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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  June, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know that while the eyes of the world were focused on the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, many people in North-Central West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania had even more things on their minds?

A devastating tornado hit. Just two weeks after D-Day, a tornado swept through the region that caused an estimated 1,000 injuries and 146 deaths.

According to the June 24th edition of the Uniontown Morning Herald, seven of the deaths took place near Fredericktown, and seven people were injured when their homes were wrecked in the area of Smithfield.

In Uniontown, which didn’t get the brunt of the storm, there was widespread damage caused when automobile hoods and other debris caused serious property damage.

The worst tornado in history, by the way, was in March of 1925. That tornado swept through 219 miles between Illinois and Tennessee, and it caused 652 deaths, and 2000 injuries.

The fury caused by that tornado was the result of wind speeds estimated at between 261 and 318 miles per hour.

Did you know that while the underground fire at Centralia Pennsylvania is the nation’s most famous fire of its type, Fayette County had its own underground fire in the 1800’s?

According to a report from Uniontown that was published in the Middletown (N.Y.) Daily Times on April 14th, 1892, “It has just been discovered that a fire, which started here in a mine nearly twenty years ago, is still burning. The fire was supposed to have been extinguished when it first occurred.”

That’s one of those stories I’d never heard before. What’s fascinating to me is I can’t find any subsequent news stories about that fire ever being put out.

There are some stories I’ve heard about all my life, but with most of them, I find there’s always more you can learn about them.

Let’s take Fallingwater. Did you know at one time Fallingwater was known as “Running Water?”

On Thursday, June 15th, 1939, on of the architectural collaborators of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright structure, W.J. Hall of Pittsburgh, spoke at a Uniontown Kiwanis luncheon at the White Swann Hotel.

That day the Morning Herald proclaimed “Running Water” was “one of the most beautiful estates in Western Pennsylvania.”

By the way, in those days there seemed to be constant confusion about how to spell the name of the man who commissioned Fallingwater – Edgar J. Kaufmann.

In that 1939 article his last name was spelled both “Kaufmann” and “Kaufman.”

But in an earlier Morning Herald article, on November 10th, 1933 his name was spelled “Kauffman.”

The reason for that article, which was published years before Fallingwater was built, was that Kaufmann had bought another 150 acres of property in Stewart Township.

That meant he owned 2,000 total acres there. There was speculation about how the department store magnate was going to use the property. The Morning Herald claimed that “it is likely that it will be one of the largest summer camps existing in the Allegheny Mountains.”

While on the subject of stories I’d heard about most of my life, but hadn’t known much more about them – there’s the strong local influence of the organization known as the Ku Klux Klan.

During the early 1920’s, nationwide membership in the Klan rose from 4 million to 6 million members in just four years.

Klan membership throughout Fayette County increased as well.

The Morning Herald reported in July of 1922, there were Ku Klux Klan branches in Uniontown, Masontown and two in Fairchance.

That was part of an announcement of a July 11th Klan meeting at Uniontown City Hall, in which the public was invited to learn about the “principles of the Ku Klux Klan,” and to hear the Rev. C.L. Daugherty – the pastor of the Trinity Methodist Church of Pittsburgh.

In early October of that year, it was reported that the Ku Klux Klan held a public demonstration on the streets of Masontown.

As it became clear the influence of the Klan was growing, the Uniontown Daily News Standard editorialized that there were even darker forces within the community. “The Ku Klux Klan will have to go some to beat the local record of The Black Hand,” claimed an editorial writer.

In mid-June of 1923, 3,000 Klan members held a meeting at the Uniontown Speedway.

In November of 1923, some of the 70 members of the Ku Klux Klan branch of Smithfield were reported to have run an “amorous carpenter” out of town.

On August 16th, 1926, the women of the Ku Klux Klan invited the public to attend their 3rd Birthday celebration at the Dawson Fairgrounds. Two thousand people showed up.

In June of 1926, the Morning Herald reported that residents of Hopwood had discovered that a cross had been burned by Klan members on the hill near Roger’s gasoline station.

And on September 27th, 1934, the Morning Herald carried the account of the night time memorial service conducted by members of the Ku Klux Klan at Sylvan Heights Cemetery. 500 members took part in what was called “one of the most unusual ceremonies witnessed in Fayette County.”