's tombstone
reads "Lange" as he was also
known.  His several
great grand son Henry Long
is bugler for the current
Lehighton UVO, and his son,
Kevin "Spike" Long is

George Arb's grave at St. John's Lutheran.
George Arb enlisted for a three year term on October 15, 1861.  He was wounded and discharged on a surgeon’s certificate.
Jonathan and Anna Gombert.  Jonathan lost his right arm at
Antietam and later became Carbon County Sheriff in 1900.  My
grandfather Zacharias Rabenold was hired as his servant when he was
just sixteen at that time and served as saddler on Gombert's farm as well
as "orderly" at the Carbon County Jail.

Henry Snyder served in Company I of 81st PA Infantry Regiment.  He enlisted for a three year term on October 15, 1861 and served until the company mustered out at the end of the war  on June 29, 1865.
Henry Snyder of Co I of 81st PA Regiment.
Justus G. Walton of Co I 67th PA Regiment.

Justus G. Walton was a sergeant in Company I of the 67th PA Infantry Regiment.  He enlisted for three years on October 22, 1861.  At some point he transferred to Company F.  He mustered out with Company F on July 14, 1865.  He was the son of Body and Polly Walton of Mauch Chunk and was second oldest of at least eight children (in order): Thomas, Washington, Wilson, Alfred, Peter, Joseph and Rebecca.  In 1850, his brother Thomas was a machinist and Justus was most likely an iron casting moulder. 

Valentine Newmeyer enlisted in Company F of the 132nd Infantry Regiment from August 15, 1862 until May 24, 1863.

Jonathan Gombert gave up his right arm at the Battle of Antietam.  He was born on June 19, 1835 to Philip (1792-1880) and Salome (1794-1878) Gombert He enlisted in Company H of the 81st PA Infantry Regiment.  He married Anna Loucile (Hontz) Gombert.  Her parents were Jonas and Sarah (Reinsmith) Hontz and lived from October 4, 1842 to June 7, 1920.  Three of their children were Sarah, Andrew, and Ella.  (Andrew would die in a tragic accident with his hay tedder at the age of  He died January 16, 1911.
William Grow of the 34th PA Militia most likely died in
June 1888, but little else is known of this veteran
buried alone at St. John's Lutheran.
William Grow 34th PA Militia served until August 24, 1864.  It appears on his government burial card that the granite company was contracted on June 9, 1888.

Henry Wehrstein was the son of John and Catharina Wehrstein.  In 1860 he was a twenty-one year old tailor living in Mauch Chunk. He served in Company F of the 132nd PA Regiment from August 1862 to May 1863.   After the war he and his wife Elizabeth settled in Mahoning Valley and raised a son James, where Henry continued on as a tailor.
Henry Wehrstein Company F 132nd PA Regiment.

Jacob Hoffman, born July 3, 1848 was able at a young age to serve in Co C of the 54th PA Regiment.  He died in 1909 leaving a wife, four daughters, and a son.  
Jacob Hoffman Comapany C 54th PA.

Moses Hontz/Hantz (1843 to 1907) served in Co. G of the 81st PA Regiment.  He was married to Sarah Hontz and they had eight of their eleven children grow to adulthood.  Of them alive and living with them in 1900 were: Carrie (age 17), Lizzie (12) and Raymond (10).  They also had their grandson Willie Eberts living with them too.  Moses was a well-known boatman on the canal as well as farming in the Valley.  Moses enlisted for three years on September 16, 1861 and discharged September 15, 1864.  His brother Amon Hontz also served in Company G. 
Moses Hantz also known as Moses Hontz, brother to
Amon Hontz.  Both were said to be born in Weissport
but are buried at St. John's Lutheran in Mahoning

Amon Hontz took a minnie ball at the Battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse.  Both brothers also fought at the Battle of Antietam. 
Ammon and his brother Moses were born in Weissport
but are buried in Mahoning.  Ammon took a minnie
ball at the Battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse, VA.
Nathan Gombert
Nathan Gombert was born on October 5, 1847.  He died on December 1, 1925.

Samuel Mertz lies in Lehighton Cemetery and is pictured
Daniel Kressley was born in Lynnport on January 18, 1844.  His parents moved to a farm in the  Mahoning Valley when he was just six years old.  He enlisted in Co F of the 132nd PA Regiment.  He was at the Battle of South Mountain and at Antietam where he was wounded at the "Bloody Lane."  After discharge for typhoid fever in Jaunary of 1863, Daniel re-enlisted and served out the war with the 202nd PA Regiment.  He returned to the Mahoning Valley where he taught school for thirteen seasons.  He also farmed, worked for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and the Lehigh Valley Railroad in between sessions.  He and his wife, the former Mary Dilcher had eight children, two sons and six daughters.  Both sons became ministers Clement Daniel and Thomas M, both serving in Schuylkill County.      
This 1914 veterans reunion in front of Lehigh Fire Co No. 1 marked the 50th Anniversary of the last year of the war.  Daniel Kressley is incorrectly identified as the second from left and is the third from left.  These photos appear
courtesy of the Thomas Eckhart "History of Carbon County" Volume IV, page 196.

Daniel Kressley, though sickened with typhoid fever in
Jaunary of 1863 and discharged, he later re-enlisted in the
202nd PA Regiment and served to the end of the war.
Merlin Hollenbach KIA December
22, 1967.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mud Run Train Disaster - "A name of terror for all time" - Wrecks of Penn Haven Post 3 of 3

Ocotber 10, 1888 – Wednesday evening -Temperance Excursion Train Disaster at Mud Run: “A name of terror for all time.”

The most costly wreck in early Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley Railroad history took roughly sixty lives.  The passengers had attended a Temperance Parade in Hazleton earlier that day.  There were men, women and children of all ages aboard the seven separate passenger trains boarded in Hazleton around 6:30 pm.  The special orders from the L.V.R.R. included the spacing of the trains at ten minute intervals.  This interval was considered more than sufficient since five minute intervals was standard practice.
The three passenger cars, borrowed from the Jersey Central, were telescoped together just above the Mud Run
station on October 10, 1888.  There were seventy-eight cars needed to haul the roughly 5,500 temperance attendees from the annual parade in Hazelton back to their homes in the Wilkes-Barre area.   Roughly 70 people were loaded into each car.  Some say the Central cars were of "flimsy" construction and led to the unnecessary death.  The Valley had to borrow cars from the Central because of the unusually high-volume of passengers that day.  Over work and lack
of sleep may have contributed.

The company also took the precaution of posting all the special orders associated with this huge undertaking and had all involved employees sign that they read them after they had been “studied for several days,” having been posted on all the bulletin boards.
Verbal instructions were also given to the engineers to “be careful.”  It would appear legally, the Valley Railroad did everything in its power to avoid the unthinkable.  But in the final analysis lack of sleep and over work seemed to play the most significant role.

All the special orders, signatures, and ten minute intervals were for naught.  The unthinkable indeed happened, killing at least sixty-four.

The victims were members of the Father Mathew Society.  Many were Irish Catholic coal miners relatively new to this country.  It was reported that there were seventy-eight car loads of people, of over 5,500 loaded onto the eight different trains, which would be about seventy people per car.
This broad sweeping curve shows the entry of Mud Run into the river.
The station would have been about one half mile toward the left.  The
train that was struck was sitting just above the station.  This would be one
of two curves the approaching train passed through before the collision.

The ill-fated sixth train was stopped at the Mud Run Station because the lights signaled that they were too close to the fifth train running ahead of it.  The rear of the sixth train was parked at the edge of a curve.

Brakeman James Hanighan later testified that the train stopped “a short distance above the station” at Mud Run.  He said he immediately took a red and a white light “as far back as the depot.”
The Mud Run as it flows into the Lehigh today
beneath the Valley bridge still in use today.

He went on to say he signaled with his red light and was on the platform when the last train went past him “at a lively rate.”  He estimated the speed to be twenty-five miles per hour, nearly twice the speed sworn by one of the engineers, Henry Cook.

This said train, the seventh, was pulled by Engine #466 (Engineer James Sharkey) and assisted by Engine #452 (Engineer Henry Cook assisted by his fireman Hugh Gallagher). 

According to rail officials of the Valley, it is alleged that lookouts aboard the #452 should have seen the flagmen and yielded to the red signal light.  However, it was the crew of the #466, not the #452, who had control of the air brake system. 

Engineer Cook’s testimony was at odds with Hanighan’s.  First, he estimated his train’s speed at “twelve to fourteen” miles per hour.  Other expert testimony supported this to be a safe speed under the circumstances.

Cook also said that he was alert, leaning out the right side of the cab and slowed to ten miles per hour when he approached the platform at Mud Run.  At this point, he noticed the “violent swinging of a white light.”

“I immediately whistled down brakes,” he said.  However, the engine behind him, the #466, had “charge of the train” and had the control over the air brakes.

Other witnesses said Cook had been on duty for several days “with but little sleep.”  Cook claimed to be still “fresh and wide awake.” 

Thomas Major of East Mauch Chunk had never run a passenger train before.  He thought one engine was enough to pull the train, and besides, had they had just one, the engineer would have had a better view. 

Major also said he had been on duty since Monday night at nine o’clock (a near twenty-four hours) with but six hours of rest.  Despite this, he said he “did not feel sleepy.”

Fireman Joseph Pohl testified from his hospital bed in Bethlehem, where he was recovering from leg injuries sustained in the accident.  He had been on duty since five o’clock that morning, a more than twelve hour shift.  He said he saw the white target and told the engineer everything was alright. 

He just then momentarily rested his head in his hands when the next thing he knew, he heard the “whistle for down brakes.”  He saw the engineer’s hand go to the lever, but had no recollection as to whether he was able to turn it or not.

Engineer Cook’s main defense was that he never saw or heard any danger signal, “when such should have been exposed.”  He also asserted, and no one disagreed, that there were no “torpedoes” deployed onto the tracks. 

(Torpedoes are small explosives/metal encased fireworks that detonate when a train approaches a disabled train.  See the accidental death received by a young woman from a prank torpedo left on a trolley track in Mauch Chunk – click here.)

Henry Cook alleged that no flagman or light was placed east, or below, the Mud Run Station.  Other witnesses alleged brakeman Hanighan was inside the station and not on the platform as he claimed to be.

The crash according to one survivor of the seventh train occurred at 7:45 pm.
Even at such a low speed as twelve miles per hour, the force of the impact was deadly.  The rear three cars of the sixth train were telescoped together, mangling and trapping people in a mass of flesh, blood, iron and steam.

Besides those killed outright, others were scattered about and pinned under the engines.  The trapped and wounded “could put their heads out of the windows but could get no further, as their lower limbs were held in the wreckage like a vice.”

On the scene was James J. McGinty who was the recorder of deeds in Luzerne County.  He estimated the speed of the train at fifteen miles an hour.  He said, “I have read thrilling accounts of railroad disasters, but never pictured in my mind anything like this.”

He went on to say, “The injured would say, “Oh, lift that iron and take me out; for God’s sake help me.”  Another would say, “My leg is fast, cut off my leg; get an axe and cut it off.”  Every few minutes another of the poor victims would die.  Some were scalded by escaping steam, some were crushed to death, and some dying slowly of their awful injuries.”

Directly beneath Engine #452 lay four young boys, mangled and severely burned.  They were members of the “Father Mathew Cadet Society” and were so ravaged that they were barely recognizable as human forms.

Some of these survivors, pinned in contorted positions, suffered fatal scalding burns from the escaping steam of the engines.  A man known only as “McGinty,” “risked all danger,” got inside the wrecked engine and “pulled out the fire.”

In the hope to free those trapped, a trainman attached a locomotive to the rear of the merged telescoped cars and engine, and tried to pull them apart.  The first tug brought “such cries of distress that the surrounding friends ordered the engineer to desist on pain of his life.”

One group attending the parade was known as the "St. Francis Pioneer Society."  One of the trademarks of their attire is to carry broad axes.  In the mayhem that ensued after the wreck, many sprung to action to help the suffering and dislodge the entangled.  The Pioneers soon discovered their largely decorative axes were of little use, breaking apart in demolition work.

Friends and relatives in most cases could do nothing to help in the agony of their trapped loved ones.

John Lynch was hanging outside the car, his legs trapped inside.  He screamed in such agony his friends supported his weight on their backs to help alleviate his suffering.  He was burned about his arms and shoulders and was in serious condition.

Another woman was also pinned by her legs.  The men with axes were able to free her one leg, but a misdirected swing severed her other leg from her body.  She calmly accepted her fate, withdrew a gold watch from her pocket, and directed those attending her to give it to her friend back home.  Her friends accompanied her to a hospital car where it was said she died en route home.
News of the Mud Run Disaster took on a national scope when Frank
Leslie's Illustrated newspaper of New York picked up the story.  The above
illustration most likely drawn from eye-witness accounts does bear
scrutiny to actual some of the nuances that unfolded just after the collision.

Some of the papers seemed happy to report that “many temperance pledges were quickly forgotten” as the survivors boarded trains away from the disaster.

Within thirty minutes, a train with the Valley superintendent and physicians was dispatched from Bethlehem.  Bonfires were built to give light to the rescue efforts. 

Though quite remote, there were a few homes in the area.  Soon these homes were lit up and converted into temporary shelter for the wounded who could be gathered there.

At 6:30 the following evening, “a funeral train arrived in Wilkes-Barre bearing fifty-seven bodies partially prepared for burial.”  The bodies were lain “upon boards across the backs of seats, each covered with a white cloth.”

Frantic friends boarded the cars despite officials asking for them to show some restraint.  They began tearing off the sheets in search of their loved ones, revealing the “gay uniforms of the St Aloysius’s men, cadets and other members of societies.”

Two special trains carried the wounded to hospitals at Bethlehem and Wilkes-Barre.  Forty doctors were said to be on the ground at daybreak.

The initial reports had the death toll ranging from the upper fifty’s to the low sixty’s.  An article in the following day’s Philadelphia paper recorded from a dispatch from Easton that fifty-six were killed outright and another forty injured could die. 

A Wilkes-Barre paper reported on the following day of forty-six dead names and also stated that there were still ten unidentified bodies.  It went on to say that two of the victims died overnight in the hospital with “six or eight more” expected to die.

On October 12, a New York Times reprint of a Scranton newspaper listed the dead and wounded.  There were seventy names listed under the killed column.  Of the wounded, several there were listed as “serious” and others listed as “will die.”  The small town of Pleasant Valley (today’s Avoca) had thirty-one names alone.

Reporters of the 1880s were perhaps more impetuously aggressive than one could imagine.  One reporter was able to track down engineer Henry Cook as he tried to sleep in his bed in Wilkes-Barre on the very night of the wreck.  The reporter noted with plain unspoken disdain of his only injury being “a bruised ankle.”

Despite his reluctance to talk, the reporter assailed Cook with provocative questions such as: “Were you asleep?...Were you drunk?...Rumor has set out some ugly stories about you.”

The New York Times of October 12, 1888 published Cook’s reply to his thoughts on the enormity of the accident.  They wrote, “Yes,” Cook said with a groan, “and I suppose the blame will be fixed on someone, and railroad companies don’t usually take such blame themselves.”

The alleged transcript between Engineer Cook and the
reporter on the night of the accident.

The coroner’s jury investigation cited the engineers of both the #452 and the #466 for negligence.  Also, the brakeman of the sixth train was cited for only going 400 feet instead of the proper distance of one half mile.  They also found fault with the conductors of the sixth train for not personally seeing to it that the brakemen protected the rear of their train.

A later trial acquitted all the defendants.

 Some debate was held over the use of the Jersey Central cars which according to one person interviewed then said that if Valley cars had been used, there wouldn’t have been as much loss of life.  The Valley cars were said to be of a sturdier construction.  The cars were on loan to the Valley due to the large number of excursionists signed up for the annual parade.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad took the lead in the court of public opinion by posting what they felt was a fair monetary settlement number in the papers.  Mr. William Connell, a coal operator was appointed by the L.V. R. R. as an impartial administrator for victim’s claims.  He was said to “not have interest in the Lehigh Valley Company.”

“He finds that nearly all the claimants want $5,000 each.  The company desires to avoid litigation, and is anxious for an amicable settlement…the general feeling is averse to going to law in case there can be a reasonable settlement outside the courts.”

It seemed like all the papers at once began to throw around the same numbers: $5,000 per adult and $1,000 per child killed.  A meeting of the St. Aloysius Society held a meeting of over 500 people in Scranton and passed a resolution authorizing Rev. Father Crave of Pleasant Valley (Avoca) to draw upon them for $500 or $1,000 to be at his disposal to help in cases of need for the “sufferers” of the Pleasant Valley parishioners.
The above list was printed in the New York Times the next day.  Of those listed here, at least two were said to be near death while another three were listed as "serious."  It is unknown how accurate these lists were, but these early reports listed 64 dead outright with several more not expected to live.

March 11, 1889 – Monday - One Last Mud Run Death –

The coroner’s jury inquest trial was conducted over three days in late October of 1888.  But other civil cases related to the trial were on-going into March of 1889.  Many witnesses, defendants, and concerned family members of the sixty-odd victims were flocking to town on both foot and rail.  

One man named Ottoman Schmidt had been in town and was walking the track home when he was struck and instantly killed at the Mud Run Station.  The paper reported that there were a “number of cases similar to that of Schmidts” at this terribly famous spot.   

One article describing the Mud Run Disaster from October 27, 1888.

This is a 64-person list of dead as of the next day's papers.  There are bound to be omissions and additions and other errors in this list.  Names from the above list of Annie Curran, John Coleman, and Owen Kilcullen appear both on the list and their graves are pictured below.
Also buried at St. Mary's is 15-year-old
Patrick Curran.  Also killed was Annie Curran of
John Coleman rests in Avoca's St. Mary's
Cemetery, a vicitim of the Mud Run Disaster.
Also killed were Michael and Patrick Coleman.
He was 40 years old at the time.
A native of Castle-Connor, County Silco Ireland was Owen Kilcullen thirty-five, vicitm
of the Mud Run Disaster.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Steep Grades and Dangerous Curves of the Lehigh Gorge around Penn Haven - Train Wrecks Post 2 of 3

Events of consequence, deadly ones on the rails, often turn on the smallest details.

Post #1 covered the accidental deaths of those struck and run over on the rails around Penn Haven (including two murders…click here to read that post)
Follow-up Post #2 and #3 will report on the derailments and train collisions that occurred here from 1874 to 1910. 
This undated wreck, most likely in the early 1900s, occurred just below
the Stony Creek curve at a slight curve known as the Barn Door Curve.
The Stony Creek curve is upriver and at the extreme right of the picture.
The photographer's back is facing Penn Haven, about one-half
mile down grade or timetable east. 

The derailments and collisions that occurred in the vicinity, including wrecks around Ox Bow Curve will be discussed here in Post #2. 
The most tragic of these accidents, among the worst in our national rail history, was the sixty-plus death accident that happened at Mud Run on October 10, 1888.  The Mud Run disaster will be covered in Post #3. 

All told, the accumulated deaths of all three posts exceed 120 killed.

Railroad companies were driven for profit, as they should be.  And certainly there were a lot of deadly accidents associated with this transportation system.  But they also invested sizeable capital into the construction and operation. 

These companies benefitted from an efficient enterprise.  It was in their best interests to be as incident free as possible.   

Many people are unaware of the many details these companies took to ensure safe transport of its stock and passengers.  The interlocking signal and switch system for one, was a huge safety innovation.

Likewise, the engineering that went into the rails, as far as banking on curves, is often overlooked.  During this time the rails were banked on curves, as well as the outer rail raised higher than the inside rail, to allow freight trains to travel up to forty-miles an hour.  Once “express trains” were added, rails were banked to allow for speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad (the “Valley”) owned the best routes for delivering the world’s most favored anthracite the world over.  The Valley in fact owed its very existence to the Lehigh River.  But the Lehigh was also its biggest liability.

The Valley and the New Jersey Central (the “Central”) followed the dangerous curves of the Lehigh River.  In order for the Valley’s famed “Black Diamond” and other express trains to run from New York City to Buffalo, it had to roll through New Jersey and up the twisty Lehigh Gorge to get to Buffalo. 

This circuitous route was necessary for coal freight.  But the “jet-setter” passengers of the late 1800s held it in disdain.  The mix of so much freight interspersed with passenger service was at odds with each other with costly consequences.
This Valley passenger train heads timetable westward from the Ox Bow curve toward Penn Haven.  Note the slight
embankment between the Valley and Central tracks to the right.   The grade between them is level at Glen Onoko
rising to about fifteen feet at the Ox Bow and then back down to level as it approaches Penn Haven.

Keeping Penn Haven as our focal point, a quick examination of this area reveals what the Lehigh Valley Railroad was up against.  Two miles up grade or westward, you will find the “Barn Door Curve” just before reaching the Stony Creek curve. 

The Stony Creek is perhaps the second tightest of all the Lehigh Gorge curves.  Trains here completed a near 180-degree turn on a tight radius.  This mattered more to the Jersey Central mainline which hugged the tight inside turn of the river.  The Valley, splitting off at Penn Haven to the opposite bank, rode around the inside cleft of Tank Hollow.    

Travel seven miles above Penn Haven and trains arrived at Rockport.  It had a small station and a village at Indian Run.  This was the Valley’s toughest curve.  It was so severe that it nearly folded back onto itself. 

This curve was circumvented when the Rockport Tunnel made a shortcut through the mountain.  It was the Valley’s first tunnel, driven in 1884.  One mile beyond there, toward White Haven, is another tight inside curve at Mud Run.
The Ox Bow Curve as it looks from atop Broad Mountain.  The entire curve is one-mile long, beginning just south of
Penn Haven and just north of Glen Onoko.  The beginning of the curve, out of frame left, is where Bear Creek
enters the Lehigh.

None of these curves though holds the distinction as being the most deadly curve. The Ox Bow seems to hold that distinction.  It is about one-mile in length.  It begins about three miles down-grade from Penn Haven and about two miles up-grade from Glen Onoko.  One mile outside of the Glen is an inside curve known as Hetchel’s Tooth.
Being struck or run over was a constant worry to rail workers as seen in Post #1.  

Workers lived with the possibility of collisions and derailments too.  Sometimes, even the simplest of equipment failure lead to death.  Some were scalded to death by steam from the boiler.  And of course many were horribly mangled in twisted iron flung with speed and force. 
Here is another view below the Ox Bow of an area known as Hetchel's Tooth.  To the left is the end of the Ox Bow curve.
Toward the right, is near Glen Onoko.  East side of Jim Thorpe can be seen distant center in the area known as the
"Kettle" for its resemblance to one.  Photo by Ronald Rabenold.

Equipment Failure:

December 20, 1875 - Monday

A rail broke on the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad (this rail company was later absorbed by the L. V. R. R) causing the engine to charge down the embankment into the river.  Killed were the fireman and also the brakeman Luke Wait.  Wait's body was shipped to Lehighton in a “neat coffin” and sent to his home in South Easton on the 4:35 pm train.
August 1, 1884 - Friday

Boiler explosions could be violent.  There could be a weak seam, low water level, or a faulty pressure release valve.  The destruction was often times utterly forceful and complete.

Engine #146 known as the “Mohawk” blew its boiler just two miles north of White Haven at Brady’s Switch.

The #146 was assisting a heavy train of coal cars up the mountain when something failed on the boiler.  Four men on board were most likely killed instantly: Both engineer Jacob Hassell (age 42) and his son, brakeman John Hassell (age 18), fireman John Armbruster (age 30) and telegraph operator R. S. Smith (age 21) from Nescopek.  All except Smith were from Mauch Chunk.

The explosion of the #146’s boiler left wreckage across the tracks.

Engineer Michael Greaney of Engine #345 was drawing a train of 125 loaded coal cars down the mountain.  By the time he noticed the obstruction, it was too late for any of his remediation’s to have much effect, his train too heavy to be stopped in time.

Far off, some three miles away, a farmer was reaping hay in his fields.  He heard what he described as the rumble of an earthquake.  His horses were said to have become “unmanageable in the reaper.”

The tracks were destroyed for a “considerable distance,” the railroad iron “torn from its fastenings” and the bed and ballast were “transferred to a hole in the ground.”

Engineer Hassell was found a hundred yards from the engine, among “a mass of wreck, mangled so horribly that it was difficult to identify.”  Fireman Armbruster was found 200 yards away under a pile of debris.  Young Hassell was found in a ditch one hundred yards away with his “legs blown off.”

Engineer Hassell had a premonition just days before the wreck.  He told his wife of it and she tried to discount and allay his fears and discount his beliefs in the powers of knowing.   But Hassell bought a “Knights of Honor” policy anyway.  His widow was to collect $2,000 from it.  The company was said to have incurred $50,000 in the accident.

A “large gang of men” worked there all day.  It wasn’t until noon that the trains could run through that way again.  The Valley trains were diverted over the Philadelphia and Reading tracks between Wilkes-Barre and Penn Haven until then.
An old picture of the Valley tracks somewhere south of
Penn Haven junction.
November 21, 1891 – Saturday

A broken wheel sent another coal train into the river at Penn Haven. Ten cars in all went over the steep bank into the Lehigh.  One of the crew, Michael Polsko, was thrown from the derailed train and onto the opposing track, laid out helplessly incapacitated. 

Just then, an ill-timed train proved to be the terminal event of his life.  Both of his legs were cut off in addition to his other injuries.  The hospital car arrived and whisked him to Bethlehem to St Luke’s Hospital.  But as the paper reported “he cannot recover.”
November 10, 1898 – Thursday
“John McNally met Death like a Hero”

Another accident killed six due to a failure of the air brakes.  Although it occurred slightly above the studied range near Wilkes-Barre, it bears special note because local men were killed.  It also shows how the Mud Run disaster became ingrained in our local vernacular. 

It was ten years and one month to the day after Mud Run accident, the most costly Valley wreck in terms of life lost.  However the 1898 accident was described as the “most destructive accident ever” to occur on the railroad. 

Though only six were killed, this wreck was said to have had one of the highest financial impacts because three engines were involved.  Unlike the Mud Run wreck that was blamed on human error, this one was deemed unavoidable because of the failure of the air brakes.
This Central  passenger car is heading down river near Hetchel's Tooth.  The steepness of grade through the gorge as well as the dangerously sharp curves played roles is numerous accidents here.  The backdrop for this vintage rail section, with impeccable ballast, is the end of the Oxbow, just above Glen Onoko. 

It was an early Friday morning, at 12:31, when the Buffalo Express, the No. 5 train drawn by Engine #417, passed through Lehighton.  It was an hour late, and as a result, two trains met on a single track instead of the double track further along.  

Both trains were said to be “heavy,” composed of several cars each.   Engine #444, with Lehighton resident engineer John McNally with fireman Fred Glasser of Mauch Chunk, was called upon to assist a heavy train up the steep mountain grade. 

Engine #444 (McNally/Glasser) joined up with the No. 6 train with Engine #425 (D. E. Price/William Yoxheimer).  They left Wilkes-Barre at 3:00 am headed toward White Haven.  It was ordered to pull off at siding #7 and to wait for the No. 5 train (Engine #417) to pass. 

The #417 (John Rohlfing/John Boyle) was coming down grade and was also ordered to wait at the siding.  As previously mentioned, the #417 was running late.  These two trains should have passed each other beyond Wilkes-Barre, near Pittston on a double set of tracks.  Instead, they were heading toward each other on a single track, at a fast speed.
This aerial shot shows the trestles at Glen Onoko at the lower left and Hetchel's Tooth curve at the top.  At the right where the river is obscured by the hill was the famed Hotel Wahnetah Resort that burned down around 1917.

The heavy train No. 5 could not stop and passed the siding at a “good rate of speed.”  Suddenly, there was the glare of opposing headlights on the same track. All three engineers reversed engines at once.  All were said to have stuck to their posts until the end.

All three engines were totally wrecked, the passenger coaches were said to “crush like eggshells, wrecked into a mass of rubbish and kindling wood.”

The dead were engineer John McNally, fireman William Yoxheimer of White Haven, fireman Fred Glasser of Mauch Chunk, express manager John McGreggor of Wilkes-Barre, brakeman Jacob Engleman of Easton, and engineer D. E. Price of Easton.

Glasser and Yoxheimer were killed in their engines, McGreggor and Engleman were found “horribly crushed” beneath the engines several hours later. 

Both engineer Rohlfing and fireman Boyle jumped just before the crash and escaped serious injury and death.

McNally lived for about six hours after the crash.  Staying at his post, he suffered painful scalding burns from the steam of his own boiler.  He had just moved to Lehighton from White Haven.  His home was under construction, the foundation had only recently been completed on his Coal Street lot.

Each engine was valued at $15,000.  The passenger car total amounted to $5,000 each.  The White Haven paper paid homage to their lost son:
“John McNally met death like a hero. He could have jumped before the collision as his train was running comparatively slow. But he stuck to his throttle saying before he died that he feared it would be another Mud Run. His first thought was for the passengers and to save them he died…may his memory long be cherished and his devotion to duty emulated.”

The “Ox Bow Curve” Incidents

No place in the area under study had more wrecks than the “Ox Bow Curve.”  It is an inside curve with a slightly steeper turning radius than the one at Stony Creek.  The distinctive difference here is that both the Lehigh Valley and the Jersey Central double mainlines are running side by side. 

The Valley lines are on the mountain side and were laid out on an elevated plane at places as much as fifteen feet above the Central lines.  (At Glen Onoko they are on the level with each other, rising to about fifteen feet by the Ox Bow, and then back to level once again at Penn Haven.)

June 19, 1898 – 4:30 Sunday afternoon - Jersey Central Wreck
The Central No. 706 passenger train was said to be going sixty miles per hour through the Ox Bow curve when it jumped the track and “ploughed into the stone wall” of the raised Valley mainline.  
Here is how the elevated plane of the Valley looks in
the vicinity of wrecks around the Ox Bow.  The twelve
to fifteen foot high separation played a role in
several wrecks with both trains coming off and down
as well as at least one that lurch upward and colliding
with opposing trains.  The steepness of the
gorge offers just the right thermals to for the
soaring Turkey Vulture in the sky, low center.

All told, the engine, baggage car, and “smoker car” left the track (see the end of this article about the designated smoking only cars.)  The Valley line is only at about five feet above the Central line at this spot.  The mass of iron and splinters said to instantly form also helped propel the baggage car up onto the raised plane of the Valley line. 

Just then, an opposing train, Valley Engine #4, collided with the wreckage.  The collision sent the “smoker” car down the fifteen foot embankment.  With its roof partially tore off, it landed on its wheels in the Lehigh.  The passengers we said to have had “an experience which they will never forget.” 

There was no damage to the Valley train.  However there were some Central fatalities.  Engineer Richard McHale (53 years old of Easton) was found dead amid the wreckage with both legs cut off.  The news agent, Charles Ebner, also of Easton was “injured so badly that he died shortly afterwards.”
The retaining wall as it looks from river level just below Ox Bow curve.

Baggagemaster Charles Taylor of Easton was seriously injured and was later said that he “may not recover.”  And perhaps most sad of all, Engineer McHale had his eight year old nephew along for the ride and he died as well.

About a dozen others were also “more or less hurt.” 

A brakeman by the name of Bell ran the three miles to Penn Haven Junction to telegraph for help.  The Central hospital car and a “corps of surgeons from Mauch Chunk” were quickly on the scene.

Soon after, rumors spread that the Central and Valley trains were racing each other.  Men of both companies flatly denied the rumor, though both were said to be fast trains.                    
Oct 2,1899 -Monday afternoon–Lehigh Valley wreck

(Same place and exactly 24 hours before the Central wreck below)
The No. 782, said to be the “latest and biggest engine of the Wyoming division,” was running “empty,” eastbound and approaching Bear Creek, at the beginning of the Ox Bow Curve when the “monster jumped the tracks.”  Engineer John Van Buskirk tried in vain to stop it, but it ripped up 350 feet of track and then toppled over the fifteen foot wall down onto the Central tracks.

At the same time, a fully-loaded coal train from the opposite direction crashed into the wreckage of the Valley train.  Van Buskirk was badly injured and unconscious when they found him even though he was pinned beneath the engine.  Despite being stuck in a fog of deadly steam from his boiler, he was extricated and taken to his home in Lehighton where he was said to be “on a fair way to recovery.”

The Jersey Central crew escaped injury by jumping out.  Three however died from the Valley train.  Albert Heimbach of Hickory Run (There is a beautiful farm just outside Hickory Run on the Albrightsville side owned by a Heimbach family today.)  and James J Denion of Weatherly were brakemen and found dead at the scene.  They were said to be “horribly mangled and scalded almost beyond recognition.”  Arthur Kanapel, signal inspector was found, badly injured and taken to St Luke’s hospital.  He died the following day.

Before the Lehigh Valley consolidated into ConRail in the 1970s, this black and white Valley freight train travels timetable east below Penn Haven in the area of the spring about one mile south.
Oct 3, 1889 - Tuesday- Jersey Central

(Same place and exactly 24 hours after the Valley wreck above)
The second wreck within several yards and at the same hour exactly twenty-four hours later originated on the Central line.  The accident had nothing to do with the repaired track but rather was caused by a broken axle.  A twenty-four year old brakeman by the name of William S. Miller was crushed to death under a “huge oil tank.”  As a result of this wreck, Central trains were temporarily diverted over the Valley tracks between Packerton and Penn Haven.

August 28, 1901 – Wednesday 6:00 am– Lehigh Valley wreck

The train, “of the latest design and only recently out of the shops” was going down grade in the area approaching the “dangerous curves” of the Ox Bow running at full speed.  It was said to have “swerved” giving engineer Charles Burroughs little time to reverse the engine, causing it to leave the track and crash down the bank onto the Central tracks.

It happened so suddenly, the crew had no chance of escape.  Both Burroughs (of Sayre) and fireman Charles Glasser (of Wilkes-Barre) were caught under the wreckage and were crushed and scalded to death.  Rumors at the time attributed the derailment to the spreading of the rails while a more likely theory was that the train was running too fast around the curve.

Like so many of these fatalities, the bodies were taken to Lehighton undertaker Henry Schwartz to be prepared for burial before being shipped to their hometowns.

Winter time along the Black Creek
January 4, 1905 – Wednesday 3:00 am during a “Blizzard”
The steepness of the Black Creek ravine is
apparent in this modern day picture.  Rock slides
were a common hazard especially during the springe
rains and thaw.  Winter time was also harsh here, as
in the blizzard of January of 1905 and its
contribution to the wreck of a 27-car coal train.

Weather was said to be a contributing factor to this “most frightful wrecks in the annals of railroading” happened as twenty-seven loaded coal cars came down the decline a mile outside of Weatherly at the Black Creek Junction.  The snow and “terrific speed” caused the train to derail and tumble down the fifteen foot embankment into the creek.  It was said to have covered the distance from the Hazel Creek bridge to the point of the wreck in one minute and forty-five seconds.

The conductor and flagman sensed the danger in time and were able to uncouple their caboose which saved their lives.  Another man sensed the danger just out of Weatherly and jumped from the train though it was traveling at a “great speed,” he escaped with “terrible cuts” and bruises from rolling many feet.

Engineer William Swank, Fireman Robert Turner and Brakeman Morchimer, all of Hazleton were “buried in the wreck.”  “Portions of their bodies” were found at “different points…literally ground to bits.”  A right leg was discovered the next day, but it was unknown from whose body it came from.  It was buried in Hazleton pending more identification.

The Packerton wrecking crew was on the scene for more than a day.  It wasn’t until about two weeks later when the actual remains of Swank and Turner were found.  Turner’s body was under a large rock, “preventing his body from being washed downstream.  His head was split and his face badly crushed and disfigured. 
It was then determined the previously buried right leg belonged to Turner.  His left arm from the elbow down, and left leg were still are missing. 

Then, two hours later, the body of Swank was recovered and identified.  He was pinned beneath a heavy piece of iron in the creek just a few yards away from where Turner was discovered.  His head too, was badly crushed in.

January 11, 1907 – Friday
(The picture credits the accident on January 10th.  The January 18th edition of the Lehighton Press reported it to have happened Friday January 11th.)
The wreckage of a runaway train from Weatherly.  The Black Creek is on the right.  Only  engineer Henry A. Rehrig
of Weatherly was killed.  His crew jumped to safety. 

Engineer Harry A. Rehrig of Weatherly stayed at the helm of his run-away train as it traveled out of control through the Weatherly yard, down the Weatherly Hill incline at a “terrific speed” until it collided with another train at Black Creek Junction.  It was a heavily loaded coal train.  Rehrig was killed but his crew escaped relatively unharmed by jumping off.  It was said to have caused $50,000 in damages.

Stony Creek –“One of the Most Dangerous Curves”
November 30, 1905 - Thursday – The Jersey “Central Flyer”

The express train was running twenty minutes late and was said to have been trying to make up for lost time as it neared Stony Creek.  The speed was said to be too great for the decline and the curve.  The article called the Stony Creek curve “one of the most dangerous spots” of the Central line between New York and Scranton.  

The engine, known to be “the heaviest and swiftest runners on the road,” “plunged” down the thirty-five feet of embankment into the “shallow” Lehigh waters.  Engineer George Willis had numerous cuts and was scalded on one side.  Miraculously, Willis of East Mauch Chunk, survived but his fireman didn’t. 

Fireman John Luebbert was thirty years old and lived with his parents Mr. and Mrs. Harry Luebbert in Mauch Chunk.

The other man killed was fifty-two year old Clarence S. Dettro of Ashley who was deadheading to Mauch Chunk.  He was riding in the baggage car, sitting on the mountain side of the car, and as the car tumbled down into a heap of wreckage, he was thrown across the car, the impact breaking his neck.

Thomas Goodwin, a newsboy, of Scranton incurred a fractured skull and wasn’t expected to live.  Others listed among the wounded were: trainman Robert Kneas of Mauch Chunk, Frank Soloman of East Mauch Chunk (Born in 1857, he later ran a hotel on Center St,), trainman Mahlon Headman of Mauch Chunk, conductor Thomas Snyder of Bethlehem, baggage master Philip Reilly of Bethlehem, newsboy Calvin Swisher of Scranton, F.V. Salkeld, Howard Fuller of Scranton, Charles Brady of Slatedale, M. B. Tilton of Bethlehem, Thomas McLaughlin of Tamaqua, Rev. Samuel Schultz of the Lutheran “Slavonian” church of Lansford, R. A. Lindsey of Scranton, George H. Craver of Scranton, and Mrs. G. C. Graves and F. E. DeLong, both of Philadelphia. 

Penn Haven - March 11, 1911 - James Dunleavy
Fireman JAmes Dunleavy was married only five years before he met his end in Penn Haven, some thought at the time that he was on the tender car when a derailed train collided with his train and perhaps he tried to leap to save himself, which many men did both successfully and unsuccessfully.  I hope to update this story sometime soon...
On his wedding day - Photo appears
courtesy of George Wagenseller.

Related Stories on CulturedCarbonCounty:

The following article appeared in the New York Times on August 27, 1881.  The author apparently thinks he or she has discovered the secret as to why so many non-smokers occupy seats in cars designated for smokers known as "smokers" or "smoking cars."  It is somewhat hard to wholly believe, as it suggests that doctors of that day prescribed their patients with early stages of smallpox to treat and cure themselves by smoke immersion on these cars.
This editorial from the New York Times from August 27, 1881 is written almost as if it were a thinly veiled scare tactic by the anti-tobacco lobby.