Mystery Photo No. 53

February 2, 2014
Tom Axley of Finleyville said he is the guitarist in our most recent Mystery Photo, taken at the Washington County Fairgrounds likely in 1979. Only one other person in the photo could be positively identified.

Tom Axley of Finleyville received a call last Monday from a friend who told him to take a look at the front page of the Observer-Reporter. He visited and was surprised to see a photo of himself … or at least a photo of how he looked 35 years ago.

“That’s me there playing the guitar,” he said over the telephone. “And I recognize the guitar, too, because I made it.”

Axley thinks the photo was taken in 1977, 1978 or 1979 at the Washington County Fair. We suspect it was 1979, because it was found with some other photos that can be dated to that year. He would have been 20 years old then. Axley was well-acquainted with the fair, having won a blue ribbon as a South Park High School student in 1975 for his musical performance with fiddler Michael T. Hollerich.

Some of the others in the photo were fiddlers, and Axley explained, “Their regular guitar player wasn’t there and they asked me to fill in. They wanted to know if I knew their songs, and I knew them all, and outside the barn we played some to see if I could back them up.”

Axley, who works at the Giant Eagle Market District at Village Square in Bethel Park, is still involved in music and still builds his own instruments.

Our readers were able to positively identify only one other person in the photo: the man playing the fiddle.

“The gentleman in this morning’s Mystery Photo playing the fiddle is my stepfather, Charles Chaplin,” wrote Ann Vernon Fischer Puchany in an email.

“Charles won first prize for his fiddling skills at the Washington County Fair in 1977. He also won numerous first-place ribbons in events held in Finleyville (1979), Waynesburg and Viola (1981). He was awarded the grand prize for his old-time country fiddling at the West Alexander Fair in 1980 and 1981. He was an extraordinary master fiddler of the ‘Orange Blossom Special.’

“Charles, a Braxton County, West Virginian, was born in October 1920. He was a member of the Old Time Fiddlers Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania since its inception in April 1972. He worked at the RCA in Meadow Lands and its successor, Tac-Tec, for 18 years, retiring in 1982.

“He married my mom, Reba Vernon, in December 1970, and they resided in Canonsburg.”

She died in September 1988 and Chaplin died in February 1996.

We had several guesses at the identity of the others in the photo, but no agreement among our readers.

Look for another Mystery Photo in next Monday’s Observer-Reporter.

Park Burroughs has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1972. He is the winner of numerous state and regional awards for feature, column and editorial writing. He is the author of two books, “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor,” and "Washington County Murder and Mayhem." He retired in September 2012 but continues to contribute to the O-R’s news pages.

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