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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  February, 2010

Did You Know?
Did you know that a former heavyweight champion of the world once met his match in Connellsville?

I’ve mentioned that James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett had performed as part of a “High Class Vaudeville” act at Uniontown’s Grand Opera House in November of 1901.

By then, Corbett had lost his heavyweight title to English boxer Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897. After he performed on stage in Uniontown in 1901, Corbett would only fight in the ring one more time - in 1903.

But after his Uniontown performance, he and members of his vaudeville company went to Connellsville to catch a train to Pittsburgh. That’s where he nearly found himself in an unscheduled fight out of the boxing ring.

According to the November 25th edition of the Uniontown Daily News Standard, “Luckily for James J. Corbett, friends interfered just in time to save him from a sound thrashing at the hands of Big ‘Bob’ Sheppard at the Baltimore and Ohio depot on Sunday evening.”

According to the front page article, because of the heavy rains that night, Corbett sought shelter in a room marked “Exclusively for Women.”

Sheppard was the “B&O Detective” who was there “to look after the peace and good order interest” in the depot.

When Sheppard approached Corbett, he had no idea who he was, or that he’d been a heavyweight champion. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He told Corbett he’d have to leave the area.

Corbett, who’d apparently found comfort near a radiator refused. That’s when, according to the article, “a troubled cloud lowered” and “words increased in size and length.”

Sheppard started to take off his coat in obvious preparation for a fight.

Fortunately, Corbett’s protégés moved in to separate the two men.

Corbett relented, and moved to the baggage room, and near another radiator, thusly averting an unscheduled heavyweight fight. Of course, if there had been fisticuffs, perhaps one of the two combatants could have made use of Doan’s Kidney Pills, which have been known to reduce pain and swelling.

I’m mentioning Doan’s Kidney Pills, because on the same page that announced Corbett’s visit to Fayette County, there was an advertisement for them.

So, nearly a hundred years ago, Doan’s Kidney Pills (now named Doan’s Backache Pills) were readily available.

To me, it’s interesting to look back and discover that some local companies that existed then are familiar to us today.

When James J. Corbett came to Fayette County, he could have gotten his printing needs (if he had any) taken care of at W.H. Farwell. And the funeral director J. Harry Johnston, then located at 23 East Main Street, offered to furnish “A Lady Embalmer if Preferred.”

In April of 1913, when the convicted murderer John Harris became the 12th man to face an executioner in Fayette County history, for instance, his loved ones may have enlisted the services of Marshalls’ Marble & Granite Works, which was then located at 32 Morgantown Street. In those days, however, most consumers hadn’t quite developed much allegiance to national brands.

With efficient distribution networks yet to be developed, and with the safe packaging of perishable items in its (relatively) early stages, major companies were only slowly beginning to penetrate local markets with their products in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There were a few exceptions. Henry John Heinz began delivering his products to Pittsburghers by horse-drawn wagons that were dispatched from his farmhouse in Sharpsburg as early as the late 1860’s.

By the late 1880’s, with Heinz moving from his farmhouse the new, expanded headquarters in Pittsburgh, it meant that many more local grocery stores were about to benefit from the mass production of the company’s ever-broadening product base.

It also meant that workers throughout Western Pennsylvania would be gaining employment. The July 7th, 1889 edition of the Connellsville Courier reported that, “Harry Brown of this place, has accepted a position as a shipping clerk at Heinz Co’s pickle works in Pittsburg (they dropped the “h” in those days).”

There’s no way of telling if Heinz’s new shipping clerk from Connellsville had anything to do with it, but the following year (on September 12th, 1890) the Connellsville Courier reported that after the Hill Farm mine disaster, one of the contributors to the Dunbar Relief Committee was the Heinz Company. “Two dozen pails of apple butter, two dozen tumblers of mustard and one keg of pig’s feet,” were on their way.

The first sign (I could find) that Heinz products were placed for sale on local grocery store shelves was about 102 years ago.

Heinz’s “full line of bottle and bulk pickles, Mustard and Catsups” were part of an ad for the Yough Provision Company in the Connellsville Courier on April 1st, 1898.

Of course there are dozens of products that we still use, that, surprisingly, were also used by our grandparents and even great grandparents.
I’ll tell you about more of them next week.