On the occasion of All Hallows’ Eve, an evening dedicated to remembering the faithfully departed, I have found my way to the 1800s to visit the Phantoms of Port Arthur.
This starless story isn’t my usual saucy demeanour, however I think it’s important to know that sad things happen, and our Cities have seen many dark eerie days.
Long before Before Sleeping Giant Brewery, Dawson Trail, Doran’s and Northern Breweries, there was the Port Arthur Brewing Company of Prince Arthur’s Landing.
The Port Arthur Brewing Company at Prince Arthur’s Landing was founded in 1876 by Mr. Conrad Gehl, an immigrant from Bavaria. The Gehl Brewery was located between McVicar Creek and Harrington Court; it burned down in 1877 and was rebuilt, eventually becoming the Port Arthur Beverage Company and later on, Doran’s Brewing.
The Gehl Family rented the home of 170 Algoma St. (Harrington Court) and ran the brewery next door. Oddly enough, my Dziadzio’s brother, John Franków owned this home from 1955 -1984, long before it became many a restaurant.
On March 31, 1877 Conrad Gehl’s brewery was seized, due to failure to obtain a licence from the Department of Internal Revenue. Eventually the disagreement ended with Gehl paying the $50.00 licensing fee, (which would roughly be around $1123.00 today) and he continued to run a successful business at the landing.
If Gehl had troubles before, they would soon escalate; due to a terrible accident that would forever change his business.
Cue the eerie darkness…
It’s been stated that Conrad’s son was a victim of a terrible accident within the brewery on November 25th, 1892. However, searches through Ancestry.ca lead me to believe it was his nephew.
On Wednesday November 25th, around 7:00 in the evening, William Gehl was attending to his duties in the brewery and tripped and fell into a vat of boiling water. Yes, a vat of boiling water, the large vat was used for washing empty kegs.
Gehl extricated himself from the water where his co-workers responded to his cries. They found William severely burned, blinded and attempting to remove his clothing from his body, regrettably both skin and fabric were fused together. They rushed William to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries after hours of anguish and intense suffering.
Documents and newspaper articles detail Gehl’s wails of anguish haunting the hospital wings, resonating to the outside world; echoing from 8 p.m. onward to 3:00 a.m. where he: “lingered in great agony until relieved by death”.
William Gehl was only 45 years old when he died, here are the details from the death registration from Dr. Bathurst.
The proper treatment of burns was severely lacking in the 1800s. Doctors believed in wrapping the patient in blankets, and administering drops of laudanum (an alcoholic solution containing morphine, prepared from opium and formerly used as a narcotic painkiller) with an ounce of brandy. They prioritized numbing the patient and then addressing the state of the scald. Most patients died from shock and their injuries within 24 hours.
The common causes of burns in the 1800s included: scalds from cooking or industry; clothing catching fire and intoxication among those burned or asphyxiated.
No cases demand more urgently immediate and judicious treatment than burns, and yet perhaps in no cases are more ignorance and incompetence shown by too large a number of medical men. —Ashhurst 1862.
Chances of William having proper treatment and anaesthesia were low, considering the reports of his prolonged anguish.
William’s story is one of true horror in a small town; a sad and unfortunate accident. His story illustrates a period in our history where we can recognize our own fortune, not only in medical advancement, but in health and safety within the workplace and industry sector.
Don’t ignore the Phantoms of Port Arthur. Embrace them, recognize them and remember them.