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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  March, 2008

Did You Know?
By Al Owens
…While I’ve recently mentioned the Uniontown visits of heavyweight champions, Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott, there had already been another heavyweight visitor who’d dwarfed those two behemoths?
In early June of 1934, Mary, a 3,500 pound African rhinoceros was an honored guest on the sidewalk in front of the State Theater in Uniontown.

Mary had been one of the “co-stars” of the movie “Tarzan and his Mate.” (Mary was actually the second star of that movie to pay a visit to Fayette County. (As I mentioned previously, Johnny Weismuller, had appeared a few hundred feet away - at a swimming competition at the Uniontown YMCA, in 1925)

Mary was part of the publicity tour for the movie, even though the movie had already played in Uniontown. It’s not clear if Mary signed any autographs that day.

Not all celebrities were as welcome around these parts as Mary the rhinoceros and Weismuller.
Consider how unwelcome singer and comedian Al Jolson may have felt a year after Mary’s visit in 1935.
Jolson had a nationwide radio broadcast on NBC at the time. On his June 15th broadcast, he was interviewing the 1935 U.S. Open golf champion Sam Parks. Parks told Jolson that he’d once served as the golf pro at the Summit Hotel golf course in Farmington.

Jolson interrupted Parks with a few unsolicited, ill-advised (and I might add, probably erroneous) comments. “That’s a rotten hotel. Well, it was a lousy place when I stopped there 20 years ago,” he said.

Jolson, who’d gained much of his fame for appearing in “black face,” probably developed a bright red face the following week. The Summit Hotel company sued NBC in federal court for a hundred thousand dollars.

Leo Heyn, who’d taken over the Summit Hotel in the spring of 1917, noted that a president and a vice-president, as well as Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford had stayed at the Summit Hotel without any complaints.

Jolson later called Heyn on the telephone and apologized for the comments. He told Heyn that, “I’ll talk so much and so nicely about the Summit, people will think I own it.”

Apparently not genuinely impressed by Jolson’s comments, Heyn shot back, “When you get done paying me, you’ll think you own it, yourself.”

As it turned out, NBC was ordered to pay 15 thousand dollars in damages, but in 1939 the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court reversed that decision. Yet, legal scholars note that Summit Hotel v. National Broadcasting Company had been one of the earliest cases ever dealing with defamation on the airwaves.

Did you know that just a month before Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963, his father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. spoke in Uniontown?

With the promise of civil rights not yet fulfilled in this country (in fact, racial strife frequently dominated daily news coverage) Martin Luther King, Sr. told the congregation at Uniontown’s Mt. Rose Baptist Church, “We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go.”

As an example, according to the front page story in The Morning Herald the day following his visit, he had been quoted as even questioning the very name Uniontown. “How can you say the name “Union,” when you haven’t one Negro teacher in the school system,” he asked.

Those strong words, however, didn’t seem discomforting to Uniontown’s Mayor Watson J. Sembower. He appeared beside King in the picture that accompanied the story.

Did you know that the first high speed Chevrolet to ever come to Uniontown wasn’t a car? It’s true, and I’ll tell you all about it next week.