Thursday, May 21, 2015

Police investigate Spook Show prop, 1960

There are few places in the world where the discovery of an empty coffin won't prompt questions.

The shower room of a public park is not one of them, which was the case in a Pennsylvania town in early 1960. A small-ish coffin, described by the press as being sized for "a child, a woman or a small man," was discovered during the demolition of roller rink adjacent to swimming pool showers. If that wasn't mysterious enough, the pink-lined coffin had not been at the scene a few days earlier when construction workers began to arrive at the site.

Naturally, people lost their shit.

Unfortunately (at least for those of us who are connoisseurs of hysteria) that panic was short lived. The following day — before accounts of The Phantom Casket had even been properly reported in the press — investigators had already settled on an explanation: The coffin was a prop used by a "spook show" at the Pocono Drive-In in Bartonsville, Pa.

While the name of the drive-in is not mentioned in the newspaper account, there appears to only have been one drive-in theater in the community. The Pocono Drive-In closed sometime in the early 1960s, according to Cinema Treasures, probably a victim of the same construction project that led to the discovery of the coffin.

There are a few unanswered questions in the official narrative, though. First: Why was there a sudden need to move the coffin in January, a time of year that drive-in theaters are not traditionally open? And why was it dumped in the showers of a public swimming pool?

Also: when did this "spook show" take place? The previous Halloween, the Pocono Drive-In show the un-terrifying YELLOWSTONE KELLY, an adventure film starring man-mountain Clint Walker. While it's not impossible that the theater held a spook show during a less Halloweeny month of the year, I'd be curious to know how the coffin had been spending its down time.

Below is a newspaper account of the event, as published Feb. 4, 1060, by the Pocono Record.

Coffin Without Body Traced to Spook Show
By Don Allen

A casket found in Stroud Township yesterday by State Police and county authorities was revealed last night as a prop for a “spook show.”

State Police closed their investigation of the case after Stanley Lecinsky, Stroudsburg RD 3, operator of a drive-in theater at Bartonsville, told investigators he placed the coffin in the shower room of the CLU Park in Stroud Township.

Used by Lodge

Lecinsky told troopers he obtained the casket from a trash collector. It was believe it had originally been used in lodge initiations prior to the collector’s acquiring it.

Daniel C. Warner, Monroe County coroner, said last night he will destroy the coffin.

An investigation was started after James Allam, 47, Stroudsburg RD 3, reported discover of the casket, with the lid lying on the floor beside it, yesterday.

He told Troopers Alexander G. Kearn and Peter A. Walsh that he had noticed it in the building several times since Jan. 20, but attached no particular importance to it.

Not There Jan. 17

Allam said he was in the building on Sunday, Jan. 17, and that it was not there then. Three days later, the Peter Zuck contracting firm of Belvidere, N.J., began tearing down the Stroud Roller Rink, a few feet from the shower room, and the casket was discovered by Allam.

The coffin’s size, about five feet long by 16 inches wide on the inside, indicated it may have been used to bury a child, a woman or a small man.

Trooper Ralph Cameron, a State Police photographer from the Hazleton barracks, was called to the scene to photograph the casket. Warner planned to ask an expert from a Scarnton casket manufacturing company to examine it.

Several hours later, as word of the investigation spread throughout the community, came the first hint that the coffin was not as old as it appeared. Investigators at first estimated it was about 50 years old.

Pink Lining

Two of its four handles were torn off and were lying beside it. The other two were falling from the box. Brass on the casket had turned green, while other fastenings were rusted.

The lining was pink-hued, apparently faded by age. This led investigators to believe a woman might have been buried in it. The lid appeared to have been forced off.

The shower room was formerly used in conjunction with the park swimming pool. It has not been used by the club since the 1955 flood destroyed most park facilities.

The last time the adjacent roller rink was used on Jan. 17, the date Allam inspected the shower room for the last time before the casket was found.

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