This Week In History: Halloween Across a Decade

Halloween has come and gone — my favorite holiday by far! Yesterday I sat at the PA Room’s desk, dressed in full pirate regalia and eager to scare any kids who wandered too far from the confines of the Children’s Library. (Actually, I had candy for them. But they still seemed to be afraid of me.)

It was a quiet day, so I delved into the microfilm to learn about how Halloween was celebrated by locals in the past. The following article appeared in the Daily News Standard on October 31, 1898 and described a particularly disruptive Mischief Night.

“According to the Pittsburg Sunday papers a trolley car was blown off the track at Oliphant. Outside of the fact that the incident is not true the story is all right.”

— The Morning Herald, 18 Jan 1909.

Quick Tip: Navigating World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942

This could also be filed under: When in Doubt, Read the Instructions.

While I don’t use them all that much, I’ve always found the World War II Draft Registration Cards (freely accessible on FamilySearch or through a subscription on Ancestry) to be an interesting collection. They come from the “Old Man’s Draft” — that is, the registration of American men who were between 45 and 64-years old in 1942.

The Rand Powder Mill Disaster, 1905

Next month marks the 109th anniversary of the Rand Powder Mill Explosion, a series of blasts at a Fayette County black powder factory that killed 18 people, shattered windows in Uniontown, and shook buildings as far away as Greensburg. The Pennsylvania Room maintains photos of the September 9, 1905 disaster that were taken by E.W. Hague, a Uniontown druggist who rushed to offer his aid and document the disaster in Fairchance.

“Three more bankers were sentenced to the penitentiary Saturday. The gentle practice of appropriating other people’s money is sometimes subject to slight discouragements.”

— The Morning Herald, 18 Jan 1909.

Stories in Stone: John Gallagher, Jr.

For all the inquiries about family history I get from visitors to the PA Room, I also field plenty of unusual questions about local history. One patron wondered where his uncle might have bought a Studebaker in Uniontown in the 1950s. (The Detweiler dealership, perhaps?) Another was trying to track down the name of the last man to be hanged for murder in the county. (Frank Wells, a century ago this year.)

Sometimes a single resource will cough up the answer you need. The Studebaker question, for example, was solved by a quick search through a Uniontown City Directory from 1950. But more often than not, you’ll have to do far more footwork.

“The fellow who wrote that ‘a woman’s only weapon is her tongue’ was evidently a bachelor, with no expert knowledge on the subject of pokers, broomsticks, and hatpins.”

— “A Married Man’s Musings.” Genius of Liberty, 5 Jan 1899: 2.

Judging (Year)Books by Their Covers

Ah, the most mundane of library tasks: “reading the shelves,” or going book by book and putting everything in order. A few weeks ago, after reading the general history and genealogy shelves in the room — yes, all of them — I decided that it was time to sort through our yearbooks.

The collection was reorganized last fall. At the time I was mostly concerned with updating the inventory and moving the more delicate volumes to the safety of the Rare Book Room. Now I could pay more attention to the design of the books, and when I did, I began to notice some patterns.