County charged admission to witness lynching
MONTGOMERY – Space in the courtyard at the Lycoming County prison at West Third Street in Williamsport was a much sought-after place on March 17, 1900. People wanted to view the hanging of murderer William Hummel. Originally from Montoursville, Hummel became next to the last person to die on the county’s gallows constructed in 1873.
The crime, committed near Montgomery, was described as heinous after murdering his bride of one week, and three young step-children. The action, deemed the bloodiest up to that time, brought the ire from residents county wide.
Doug Snyder presented the details of the horrid event on Thursday evening, October 19, 2017 at the Montgomery Area Historical Society (MAHS).
Snyder, a native of Montgomery, said, “I’d heard bits and pieces of the story, and presented a program 12 years ago. Most information came from the pages of the Grit, and here and there a few oral accounts passed down to locals.”
The victim had become a widow when a horse kicked her husband in the head. Oliver Delaney’s demise left Sarah with three small children after which she was wooed by Hummel. “Other than the community’s generosity, women had little to rely on in those days,” Snyder said.
It was not clear how Hummel met Sarah, but conjecture is that due to his part-time occupation as a traveling peddler, the soon-to-be infamous man was well known throughout the valley. “In a wagon, he went house to house and farm to farm, selling tin ware and collecting rags. He was also in the employment of T. G. Lowery,” Snyder said.
At first, Hummel denied the hatchet killings. Instead, he told authorities Sarah had left the residence, taking the children to the home of Harry Smith at Kelly Crossroads. He also alleged the infant belonged to Smith.
Under cover of night, the murderer placed the corpses in sacks and hid them in a straw stack on the Derr farm near what is now Montgomery’s athletic complex. Later, he found that in his haste, the baby’s body had rolled out of the wagon on the floor in his shed. So, he lifted boards and buried her there.
The simple shingle clad four room home Hummel had built, became the object of an intensive search by Constable William Myers. When authorities decided to pick up the suspect, they found him among a group of threshers at the John Russell farm near Allenwood.
Snyder said that, “A mob numbering about 500 met the train at its destination in Williamsport when the suspect was taken to the county jail.”
Judge G. A. J. Metzger officiated over the criminal case. Metzger was a Montgomery native whose position required he reside at the county seat. So numerous was the crowd that the judge was obliged to crawl through a window to preside over the trial. Snyder also said, “Several jurors were passed over spectators’ shoulders to be present.”
According to the suspect, his wife had stolen $38 hidden in a clock. She had pestered him about wanting to be married by a minister in addition to the civil ceremony previously performed by Squire Barto. Obviously, Sarah felt those nuptials were incomplete. After explaining all this, Hummel continued to espouse his innocence.
At trial, the jury found Hummel guilty and before sentencing, the now convicted murderer urged the judge to give him life in the pen rather than hanging. The judge refused and ended his pronouncement by saying, “May God have mercy on your soul.”
A mock test of the gallows was done by boiler workers of the E. Keeler Company. While awaiting his fate, Hummel realized he had no way of paying funeral expenses. He therefore struck a deal with the owner of the local opera house. In exchange for burial costs, the convict’s body was displayed the next day at the business. He likely charged admission to recoup his investment.
The county did, however, increase its coffers when for ten cents per person, officials rented space in the prison courtyard to witness the noose do its job. Those interested were to make payment to the sheriff. Additional spectators leered from windows and roof tops of nearby buildings
From the wee hours of the morning on that dastardly day of Nov 16, 1899, to his execution on March 17, 1900, Hummel became infamous. His wish for interment near his native Montoursville was opposed when residents there threatened to form a posse and block it.
No explanation was given for the savage act. The murderer had married thrice before, and was said to have had a quiet nature. Neither rages of anger nor drunkenness were cited. Hummel had served in the Civil War in battles where he’d witnessed and likely participated in the carnage of human life. Did those experiences make the deed easier?
Back in the White Deer Valley and the Stone Church cemetery, Sarah and her children were buried with Ollie Delaney, her former husband.
Near the foundation of his isolated and unfrequented home in the heart of Montgomery’s Black Hole Valley, Hummel’s grave is visited annually where a flag is placed noting his military service.