Thursday, December 7, 2017

Ghost Towns of Pennsylvania: Strawberry Ridge

Old stories from Strawberry Ridge & vicinity 
Montour County, Pennsylvania
*Click to enlarge photos & news

1898: Ten year old Henry Rishel was out hunting in December and returned with an unusually large and very rare catch. The extraordinary rabbit weighed 10 lbs and after his parents and some locals got a look, they realized it was a Jack Rabbit, known only to roam in the western part of the United States. Proprietor M. H. Schram, of a neighboring town, put the cotton tail on display in his store.  

1900: People from all over attended a shooting match in town. Participants competed for the first prize of $3.00. Arren Seidel, of Washingtonville, took first place. Perry Mowrey came in right behind and won $2.00. 

1909: When William Appleman and Burt Welliver arrived at the voting booth, women screamed and took off when they saw what they carried with them. The men gathered around to see a very lengthy black snake that the two caught on their way, and measured just over 6 feet long. It was said to be the largest ever found in the area. 

1911: During the month of January, Clark McMichael had 175 chickens that laid 2,015 eggs on his farm outside of town. The cost of eggs was at a high, and at 30 cents each his profit was about $600. 

1912: Jerome Deihl lost noticed a valuable heiffer was missing from the pasture in July. For three days and two nights he trudged through the woods. The unlucky farmer became even more frustrated when tap water from his sink started tasting foul. He headed out to the well and was surprised to see it had caved in. peering down into the hole, John discovered the fate of his missing cow. A loss of $50 was estimated and neighboring farmers assisted in the tricky task of removing a large carcass from the deep hole. 

1921: In May Charles & Augustus Stamm returned to their hometown for a repair job at the Reformed Church at Strawberry Ridge. As the pulled back wood from the deck, the two brothers laughed and couldn't believe what they saw. Etched in the floorboard was the year 1868, a little worn but still visible. Also was their own names and that of their father who they had been helping when this part of the church was built, 53 years before. 

1942: Charles & Cora Carr, assisted by their children, harvested 30 tons of tomatoes grown on two acres of their farm. The remarkable tomato soup crop was the largest ever known, especially in such a tiny area. When they finally finished the backbreaking job, they graciously accepted help in canning the fruits from Mr. & Mrs. Russel Koser and family. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Haunted House in Olean

An old home on 8th street in Olean had a reputation of being haunted by a little girl in the late 1800's and on. Owners and tenants were spooked by the sounds of her crying all through the night. Occasionally the child was seen in side the home or from the windows, peering out. No one ever seemed to live there long, especially after learning that a brutal murder had occurred there. The victim was three year old Laura Boyd who died in 1882. Henry & Ellen Boyd, her father and stepmother, were charged with torturing her to death and then attempting to conceal the crime. Henry was sentenced to life in prison and sent Auburn, Ny to serve his time. Ellen was later acquitted, but never regained any type of decent reputation. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who was the headless man of Forest County?

John Burns, of Sheffield Junction, was hunting down a bee tree at Watson Farm in the beginning of October in 1922.  Pushing through thick brush, a foul odor stung his nose.... and directly following, he discovered the body of a headless, almost completely nude man. 

The man wore only cotton briefs, socks, and a shirt. His heart had been pierced with either a long knife or similar instrument. His head was forced across a rock and bark peelers spud or ax was used to remove the head. The missing appendage was never found. A possible clue was found in the weeds.... A shirt collar, laundry marked with the initials "G.T.20." The coroner felt the man was of Italian descent, possibly in his 30's or 40's, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, and weighed around 150 lbs. Men in the 3 camps nearby were questioned, but unable to help. The unidentified headless man was buried at a local cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Authorities worked hard tracking down any missing persons and comparing information. Locals had their own theory. In 1915 Forest County District Attorney Marion Carringer was shot at his office by a father who was seeking revenge. Mr. & Mrs. Gerrano Schettino were living near Watson Town back then. One day  the couple's 8 year old daughter returned from playing in the woods and said she had been criminally assaulted by a man. The local physician conducted an exam but felt there was no evidence of a crime. Police refused to arrest the accused, John Booth. Gerrano was furious and took matters into his own hands. He arrived at Carringer's office with a gun and that is when shots rang out. Gerrano took off but was later tracked down. On the way to jail he swore to return one day and get revenge on Mr. Booth. Gerrano was sentenced to 7 years in the state penitentiary. His recent release had people wondering where Booth was. Authorities followed the lead, but got nothing. 

Police received a tip that two strangers were begging for food at the Miller's Camp near Watson Town about 4 days before the body was found. They never gave names but mentioned they were there to board the train. Other witnesses said the two never got on because the short one objected for some reason. An argument ensued and they walked away. Authorities felt it was possible this was connected to the mystery. The strangers were never located for questioning.

During the month of November, an arrest in Elk County gave hope that maybe the case would be solved. Someone reported that a hobo was wandering the streets and said he was an inmate from the hospital. Police acted quick, thinking he could be an escaped insane patient who was responsible for killing the headless man in Forest County. There was a communication barrier, so it was hard to make out all that he said. He wrote his name and age... Joe Zorzut, 57 years old. Nearby poor farms, county homes, and asylums were checked for any escaped patients matching his description. It turns out, he had actually only been at the St. Mary's Hospital as a patient suffering from a sprained ankle, but was unsure of what terminology to use when explaining. The poor man was promptly released. 

The identity of the headless man, the whereabouts of his head, and maniac who murdered him remain a mystery. This is not the only unsolved mysterious case of it's kind from same vicinity... Stay tuned!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Schemers win $900 + in bet over the Ice Mine

Schemers win $900 + in bet... 1911
Mr. Fred Leonard, President of the First National Bank in Coudersport, invited his cousin, Edwin Leonard, for a visit in May. The two opted for a day touring the Ice Mine and schemed up a great plan to make some money. When Edwin returned home to Detroit, he wrote a letter to the local newspaper that was published May 26th. It outlined his visit to the unbelievable and extremely rare Sweden Valley Ice Mine, and bet anyone who didn't believe that his story $100 plus the cost of a trip to Potter County as long as they responded to his letter by September 1, 1911. Wouldn't you know, there were 9 offers on the table including David A. Brown, millionaire from Detroit who was President of the People's Ice Company. In mid September Edwin Leonard arrived back in Potter County accompanied with news reporters hired by his opponents. The hired men brought cameras and were able to vouch that the strange phenomena was in fact not a myth. The gentlemen were then chauffeured to the First National Bank in Coudersport and directed to make payment on behalf of the losing party (for costs incurred by the trip & the $900) before skipping town. Fred Leonard  was happy to provide assistance.  Many bets throughout the years were won and lost over the validity if the Ice Mine. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Remarkable but true stories - Mckean County

Largest wasp's nest in the world 
Rollo Bell, 12 years old, was out playing in the woods one summer day. Walking in the trees he heard buzzing sounds from above. Woven in the branches of a tall sapling was an unusually large wasp's nest. Rollo scurried home and told his parents, Rowland & Elizabeth, who came expecting to find their son had exaggerated. They were shocked to see such an enormous nest. Mr. Bell & some friends cut the tree down and took measurements of the incredible hive. It was 41 inches around and 21 inches long, beating the previous record breaker from England by 1 inch. Rollo had found the largest wasp's nest over known to exist in the world. (1896)

Highway robbery in the forest 
Charles Slight, of Clermont, discovered a hidden cashe of honey inside a tree trunk while hunting near his home. He marked the spot and headed back with two pails the next day. As he rounded the corner, an enormous bear was stationed at the tree. It was clearly enjoying the sweet sap. Charles was disappointed, but considering it was hunting season, there was only one thing to do. He dropped the buckets, ran back home for his gun and returned to find the bear was gone and no honey was left. (1916)

Most unusual pet 
A Bullis Mills resident by the name of Leon Evans owned a dog that all area children loved to play with. It was so interesting in fact, that numerous offers were on the table. The curious collie was was born with the body of a woodchuck, feet of a cat, and formerly used by the police force. It was the only pup born in that litter to have these features and was happy to now be retired and living the life at the Evans farm. (1923)

Mr. Graham could not believe his eyes 
Donald Graham was working along the banks of Tuna Creek behind his farm and stepped on something that moved. He thought for a second his eyes were failing. A three foot alligator covered in grease and oil was looking at back at him. He corned the little beast and took it to town. Locals recalled that around 1920 Zora Custer released some of the creatures at the creek. They figured maybe this one had somehow survived but remained undetected. There were many great finds in Tuna Creek over the years. A box containing decayed money was found in 1877. A 200 lb safe robbed from the J.C. Hill grocery Store at Limestone was found in 1940 and the pedestal of a parking meter stole from E Washington Street in Bradford was discovered in the water near in 1947. (1930)

Historic gold coin discovery linked to a tragic accident
Stanley & Manley Irons were plowing through dirt near the Jo Jo intersection below Kane. They discovered a bent $10 gold coin dated 1894. Word made its way around and some local elders recalled a terrible nitro glycerin explosion from almost 3 decades before. In fact, they were sure that the coin was linked to the accident which resulted in the death of Les Thompson on September 8, 1908. That morning Thompson left with his team and dog, who always was with him. At the Jo Jo Intersection they stopped and the faithful dog hopped out jumping into the wagon ahead. It was the only time known that the pet ever left his masters side. Suddenly an explosion shook the men ahead. They went back to check on Mr. Thompson but there was barely anything left of him, the team, or his wagon. A massive pit was left near the road thought to have contained the explosive materials. The old farmer had been known to carry gold pieces such as this and so everyone was sure it once had been his. (1938)

Discovery of a human skeleton at the Reuben Store
In the spring Bert Abbey was hired to clean out and demolish an old store on Main Street. As he cleared the contents of a top shelf, he discovered a fairly large false door in the wall behind it, and opened it to see a tightly wrapped brown package. Mr. Abbey pulled the bundle down, excited to see the contents... but was horrified to find a human skeleton was inside. After contacting authorities, Detective Merle Dickinson arrived and quickly confiscated the remains. He questioned Harry Reubin, who owned the old store and the clothing store adjacent to the building... but Mr. Reubin said he had no idea the skeleton was in there, and that the old store had been vacant for many years. Dickinson later reported that the bones belonged to an unknown woman, and that there was no way to tell who she was. The mysterious skeleton was soon forgotten and excitement renewed when Mr. Abbey found an ancient hundred dollar bill in the store. The dollar bill was sent out of state for testing to check the authentication. 1944

Boys stop disastrous accident before it happens
Stephen Reed & Billy Mead were walking along the southbound tracks just North of the Turtlepoint crossing. The kids noticed a 10 inch piece of rail was completely broken off. Rather than messing around, they ran back and told Mrs. Carlson at the Turtlepoint store. She relayed the information to the station at Port Allegany who was able to give warning before the next train went through. Stephen and Billy, about 10 or 11, were awarded for their quick work and prevention of a bad disaster. The Pennsylvania Railroad Association awarded them each a years subscription to the Popular Science Magazine and pocket knives equipped with a compass and magnifying glass. (1952)

Amazing acts of kindness 
A home owned by Robert Jones on the Rew-Coleville Rd at Rew was destroyed by fire in May. The flaming inferno was a result of an oil stove explosion. Directly following, a very frantic Mr. Jones ran all the way to the fire station and rang the bell. 25 firemen responded, but his home was reduced to ash, everything inside completely destroyed. Kenneth Wineburg opened his home to Mr. Jones and over the next couple of months the community and surrounding areas came together. They completed one of the most remarkable acts of kindness. Neighbors and other volunteers rebuilt his home and furnished it. The construction chairman was Henry Kolicosky. Satterlee Lumber Company of Lewis Run, Lerch Lumber Company of Gifford, and Grego Lumber Company of Bradford donated the wood used for this project. Mr. & Mrs. Edward Mock were in change of donations and made sure everything ran smoothly. Mr. Jones was in his new home around the first of July. (1967)