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Category:  General History
Published:  January, 2008

Happy New Year, If You Can Stand It

By Al Owens
Near the end of each December, we usually begin wishing people a Happy New Year – but almost as a reflex.

That’s not like we don’t truly hope for good tidings for our friends, relatives and other acquaintances – it’s just that history frequently works against that type of thing.

During the first days of 1921, for instance, the West Virginia State Capitol building burned to the ground. It appears that only people who were delinquent in owing money to the state had a true Happy New Year. Every record in the state repository was lost.

Just three days into 1925, The Morning Herald reported that 300 people had to be rescued from a burning ship off the Atlantic coast. Not a good way to start the year, I’d say. Although, the same report acknowledged that there were no deaths.

Fifteen Fayette County residents didn’t exactly have a new year that got them off on the right foot, in 1926. They’d been arrested because they’d been spotted driving with 1925 license plates still attached to their cars. Most were subjected to 10 dollar fines.

In Pasadena, California that same day, more than 500 people (the headline read) “were near death” – when a grandstand collapsed during the Tournament of Roses Parade. The Associated Press reported that “every form of conveyance in the area was pressed into service” after the chaos erupted. Back in the 1920’s, the installation of new city council’s, county commissioners, new judges and even bank officers always made front page news during the first weeks in January.

But that news could easily get pushed “below the fold” by other events that seemed to be of even more local interest.

The year was 1929. The event was an open house at brand new Fayette County Courthouse. New Year’s Day ended a ten year effort to replace the old, congested county building with the new facility. It was reported that hundreds of people “poured through” the wide hallways of the new building.

Just three days later, on January 5th, it was announced that the price of crude oil was set at $4. That was considered a good thing, because that oil was being produced in Pennsylvania’s oil fields. What was considered a good story in the early days of 1929, doesn’t quite mean the same thing today. A few days ago the price crude oil topped out nearly a hundred dollars a barrel.

Uniontown’s fervent sports fans got a lift on New Year’s Day in 1930. Uniontown High’s basketball team beat Pitt Junior College 25-15 at Lafayette Junior High School’s gymnasium. The win must have been all the more sweet for Uniontown’s “good shooting and good guarding” team.
They’d managed to hold former Uniontown basketball legend Bus Albright to scoring only one basket for the college team.

On January 5th, 1933 the entire nation was shocked when it was learned that former president Calvin Coolidge had died of a heart attack. He’d been one of three U.S. presidents who had been born on July 4th. His death meant that, unlike today, the country had no living ex-presidents still alive. (There are currently three ex-presidents living today)

It also wasn’t a Happy New Year in 1933 for two local men. In separate incidents, their wives shot and killed them.

On the second day of 1935, Charles Lindberg and his wife testified in the kidnapping and murder case of their baby. The accused killer, carpenter Bruno Hauptman, was said to have “twitched nervously” when the prosecutor delivered his opening statement.

The early days of 1936 brought front page coverage of the newly proposed airport between Uniontown and Connellsville. On January 9th, The Evening Standard reported that the county commissioners had approved the half million dollar project that morning.

New Year’s Day 1937 caused cheers for Western Pennsylvania’s sports devotees. Pitt won in the annual Rose Bowl game. Duquesne beat Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

But that was on the front page of The Morning Herald on January 2nd. Later that day, The Daily News Standard reported that celebrations during of New Year’s had been quiet, with no automobile accidents during the “safe and sane” holidays.

Yet, the major story on the front page of The Daily News Standard was coverage of one of the truly spectacular murder mysteries in Pennsylvania history – the Monaghan case. Pennsylvania State Attorney General Charles J. Margiotti was now preparing full time to present his case in the murder of Uniontown’s Frank Monaghan. Two days later, it was reported that there was a plan to call 172 witnesses in the murder trial.

Interestingly, during World War II, the headlines for each passing New Year reflected the gradual attention that would eventually be paid to the war effort.

The headlines that appeared just after New Year’s Day, in 1942 (three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor) seemed to indicate that the country was reluctantly getting into a war that wouldn’t last very long. By the early days of 1945, front pages were covered with eyewitness accounts of every battle.
Yet, on January 5th, of 1944 there was a chilling feature on the possibilities that Adolf Hitler would take his own life. The suicide did happen a year and four months later.

KDKA-TV went on the air on January 2nd, 1949.

On January 5th, 1950 came the bizarre story of a 29 year-old Greene County man who’d allegedly signed a will that would leave his wife’s millions over to himself. She’d died the previous year, at the age of 72.

On January 3rd, 1957, The Evening Standard reported that 40 thousand people had died the previous year on the nation’s roads - but only 44 of those fatalities took place in Fayette County.

There was big local and national news to greet New Year’s celebrants in 1960.

John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president on January 2nd. (That, by the way, may seem like a short time to campaign – with 311 days until the fall election. Especially since two current presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton announced theirs 638 and 652 days ahead of this year’s election.)

Uniontown High School’s high stepping marching band shared the front page with the future president that day. It was revealed that their feet had hurt, but their 7 ˝ mile along the Tournament of Roses Parade route went extremely well. Red Raider band members Bill Thomas and Don Miller were among those mentioned in the flattering coverage.

Later on the same day, Uniontown native Ernie Davis led his Syracuse Orangemen to a victory in the Cotton Bowl. He and his teammates were pictured with their hands raised in victory that day.

The Red Raider band got more front page ink on January 5th, 1963 – but only because they’d arrived home late from their triumphant appearance in the Orange Bowl Parade.

Four local athletes were honored on January 1st, 1967. Uniontown’s John Hull, Connellville’s Jim Braxton, Laurel Highlands’ Ray Yauger and Albert Gallatin’s Ed Grenda were selected to play in the annual Big 33 football game.
On the third day of January of 1967, the man who shot John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Jack Ruby, lost his battle with cancer, at the same hospital where the president had died.

1970 opened with coverage of the gruesome murders of Union leader Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, his wife and their daughter in Clarksville. It was reported that they had been dead for four days, before they were found.

Three days earlier a prosecuting attorney in Morgantown, Joseph Laurita, was seriously injured when he started his car and a bomb within it exploded.

And just when we’d thought Watergate was over, a former U.S. Attorney General – John Mitchell – and two Nixon confidantes John Erhlichmann and H.R. Haldeman were convicted on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury on January 1st, 1975.

I guess I’m a little hesitant to write this, but HAPPY NEW YEAR.