Frank Pegnato, sixteen years old, had been arrested for breaking and entering and larceny but found it possible to smile as he sat for his mug shot. New Castle had suffered seven auto thefts in just under two weeks, and Frank had been picked up because he was friends with Joe Fullwood and some other boys who had been stealing cars and driving them around town. Frank hadn’t been with them those nights, though. He knew he was safe.
Frank was released the next day. Joe Fullwood was the only one to be convicted, and only because he pled guilty on the first day in court.
Six years later, in 1942, Frank joined the army. After training, he was sent to the Pacific, where he fought in the six-month-long battle of Guadalcanal, in which thirty-eight thousand men died.
The week after the Japanese abandoned the island, in February 1943, Frank and eighteen other soldiers from New Castle got together and wrote the following letter to the New Castle News, to let the folks back home know they were still alive.
“Editor News—It’s been a year since a bunch of us fellows left from the Pennsylvania station on the West Side to begin our training in the Army. There were some boys that were a little sad because they had so much to leave behind, and the rest, well, they were happy, and all they wished and hoped for was to get a crack at those Japs. Well, we boys from good old New Castle have had our wish, together with all the rest of the boys from all over the country. We have met with those Yellow Slant-Eyes and are knocking hell out of them. I cannot disclose our whereabouts for military reasons, but I can say we are in fine spirits and our morale is good.
“We often get together evenings and talk about our city. There are quite a few boys from all parts of the state, and when we mention New Castle, the first thing they say is that we have a fine football team, which we all know about. We were glad to hear that the Red Hurricanes won the WPIAL this year.
“Here is another incident you folks might like to hear about. This happened while we were at Camp Wheeler, Ga. A couple of us went to town one evening and stopped at a restaurant. While we were there, Dave Greer—‘Bonehead’, as he was called by most of the boys back home—got talking to one of the waitresses and she asked him where he was from. Dave told her, and the waitress said ‘I never heard of the place’, so Dave said, ‘Pick up one of those plates from the counter and look at the back of it’. Well, she did, and there was New Castle staring her right in the face.”
The waitress would have seen a line drawing of an Indian making a pot, above the words, “Shenango China, New Castle, PA, USA”, the mark of the factory that was one of the biggest producers of dinnerware in the country and one of the main employers in the town. It ran into trouble in the fifties and spent the next few decades being traded between larger corporations. Like most of the rest of the manufacturing plants in town, it had closed down by the end of the century.
The letter concluded: “We boys are well, and hope our parents aren’t worrying too much about us, for we are members of the finest fighting army in the world.
“Here’s hoping the American Army will be marching down the streets of Tokyo in the near future.”
All of the men who signed the letter survived the war and made it back to New Castle unharmed, apart from John Yagersky, whose left leg was amputated on the island of New Caledonia following an accident during non-combat manoeuvres.
Frank died in February, 1984.Sources: New Castle News (2 Nov 1934 “Find Stolen Car”; 8 Nov 1934 “Police Search For Stolen LaSalle Car”; 9 Nov 1934 “Find Stolen Car”; 10 Nov 1934 “Chrysler Coupe Reported Stolen”; 19 Nov 1934 “Arrest Two More In Car Vandalism”; 24 Nov 1934 “Hearing Held In Auto Thefts”; 5 March 1943 “Eighteen Local Boys Send Greetings From Undisclosed War Zone”; 18 Nov 1944 “Injured Soldier Back From Pacific”).
Wanda and her husband Steve ran Teddy’s Dairy Bar at 130 West Long avenue. They were arrested twice in 1950: once in the spring for disorderly conduct (when their mug shots were taken); and once in the summer for selling liquor without a licence in the milk bar, for which they received a small fine.
A decade later, after Steve turned fifty and Wanda turned forty, they began using Steve’s family’s original name, Zoccoli, and became active in local politics. Wanda was elected head of the Progressive Democratic Women of Lawrence County and raised funds for the Kennedy campaign, while Steve ran for local office on a platform of free college education for all, low taxes and strong law enforcement.
Steve campaigned for years for the lake-to-river canal, which would provide a waterway from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico and would run right by the 25th district, the area he wished to represent. His election adverts declared, “We live in one of the richest valleys in the world, but it will have to be cultivated to enable us to enjoy these riches. The Lake to River Canal is one sure way to bring this about. Without the canal our children no longer will be assured at jobs when they attain adulthood.”
None of Steve’s campaigns for elected office was successful. After failing to become the local party chairman in 1976, he retired from politics and he and Wanda spent the rest of their lives running a trailer park to the west of New Castle, on what is now called Zoccoli road. The canal was never built.Sources: New Castle News (15 Jul 1950″ Violations Of Liquor Laws Are Charged”; 25 Jul 1950 “Six Are Held On Charge Of Liquor Violations”; 10 Aug 1950 “Appeal Dismissed”; 13 Sep 1950 “Court News”); Beaver County Times, 20 April 1966, “Steve Zoccoli” campaign ad; Youngstown Vindicator, 21 Jan 1980, “Steve Zoccoli Dies’ Operated Trailer Court”).
At the end of August 1936, as New Castle sweated through the hottest weekend of the summer—temperatures in the mid-nineties, with no breeze to stir the air—Alf Landon, the governor of Kansas, arrived in town to launch his presidential election campaign.
Landon, the Republican nominee for President, had been born in the nearby village of West Middlesex. On Saturday afternoon, he gave a speech at the Tam o’ Shanter golf club there, which was heard by more than a hundred thousand people who had travelled to see him from across Lawrence county and the rest of western Pennsylvania. Landon spoke of the problems of uneasy and restless labour, of the strange forces that were loose in the world and of the dangers of fascism in Europe and told his audience that the world as they knew it was about to be changed forever. The New Castle News wrote, “It was a half hour of Americanism that rang true. A half hour of speaking interspersed with applause and cheers, and the boy from West Middlesex was through. Back to the hills that gave him birth he had come, honored and respected, the product of a village, who is the hope of a nation.”
Landon’s supporters crowded the streets of New Castle that weekend; his entourage, the gentlemen of the press and every Pennsylvanian Republican with any ambition or standing filled the hotels. The downtown area was decorated with bunting, and a sunflower—the state flower of Kansas—was painted on a huge sheet of heavy muslin that was draped from the Johnson building overlooking the East Washington street bridge. Local industrialists and businessmen held a banquet in Landon’s honour, celebrating him as “the man who will rid us of the four horsemen of the new deal.”
For just under forty-eight hours, New Castle was the political centre of the nation; a makeshift convention town that ably accommodated its illustrious visitors. Crime was unusually low, and Alice Steel was among only a few people who were arrested; all, like her, for drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
The thunder storm that had threatened all weekend broke late on Sunday night, just before Alice’s arrest. The following morning, as Alice waited in court to be discharged by the mayor, Landon left New Castle by train. The decorations were removed from the city streets by nightfall.
Three months later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the election in a landslide. Alf Landon served out the rest of his term as governor, but did not seek elected office again.Sources: New Castle News (22 August 1936, “Lobby Lounging At GOP Headquarters”; “Governor Landon Opens Presidential Campaign”; 24 August 1936, “Pa Newc Observes”; “Governor Landon Enjoys Week-End Stay In District”; “News Briefs From City Hall”; 15 Oct 1936, “What Kind Of A Man Is Alf M Landon?”).
Sophia Lyshooka was sixteen years old and married when she was admitted to hospital in 1942. Four years later, at the age of twenty, she was arrested for the crime of abduction. Those two facts, and whatever can be discerned in this photograph, are all that is known of her.Sources: New Castle News, 24 July 1942, “Hospital Notes”.
Betty Joan Edwards married Charles P Knight in July 1951, when she was seventeen years old. She wore a gown of slipper satin with a fitted bodice and a short net yoke trimmed with seed pearls, a fingertip veil of lace and a rhinestone tiara. At her wrist was a corsage of red roses.
Eight years later, exactly a week before her divorce came through (she was divorcing Charles on the grounds of cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities), she had her mug shot taken after she and a man called Albert Bonnetti, along with another couple, were arrested for pouring four quarts of oil over the floor of the Spur Distributing Co filling station on East Washington street while in a state of intoxication at a quarter past three in the morning. Everyone involved in the incident was fined $5 and costs. Betty didn’t bother to turn up at the courthouse to pay; she made the police come to her.
In the summer of 1961, a woman named Ingrid Zurasky decided she was sick of her husband, Frank. The year before, he had been fired from his job in the New Castle Packing Co for union-organising activities. Ingrid had stood by him then, even going so far as to picket the company owner’s house on Winter avenue, holding a sign denouncing unfair labour practices. Frank had been unable to find work since, and he and some acquaintances had decided to become safe crackers. They hit motor showrooms, markets, convenience stores and farm equipment suppliers in New Castle and the surrounding towns, making off with as much as $2,000 in cash in one night.
But that wasn’t why Ingrid Zurasky was sick of Frank. More than his joblessness and criminality, what maddened her was that the gang had started to take women along on the jobs, and that Frank was spending more time than he ought to with one of them in particular—the recently divorced Betty Joan Knight.
At the beginning of July—after the gang’s thirty-third robbery, which took the total sum of stolen cash to $15,000 and further embarrassed the seemingly impotent detective bureau—Ingrid called the police, said that her husband was the ringleader of the safe crackers, and told them where they could find him.
Frank was picked up that afternoon and questioned until late in the evening, by which time he had given up the names of his partners. The police collected Betty from her home just before midnight and Thomas Williams and Alvin Fennell turned themselves in around four o’clock in the morning, after receiving assurances from a detective over the telephone that they would not be subjected to beatings in the cells, which they understood to be the police department’s usual practice. A fourth man, William Kloss, was already in the county jail, following a sexual assault conviction the month before.
All five pled guilty to burglary and conspiracy. The men received jail terms of two to six years but Betty, who had been present at only two of the jobs, was released on one year’s probation, and seems never to have troubled the police again.Sources: New Castle News (8 Aug 1951 “Edwards-Knight Nuptials Revealed”; 5 May 1959 “Court News”; 28 April 1959 “6 Fined On Charges of Drunk, Disorderly”; 29 April 1959 “Warrant Issued”; 2 July 1960 “NLRB Investigates Charges Brought Against Packing Co”; 3 Aug 1961 “Police Crack Burglaries, Safe Jobs Here”; 4 Aug 1961 “Plea Entered To Long List Of Burglaries”; 11 Sep 1961 “Five Plead On Burglaries”; 25 Oct 1961 “Four Sentenced 2-6 Years In Penitentiary”)