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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  September, 2009

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 QUIETLY HERE.”

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 operations.

There was an immediate countrywide response to the initial cocaine-based applications.

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.”