FAMOUS! YOU BET!
Carole A. Briggs, Curator
Jefferson County History Center
People who know me will tell you I am a packrat!
There is no doubt about it - piles of papers just grow up naturally around
all of my writing areas. Every so often, though, I get inspired and start
sorting. Its like treasure-hunting - one never knows what the next
sheet will bring forth.
This week I uncovered a project that some of my
students did many years ago. The purpose was to examine how information
is generated. We posed this question: Who is or was the most famous person
in Jefferson County?
First of all, we had to define the terms. What
does it mean to be famous? Pittsburghs Andy Warhol once said, In
the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. He must have
envisioned the new social media for later in 1979 he said.
my prediction from the sixties finally came true: In the future everyone
will be famous for fifteen minutes. I'm bored with that line. I never
use it anymore. My new line is, In fifteen minutes everybody will
Widely known and known for achievement are two
common definitions of fame, so Warhol was saying in his original quote that
each individual will be known for something by a wider group of folks for
a short period of time.
The students knew that someone who was famous was
known by many people, that they had achieved something, and that that something
and the person were known over a long period of time. Next, they had to
figure out a way to find out who the most famous person was in Jefferson
They thought they could ask mom or dad, or survey
the teachers, or even ask people on the street. But that would limit the
results to a particular geographical area. Their geographical area was Jefferson
How could they find out county-wide? They could
ask everyone - 45,000 people! That led to a lesson on statistical sampling.
Finally they made the decision to write letters to township supervisors.
The letter they composed included some possibilities
to warm up their respondents thinking: historians William J. McKnight
and Kate M. Scott, baseballs Sparky Lyle and Mel Eason,
biologist Sophie Gordon, theatrical entrepreneur Sam Scribner, timber man
Thomas K. Litch, musicians Thomas Canning and Al Baur, philanthropist Rebecca
M. Arthurs, lawyer George M. Jenks, Andy Briggs (a WJAC-TV reporter, hed
recently visited the classroom!), physician and inventor Charles Kutz, and
miniaturist Charles Bowdish.
Many supervisors returned their ideas. Some have
been lost, but what I found revealed some interesting suggestions. How about
Sykesvilles Theodore Anasti, a writer for the Smurfs, or Brookvilles
Jim Troutman, an artist and lumber baron? Or two Punxsutawney sportsmen
- Chuck Daley, NBA coach (NY Nicks) and John Mizerock, Houston Astros catcher?
Or Robert Warren, Sr. founding member of Brockway Glass Co. and the countys
first teacher John Dixon, Sr?
Many years later when Tom Curry, Gene Deible, Jim Sterrett, and I were preparing
the 2004 history of the county, we decided that one chapter would be devoted
to The People of Jefferson County. Earlier wed done thirteen
focus group meetings around the county and gotten some names, and we added
a few more.
We summarized and wrote, Throughout its two
centuries of recorded history, Jefferson County has nurtured people who
demonstrate problem solving, creativity, and physical skills. Some contributed
their special gifts to the county, while others made their mark elsewhere.
Taken together, the people of Jefferson County represent a cross-section
of the human qualities evident among people throughout the United States.
Then we grouped these folks according to their
qualities as represented in governance, the arts, invention, and athletics.
We ended the book with the brief stories of 24 individuals from throughout
the county?the people who represent a cross-section of who we are today.
And the final vote of that student survey? Here
is the quote from Neal G. Davis, Polk Township Supervisor, that convinced
I have given this much thought and have decided
that the answer to your question would depend on the time you are living
in. Today, although he is not a person, the most famous animal in Jefferson
County is Punxsutawney Phil. He far out-shadows any person in the county.
I have traveled coast to coast and all over America and everyone everywhere
knows who he is!
Is Punxsutawny Phil known by many people? Has he
achieved something? Has he been known over a long period of time?
I think you will have to agree that, indeed, Punxsutawney
Phil wins the prize for being the most famous person in Jefferson
County! Enjoy Groundhog Day 2013!
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