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
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
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)
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
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