Readers address multiple topics
As we have said many times, there is never a shortage of questions from readers of The Valley Independent and this weekly journey to Yesteryear.
An inquisitive follower in Long Branch, for instance, wants to know when California's new borough building opened.
According to a Valley Independent story by Kathy Thomas on Monday, Sept. 22, 1997, the municipal complex at Third and Union streets was dedicated two days earlier – on Saturday, Sept. 20.
“An early rain failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the officials, residents and visitors present,” Thomas said.
John DeFillippo, president of borough council, welcomed the crowd that represented all sectors of the community – business and industry, education, government and residents.
Congressman Frank R. Mascara of Charleroi presented a commemorative U.S. flag to the borough and also called attention to its growth in recent years in both the residential and commercial areas as well as the town's success in revitalization.
He called California's continued progress “a step into the next century.”
Also praising the enhancements and advancements were state Rep. Peter J. Daley, a resident and former mayor of California; state Sen. Richard Kasunic; Washington County Commissioners Diane Irey and J. Bracken Burns; Dr. Judith Ansill, representing the California University of Pennsylvania Council of Trustees, and Dr. Marian Stevens, superintendent of the California Area School District.
Mayor Joseph Dochinez, borough council members Edwin Glab (vice president), Irene Mariscotti, Patrick Messina, William Matsko, Jon Bitner and Robert Sepesy, and solicitor Keith Melenyzer also addressed the gathering.
Several longtime soccer fans in the area asked about a young man known as “Billy the Kid” from England who played for Dunlevy in the early 1950s.
Introduced as Billy Griffith to followers of the Redbirds in the fall of 1949, his real given name, according to family members, was Brian.
As sports editor John Bunardzya of The Charleroi Mail wrote on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 1949, Griffith was only 22 when came to the U.S. on Aug. 22 of that year.
He was introduced to soccer – they call it football in Great Britain – at a very young age in his native town of Chester. At 15, he was captain of the Chester High School team which won the Junior Cup championship. A year later, he helped the Chesterleton club cop the senior Amateur League title.
Griffith was only 18 when his time came to “answer the call to arms” during World War II and he served three years in the British Army, Bunardzya said.
While in the military, he played for the Torres team in the Scottish-Irish League which won the Scottish Cup. He also was named to the All-British Army amateur team.
Following his honorable discharge from the Army, Griffith resumed his soccer career with Buckley and Chester in the British Amateur League before deciding to pursue opportunities in the U.S.
He settled in Long Branch with Frank and Alice Stockton and their family and worked at his uncle's business, Stockton's Market, in Fayette City.
He had a number of cousins in the area, including Bill “T” Stockton, Frances Stockton Alberta, Margaret Brewer, Mary Brewer, Ethel Yates, Ruth McDonald, Jack Stockton, Jean Stockton Bala, Bob Stockton and Esther Claire Stockton Finley. Another uncle, Fred Stockton, who lived near the Beagle Club off Rathway Road outside of Fayette City, also worked at the family-named grocery store.
Bunardzya recalled that Griffith asked his Uncle Frank if he knew of any soccer football teams in the area.
It didn't take long for Stockton to drive Griffith to Dunlevy to meet veteran player/manager Ralph “Beef” Rossi.
It took even less time for Rossi to sign Griffith to a contract with the Redbirds after watching him display his skills in a tryout at Garibaldi Field.
He scored six goals in his first eight games with Dunlevy and also developed a reputation as a tremendous passer..
Griffith played for the Redbirds through early 1957 before returning to England. He came back to the area several years later and has been deceased for many years.
“Do you remember all the fuss that was made when the first live television broadcast from Pittsburgh was viewed here in the Mon Valley? I think it was in the 1940s.”
That question came from a reader in Rostraver Township, apparently in reference to the telecast that took place Tuesday, Jan. 11, 1949.
The 2½-hour (8:30 to 11 p.m.) presentation by the DuMont Television Network, which operated Channel 3 (WDTV) in Pittsburgh, comprised a locally produced show from the Syria Mosque in the city's Oakland district and national programming from the ABC, NBC, CBS and DuMont networks.
United Press reported that the national programs featured Arthur Godfrey, puppeteers, newscaster Douglas Edwards, Milton Berle, Ted Steele and his orchestra and a police mystery show.
William DuMont, founder of the network, spoke at the program in Pittsburgh.
“Last night, large group of local residents gathered at several places in Charleroi to watch the inaugural of network television,” The Charleroi Mail reported on Jan. 12. “Instead of the ten or twelve expected, groups of fifty or more were reported despite the blustery winter weather. Reception was reported good, although it was ‘wavy' in spots, but not too flickering to be enjoyed by the spectators at the various observation spots.”
A photo on Page One of The Monessen Daily Independent on Jan. 12 showed a large crowd gathered outside Monessen Radio and Television, 369 Schoonmaker Ave., to watch the broadcast on a 10-inch black and white set in the front window of the business.
These scenes were repeated in communities throughout the Mon Valley and the Pittsburgh region at appliance stores that carried television sets and at bars, taverns and restaurants that also featured the “new and modern marvel of home entertainment.”
It was estimated that between six to 10 people in the region would watch each of the 10,000 tv sets in the entire viewing area.
The Charleroi Mail reminded its readers on the day of the historic telecast that while attention “focuses tonight on Pittsburgh's television station opening, it is not naive to all attention to the fact that Charleroi had the first demonstration broadcast two years ago.”
The newspaper recalled that event in 1947 was the anniversary banquet of Corning Glass Works, a major factor in tube construction for television.
“RCA set up a complete broadcasting crew and apparatus here,” The Mail said of the Charleroi program. “Demonstration broadcasts were made within the plant that afternoon and for the workers at the service dinner the same evening.”
Although programming was limited to test patterns and mostly pre-recorded shows, tv sets were making their way into area homes long before the Jan. 11, 1949, hoopla involving DuMont and the Big 3 national networks.
The advent of television caused many businesses to change their marketing strategies.
Typical of those transitions was this advertisement that appeared on Page 6 of The Monessen Daily Independent on Thursday, Sept. 16, 1948:
“New Name, New Merchandise
Monessen Radio and Television
In keeping with the times, Monessen Radio Service will in the future be known as Monessen Radio and Television. We shall sell and service television receivers in addition to radios and appliances. Same location, 369 Schoonmaker Avenue. Same Management. Phone 991.”
The ad was signed by owner Jack Todaro.
Little did anyone know at that time what the future held in store.
The last name of one of the conductors involved in the last run of trolley cars between Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley was misspelled in a recent story about that event. His name was John Hemmings of Monongahela. We apologize for the mistake.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.