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'Growing up Connellsville' during the Great Depression

1930s TIMELINE

AROUND TOWN…

• The Daily Courier purchases The Connellsville Daily News and assumes its readership, making The Courier Fayette County's largest evening newspaper.

• Capstan Glass Co. of South Connellsville has its best year ever, shipping 2,500 railcars of containers — 400 more than in 1929.

• Indian Creek Valley Hospital of Melcroft is destroyed by fire; losses are estimated at $100,000.

• Fort Wayne Corrugated Paper Co. opens in South Connellsville; 50 workers are expected.

• Vanderbilt First National Bank, like Connellsville Citizens National Bank, closes because of the Great Depression.

• 300 miners from Westmoreland County's Edna No. 2 and Herminie shafts go on strike because of lowered wages.

• One miner is killed and 10 injured when a mine cage plunges 300 feet in Allison; the mine is owned by W.J. Rainey Co.

• 5,000 gallons of confiscated moonshine is washed down the sewer and into Redstone Creek.

• Mrs. Nellie Tressler, 28, and her mother, Mrs. Amanda Harden, 62, of Connellsville, are beaten to death, and Tressler's children, Sadie, 11, and Billy, 9, are critically injured at their Murphy Avenue home. The tragedy was discovered by Orlando Molinaro, 11, son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Molinaro. Although Billy survives, Sadie dies at the hospital. The murders have never been solved.

• 1933 is a year of coal chaos in Fayette County. Gov. Pinchot declares martial law and sends the National Guard to Fayette. At Edenborn 150 miners and 350 other men and women fight with the Guard and state police. On Aug. 1, six picketers at Star Junction are shot. President Roosevelt intervenes on Aug.5, and hostilities grudgingly end.

• Connellsville High School wins the national piano trio award at the National Music League in Kansas. Winning students are Nettie Lee Whipkey, Lois Benford and Edith Sherrick.

• Yough Brewing Co. of Connellsville produces its first beer since Prohibition. Its capacity is 70,000 barrels a year.

• Fumes from an ongoing mine fire near Hillcrest sends five people to Connellsville State Hospital; four are admitted.

• Connellsville receives $348,000 for work relief under the Works Progress Administration; overall, Fayette County receives $5.8 million to fund infrastructure projects.

• The 1936 Olympics is held in Nazi Berlin, Germany – and Connellsville runner Johnny Woodruff brings home a gold medal for the 800-meter dash.

• Eight people are killed when a plane fails to land in Pittsburgh and crashes near Mount Summit.

• The Works Progress Administration begins to construct Connellsville Airport.

• Several officials – including two state troopers and Assistant County Det. Wilbert Minerd – are charged in the beating death of Frank C. Monaghan, who was charged with slashing County Det. John C. Wall. Legend has it that Monaghan's ghost still haunts the Fayette County Courthouse.

• First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt passes through Connellsville in 1937 after inspecting the Westmoreland County village, constructed by the WPA. That village, Norvelt, is named in her honor.

• Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright completes construction of Fallingwater, a Mill Run getaway for the Kaufman family of Pittsburgh.Thousands attend the opening of Connellsville Airport.

• Francis “Bud” Murphy, 21, walks for the first time in three years. The Connellsville man, paralyzed in a 1935 auto accident, uses a steel walker to accomplish the feat.

• Hundreds attend the opening of Connellsville Airport in 1938.

• Gen. George C. Marshall, head of the U.S. Army – and a Uniontown native – is greeted at Connellsville Airport and takes a tour of the county.

• The Works Progress Administration builds a wall along Hill Grove cemetery and sidewalks along Snyder Street (the wall can still be seen today).

• Three hundred people attend a meeting at Connellsville First Methodist Church to start the city's first-ever chamber of commerce.

MISC. NATIONAL NEWS…

• The first supermarket opens, in Queens, NY; the Empire State Building opens.

• Scientists split the atom.

• Prohibition ends in 1931, after 11 “dry” years in America.

• Pilot Amelia Earhart's plane goes down in the Pacific; she is never found.

• King Edward VIII abdicates the British crown to marry U.S. divorcee Wallis Simpson.

• Popular music: Benny Goodman swing and Ella Fitzgerald ‘Skat'.

• The biggest movies of 1938 are “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Child actress Shirley Temple is a major hit. Disney produces the first-ever full-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

• African American boxer Joe Louis defeats German boxer Max Schmelling for the heavyweight title in 1937.

• “War of the Worlds,” based on the book by H.G. Wells, causes widespread panic when it is broadcasted over the radio.

• Zippo lighters, the board game Monopoly, Superman comics and Teflon make their debut.

Compiled by contributing writer Laura Szepesi.

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By Laura Szepesi
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Starting today, the Daily Courier will begin “The Way We Were,” followed by “Where We're Headed,” a series of articles tracing Connellsville's past through the eyes of residents who lived it. From the 1930s through the New Millennium, “The Way We Were” will give a human perspective of Connellsville's boomtown years as well as its hard times and will end with a flourish, focusing on good news — we hope — for the future of our town in particular and Southwestern Pennsylvania in general. The series will run throughout the month of December.

When Fotenie Melassanos (Mongell) of Connellsville was born in the early 1920s, party-going women wore flapper dresses and favored the Charleston, dancing on tabletops of bootleg speakeasy bars because Prohibition was the law.

In 1923, Adolph Hitler — the German dictator whose warmongering and anti-Semitism led to the death of 50 million people worldwide during World War II — was arrested for an attempt to overthrow the government. He got five years in jail during which he wrote his Third Reich manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle.”

When U.S. pilot Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, Mongell was about to enter grade school. That same year, actor Al Jolson thrilled audiences in the first “talking” movie, “The Jazz Singer” — and Yankee baseball fans cheered “The King of Swat” Babe Ruth on to a record-setting 60 home runs.

Penicillin was discovered by scientist Alexander Fleming in 1927 — the same year that pre-sliced bread was introduced by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Iowa.

The Roaring 20s came to a screeching halt in 1929, despite the fanfare surrounding the first Academy Awards, during which German/Austrian film actor Emil Jannings walked away with the Best Actor statue for “The Way of All Flesh” and “The Last Command.”

Great Depression

That fact that Chicago gangster Al Capone orchestrated the murder of seven rival gangsters on Valentine's Day 1929, should have been a hint that the excesses of the 1920s would end in disaster. The decade closed in economic ruin after the U.S. Stock Exchanged crashed in October 1929 — touching off a worldwide Great Depression.

Fotenie Mongell and several of her classmates, interviewed this past summer at the Daily Courier, were just kids when the Great Depression deepened into America's bleakest years. She and Art McGann, Mary McCarthy, Betty Eutsey and Betty Sandusky have clear memories of those hard times. They were in elementary school when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1931. He would stay in office until his death in 1945 — after their high school graduation.

During his tenure, Roosevelt initiated public works programs — such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps — that put millions of laid-off people back to work, building roads and other infrastructure and parks and replanting more than 3 billion trees to reforest a logged-out America. Medicare and Social Security benefits began with Roosevelt, who also lifted Prohibition in 1933.

During those same years, Adolph Hitler became Germany's dictator and opened the first concentration camp in the town of Dachau. It was an anti-Jewish move that would lead to the Holocaust, during which 6 million Jews and other prisoners would perish.

The 1930s were also an era dominated by organized crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called into being — and into war against — gangsters. In 1931, Capone went to jail for tax evasion. Notorious bank robber John Dillinger was shot to death outside a Chicago movie theater in 1934 — the same year that renegades Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were gunned down in Louisiana.

Major ‘30s news

Other major news of the 1930s included the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's baby. Severe drought crippled the Midwest, turning it into a Dust Bowl. A massive German dirigible named the Hindenburg blew up over New Jersey. Persecution of the Jews worsened in Europe. African American runner Jesse Owens earned four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin — and Connellsville runner Johnny Woodruff received one for the 800-meter dash.

Amid all this, in September 1939, when Fotenie Melassanos (Mongell) was a junior at Connellsville High School, Adolph Hitler invaded Poland, touching off the second World War. She was a recent high school graduate in 1941 when Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet on Dec. 7. The other 1940s teenagers interviewed for this series were a couple of years younger, but all of them said that the hostilities were an unsettling backdrop for their high school years.

As they became young adults, they did so in a Connellsville that was a bona fide boomtown.

Fueled by an unprecedented coal and coke boom that had only begun to fade during the 1940s, Connellsville was still a place where one could easily find work to support a family, a bustling town that overflowed with business, a town so safe that many families never even bothered to lock their doors.

It was, Mongell and her classmates agreed, simply the best place to call hometown.

Tuesday: Teens in the 1940s in Connellsville, Mongell, McGann, McCarthy, Eutsey and Sandusky recall simpler, safer way of life.

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

 

 
 


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