Stories Passed Down

My great-grandfatther, Daniel Heebner, with one of his grandchildren.

Stories Passed Down from Generation to Generation
Written in Fall of 2003

When coming home from an evening program at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, my dad would sometimes choose to cross the bridge on Cassell Road where my family believed the following events took place.  My dad (Merrill Benner) being very familiar with the story from my mother (Sara Heebner Benner) and her side of the family, would dramatically re-enact the events, complete with horse whinnies, screams, and the slitting noise of the penknife…all in our car, of course.  One time this got too intense for me and I dreamt about it that night.  But even after the childhood fears were gone, this sad story left an indelible impression on me.  My grandfather was Albert Heebner, father to Sara Heebner. This is a write-up from the time, believed to be written by Mrs Irvin (Eva) Kratz:

1898

Double Drowning Tragedy along the Skippack Creek

Shortly before noon on Sunday, May 15, there occurred a sad accident near the George Hartzel home when Daniel G. Heebner and family of four boys and one girl, Mary (the youngest child), and Allen, a son of Cyrus Clemmer of Hatfield, were on their way to visit Mrs. (Sallie) Heebner’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob S. Landes, a mile from the scene.

They started to cross the low plank bridge, which at the time was surrounded and covered with water to the depth of eighteen inches, due to a heavy rainfall on Sunday and the previous night. The height of the bridge was about four feet, and was often under water.  It had a railing on both sides, but the swollen stream had taken the right side railing with the tide.  The horse, a newly purchased animal, was leaning to the right near the edge of the bridge, and because of the waves on the left side, became frightened and unmanageable. He stepped down over the edge, dragging the wagon with him so that the one front wheel went down, too, plunging Mr. and Mrs. Heebner and the little girl headlong into the current.  Mr. Heebner caught hold of one wheel to save himself, grabbing around in the water for his wife and little girl, to no avail.  This was the last time the two persons were seen alive.  They were taken under the bridge with the stream.

Mr. Heebner stood wringing his hands when others came to rescue.  Horace, the oldest of the boys, quickly cut the cover of the back of the huckster wagon with his penknife, and with the help of the father, succeeded in wading across the water-covered bridge and walking to the home of the grandparents.  Jacob, the second oldest and eleven years of age, helped all but Albert, the five-year-old, from the water-filled vehicle.  Jacob dragged him to safety by one foot.  He had also grabbed Mary’s foot, he says, but being held too tightly by her Mother’s arm, she could not be saved.  Mary had been in the back seat chatting with her brothers during the journey, but within a short distance from the place of the accident, she became tired and begged to go sit on her Mother’s lap.  Mrs. Heebner is remembered to have responded, “Let Mary come up front.  She wants to see the water, too.”

After the accident, Mr. Heebner, a nearly frantic man, could not be persuaded to leave the site.  In the evening, at seven, when the rain receded, the search began for the bodies.  Mary was found, at nine PM. The search was kept up to a late hour, but the body of Mrs. Heebner was not found until Monday at one o’clock PM. The search had started early in the morning with boats and ropes spun across the stream.  Three hundred men were gathered.

Mrs. (Sara, referred to as Sallie Landes) Heebner’s age was 31 years, 6 months, 2 days.  Mary’s age was 2 years, 10 months, 27 days.  Burial was on Ascension Day, May 19, 1898 at the Plain Church (Plains Mennonite Church). Two thousand people witnessed and viewed the bodies.  The text of the funeral was Lamentations 1:12.

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