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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  August, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know that one of only five golfers in history to have accomplished a “Career Grand Slam” once played at a golf tournament in Fayette County – but his visit may have been overshadowed by another kind of exhibition?

Gene Sarazen played in the second invitation golf tournament that was held at the Summit Hotel’s golf course in August of 1931.

But even a world legendary golfer had to share headlines with an ongoing event that was taking place a few miles away at Shady Grove Park.

It was a dance marathon. During the height of the Great Depression, many people across the country engaged in a number of “competitions” that helped them stave off starvation. The dance marathon was one of them.

There were dozens of well-publicized dance marathons that were staged, at their outset, with great enthusiasm. But as most of those events progressed they became curiosities, and eventually they faced the strong criticism in the media that they were merely “barbaric.”

The dance marathons of that era were constructed simply. A group of dance couples would be given a chance to win cash prizes for dancing together – and with only short rest breaks - for days, weeks and even months.

The 1969 film “They Shoot Horses Don’t They,” was a frank dramatization of a fictional dance marathon set in the mid-1930’s. The film’s title, and the final line of dialogue – They shoot horses don’t they – crystallized the utter ruthlessness that can occur when human beings are subjected to brutality – but in the name of public spectacle.

The Uniontown Daily News Standard – dated May 26th, 1931: 27 COUPLES STILL GOING STRONG IN MARATHON.

Between 9:30 and 10:00 the previous evening, nearly three dozen couples began dancing at the Shady Grove Pavilion. Nurses, doctors, masseurs, trainers and specialists were there to offer medical assistance during the dance couple’s breaks.
A $1000 prize would go to the dance couple still dancing at the end of the competition.

“The start was made amid merry surroundings,” the story said.

On June 29th, the Daily News Standard reported that Dorothy LeVine of Indiana and Ray Wilson of Chicago, who hardly knew each other before they became a dance marathon couple, announced their marriage plans.

They’d met, courted each other, got engaged, and decided the terms of matrimony – all while dancing nearly non-stop on the Shady Grove Pavilion floor.
Their wedding, too, was scheduled while they danced on July 10th. Their fellow marathon dance participants would serve as attendants.

(Note: Some dance marathon historians claim that these kinds of “marriages” were sometimes cooked up to generate increased local interest.)

On July 9th, it was reported that everything was set for the following day’s big wedding. The dancers had already danced for more than 1,100 hours.

Also, the Daily News Standard announced that the following week’s big dance marathon attraction would be Madame Maree’s comedy circus featuring Lindy the Wonder Dog and Maud the Unrideable Mule.

On July 31st, and after 1,600 hours of dancing, there was a near tragic situation that took place on the Shady Grove dance floor.

One of the marathon dance favorites, dropped out after he fell to the floor. He later explained that he’d been taking a “peaceful” nap on his dance partner’s shoulder when he dreamed he was “swimming and that in diving his head hit the bottom of the pool.” Doctors rushed to his immediate aid, and he was apparently ok. But he could no longer continue dancing.

The announcement that Sarazen would golf at the Summit on August 8th, appeared on the same day – and on the same page - as the story about the dreaming dancer.

A few days later there appeared a mysterious newspaper ad about a new promotion that would take place for marathon dance enthusiasts: “LIVE BABY GIVEN AWAY FRIDAY NIGHT SHADY GROVE DANCE MARATHON,” would be part of the ongoing entertainment.

The following day, on August 7th, there was a news item in the Daily News Standard that claimed that “a live baby would be given away free of any obligation,” as long as the “winner would give the babe the proper treatment.”

On the same page it was disclosed that one woman walked 20 miles while carrying a small child to take part in the fiddlers contest at Shady Grove. She won the contest, and the marathon dancers took up a collection for her.

On August 19th it was reported that the newlywed couple had dropped out of the marathon after dancing for 2,040 hours. There were just six couples remaining in the competition.

Ten days later a professional dance couple from Chicago couple dropped out after their 2,469 hours of dancing.

On Sept. 11th, 3½ months after the marathon began (2,618 hours and 12 minutes), Gertie Cain of Phillips and Jimmy Polando of Waltersburg were declared the winners. Two months later they got married.

In 1955, they recalled the event that brought them together 24 years before.

Polando had to have a tooth pulled without the use of novacaine while dancing, and his future wife had fallen and fractured her nose. They still considered the marathon dance a “great experience.”

However, near the end of the competition, there appeared a strong front page editorial that questioned “Why a Marathon.”

“Bull fights are prohibited in America yet here in Fayette County we continue to sit and do nothing as our young people grind out hour after hour in this inhuman, barbaric thing called a dance marathon,” it said.

Or, as in 1969, Hollywood asked, “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”