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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  May, 2009

Did You Know? (Monaghan Part 1)

Did you know that there was really more than one famous Monaghan case in Uniontown? There was the well-known 1936 case that resulted from the death of Frank “Moonie” Monaghan. It’s been the subject of books and local lore since then.

Yet, Monaghan, who was a successful businessman among other things, had had numerous scrapes with the law before he was brutally beaten to death while in police custody in the Bertillon room in the basement of the Fayette County courthouse. In fact, that wasn’t the first time Monaghan had taken a beating at the hands of the police.

Monaghan’s serious legal problems seem to have started 20 years before his death.

In April of 1917, Monaghan and his wife were taken to court and legally put out of the cigar selling business in Uniontown. The Monaghan Cigar Company (no relationship to Frank Monaghan) had sued, claiming it owned the rights to the use of the name “Monaghan” for the sale of cigars.

In August of 1920, Monaghan bought a former blacksmith shop and carriage factory on West Peter Street in Uniontown. That location would figure prominently in Monaghan’s future dealings.

Three months later, the Uniontown Morning Herald carried the front page story of 21 people who’d been snared in an illegal liquor operation. Monaghan was one of those people arrested. On March 8th, 1921, Monaghan’s bootlegging trial began, and it was alleged that he had “large quantities of liquor in his possession and that he sold it by the barrel in Uniontown,” under the guise of a dummy company known as Fayette Chemical.

During his trial, Monaghan testified about his numerous businesses. He’d been a promoter of the Penn Theatre building. He’d been in the cigar business (before he was forced to close it down). He’d engaged in wholesale manufacturing, for which boasted of selling 30,000 pounds of sugar.

He also was the owner of a trucking company known as Uniontown Bottling Company, which he claims supplied trucks to haul goods for Fayette Chemical.

The trial developed so much local interest that on March 18th, the following item appeared in the Daily News Standard after weeks of testimony: “In view of the fact that the case is billed for another week why not advertise Monaghan matinees?”

On March 25th, 1921, 15 years before the second Monaghan case, the Uniontown Morning Herald discussed the verdict of the first case. “Seldom has there been a verdict in Fayette County courts awaited with more general interest than that in the Monaghan case,” it was written. The verdict, after four hours of deliberations, was guilty.

In June, Monaghan was sentenced to serve a year in the Allegheny County jail, and to pay a $2,000 fine.

On June 22, 1922 (almost a year after he’d been sentenced) Frank Monaghan arrived at the county jail in Pittsburgh to begin serving his time. He’d spent less than six months behind bars before he petitioned the courts to have doctors examine him because he claims he’d suffered a stroke before he’d gone to jail, and he was in need of a “delicate and dangerous” operation.

On December 5th, 1922, the Morning Herald reported that Monaghan had been transferred from Allegheny County to the Somerset County sanitarium. On February 8th, 1923 the Connellsville Weekly Courier reported that Monaghan, thanks to “a petition in his behalf signed by the citizens of Uniontown and vicinity,” was paroled. He was, however, restricted from returning to Uniontown until June 7th. His early release set off a flurry of controversy in early March.

There was a scathing repudiation of the attorneys who petitioned for Monaghan’s early release in a local weekly newspaper. That was followed by an equally scathing repudiation of the editor of that weekly by the editors of the Daily News Standard.

The editor of the News Standard ended his admonishment of the editor of the local weekly by proclaiming, “The next time you are tempted, take the advice of a brother editor and count ten.”

On February 10th, 1923 Uniontown’s newspaper readers may have been more interested in news of the first ever performance by the Uniontown Symphony Orchestra, or that the Ku Klux Klan had set three crosses on fire in the city the previous night, but they probably didn’t note the ironies that could be found in two other front page stories in the Daily News Standard that day.

There was short story about how Monaghan, in conjunction with Uniontown Mayor William H. Smart, was planning to extend his lot on Peter Street for the purposes of making it into a “taxi terminal,” when he returned to Uniontown from his enforced absence.

The fact that Monaghan was looking forward to entering into a new business venture, probably didn’t surprise many people.
While he’d had his serious legal problems, nobody seemed to question his business acumen.

Yet directly below that item there was another one that was stunning, in light of what would happen 13 years later.

State Trooper John Wall, the item said, had recently been transferred to the New Salem barracks. Lt. Charles Smith was quoted as saying, “He’s one of the best troopers we have.”

In 1936, the names John Wall and Frank Monaghan would appear in the same news story. It would be Detective Wall’s throat that Monaghan slit, that led to Monaghan’s arrest and subsequent bludgeoning.

But in 1923, while Monaghan was still in exile, another Frank Monaghan made the local news. Frank Monaghan, Jr. was pictured on the front page of the Daly News Standard.

He was taking a decidedly different path to fame than his infamous father. He, and his fellow Uniontown High School honor students, was selected to be part of the upcoming commencement ceremonies.

It would not be the first time Frank Jr. would gain notoriety. In fact, he would later be accorded an honor few Americans have been given. One that was similarly accorded Uniontown’s favorite son, George C. Marshall.
Frank Jr. would also become an integral part of his father’s murder in 1936.

I’ll complete the story next week.