James B. Beecher
Anna Garis
James Bernard Beecher


Family Links

1. Grace Rebecca Beecher

2. Rebecca G. Goho

James Bernard Beecher 2 3 4

  • Born: 29 Sep 1875, Baltimore, Baltimore, MD 1 5 6
  • Marriage (1): Grace Rebecca Beecher on 29 Dec 1918 in Carlisle, Cumberland, PA 1
  • Marriage (2): Rebecca G. Goho
  • Died: 17 Sep 1924, Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA at age 48 2 5 6
  • Buried: 20 Sep 1924, Paxtang: Paxtang Cemetery, Dauphin, PA 5 6

   Other names for James were James E. Beecher,7 James M. Beecher 8 and James Bernard McMahon.1 3 5 9

  Noted events in his life were:

1. Residence: Beecher, Jas M., (Grace R) laborer h 2124 Turner in 1917 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 10

2. Residence: Harrisburg City Directory: Beecher, Jas. M., (Grace R.), lab, h 932 Penn in 1918 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 11

3. Name Changed: A mystery is James' marriage record has surname McMahon but his 1918 city directory listing, death certificate, tombstone, and 1920 census have Beecher., 26 Dec 1918, Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. Mystery surrounds James' surname and whether he was the father was for the children of Grace Rebecca Beecher.

On 7 Sep 1911 in York Grace Rebecca Beecher married Howard Cleveland Dittenhafer. She divorced him in York on 11 Mar 1918 according to her second marriage record on 29 Dec 1918, when she wed in Carlisle James Bernard McMahon, age 37, thereby born about 1881, both stating they lived in Baltimore, Maryland.

All other evidence suggests the couple lied on this application and James Bernard McMahon was James Bernard Beecher. Why would they lie? Perhaps the notion of a Beecher marrying a Beecher needed to be hidden. Also, Grace birthed Rhea Beecher on 15 Apr 1919, conceived June 1918 prior to her divorce from Dittenhafer.

Grace's parents are listed on the 1918 marriage application as cigar maker John Beecher and Ella Godfrey, born in York County, PA. Grace's Pennsylvania Death Certificate lists her parents as John Beecher and Ella Godfrey.

On the marriage record James McMahon's parents are not listed, with the word "dead" written in the name spaces, with Baltimore the parents' birthplace and James' birthplace. The record has James "never before married."

James was electrocuted while working in 1924, and his Pennsylvania death certificate identifies him as James Beecher born 29 Sep 1875 in Maryland, father James Beecher born in Maryland, and mother Anna Garis born in Pennsylvania.

No records for these parents can be found in Maryland or Pennsylvania, nor for this James' in the 1880, 1900, or 1910 census as either a Beecher or a McMahon. (There is a James B. Beecher in Baltimore in 1910 but he is James Beauregard Beecher born in 1861 in Queenstown, MD, whose son James Maurice Beecher was born in 1892, so not a match.)

Since no evidence of a James Bernard McMahon living in Baltimore 1881-1918 has been found, it appears certain they never lived in 1918 in Baltimore per the marriage application, because in the 1917 City Directory for Harrisburg, PA they are listed as James M. Beecher with wife Grace R. at 2124 Turner St. The 1918 City Directory lists these Beechers at 932 Penn St. where James lived when he died in 1924.

This indicates Grace was living with James while still legally married to Dittenhafer, and that the "Baltimore" residence on the marriage license is fake, suggesting they even lied about James' surname for the marriage.

In Paxtang Cemetery is a single tombstone inscribed James B. Beecher (1880-1924) and Grace R. Beecher (1890-1955). Whether he was born in 1875 per the death certificate or 1880 per the tombstone is uncertain.

His obituary in the 18 Sep 1924 Harrisburg Evening News states he had four surviving children: Gladys, Elizabeth, Madeline and Reba.

It is uncertain who their father actually is, since the children were all conceived between 1911 and 1918 prior to the marriage of James and Grace, so Dittenhafer could be involved. However, all later records state the father of all four was James Beecher.

Gladys Caroline Beecher, b. 1912, lists James Beecher and Grace Beecher as parents on her 1938 marriage application.

Elizabeth Diane Beecher, b. 1913, never married, but her social security application transcription lists James Beecher and Rebecca G. Goho as parents.

Madeline Vera Beecher b.1917 listed on her 1941 marriage application parents James Beecher and Grace Godfrey, giving Grace her mother's maiden name.

Rhea Angela Beecher b.1919 in her obituary had parents "the late James and Grace Beecher."

The "Goho" and "Godfrey" surnames given by the daughters suggest they were also covering up the fact that a Beecher married a Beecher?

Because no proof of James' parents and his birth has been found, we are left to speculate…

Perhaps James' was not legally eligible to marry Grace because they were Beecher cousins.

Perhaps the children's father is Dittenhafer, but Grace chose to hide his identity from the children by marrying James Beecher.

Perhaps James is truly a McMahon, and he may have adopted his wife's surname so the step-children could be raised as Beechers, not Dittenhafers. Other reasons for changing surname would be to avoid military service, debts, court orders, child support or alimony with a first wife, etc. However, no birth or census record in Maryland or Pennsylvania for a matching James McMahon has been found.

4. Occupation: steelworker on 26 Dec 1918 in Baltimore, Baltimore, MD. 12

5. Census in 1920 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 8 The 1920 census recorded at 932 Penn Street in Harrisburg: James M. Bucher [indexed wrong, handwriting looks like Beecher], laborer railroad, 35, living with wife Grace R., 27; Gladys C., 7; Elizabeth D., 6; Madeline V., 2 years 5 months, and Rhea A., 5 months when the census was recorded on 5 Jan 1920. Everyone and their parents were born in Pennsylvania, except James and his parents in Maryland.

6. Residence: Beecher, Jas M (Grace R) laborer h932 Penn in 1923 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 13

7. Newspaper: Evening News: One Lineman Electrocuted, Two Hurt While Repairing Wires in Verbeke Street, 9 Sep 1924, Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 14 Sixty-nine hundred volts of uncontrolled electricity passed through the bodies of three men near Tenth and Verbeke streets shortly before 9 o'clock this morning, killing one and burning and seriously injuring the other two.

The fatal accident occurred when the three men, members of two trouble gangs of the Harrisburg Light & Power Company, were repairing high-tension lines that failed and left the city without light and power at that time.

The dead man is Ira Smith, of 1924 Briggs street, electrocuted while helping to pull a supposedly "dead" strand of wire to a telegraph pole, from which it had broken.

Harry Bair, 43, of 1833 Susquehanna street, and James Beecher, 48, of 932 Penn street, helping Smith in tugging at the wire, were thrown several feet an miraculously escaped death. Bair suffered severe burns about the right foot and right arm, which Beecher was burned over the right side of his body and left hand.

They were taken to the Harrisburg Hospital, where efforts to resuscitate Smith proved futile. Bair was returned to his home after treatment, while Beecher was admitted to the institution for observation.

Details Are Vague

Only vague details leading up to the tragedy were available at the offices of the light company. When the main power lines failed shortly before 8 o'clock, all available electricians were sent out to repair the breaks in various sections of the city.

Bair, foreman of one of two gangs working in conjunction, had traced "trouble" from Cameron street on Verbeke, making several repairs. Just north of the W. H. Hickok Manufacturing Company, at Nineth and Cumberland, where the heavy cables passed over a section dotted with few dwellings, they discovered a cable broken, the two ends lying on the ground.

Linemen ascended adjoining poles to make the splice, while Beecher, Smith and Bair tugged at the cable to pull the slack over the crossarm. Just how long they had been handling the fatal strand before the current flashed through their bodies could not be ascertained.

Bair, partially protected by a heavy pair of leather gloves, was at the end of the strain, and a sudden tug given just an instant before the power was restored to the cable is thought ot have pulled him away from potential death.

Knocked Eight Feet

He was knocked about eight feet by the great force and rendered unconscious, and upon recovery learned that the power had been turned off. Beecher and Smith, however, were still tangled in the coil, the latter dead.

Both Beecher and Bair are suffering badly from the shock and may be unable to return to work for some time. Bair has been employed by the local company, and experienced several accidents previous to coming here five years ago.

Coroner Kreider was summoned to the Harrisburg Hospital as soon as Smith was pronounced dead. He immediately started an investigation to ascertain the cause of the accident, the origin of which light company officials were unable to discover this morning.

William Crozier, city electrician, who was working in the vicinity, helped lift the unconscious body of Beecher into the light truck maintained for the city electrical department, Crozier driving the injured man to the hospital. A pile of cinders on whcih Beecher was standing is thought to have saved his life, for cinder is a poor conductor of electricity.

It is understood that shortly before the accident occured a light company employee arrived from the plant and informed the trouble gangs that No. 1 wire had again been placed in service. Whether the second wire being connected to the poles "shorted" across No. 1 cable is not known.

8. Cause of Death: Shock and burns caused by contact with live wire while repairing same. Died at Harrisburg Hospital., 17 Sep 1924, Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 6

9. Occupation: laborer, Harrisburg Light and Power Co. On 17 Sep 1924 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 6

10. Residence: 932 Penn Street, Harrisburg, Pa. On 17 Sep 1924 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 6

11. Newspaper: Evening News: Funeral of James E. Beecher, 18 Sep 1924, Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 7 James E. Beecher
Funeral services for James E. Beecher, 48 years old, who died yesterday morning from burns which he sustained while repairing a borken wire a week ago, will be held from his home, 932 Penn street, on Saturday afteroon, at 1:30 o'clock. The Rev. John R. Rodgers of Tabernacle Baptist Church will officiate. Burial will be made in Paxtang Cemetery.
Beecher is survived by his wife and four children, Gladys, Elizabeth, Madeline and Reba.
An inquest in the deaths of Beecher and Ira F. Smith, of 1904 Briggs street, who was instantly killed in the accident, will be conducted at the mayor's office, tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock.

12. Newspaper: Harrisburg Telegraph: Light Company Holds Death of Two Linemen Due to "Mysterious Current", 19 Sep 1924, Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA. 2 Dissatisfaction Expressed With Coroner's Probe
Light Company Holds Death of Two Linemen Due to "Mysterious Current"
Blame Not Placed
Dissatisfaction with the explanation that "some mysterious current" was responsible for the electrocution of two linemen while repairing a broken high-tension line of the Harrisburg Light and Power Company at Ninth and Verbeke streets, September 9, was expressed to-day by friends of the dead men.
A coroner's jury yesterday failed to determine the cause of the accident. Fellow workmen had testified that they did not know anything except that all precautions had been taken to render the circuit harmless, while officials said they had no records to show if any current used on that line at the time of the accident came from their plants.
However, it was brought out under cross-examination of Dr. J. H. Kreider, county coroner, that the 6, 600 volts current which killed Ira E. Smith, 46, 1904 Briggs street, and James Beecher, 48, 932 Penn street, was turned on at the same time the power was released momentarily throughout the city that morning, presumably from some central station.
Ordered Circuits Cut
Ray Beitman, 434 South Fourteenth street, gang foreman, who was ordered to repair the break in the wire, testified that he had ordered the switch connecting the circuit of the Ninth street plant of the Harrisburg Light and Power Company to be pulled out. Another witness testified that he followed those orders.
With this switch pulled, there was no possible chance of current from the Ninth street plant getting into the circuit. Several minutes before the break would have been repaired, the workmen testified that the current came on without warning.
Smith and Beecher were pulling up the slack on the wire which been connected at one pole. Two other men, including Beitman, who was at the reel, were hurled aside. Several seconds, just time enough to count six, and then the current was turned off. The time of the accident as recalled by the workmen, was about 9 o'clock.
Smith leaves a crippled widow, while Beecher's widow and four children survive him.
Cause is "Mystery"
When asked for possible ways in which the accident could have happened, both the workmen and H. H. Kamm, superintendent of lines, said another live wire coming in contact with the "dead" wire, or current from another station other than the Ninth street plant, might have caused the accident. However, the affair was a mystery to them, he asserted.
When asked if the officials of the Harrisburg Light and Power Company had looked up records to show the consumption of current that day and over which lines is was distributed, Dr. Kreider said they could not tell him whether any current had been turned on at the time of the accident and that they had no way of telling despite the use of graphic charts which are supposed to indicate flow of current.

James married Grace Rebecca Beecher, daughter of John Henry Beecher and Ella M. Godfrey, on 29 Dec 1918 in Carlisle, Cumberland, PA.1 (Grace Rebecca Beecher was born on 4 Sep 1890 in New Freedom, York, PA, USA,15 16 17 18 died on 22 Dec 1955 in Harrisburg, Dauphin, PA 16 17 and was buried on 24 Dec 1955 in Paxtang: Paxtang Cemetery, Dauphin, PA 16 17.)

James next married Rebecca G. Goho.


1 FamilySearch.org, <i>Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885 - 1950</i>, https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VFW6-M4Y marriage James Bernard McMahon and Grace R. Beecher, 1918.

2 <i>Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, PA)</i>, 19 Sep 1924, page 1. Dissatisfaction Expressed with Coroner's Probe.

3 FamilySearch.org, <i>Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885 - 1950</i>, https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VFS4-2YK Robert Lang and Gladys Caroline Beecher, 1938.

4 Ancestry.com, <i>U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007</i> (Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.), Elizabeth Diane Beecher. SSN 172016565. Father James B. Beecher. Mother Rebecca G. Goho.

5 <i>Find A Grave</i>, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=86721249.

6 Ancestry.com, <i>Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966</i> (Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1966. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.), Certificate 88724, James Beecher, father James Beecher, mother Anna Garis.

7 <i>Harrisburg Evening News, Harrisburg, PA</i>, 18 Sep 1924, page 15. Funeral of James E. Beecher.

8 <i>1920 United States Census</i>, Year: 1920; Census Place: Harrisburg Ward 5, Dauphin, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1558; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 72; Image: 733.

9 FamilySearch.org, <i>Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885 - 1950</i>, https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VFS4-DDX James Beecher in entry for Edward William Smith and Madeline V. Beecher, 1941.

10 Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Boyd's Harrisburg City Directory, 1917, Printed page 149. Online image 79.

11 Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, 1918 Harrisburg Directory, printed page 150, online iamge 81, Beecher, Jas. M.

12 FamilySearch.org, <i>Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885 - 1950</i>, https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VFW6-M4Y marriage James Bernard Mcmahon and Grace R. Beecher, 1918.

13 Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Boyd's Harrisburg City Directory, 1923, Printed page 453. Online image 234.

14 <i>Harrisburg Evening News, Harrisburg, PA</i>, 9 Sep 1924, pages 1 and 13.

15 <i>1900 United States Census</i>, Pennsylvania, York County, York Ward 6, Roll 1503 Book 1, Page 49.

16 <i>Find A Grave</i>, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=86721196.

17 Ancestry.com, <i>Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966</i> (Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1966. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.), Death Certificate 105751. Grace R. Beecher. Father John Beecher. Mother Ella Godfrey.

18 Ancestry.com, <i>U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007</i> (Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.), Grace Rebecca Beecher.

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