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  • Writer's pictureKyra Mangold-Ostovich

Voices of the Past: Harry E. Sweitzer (February 21, 2022)

Harry E. Sweitzer

Born: 1877

Died: December 27, 1899, aged 21

Location: Soldiers Circle, grave 15

Photo of Harry Sweitzer's headstone, courtesy of Find-A-Grave user, "Joe." Originally added 17 Jan 2021.

Harry Sweitzer was a popular, young Homestead-born man who lived with his aunt, Mrs. Annie Mansfield, on Eighth Avenue of Homestead. His father, Louis Sweitzer, to whom Harry was devotedly attached, was employed in the plate glass works of Ford City of Armstong County, PA. His mother had died several years prior.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Harry ran away from home after his father refused consent for his enlistment. Harry was enlisted on June 14, 1898 in Cleveland, OH, with the 23rd United States Infantry. His record states that he was 21 years of age, had light blue eyes, light brown hair, a fair complexion, and stood a little over 5'5."

He was stationed in the Philippines and had seen action in all of its battles. He had been wounded on June 13 by a hauser at the Battle of Paranaque. A bullet had struck him in his left side, seriously wounding him. He returned home with the "Fighting" Tenth after a long stint in the field hospital. He was discharged on August 11, 1899, in "good condition." Upon his return home, he was again bedbound for further recovery. He had only been fully recovered for about two weeks prior to his death.

On the day of his death, he was working in the 42 inch plate mill, a brand new Carnegie mill which had been open only a week. It's stated in the Pittsburgh Press coverage piece that a friend of Harry's named Walter Nurcomb (AKA Walter Urkin, an incorrect spelling), to whom Harry was an assistant, was working nearby at a rolling table when he slipped and fell; the cog wheels of the table gripped his right leg, literally grinding it off. It's reported that Nurcomb retained consciousness throughout the entire ordeal, pleading for his coworkers to kill him and end his painful misery.

As the machinery was halted and Nurcomb removed from the cog, employees turned to witness Harry collapsing to the floor, "as if he had been shot." At first, it was thought that Harry had fainted, and he was attended to immediately. They worked for over 30 minutes to revive him by rubbing him with brandy among other contemporary remedies, but, he never regained consciousness. Dr. E. E. Weible, the company physician, was called to pronounce him dead, roughly around 9:30 AM.

Dr. Weible claimed the death was due to shock at having witnessed such a gruesome injury. It's speculated that his death was instantaneous, as no one saw him move once he collapsed. The coroner confirmed as much upon their post-mortem examination, settling on a verdict of heart disease exacerbated by excitement.

Nurcomb was transported to West Penn Hospital where he died two days later on December 29, 1899, at the age of 22. He was survived by his pregnant wife, Myrtle Edith (Hall) Nurcomb, who birthed their daughter, Eloise Nurcomb, in September of 1900.

Harry had been a member of the Junior Order of the United American Mechanics, as well as the Independent Fire Company. He was also a member of the Baptist church.

Information gathered from:

  • Family tree of Walter David Nurcomb

  • "Fell Dead in Homestead Mill," Pittsburgh Press, 27 Dec 1899, p. 1.

  • "Other Deaths," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 Dec 1899, p. 2.

  • Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls); Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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