“Masked Men Rob Passenger Train, near Erie., Pa., Friday Night
– Mail Clerk Dying, Conductor Hurt.”
So read the front page of the Sandusky Register on Saturday, July 1st, 1911. 1 In fact, similar headlines appeared in newspapers across America over the weekend, the associated press broadcasting the story across the land. “Women faint as engine hits pile and bullets fly by cars,” printed the Washington Post. 2 The Indianapolis Star tantalised their readers with: “Desperadoes who held up the mail train in dime-novel fashion may have obtained large booty.” 3
The holdup occurred five miles outside of Erie, Pennsylvania along a stretch of the track called Five Mile Curve as it passed over Wintergreen Gulch. Dynamite located near the scene gave rise to speculation the bandits intended to blow up the wreckage of the passenger and mail train. An initial impact with obstruction of logs placed on the tracks was to force it off the rails. 4
One brave passenger, a travelling salesman from Renovo, Pennsylvania stepped up to thwart the robbery of the No. 41 train. Without hesitation, he attempted to wrestle one of the would-be robbers. During the tussle, the rouge threw the salesman over the edge of the cliff. Miraculously he was able to save himself by catching onto a bush. 5 Taken to the hospital in an unconscious state, his clothing torn from his back, the hero suffered cuts and bruises about his head, face and body. 6
Arrests came swiftly, and by the July 5th a ringleader was rounded up and named as Thomas Roch. “Score[s] of arrests,” were made resulting in the roundup of Roch’s alleged posse of ten suspected gang members. 7 Although, all of these men were subsequently released. However, additional arrests followed. Eventually, even though eyewitnesses claimed the hold-up men were Italian immigrants, two Polish men were convicted of the robbery. All stories for another time.
Today, my focus is a random fact on occasion of the 52 weeks / 52 ancestors’ inspiration. The random fact that came to mind was about my paternal great-grandfather, Carl Oskar ANDERSON. To me he was “Big Grandpa,” and my random fact is that he was a hero for trying to stop a train robbery! Yes, Big Grandpa was the passenger the newspapers touted as braver than the rest. 8
Carl was born at Torfrukan, in the parish of Lane-Ryr, Göteborg och Bohus län, on 13 September 1887. His parents were Andreas OLSSON, a farmer and his wife Matilda Charlotta LARSDOTTER. 9 In 1903 at the age of sixteen, Carl was a passenger aboard the White Star Line’s Celtic immigrating to the United States. 10 By 1905 Carl was a naturalised citizen of the United States of America. 11
Enumerated in the 1910 census, twenty-two-year-old Carl boarded at the Ward House, 500 Erie Avenue, Renovo, Clinton County, Pennsylvania. His occupation was listed as a bartender at a hotel at the time. 12 This establishment was owned by Gustaf JOHNSON, or “Uncle Gus” as he would become to Carl’s descendants. On 21 September 1916, Carl married Gustaf JOHNSON’s first cousin Anna Marie SWANSON, the eldest daughter of Carl Magnus SWANSON and Eva GUMMESDOTTER at their home at 245 Pennsylvania Avenue, South Renovo. 13
No doubt, it was thrilling for Grandma Anna to marry a super-hero!
Carl testified at the trial of the man arrested for hurling him off that embankment. Convicted of all five counts of the indictment and sentenced to twenty-five years, Frank Winiecki would serve his time in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.
- Associated Press. 1911. Masked Men Rob Passenger Train near Erie, Pa., Friday night- mail clerk dying, conductor hurt. Sandusky Register. 1 July. p. 1c. https://www.newspapers.com/image/36577330/ : accessed 7 November 2018.
- Washington Post. 1911. Rob an Erie Train, Bandits shoot three men and loot mail sacks, ties placed on the track, women faint as engine hits pile and bullets fly by cars. Washington Post. 1 July. p. 1a. https://www.newspapers.com/image/19470572/# : accessed 7 November 2018.
- Indianapolis-Star. 1911. Bandits overlooked $45,000, Posses search for Robbers, Desperadoes who held up the mail train in dime-novel fashion may have obtained large booty. Indianapolis-Star (Pennsylvania). 2 July. p. 8e. https://newspaperarchive.com/indianapolis-star-jul-02-1911-p-6/ : accessed 7 November 2018.
- Sandusky Star-Journal. (1911) Dynamite Factor in Erie Hold-Up? Sandusky Star-Journal. 3 July.p. 3d. https://newspaperarchive.com/sandusky-star-journal-jul-03-1911-p-7/ : accessed 7 November 2018.
- Syracuse Herald. (1911) [Illegible headline as the left side of the paper is torn away from old clipping in author’s possession.] OSSE (continuing). Syracuse Herald. 1 July. p. 2a.
- Colorado Springs Gazette. (1911) Fast Train is Held up By Bandits, Conductor Fatally Shot and Three Others are Hit Near Erie, Pa., Value Unknown, Train Nearly Thrown over 300-Foot Embankment by Obstruction On Track. Colorado Springs Gazette. 1 July. p. 1g. https://newspaperarchive.com/colorado-springs-gazette-jul-01-1911-p-1 : accessed 8 November 2018.
- Indiana Evening Gazette. (1911) Believe They Have Leader. Indiana (Pennsylvania) Evening Gazette. 5 July. p. 4a. https://newspaperarchive.com/indiana-evening-gazette-jul-05-1911-p-4/ : accessed 7 November 2018.
- Warren Evening Mirror. (1911) Pensy Train was held up. Warren Evening Mirror. 1 July. p. 1a. https://newspaperarchive.com/warren-evening-mirror-jul-01-1911-p-1 : accessed 8 November 2018.
- Births (PR) Sweden. Lane-Ryr, Gote och Bohus Lan. 13 September 1887. ANDERSSON, Carl Oskar. No. 33. https://app.arkivdigital.se/volume/v644?image=168 : accessed 8 November 2018.
- Travel records. England. 28 March 1901. ANDERSON, Carl Oscar. Passenger list for S.S. Celtic departing Liverpool arriving New York. https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger-details/czoxMjoiMTA1MzA5MTMwNjI0Ijs=/czo4OiJtYW5pZmVzdCI7 : accessed 18 November 2018.
- Naturalisation index records. USA. Clinton County, Pennsylvania. 1905. ANDERSON, Carl O. In: Clinton County Genealogical Society. (n.d.) Clinton County Court Naturalization Records. Clinton County: Clinton County Genealogical Society.
- Census records. USA. Renovo, Clinton County, Pennsylvania. 21 April 1910. JOHANSSON, Gustave (head). ED 25. SD 11. Roll: T624_1332. p. 10A. www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 November 2018.
- Marriages (CR) United States. Clinton County, Pennsylvania. 21 September 1916. ANDERSON, Carl O. and SWANSON, Annie M. No. 7429.