By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member
May 15, 2023
Recently donated cash drawer from the 1901 Halifax bank robbery. Photo by Dylan Bowman.
Halifax's 1901 Bank Robbery
In all of Halifax's stories, legends and tales, none is more well-known and historically stunning than that of the 1901 bank robbery that took place in the heart of town.
The story goes as such: Henry Rowe and Weston Keiper were both young locals of the Lykens area who grew up in coal-mining families. Having read many of the dime novels glorifying western outlaws and gunslingers of the old West, Rowe and Keiper planned to stage a robbery of what was once the Halifax Bank which now sits as a private residence on Market Street in Halifax.
Facing the camera, Henry Rowe (left) and Weston Keiper (right) ready to board the Halifax train for Harrisburg execution. Photo from Halifax Area Historical Society archive.
To secure fame and a name as real outlaws, Rowe and Keiper were sure to carry loaded guns into the bank. As the robbery commenced, bank teller Charles W. Ryan tried to foil the robbers' plans. In the scuffle that ensued, Ryan was shot inside the bank and died later that day from his wounds at his home on Market Street.
Rowe and Keiper attempted to escape down the alley that led North across Halifax and away from the bank but were quickly apprehended only a few blocks away. On January 28, 1902, after a short time in prison, the two outlaws were hanged outside the Dauphin County Jail in Harrisburg. This event marked the last public execution by hanging in Dauphin County.
The Bloody Drawer
In January 2023, an individual donated to the Halifax Area Historical Society a wooden cash drawer, stating that it was in fact the bank drawer that was robbed from during the 1901 Halifax bank robbery on Market Street.
As can be imagined, we at the Society were beyond thrilled.
Interior lock and opening mechanism in a back compartment of the drawer. Photo by Dylan Bowman.
The donator (who wished to remain anonymous) stated that the cash drawer was taken by the police after the bank robbery and was held as evidence in the case. After the case was closed, the drawer was returned (assumed to the bank) and at one point it came into the hands of an individual, thought to be a member of the Lyter family, possibly even Isaac Lyter himself, as he was the assistant cashier to Charles Ryan the day the bank was robbed.
Abe Lyter, a Halifax native, eventually ended up with the drawer. His niece, who lives in Millersburg, came to possess the drawer thereafter. She had contacted the donator to liquidate some of her collection via auction. While looking through the items up for auction, they found the cash drawer and questioned its age and prominence. It was then that the Lyter niece told the donator that it was the cash drawer held as evidence in the case of the Halifax bank robbery.
The donator then decided that they had to do what they could to get it back into the public view.
Thanks and Remembrance
Through this anonymous donation, the Halifax Area Historical Society now has what is a priceless, irreplaceable artifact of the town's most infamous story. With some imagination, it is not a far stretch to say that this very bank drawer may have been open at the time of the robbery and shooting, catching the very gun smoke, blood, and history that were shed on that day.
We are thankful at the Society for citizens such as the donator in this story for their willingness and passion to help preserve Halifax history. In doing so, they not only benefit many generations yet to come by guarding and sharing the past, but they also preserve the memory of the honorable sacrifice of men like Charles W. Ryan.
Interior compartments and features of the cash drawer. Photos by Dylan Bowman.