Thriller Thursday: A Moment That Changes Everything

Interior Dancing Pavilion, Exposition Park at Conneaut Lake, PA

On my last trip to the antique shop, I found this postcard with a note to Mr. Carl Shartle of Meadville, Pennsylvania on the back.

I forget sometimes that rural Pennsylvania life wasn’t all churning butter and butchering chickens. The dancing pavilion was a fixture of Exposition Park at Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania. In its time, it was called “one of the best equipped summer resorts in the State.” (Source, 1911.) It also boasted a bathing house on the lake, a hotel, and a racetrack. For Carl and his family, dancing, boating and betting were only ten miles up the road if they cared to indulge.

I will say that I knew the odds of this being a relic of a forgotten romance were slim to nil when I bought the postcard. As I was researching, though, there came a moment that changed everything. This light-hearted “Mystery Monday” post transformed into a grimmer “Thriller Thursday” entry. Ye faint-hearted, proceed with caution.

A Moment that Changes Everything

Mr Carl Shartle Meadville, Penna RFD—“OK. Sat eve Well see you about 8:30 At the foot Of the dancing Pavillion”

I should have known. Something about the lack of enthusiasm in the note planted a question mark in my mind. I know I’m bringing a modern sensibility to this, but the phrase “OK Sat eve” just doesn’t brim with excitement, does it?

No endearments. No signature. Presumably, Carl knew who accepted his invitation for Saturday night, but I’m thinking like a woman here. My husband knows who he’s married to, but I don’t miss an opportunity to scrawl “<3B” on my little notes to him, even if they’re just about heating up leftovers.

Although the photo side of the postcard is dated August 24, 1909, there’s (once again) no stamp and therefore no postmark dating the message. Did Rural Free Delivery require postage? And actually, since we have no way of knowing whether the postcard found its way to the antique shop via his old collected papers or hers, there’s nothing to say this note was ever actually delivered.

Perhaps it was, and Carl enjoyed a lovely evening with the sender. Or endured a wretched one.

Perhaps it was not sent, and he was left without an answer.

Maybe she wrote out her response, and then changed her mind. I have unsent letters socked away in shoeboxes—maybe this was one of hers. Who knows?

First, a little context

Here’s what we do know.

Carl R. Shartle was the son of John E. Shartle and Eliza Bower. He was born in Vernon, Crawford county Pennsylvania in August 1890 (though there’s some minor conflict over the exact date), and he died of tuberculosis in Cornplanter Township PA on December 7, 1937. (Source: Death certificate.) Only 47 and single.

I took a stroll through the census records, as one does when meeting a new quarry for the first time. It looks like he lived in Vernon for most of his life (although y’all might know how I feel about making that particular assumption). Harmonsburg Road still exists, and on the aerial map view, it’s surrounded by lots and lots of green. Here’s what I learned:

1900: At age 9, Carl attended school 8 months that year—better than a number of the neighboring children.

1910: Carl was enumerated twice. On April 16, 1910, he’s listed as the brother of John Fred Shartle, staying with his wife and daughter in Sharon PA. He’s working as a storekeeper of the Gun Works.

He’s also listed on April 20, 1910 as the son in his parents’ household. John and Eliza married in about 1888, his second marriage, her first. She is listed as having one child, and “Karl” is listed with them. This time, Carl’s occupation is given as bookkeeper of the Gun Works.

In the overall context of his life in farming, I looked on his job at the Gun Works as a possible manifestation of the rebellion of youth. It looked to me like striking out on his own, away from his parents’ farm. Then I found a more likely reason for his job.

As for his actual residence, my conclusion is that Carl was actually living with his brother. Moms have a tendency to believe that their babies’ real homes are with them, always.

1920: Maybe she was right, too. Carl lived with his parents, working as farm labor.

1930: Carl took his father’s place as head of household, and his mother lived with him.

(A peek at the 1880 Federal Census to find Fred before Carl’s time reveals that the brothers also had an older sister named May; other sources here and here suggest she later became Mrs. Powers H Kineston.)

Asking questions, digging deeper

Carl’s 1917 draft registration card poses a question, too. The biographical details are consistent with the other sources, and the card gives us his basic physical description, so we know that he was tall, of medium build, with light brown hair and gray eyes. He also claimed his mother and father depended on him for support, and in the section about physical disabilities, he reported that his right eye was weak.

If catching the mood of an email or reading between the lines of a text message is tricky, then so is deciphering a man’s circumstances (and honesty) from the sparse remarks on a draft registration card. Sometimes it’s hard to know just what a man was hoping for. Did this fairly represent Carl’s reality, or was this an overstatement of his hardships?

The Moment That Changes Everything

I needed to find more on the Shartle family, and I wasn’t finding much in Ancestry’s newspaper collection. I thought I’d try Fulton History—mostly a source for New York papers, but my rural Pennsylvania folks turn up sometimes. Maybe Carl would, too.

My search only found one result, but it was enough to change the tone of this story and nestle the puzzle pieces into a sad, sensible picture.

The Post, Ellicottville, NY, Wednesday November 25, 1908.

“Carl Shartle, aged 17, of Beatty Station, near Meadville, Pa., was accidentally shot in the face, Friday, and he is in serious condition, though he may recover. He was helping with the fall butchering. James Kineston, a brother-in-law, had shot a hog with a rifle, but did not kill it, and Carl seized the animal and, not being able to manage it alone, called for help. Mr. Kineston responded, first laying the rifle across a barrel, and a moment later the gun was discharged, the bullet striking Carl in the left cheek. The bullet passed through the boy’s cheek and the roof of his mouth and the base of his nose, lodging under the right eye.”

A confirmed bachelor.

A woman’s reluctance.

A desk job for a farm boy.

A weak eye confessed on a draft card.

A man with a disfigured face, the awful souvenir of a moment that changed everything.

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