Saturday, November 14, 2009

Marshall Plane Crash Site, Wayne County, WV

Marker Text: On Nov. 14, 1970, 75 people died in the worst sports-related air tragedy in U.S. history, when a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into the hillside nearby. The victims included 36 Marshall University football players, 9 coaches and administrators, 25 fans and air crew of 5. No one survived this horrific disaster.

Location: Old Route 75, Kenova near the airport, road is a dead end road near the end of the airport runway.

   One begins to think one is getting old when you come across an historical road marker about an event in history you can actually remember, but the Marshall Plane Crash is a one of those unfortunate, but historically significant events. I was a college sophomore when the plane crash occurred and it shocked all college sports teams across the country. Then, while I was living in West Virginia south of Huntington, WV is when they made the movie “We Are Marshall” which recalled the events at the time of the accident and the events at the University in attempting to rebuild their football program.
   A chartered jet airliner carrying the Marshall University football team, coaches and a number of prominent Huntington residents crashed in flames on its approach to Tri-State Airport Saturday evening on Nov. 14, 1970. There were no survivors.
   Southern Airways of Atlanta, Ga., said its two-engine DC-9 was carrying 70 passengers and five crewmen. The plane was returning the Marshall football players, most of the coaching staff and a group of supporters from Greenville, N. C., where East Carolina University defeated the Marshall team Saturday afternoon.
   The crash occurred about 7:45 p. m. less than a mile west of Tri-State Airport. Weather conditions were poor and light rain was falling.
   The Herald-Advertiser's Jack Hardin, the first reporter at the scene some 250 yards east of WV Route 75 south of Kenova, said:
   "There's nothing here but charred bodies. It's terrible." Bodies and wreckage were scattered over a wide area. Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. and Dr. Donald N. Dedmon, Marshall's acting president, rushed to the scene.

   Hardin reported a piece of the plane was found on a hillside about a half-mile from the principal crash site. He said sections of bodies also were reported found there, too. Searchers were combing the hillside early this morning with the aid of flares.
   At 12:10 a. m., the first bodies were placed on National Guard trucks. They were being taken to the National Guard Armory at the airport, where a temporary morgue was established. Hardin said recovery crews were running short of bags to hold the bodies.
   The tragedy was the worst domestic air crash during 1970 and it was described by the FAA as one of the worst in history involving an athletic team.  The crash also was the worst in West Virginia air travel history.
   Less than two months earlier, on October 3, one of two chartered planes carrying the Wichita University football team, coaches, boosters and others, crashed in the mountains of Colorado, killing 31 persons, including 13 football players.  The Marshall crash was the second fatal crash at same the airport in 16 days. Three Army officers were killed in the crash of a military plane Oct. 29. A fourth passenger, critically injured, survived. In the earlier crash, the airplane hit a hill 2,700 feet short of the runway, after apparently losing power in one of its two engines.
   This year marks the 39th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of 75 members of the Marshall University football team, coaches, staff, community members, and crew. This year, as the University does every year since the tragedy, Marshall's Student Government Association will conduct a memorial service at the memorial fountain which commemorates the tragedy on the campus of Marshall University. The fountain is silenced each Nov. 14 during the annual memorial service honoring the victims of the 1970 Marshall plane crash and remains silent until spring.
   In an interesting personal historical note about Marshall University and the events to rebuild the football program. In a January 10, 2007 article in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch about the movie, “We Are Marshall.” In the movie, they stated that the first coach hired by Marshall to replace Head Coach Rick Tolley who was killed in the plane crash, was not Jack Lengyel but Dick Bestwick, assistant coach at Georgia Tech, he changed his mind after two days and returned to Georgia Tech. What I found interesting about this fact is that Dick Bestwick had been the head football coach during the early 60's at the high school where I graduated in Pennsylvania before he went on to Georgia Tech.
   For more information about the plane crash, visit the WV Historical Site.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Neshannock Potato, Lawrence County, PA

Marker Text: The once widely-known and choice variety originated just west of here , on a farm occupied by John Gilkey, 1798-1826. A brother, James, was fellow-worker. Their potato was also called Mercer or Gilkey.

Location: US 19 at SR 1004 (Shaw Rd.) just S of Mercer County line, New Wilmington. Dedication Date: March 19, 1948

   What is fascinating about historical road markers is that they cover a variety of topics, from people, places and things to even vegetables. In 1797, Irish immigrant John Gilkey settled in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania and cultivated the Neshannock Potato, a new variety of potato achieved wide popularity in the nineteenth century. Like apples, potatoes were critical to the survival of farmers and their families. Spuds kept well over the winter months and were vitamin packed. They also figured prominently in crop rotation schemes and were used as animal feed for cattle and pigs.
   Settling on a farm in present-day Washington Township, Lawrence County, Gilkey planted three different varieties of potatoes - blue, red, and white. Within a few years of his arrival, these three varieties had cross-pollinated. When Gilkey planted the seed potatoes he collected they produced a new type of potato that he named "Neshannock," after a nearby creek. The Neshannock was a large and long potato, reddish purple in color, with streaks of the same color through the flesh that generally disappeared after the potato was cooked.
   Gilkey and his brother gave seed potatoes to friends and neighbors. Soon farmers in nearby counties also were growing them, for they quickly found that the Neshannock was more productive than older varieties, and of good quality in flavor and size.

   In the decades that followed, cultivation of the new potato spread quickly to farmers in the Middle Atlantic states, and then across the country. In the 1830s, a farmer named Titus Bronson introduced them to Michigan and claimed that he raised 700 bushels on a single acre of ground on his farm near present-day Kalamazoo. By the 1870s, farmers in Idaho and Utah also were raising them and shipping them by rail to California.
   By then the Neshannock was being marketed as the Gilkey, Mercer, Neshannock, Shannock, or the Shenango. Multiple names might have been confusing to some, but farmers and consumers alike were able to recognize the Neshannock by its distinctive features. In 1843, the highly respected farmer's journal The Cultivator stated that this spud was "one of the most valuable of table potatoes, white, mealy and of good flavor." In the nineteenth century, the Neshannock became the standard commercial potato in the United States. A very productive and an excellent all-purpose potato, it was prized for its size, wonderful flavor, and ability to keep.
   With the introduction of new, more productive varieties in the late nineteenth century, the Neshannock gradually fell out of favor. But for much of the 1800s, Pennsylvania's Neshannock potato helped to feed the nation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

John William Heisman (1869-1936) Crawford Co., PA

Marker Text: Renowned college football coach and name-sake for the sport’s highest amateur honor, the Heisman Memorial Trophy. His innovations included legalizing the forward pass, the center snap, the scoreboard, and game quarters. Heisman promoted player safety by advocating gear improvements and rule revisions. A founder of the American Football Coaches Association, he grew up in Titusville and played football near his father’s local oil cooperage.

Dedicated: Friday, August 28, 2009 Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Location: Next to the Titusville High School, Carter's Field, at the intersection of Central Ave. and Brown St. in Titusville, PA.

   This is a new marker erected this year as part of the 150 year anniversary of Drake's Well located along North Central street next to the high school football field in Titusville, PA. When we think of Titusville, generally people think of the discovery of modern oil drilling by Edwin Drake. Oil production in this area of Pennsylvania around Titusville had an impact in a number of different ways resulting from oil production. One example were the families that moved to Titusville as a result of oil, such as, Michael Heisman who moved his family from Cleveland. His trade as a cooper brought him to built wooden oil barrels used to move the oil that brought wealth and prosperity to the region.
   His son, John William Heisman was raised and attended schools in Titusville, graduating from Titusville High School in 1887 as a baseball player, football player, and star gymnast on his squad. Born Johann Wilhelm Heisman on October 23, 1869, in Cleveland, Ohio, he was the son of John M. Heisman and Sara Lehr. The name John William was later adopted in order to make less apparent the fact that he was the son of immigrants. He learned to play football in Titusville and went on to become one of the greatest collegiate football coaches. Each December, America waits to hear who will receive the Heisman Memorial Trophy, one of the most coveted awards in sports.

   John Heisman entered Brown University where he gave up other activities to pursue the sport of football as a lineman. Due to Brown’s lack of funding, football was relegated to a club sport unworthy of intercollegiate competition. This setback led to Heisman’s transfer to the University of Pennsylvania where he played for two more years and graduated with a degree in law.

   Heisman decided to not pursue a law career, but accepted an offer to coach football at Oberlin College. Football at the time of Heisman was quite different than the football we think of today, while coach, Heisman also played defensive end on his own football team, a practice that is no longer legal in collegiate sports. Heisman went on to coach at Buchtel College (now the University of Akron), Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), Clemson University and eventually to Georgia Tech where he had his longest tenure as a coach. He coached football at eight different colleges and universities between 1892 and 1927.
   During his time at Georgia Tech, Heisman was at the frontline of many changes in the sport. In 1906, the forward pass was legalized, a cause for which Heisman had lobbied for since 1900. In 1908 and 1910, he was named the director of the Atlanta Athletic Association and the president of the Atlanta Baseball Association, respectively. In 1910, he helped champion the change of football game timing from a two half model to its present four quarter setup.
   After 16 years, Heisman ended his tenure at Georgia Tech due to his divorce. He returned as a coach for the University of Pennsylvania. In 1922, Heisman authored his only book, Principles of Football. Written as a reference text for football players, the book contains many blank pages for note taking throughout the chapters. He was named president of the American Football Coaches Association for two consecutive terms while coaching at Washington and Jefferson in Washington, Pennsylvania and Rice University.
   Heisman remarried in 1924 and three years later resigned as Rice's coach. The couple moved to New York City where he authored a sports column for Collier’s magazine and became the director of the New York Downtown Athletic Club (DAC).
   As director of the DAC, John traveled to Chicago and Detroit to research other successful athletic organizations. His research led to the founding of the DAC’s Touchdown Club. This group began offering a trophy for the best college football player in the Eastern states. By 1935, the award had become national.
   John Heisman died after suffering from a short illness in 1936. When the DAC gave their second trophy two months after his death, it was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy, which it remains today. He died in New York City, but was buried in his wife’s hometown of Rhinelander, Wisconsin