An Eerie Luzerne County Roadtrip
This was my first published article. I think it's quite appropriate for this time of year, and also perfect (in my opinion) to start of my Roadtrips from Dallas, PA
series. Your Fan-tom Tour Awaits
(published in The Weekender Oct. 29, 2003)
Halloween is the perfect time to discover something special about Northeastern Pennsylvania. Many famous people including an Oscar nominated actor, Pulitzer prize winning publisher, a famous novelist and screenplay writer, Hall of Fame baseball player, Olympic gold medal winner, and several Pennsylvania Governors call this area home. These residents don't mind visitors, and their locations make Halloween the best time to visit. A road trip to a few local cemeteries is required, as they are all buried here with some other famous--OK, some obscure-- people.
The best place to start is on the Internet at www.findagrave.com. The site is easy to navigate, and is set up to search graves by location, name, or claim to fame. This makes it easy to plot an interesting course through several local counties . Choosing a theme can also be fun, and a few suggestions are the Arts, Politics and Sports.
The final resting place of actor Lee Tracy can be found under a canopy of towering pine trees in Evergreen Cemetery in Shavertown. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1964 for his work in "The Best Man", and kept a home in Shavertown for many years--obviously liking it enough to stay for an eternity.
An award winning Newspaper publisher, Elizabeth Ruddy Lynett, rests comfortably (let's hope) at St. Elizabeth's Cemetery in Moscow. In 1946 while she was co- publisher of the Scranton Times, the paper was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in the category Meritorious Public Service becoming the first Pennsylvania newspaper to earn the award. For the next choice in the category of the Arts, the winner is Zane Grey, famous for his novels, books, and movies about the Wild West. His works have shaped how we view that time in American History. He is buried in Lackawaxen (his wife's hometown) at Union Cemetery.
Politicians try to avoid skeletons in their closets, but Northeastern Pennsylvania is a political graveyard with so many politicians buried in our backyard. Governors John S. Fine and Robert P. Casey are buried at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Nanticoke, and St. Catherine's in Moscow respectively, and long-term Congressman Dan Flood is buried at St. Mary's in Hanover.
Another U.S. Representative, Asa Packer, is buried under an enormous monument in the Packer family plot in Mauch Chunk Cemetery in Jim Thorpe, but rumor has it the railroad tycoon is still around, haunting his mansion located on the hill below. Asa Packer Mansion(left) and Harry Packer Mansion Asa Packer Mansion open daily for tours.
Harry Packer Mansion is a Bed and Breakfast (hosts murder mystery weekends)
Looking for something more current? Then head for Scranton where Hugh E. Rodham, Hillary's dad, is buried at the Washburn Street Cemetery. Hey, even the famous visit graves, and Bill might be found placing flowers at his father-in-law's grave.
The Kennedy Clan has had its share of scandals, and a causality of one, Mary Jo Kopechne, rests beneath a simple stone marked "Mary Jo" on the side of Larksville Mountain at St. Vincent's Cemetery in Plymouth. She was a campaign aide who drowned when the car Ted Kennedy was driving plunged off Dike Bridge into a pond in Chappaquiddick , MA. He delayed reporting the accident, and the scandal that followed forced him to drop out of the Presidential race.
Sports figures are also plentiful, and this area could create its own "Field of Dreams" with the baseball players buried here. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Stanley "Bucky" Harris, is buried at St. Peter's Lutheran Cemetery in Hughstown, and the only one-armed man to ever play in the Major League, Peter Gray, is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Hanover . Famous football players did not escape us, and one of Notre Dame's famed "Four Horsemen", James H. Crowley, is buried at St. Catherine's in Moscow. Baseball and football star Jim (Wa-Tho-Huk) Thorpe who also won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics for the pentathlon and decathlon can now be found at The Jim Thorpe Tomb just outside of the town named in his honor .
So this Halloween, for some cheap, unique, interesting, and educational fun--yes, there are some historical figures on this list-- plan an eerie road trip to some famous area tombs. You won't need much: A ride, a map (www.mapquest.com is great ), some comfortable shoes, and an open mind should do, because where you're going, you never know what you might find.
Also in Jim Thorpe, PA:Old Jail Museum
The Handprint on the wall in the Old Jail Museum is another interesting site to see.
Photo taken by staff of the Old Jail Museum. Please do not copy.
On June 21, 1877, as Alexander Campbell was being led out of his jail cell to be put to death for a murder he swore he didn't commit, he yelled, "I am innocent. I was nowhere near the scene of the crime." He placed his handprint on the wall of his cell and continued, "There is proof of my words. That mark of mine will never be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county of hanging an innocent man." Despite his protests, the guards led him to the gallows where he was hanged for the crime. More than 125 years later, the handprint is still on the wall of cell number 17 in a prison in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
The hand print has been scrubbed off, painted over, chiseled away, and in 1930 a sheriff, named Biegler, ordered the entire wall removed and rebuilt. Yet, the ghostly handprint remains. Scientific tests have been conducted on the handprint, and samples of it have been tested to see what it is made up of , but so far no one has been able to explain why the handprint exists. A former warden at the prison, Charles Neast, said, "You don't believe it. I don't believe it. But there it is!"
The prison is now a tourist attraction open to the public, called the Old Jail House Museum, and is located in the historic town of Jim Thorpe in the Pocono Mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania. Until 1995 it was known as the Carbon County Prison and was a working jail. There is much history and mystery associated with the old jail.
Alexander Campbell was thought to be part of a group called the Molly Maguires (a secret society of Irish miners). Coal mining was a big business in Pennsylvania in the 1800's, but coal miners worked in terrible conditions for little pay. Groups like the Molly Maguires formed to help create better work conditions for the mine workers. The mine bosses and coal company owners didn't like these groups because they feared they would cause trouble amongst the workers and that the trouble would cause them to lose money. They decided to get rid of these groups, and many times made up stories about members of the group.
In 1877, Alexander Campbell and six other members of the Molly Maguires were tried and convicted of a murder. All of the men claimed they were innocent, but all were found guilty and hanged for the crime. At the time, people were extremely prejudice against Irish people and the men did not get a fair trial. It is now believed that the men were innocent.
Much of the jail and tour is now a memorial to these men. Not much has been changed since the jail first opened in 1871, and the two story stone building looks like a fortress with its towering watch tower. Inside, the main cell block and cells look like they did when the Molly Maguires were prisoners there. The same cast iron staircase that the prisoners had to walk down to get to the gallows, and the same iron barred cell doors that held them are still there. A replica of the actual gallows used to hang the men sits in the same place it did when they were killed. You can stand in the same cells the prisoners were held in and see the ominous structure.
Part of the museum tour is to the basement dungeon. The basement is the coldest, darkest part of the prison and didn't even have electricity until the jail was turned into a museum. When the lights are turned out it is pitch black. The electrician who worked in the dungeon said it was so frightening down there he would never go there again.
The dungeon has 16 cells and was used for solitary confinement of prisoners. Documents displayed in the museum say two of the Molly Maguires were held there. The cells arched doorways make them look like caves carved into the side walls. They are small, dark and damp, and most adults have to duck through the 5 foot by 5 foot opening. Solid iron doors sealed the cells, and a few one inch holes drilled into the surface provided the only air. When prisoners were held in these dungeon cells, the doors were locked with padlocks. The prisoners were also shacked to the wall with handcuffs. Prisoners were sometimes left in these small cells for two weeks straight with no light, little food, no contact, and only one of the cells was equipped with a toilet. It's no wonder some people believe the spirits of the tortured prisoners still remain.
The handprint is not the only mysterious happening in the jail. Rumors have circulated for years that ghosts haunt the jail. One is the story of prisoner who hung himself in his cell in the 1940's. Before he died he swore he would haunt the prison forever, and he carved a name on the floor of the cell (it is still there). Inmates and prison guards claimed that on the anniversary of his death, scratching sounds, like someone is carving on the floor, could be heard in the cell. Others say they heard strange noises, or felt a presence while on the tour or exploring the building. Some people report feeling odd or sad for no reason, and others say they had trouble breathing in certain parts of the building, especially the dungeon. Are ghosts responsible for this? That's up to you to decide.
Tours are given daily at The Old Jail Museum in the summer, and on weekends in September and October. There are many pictures and stories displayed in the Museum and in the jail about its history and its ghosts, and of course, the handprint is displayed on the wall. When the guided tour is done, you can explore the building as long as you want on your own, but beware, no one knows for sure what is still there.Benjamin Barge
This 100 feet tall monument also located in Mauch Chunk Cemetery is the final resting place of Benjamin Barge, a famous educator and philanthropist.
According to the curator of the Old Jail Museum, several mysterious stories are associated with this statue. Every year on the Eve of Halloween, a pumpkin appears on the top of Benjamin's Mortar Board, and no one has been able to determine how it gets there. It's also been said that the thickness on each side of the book he holds changes. This would mean the pages turn, a difficult feat since they are made of stone.
Copyright 2004 by Kelly Gibbons
Please do not reprint any portion of this without my permission. Thanks so much!