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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  August, 2008

Did You Know?
By Al Owens

…a Uniontown native gained a degree of attention just for wearing glasses? Well, maybe not just for wearing them, but where he wore them.

The day before Christmas in 1975, the Anniston (Alabama) Star ran a story about Uniontown’s Chuck Muncie and his rather unusual penchant for wearing his glasses while playing football and serving as one of the top running backs in the country at the University of California.

According the article, the nearsighted Muncie started wearing the spectacles while playing at a junior college in Arizona. “I just went out one day with my glasses o
n,” he told a reporter. “Things looked a lot better to me.”
He continued wearing them when he enrolled at California, and he was known for wearing them during his entire professional career with the New Orleans Saints and the San Diego Chargers.

Did you know that while many people enjoy a fanciful “Christmas in July,” Fayette County once celebrated a New Year in August – sort of?

Guy Lombardo brought his Royal Canadians to Shady Grove Park on the 24th of August, 1928.

Lombardo, who is said to have sold more than 300 million records during his long career, was mostly known for his New Year’s Eve broadcasts, which actually began five months after his Fayette County performance.

His version of Auld Lang Syne is still played to usher in every New Year in Times Square.

What did it cost to see that future musical legend? One dollar for the ladies and two dollars for the “gents.”

Did you know that the man whose claim to fame was his “Champagne Music,” Lawrence Welk, played a dance at the Lucky Star Inn in Hopwood in June of 1938?

Did you know how the term “Champagne Music” came about? He and his travelling big band were playing the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh in those days, when one of the dancing patrons referred to his music as being, "light and bubbly as champagne."

Did you know that in March of 1922, a seven year-old child from Fayette County made international news, when he scratched the pin of a dynamite blasting cap and it exploded near his school?

According to the Oakland (California) Tribune, the child blew one of his hands off, and the resultant blast sent splinters in every direction, causing it to injure a dozen other children.

Did you know that starting in July of 1941 the Uniontown Morning Herald sponsored a highly active “Hobby Club?”

Perhaps that may not sound very exciting, until you consider that the club consisted of an estimated 3000 card carrying members.
President Franklin Roosevelt actually sent a letter of encouragement to the club after he’d been sent a membership card for his stamp collecting hobby.

Sometimes, local hobbyists would write about their hobbies in the Morning Herald. For instance, George Evans of Uniontown was a budding pianist with another hobby. He liked to collect the autographs of famous bandleaders.

Just eight days after the Hobby Club was started, Evans struck pay dirt. He managed to get the autograph of piano legend Earl “Fatha” Hines, who’d come to Uniontown to play at the Ivory Ballroom on July 15th, 1941.

Evans wrote about his encounter. Hines returned to the Ivory Ballroom in November 5th of that year. That time he was joined by crooner Billy Eckstein – a Pittsburgh native.

The Hobby Club got another new member, just a few days later. On November 26th, Hobby Club member Pat Evans of Uniontown got the attention of legendary vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, who was playing at the skating rink on Arch Street with his 16 piece orchestra that night. Evans discovered that Hampton’s hobby was baseball. Hampton joined the Hobby Club on the spot. Uniontown must have been an autograph seeker’s dream in 1941.

I’d recently mentioned that Sammy Kaye (Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye) played five shows in one day in January.

I’d also written that Ted Lewis (“Is Everybody Happy?”) played Uniontown in July and in December.

Cab Calloway, along with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Cozy Cole came to town in September of that year.

But November of 1941 may have been the most exciting month for top flight entertainment in the city’s history.

With Hampton playing on November 26th, Hines appearing with Eckstein on the 5th and with one of the greatest drummers in the world - Gene Krupa - playing on stage the following day at the State Theatre.

But Krupa and his famous swing orchestra didn’t have the downtown Uniontown spotlight all to themselves that night. Smiley Burnette, who played Gene Autry’s lovable sidekick in more than 60 westerns, and who’d later perform and write enough country music to get into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame – was on stage of the Penn Theatre – at the same time.

Did you know that a local basketball team with Uniontown’s future legendary coach A.J. Everhart as one of its stars once beat a professional team in Uniontown?
It’s true, and I’ll explain next week.