Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Cloak Man of Clifton Heights

Since I turned up the first reference to the Cloak Man (from the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger) a few days ago, I've been looking around for more information on the entity. Some articles in the Chester Times shed a bit more light on it. The first one, which was published in that newspaper on September 25, 1916, has a first paragraph largely identical to the Philadelphia story I first turned up, but then goes on to reveal much more information than that piece did.
A mysterious stranger, man or woman, wearing a long black cloak and a black hood over the head, has caused much excitement in the borough the past few evenings and not a few women as well as some men have become thoroughly frightened by this mysterious creature, now called a "cloak man." The excitement ran high on Saturday night when the appearance of the cloak man who stopped several young couples on Walnut street, near Fairview avenue, caused the gathering of several young men in a few minutes. Headed by Chief of Police McGowan and Officer Kelly, they started in search for the stranger.

On Saturday night [November 23] shortly before 11 o'clock, Joseph Austin, of Berkley avenue, was accompanying a young woman to her home. While walking on Walnut street, near Fairview avenue, a tall person, wearing a long black cloak and a hood, stepped in front of Austin and the young woman. He pushed his long hands into the young man's face and muttered something inaudible. Austin's hair raised his hat, while the young lady was badly frightened by the sudden appearance of the cloaked person, who did not harm the couple, but turned swiftly and fled.

Austin, after accompanying the young woman to her home, returned to Baltimore avenue, where he informed Chief McGowan. The news spread quickly and in less than ten minutes several hundred men started a hunt for the cloak man, but he was not found. Several young men did locate a cloaked person in a small orchard on Walnut street and Fairview avenue but the mysterious one dashed out of the place and soon disappeared.

Just what the object of the cloak man is no one seems to know and it will require some police work to capture the stranger at the earliest possible moment. Many years ago a cloak man annoyed young girls in the borough and it required several weeks to capture him. Finally the late J.M. Lungen, then officer of the borough, caught the man, whose name was Stillwagon.
I'm engaged in an attempt to discover more about the previous cloak man mentioned, but have thus far been unsuccessful. At any rate, the tale continued in the papers the next day -- and it begins to display some of those pesky genderbending tendencies I've discussed before.
The cloak man is still alive and doing business in the borough. On Sunday night [November 24] he succeeded in eluding the police, despite the fact that Chief of Police McGowan disguised himself. When the police would be in one section of the borough looking for the cloak man, the mysterious fellow who, on Sunday night was dressed in woman's attire, with a long black cloak, would be in some other part of the town. In fact he was playing hide and seek with the police and others who were looking for him.

Some persons are of the impression that he is a man who is anxious to catch his erring wife. If this be the case, the offended husband is taking a wrong method of catching the other man, because there are many young men who have made up their mind to make the cloak man a victim for the undertaker, if attacked.

On Sunday night lovers did not promenade on the usually quiet or dark streets, but Baltimore and Springfield avenues were the boulevards of lovers' walks. The appearances of the cloak man has also driven every "kiddy" in the town off the street after dark and all they talk about is the cloak man.
Finally, on November 29, a final notice appeared. After this, the cloak man disappeared as mysteriously as he, she, or it, appeared.
Johnnie Get your Gun [what an amazingly random headline]

The "cloak man" is still strolling about the borough every evening and despite the best efforts of Chief McGowan and other persons who have been keeping a sharp look-out for the cloak man, he has not been captured. Ladies and children will not travel at night unless escorted by their husbands, fathers or beaus. The "cloak man" has been seen by men every night, but only at a distance, because it is now believed that the fellow is a little afraid of the men, hence it is that he keeps a good distance from the police.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Cloak Man of Clifton Heights, Jack the Terror, and a giant snake

From the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger (Sept. 26, 1916):
A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER, man or woman, wearing a long black cloak and black hood, has caused much excitement in Clifton Heights the past few evenings, and not a few women as well as some or all of the men have become thoroughly frightened by this mysterious creature, now called a "cloak man."
From the Pittsburgh Dispatch (Aug. 25, 1889):
A Man Disguised in Woman's Clothes Scares Southside Ladies.

A mysterious creature is prowling around the Twenty-fifth ward. Last evening he went in women's attire to the home of John Scheck, as foreman of the Republic Iron Works, on Sarah street, and told Mr. Scheck he was wanted at the mill. He went immediately. As soon as he had gone this tall masquerader entered his home and scared Mrs. Scheck.

When Mr. Scheck returned from the mill he notified the police, but the man in woman's clothes could not be found.

The same evening he frightened the wife of Harry Brooks, living next door to Scheck's. The men in the neighborhood threaten to harm him if they lay hands on him.
The Mad Gasser of Mattoon (referenced below) had a similar propensity towards genderbending, sometimes seen as a man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as a man in woman's clothing. The Cloak Woman also displayed similar traits.

The method in which he/she gained entry to the Scheck's is, to me, extremely reminiscent of Spring-Heel Jack's appearance at the door of Jane Alsop under a pretence of having caught Spring-Heel Jack. "For God's sake, bring a light!"

And from the Scranton Tribune (May 13, 1897):
Westmoreland County Man Beholds a Strange Creature.

Greensburg, May 12. - Last evening as Thomas McQuaide, a young farmer residing near Delmont, was riding along by the Burnt Cabin district, his horse took fright at something in the bushes. He turned to see what the object was, and was almost paralyzed to behold a monster snake, which was at least 18 feet in length, and thicker than a man's leg at the ankle. Mr. McQuaide had hard work to control the horse, which nearly threw him off. He rode hastily away for assistance to kill the reptile, but when the snake shunters reached the spot the snake was gone. They searched and beat the bushes but could find nothing.

Daniel G. McQuaide, father of the young man, thinks the monster is the same one he saw several years ago in about the same place. A number of persons of Delmont have formed themselves into a committee to hunt for the snake, which, if discovered, will be captured alive and placed on exhibition.
Do we have here a westward-ranging representative of the same species as the Broad Top Snake to the west in Huntingdon and Bedford Counties?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Coy-dogs in Blair County, early 1900s

From the Tyrone Herald (undated, but presumably early 1900s):
The final chapter of the historic Walter L. Main's circus wreck on May 30, 1893, was written on Saturday when at the hands of Constable Joseph Diehl, eleven descendants of the coyot that for many years worried stock owners in this region were killed. For number of years depredations have been reported as having been committed by alleged "wild dogs" that frequented Snyder township. About six years ago, a coyote was shot for a fox by a hunter who, with some misgivings presented its pelt before a local magistrate for the usual fox bounty. It was then that a westerner properly identified the dead animal and cleared up the mystery of the "wild dogs." It developed that a small Shepherd dog belonging to a Snyder township farmer, had found his affinity in the wild western cousin and the offspring had grown up in the wilderness. For many years they have been seen in the vicinity of the Sprinkle farm, where it was discovered they lived off the refuse and offals from the slaughter house. About two months ago a litter of seven puppies was discovered in the jungles and watched. They grew rapidly and were not unlike tiny cub bears in appearance.

Constable Diehl spent Saturday in the desolated district and succeeded in dispatching eleven of the species, ranging in size from a half grown fox to the timber wolf. They all had the sable and gray color. The carcasses were viewed with considerable interest by local hunters, who differ in opinion as to whether their ancestors was really coyote or wolf.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Monkey found in Chambersburg (1955)

From the Racine (WI) Journal-Times (March 30, 1955):
Chambersburg, Pa. (AP) - Twelve-year-old Dennis Summers was puzzled when he found a dead monkey wedged in the branches of a tree. It had died of exposure. The police were mystified too. They had no reports of a missing monkey and a check of residents known to own monkey pets showed that all were safe.

No one could offer an explanation.
Nothing like keeping it short and to the point, I guess, if it does sound like it was written by a second grader.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mystery asphyxiations in Coatesville (1944)

From the Huntingdon Daily News (February 1, 1944):
Coatesville, Pa., Feb. 1 - Police were joined by chemists today in an effort to determine what type of gas killed three members of a Coatesville family and made two neighbors seriously ill.

The bodies of John Refford, 55, his wife, Myrtle, 51, and her brother, Charles Johns, 54, were found by police last night in the Refford home, in various rooms of the house. In adjoining houses police found Mrs. Elmer Dripps and Mrs. William Cohen, who were ill.

Officials said the Refford house was filled with a sweetish-smelling gas, which they thought was explosive. The two ill persons and others in the neighborhood told of smelling the gas.
A few months later, mysterious gas attacks befell the citizenry of Mattoon, Illinois. Known as the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, it was in connection with this affair that the Coatesville incident was recounted by Loren Coleman in Mysterious America.

On the same day, an account appeared of the incident appeared in the Reading Eagle. This account was largely identical, although it clarified that the sweet gas was smelled within the home by Deputy Coroner Fred Manship. It also notes that Mrs. Dripps and Mrs. Cohen lived in the houses on either side of the Reffords and that the sweet gas was also smelled in both of those homes.

The mystery was dispelled the very next day, though this wasn't mentioned until February 5 and then in a brief paragraph buried on page 8 of the Reading Eagle:
Coatesville, Feb. 3 (AP) - Illuminating gas which escaped from a leaking street main caused the death of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Refford and the woman's brother, Charles H. John, Monday night, a coroner's jury ruled last night.

Book update...

Mysterious Pennsylvania has been finished, finalized, and sent in to the publisher as of a few hours ago. So it's not my problem anymore!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Unidentified flying objects in Adamstown?

From the Reading Eagle, August 14, 1869:
SINGULAR PHENOMENON. - A most singular phenomenon occurred at mid-day on Saturday last, near the village of Adamstown, Lancaster county. About two hundred yards north of the village is an open lot, and at 12 o'clock, while the villagers were taking to dinner, a luminous body was seen to settle near the centre of this lot. It is represented by four or five different parties, who witnessed it from several points, to have assumed a square shape and shooting up into a column about three or four feet in height and about two feet in thickness.

The sun was shining brightly at the time, and under its rays the object glistened like a column of burnished silver. The presence, after reaching its full effulgence gradually faded away, and in ten minutes time it had entirely disappeared. Those who saw it were unable to tell what it was. It seemed to inspire terror rather than admiration. After it had disappeared a number of persons visited the spot, but not a trace of anything unusual could be found.

Similar objects have been seen in the neighborhood on several occasions during the night time, but none before in the day time, or so bright as this. The land in the immediate vicinity is dry, there being no swamp about, otherwise the phenomenon might be accounted for. We do not know whether the Jack o' Lantern assumes such huge proportions or whether it appears in midday under a bright sun. Perhaps some of our friends versed in the sciences can solve the mystery.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a newspaper article using the word effulgence today. And even in 1869 they were bandying the swamp gas theory about!