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Fisher's memories spark many more

| Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008

Raymond S. "Ray" Fisher lives in Charleroi, but he has many fond memories of growing up in Lock Four.

They include those of one of the area's long-time barbers, the brother of a U.S. President, a Nobel Prize recipient, a star football player and a Miss America.

"Paul the Barber used to cut my hair when I was a young boy in Lock Four" recalled Fisher, who was born May 16, 1917. "I remember sitting in the barber chair and looking at all of the shaving mugs. Each mug had the individual customer's name painted on it. Very few barbers shave anyone today. All of those shaving mugs would be a collector's piece."

"Paul the Barber" was actually Giglio Fredo (G.F.) Paglia Sr., my grandfather.

He was a barber in the area for more than 50 years, and his shop was located for most of that time on Fourth Street in Lock Four (North Charleroi).

The shop was part of a large building that now houses Double M's Pizza and apartments.

Also operating at that site for many years were a Clover Farm store and Cuddy's Drug Store.

The personalized shaving mugs to which Fisher refers were just part of a very distinctive touch to the barber shop.

My grandfather also built the large bar that held the other tools of his craft -razors, clippers, scissors, combs - colorful bottles of lotions and two large mirrors. It also featured a large rolltop desk holding an assortment of pipes smoked by my grandfather and a Victrola which turned out beautiful music for customers and visitors.

In addition to plying his trade at the barber shop, Paul the Barber also made daily visits to Charleroi-Monessen Hospital to cut hair and provide shaves for patients, administrators and physicians. He also was a long-time member of the Belle Vernon Musical Society and played flute in the group's concerts.

He died on Nov. 13, 1966, at age 80.

Fisher's recollections sparked many personal reminders about childhood days I spent in the barber shop and stops at Schwenk's tavern or T.R. Parks' service station for a candy bar and a bottle of pop.

Fisher, who worked at the Allenport Plant of Pittsburgh Steel Company for 37 years, recalled that there were no sidewalks in the area of the barber shop for many years.

"This walkway went all the way from the bottom of the hill to Isabella Avenue," he said. "The walkway had handrails and wooden studs across the boards so people could walk on it without losing their footing. I walked up and down it many times as a child. Automobile traffic couldn't go up that hill until years later."

Other businesses in Lock Four recalled by Fisher are Gaskill's Plumbing Shop, Joe's Barber Shop, the Fireman's Club, Roxberry's Tavern, Kramer's Drug Store, a shoe repair shop (Blanda's, I believe), J.O.. Watson Novelty Shop, Butler's Grocery (which later became Schwenk's), Danny McKenna's Garage (which evolved into Parks' service station) and Clegg's Auto Store. He said apartments were located above some of the stores.

Under the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge were a large ice plant and the United States Government Works , including the original Locks No. 4.

Liberty Avenue also was home to the U.S. Post Office and a grocery store.

Fisher also recalled that Christian B. Anfinsen Jr. lived on Fourth Street in Lock Four and they were "good friends."

Anfinsen, whose family later moved to Monessen, went on to earn a doctorage in biochemistry and win a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1972.

And there was Earl Eisenhower, who lived on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was a brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and worked for West Penn Power Company.

The football star who holds a strong spot in Fisher's memory bank is Joe Connell, the quarterback on unbeaten CHS teams in 1936 and 1937. He helped the '36 Cougars post a 10-0-0 record and win the WPIAL championship. He also paced the team to an 8-0-2 record in 1937, when he won the Mon Valley Conference scoring championship with 71 points.

"He was a terrific high school player for Charleroi and a nice guy," Fisher said of Connell, who went to the University of Pittsburgh and later became an official in the National Football League.

Festivities in the community also included the Lock Four Firemen's annual bazaar and carnival in Coyle's lot, now the site of the spacious professional plaza.

"In the center of the bazaar was a wooden dance floor," Fisher recalled. "Every dance was packed with couples, and it was 10 cents a dance. The rest of the bazaar also was crowded every night with carnival rides, refreshments and games. They also had a free act presented by a Lock Four man named Fat O'Neil. In the middle of the week-long celebration there would be a huge parade and sometimes there would be as many as 50 fire trucks."

Another vivid recollection is the slag dump on the border of Charleroi and Lock Four.

"Men and women used to pick coal off that dump," Fisher said. "Those were lean times in the 1930s. There would be so many people picking coal that you couldn't see the dump for all the people. Coal was $3 a ton in those days and some people sold their coal for 25 cents per gunny sack."

Fisher also remembers the lovely Henrietta Leaver, who became Miss American 1935.

"Henrietta's mother (Cecelia) worked at a grocery store at the corner of fourth Street and Highland Avenue," Fisher said. "(Henrietta) was 14 at the time, and she and I and other children used to play games in front of the store where her mother worked. We had a lot of fun."

A headline across the top of Page One of the Monday, Sept. 9, 1935, edition of The Charleroi Mail proclaimed, "Charleroi-Born Beauty Is Named 'Miss America.'"

The story reported that Henrietta and her grandmother, Mrs. Charles Ebert of North Charleroi, were finalizing arrangements to Europe aboard the Normandie as part of her Miss America duties. It also emphasized that beautiful 19-year-old brown-haired lass had already received "a flood of movie and stage offers."

Newspaper accounts of Miss Leaver's success in the Atlanta City pageant said she was born in North Charleroi and attended grade school there. The family later lived in Cleveland but, after her parents divorced Henrietta and her mother and sister moved to McKeesport. She was living in the Tube City at the time she entered the Miss America pageant as Miss Pittsburgh.

A month later - on October 15, 1935 - Miss Leaver was visiting her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. McChesney, Monongahela and told reporters she had been born in that city, not Lock Four.

The mystery took another turn on Aug. 3, 1982, when Emma Jene Lelik, then family news editor of The Valley Independent, wrote that Miss Leaver was born Henrietta Applegate in Fayette City. She took the name of her stepfather, George Leaver, after her mother remarried, Lelik reported.

Her biological father, Henry Applegate, also remarried and lived in Fayette City at the time of Lelik's story. He had two sons. Edward Applegate and Harry Applegate, who were Henrietta's half-brothers.

Henrietta was 77 when she died in September 1993.

By any name, she holds a special place in Ray Fisher's poignant memories of his childhood in Lock Four.

We thank him for sharing those thoughts with us.

(If you have memories to share or a story idea, contact Ron Paglia at or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.)

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