We had spent the day wandering about the cemeteries of Columbia and Schuylkill Counties, tracking down a number of nationally notable and locally interesting people. The cool, autumn weather was ideal as we explored the region and the unique history of the region.
Leaving Shamokin, I followed Route 61, before turning southward on Route 54 – a short distance later, I turned onto Locust Gap Highway and headed toward Mount Carmel. As we approached town, the road passed fields of stone and I slowed the vehicle near each entrance as we searched for the correct cemetery. We finally saw the entrance to Saint Joseph’s Cemetery and entered the sacred grounds.
I only drove a short distance when my father announced he could see the grave a short distance up the hillside. Pulling the vehicle to the side of the narrow roadway, I got out and walked up the hill, pausing at the grave of Leonard “Len” Eshmont, whose football career took him out of the coal region to play professional football.
Eshmont was born August 26, 1917, in the community of Atlas, just west of Mount Carmel, near the junction of Routes 61 and 54. After graduating high school, Eshmont enrolled at Fordham University in New York City. During his sophomore year, Eshmont had 831 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, which lead the NCAA that season. The 1940 season the team went seven and one and made an appearance in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately, they lost the Bowl Game to Texas A&M by one point.
Eshmont entered the 1941 NFL draft and was selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round. After one season, his playing career with the Giants was cut short by World War Two, during which he served in the US Navy. At the end of the war, in 1946, Eshmont returned to professional football playing for the newly formed San Francisco 49ers. He played running back and defensive back for the team and would make history by scoring the team’s first touchdown. He played with them through the 1949 season, after which he retired.
Eshmont continued in football, this time coaching at the college level. He served as an assistant coach at the US Naval Academy and then in 1956 went to the University of Virginia. Sadly, his coaching career was cut short when he passed May 6,1957, after being hospitalized in Charlottesville, Virginia. Leonard Eshmont was just thirty-nine years old. His body was returned to Mount Carmel and placed to rest in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery.
Eshmont’s season with the Giants resulted in 50 rushes for 164 yards and one reception for four yards. The four seasons with the 49ers saw Eshmont having 232 rushes for 1181 yards and seven touchdowns, along with 53 receptions for 912 yards and six touchdowns.
After his passing, the 49ers honored Eshmont by creating an award named after him. The award honors a 49er who upholds the beliefs held by Eshmont – courage, leadership, and inspiration. Locally, the Mount Carmel High School annually presents a Len Eshmont Award to a football student who exemplifies the beliefs Eshmont maintained.
The sunset was beginning to sink toward the distant mountains and knowing my day of exploring was coming to an end, I carefully made my way to the vehicle, leaving him to rest on the hillside on the outskirts of Mount Carmel.