Raymond Robinson was a human being as alive, awake, and aware as you or me. He enjoyed puzzles and would zip through wooden or metal tactile puzzles with uncanny speed. He enjoyed the radio. He earned money making small leather goods at home and helped around the house with small chores.

Trolley line in Pennsylvania, 1900.

More than anything, Raymond loved to walk. He hiked the hills and roads near the house, eventually tackling the dangerous Route 351. These walks would add to his legend.

Over the last century, storytellers have added a variety of additional details to Raymond’s story to add “dimension and flavor.” These  embellishments gave rise to the Green Man urban legend: one of the boys with Raymond during the 1919 accident said the boy’s eyes glowed an “eerie green.”

That’s ridiculous. Raymond didn’t have eyes anymore.

The “Green Man” legend is as cruel as it is nonsensical.

The legend goes like this…

A century ago, the Green Man had been repairing power lines when a mishap sent 10,000 volts surging through his body. It flung him through the air and over the bridge to land on Wallace Run below. For two whole days he endured the agony of his melted body but finally succumbed to his injuries. 

For decades afterwards, brave individuals would park in the deep dark of the Green Man Tunnel, shut off the car lights, and call out to his restless spirit. Soon they’d see his burnt form limping out of the darkness to the waiting vehicle. His only hand may caress the car window. He might bend down and peer in with his sightless eyes. He might simply turn and walk away. But witnesses agreed their cars often have a hard time starting after being touched by the still-supercharged Green Man. 

It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s not 100% nonsense.

Beaver Falls (circled) near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border.

The real story…

Everything in the following story is based on contemporary newspaper articles, although even those varied greatly. For example, the boy was born in 1910 and the accident occurred in 1919, yet one account describes him as a 13-year-old boy. He was born in October of 1910, and the accident occurred in June of 1919, so 8-years-old. His mother is misnamed in several articles, as is the location of his accident.

One summer afternoon in 1919, 8-year-old Raymond Robinson and his friends spotted a bird’s nest on the Morado Bridge, a trolley bridge that connected his hometown of Big Beaver with Beaver Falls to the south. Curious and cheered on by his friends, Raymond hustled up to spy out the nest. None of the boys remembered or cared that another child had been electrocuted doing the exact same thing on the exact same spot only six months earlier.

The original Morado Bridge was demolished, but the location is, obviously, mostly unchanged.

Raymond hustled up a utility pole alongside the bridge*, straining to get a closer peek, when his hand brushed against the lightning arrestor, a stack of concave sheet metal designed to protect the delicate trolley’s line against lightning strikes and other surges.

*Some articles reported him climbing a bridge pylon, some a unspecified “box,” and some a tree, which he fell from and struck a line on the way down. The result is the same. 

Thousands of volts, enough to propel a loaded trolley car, slammed into the boy, railing him through the air and to the ground. His face and his body smoldered like dowsed charcoals and his skin had melted down his cheeks like candle wax. His friends ran for help and within minutes Raymond was taken to the nearby Providence Hospital.

Lightning arrestor circled.

A Marvel in the Medical World

No one—medical professionals included—thought he’d survive. Our national use of electricity remained in its infancy, and newspapers in the early 20th century were filled with tragic stories of children landing on the losing end of a live wire.

News clippings from 1919 to 1920. THOUSANDS of victims.

Miraculously, Raymond survived, but not all of him. He lost most of his right arm, his eyes, his lips, and his nose. With absolutely no hyperbole, the trolley current had literally melted his face. With such extensive damage, doctors were amazed the boy still breathed at all.

“They say his recovery is a marvel in the medical and the surgical world…”

The Daily Times. 8/14/1919

Plastic surgery didn’t exist in 1919, and surgery for disfiguring injuries came almost entirely from the fresh techniques used for wounded World War I soldiers. They removed swathes of skin from other parts of his body to drape the worst of his facial burns, but they did it with little artistry.

One of the earliest and most famous examples of successful plastic surgery (patient Walter Yeo, 1917. Graft on left, final result on right). Sadly, Raymond was not as fortunate.

Miraculously, Raymond survived.

Contrary to any of the “Green Man” nonsense, Raymond was not a bitter fellow after the accident. Doctors marveled at the boy’s recovery and despite his disfiguring injuries and dangers of infection (antibiotics wouldn’t be common until the 1930s), this chatty boy remained cheerful. This optimism might have contributed to his recovery.

“Yet, in spite of all his affliction, the boy is in good humor…” 

The Daily Times. 8/14/1919.

In those days of competing rural journalism, fact-checking came a distant second to writing a story both shocking and speedy, and the brief below (from the New Castle Herald, 6/20/19) is a shining example: his mother’s name was Louise Henrietta Robinson (although she listed her name as Lula Robinson on Raymond birth certificate), not Mary Robinson. The accident occurred at the Morado Bridge, not Borado Bridge.

New Castle Herald, 6/20/19

No article elaborated on another, earlier tragedy in the Robinson family’s life. Tuberculosis took Raymond’s father and Louise’s first husband, Robert Robinson, when he was only in his 30s.  Now his mother would endure another tragedy: the lifelong care of her blind, one-armed boy.

For decades his stayed home, isolated and content, but as he grew to middle age, Raymond grew restless. Despite the family’s wishes, he decided to enjoy late night walks, venturing out farther and farther. To avoid getting lost, he would straddle the road’s edge, with one foot on the soft shoulder and the other on asphalt.

The legend…

After a few years, Raymond Robinson, interchangeably called the Green Man or Charlie No-Face, saw his legend grow. He became as famous as a half-ghost can be, at least in western Pennsylvania. Cars piloted by curious teenagers would troll up and down the road looking for Raymond’s familiar form, a one-armed man with a walking cane.

Morado Bridge location.

“On Friday nights, especially after football games, it was a parade of cars going out there. There were times when there were policemen there because of the flow of traffic,” said James Tripodi said in a 2007 interview with the Beaver County Times.

His walks remained a contentious ritual for his family. Strolling along a busy, twisting road in the middle of the night is dangerous enough, but for a one-armed blind man, it was simply reckless. Raymond found himself in a ditch more than once after a passing vehicle clipped him.

But still he went out.

Some visitors were respectful and brought Raymond welcome gifts (beer and cigarettes, which he enjoyed). Some were not. Most were just awkward teens doing awkward things, as seen in the photo below. These kids had their photos taken with Raymond and the range of emotions is obvious.

It easy to imagine and understand the shock of seeing Raymond walking along the highway late at night. Once word spread, spotting Raymond (by then called Charlie No-Face locally) became a right of passage for regional teens. This was decades after his accident, but true stories have a way of evolving into more sensational ones.

In 1985, Ray Robinson passed away at the age of 74, almost 66 years longer than doctors expected. He was buried next to his father at Grandview Cemetery in Beaver Falls, less than a half-mile from the site of his accident.

There’s nothing at or around his grave to reflect the Green Man folklore. There’s only his name: Raymond.

∗No doubt readers were expecting me to put up an image or two of Raymond. Sorry to disappoint. His injuries were catastrophic and cosmetic surgery then was abysmal. Your imagination can fill in the rest.∗

Want to Know More?

Satisfy your interurban trolley curiosity with this image collection by the Little Beaver Historical Society. They put real work into it, and its one of the better society databases I have come across.