The Case of Henry W. Harrison

     An Enduring Mystery



Family Data




He was a well liked, good looking, and intelligent young man.


His family was alarmed to receive word of his disappearance and stunned by notification that he was dead at age 29.

Henry was the the third child of John and Catherine Harrison. He was well educated and had beautiful penmanship. Also he was gifted with mathematic ability. For several years he was bookkeeper and salesman for a local Dushore, Pennsylvania clothier. Then, in 1895 he got a job as bookkeeper with the Kaier Brewing Co. in Mahonoy City, Pennsylvania. The last page of a letter he wrote home from there exists and he talks of his job.

"We have to work long hours and it was a little severe on me at first, but I am getting accustomed to it now and rather like it."

It is difficult and risky to make judgments about people from a distance and without any feedback from people who knew him, but judging from Henry's choice of work and generalHenry appearance he was perhaps not of robust health. However, he gave his parents no cause to worry. They probably did anyway. The letter is undated but relates to the Christmas holidays, so is probably around December 1896.

The newspaper gives the story after that.

Sullivan Review April 15, 1897:

 "He was a bookkeeper for the Charles D. Kaier Brewing Co., at Mahonoy City but quit work the fore part of last week on account of an attack of grippe. Wednesday night he was heard walking about his room, but declined to open his door to a fellow boarder, saying he was not feeling well. Thursday morning he was gone, and instant search was made, telegrams being sent to this and other places where he had friends and might possibly have gone. Friday his body was found in the wasteway of a reservoir that supplied water for a coal breaker near Shenandoah, and the supposition is that, while temporarily crazed from the effects of his illness, he had wandered off, fallen into the wasteway, and stunned by the fall, drowned before consciousness returned." 

"Grippe" is the older word to describe what today is called Influenza. It is and has been a killer. In 1918 an epidemic of Spanish Flu killed 100 million people worldwide. The type of flu Henry suffered is unknown, but it is generally common to have high fever, muscular pain, and severe general malaise. Without any kind of treatment it would be unpleasant in the extreme and probably frightening to a young man living away from home. It is possible that Henry became delirious with fever and wandered away from his room, maybe thinking he would go home. We can only speculate as to what led him to the coal breaker in Shenandoah. It is in a direction from Mahonoy City, toward his home in Sullivan County.

A coal breaker is a device to take large pieces of coal and other material and to sort, crush, wash, and separate the coal from the waste that is floated away by a steady flow of water. The wasteway is a stream leading the water to wherever it is emptied. Probably it was a deep ditch or open concrete sluice. Below is the Shenandoah breaker.

One can only hope that Henry did not suffer in his death and that foul play was not involved. What remains today are memories of him, some pictures and a melancholy bill from the undertaker.