Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Queen of Sharon

The City of Sharon, Pennsylvania is your typical industrial boom town. The city existed before the steel mills came, but the direction of the city was taken in hand by steel people. The mills that were set up in town by the likes of Buhl and Carnegie would become the life blood of the city for decades to come. When the mills began to shut down, Sharon began to shut down. What is left is a city that has seen better days. Several dedicated people have spent enormous amounts of time and money to revitalize the downtown area, but they battle uphill. The City itself has fallen upon rough financial times. I hope the dedicated Sharon folks succeed.

Back in 1921, one of the heyday years of the industrial boom in Sharon something unusual happened. On May 10th, amid the industrial machine a carnival was taking place at the corner of Clark and Sharpsville Avenue. On this may 10th, Lena Miller died of pnuemonia.

Death by pnuemonia in itself was not unusual in 1921, not even death at carnival was unusual. What was unusual is that Lena Miller was a gypsy queen.

Lena was the daughter of Louis Mitchell, king of the Russian Gypsies in North America and wife of Frank Miller, who was King of the tribe that was traveling with the carnival. Lena told gypsy fortunes to the curious at the carnival. A fortune told by royalty, a rare opportunity.

Her passing touched off a funeral that the residents of Sharon had ever seen, nor would they ever again. Gypsies descended on Sharon from all directions. This was a big deal, and they came to pay their respects to the queen as she lay in state in a tent at the fairgrounds.

When all of the gypsy dignitaries and family members arrived the funeral was set for the 13th of May. A large customary feast was held at the fairgrounds, and afterward the official services began. The queen wore the extremely colorful garb of the gypsies, as did the gypsies in attendence. She was buried with jewels, gold jewelry and gold coins on her eyes. After a 45 minute service, Lena was kissed by family members and the oak and silver casket was closed.

The Sharon police needed the assistance of carnival workers to keep the path for the pall bearers open to the hearse. The band from the carnival lead the procession to Oakwood Cemetery, where Lena would be laid to rest. The procession is said to have taken 30 minutes to pass a given point, with hundreds of brightly dressed mourners, a band and the hearse itself flanked by flower carrying pall bearers. It is said that over 200 automobiles entered Oakwood for the burial itself.

True to gypsy tradition, the casket was lowered into the ground, at which time many of the mourners approched the grave and tossed gold coins on top of the casket to be mixed in the dirt. This was done because they believed that the gold coins were compensation for any sins that the deceased may have committed, and to buy favorable mercy for those surviving. None of the mourners would leave until a heavy flagstone was placed on the casket as a vault. The family would not leave until the gates closed. Gypsy guards were allowed to stand a 24 hour watch over the grave for ninety days.

A simple obelisk still marks the grave of the Gypsy Queen in Oakwood amongst several empty burial plots bought by the gypsies to insure that a person digging an adjacent grave may help himself to some of the Queen's gold or jewels. She was all but forgotten by all but the most stalwart local historians, but interest was momentarily renewed when the local newspaper did a story on her recently. Before this nobody would believe my Gypsy Queen story. Alot of things have happened in Sharon since Lena Miller passed, but I doubt that any of it was as exotic and unusual as this event.
stone photo by John Zavinski of the Herald newspaper


Gus and Louie said...

Very good post !!! I truly enjoyed it !!!


Anonymous said...

My sister & I put these beads on her stone!

Anonymous said...

What an incredible and interesting story! Being born in Sharon and attending Hickory schools, little did I know the interesting facts about a Gypsy Queen living in Sharon and being laid to rest with what must have been a funeral to remember!!