Whitesburg KY
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The Way We Were

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907
Eagle reported on 1979 concert tragedy

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12, 1929

A week after reading about Richard E. Byrd Jr. completing the first flight to the South Pole, Mountain Eagle readers this week are learning more about the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, whose members are now at a base camp named “Little America” on the Ross Ice Shelf. With spring on the way to that part of the planet Earth, Byrd and his fellow explorers hope to soon encounter above-freezing temperatures that will enable them to continue their southward trek after surviving a winter of low temperatures reaching down to 70 below 0°.

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A letter to the editor of The Mountain Eagle is critical of the newspaper for using up “valuable space in printing those little foolish Santa Claus letters.” The writer, who signed the letter “Bachelor,” continues: “Don’t you know that in doing so you may be the means of deceiving a lot of innocent children and cause a lot of money to be spent foolishly?” Here is Eagle editor Nehemiah M. Webb’s response to the writer: “Now, Mr. Bachelor, break through that crusty shell of yours and come out into the sunlight of the glorious Christmas spirit and let’s help to make the world better. Already, too many children do not believe in Santa Claus and are going fast on their way to ruin.”

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The A&P food store has lowered its price for a loaf of bread to five cents.

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Coal mining operations are now running six days a week at Marlowe and Sandlick.

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The Public Square Service Station of Whitesburg is urging car owners to switch over to Alemite Winter Gear Lubricant for the coming winter months.

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The Whitesburg High School football team and coach will be honored at a banquet Thursday night at the Daniel Boone Hotel.

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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1949

“Juvenile jealousy over a girl” is being blamed this week for the actions of two Jenkins boys who strapped another boy to a sapling and beat him until he lost consciousness. Ralph Dandy, 15, was attacked November 30 on his way home from school. He was found several hours later after his family began a search. Special State Officer W.R. Blevins said yesterday that the other two boys, both also 15, have now been identified. One of the boys is charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

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The new Whitesburg High School gymnasium, built at a cost of $253,000, will be dedicated at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13. Seating capacity for the gym itself will be 1,800. The building will also house the county superintendent’s office, a bookstore, and home economics classroom. The gym features a modern new $460 Fair Play scoreboard, which automatically keeps times and sounds a horn when a period of play is up.

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A grocery/roadhouse located a short distance above Thornton was destroyed by a dynamite blast about 3 a.m. Monday. The owner of the business, George Fox, says he knows who blew up his building but will not file charges.

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The Jenkins Kiwanis Club presented its fifth annual minstrel on December 1. The featured speaker for the evening was Lieutenant Governor Lawrence Weatherby.

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Dr. B.F. Wright is offering a $200 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who broke into the Haymond Theater on Sunday night.

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A young Premium man was killed on his first day of working at a coal mine at Breeding’s Creek in Knott County. Leverett Alexander, 21, was killed Monday in a roof fall, less than a week after he was discharged from the Army. A native of Michigan, he had been married to the former Tommie Frazier of Premium for about three months.

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A fire that lasted about eight hours Tuesday destroyed much of the Caudill Lumber Company plant at Ermine. Owner Steve Caudill, who started the plant in 1933, estimates the damage at between $35,000 and $40,000. The fire is believed to have started in a diesel motor used to operate a planing mill. Fire departments from Fleming, Neon and Whitesburg fought the flames.

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Glenn “Porky” Polly has signed a fouryear scholarship with the University of Kentucky football team. Polly, a star at Whitesburg High School who led the Coach Ray Pigman’s Yellowjackets to the Big Sandy Valley Conference championship, signed with UK assistant coach Ermal Allen on Saturday.

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Actor John Wayne stars as “The Fighting Kentuckian,” a movie showing December 11-12 at Isaac’s Kentucky Theatre in Whitesburg.

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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 1959

Whitesburg Mayor Ferdinand Moore said today that tests by the Kentucky Department of Health show that Whitesburg’s city water supply is again safe for drinking. Moore said a faulty chlorine injector was responsible for earlier tests that showed the water was unsafe.

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Wild hogs were on the Christmas dinner menu for at least one Letcher County family in the year 1854. Isaac Johnson, a pioneer of Letcher County, captured his hog by setting up a trap near his home at Camp Fork Hollow. The Johnson story was told in this week’s Eagle by E.H. Johnson of Burdine, a great-grandson of the hog trapper.

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Whitesburg Parent-Teacher Association President Joe Reynolds says the classrooms of Whitesburg Grade School will get a new paint job over the holidays. Reynolds said the painting will be done by faculty members Don Burton and James Gose. He said most of the $2,000 cost will be paid for with money raised by the PTA.

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Plans are being made in Frankfort for the construction of a 135-mile, $75 million road that will link Winchester to Prestonsburg, hometown of Kentucky’s new governor, Bert T. Combs. In addition to the four-lane road, the plan also calls for the rebuilding of KY 15 from Hazard to Campton, but makes no mention of Whitesburg and Letcher County.

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The Social Security district office in Hazard, which serves Letcher County, celebrated its 20th year on December 7.

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The Jenkins High School Cavaliers defeated the Dunham High School Blue Devils, 50 to 44, last Tuesday night, then returned to action on Saturday with a 75 to 37 win over the Kingdom Come High School Wildcats.

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The Jenkins Quarterback Club will hold its annual banquet honoring athletes at the Jenkins Fieldhouse on Saturday. Guest speaker will be Eastern Kentucky College football coach Glenn Presnell.

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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4, 1969

Letcher County coal miners are expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of incumbent United Mine Workers President W.A. “Tony” Boyle in next week’s UMW election. The county is part of UMW District 30, one of the few in which no significant inroads have been made by Joseph Yablonski, the candidate challenging Boyle for the union leadership.

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The federal courts have been asked to halt strip mining by Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Letcher County. A suit was filed last week by Luther M. Johnson of Blackey, seeking $2.1 million from Bethlehem, and an order halting further stripping. The suit claims that strip mining by Bethlehem will impair landowners’ rights to use water from a watershed, alter the ecological balance within the area, cause erosion and increase the chance of flooding, and pollute the streams, thus damaging animal and aquatic life.

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“Rosemary’s Baby” will be shown Saturday and Sunday at the Alene Theatre in Whitesburg.

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Whole chicken fryers are 27 cents a pound with a $5 or more additional purchase at the A&P food store in Whitesburg.

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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6,1979

Although concrete in the foundation of the hilltop Jenkins water tank which burst last July was only about half as strong as it should have been, the lack of reinforcing steel was the primary cause of the tank’s failure, according to the four-month investigation of Kennoy Engineering Inc. Retired physician T.M. Perry was killed in the accident and several buildings were destroyed.

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Malfeasance charges, stemming from neglect of county business, against County Judge Robert Collins and the five magistrates were dropped Monday. Two other charges, one against Collins for furnishing explosives used on the Love’s Branch road project and one against Collins and Magistrates George Arthur Adams, Billy Keel and Lee Hogg for building a road on private property were continued until May 19, 1980.

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The number of unemployed Letcher Countians dropped slightly in October, from 13 percent unemployed in September to 12.8 percent.

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The Lady Jackets defeated the Lady Cavaliers by a score of 61-34. The Lady Jackets’ record is now 4-3. Their next opponent is Cumberland.

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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 1989

Letcher Circuit Judge F. Byrd Hogg has asked a North Carolina company to consider Letcher County as a site for a medical waste incinerator. The incinerator, which would be the largest in the United States, has been turned down by two eastern Kentucky counties. Hogg said, “If it’s not safe, I don’t think the government would let it come in anyway, but if it’s safe we could certainly use the jobs.” He said he had had no response from the incinerator company so “they’re apparently not interested.”

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An overall increase in retail rate of 3.9 percent in a settlement agreement reached last fall was placed in effect December 1 by Kentucky Power Company. The increase, amounting to $9 million, means that a monthly residential bill of 750 kilowatthours will rise $1.72 to a total of $42.80. This is about what residential customers were paying in 1986.

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Several people have seen deer in Letcher County recently, but some of them probably wish they had seen them sooner. State conservation officer Jerry Coots said Thursday that he was called every night last week to pick up deer that had been killed by cars in Letcher County. One night two were hit; one was killed and the other injured.

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The extended forecast for Kentucky calls for a chance of snow on Thursday, ending by Friday, with fair and cold conditions in store for Saturday. Highs will be in the 30s on Thursday, falling into the 20s on Friday and then climbing back into the 30s by Saturday.

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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1999

The four-county regional water board, which is planning a regional water system including Letcher, Knott, Perry and Floyd counties, has voted to seek financing for all four of the counties involved in the project. The water system would cost $19.2 million and would include a 2-million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant on Carr Creek Lake and transmission lines that would serve at least nine water districts.

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A sign welcoming visitors to Whitesburg still unfinished after months of standing on a hillside in the west end of town. The Whitesburg Garden Club is asking the public for financial help in finishing the sign.

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The first good rainfall in months drowned forest fires around eastern Kentucky, but still didn’t end the drought. Measurements at Whitesburg showed 2.42 inches of rain fell from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27, said Philmore Bowen of Whitesburg, an observer for the National Weather Service. That brings the total for the month to 3.62 inches, still below normal but more than any month since March.

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“These forest fires are sure taking their toll on the fighters as well as the forests,” writes Ice correspondent Sara C. Ison. “I do not see why anyone would want to destroy our forests. The news says most of the fires are deliberately set.”

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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2009 

Despite large cuts in production, U.S. coal stockpiles have continued to grow in 2009. As supply of coal outpaces demand, industry officials are predicting more widespread production cuts in the next year. A recent uptick in U.S. industrial activity hasn’t been enough to raise depressed coal prices in the major U.S. producing areas.

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Four more candidates have filed to run for county offices in the May primary election. Democrats Ken Sexton Jr. and Kenny Spangler are both seeking the office of magistrate in District One. Kenneth Anderson filed to run for magistrate in District Two, and Benjamin Charles Fields filed to run for constable in District One.

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Student attendance in the Letcher County School District continues to be lower than normal because of illness. The district attendance rate from October 1 through November 5 was 87.9 percent.

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Nashville-based country rock band Halfway to Hazard delivered a holiday treat to its fans on Nov. 27 by performing a well-received acoustic concert at Summit City in downtown Whitesburg. Tickets sold out quickly for the show, which represented a sort of homecoming for band members Chad Warrix, who is from Breathitt County, and David Tolliver, who is from Knott County.

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Shoes and other items of clothing torn from concertgoers could still be seen outside Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 4, 1979, the day after 11 people were killed trying to get into a concert by The Who. (AP Photo)

Shoes and other items of clothing torn from concertgoers could still be seen outside Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 4, 1979, the day after 11 people were killed trying to get into a concert by The Who. (AP Photo)

11 people died tragically at Who concert in 1979

EDITOR’S NOTE: As The Mountain Eagle reported in its December 6, 1979 edition, “there were long anxious moments in more than a dozen Whitesburg area homes Monday night when reports came in that several fans had been killed at a rock concert by The Who in Cincinnati.

“No one from Whitesburg was killed or seriously injured at the concert, but it was not until 1 a.m. or so that telephone calls succeeded in verifying that the local Who fans were safe.

“The group knew there was a disturbance, and thought someone may have been hurt, but did not know anyone had been killed until after the concert was over.”

Then a student at the University of Kentucky, present Mountain Eagle editor Ben Gish was among the group of 18 Letcher Countians at that show, held at Riverfront Coliseum on the night of December 3, 1979. He filed this story in The Eagle three days later, in The Eagle’s 12-6-1979 edition.

By BEN GISH

“Before this I didn’t know what fright was. Falling on dead bodies was the scariest thing that ever has happened to me.”

So says Steve Marshall of the tragedy on Monday night which claimed the lives of 11 people who were awaiting entrance into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum to see a performance by the British rock group “The Who.”

Most people attending the concert knew that several people had been hurt, but few realized that some deaths had actually occurred until after the show ended.

“I got there (to the Coliseum) at 5:30 and went to the right main entrance. Around 7 o’clock people started falling. Shorter people were fainting and taller people were being knocked down. People were yelling, ‘Help, help, get ‘em up!’ but it didn’t do any good. There was a circle 10 feet in diameter and nothing but bodies. People would try to pick them up but they would be dragged back down.

“When I saw that I knew that if I went down it would be my last breath. I grabbed hold of anything I could to pull myself up. The next thing I knew, the crowd had me pushed down kneeling on some guy who was down.”

Marshall’s account reflect the feelings of any subjected to a tragedy that, in all likelihood, could have been avoided.

Calls to the Coliseum box office early Monday confirmed that the doors would be open at 6:30 p.m. Under this assumption, concertgoers began gathering as early as 3 p.m., on the Coliseum’s plaza in the hopes of securing good seats to see the famed band.

What the fans got, however, was nearly one hour’s worth of stampeding human torture.

Seating inside the concert as arranged so that some of the “better” seats were reserved with the remaining thousands “festival” — a first come, first served basis. At 6 o’clock p.m., the crowd which had gathered was large and condensed, but not unruly. However, at 7 o’clock the tides turned.

Two small doors out of some 50 were opened and began letting people in. When the doors opened, the crowd, estimated at 7,000 to 10,000, could hear the strains of The Who’s pre-concert sound check. It was then that the panic began. Seeing that only two doors were opened, the crowd suddenly rushed forward and the human wave began. First the crowd moved forward, then was taken sideways, and then moved backward. This revolving motion kept up for some time.

The bitter cold was replaced by heat from bodies pressed tightly together. Arms were twisted and feet were stomped on. Bodies were falling, and it suddenly became a human dogfight.

Strangers clung to each other to avoid falling. Those fortunate managed to stay upright while the less fortunate fell, facing certain injury if not death.

At the end to the mad rush to the inside, four girls and seven boys lay dead. Eight others were left seriously injured and at least 20 more people were treated at Cincinnati hospitals.

Indeed, what has been termed “the worst accident ever connected with a rock concert” could have been prevented. But first one needs an understanding of how something like this could possibly happen.

Rock concerts are rock concerts, but when The Who performs it is an event.

Probably best remembered by many for their song, “My Generation,” and their rock opera album, “Tommy,” The Who are still very much alive today.

Originating in 1963 in London, The Who, along with The Rolling Stones, are one of only two groups that were a part of the British invasion of the 1960s that are still surviving.

Since 1965 they have released 14 albums and 21 singles in the United States. Meanwhile, they were becoming a living legend. Their brand of rock music has always been non-stop rock and roll, and their live shows which customarily used to end with smashing of guitars and amplifiers, have always been well publicized. The fans they have amassed over the years are still loyal, no matter age.

Until this year, The Who have remained fairly quiet since 1975 after the release of their “Who By Numbers” album.

It was in the fall of 1978 after drummer Keith Moon’s death of an overdose of sleeping pills that the four-man band (actually more members on the stage) found themselves back in the spotlight. Moon was widely known for his drunken antics and his much publicized destruction of hotel and motel rooms while on the road. His death commanded much media attention.

Amid rumors of disbanding, The Who added drummer Kenny Jones, formerly of The Faces, and continued; more energetic that ever.

In the past six months their output has included movies “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Quadrophenia,” two soundtrack albums from those movies, and they appeared five straight sold-out nights in New York. This has given them sort of a “rebirth.”

For this Cincinnati appearance, all 18,000 seats were gone in about one hour and a half. The tickets were sold on a weekday morning early in September.

This Cincinnati concert was the second stop in a three-week tour of the Eastern states. Obviously keyed up for the show, the group played a very tight two hours, obviously unaware of what had taken place outside only minutes before.

Reports have said that lead singer Roger Daltrey said that the group would not have performed if they had known what had happened beforehand. Lead guitarist Peter Townsend said, on a televised interview, that had the incident taken place inside the arena he would never again perform live.

The group’s press agent said they were absolutely devastated by the “horrific proportion” of the tragedy.

However good the concert was, it seemed totally lost when the crowd went outside to face the sea of reporters and television cameras and to hear reports of the deaths.

Sadly, the whole mess could have been avoided.

Contrary to television and newspaper reports, the incident was not caused by a drug- and alcohol-crazed crowd that “lost all sense of rationality.”

The official report of the Cincinnati Police Department said that the crowd was not “hostile” and that there was no “excessive use of drugs and alcohol.”

Due to the longevity of The Who’s career, the crowd was made up mostly of people in their later teens and twenty’s, with many of them over 30. Once inside the concert, the crowd was well-behaved and friendly.

The blame for the tragedy should not be placed on the shoulders of concertgoers, but should be placed on coliseum officials and the promoters of the concert, Electric Factory Concerts of Philadelphia. Confusion on the part of Cincinnati police in the crowd was also a factor. There was no one outside to tell the crowd what they should do.

The only instructions given were over a hardly audible loudspeaker, and they were false. The crowd was told that for easy access they should go to the side entrance. Much of the crowd went there to find only one small door open, and another crush ensued.

Cincinnati policemen were asked what other doors were open. They said they had no idea which doors would be open.

Concert promoters and Coliseum officials have many questions to be answered. In the first place, how come only a few doors are open at rock concerts when many more are open and manned at other events? Why only two doors open to a crowd that size? How come more doors weren’t opened when officials saw the seriousness of the situation? Why weren’t the doors opened on time, and if they were going to be opened late, why wasn’t the crowd so informed? Why were cries for help ignored? …

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