The three manila folders I keep on the side of my desk are a catch-all for interesting stories I find while doing research. These stories are usually oddballs, too short to make for a full column, but are the kind of stuff that I know our readers love.
Last December, I emptied the contents of those folders into a multi-faceted column that I lovingly titled â€śHistorical Goulash.â€ť I recently noticed that my folders were getting filled once again, and thus, it is time to make another batch of goulash. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy some really crazy stories from Beaver Countyâ€™s history.
Maud the Mule & The Beaver horse
The year 1924 saw many groundbreaking events take place, including the inaugural Winter Olympic Games, the first Macyâ€™s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the establishment of the worldâ€™s first airmail services in the United States.
In November of that year, Republican Calvin Coolidge won a landslide U.S. Presidential Election to become the 30th President of the United States. Coolidge then hired the famous J. Edgar Hoover as the director of the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor to our modern FBI. Hooverâ€™s immediate termination of all female employees in the bureau was met with criticism, kickstarting a national controversy.
Here in Beaver County, a different sort of controversy seemed to finally be coming to an end. To trace the roots of this story, we must go back to December 1920, when an interesting call came into the Beaver Falls police station. The industrial lower end of the then-borough had a visitor who was causing all sorts of trouble for mill and railroad workers. The culprit? An old, emaciated mule, which had somehow wandered into town.
The police dispatched two officers to corral the mule, which they found wandering in the alleys around Mayer China. The officers brought the cold and hungry animal back to the station, walking it right up Seventh Avenue. The people of Beaver Falls lovingly nicknamed the gray mule â€śMaud.â€ť
By the following morning, no owner for the mule had turned up. The police had to make a decision, so they consulted the borough ordinances to see what options they could consider. The laws forbid the killing of the mule, so the easy fix, so-to speak, was a no-go. A few days later, the police made the decision to appeal to a local animal lover, Clarence Householder, owner of the livery stable at 23th Street and Sixth Avenue. Householder agreed to board and feed the mule for â€śa few days,â€ť until the owner was found.
A full month later, Maud was still calling the livery home, and Householder was growing impatient. He submitted a bill to the borough for the cost, which came to $19.65. Borough solicitor J.R. Martin confirmed that the ordinance authorized seizure of lost animals, but not authorization to pay for their care. Householder was stiffed on Maudâ€™s tab, but he continued caring for the animal. He was told by officials that the borough could reexamine the bill payment in April.
When April rolled around, the bill was up to $175. Householder again petitioned the borough, and again, he was rebuffed. Finally, out of patience, he calmly walked the mule down Sixth Avenue to the boroughâ€™s holding lot and tied Maud to a post. When the police chief found the mule, he refused to accept it. Legally, he could not force the livery to take Maud back, so the mule was once again in borough possession.
Maud was handed over to the local humane officer, who was tasked with finding a permanent home for the mule. In the confusion of this, Maud got loose from the yard and took off toward College Hill. For the next two years, Maud became something of a local celebrity. Geneva College students would see the mule grazing on the hillsides of their campus, and homeowners would occasionally wake up to overturned garbage cans, courtesy of Beaver Fallsâ€™ only homeless mule.
Householder refused to let the matter of the unpaid bill rest. He took his case before the county court in October 1921, where he was once again told that the borough was not liable for the debt. Still unfazed, he appealed to the state Superior Court in July 1924, where he lost a final time. Maud was last seen in the summer of 1923, drinking from the Beaver River near College Station.
In October 1924, the people of Beaver began to make reports of a small, gray horse that was loose and running around the county seat. On Oct. 16, the horse was found by courthouse employees as they arrived for work. Grazing on the green grass of the courthouse lawn, it was quickly captured and tied to a lamppost. Nobody had any idea where the horse came from, but the fact that it showed up only a few months after the Superior Court had given its final ruling on Maud was not lost on superstitious citizens.
The headline of the Oct. 17, 1924, edition of the Daily Times read â€śHorse Case May Be Reincarnation!â€ť Luckily, Beaverâ€™s horse found a home, living out the rest of its life on Dutch Ridge Road at the Cook-Anderson Farm.
Ambridgeâ€™s fishy flying fruit explosion
During the decade of the 1930s, Beaver County experienced numerous devastating fires and explosions. Most were explainable, but one in particular continues to be a mystery to this day.
At 3:30 a.m. on May 6, 1930, an explosion rocked the 1300 block of Merchant Street. A building at the corner of 13th and Merchant streets was essentially turned to ash by the blast. That building contained three fairly ordinary businesses: the Economy Fruit Market, a shoe repair shop, and a second-floor club room. According to an article in the May 6, 1930, edition of the Pittsburgh Press, the building was a Harmonite structure and was over 100 years old.
The blast was so powerful that it shattered windows in a five-block radius. A single-family home adjacent to the building caught fire, sending its occupants, the Moses family, scurrying into the street. The four-story Grand Hotel next-door had all of its windows shattered, and occupants found themselves awoken by the sound of fresh fruit and vegetables flying into their rooms. One customer was beaned in the head by a stray pineapple, leading the Post-Gazette to run a photo of him holding the suspect fruit.
A man who lived across the street from the fruit market was the only fatality in the blast. Curiously, his body was found in the buildingâ€™s rubble, and he was gripping a .38-caliber revolver. In his other hand was part of a door handle, and in his pockets, a flashlight and extra ammunition. At first, police believed the explosion could have been caused by a bomb. Perhaps it went off when the man opened the door?
As Ambridge fire chief A.G. Fisherâ€™s investigation entered the following day, he ruled out a bomb or a gas leak as causes. Instead, it was his belief that at least 25 gallons of gasoline were used to create the blast. The investigation never determined if this was accidental or deliberate. A milkman on his morning deliveries had supposedly seen two men outside the building shortly before the blast.
By May 8, newspaper reports on the explosion had gone dark. The mystery continues.
Teddy Rooseveltâ€™s ego costs New Brighton
Most local history buffs are aware that New Brighton was home to the â€śFighting Tenth,â€ť better known as Company B, 10th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. In 1898, New Brighton sent 58 of its sons into the Spanish-American War with Company B.
In August 1899, the town was preparing to welcome home their boys from the Philippines with a huge parade and banquet. This banquet would already be attended by luminaries from across the state, but New Brighton officials wanted to make this homecoming extra special for their returning heroes.
Fresh from leading his â€śRough Ridersâ€ť up San Juan hill in Cuba, Theodore Roosevelt had returned to public service. Before he had even cleaned the sand out of his boots, Roosevelt found himself the newly-elected Governor of New York. He was also the most talked about person in the country, and he was exactly who New Brighton wanted to come honor their troops.
A member of borough council was sent to approach Roosevelt in Jamestown, New York. When asked if he would come speak, he immediately accepted, saying it would be his honor. Back in New Brighton, the whole town was abuzz with excitement for the visit.
One last bit of business had to be settled, however. There was an established courtesy between governors that they would not visit another state without first getting permission from that stateâ€™s governor. Roosevelt sent a telegram to Harrisburg, in care of Gov. Daniel Hasting. The only problem was, Hasting hadnâ€™t been governor for over a year. William A. Stone was the current governor of Pennsylvania.
When Roosevelt heard of his blunder, he withdrew his acceptance of New Brightonâ€™s invite. He knew Stone would be in attendance, and he thought that the governor would poke fun at him for the mistake. A proud and admittedly egotistical Roosevelt couldnâ€™t handle being the butt of a joke, and thus, the people of New Brighton missed out on a chance to meet one of Americaâ€™s greatest folk heroes.
Jeffrey Snedden writes a weekly history column for GateHouse Media sister paper The Beaver County Times.