Hawley, Pennsylvania is a town of 1300 people. A borough, really. When I was a kid there the mayor, who also worked as a neonatal nurse and delivered my brother, wore a handsewn turn-of-the-century gown, complete with petticoat to lead the Memorial Day Parade and made the front page of the paper for it every year. The borough was named for Irad Hawley, first president of the Pennsylvania Coal Company. The Borough of Hawley was formed in 1884, but its history dates back to the 1790’s when early pioneers discovered the mighty Paupack Falls and the ability to harness its power for manufacturing. Currently, the town hosts a hydroelectric dam on Lake Wallenpaupack. It’s come a long way.
There was a day when the buzzing metropolis of Hawley, Pennsylvania was a safe haven. It became a refuge in May of 1910, as residents from far and wide fled the city to tuck themselves into the cozy Pocono mountains to hide from a comet- Halley’s Comet had set off widespread fear in Scranton as its citizens worried about the comet’s potential interaction with the lights and flashiness of the Electric City, so named for its network of electric trolley lines.
We see this kind of grandiose fear in our own folklore and even legends we create for ourselves.One that especially holds this playful fear is the tall tree spirits living in the forests between the river and the baseball field. Our moms told us that they would jump on our cars if we stayed out past curfew. Hawley’s residents in their twenties and thirties will remember the Intermediate School principal waxing poetic about the gravity railroad and the Stourbridge Lion, as Hawley was once a keystone in anthracite coal transport. There’s also the Primary School Principal, who spun yarns of stories at Christmas and strangely, on Johnny Appleseed Day each year. We cannot hold onto these anymore than we can hide from a comet. Still we remember them dearly.
The town has come a long way since its days of harboring a safe haven from Halley’s comet, though I think some of the lessons from that day remain. Amidst clamor in newspapers not to use telephones, or to pray extra hard, one claimed that “At any rate there seems little danger to come to us of the earth. The thing to do is to hold tight, don’t lose courage, and keep your eyes open.”