The Biddle Boys Stop for a Bite

Six ham sandwiches and a pint of whiskey add a footnote to the tale of the notorious brothers and Mrs. Soffel.



There may never be a juicier, more wicked and romantic tale in Pittsburgh history than the story of the dastardly and murderous (although famously handsome) Ed and Jack Biddle. In 1902, the brothers escaped from the Allegheny County Jail downtown thanks to help from the infatuated Kate Soffel, who was then the warden’s wife and who fled with the Biddle boys as they headed north.

The story is a bit Bonnie-and-Clyde-ish; it’s Madame-Bovarian; it’s Wild West dramatic, occasionally Fargo-like and comic, and oh-so-romantic with Doctor Zhivago-like scenes in Butler County. And yes, in 1984, it was made into an odd and oddly beautiful, big-time movie called Mrs. Soffel with Diane Keaton in the title role, opposite a young Mel Gibson as Ed Biddle and the oft-forgotten Matthew Modine as Jack.

The movie, proudly promoted with the words “A True Story” full-screen, used the facts loosely at times and ignored some of the nicest details that were originally reported in newspapers at the time. In the film, the Biddles seem to escape on New Year’s Eve, but actually they broke out on Jan. 29, and they got as far as the village of Perrysville in Ross Township by the next night. They hid out in a schoolhouse, Perrysville School No. 2, for several hours, and they stole a horse and sleigh from a local stable before heading on, maybe toward Canada, maybe toward New Castle.

“Their escape and Mrs. Soffel’s involvement made front-page news from Canada to California,” says Diane Holleran, who’s a Ross Township historian and writer. She’s collected many articles, photos, maps and copies of ancient newspaper headlines that prove her point. “It was just such a great and exciting story. It was a hundred-plus years ago, but people are still fascinated.”

Holleran points out that one of the places they stopped for food is still here. It’s now a light-blue apartment building (shown below) on Route 19 (Perry Highway) at Atlantic Avenue, on the left as you head north in downtown Perrysville. Records show it was built in the late-1840s, and it was called the White House Inn back in those exciting days, although some folks knew it as the Weller Hotel because it was run by Christopher R. Weller, who was tending bar on the evening of Jan. 30, 1902.

Some accounts have both Biddles and Mrs. Soffel coming to the White House Inn for something to eat, but the Pittsburg Dispatch on Feb. 1, 1902, reported it was just Ed who showed up late that evening in search of some grub. There was a church group in the hotel having a little post-sleigh-ride party, and Weller said dinner was over and all he could rustle up were ham sandwiches. Ed Biddle ordered six. And a pint of whiskey.

When the six sandwiches and the whiskey couldn’t fit into Ed’s overcoat pocket, he had to take his revolver out to make room. (This wasn’t in the movie!)

Kate Soffel and the Biddle boys may have eaten the sandwiches at the schoolhouse before setting out in their stolen one-horse open sleigh. Or maybe they ate them on the road as they traveled northward in the dark after 1 a.m.
By mid-afternoon on Jan. 31, the fugitives were confronted on the road by law-enforcement types, and the Biddles and Soffel were all three shot in a field just west of Mount Chestnut in Butler County. Ed and Jack died the next day from their wounds. Mrs. Soffel lived on for several years, until 1909, disgraced, shunned by her family and undoubtedly full of good stories.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

From glass and aluminum to ketchup and candy, Pittsburgh has made its mark, thanks in large part to the instantly recognizable brands that remain etched not merely on its buildings — but on its DNA. We look at 10 of those brands and explore how they helped to establish and define the Steel City.
Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Under a new CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport heads into its 25th year while attempting to woo flyers and flights and leave its empty, post-hub days behind
Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Three men at NASA serve pivotal roles in maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been taking high-resolution photos of deep space form more than 25 years. And they're all from Pittsburgh.
Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

The Strip District eatery overcomes tumult and once again is one of Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

9 Things to Know About The North Park Water Tower

9 Things to Know About The North Park Water Tower

Thanks to Rick Sebak, we have some rare pictures of the view from the top.
Oscar-Winning Actor Chosen to Portray Andy Warhol in Biopic

Oscar-Winning Actor Chosen to Portray Andy Warhol in Biopic

The movie is the first non-documentary to focus solely on the pop artist’s life.
How to Build a Playground in Pittsburgh in Less Than a Day

How to Build a Playground in Pittsburgh in Less Than a Day

The state-of-the-art playspace is expected to keep more than 100 children entertained.
Funny: Sofia Vergara Describes Life with Steelers-Fanatic Hubby

Funny: Sofia Vergara Describes Life with Steelers-Fanatic Hubby

Joe Manganiello's wife told Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” that she's learned to accept his Steelers' obsession but also admits “in the beginning it was kinda weird.”

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

From glass and aluminum to ketchup and candy, Pittsburgh has made its mark, thanks in large part to the instantly recognizable brands that remain etched not merely on its buildings — but on its DNA. We look at 10 of those brands and explore how they helped to establish and define the Steel City.
Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Under a new CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport heads into its 25th year while attempting to woo flyers and flights and leave its empty, post-hub days behind
Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Three men at NASA serve pivotal roles in maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been taking high-resolution photos of deep space form more than 25 years. And they're all from Pittsburgh.
Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

The Strip District eatery overcomes tumult and once again is one of Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants.
Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

The things that are best about us? They’re not things. They’re ways.
Chris Kunitz: The Penguins' Unassuming Hitmaker

Chris Kunitz: The Penguins' Unassuming Hitmaker

Chris Kunitz wants to dish out a couple hundred more hits, play a couple hundred more games and win a couple more Cups.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


9 Things to Know About The North Park Water Tower

9 Things to Know About The North Park Water Tower

Thanks to Rick Sebak, we have some rare pictures of the view from the top.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Dinette's Sonja Finn to Helm New Restaurant at Carnegie Museums in Oakland

Dinette's Sonja Finn to Helm New Restaurant at Carnegie Museums in Oakland

Finn and chef de cuisine Becca Hegarty to bring salads, sandwiches, house-baked bread, wine and more to the refurbished Café Carnegie.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Drinks With Some Spirits at Harmony Inn

Drinks With Some Spirits at Harmony Inn

The historic (and purportedly haunted) Harmony Inn is a fine stop for drinks and food.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pens Look Back and Ahead to Cap ‘Summer of Stan’

Pens Look Back and Ahead to Cap ‘Summer of Stan’

The puck drops for the opening of training camp on Friday, and once that happens the Penguins must transition from “champions” into “defending champions.”

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Work It

Work It

A new handbag from Sandra Cadavid’s is perfect for work — or play.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
If All Remakes Were as Good as Magnificent Seven, We'd Really Love Remakes

If All Remakes Were as Good as Magnificent Seven, We'd Really Love Remakes

Reviews of the "Magnificent Seven" remake and "Storks," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

This Pittsburgh couple wanted their guests to be just as content as they were at their wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
This Weekend: Annual Wilkinsburg House & Garden Tour

This Weekend: Annual Wilkinsburg House & Garden Tour

Also: If you’re looking to redo a room to invite relaxation, PPG Paints promises a wide variety of soothing colors for 2017.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Duquesne University Inaugurates New President with Deep Pittsburgh Roots

Duquesne University Inaugurates New President with Deep Pittsburgh Roots

Ken Gormley began his new tenure by delivering good news to University employees.

Comments