By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member
September 15, 2023
Sadie Irene Snyder, elementary school-age, c. 1912-1919. Photograph provided by Jackie Martz.
When you look deep enough into your own family history, there is almost always at least one story that sounds like it should be made into a Hollywood film. These are not only some of the stories that make us who we are but are often the ones that are remembered for generations to come.
I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down in the home of local Halifaxian Jackie Martz and hearing the stunning tale of an aunt gone missing, a mysterious man, and a joyful return. And I knew then, that if not a movie, it had to at least be an article for our Society.
The Snyder Family
Martz's grandfather, Harry Monroe Snyder, was hurt while working in the coal mines near Wiconisco, PA, where their family lived, and was brought home one day in what was then called "The Death Wagon." With Harry in a serious condition, Martz's grandmother (Harry's wife), Sadie Rebecca Welker Snyder, nursed him back to health, but he never returned to work at the mines, instead moving the family to Inglenook, PA, and joining the Pennsylvania Railroad.
(Top) This photograph shows the Lykens Valley Coal Company's “breaker” in Wiconisco Township, Dauphin County. The photograph was taken during the late 1860s and shows a line of railroad cars prepared for loading with coal for shipping. This was one of the possible mining locations where Martz's grandfather, Harry Snyder, worked. Photo from the Williamstown Historical Society archive.
(Bottom) These photos depict the front and back of Harry Snyder's Miner Certificate for the Anthracite Coal District of the Susquehanna Coal Company (Lykens Division) where he worked. Note the stamp on the back when it was surrendered in April 1920, shortly after his life-threatening accident in the mines. Certificate provided by Jackie Martz.
As a worker of the PA Railroad, Harry and his family were entitled to receive free passes for riding the passenger trains. This career perk was often used by the family, and Sadie Rebecca would at times take the children with her on a trip to Harrisburg where the family would do some fun shopping in the bustling capital city.
One day, as the family was riding the train, a conductor who went by the name of George Edward Smith (born November 14, 1895) introduced himself to the family and began talking with Martz's aunt, Sadie Irene Snyder, who at the time was 16 years old (born April 17, 1907). The two of them took a liking to one another, and over time grew closer. Unbeknownst to the family, Sadie Irene would sneak out at night from their family home in Inglenook to meet up with George.
The Snyder family had no idea what would come next.
The Tale of a Local Runaway
One early summer morning in 1923, Sadie Irene's mother went upstairs to wake her daughter and found her gone.
The State Police and PA Railroad Police were quickly notified of the missing daughter and a wide-ranging search began for the local runaway. However, despite the work of the departments and the family to find Sadie Irene and the suspected George Smith with whom she had left, the two were never found.
Years passed by, and as Jackie Martz mentioned, hope began to fade that her aunt Sadie would ever come home. However, the family never gave up on praying for Sadie Irene's safety and that she would one day return to them.
"They always kept a picture of her on their living room wall and Sadie's name was mentioned almost daily," Martz said.
For 28 years, there was nothing but prayers and silence.
Sadie Rebecca Welker Snyder (left) and Harry Monroe Snyder (right) sitting beneath the portrait of their lost daughter, Sadie Irene Snyder which hung in their living room for 28 years. Photo provided by Jackie Martz.
The Daughter's Return
On April 29, 1950, Jackie Martz's sister (Joyce Rebecca Garman) was getting married.
Since Joyce was under the age of 18 at the time, their mother had to sign the documentation allowing for the marriage to take place under state law. That morning, at around 9:00 AM, a knock was heard at the door. Jackie answered. On the other side was a man who said he was from the Dauphin County Courthouse.
Jackie's mother, Dorothy Ellen, who had come to the door and was standing behind her daughter, nearly passed out, believing that the Courthouse had found a discrepancy within their signing of the documents for Joyce to be married that day and that the marriage would not be approved. Thankfully, this was not the case. Instead, the man from the courthouse stated that he believed he had a letter from Dorothy's sister...Jackie's runaway Aunt Sadie Irene.
Jackie's mother asked her to read the letter aloud. It read that she (the writer) had left home 28 years ago and that she wanted to know if any of her siblings or parents were living and still in the area. Strangely, despite all the parallels to the missing Sadie Irene, the letter was signed:
After some time and phone calls of confusion, it was discovered that "Ruth Meredith" was in fact, Sadie Irene.
The Mystery Solved
After reconnecting with their long-lost Sadie Irene, the family began to see the mystery unravel before their eyes as Sadie told them some of what had happened after that fateful day.
She and George Smith had run away together to go North to Syracuse, New York. Together they hopped freight trains because they knew that they would be caught if they rode the passenger trains to their destination. As the boxcars they rode stopped on their journey, they would steal tomatoes and other vegetables from people's gardens along the way to survive.
When asked why Sadie Irene had left with George, Martz stated that she assumed it was for love and to get married before turning the legal age that allowed for the holy bond.
They did reach Syracuse, NY, and there they lived for the next 28 years, having eight or nine children and changing their names so they would not be found by police or family. Despite their hiding, Sadie Irene wrote letters to be sent back to her family so that she could keep in touch and let everyone know that she was okay. These she gave to George Smith to send, but he refused, telling her that her family "didn't want to be bothered with her anymore." Thus, the letters sat dormant, unopened, and unsent.
Sadie and George's children often asked their parents why they didn't have relations like their friends did...where were their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents?
"I don't know what they were told," Martz said during the interview.
At the end of the 28-year period in Syracuse, Sadie Irene told her family that George Smith (who was then going by another name) changed his name once more and abandoned Sadie Irene and their children, never to be found by police or heard of again as far as the Snyder family could tell.
"On Mother's Day in 1950, at the age of 44 and after 28 years of silence, Sadie Irene came home to visit her family. With her, she brought two of her daughters, Dorothy and Elizabeth, and one granddaughter also named Elizabeth. There she told them much of the story of what had happened, giving closure to the story at long last.
Much joy was had at the daughter's return, and for many years to come, both families would visit each other in New York and Pennsylvania when time would allow, even after Sadie Irene's death on January 21, 1965.
In 2017, a reunion of the surviving members of the Snyder and Meredith families was had. This same event took place just a few weeks ago on Saturday, August 19, 2023, approximately 100 years from the date when Sadie Irene had left home and the story began. Today, that story has brought families together.
This year's reunion took place in New York, with a strong, constant wind blowing throughout the entirety of the day. There was much talking and catching up, reminiscing about the past and food to be had.
"There was SO much food," Martz laughed.
Now that most of the existing family members have been found for this modern event, the reunion is set to be an annual happening, already being scheduled for next year. The family, finally reunited through a century of perseverance, is ready for the next chapter in their family's history.
The Snyder and Meredith Families at their annual reunion, August 19, 2023. Photo provided by Jackie Martz and the Snyder/Meredith Family.