This presentation describes four unusual topics, each centered around events which occurred in the Slate Belt of Pennsylvania. The original stories were found in the Bangor Daily News archives as I was researching the former Jewish Community Center. I have since been able to expand upon them using other resources.
Mysterious lights and objects in the sky have been seen by people throughout history. For this presentation, we can divide these sightings into two periods: historical and modern. The historical period extends to antiquity. For example, the bible mentions wheels of fire in the sky. What are these but unidentified flying objects? More examples follow.
Medieval and Renaissance paintings show lights and machines in the sky.
In 1651, Rev. W. Read reported a "tremendous number" of self-luminous bodies passing through the field of his telescope, which lasted for 6 hours.
In 1893, Captain J. Norcock reported seeing globular lights over the Sea of Japan. The lights moved along with the ship and pursued it for 9 hours before disappearing.
On February 9th, 1913, a luminous object with a long tail led a procession of other lights and moved 3000 miles across Canada and the US and disappeared just east of Bermuda.
These are just a few examples of strange things in the sky reported in the past.
The Modern Era of UFO sightings starts on June 24, 1947 with an intense period of activity which happened during the space of 16 days.
On June 24th, Kenneth Arnold, a pilot who was participating in a search for a missing transport, reported "9 shiny, flat objects, each as big as a DC4 passenger plane, racing over Washington’s Cascade mountains." He calculated their speed at over 1200 miles an hour. Newspapers across the country told the story and coined the term "flying saucer" to describe the objects.
Richard Rankin, a veteran pilot with over 7000 hours in the air, reported seeing 10 discs in formation flying north on June 23rd. He thought they might have been the Navy's experimental "Flying Flapjack" plane but the navy said only one had been built and it was in Connecticut at the time of the sighting.
Sightings continued across the country with reports documented in 38 states. The closest to the Slate Belt was from Phillipsburg, N.J. On July 7th, 1947, thirteen days after the first sightings, Ms. Margaret Izarek of Phillipsburg, N.J., said she and her father saw a disc flying parallel to the Delaware River. It disappeared to the south after about 6 seconds.
Sightings continued up to July 11th. Kenneth Arnold was asked repeatedly about his original story. He continued to affirm it in the face of intense criticism and a campaign of denial by the government. At this time sightings stopped as abruptly as they began. Were there actually flying saucers or was it mass hysteria?
Whatever the ultimate cause, UFOs begin to invade popular culture. Movies like "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951), "Invaders from Mars" (1953), and "This Island Earth" (1955) became immensely popular.
In the Slate Belt this enthusiam for all things UFO-related manifested itself in the formation of a Flying Saucer Club. Founded March 20th, 1958, the club was officially known as the Unidentified Flying Object Investigating Club. Samuel Beebe was elected President and Louis DeLorenzo, Vice President. Other members were Samuel Spagnola, Glenn Butler, John Tinsley, Nick Curcio, and Donald Duvo.
Various projects were planned and it was decided that they would keep a scrapbook of sightings. Plans were also made to build a UFO detector. The detector might have looked like this image, plans for which were popular at that time.
It was a number of years before another group of sightings was reported. On March 1st, 1973, State Police and approximately a dozen residents of Saylor's Lake reported seeing a "flying Christmas tree" over the area.
Twenty days later on March 21, more people reported seeing objects in the sky. Lee Albert of Bangor was traveling on the Bangor-East Bangor highway and saw, "two orange colored lights crossing over the quarry dumps a few hundred feet above the holes." He described the lights as being brighter than the North Star.
There were many other sightings of these lights. Reports came in from Bushkill Township, Stroudsburg, Easton, Palmer Township, Williams Township, Pen Argyl, Wind Gap, Nazareth and Stewartsville, N.J. The police chief of Bushkill Township saw three objects over Route 512 at about 9:15 p.m. The objects were reported to make abrupt changes in direction and emitted lights of various colors.
The next day on March 22nd, 1973, people reported seeing three objects traveling in a triangular pattern. Calls came in from twenty municipalities. The ufos moved noiselessly and had rotating blinking lights. A group of youths also reported seeing some very small objects hovering above the Wilson Democratic Club in Easton.
After this occurrence, activity seemed to slow dramatically in the Slate Belt. On September 13th, 1989, there were two separate reports of odd, squarish, dark metallic objects in the sky over Bangor.
The last sighting I was able to find was on May 16th, 2004. Rufus Thomas from Bangor reported seeing a gray or white object heading East into N.J. at a very high altitude and speed. He was traveling on Ridge Road, northeast of Bangor, at the time.
No one knows for sure what these objects are. If they are visitors, we will have to wait until they make themselves known to us in a more explicit fashion.
For our next story, we move from spacecraft powered by unknown energies to the earthly search for endless energy through perpetual motion.
Throughout time people have tried to devise machines that would run forever once they were started. These machines are called perpetual motion machines. If one could construct a perpetual motion machine, free and endless power would be the result.
The most common mechanical theory of perpetual motion is known as the overbalanced wheel. If it were possible to place weights on a wheel in such a manner that those weights on their way down would be further from the center, then their momentum would carry the wheel around for another revolution. Once the process was started, it would run on its own.
In the 13th century, French architect Villard de Honnecourt designed a device which had seven hammers attached to it. The hammers would stick out on the falling side and fold in on the rising side, thus powering the wheel in an endless cycle of motion.
In the 15th century, the renowned Leonardo da Vinci developed multiple plans for overbalanced wheels. Each design utilized small metal balls filled with mercury. The shifting weight of the balls was supposed to keep the wheel turning. He eventually concluded that perpetual motion was an impossibility and even worked on proofs showing it to be unattainable.
In the 19th century, the Marquis of Worcester, Edward Somerset, built an overbalanced wheel forty feet high based on the design shown here. In the demonstration, the wheel was started by hand and kept turning by itself for the few minutes observers were allowed to watch. It continued to spin for quite some time but gradually slowed to a complete stop after all the observers had left.
Now we jump ahead to May 8th, 1953. Robert Schultz, of Bangor, and his partners, Harry Deshler Sr. and Harry Deshler Jr., unveiled a perpetual motion machine which Schultz had built over the last thirty-seven years.
Robert Schultz began working as an organ builder when he was 21. One day while installing a pipe organ blower in St. Hyansantis Catholic church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he placed the blower on rollers to get it into position. The blower started to slide as it was off-balance and the idea for a perpetual motion machine struck him. He began working on the machine in 1916. In 1931, the Deshlers joined him. Schultz designed all of the parts and the Deshlers made them in their machine shop.
The principle of Schultz's machine was the ball and ramp model. As the balls fall off the ramp, their momentum pulls the other balls back onto the ramp to start the cycle again.
Schultz's device used 16-300 lb. weights. As the weights fell down the ramp they turned wheels which were attached to electrical generators. The generators then provided the power to pull the weights back up the chain to start the process over. Once started, the device was to run unless deliberately stopped.
Mr. Schultz announced that the machine was for sale. A five-horse power machine cost $10,000. It is not known if there were any buyers. When I tried to learn what happened to the machine, I heard it had been dismantled and buried out of fear that the Germans or the Communists would come to learn the secret of perpetual motion.
In the newspaper, it stated that the plans for the machine had been embedded in concrete in his garage. However, no trace of the plans or machine exists today. Mr. Schultz died in 1970 and the secret of endless free power died with him.
Our next story takes us from machine motion to human motion. After reading it, you may believe this next person was born with perpetual motion.
On May 12th, 1954, a news story appeared in the Bangor Daily News. The article said that 30 years before there had been a display in the Weiss department store window consisting of nearly 100 lbs. of slate and other items that were to be transported to Boston and back in a wheelbarrow by a man named Joseph Crosta.
Joe was one of a group of extraordinary walkers and hikers, such as Plennie L. Wingo "World's backward walking champion," who walked backwards from Santa Monica (California) to Istanbul (Turkey) and E. J. Seymour, who walked from Florida to San Francisco with Billy Bull, a 6-legged, 4-shouldered, double back-boned bull.
Joe lived in Bangor around 1902. His father was a cobbler who had a shop on lower Broadway and later at the corner of N. Main St. and Pennsylvania Ave. His sister Jennie married Phillip Donatelli and they lived in Roseto. At some point, Joe's family moved to Stamford, Connecticut. Afterwards, Joe visited the Slate Belt occasionally.
Ever since being discharged from the army after WWI, Joe had been walking across the country, emulating other great pedestrians such as Edward Payson Weston. In 1922, Joe made a trip from Roseto, PA. to Stamford, CT. Here he is pictured in Roseto with a crowd of admirers.
In 1924, Joe devised a plan to walk from Bangor, PA. to Boston, MA., handcuffed to a wheelbarrow filled with 100 lbs. of slate and other items made in Bangor. The event was sponsored by the Bangor Business Men’s Association and the Bangor Kiwanis Club. There was to be a prize of $1000. Joe expected the trip would take about forty days. In the next group of slides we are going to detail his trip and the route he traveled.
On May 17th, 1924, Joe began his trip by departing Bangor at 2:00 p.m. from Broadway Street. He went to Easton where he stopped traffic. He addressed a crowd while he was there. Joe spent his first night two miles outside Phillipsburg, N.J.
Joe left Phillipsburg and reached Morristown, N.J. on the 19th. Frank Rosato of Roseto and Dominic Ronco of Bangor meet Joe on the west side of Morristown.
Now, Frank Rosato was born in Roseto, PA., in 1892 and was a tailor for many years. In 1947, he established the Roseto Cleaners Plant in Bangor and worked there with his son Franklin until he retired. He was 105 years old when he died. In the newspapers he was described as Joe Crosta's manager. While Joe was on the road he sent telegrams and pictures to Frank which Frank would display in his tailor shop for the public to see.
Joe reached Newark, N.J. on the 21st and spent the 22nd and 23rd in Manhattan.
Joe arrived in Stamford, CT. on the 24th and sent his best to the people of Bangor. He reached Bridgeport, CT. on the 25th. In Bridgeport, the president of the Kiwanis telegrammed Bangor that Joe had arrived safely. He had been extended an invitation to be the club’s guest on his way home if he arrived there on their weekly meeting day. The same day, the Boston Kiwanis reported to Bangor that they were on the watch and would treat Joe royally when he appeared.
Joe attained New Haven, CT. on the 26th, Hartford, CT. on the 27th and Springfield, MA., on the 30th. A newspaper clipping from the Springfield Times was sent to Bangor and showed Joe shaking hands with the president of the Springfield Kiwanis. He was a guest at their weekly luncheon. He also met a friend, H.C. Yetter, in Springfield. Yetter was originally from Belvidere, N.J. and sent word to S. W. Christine (of Christine's Music store in Bangor) that he met Joe at the post office and said Joe is putting Bangor on the map.
Joe passed through Worcester, MA on May 31st and on June 2nd, 16 days after leaving Bangor, he reached Boston, where he received an exuberant reception.
Joe was greeted by the mayor of Boston, Mayor Curley, and the secretary of the Boston Kiwanis club at Boston’s City Hall. He received much publicity and was told by most people that they had never heard of Bangor until he arrived. He averaged twenty-eight miles a day on the first leg of the trip.
While in Boston, Joe was the center of attention. In this photo, Joe is giving Mrs. Lothen Brockhouse a ride in his wheelbarrow.
On June 3rd or 4th, Joe left Boston and walked to Brockton, MA. to spend a few days before returning to Bangor. He passed through Providence, R.I. on June 6th, New London, CT. on June 9th, and arrived in New Haven, CT. on June 12th.
June 14th found Joe in Stamford, CT., his home at the time. On June 16th, the Bangor Daily News reported Joe would arrive in Bangor on the 24th. The article also said Mr. and Mrs. Frank Rosato and guests drove to Washington, N.J. There is no information as to why but I think they might have gone there to meet Joe to prepare for his arrival in Bangor. Another article the same day said that Joe and his wheelbarrow were featured in the Sunday pictorial section of the New York Tribune.
On June 21st, 1924, the Bangor Daily News started to publicize Joe's arrival. A huge reception was planned including a concert, speeches and a "general big time…on Bangor’s White Broadway". It was also announced that Joe expects a contribution from the home folks to pay for the expense of the trip and the pain and inconvenience of being shackled to a wheelbarrow for forty days!
On June 24th, the Phillipsburg Kiwanis called to say Joe had left Phillipsburg at 9:00 a.m. that morning. He was going to spend some time in Easton and walk slowly to Bangor, arriving at 7:00 p.m.
When Joe arrived in Bangor on the evening of June 24th he was "...given the greatest reception that has ever been accorded any individual, and one that will linger long in his memory and to the thousands of people who had gathered on Broadway to do honor to the world's greatest hiker."
He was met at Borough limits by the Bangor Boy Scouts and the Roseto Band. They were headed by Chief Burgess Jordan, Dominic Ronco, and Frank Rosato. The procession marched to Broadway Square and then around the business district to the applause of thousands. While marching, the Band played "See the Conquering Hero Comes."
At the end of the parade, Joe said he had been abundantly supplied with food and that most nights he had slept in fire stations. He received fire badges from the various companies where he stayed and his hat was covered with them.
When the speeches were over, the Roseto Band played. During the music, Joe's handcuffs were finally removed. This proved to be a difficult endeavor, as at the start of Joe's trip, the locks on his handcuffs had been soldered shut. The last number of the concert ended at 10:00 p.m. It was probably the greatest day in many people's memories.
Normally, this feat would be enough to crown Joe as a truly gifted athlete. However, this wasn't the end of Joe's walking career. In 1928, he was one of 199 people that entered the "Great American Foot Race", the so-called "Bunion Derby". This was a foot race from San Francisco to New York. It had been organized to advertise the newly developed Route 66 which ran from Chicago to California. Joe was runner #26 in the race and was 31 years old at this time. For some reason he didn't finish the race. This was the last recorded hike by our hero. He settled down and worked as a steeplechase and chimney cleaner until his death.
The first person credited with climbing buildings is Harry H. Gardiner, who started in 1905. Many people followed in his footsteps, including two whose stage was the Slate Belt.
On Sept. 7th, 1920, George G. Polley of Richmond VA., thrilled an estimated crowd of 3000 people as he climbed the side of the Bangor Trust building one night, and the First National Bank the next. Upon reaching the tops of both buildings, he proceeded to the edge, turned to the crowd, and stood on his head.
George Polley was known as the Human Fly, even though he wasn't the only Human Fly or Builderer in the country.
Polley started his career as a child. One day while playing baseball, someone hit the ball onto the roof of a six-story building. Since it was the only ball they had, he climbed to the top and retrieved it. Later, when he moved to Chicago, he saw an expensive suit in a window. He was heard by the owner to say, "I'd stand on my head on the top of this building to have a suit like that." The owner replied, "I'd give you the suit if you do it." He climbed the building and started his brilliant but short-lived career. He died when he was 29, not from a fall, but from a fatal brain tumor.
In 1920, he climbed the Woolworth Building in N.Y C., which was the tallest building in the world at the time. He climbed over 2000 buildings in his lifetime and was paid by store owners to climb their buildings as publicity. He could command $200 per performance.
In September of 1931, Johnathan "Daredevil" Woods climbed buildings throughout the Slate Belt. He was sponsored by the American Legion.
During this tour, he performed in Portland. Then he climbed the Trust Building in Pen Argyl, which took him twelve minutes to scale. When he reached the top, he performed hair-raising stunts for the crowd. On the 18th of September, he came to Bangor. Here he traced the steps of his predecessor, George Polley, and climbed the Bangor Trust Building. However, he did it one better - he climbed the building blindfolded. He later performed in Easton.
The 1931 article summarized above also mentioned that Woods had been in Bangor in 1928 but I couldn't find it.
Thirteen years later, on August 10th, 1944, Johnny "Daredevil" Woods was back in Bangor. Again he climbed the Bangor Trust building in two performances. This trip was sponsored by the American Legion to help raise money for cigarette funds for the people in the armed services. Woods had been traveling throughout the country to help raise money for War Bonds. In one of his performances he raised $125,000 in bonds.
During his 1944 appearance, when he reached the top of the Trust Building, he balanced himself on two chairs at the edge of the roof. More than 1500 people watched the first performance.
Eleven years later on May 20th, 1955, Woods returned to Bangor. He had been climbing buildings for 39 years. This time he was going to climb the Real Estate Building on the corner of N. Main and Market Street. In an effort to make this more challenging, he decided to climb down the building, instead of up. He also performed the same chair stunts as in 1944.
By 1955, Woods was believed to be the last member of a small profession. He had climbed 5000 structures, with the tallest being the Philadelphia Municipal Building. He actually climbed to the top of the William Penn statue that crowns this magnificent building.
One last anecdote before we end this talk. It was impossible for Johnny Woods to get any insurance. When he approached Lloyd's of London for a $40,000 policy, the reply was, "Yes, you can get it – for a premium of $40,000!"
The Slate Belt's colorful history is due in part to these unique individuals. May we continue the tradition of daring exploits and imaginative dreaming which these stories evoke.