Many people complain their family history is boring.
One way to liven it up is including the odd events that happened in the location or occupations of your ancestors. There are hundreds of tales and the best source for them is local historical societies. Author Charlie Adams who I interviewed on the podcast has compiled over a dozen books just on mysterious stories in Berks County!
In celebration of Halloween, let’s look at some spooky and odd events in Pennsylvania history and maybe spark some research ideas for you.
The Philadelphia Experiment
Would you believe me if I told you that a Navy ship disappeared in Philadelphia in 1943?
During World War 2, the destroyer escort ship USS Eldridge was fitted with a top-secret electromagnetic device at the Philadelphia Navy Ship Yard. Then, as the story goes, the ship and crew conducted two experiments to make the ship invisible.
With the top-secret device powered on, the experiments began. The first effort used a green fog which covered the ship. As the fog dispersed, so did the ship. It was no longer there. Success! The second attempt was made after some adjustments to the electromagnetic equipment. This time, once it was turned on, the Eldridge and her crew disappeared in a flash of blue light. The ship reappeared in Virginia at the Norfolk Navy Ship Yard.
Sailors who participated in the experiments got violently ill. It is said that five crew members were fused to the metal walls of the ship, and several disappeared completely. To learn if your ancestor was involved, check if they served in the Navy and where their service was. A Pennsylvania Death Certificate lists their veteran status is a great place to start. Navy service records are with NARA in the St. Louis branch. And maybe, people even wrote letters about the experience, and they are with a cousin.
The truth could be out there!
Theft of the Covert’s Crossing Bridge
The Covert’s Crossing Bridge in North Beaver and Union Townships, Lawrence County was stolen in 2011. Yes, stolen. The single lane steel structure over the Mahoning River disappeared. The thieves were caught but what a story to add to family history!
Many landmarks in the area are named after Covert family who arrived in the early 1800s from Holland, an unusual country for Pennsylvania immigrants. The bridge was part of the transportation network that included the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal and the Lawrence Railroad.
Perhaps your ancestors are related to the Convert’s or worked on the canal or railroad. Or maybe they lived in Lawrence County and crossed over this bridge. It would be an interesting fact to weave into your family history.
Perhaps there are some ancestors who were thieves and went to jail. The local county courthouse would have their criminal trial records which are public information. The state jail records have been collected by the PA State Archives in Harrisburg over the last five years. Philadelphia City Archives has the records for the city prisons. These records include photos and interviews with the inmates - both fantastic genealogical information.
There are stories in our past stranger than any made-up story we could write.
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