Sunday, November 30, 2008



Here is the story of a Canal Boat Captain from Schuylkill Haven who tragically died while working on the canal. I have come across a lot of good Schuylkill Canal info recently and plan to do a few stories on the all but forgotten men who worked on the canal.


November 20, 1868

Pottsville Miners Journal

About 7 o’clock last Wednesday evening, Henry Witman a boatman from Schuylkill Haven, fell from his boat, the “Gabriella” while passing down the Canal opposite Pottstown. It appears that on leaving home he was unable to procure sufficient hands, and at the time the accident occurred was alone on the boat, excepting two children, a boy of 13 years and a girl of 11. He had complained of feeling unwell during the afternoon, and had intended stopping for the night just below where he fell overboard. It is believed that he must have fallen off the boat during a sudden attack of cramp or other illness, as he is a good swimmer, and could easily have gotten out of the water had nothing been the matter. The first intimation that anything was wrong was the boat striking a scow, when it was ascertained that no person was steering, and some men from the scow went aboard the boat and found nobody but the two children, who were asleep in the cabin. Search was made for the body that night, and on Thursday and Friday and Saturday without success, but on Sunday morning it was found near Stover’s pond. No marks or injuries of any kind could be found on the person of the deceased. An inquest was held by A.L. Whitman and a verdict of accidental drowning was rendered by the jury. Witman was about 39 years of age, and leaves a wife and six small children.

To a correspondent at Schuylkill Haven we are indebted for the following additional particulars in reference to this unfortunate case:
The body of Henry Witman who was drowned in Pottstown level on the 11th, was found on Saturday at 10 ½ A.M.
Wednesday the 11th was very cold and windy day. It appears that Mr. Witman had entered the cabin of his boat to clad himself preparatory to steering for the night. Being heavily clad with the flaps of his fur cap extending over his ears, heavy under clothing, an army overcoat, the cape of which being up over his head, the better to protect him from the wind and severe cold, and pair of heavy boots, the unfortunate man took charge of the helm intending to run all night. He had told his son and daughter to retire for the night little expecting that he would so soon fall to rise no more. It is assumed that while his boat was moving around the short curve where his body was found, he attempted to shift the boat suddenly, and while in the act slipped on the icy stern and fell overboard. Being heavily clothed he could make no headway, although his appearance when found plainly indicated that he made desperate attempt to save himself, his arms being extended in the swimming posture. But his cape over head no doubt prevented him from seeing his course and unfortunately he made headway in the wrong direction towards the bern side. In his struggle for life he had no assistance, and it was not until the boat ran against the bank that his absence was first discovered.

Search was at once made for the body but it was not found until the company emptied the level. The deceased was an estimable citizen, and his loss is mourned by the whole community in which he resided. He leaves a wife and six children. He was buried Tuesday afternoon, the 17th, his remains being followed to the grave by Lexington Degree Council No, 16 O.U.A.M. Metamora council, No. 66 OUAM of which he was a member.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


For Veterans Day this year the Historical Society of Schuylkill County is honoring the men and women of Schuylkill County for the sacrifices they made for their families, communities, and country. A display of some of the wonderful collection of military artifacts, covering all branches of the armed forces from the Spanish American to the Vietnam War is on display. And set up in the museum room.

The exhibit contains uniforms of many styles and era’s including the famous “Eisenhower” jacket from the 1940’s, and a complete Dough boy inform of World War 1. German Helmets of various design brought home by the 103rd Engineers during WW1. And to include many bayonets, daggers dog, tags, medals and ribbons from all wars. There is also a fantastic collection of posters and signs from WWI and WWII.

If you are in the area take the time to drop in and check it out. Also take the opportunity to visit the fabulous Civil War museum located in the Society.

FRIDAY 10 A.M.-4 P.M.




Wednesday, November 12, 2008

43rd Anniversary of The Mollie Maguire Trials in Court

James McParlan..Alias James McKenna.. Pinkerton Detective.
Here is a great little article in reference to the Mollie Maguire Saga.

In May 1919 this article was published in the Pottsville Journal on the 43rd Anniversary of the Molly Maguire Trials.

Meredith, better known as “Tim” Davis, formerly identified with the Journal Staff, of this city, where he was born and reared, whose sister, Miss Claire, is still a resident here wrote entertainingly in Sunday’s North American of James McParlan, the famous Pinkerton detective, whose career is now ended.
In a signed article dated Denver, Colo. Where “Tim” holds a desk on one of the leading dailies of that western city, he says;
“It was just forty three years ago this month May, 1876 that the little courthouse in Pottsville, Pa. was besieged by such a throng as it never had known before and has never known since. Facing the three judges of the court were ringleaders of the notorious band of Mollie Maguire’s, men whose deeds of outlawry had shamed the name of Pennsylvania before the eyes of the rest of the country, and whose career was brought to an inglorious end by James McParlan, who is now dying in Denver.
“The case had barely got under headway when the most dramatic incident of all the trials that had taken place or that were to come was staged in this little room ion the courthouse. Presiding over the trial of the five Mollie Maguire’s was Judge Cyrus L. Pershing, an uncle if memory serves me right of General John J. Pershing, of the American Army; associated with him were Judges David B. Green and T.H. Walker. A son of Judge Walker, Lieutenant Douglas B. Green, was an officer in Pershing’s Army and was killed in action during one of the big battles of the Pennsylvania Iron Division in France.
“An array of legal talent hardly parallel in Pennsylvania jurisprudence was engaged on each side. For the Commonwealth there was George R. Kaercher, district attorney; Franklin B. Gowen, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Companies; F.W. Hughes, General Charles Albright, and Guy Farquhar; for the defense were Lin Bartholomew, John W. Ryon and Daniel Kalbfus.
“As the prosecution began to unfold its plan of attack this May in 76, District Attorney Kaercher called the names of “James McParlan,” A sturdy, ruddy complexioned young Irishman, with sandy hair and a twinkling eye, ascended the witness stand. A murmur of dissent arose from the table of the defense.
“That isn’t James McParlan, its Jim McKenna!” exclaimed some of the defendants. “It s Jim McKenna, one of our crowd. Has he turned state’s evidence now?”
“Then the cool questioning of District Attorney Kaercher began. “What is your full name,” he asked the witness.
“James McParlan, “said the witness.
“What name have you been going under for the last few years?” “James McKenna, “s the reply.
“What is your business?” was the next question.
“I am a Pinkerton Detective,” said McParlan.
“And with that revelation began the doom of the Mollie Maguire’s. Try as they might, the lawyers for the defense were unable to shake the young detective’s recital of the Mollies operations in the hard coal region of eastern Pennsylvania during the preceding four or five years. McParlan had names, dates, locations, murders, slayers-everything- at his fingers and tongue’s lips.
It was the most dramatic denouncement to the most tragic series of homicides and other deeds of violence that American criminology records can show, even the outburst of the Allen gang of mountain outlaws in southwestern Virginia in 1912 when half a dozen clansmen assassinated a judge, a commonwealth’s attorney, a sheriff, a juror and a witness in the Hillsville courtroom could not equal in cruelty and premeditation the outrages committed by the Mollies.
“The Allen’s whose trials I covered in Wytheville, Va. Right after the shootings, were men of the mountains who were brought up to that kind of feudal warfare, you read about John Fox Jr’s Novels. The Mollies were men who organized solely for the purpose of combating the constituted authorities and of wreaking there displeasure, even to the point of murder, upon any who crossed their path.
“But today there may be those who wonder why it was so difficult to break up this band of outlaws. I have had the story from McParlan’s own lips, out here in Denver as he chatted with me of the days around Pottsville, (Incidentally my birth place) and asked me on some of his old friends there whom he had not seen for thirty years or more.
“Of course I had been brought up on stories of the Mollie Maguire’s back home. I had saloons and house pointed out to me by my mother as places where the Mollies would hold rendezvous; I had in fact, witnessed, as a reporter for Pottsville papers, two hangings on the same scaffold on which were hanged the five Mollies into whose trial McParlan had thrown his verbal bombshell.
“But familiar as I was with the scenes and with many of the surviving lawyers and some of the surviving Mollies in Pottsville and surrounding towns of Schuylkill County, I never tired of hearing McParlan himself tell in picturesque brogue which he never lost, of those stirring days which he risked his life every minute of four or five years as a member of the Mollies, gathering evidence which later to convict almost 100 of the outlaws and send more than a score to the gallows.
“It is history how McParlan went to Pottsville in October, 1871 on the secret mission known only to Allen Pinkerton, head of the detective agency; Franklin B. Gowen, president of the P&R companies, and Superintendent Franklin of the Pinkerton Agency; of how he mingled among the Irish miners of Schuylkill , Carbon and adjoining counties; of how he finally worked his way into the confidence of some of the leading Mollies, whose reign of lawlessness had baffled local and state authorities for several years; on how at length was accepted as a member of the secret organization and came, in time to be regarded by the county and town police as one of the most desperate of the outlaws; of how he braved all manner of risks to send in a nightly report to Philadelphia HQ in secret code. Of course concerning his operations for the day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Robbing Pillars A Very Great Danger

It was always said that robbing the pillars was one of the most dangerous jobs in the mine.

Pottsville Journal. September 28, 1891.


Thrilling Experience of Sixteen Miners in a Colliery

Suddenly Cut off From Escape by A ninety Foot chasm- Were Robbing the Pillars

Shamokin, Pa. Sept. 27---For eight hours sixteen men were imprisoned in an old chamber in the Hickory Ridge coal mine, not knowing what second they would be crushed to death. They were Carson Delong, Zach Hann, Frank Walthoff, Daniel Oyster and a dozen Hungarian and Italians.
When they entered the mine in the morning Foreman Reinhardt directed them to rob pillars. This is consider3d the most dangerous of inside work. A pillar divides one breast or chamber from another, and after all the coal is taken from the chamber the pillar is usually removed.
An hour after the first pick had been sunk into the coal the miners then were startled to find that the bottom of the gangway was cracking in hundreds of places, while trough the fissures came a blast of air an dirt. A violent swaying then ensued mingled with the sudden roar and crunching of coal. Then came a succession of reports, like artillery batteries going off.
“Boys” shrieked Hann, “The chain filler must be running, and if we don’t get out of here it means death.”
A rush was made for the closest chamber. Wolhoff was in the rear and was lifted tot eh ledge in safety just as the bottom of the place they had left dropped and revealed a yawning chasm 100 feet deep and 90 feet wide. When the pillar began to disappear the men on the lower level escaped.
The imprisoned men were surrounded on all sides by falling coal. They went up the chamber as far as possible and had a conference. They found that there was no possible way out other than by the way they had entered. But there was an impassable chasm between them and it. Suddenly they heard voices.
“Are you alive” cried foreman Reinhardt, who, with Tom Llewellyn and David Williams, had gained entrance to the gangway as soon as the rush of coal occured. The rescuing party was overjoyed.
How to get the miners across the abyss was next in order. A rope was procured and for four hours Reinhardt and his men tried to cast an end across. Sometimes it would land on a treacherous ledger almost within reach, and then it would go whistling down in darkness and dust.
Once it fell on a rock which seemed solid, but Dan Oyster was about to seize it, the rock and rope went down. The men then grew timid and glanced into each others faces with fear. They were almost without oil for their lamps, and had only what was in their cans. Was it to be a second Jeansville Horror, and yet within shouting distance of rescuers?
These gloomy meditations were cut short by a whirling noise and the crack of a whip. The prayed for rope had fallen at their feet.
“Fasten your end of the rope to a timber,” they heard the voice cry, “And we will do the same.”
Once securely tied about a post, the men consulted as to who would make the first attempt to cross the chasm hand over hand suspended from the rope. It was a perilous undertaking, but as the way lead to liberty it did not take long for Carson Delong to make up his mind to try it. Bidding his comrade’s goodbye the intrepid fellow flung himself into space and he went hand over hand.
The rope cracked and swayed. Several times he thought he would fall, but with strained muscles and stout heart Delong went on and on, and at last was safe. The others followed, and when the last had crossed they first wept like children and cheered loud and long. When they were hoisted to the surface 2,000 persons cheered and danced with joy.