Did You Know?
Did you know that they once lit up the Fayette County courthouse with red lights
that could be seen for miles?
That’s how John (P.J.) Wright and Uniontown City Detective Harry L. McIntyre
helped signal the end of WWI on November 11th, 1918.
Nearly three decades later, on April 12th, 1945, Wright retold to the Morning
Herald, “We climbed that long flight of steps to the Court House tower and
placed 12 red lights ‘all ‘round the place.”
Wright said he and McIntyre took turns ringing the courthouse bell for three
hours and, as a result, they both had stiff fingers about three weeks.
Wright was hopeful, with the impending end to WWII, he would be able to perform
the same duty/honor when the Germans and Japanese surrendered.
Unfortunately, Wright didn’t have a hand in signaling that partial end to WWII.
Instead, with the knowledge that war was still raging in the Pacific, the May
9th, 1945 story about the local response to the news read: “V-E DAY CELEBRATED
However, on June 15th, with the news that Japan had surrendered, and the war had
officially ended, the local response was, “V CELEBRATIONS LET LOOSE HERE.”
The first word of that article was supported by everything that followed.
“Pandemonium,” it began, “broke loose in Uniontown last night as whistles
shrieked, horns blew, bells rang and noisemakers added to the din that which
began at 7 o’clock immediately after President Truman announced the
unconditional surrender of Japan.”
There was unfettered joy as “jubilant citizens gave vent to their feelings to
begin the victory celebration destined to be distinguished as the greatest in
the history of the city.”
That may have been Fayette County’s happiest moment, yet there is something that
has brought continued sadness and turmoil to the county and to the rest of the
world for that matter – drugs.
Did you know that the country was in its infancy (the mid-1880’s) when one of
the deadliest drugs of them all – cocaine – gained wide usage in this country?
The Frederick (MD) Weekly News reported in its November 6th, 1884 edition that,
“The local anesthetic, hydrochlorate of cocaine, recently discovered by a German
student, has just been used here at Jefferson medical college with success.”
The article claimed that women had experienced no pain while having eye surgery,
when drops of hydrochlorate of cocaine were applied before and during their
There was an immediate countrywide response to the initial cocaine-based
Within months, hundreds of newspaper articles included case studies by doctors
who extolled the virtues of what one doctor claimed was, “among the great
discoveries of the nineteenth century.”
Dr. D.B. St. John Rossa proclaimed in the January 10th, 1885 edition of the
Burlington (IA) Daily Hawk-Eye that, “It is wonderful how ophthalmologists have
seized upon this anesthetic, and without any dissenting views.”
Yet, there were some early warning signs. In April of 1885, there was some
evidence that cocaine derivatives would be used to curb the craving for alcohol
and opium. But one doctor warned that by injecting it, it would also curb
cowardly behavior to the extent that it made people act more boldly than they
may have acted normally.
In June of 1885, it was reported that a Mass. man had died instantly of a
paralysis of the heart, after he had cocaine administered to one of his eyes
before it was being removed.
Those warnings, however, didn’t dissuade enterprising businesses from marketing
cocaine on a wide scale.
On August 21st, 1885 the Connellsville Daily Courier carried an ad for “Allen’s
Cocaine Tablets.” It could be used for neuralgia, nervousness, headache and
sleeplessness, the ad said.
Despite the enormous cost of an ounce of pure cocaine (between $3,500 and
$7,000) mass production of cocaine in tablet form was beginning within a year of
its discovery as for medical purposes.
But the euphoria didn’t last. The multiple uses obviously led to abuse. The
Connellsville Courier reported in its April 8th, 1903 edition that the
Pennsylvania Senate had passed a bill designed to regulate any form of cocaine
and to curb its distribution.
The following month and thus began the illegal cocaine trade in the state.
The Connellsville Courier issued a warning about the perils involved in
cocaine’s habit forming qualities on November 29th, 1906. Ironically, only a few
days later the first in a series of Fayette County doctors was put on trial for
the distribution of cocaine.
At that point, it was thought cocaine trafficking had been dissolved, but the
September 26th, 1907 edition of contained a report of a doctor near Ebensburg,
Pa. who’d been busted for exporting cocaine to Uniontown.
The March 11th, 1908 edition of the Daily Courier carried the headline: “THE
COCAINE HABIT LINGERS IN UNIONTOWN,” at the top of a story that claimed that law
enforcement officials had their hands full with the “unscrupulous” physicians
and druggists who were contributing to the rise in cocaine abuse.
There has been ongoing cocaine trafficking, arrests and convictions ever since
in Fayette County.
But I found an item in the Daily Courier that I can only view with great irony.
It was printed over a century ago, on January 13th, 1907, and makes me think how
much things have changed (and tragically so) since then: “The cocaine industry
has received a great set-back in Uniontown, but the real coke industry continues
on the boom.”