October 23, 1900: Local Tramp Causes Own Death by Fire He Started Himself


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA

October 23, 1900: A local tramp has suffered an excruciatingly painful death at his own hands. The watchman making rounds at the Berks County Jail saw a bright light in the cell of John Dwight and found the prisoner’s clothing in flames, with only his trousers below the knees not consumed.

Dwight’s heavy mustache, full head of thick hair and eyebrows had been entirely burned off by the fire, and his body had been parboiled with skin, in pieces as large as a hand, hanging form it. All they could do for the poor man was to ease his pain as much as possible.

Dwight told the warden, “I did it myself with a match.” His frightful suffering continued for five hours until he died. Dwight had been sentenced to five years in prison for burning down a bar in Oley.

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