Fallen State Troopers Memorialized in Jefferson County

13064450_1680348595563764_1223867083777225838_oPUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (EYT) — It is a story that reads like a script from a movie.

(Photo courtesy Pa. State Police

More than a century ago, Pa. State Troopers John F. Henry and Francis A. Zehringer were the first State Police officers to give their lives in service to the Commonwealth.

On September 2, 1906, Henry and Zehringer were murdered by members of the Black Hand Society, a mafia family in Jefferson County, while trying to arrest the fugitives at a home in Florence, just off Route 310, near Punxsutawney.

On Monday, their ultimate sacrifices were publicly recognized with the unveiling of a Historical Roadside Marker along Route 310 at the edge of Anita, which was known as Florence then.

Troop C Commander Bernard Petrovsky did the unveiling and then posed for photos with Pierre (Pete) Carlton, 87, whose father served with the murdered officers. Carlton himself is a retired state trooper.

The Pa. State Police, according to Wikipedia, had originated a little more than a year before, on May 2, 1905. The department became the first uniformed police organization of its kind in the United States. Punxsutawney was the site of one of the four original barracks.

Governor Samuel Pennypacker ordered the formation of the state police in response to the private police forces that were used by mine and mill owners to stop worker strikes and the refusal or inability of the local police or sheriff offices to enforce the laws.

Timber and coal harvests had Jefferson County and most of the rest of the state booming then, and there were often conflicts between the workers and owners of the businesses that made their respective livings off of them.

Henry was a former U.S. Marine who was born in New York City and was from Philadelphia. He had served on the U.S.S. Marblehead and saw action in the Spanish-American War before his discharge in 1901. Henry joined the state police on December 15, 1905, and worked out of the Punxsutawney barracks.

Zehringer, a Conshohocken, Pa. native, served his country with both the U.S. Calvary and the U.S. Coast Artillery from August 1898 to April 1905. He joined the state police on December 15, 1905.

Henry, 31, was part of a small group of state police officers who arrived at the residence in late afternoon at the request of Sgt. Joseph Logan to assist in the arrest of the fugitives, who were wanted for murder.

Henry was shot and killed about 20 feet from the front door as he tried to enter the home. Fellow Pvts. Homer Chambers and William Mullen tried to rescue Henry, but they were seriously wounded before they could reach Henry.

A second phone call was made for more help, and a second group of 15 troopers arrived at about 6:30 p.m.

While other troopers provided heavy cover fire, Pvts. Zehringer, Robert Cummings, and August Grosser rushed to the home and broke down a side door to get inside. Then, as they started up a stairway, the trio faced gunfire with Zehringer, 34, being mortally wounded.

Cummings and Grosser escaped, but with the realization that lives were being sacrificed uselessly, the troopers decided on another plan of attack.

After darkness fell on the bloody scene and a rainstorm began, troopers placed dynamite at the base of the house. At dawn, the explosives were detonated with the house being destroyed, and the fugitives killed.

The effort to create the marker was 10 years in the making. Initially, the Pa. Historical and Museum Commission rejected the first application, but after efforts from former State Representative Sam Smith and State Senator Joe Scarnati, the application for the marker was approved.

While the state did put some money into the marker, the Pa. State Troopers Association contributed most of the funding for the construction.

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