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Chapel scandal: Off with their heads

Perhaps the most dramatic and certainly the most demoralizing incident in Clarion's history centered around the construction of the Chapel (1902), now know as Hart Chapel. The building, a stone structure 72 by 74 feet, was to serve as an assembly hall and gymnasium combined, the latter occupying the basement.

Founders Busts
Busts on (Science Hall) Founders Hall removed after scandal.

As reported in The North American published in Philadelphia, and other chronicles of the time, the "Gang" in control of legislative votes promised to cause the passage of a special appropriation bill allotting $27,500 for construction of the Chapel with the proviso that a "rake-off" of 10 percent, $2,750, be paid to the "Gang". Principals in the case included R. G. Yingling, one of the founders and the business manager, and James Pinks, registrar, both majority stockholders in the Normal School Association; A. J. Davis, the Principal; A. M. Neely, State Senator from Clarion; J. A. F.

Hoy, State Representative from Clarion and member of the Board of Trustees; and James "Slippery Jim" Mitchell, former State Senator from Indiana County and Secretary of the Senate committee on appropriations. Other names associated with the conspiracy were those of Speaker Wm. Marshall of the State Legislature, State Auditor General Hardenbergh and United States Senator and Pennsylvania Republican boss, Matthew Quay.

Davis related the incident in a sworn affidavit before Notary Public John W. Maffet on August 4, 1902, pointing the finger of guilt at Yingling, Neely, Pinks, Mitchell and others. Yingling and Neely admitted complicity in the "rake-off." The others either branded the affidavit a blatant lie or remained silent. Davis refused to have any part in the payoff and left the Normal School following a dispute with Pinks.

The case was presented to the grand jury in February 1903, but on February 25 the grand jury reported that no true bill could be returned and the indictments were dropped. Later in the year several of the stockholders sued to force the Board of Trustees to account for the $2,750 which was part of the appropriation to the Normal School but which has been fictitiously accounted for. However, nothing came of the action and to this day the disposition of the $2,750 remains uncertain.

Local citizens were concerned over the alleged faulty construction of the building and inferior materials used.

But the builder, Wm. Zortman of Allegheny, and the architect, W. J. L. Peoples of Pittsburgh, apparently vindicated themselves on this count.

Another facet of the episode added injury to insult. When Science Hall was erected sandstone busts of the seven founders of the institution were placed over the main entrance to the building. In the wake of the "rake-off" scandal some rowdies applied red paint to the faces of the founders. As no method could be discovered to remove the paint, the "red faced" founders were detached from the building.