Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sharpless Morgan Dietz (1867-1931)

Portrait from the Danville Morning News, January 21, 1931

   A standout citizen in the history of Danville, Pennsylvania, Sharpless Morgan Dietz was a prominent businessman in this Montour County city for over thirty years, being the proprietor of two hotels as well as a leader in the local Moose lodge. A two-term member of the Pennsylvania State Assembly from Montour County, Dietz's life ended tragically via a car accident near Liverpool, Pennsylvania in January 1931, an accident that also claimed the life of the man who had preceded him the legislature, Jesse Beaver Gearhart (1868-1931). 
   Born in Danville on November 15, 1867,  Sharpless M. Dietz was the son of John George and Mary Anna Dietz.  He attended schools local to the Danville area and first entered into the workforce in the mid-1880s as a rolling mill employee. In 1887 he traveled to Ft. Worth, Texas and for nine years was employed as an engineer and fireman for the Texas and Pacific railroad. He married sometime in the early 1890s to Ms. Rachel Crumb (1869-1911), with whom he had three children, Oscar William (1894-1969), George (died in infancy in 1908) and a daughter, listed as Mrs. Ralph Jenkins.
   Sharpless Dietz returned to Pennsylvania in the late 1890s and around 1899 entered into the hotel business, becoming the owner and operator of the "Glendower House". He operated that hotel for nine years and around 1907 took ownership of the Riverview Hotel, operating it until his death two decades later. Active in a number of civic organizations in Danville, Dietz was a longstanding member of the local Moose Lodge and was its past director. He also held memberships in the local Eagles and Elks lodges and for over three decades was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotives Engineers and Firemen.
   Dietz first entered the political life of Danville in November 1920 when he became a candidate for the Pennsylvania General Assembly from Montour County. Dietz's opponent that year was Republican Jesse Beaver Gearheart , a veteran of both the Spanish American and First World Wars. On election day 1920 it was Gearhart who eked out a narrow win over Dietz, besting him by a margin of just 13 votes--2,134 to 2,121!
   Two years following his loss Dietz launched another campaign for the assembly and was this time successful, defeating J. Beaver Gearhart. Taking his seat at the start of the 1923 session, Dietz would serve two assembly terms and was defeated for reelection in November 1926. 
   After leaving the legislature Sharpless Dietz continued to be a citizen of prominent standing in Danville and died in tragic circumstances in January 1931 via an automobile accident. On January 19th of that year he, former representative J. Beaver Gearhart and Montour County Associate Judge Victor Olsen left the Riverview Hotel and began traveling to the state capitol to attend the inauguration of Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot. The trio made it as far as Liverpool, Pennsylvania and on January 20th the Buick coupe they were traveling in encountered icy pavement, which in turn sent the vehicle plunging into a culvert. The Danville Morning News reported on the particulars of the accident, stating that:
"The driver lost control of the car and it started to slide crossways in the road towards the abutment. The four passenger coupe struck the abutment in the center of the right side, demolishing every window and bending the frame into a half moon shape around the end of the abutment."
   The force of the crash caused Dietz to be thrown from the vehicle and he was later found in the creek bed near the abutment in an unconscious state. Judge Olsen (who had been thrown into the highway upon initial impact) sustained injured ribs and lacerations. Only J. Beaver Gearhart remained in the vehicle, pinned in the wreckage. The Danville Morning News reported that Dietz showed "no signs of life" following the crash while Gearhart expired a short while later. A coroner's report later stated that both men had suffered skull fractures caused by being "thrown against the framework of the interior of the machine with such violence that the tops of their skulls were crushed like eggshells." Only Judge Olsen survived the accident. 
   After news reports of the accident reached Danville the outpouring of grief was immediate, as two of the city's most prominent figures had died suddenly and violently. Following funeral arrangements, Dietz's body was returned to Danville and was later interred at the Fairview Cemetery in that city. He had been preceded in death by his wife Rachel in 1911 and was also interred at the aforementioned cemetery.

From the Danville Morning News, January 21, 1931.

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