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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pay or Die: A story of the Black Hand


“Pay or Die: A Black Hand Story,” a seven-part serial by Park Burroughs, chronicles the rise and fall in Washington County of what may be called the precursor to the Mafia in the United States.

Scroll down for individual Chapters:

Chapter One: Murder in East Canonsburg

  • The Honorable Erwin Cummins had never seen his courtroom so crowded. Not since his appointment to the Washington County bench some 10 months earlier had so many people crammed shoulder to shoulder in the five rows of pews of Courtroom No. 1.
    The judge had noticed an oddly large number of onlookers in the room for the selection of the last of the jurors on that morning of Tuesday, Nov. 21, 1922, but there was something different and more menacing now as he was about to convene the afternoon session. Never had he seen spectators standing with their backs against the dark walnut paneling at the rear of the enormous room for want of seats, or the curious fighting for position to peek through the windows of the doors.

    The audience might have seemed intimidating to the judge, maybe as intimidating as Cummins appeared to the audience. Despite his youth – just 42 years old – the jurist held a commanding presence. With a large head, square jaw and broad shoulders, Cummins had punished many an opposing lineman during his days as a halfback on the Westminster College football team, and later at the same position on the University of Pittsburgh squad as a law student in the earliest years of the 20th century.

Judge Erwin Cummins

The judge scanned the room: the jury assembled to his right; the defendant and his counsel at one table, the prosecutors at the other; their witnesses seated in a line of chairs behind those tables; and behind the witnesses the throng. And of this throng the judge thought, who were these people? Aside from the local reporters, he recognized not a single face of these men with dark hair and olive complexions, most much smaller than the former halfback.
The judge called tipstaff George Langenbacher to the bench and asked him about the men. They started coming in the courtroom the previous day, the tipstaff responded, positioning themselves in the front, close to the jury box and the seats for the district attorney’s witnesses. They are Italian, many of them from Pittsburgh, the tipstaff said.
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Angelo Fragassa

The murder trial of Angelo Fragassa was by far the most important case Cummins had encountered in his short career on

the bench. Fragassa, 28, along with Marcantonio Daniele, 40, and his son John Daniele, 18, all of Canonsburg, had been indicted by the grand jury for the murder of Gabriele Fiore, a 27-year-old Standard Tinplate mill worker, shot through the brain in his East Canonsburg home early in the morning of May 29, 1922. The three had been held in Washington County Jail ever since.
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Marcantonio Daniele
The case had attracted widespread attention, because despite the fact that scores of Italians had been murdered over the past 15 years, and hundreds of others victimized by assault and arson, few suspects – members of what had become known as La Mano Nera, or the Black Hand – were ever brought to trial. Bodies turned up routinely, but clues to their demise did not. The killers were skilled, and, according to the popular press, organized in a secret hierarchy. The demands of their victims were quite simple: Give us your money or we will burn down or blow up your house and business; continue to refuse and we will kill you and your family.

Macaque in the trees
Courtroom No. 1 of the Washington County Courthouse, from the vantage point of Judge Erwin Cummins
Photo by A. Parker Burroughs

This case promised to shed light on these so-called Blackhanders who terrorized their own people – the hardworking immigrants who had fled poverty and possibly the same kind of extortion in their native Italy.
The judge had granted defense attorneys’ request for severance, meaning that the three defendants would be tried separately, much to the chagrin of court staff, who would have preferred to wrap things up well short of the Thanksgiving holiday. Three consecutive trials in the November term would mean day and night court sessions right up to Thanksgiving Day, celebrated that year on Nov. 30, the fifth Thursday of the month.
Fragassa, the accused gunman, was to be tried first, followed by the elder Daniele, portrayed by the prosecution as chief of the Canonsburg chapter of the Black Hand.
Fiore had withdrawn a large sum of money from the bank the day before he died, intending to return to Italy with it. The commonwealth would try to prove that Daniele had ordered his death for Fiore’s refusal to surrender his fortune to him.
Judge Cummins worried how the atmosphere in his courtroom might affect the trial. Would witnesses be too afraid to testify, what with these gangsters staring them down from every angle? As he pondered how to proceed, word came that an Italian from Carnegie named Tony Butera was caught in the act of making sketches of the county jail and was promptly placed in that jail by order of District Attorney Howard Hughes.
Cummins was not about to allow the witnesses to be intimidated, justice derailed, accused killers to escape or his budding career on the bench to be cut short. He ordered the courtroom cleared of spectators. Witnesses, too, would be absent, summoned to testify just as they were needed.

News was printed or ‘megaphoned’

Macaque in the trees
This advertisement appeared in the Washington Reporter during the Fragassa-Daniele murder trials in November 1922.

The public’s exclusion from the Fragassa trial only heightened interest in it. Court proceedings were closely followed in the only medium for news and entertainment at the time: the newspapers. Judge Cummins’ order added mystery and danger to an already well-publicized case. But the trials for the murder of the Canonsburg man were not the only things on readers’ minds on that cold and clear day in late November.
Interior construction of the towering George Washington was nearly completed in advance of the hotel’s grand opening in January, and the front pages of the local papers announced that Wade Lowry had been hired as its manager. Also reported were the deaths of two children in a Monongahela house fire and the swearing in of the nation’s first female U.S. senator, Rebecca Felton, 87, of Georgia, who would serve for just one day.
The exploits of the Washington & Jefferson College football team were always of high interest, and it was announced that the team’s game against West Virginia University on Thanksgiving Day would be “megaphoned” to those gathered in front of the First National Bank on South Main Street, directly across the street from the Observer Publishing Co. building then under construction. Because the evening Reporter would not be published on the holiday, play-by-play results from the game in Morgantown would be telephoned to Washington, and a newspaper employee at an upper window would shout the action through a megaphone to the crowd below.
Even though the victim Fiore and his accused killers were all Italians from Canonsburg, readers in Washington, and in fact all over the county, had a keen interest in the trials; the terror inflicted on Italian immigrants, in particular, had been occurring all over the northern United States and Canada.

La Mano Nera, or the Black Hand, was an array of loosely organized criminal rackets with roots in Sicily and Calabria, the most southern area of the Italian “boot,” which came to the United States and Canada with the wave of immigration beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the first decade of the 20th century.
Blackhanders, as newspapers called them at the time, preyed primarily on their own countrymen, terrorizing Italian neighborhoods. They engaged in shakedowns and scams, like selling tickets to nonexistent banquets and strong-arm contributions to defense funds of their comrades. Those known to have money could expect to receive threatening letters demanding payment. Refusal often resulted in explosions, fires, assault or murder. Often the letters were decorated with symbols, such as a black hand, skulls or blood-dripping daggers.
“La Mano Nera was associated primarily with the imprint of a hand over two crossed swords,” wrote Mike La Sorte, professor emeritus of the State University of New York, in a 2008 article on the website American “The symbol can be traced to Italy in the 1880s when on the walls of dwellings in Sicily began to appear an imprint of a hand blackened with coal dust. It was a message that proclaimed, ‘You do as I say or you are finished. Pay or die!’”
The Black Hand first surfaced in New York City. La Sorte found the first documentation of an extortion letter, which was received by a Calabrian shopkeeper and featured a hand imprint and was published in the New York Herald in 1903.
By 1906, Black Hand-style crime had reached Washington County, and it would continue to grow here until the early 1920s, when it rather suddenly came to an end. Its demise was mostly a result of passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. With Prohibition, gangsters found a source of income much more lucrative than extortion: bootlegging.
The first instances of supposed Black Hand crime in this area surfaced in Donora in 1906 and quickly spread to wherever Italians had settled to work in the mines, mills and factories. Citizens of California, Burgettstown, McDonald, Houston, Marianna, Charleroi, Cecil, Monongahela and other communities all faced the threat of extortion. In Washington, at least five brutal slayings from May 1914 to December 1915 were never solved.
Of course, violent crime was not restricted to those of Italian descent. The overwhelming majority of immigrants from that country worked hard and obeyed the laws. The criminal population was as diverse as America was in the 1910s and ’20s, but media attention did seem to zero in on the Italians. In later years, not just the news media but Hollywood would find fascination in another mainly Italian criminal cartel: the Mafia.
The trials of the accused killers of Gabriele Fiore and the events that quickly followed might well be considered the end of the Black Hand in Washington County. To understand this phenomenon, we must go back to its beginning and meet the characters so central to its rise and fall.
This serial will explore the lives of six people: the three men accused of Fiore’s murder and the three principal witnesses for the prosecution. Of these lives, all but one would end in sudden violence.
Next: The Calabrian Conn

Chapter 2: The Calabrian Connection

  • March 12, 2017

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This illustration of murder victim Gabriele Fiore was published in the June 1937 issue of Daring Detective magazine.
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The story so far: The trials of the accused killers of Canonsburg mill worker Gabriele Fiore begin. Judge Erwin Cummins, fearing intimidation of witnesses, clears the courtroom of spectators. Prosecutors portray one of the defendants, Marcantonio Daniele, as the Canonsburg chief of the Black Hand, a secretive cabal of ruthless criminals.
Southwestern Pennsylvania’s abundant reserves of coal, oil and natural gas and its navigable rivers made it an ideal location for the development of heavy industry in the later years of the 19th century. What the primarily agricultural area lacked, however, was the manpower to mine the coal, to build the mills and stoke the furnaces.
That manpower would come from Europe. The coal and steel barons recruited workers in countries where poverty and hopelessness were most present. And so they came, in waves of hundreds of thousands, from Italy, Poland, Austria-Hungary, Croatia. The Greeks, Czechs and Slovaks came pouring in through New York’s Ellis Island, seeking whatever work they could find.
Italy had been newly unified under one flag, but its government was weak and in no position to aid the poor, suppress violence or help those, particularly in the south and on the island of Sicily, recover from natural disasters. In the 1880s, about 300,000 immigrated to the United States; in the 1890s, 600,000. In the decade after that, more than 2 million came, and by 1920, when immigration began to taper off, more than 4 million Italians had left Italy for America.
Most were men who came with the intention of working for a while, then returning home with their earnings. Many did, but many more stayed and used their money to bring their wives and family members here. Once those families were established, other family members and friends would immigrate and settle in the same communities where they had relations, and so it was not unusual for a town to have a neighborhood populated by people mostly from the same country or even the same region of that country.
Terry Necciai of Monongahela, an architectural historian, has studied Italian immigration in the Mon Valley extensively. Many came to work in the 150 coal mines operating in Washington County in the early years of the 20th century, according to Necciai, and settled in towns that formed around the mines, later taking up again their trades as blacksmiths, carpenters, barbers, grocers and musicians.
Immigrants from Tuscany in central Italy first settled in Dunlevy, Monongahela and Charleroi, and later across the river in Monessen. “The Italians in Donora came in a later wave,” Necciai said. The Donora Italians were from the southernmost parts – Sicily, Naples and the “toe” of the Italian “boot,” Calabria.
Edith Costa Niverth’s grandfather arrived in Donora around 1895 with his two brothers. He was a bricklayer and intended to work for a year and return to his home in Mendicino, Calabria.
“My grandmother, with my mother (then 6 years old) and uncle, came to visit for six months,” Mrs. Niverth said, “but my grandmother got pregnant, so they stayed. My grandmother never wanted to live here.”
Mrs. Niverth’s grandfather worked on the construction of the wire mill in Donora and in 1903 moved to Marianna, where he helped build the brick houses for the workers of the Pittsburg & Buffalo Mining Co. He would later work on the construction of another model housing development: Donora’s Cement City.
Mrs. Niverth still lives in the same house in Marianna in which she was born 93 years ago.

For as long as government has existed, so have those who rebelled against it. But it wasn’t until 1642, during the English Civil War, that the term anarchism entered our language.
Anarchism is a political theory holding all forms of government authority to be unnecessary and envisioning a society based on voluntary cooperation. It first surfaced in the United States in the middle of the 19th century and was adopted by groups advocating socialism and communism. Later in the 20th century it would be teamed with pacifism.
In the late 1800s and early years of the 20th century, anarchism was most often associated – particularly by the barons of manufacturing and mining – with the formation of labor unions and those striving for workers’ rights such as the eight-hour day.
The Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886, after which four anarchists were hanged, brought anarchism to the attention of the American public. And the assassination of Italy’s Umberto I in 1900 and U.S. President William McKinley in 1901 by anarchists solidified the movement’s violent and sinister reputation.
The Monongahela Valley with its steel mills and coke plants was fertile ground for labor unrest and anarchistic sentiment. But those fighting for the rights of workers were often wrongly labeled anarchists and blamed for all kinds of violent crime.
In February 1906, Monongahela Mayor H. T. Billick charged three anarchists – John Spadi, Constantino Levi and Petro Foracika – with “blackmail, conspiracy and crimes against the United States.” They were accused of sending a letter through the mail to Lucy Pezzoni, threatening her life. Police Chief Leo Logan and Washington County Coroner W.H. Sipe testified that “literature and pictures believed to be of an anarchistic character were found in the homes of Spadi and Levi.”
But the crime for which they were accused had little to do with politics. It was the type of crime – extortion, primarily of Italians by Italians – that had just recently surfaced a few miles upriver in Donora and would later spread throughout the county.
In 1906, newspapers – and Mayor Billick – were using the terms “Blackhander” and “anarchist” almost interchangeably. It would take a while for the dust to clear and the criminals to be seen for what they were.
Canonsburg’s first Italians arrived in the 1890s and dug the ditches for the borough’s sewers. Others, especially from Calabria, followed to work in the factories and the mines not far from town. They made their homes in South and East Canonsburg, where many of their descendants still live.
The poverty and desperation that had gripped Southern Italy and Sicily in the late 19th century had given rise to an insidious criminal presence. Honest work was hard to find and offered little reward; acquiring wealth with the thrust of a knife was easier. The ships that sailed from Palermo and Naples carried not just the industrious and desperate optimists willing to take any job, but also the thugs.
James Barber has been researching the Black Hand in the Ohio River Valley for 16 years. He and three others he has been working with have created an index of more than 2,000 names of people associated with the Black Hand. He has shared a good amount of the data he has collected for the writing of this story.
“We have traced most of them back to Reggio Calabria, where my family comes from,” Barber said.
“My project started with my own ancestors who were gunned down between September 1924 and October 1925,” Barber said. “My great-grandfather and great-uncle were killed in Youngstown, where my family settled, and my other great-uncle was found dead in Sewickley Heights, Pa., all Black Hand related.”

The victim’s history

Three days before his 16th birthday, Gabriele Fiore and his stepmother boarded the freighter Ancona at Naples, bound for America. They had come from Biccari, a town of about 4,700 residents at the time, in the province of Foggia, east of Naples. They arrived in New York on Dec. 8, 1911, intending to join Gabriele’s uncle, Lorenzo Fiore, in Washington, D.C. Years later, Gabriele would declare on official documents that Lorenzo was his closest relation. At just 5 feet, Gabriele Fiore was still three inches taller than his 44-year-old stepmother, who carried their combined fortune of $40.
By 1915, when he first applied for naturalization, Fiore was living in East Canonsburg, working at the largest factory in town – the Standard Tin Plate mill. He declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen in October 1916.
In its May 29, 1922, story on the murder of Fiore, The Daily Notes of Canonsburg reported that the victim was industrious and successful, that he had saved a considerable amount of money from his job at the mill and was planning a visit home to Italy soon. It would later come out that he had withdrawn the money from the bank on May 28 and planned to depart the next day.
The newspaper also noted: “When the World War was on, he was registered June 5, 1918, for service, and was to have left service with the contingent scheduled for departing camp on Nov. 11, 1918, the day the armistice was signed.”
Canonsburg police became aware of some trouble brewing in the east end that night of May 28 – a group of men harassing someone – and knew generally who was involved. Reinforcements were called for, but by the time they arrived in that area of town in the small hours of the morning, Fiore was dead. It was the second murder of an Italian in East Canonsburg in less than a week. On May 24, Sam Coluscio had been gunned down outside the Standard Tin Plate Co. office.
Police quickly arrested their main suspect – Angelo Fragassa, one of the troublemakers seen a few hours earlier. Then they roused Marcantonio Daniele from his bed and hauled him and his son, John, to jail.
The Danieles and many others in their neighborhood were Calabrians; Fiore was not, and neither was Fragassa, the young barber accused of gunning down Fiore, although both were from the south of Italy, just east of Naples. In fact Fragassa had grown up in the village of Bovino, just 12 miles from Fiore’s birthplace. The two were just two years apart in age, and given that they both ended up living within shouting distance of each other, it’s possible they were acquainted in their native country.
Whatever personal connection existed between victim and killer was of no concern to Washington County’s district attorney, however. He and his detectives were determined to end finally the reign of terror in Canonsburg, and to do it they would need to connect Marcantonio Daniele, the reputed leader of the borough’s Black Hand gang, to the murder. They would need witnesses for that – a tall order considering how fearful citizens were of revenge by the borough’s thugs.
Surprisingly, one person had the courage to step forward: a housewife named Erminia Orsino.
Next: Dynamite and Daggers

Pay or Die: A story of the Black Hand

 – Chapter 3: Daggers and Dynamite

  • March 19, 2017

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The Roaring Twenties had yet to roar in November 1922, apparently, when this item displaying modest fashions appeared in the Washington Reporter.
The story so far: Three men are placed on trial in late November 1922 for the murder of a 25-year-old Canonsburg mill worker. One of the defendants, Marcantonio Daniele, is reputed to be the boss of the Black Hand in Canonsburg. The district attorney hopes first-degree murder convictions will crush the gang and end its reign of terror. Extortion and violent crime associated with the Black Hand first arrived in Washington County in 1906 and quickly spread.
“The Black Hand,” filmed in 1906, is considered to be the oldest gangster movie. It was advertised by American Mutoscope and Biograph Co. as “the true story of a recent occurrence in the Italian quarter of New York City.”
And the Black Hand – or at least a crime attributed to the criminal gang – debuted in Washington County that same year.
Michael Carrazola, an agent of the Charleroi Brewing Co., owned a general store in Dunlevy and a shoe store adjacent to it. Shortly after 9 p.m. on Jan. 13, 1906, he heard a knock at the entrance to the store. When he opened the door, he was shot twice through the chest. On Jan. 22, Guiseppi Barli was arrested and charged with Carrazola’s murder. The newspapers called the killing the work of the Black Hand. Barli was later released due to a lack of evidence.
Population in the Mon Valley had soared with the arrival of immigrant labor, and so did crime. Anarchists took the blame for some of the arson, assault and murder in the Mon Valley in the first decade of the century. Since President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in September 1901, the native population was highly suspicious of the political leanings of the foreign-born. Blame also fell on the Italian Blackhanders, and sometimes the two elements and their motivations were confused.

Macaque in the trees

The idea that the Black Hand was a powerful and organized criminal conspiracy of Italian Mafioso – an idea fostered by newspapers and by the Blackhanders themselves – is mostly myth. It was more a method employed by miscreants – and not just Italians – to enrich themselves by way of fear and violence. And that violence spread through Washington County quickly.
The first known incident occurred in Canonsburg on Jan. 29, 1906, when a group of men fired shots outside the grocery store owned by Simez Piccolo on East Pike Street and demanded $20. Piccolo refused, and eventually the men left. The Washington Observer reported Piccolo “has lately heard much about the ‘Black Hand,’ and last night’s episode tends to strengthen his belief that there is such an organization in Canonsburg.”
The incidents would grow more serious and widespread. Italians who had immigrated recently and were known to have money were the targets, but not always. In June 1907, Zollarsville farmer James Keefover received a threatening letter, and when he ignored it, one of his haystacks was blown up with nitroglycerin.
A month later Washington County coroner W.H. Sipe was threatened with Black Hand letters for investigating the murder of Antonio Sebelea at the Midland mines, for which Frank and Dominic Spiller were accused. The threats were not empty. On Aug. 23, 1907, Sipe escaped an assassination attempt.
Later that year, two Canonsburg men, Dominic Foletti and Joseph Schorelli, were arraigned in Pittsburgh for extortion. The Daily Notes reported that Petro Porcelli, a wealthy Italian in the East End of Pittsburgh, received one threatening letter, which he ignored. Then he received another.
•“It was decorated with elaborate and crude ‘Black Hand’ signs and symbols and instructed him to leave $300 at the end of the Lincoln Avenue street car line,” the Oct. 2, 1907, article stated. “He was threatened with the extermination of his entire family if he did not follow the wording of the letter in every detail.”
The victim in that case went straight to the police, and the threat was extinguished. But as time went on, victims of extortion were not as likely to turn to police for help. They had little faith that police could protect them. Many suspected that local cops were actually in business with the gangsters.
The stiletto knife was not just a symbol drawn on letters; it was used with deadly consistency. Dozens of bodies, most of them never identified, were found in Washington County over a 15-year span in the early 1900s. The victims had most often been shot and stabbed, and often so horribly mutilated that recognition was impossible. All pieces of possible identification were missing in most cases, including labels on clothing removed.
In September 1917, the body of Salvatore Sasso of Joliet, Ill., was found outside Canonsburg. He was the 10th murder victim found in the Canonsburg area in 1917 alone, most of them never identified.
Dynamite became a favored method of punishment for those who refused to meet demands. In October 1911, the home of Joseph and Rose Barbella at 261 S. College St. in Washington was badly damaged by dynamite. Mrs. Barbella had received several letters, which she had ignored, demanding $4,000 in cash to be left at a Prospect Street location. Her husband owned a grocery store on South Main Street, where the Southside Restaurant is now.

Perry Como’s first career

Perry Como statue in Canonsburg photographed November 19, 2007 for the GO page nose game. Published November 26, 2007.
Canonsburg’s most famous native is Perry Como, whose singing career spanned six decades. He died at age 88 in May 2001, but he remains a constant presence in the borough, with his voice emanating from a statue in the center of town and a street named in his honor.
The seventh of 10 children, Como was born in Canonsburg to parents who had emigrated in 1910 from the Abruzzese village of Palena, east of Rome. He began working in Steve Fragapane’s barbershop at age 10 to help support his family, and his ambition was to become the town’s best barber.
Although he was born here, Como did not learn English until he began school, because only Italian was spoken in his home.
The accompanying photo provided by Canonsburg historian James Herron shows the young Como at work along with Fragapane. Antonio Terlingo is the customer in Fragapane’s chair. From the holiday message written on the mirror behind them, it can be surmised that the photo was taken in December 1922, just after the conviction of Angelo Fragassa and Marcantonio Daniele for the murder of Gabriele Fiore.
A few months later, a wealthy grocer named John Tesauro was forced to leave Washington because of Black Hand threats. Trouble followed him. In July 1912, his new home in Hays Borough, Allegheny County, was leveled by an explosion.
R.T. Bell retired in 2014 from the Canonsburg police department after 47 years on the force, 36 of them as chief. The reign of terror in the borough was long before his time, but he recalls the remembrances of his father.
“Now, these are just stories that I have been told, but my dad (Louis Bell Jr.) told me he remembers coming out of the house in the morning and seeing someone hanging from a telephone pole. That’s the message that the Black Hand sent,” Bell said.
Bell’s grandfather, Louis Bell, owned a building where Sarris Candy Co. is now. He lived upstairs but had a grocery store, a candy store and a bar in the building. Blackhanders demanded money and he refused. His building was bombed with dynamite in November 1919.
“Houses in Canonsburg and for miles around were rocked and many windows in the vicinity of the railroad station were broken last night when a bomb exploded at the store of Dominic Colaizzo, an Italian merchant, at North Jefferson Avenue and Murdock Street,” The Washington Observer reported in its Dec. 10, 1920 edition.
Black Hand gang members swaggered through the streets of South Canonsburg, a neighborhood populated mainly by Greeks and Italians, at that time. They congregated at a house near the corner of First Street and Elm Alley. Local police and county detectives referred to them as a secret society, but the identity of the Blackhanders was not mysterious to South Canonsburg residents. They feared the thugs and avoided them. When bad things happened, they turned their heads. They knew that snitching on the Black Hand could get them killed.
Erminia Orsino was wakened in the early hours of May 29, 1922. It was a warm night, and through an open window of her house on Third Street (now Perry Como Avenue) she heard loud voices. She approached the window and tentatively looked out. Five men were standing on the sidewalk, their faces illuminated by a street light. She recognized them. Three of the men eventually wandered off. Of the two who remained, one stood with his back toward her window. He extended his right hand, which the other man, then kneeling, took and kissed.
Minnie, as she was called by all who knew her, heard the standing man utter the word “carogno.” Then the kneeling man stood and the two walked south, turning after her house onto Elm Alley. Fearful that the men might be thinking of entering her home, she fetched a rolling pin and positioned herself by the door.
Minnie would agree to testify in court to the events of that early morning when Gabriele Fiore was gunned down. She must have known then that if Fiore’s killers did not pay for their crime in the electric chair, she certainly would receive a death sentence.
Next: Spilling Secrets

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Carl E. Subrick Obituary

Carl E. Subrick, 74, of Lewes, Del., formerly of Canonsburg, passed away Monday, March 14, 2016, in Delaware Hospice Center, Milford, Del., surrounded by his loving family.   He was born August 2, 1941, in Canonsburg, a son of the late Carl and Ann Gomber Subrick.Mr. Subrick was born and raised in Canonsburg. He was a 1959 graduate of Canon-McMillan High School and a 1963 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his degree in chemical engineering.He had resided in Delaware since 1976, when he relocated for work. Mr. Subrick was a hard worker who enjoyed spending time with his family, especially watching sports. He was a wonderful father and grandfather and will be sadly missed. 
On October 23, 1965, he married Barbara J. Burke Subrick, who passed away July 22, 1983.
Surviving are four loving sons, Michael P. (Denise) Subrick of Rehoboth, Del., James D. (Kristin) Subrick of Lewes, John Robert "Bob" (Tamara) Subrick of Harrisonburg, Va., and Joseph William "Bill" (Tammy) Subrick of Milton, Del.; three precious grandchildren, Karra, Burke and Dasia Subrick; a sister, Judi (John) Matok of Pittsburgh; and several nieces, nephews and cousins.
Friends are welcome from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday in Salandra Funeral and Cremation Services Inc., Joseph P. Salandra, owner/supervisor, Lin Webb, funeral director, 304 West Pike Street, Canonsburg, 724-745-8120, where departing prayers will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 19, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 9:30 a.m. in St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, 317 West Pike Street, Canonsburg. Interment will follow in Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh.
To extend or view condolences, visit
Funeral Home
Salandra Funeral and Cremation Services, Inc. 
304 West Pike St
CanonsburgPA 15317
724-745-8120  mo

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A History of Canonsburg, Pa.

from: A History of Washington County, Pennsylvania
By: Earle R. Forrest
Published By The S. J. Clark Publishing Company, Chicago 1926

The first settler and proprietor of the Town of Canonsburg was John Canon, after whom the place is named. Colonel Canon settled in this section of the Chartiers valley about 1773, and for many years was one of the leading citizens of Washington County. In May, 1780, he was granted Virginia certificates for 1,200 acres of land in four tracts called Mount Airy, Abbington and Canon's Hill, on Chartiers Creek, and Sugar Tree Grove some distance away. About 1781 he erected a mill on Chartiers Creek which was one of the first in that section. This mill has already been mentioned in other sections of this work. The author is informed by Mr. David H. Fee, editor of the Canonsburg Notes and the best informed man on the history of that borough. that this mill stood on the site of the present mill of the Canonsburg Milling Company, which was erected about 100 years or more ago. John Canon has been mentioned frequently in the Indian wars and the early settlement of the county and needs no further introduction. He derived his title of colonel from his appointment in 1777 as a colonel of the Washington County militia.

In 1787 Colonel Canon laid out the first town plat of Canonsburg. with the main road, now Pike Street, as the central or main thoroughfare. On March 15, 1787. he sold the following lots: No. 3. to Dr. Thompson; No. 4, to Daniel McCoy: No. 5, to James Morrison; No. 6, to David Gault; No. 7, to Donald Cameron; Nos. 9 and 10. to Andrew Monroe, all on the west side of Market, now Pike Street; and Nos. 11. 12 and 13, on the same side of the street, to John Todd, June 1, 1787. On the east side of Market Street the following lots were sold on March 13. 1787: No. 3, to Capt. Craig Ritchie; No. 4, to Col. Matt Ritchie; No. 5, to William Marshall; No. 6, to Abraham DeHaven.

No date is on the next plat, but it was between 1790 and 1800. During this period we find the following to be some of the property owners: Abraham DeHaven, Dr. Hugh Thompson, Daniel McCoy, shoemaker; John McDowell, David Gault, tanner; Thomas Speers, merchant; Dr. Thomas B. Creaghead. Andrew Munroe. tavern keeper; Jefferson Academy, John Todd, cooper; Charles White. hatter; William Webster. carpentcr; James Foster. brewer: William Criswell. weaver; Ann Cook, Elizabeth Andrews, Adam Johnson, weaver: Robert Bowland, miller; Craig Ritchie, Esq., Matthew Ritchie. Esq. William Thompson, mason; John McGill, George McCooke. James Witherspoon. William Roberts. William McCall; John Anderson, carpenter; James Morrison. butcher; Thomas Morrison, tailor; J. Alex Miller, cooper; John Miller, schoolmaster; Samuel Miller. Dell Weaver, mason; David Ralston, stiller.

Canonsburg is the oldest incorporated municipality in the county, its charter dating from February 22, 1802, eight years before the borough of Washington was incorporated. At an election held May 3, 1802. in the college, the following were elected as the first officers: Samuel Murdoch, burgess; William Clarke, Thomas Briceland. William \Vhite, John Johnson, and John Wattson, council; and John McGill. high constable. The first meeting of council was held May 6, 1802.

A market house was erected in Canonsburg on Main Street(now Central Avenue) below the college grounds, before the first meeting of council; and on May 6, 1802. Andrew Munroe was appointed clerk to have entire charge. An ordinance regulating the sales in the market was passed March 19, 1804; and on June 4, 1808, it was ordered that the stalls be rented at $1.50 per annum. This market stood for a number of years, the exact time not being known. On August 25, 1820, council moved that it be razed and a new one erected, but this was held in abeyance until May 16, 1821, when it was voted down. The building stood for some years after that date.

The "Hibernia," a hand fire engine, was purchased by council in 1829, and it was used in the big fire of 1835; and in February, 1836, a volunteer fire company was organized. This existed for several years and was then discontinued for lack of attendance. Later the engine was sold for $35. In recent years two fire companies were organized, one with quarters in the borough building and the other on Ridge Avenue, both being supplied with fire fighting equipment. Canonsburg's worst disaster was the big fire of November, 1898, when several business buildings in Pike Street were destroyed with large loss. It was necessary to use dynamite finally to stop the progress of the fire. Among the buildings destroyed was the borough building, which was replaced in 1899 by a new pressed brick building of two stories.

The first tavern kept in Canonsburg was by Andrew Munroe, who was licensed at the October term, 1787. This was located at the southwest corner of Main and College streets and was kept by him until 1801, and Jennet Munroe succeeded him until 1805, when it ceased. In December, 1790, William Dehaven was licensed to keep a tavern, and Abraham Dehaven in 1791. Francis Irwin kept a tavern from June, 1793 to 1801.

Henry Westby, the proprietor of the Black Horse Tavern, famous as the meeting place of the Whisky Insurrectionists in 1794. was licensed in January of that year. He remained as proprietor until 1814. when he moved to Washington and was succeeded by his son, John, who conducted it for many years. This was Canonsburg's most noted tavern of the early days.

Briceland's Tavern was probably the most noted in all Canonsburg's history. This old building stood on the present site of the Citizens Trust Building, and was a landmark of the town for many years. The date of the erection of this building and by whom is not known; but when the old Washington-Pittsburgh Pike was at the height of its glory, in the days before the Chartiers Valley Railroad was completed in 1871, this tavern was a famous stand. Its history began back in the '40s and extended through a period of thirty years or more. It was conducted for many years by John Briceland, son of Thomas Briceland, one of the town's first residents, and from him this stopping place received its name. For years before the Civil war it was the popular stopping place for all visitors at college events, and on the muster days of the militia it was headquarters for military men. During the Civil war all soldiers gathered there when preparing to go to the front or when passing through the town on furlough. When Company G, of the famous One Hundred and Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Canonsburg's own company, returned at the close of the Civil war, the survivors were welcomed home at a big banquet in this tavern. It continued as the town's principal hotel under the name of Sherman House and Central Hotel until it was razed in 1903 to make room for the trust building.

McFadden's Tavern at the corner of Central Avenue and East College Street was opened by Hector McFadden in November, 1822, and kept until 1835. During those years it was a popular place, especially for college students. This building is still standing.

For ten years, beginning with 1819, William Finley kept a tavern on the site of the old opera house. As early as 1794, David Lock and Mary Hill were licensed to keep a tavern. Others who were licensed to keep taverns in the early years of the past century were George Sellers, in 1806; John Patterson, in 1809; John Lowry and Joshua Emory, in 1810.

In January, 1811, Rev. D. D. Graham advertised that he would give instructions in rhetoric, belles-lettres and the science of philology. The first schoolhouse of which we have a record was erected of brick in 1816 by subscription of a number of prominent citizens. This school was in operation for a number of years, and among some of the early teachers as far back as 1828 were Samuel Hindman, John Hindman, Samuel Guess, John Roberts, Mrs. Rankin, Mrs. Grier, Joseph Gray, Samuel G. MeNeill, Nancy Knox, Mary Ray, Davis Bascom, Thomas Wilson, Hugh Sturgeon, John Strean, Robert Curry, Benjamin South and William G. Fee.

When Chartiers Township adopted the school code in 1834, the schools of Canonsburg were a part of that district and remained so until 1857, when it became a separate district. The old town hall, built in 1843 by the borough on the site of the old stone college, was used by the district of Chartiers and Canonsburg for about thirty years. The old brick schoolhouse mentioned above stood for seventy-seven years.

A brick school of four rooms was erected in the '70s, and at that time it was large enough to house all of the pupils of the town. At the present time Canonsburg is an independent district with F. W. McVay as the superintendent. In addition to a school nurse, supervisor of music and two assistant teachers it has twenty-five teachers in the Central Schools; a principal and sixteen teachers in the First Ward School; a principal and seventeen teachers in the Third Ward School; four teachers in the White Lawn School, and a principal and twelve teachers in the new high school. The total number of teachers is seventy-eight with a total of 3,237 pupils, and an average daily attendance of 2,900. The assessed valuation of the property of the district is $4,534,385, and the amount of taxes collected for school purposes last year was $132,031.90 at 26 mills.

On September 18 to 21, 1784, Gen. George Washington visited Canonsburg in connection with the claims of squatters on his lands in Mount Pleasant Township. This is the only time that General Washington was ever in this county.

On September 5, 1817, James Monroe, President of the United States, visited Canonsburg and was escorted into the town by Miller's Company of Light Infantry and a number of men on horseback. He was entertained with refreshments at Emorys' Tavern on the corner of Pike Street and Central Avenue, after which he visited Jefferson College, where speeches were made.

President Grant passed through Canonsburg once while on his way to visit W. W. Smith in Washington.

On July 4, 1866, the Eureka baseball team of Pittsburgh defeated the Mechanics team of Canonsburg by a score of 50 to 15; and on July 21,, 1866, the Jefferson College nine of Canonsburg defeated the Hygeia Club of Pittsburgh by a score of 67 to 17.

William McEwen was the first person in Canonsburg to use natural gas in his residence. This was in the spring of 1885.

On December 9, 1885, the residence of Wesley Greer, at the corner of Central Avenue and Pike Street, was wrecked by an explosion of natural gas. Mr. and Mrs. Greer, two small children and Mr. Greer's mother were in the house and were injured, but not seriously. Fire broke out immediately after the explosion, and the house was destroyed.

The worst flood in the town's history was on the night of August 21, 1888, when the bridge at Houston, the bridge at the foot of Central Avenue and many buildings were carried away by the waters of Chartiers Creek. No trains were run on the Chartiers Railway for nearly a week.

During the winter of 1850-51 a young man named Wilson was killed in a fight between college students and boys of the town. Someone plunged a knife into young Wilson. A student named Ammon was implicated in the affair, but he made his escape. Another student named Robinson was arrested and tried in Washington, but was acquitted.

On December 31, 1925, the plant of the Standard Chemical Company, manufacturers of radium, was damaged by fire to the amount of $40,000. The origin was unknown. In this connection it is interesting to note that the Standard Chemical Company, located at Canonsburg, which is the largest manufacturing plant for radium in the world, was started about 1911 through the efforts of the late Joseph Flannery, of Pittsburgh. From the very beginning the plant has been in charge of L. F. Vogt, of Washington, a chemist and metallurgist, and one of the foremost authorities on radium in the United States. This is the pioneer plant in this country for the manufacture of radium, which is obtained from carbonite which is shipped from Colorado. where this company owns extensive mining operations for this valuable mineral. In appearance it resembles yellow sandstone, the yellow appearance being caused by uranium. The ore contains such a small amount of radium that it cannot be reckoned on a percentage basis, and it takes up to 500 tons of ore to produce a single gram of radium. Up to 1921 a total of 120 grams of radium, valued at $14,400,000, covered the world's supply of this preciouS mineral; and of this amount the Standard Chemical Company had produced 72 grams, valued at $8,640,000. An ounce of gold is worth approximately $20, but an ounce of radium is valued at $3,480,000, and a single gram is worth $120,000. The Canonsburg plant produces more radium a year than all of the rest of the radium plants in the world combined.

One of the most important historic events in the history of the Canonsburg plant was the visit there on Friday, May 27, 1921, of Madame Curie, of Paris, the Frenchwoman, who with her husband in 1898 discovered and gave radium to the world. During her tour of this country Madame Curie was presented by the people of the Pittsburgh district with a gram of radium. valued at $120,000, which was produced at the Standard Chemical Company's plant. This gift was presented to her at the White House on May 20, 1921, by President Harding. On May 27 Madame Curie, accompanied by her daughter and a party from Pittsburgh, arrived at the Canonsburg plant and made a tour of inspection, when all of the various processes in the manufacture of radium were explained in detail.

The Chartiers United Presbyterian Church, which celebrated its sesquicentennial September 22, 1925. was one of four churches in the county which were 150 years old last year. This congregation was organized in 1775. Rev. Matthew Henderson, the first pastor, was called in 1781 and served until he was killed by a falling tree in 1795. Other pastors who succeeded him were: Rev. John Smith, 1797-1802; Rev. James Ramsey, 1805-49; Rev. D. H. French, 1850-53; Rev. John B. Clark, May. 1853, to August. 1860; Rev. D. M. French, 1861-66; Rev. D. M. B. McLean, 1870-80; Rev. W. B. Smiley, and Rev. William P. Aiken.

The first church was built of logs in 1782, on the present site of the Oak Spring Cemetery, which is one of the old burying grounds of that section. The second building was of limestone, built in 1834, and it in turn was replaced by a brick structure. In 1868 the present church was erected on Pike Street, Canonsburg.

The Canonsburg United Presbyterian congregation, commonly known as the Greenside Avenue Church, was organized in 1830 as the Speers Spring congregation. \Vorship was held in a tent near a spring on the Speers farm a mile east of Canonsburg until a brick church was completed in 1831, at the Speers Spring Cemetery, at the end of East Pike Street. This was enlarged in 1851 and was used until the present edifice was erected on Greenside Avenue in 1885, at a cost of $17,000, being dedicated March 25. The first pastor was Rev. Alexander McCahon, who installed in April, 1831, and resigned in 1843. The present pastor is Rev. H. Ross Hune.

The First Presbyterian congregation was organized in 1830 and worshipped in the chapel of Jefferson College. It used the chapel until 1889, when the present building was erected on the site of old Olome Institute. The cornerstone was laid August 22, 1889. and the church was dedicated June 22, 1890, the cost being about $32,000. Rev. Robert L. Brackenridge, the first pastor, was installed December 12, 1845. and resigned two years later. The present pastor is Rev. George G. Kerr, and the membership is 597.

The Central Presbyterian congregation was organized December 1, 1888, with Rev. L. M. Lewis as the first pastor. He remained until 1896. It worshipped in the chapel of Jefferson College for a number of years. before the present church was erected. The present pastor is Rev. David Demster, and the membership is 284.

The Methodist Episcopal congregation was organized about 1845, through the efforts of J. C. Pershing, a student at Jefferson College, and John Hagerty, a stone mason. In 1847 John Ramsey donated a lot on Greenside Avenue, upon which a church was erected and used until 1888, when the present church was erected at West Pike and Iron streets. It was dedicated April 22, 1888. The old brick chapel on Greenside Avenue stood until 1907. Rev. C. R. Wolf is now the pastor.

The Roman Catholic denomination held meetings monthly in Canonsburg in the early '80s, and from that beginning St. Patrick's Roman Catholic congregation developed. About 1887 a room was rented in the Kerr Building and services held at regular intervals until 1891, when the old Methodist chapel on Greenside Avenue was purchased, and it was dedicated April 12, 1891, by Rev. J. F. Canevin, of Pittsburgh. Services were conducted twice a month until 1903, when this was made a separate parish and Rev. Apolonius Tyszka placed in charge. The present building, which cost $30,000, was dedicated April 7, 1907. Rev. Thomas Zacharski is the present rector.

St. Genevieve Roman Catholic congregation grew out of the First congregation. Its first building, erected in 1905, was destroyed by fire, July 4, 1907, but another was erected later. The present rector is Rev. Edward Piculick.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church was organized October 1, 1890. Worship was conducted in halls throughout the town until 1900, when a lot was purchased and the present building erected in 1901-02 at a cost of $5,000. It was dedicated December 20, 1902.

The First Baptist congregation was organized in 1906 by a few families of that denomination holding cottage prayer meeting in their homes. The present building on North Jefferson Avenue was erected and dedicated May 31, 1908. The present pastor is Rev. J. W. Parker.

The Christian Church organized a congregation in Canonsburg a number of years ago, and meetings were held every Sunday for several years with Rev. J. F. White, of Washington, in charge. About 1909 the congregation was compelled to vacate its hall in the Ritchie diamond, and services were discontinued for a time, but later a church was erected on West College Street. Rev. E. K. VanWinkle, pastor.

The Payne African Methodist Episcopal (colored) congregation dates back, according to some authorities, to 1833, but there are no early records. Worship was held for several years in private residences, after which the congregation was regularly organized, with Rev. S. Chingman as pastor. John Chase, a colored man, had died intestate, leaving a lot in the west part of the town. About 1853 or possibly 1854 the legislature granted a petition of the congregation to invest a body of trustees with title to this land for the purpose of erecting a church. This was built in 1856 and remodeled in 1875. It was used until 1903, when a new church was erected and dedicated in May.

The Mount Olivet Baptist (colored) congregation was organized about twenty-three years ago. Services were first held in the Ritchie diamond and later in the frame schoolhouse in the rear of the Central Avenue School until the new frame church was erected on Vine Street in 1908.