"Son is Electrocuted Where Father Died" - Tragedy in the Costlow Family of Johnstown (PA)

Eerily similar tragedies befell the Costlow family of Johnstown, Pennsylvania on June 15th of 1930 and November 3rd of 1958. In the same way and place, Anthony Joseph Costlow (1897-1930) and his son, James J. Costlow (1921-1958), were electrocuted at the Gautier Division of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, where they both worked. Neither survived.

This was one of the first stories I ran across when I started researching my more distant cousins several years ago. Anthony is my 1st cousin 3x removed. His father, James J. Costlow (1857-1918) is my 3rd uncle, the brother of my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Margaret Costlow Rhoads (1858-1947).

Anthony’s son, James, is my 2nd cousin 2x removed. Our shared direct ancestor is my 3rd great grandfather, James Costlow (1822-1904).


As described in this newspaper clip from the Johnstown Tribune Democrat Anthony was electrocuted when, with pliers in hand, he accidentally came into contact with a live wire.

Johnstown Tribune Democrat - June 16, 1930

Johnstown Tribune Democrat - June 16, 1930

Anthony was 32 years old and had had four young children when he died. His son James, who would meet the same fate 28 years later, was five days shy of his 9th birthday. Other children at the time of his death were: Margaret (11), Irene (7), and Genevieve (1). My records indicate a 5th child, Donald, was born two months after Anthony died.

Anthony’s death certificate corroborates the newspaper account.

Anthony Joseph Costlow (1898-1930)

Anthony Joseph Costlow (1898-1930)

I can’t help but wonder how Anthony’s sudden and tragic death impacted his wife, children and the generations that followed. I have not researched this line fully, but I wonder if his wife, Helen Wess Costlow (1903-1945) remarried. Anthony’s youngest two children would have no memories of their father. What memories did the other children have?

How must the family have felt when, 28 years later, James died in precisely the same way? Here are a couple of articles detailing that tragedy.

Like his father’s, James’ death certificate matches the details of his accident. Cause of death was “electrocution” after he “touched high voltage wire in mill.”

James J. Costlow (1921-1958)

James J. Costlow (1921-1958)

There is a lot more I would like to learn about this family. As I think about this story here are some of the questions that I have.


  • Did James and his wife have children?

  • How old were they when their father died?

  • How did the family process the all too familiar grief?

  • Did this particular Steel Mill have an unusually poor safety record?

  • What happens to the fatherless children in our family trees?

  • What do you think, feel, and wonder about as you consider these tragic stories?

This is the 50th of 52 weekly posts planned for 2018. It was inspired by the #52Ancestors writing challenge issued by professional genealogist, Amy Crow Johnson. The challenge: once a week, for all 52 weeks of the year, write about a relative in your family tree.

Related Posts: Costlow