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Back in 1815, a growing settlement along the Lehigh River named Coalville soon earned the name Mauch Chunk (Indian for Bear Mountain).  During this period a few entrepreneurs formed what was, and still is, known as the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.  These individuals named Erskine Hazard, George Hauto and Josiah White developed the transportation process for anthracite coal via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals.  This sort of trade had spun a large number of activity in the area and by 1843 had earned Mauch Chunk the rites to being the county seat.

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Jim Thorpe Himself
Along Route 903, on the east side of town stands a large granite mausoleum that bears the name of one of the greatest athletes of the Twentieth Century.  Jim Thorpe, native American Hero of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, was buried here in 1953 when the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged and changed their names to honor his memory.

Until his death, Jim Thorpe the athlete had no direct connection with this area.   He was born in Oklahoma in 1888; a descendant of the famous Chief Black Hawk.   As a youth he attended the Carlisle Indian Academy near Harrisburg but there are no records of his ever venturing into Carbon County community that would eventually become his final resting place.

In the nineteenth century, the two Mauch Chunks were thriving commercial centers during the heady period of America's Industrial Revolution.  Spearheaded by Asa Packer, one of the nation's wealthiest tycoons, Mauch Chunk was a center for railroading, canal trade and coal shipping.  Several new millionaires built mansions on Broadway and brought in the finest that money could buy.  The area became a popular summer resort, attracting thousands of visitors each year to marvel in the scenic beauty of the mountains and the Lehigh River. 

With the decline of the coal mining and railroading after the Great Depression, the towns settled into a period of slow decline.  Unemployment increased, businesses closed and a steady exodus of young people left the area in search of greener pastures.

A similar thing happened to Jim Thorpe the athlete.  In 1912, he was at the height of his powers and fame.  He took the Stockholm Olympics by storm, breaking record after world record and setting a point total unprecedented in the modern Olympiad.   Jim Thorpe won every event in the pentathlon except the javelin throw.  King Guastav, in presenting the gold medals, said to Thorpe, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."  These words are carved for all time on the granite slab in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

But soon after the Olympics, a newspaper reporter discovered that while at Carlisle, the young Thorpe had played a season of professional baseball in North Carolina for $60 a month.  Although Jim Thorpe protested that he hadn't realized he was breaking any rules, The Olympic Committee stripped him of his medals on the grounds that Thorpe had forfeited his amateur status.

Over the years , Thorpe continued to play professional sports, including a stint with the New York Giants baseball team.  In 1950, the nation's sportswriters named Jim Thorpe the greatest male athlete of the half century.  But Jim Thorpe had already fallen victim to illness and economic insecurity.  In 1951 he was a charity case in the cancer ward of a Philadelphia hospital.  His wife, Patricia, was reported to have said, "We're broke.  Jim has nothing but his name and his memories.  He has spent money on his own people and has given it away.  He has often been exploited."

Thorpe died in 1953, and his widow discovered to her sorrow that his native state of Oklahoma would not assist in developing a suitable memorial to him.  About the same time, Mrs. Thorpe learned how the communities of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were also struggling for economic survival.  Spearheaded by Joe Boyle, editor and co-publisher of the Mauch Chunk Times News, local citizens were contributing a nickel a week to an economic development fund.  Buoyed by this community spirit, she visited the town and asked for assistance.  A group of local citizens thought that this would be an opportunity to end decades of sectional rivalries by merging the towns, naming them in honor of Jim Thorpe, and hoping that the change would give added impetus to positive thinking in the community.  In two referenda, the town voted in favor of accepting Jim Thorpe.

Local citizens insisted the town not cheapen the memory of Jim Thorpe the athlete by turning his name into a "souvenir stand" commodity.  His monument is still a quiet, tastefully preserved spot of land, a fitting memorial to a native American who proved his athletic prowess and acted as a role model to a whole generation of Americans.   The publicity that came to the town of Jim Thorpe as a result of the name change has helped the local economy both directly and indirectly over the past quarter century.   Some businesses located here because they were inspired by the resourcefulness and public-spiritedness of citizens who are proud of their town's past, respectful of a great athlete fallen on hard times, and hopeful for a better future

Asa Packer

In the middle 1800's, due to the booms in anthracite coal and in canal and railroad shipping, Mauch Chunk became the wealthiest town in the United States. Over fifty citizens had personal worth in excess of $50 thousand (equal to one million current dollars). The greatest industrialist of all, with an estate valued at $54 million, was Asa Packer.

Asa Packer was born in Mystic, Connecticut on December 29, 1805. At the age of 17, he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin Edward in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. At age 23, he married Sarah Blakeslee and began to farm in Susquehanna.

In 1833, he answered an advertisement for a coal boat captain on the Lehigh Canal. He received a contract to captain a canal boat in 1834 and in 1835 received a contract to captain a second boat with his brother-in-law, James Blakeslee.

In the late 1830's, Asa Packer returned to carpentry and, with his brother Robert, built coal boats and canal locks for the Upper Lehigh Canal. His boatyard produced the successful "Packer" boat. The Packer boat was a closed hatch 60 ton coal barge designed for coastal navigation. Up to fifteen Packer boats were pulled by steam tugs from Philadelphia to New York.

In the 1840's, Asa Packer used the earnings from his boatyard to purchase coal lands at Nesquehoning Creek. By using his coal, his boats and his relatives, Asa Packer controlled a growing share of the coal market. By 1850, he was the richest man in Mauch Chunk.

Meanwhile, in 1846, Edward R. Biddle formed a group seeking to build a railroad to the coal fields. Packer invested in the company. However, when the canal owners (Lehigh Coal and Navigation) scared railroad investors with reports of the impossibility of passing through the mountains, investors withdrew their money from the project.

In 1851, when it appeared that railroad company was about to fold, Asa Packer purchased a majority of the company's stock. By 1855, Asa Packer had laid 46 miles of track between Mauch Chunk and Easton. At Easton, his Lehigh Valley Railroad connected with the New Jersey Central Railroad. Besides providing a year round means of transporting coal, the Lehigh Railroad also passed the iron foundries in Catasauqua and Bethlehem.

In 1860, Asa Packer became a member of the board of directors of Bethlehem Iron. Over the following years, Bethlehem Iron produced railroad tracks and, in turn, the Lehigh Railroad transported finished iron products.

During the 1840's, Asa Packer was a member the Pennsylvania state legislature. He was a five term Carbon County Court Judge and a two term U. S. Congressman. In 1868, he was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

He is best remembered as the founder of Lehigh University.

Asa Packer's mansion sits above the center of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania and is open to the public for tours. He also built an adjoining mansion for his son, Harry Packer. The Harry Packer mansion is currently used for Mystery Theater weekends.

The Switchback Railroad

This site can not replicate the great job done by the students at Jim Thorpe High School.  Please click here for an extensive history on the switchback. 

The Old Jail

The Handprint
Like a cry for justice from beyond the grave, the mysterious handprint of a man wrongly hanged over a 100 years ago remains on the wall of his cell - even though the original wall was replaced!

Alexander Campbell was convicted of being an accessory to murder in 1877, but proclaimed his innocence to the bitter end.
As he was led out of his jail cell for the final time, he slapped a grimy handprint on the wall and declared it would remain there forever as a reminder of the injustice that took his life.
Over the years, superstitious sheriffs in Carbon County, PA have painted over the ominous wall and even knocked it down.  But the cursed handprint ALWAYS reappeared.

"There's no logical explanation for it," says James Starrs, a forensic scientist from George Washington University who's investigating the bizarre mark.   "It looks like a child's handprint on a white wall."

For more than a century, Campbell's print has baffled sheriff's and prisoners.   Eventually, it attracted curiosity seekers from all over the country.  They're fascinated by the eerie image, which authorities have been trying to wipe out.

"In 1930, a sheriff named Biegler wanted to put an end to the legend," says Starrs.  "He had the county road gang tear down the wall an put in a new one.   Biegler had went to sleep, certain that he had forever removed the so called miracle.  But when he woke up the next day, he was shocked to see the handprint had reappeared!"

Thirty years later, Sheriff Charles Neast tried to cover over it with green latex paint.  "But it soon became clearly visible." says Neast.

Recently Starrs and Jeff Kercheval, a police chemist from Hagerstown, MD analyzed the strange mark using infrared photography and other high-tech equipment.

"We did everything short of painting over the print or literally taking it off the wall." explains Starrs.  "We measured the handprint and its precise location on the wall, so if it's ever painted over and reappears, we'll know if it appeared in the same location or a different one."

The jail is set to close, but there are no plans for a last ditch effort to get rid of the handprint. 

"We don't plan to touch the wall before we leave," says the current warden Bill Juracka.

Whatever the owners want to do with it after that is up to them."
But those who know the full story behind the supernatural mark believe the grave reminder will endure for years to come.
Campbell was falsely accused of killing a local mine boss during a bid by the Irish miners to organize labor unions.

"Campbell was a hotel owner and a liquor distributor, so he was viewed as an Irishman who made good." says Starrs.  "Prosecutors felt he was the backbone of the murder plot."
The businessman vehemently maintained his innocence throughout his trial.  And before being led from his jail cell to his horrible fate, he left his lasting impression.   Says Starrs: "When the sheriff came to get him, Campbell declared 'I am innocent, I was nowhere near the scene of the crime.'

"Then he reached up and rubbed the wall with his hand and said: 'There is proof of my words.  That mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out.  It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man.' "

The Molly Maguires
The Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley Of Death by Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired by the story of the Molly Maguires. The Molly Maguires was a major motion picture, filmed in Jim Thorpe and starring Sean Connery. A most complete story of the Mollies is told in The Molly Maguires by Wayne G. Broehl, Jr.

What was it like to be an anthracite coal miner?  Anthracite was created when soft coal was compressed. When the Pocono mountains were formed by earthquakes millions of years ago, the coal veins were compressed and bent upward with the rising landscape. Therefore, the coal veins tended to be in vertical walls.

The miner often worked alone. He would free the coal by picking and blasting. It was a highly skilled job. Knowledge of blasting, shoring and safety had to be combined with strength and endurance. Risk was everywhere: poisonous gases, cave-ins and black lung disease. Since 1900, over 100 thousand people have died in mining accidents.

Once the surface layers were mined, the mining continued underground. The miner wore an oil lamp on his cap. This further increased the danger of setting the methane gas on fire.

It was a hard life. Long hours, low pay, poor working conditions, lack of safety equipment, child labor, continuous health problems, high death rates and total powerlessness made the miner a prime candidate for unionism.  Thus the Molly Maguires...

The history of the English and the Irish feuds was already centuries old in the mid 1800's. In the Jim Thorpe (Mauch Chunk) and Summit Hill areas, the mines were owned and managed by the English and Welsh Protestants and labored by the Irish Catholics. Besides the mining life being physically hard, the workers had to work long hours. There were frequent accidents and children had to help sort coal for the families to make enough money to survive.

The mine owners took further advantage of their workers by paying them in a script that was redeemable only at the company store. (Remember the song "Sixteen Tons"). Further, the owners would require the mine workers to pay for their gear and supplies. Any men objecting to the low pay and hazardous conditions were fired.

Beginning in 1842, there were unsuccessful attempts to unionize the miners. During the Civil War, the miners rioted to protest the draft. In 1862, John Kehoe, a miner and opponent of the war spat on the American flag. A mine foreman, F. W. Langdon objected to this act and was stoned to death. Over the following decade, this violence grew and developed into a secret society called the Molly Maguires.

Some say Molly Maguires was the wife of the first miner that died. Others say it was the name of a secret society in Ireland. It was rumored that sometimes they would disguise themselves in woman's clothing.

In 1869, Frank B. Gowen, a lawyer, became head of the Reading Railroad company. He lead the railroad into the mining business with a policy of scaring the mine operators and destroying the unions. Gowen had the money, the power and the police in his control. His only opposition was a secret avenging group called the Molly Maguires.

In order to break the Mollies, Gowen hired Allen Pinkerton. Pinkerton decided to plant an agent, James McParlan, within the Mollies. Over the following two years, McParlan gathered evidence on the Mollies for several murders in Carbon County. The Mollies including John Kehoe were hung.

One of the Mollies named Alexander Campbell was found guilty of murder. He admitted being at the murder of John P. Jones, a mine superintendent, but he did not pull the trigger. Although he was only an accessory, the court found him guilty of first degree murder.

As Campbell was dragged from his cell, he continued to plead his innocence. On June 21, 1877, as he was taken from cell # 17 of the Carbon County Jail, he placed his hand on the wall and stated that its mark would remain there visible to attest to his innocence.

After over a hundred years and several coats of paint and the best attempts at cleaning, his hand print remains. Ask the sheriff to show you cell #17

 

Further information on Jim Thorpe, PA is available by contacting:
Carbon County Office, Pocono Mountain Vacation Bureau, P.O. Box 27, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229.

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