70 Years Ago in May- Case of the Phantom Firebug
Thanks to Jim Kates, the historical society has been able to digitize a March 1948 edition of Master Detective Magazine which contained the story, Case of the Phantom Firebug. The story ran in Master Detective almost three years after the infamous Memorial Day fire of 1945.
The article gives an extended account of the circumstances surrounding the Memorial Day fire and previous arson fires leading up to it.
The photos in the magazine were taken by Mahanoy City free lance photographer Bill Kates, Jim Kates' dad. Film was rare during the war years and Bill was one of the few people in Mahanoy City who had some. A short note on the opening page of the article written in Bill's handwritng states that he was paid $40.00 by Master Detective for the photos that accompanied the article. That was a few days pay back in the late 1940s!
Bill was well known in Mahanoy City. He worked at the St. Nicholas Breaker and later as a custodian at the Pennsylvania National Bank, now M& T. He was very active in the Eagle's Social Club.
Later in life Bill moved into the Mahanoy Elderly Hi - Rise where he could be close to the action in the center of town. Bill died in April, 2010 at the age of 100. Look for more of Bill's photos in future stories on this web site courtesy of his son, Jim.
You can read the article and view additional photos taken by Bill that haven't been seen before by clicking on the link that appears below.
Additional Bill Kates Photos from May 30, 1945
Memorial Day- May 30th,1945
Although the Memorial Day Fire of 1945 occurred four years before I was born, I've heard so much about it through the years that I almost feel like I was on the scene when it happened sixty-eight years ago.
The people of Mahanoy City had just celebrated V-E Day three weeks earlier and were looking forward to the end of the war in the Pacific which would occur less than three months later.
Memorial Day 1945 was be a time to remember the sacrifice of the more than 100 Mahanoy area natives who gave their lives in World War II and the sacrifice of the veterans of our
nation's other conflicts.
Sometime shortly before 3 A.M. on May 30th an arsonist set in motion the horrible event which would change the town forever.
At 3:10 A.M. the fire alarm at Catawissa and Centre was pulled by Patrolman Charles Stern. During the next hours before daybreak on Memorial Day the worst fire in
Mahanoy City's history raged throughout the business district in the 100 and 200 blocks of West Centre Street.
Thirty-eight families, most of whom lived in apartments on the second and third floors of businesses, lost their homes.
Twenty-one businesses were wiped out and fifteen others were severely affected. Although more than twenty-five firemen were injured, amazingly no one was killed in the massive conflagration.
The annual Memorial Day parade was cancelled, and when residents visited the cemeteries on the hill to place flowers on the graves of departed loved ones, they found already resting there embers from the fire which were carried aloft to the top of the Pottsy by the northwest winds.