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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  August, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know, by my count, this is the 72nd article I’ve written under the banner “Did You Know?”

Did you know the noteworthy historical items about Fayette County seem endless?

I’m ever-surprised when I find out things I never knew about our town and our county.

I thought it would be fun this week taking a look back at some of the items that have surprised me the most over those previous 71 weeks.

Hope you enjoy them too.

My favorite find was the performance of John Phillip Sousa in October of 1920 at Uniontown’s Penn Theatre.

Oh, there’ve been other any number of famous musicians who’ve taken to the stages of Fayette County (Paul Whiteman, Mel Torme, Duke Ellington, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Ink Spots, Do Diddley, The Vogues, Tommy James and the Shondells, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Kaye, Lawrence Welk, Billy Eckstein, Lionel Hampton, Ted Lewis, Gene Krupa, and Guy Lombardo) are among them.

But John Philip Sousa, for me, topped the list.

While they weren’t on the list of great musicians who’d entertained in Fayette County, one couple went on to become one of America’s most beloved comedy teams of all time. George Burns and Gracie Allen appeared on stage at the Dixie Theatre in Uniontown in January of 1926.

I’ve discovered that Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Stan Musial, Ken Griffey, Sr., Zelmo Beaty, Honus Wagner, Dizzy Dean, Joe Montana, Woody Hayes, boxers James J. Corbett, John L. Sullivan, Jim Jeffries, Jess Willard, Olympian Johnny Weismuller and golfer Jim Furyk were among the athletic luminaries to have visited Fayette County (in Furyk’s case he’d lived in Uniontown for a time).

In 1938, a running back for the Pittsburgh “Pirates” (before they were named the Steelers) football team came to Uniontown to witness the first night football game ever played in Fayette County. Byron “Whizzer” White would later go on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

I was also pleased to discover the frequency in which members of the old Negro Leagues, who’d eventually become enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, played to adoring crowds throughout the county.

Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Smokey Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell had each “barnstormed” all over Fayette County, while playing for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.
If I was surprised by the visits of those renowned athletes, I was simply startled when I discovered the numerous Fayette County visits by the man considered the greatest athlete of this time – Jim Thorpe.

His football team – the Canton Bulldogs – played in a scoreless tie in Brownsville in late 1926. A few months later his basketball team lost in both Uniontown and in Connellsville.

He’d also appeared at a dance in Connellsville where he was described as being “quite a sensation.”

Sometimes local history makes me smile out loud, if that’s possible. In August of 1918, two famous men – Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were traveling between Greensburg and Connellsville when Ford’s Packard (that alone makes me smile) broke down.

Unfazed, Ford had his car towed to a Connellsville garage, where he rolled up his sleeves, while curious onlookers watched him fix his radiator and fan with his own hands.

Edison, by the way, was equally unfazed. He sat on a box and read a newspaper.

Three years later, it was Edison who was the center of attention when he, Ford and tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone visited the county.

It seems one of the first “recording artists” Edison helped popularize through his new invention, the phonograph machine, died that day.

Edison was made aware that singing legend Enrico Caruso had died, when a reporter for the Uniontown Daily News Standard relayed him the information on the corner of Fayette and Morgantown Streets in Uniontown.

Some visits by world-renowned figures weren’t quite as momentous as those of Ford, Edison and Firestone.

The mere fact that Charles Lindberg made a 15 minute refueling stop in Fayette County in September of 1934 sent newspaper writers scurrying in every direction to chronicle every minute detail.

Lindberg was wearing “a white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, brown shoes and white checkered trousers,” when he and his wife landed at Floyd Bennett Field on Connellsville Road.

They even revealed the serial number of the five dollar bill he used to buy fuel that day – “A-003288.”

He didn’t speak to reporters while he landed. However, the following day he made up for it.

He testified in New York City, at the grand jury of Bruno Richard Hauptmann – the kidnapper and killer of his baby. Hauptmann was later indicted, tried and convicted of the crime.

You may have already read all of those stories before. But to me, they never get stale. They’re always worth reading again.

Next week, I’ll try to reveal even more interesting stories from the long history of Fayette County. I’ll be surprised if I’m NOT surprised with the next discoveries.