February 10, 1955: Former Firefighter Confesses to Arson


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

February 10, 1955: After hours of intense interrogation by Police Chief “Mush” Groff and a state fire marshal, the arsonist confessed to setting two fires in Boyertown. Harry A. Hummer, an unemployed volunteer fireman from New Berlinville, at first only admitted to setting the smaller fire at the Boyertown Times building on South Reading Avenue on January 30; but after more arduous grilling, he acknowledged that he had started the inferno at Schmoyer’s Lumber Yard on December 30, 1954, that had lit the night skies as far away as Germantown.

A member of the Keystone, Friendship and Liberty Fire Companies, Hummer had been a firefighter at both conflagrations and having been overcome by the smoke at the second one, he was taken to the Pottstown Hospital for treatment. During World War II, he had been one of the few survivors of the torpedoing of a ship he was serving on., when a number of his friends had died. He later received a bad conduct discharge from the United States Navy on the charge of being AWOL. (Post traumatic stress disorder might have explained his obsession with fire.)

From the very beginning, these fires were suspected arsons, and the Boyertown and State Police had conducted an exhaustive, rigorous and thorough investigation before interrogating and arresting Hummer. The next day, he was arraigned before Justice of the Peace Robert Chittick and pled guilty to setting both fires. He has been sent to the Berks County prison.

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