Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

A mystery from Twin Rocks, circa 1955

Frank Charney's Sunday post about Smiley Burnette's appearance at the Capitol Theater revived a memory and a lingering question in my mind—a mystery, in fact—about a slightly similar incident I remember, or at least almost remember from Twin Rocks. I remember that when I was still quite young, possibly as young as 13 or 14, I attended a concert in the Big Bend School Auditorium put on by a professional musical gospel singing quartet. I'm sure the event took place, the main or perhaps the only act was an all-male quartet, they were somewhat famous (I keep coming back to the Blackwood Brothers, but most likely they weren't that famous), and I was enthralled by the show. And I remember only one specific song they performed, and it wasn't a gospel song. It was something like "I Wonder What They Say About (or Think of) Me In My Home Town." I can still hum the main theme of the song. I had never heard it before; they performed it as a kind of funny bit which I found quite humorous, as though it was the imaginings of a scoundrel who might have been thought of quite negatively in his home town. I think I saw just part of it used in a comedy bit on TV some time later, on a show like Red Skelton's or George Gobel's (though a Google check indicates it ran only in 1954, which I find hard to believe). But the "mystery" of it all is the most intriguing part to me, because I have almost no hard facts about it, but it has this sketchy outline in my mind.

I was out on the street, probably in Twin Rocks, in the early evening (perhaps hitch-hinking from home to Nanty Glo, and in between rides) when an older man I knew fairly well and thought well of—I'm thinking of Jesse Edwards, but it might have been Elmer Smith or someone else—stopped and asked me if I knew about the show going to take place that evening in the Big Bend School Auditorium. I hadn't heard a word about it before, and as a reporter at the time for the Mountaineer-Herald, not to mention someone who was often in many of the shows at the Big Bend School, that was quite odd. Also odd is the fact that I stayed to see the show, but I'm sure I didn't buy a ticket. Either that mystery man gave me a ticket or the show was being sponsored by someone as free to the public because it had been set up in a rush and they were hoping to get an audience. Strange! I want to think the tickets would have been $2.75, but why that figure, I have no idea. Now $2.75 seems like nothing, but when I was 13 shows at the Capitol were 50 cents and though that was less than movies in Johnstown, people didn't consider it a great bargain. I wouldn't have spent $2.75 of my own money, if that was the cost, on the recommendation of a man I encountered on the street, no matter how much respect I had for him. The show had had virtually no prior notice, no posters on the light poles all over the valley as there would have been for a carnival, fair, or hot rod races. So I think it was a last-minute set up, but why I have no idea.

I think there was a decent crowd in attendance, though the auditorium wasn't full. I think it was a warm spring evening and it must have been a time when daylight was lingering on into nearly 9 p.m., as I wouldn't have been out and about on my own at that age much after dark.

Does anyone have the least bit of a recollection of an event like this? There was never another show like it that I ever knew of, and the school wasn't in the business of hosting public shows put on by traveling troups, so it was exceptional in that sense, too. In fact, I can't remember any other non-school event ever happening in that auditorium, the second largest, after the Capitol, in use in the Valley at that time. (On second thought, I believe the Vintondale movie theater was still also operating at that time, though I was oblivious to it then and I can't recall ever having been in it, so I don't know how many people it might have seated.)

I'm eager to see if this jogs anyone else's memory. Please mention it to anyone who might have been likely to have known of a Gospel quartet coming to town back around 1955 or '56. Another curious fact is that I must not have written it up, as a follow-up report, for the Mountaineer-Herald, because if I had my memory of the event would not be as sketchy as it is.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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