Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Long Way from Home: U.S.O. Piano Signatures

Signing the piano
Those Who Served
~~This is the third in a series of posts about the Harvey County U.S.O. during World War II~~

"A long way from home,
A long way to go,
I hope my next stop
Is Spokane,
but it is Tokyo."
-A verse written on the USO Piano

Signatures cover nearly every surface of the U.S.O. Piano.  A total of  2,643 signatures can be identified.   Some include a poem, like above, or a small drawing. One person signed as "Donald Duck".  Most are simply a name, city and state; a tangible record of one moment the history of the United States.

Each person that came through Newton and signed the piano had their own story and circumstances.They came from all over the United States including California and New York.  The majority of signatures are men, although some women, like Private Betty Carrington from San Gabriel, CA, signed the piano. Race was also no barrier - all were encouraged to sign the U.S.O. piano.

Newton was in a unique position during World War II.  As a rail hub, trains stopped longer to refuel  and load supplies. During the peak of the war, as many as 44 passenger trains filled with troops stopped at Newton in a twenty-four hour period.  The tired and hungry service men and women needed a place to stay while they waited for the next leg of their journey.  The U.S.O. provided a space, and musicians played the piano to provide entertainment.

In 1998, museum volunteer, Stephanie Hill, took on the task of cataloging all of the names on the piano.  She created a data base with the list of names which is cross referenced alphabetically and by state.

A few years ago, it was noted that one of the signatures on the piano was "Roy Acuff, Knoxville Tenn".  Photo tech, Linda Koppes decided to research to see if it could be confirmed that the piano was signed by 'THE' Roy Acuff,  famous country singer.

Signature detail - Roy Acuff
She wrote to Brenda Colladay, Museum & Photograph Curator of the Grand Ole Opry and sent some photos of the signature. Ms. Colladay agreed that the signature matched other signatures by Acuff.  She also noted that he frequently entertained troops for the U.S.O., both at home and abroad.  She added, "He was named most popular singer in a poll of G.I.s stationed in Europe during World War II - even beating Frank Sinatra." 

Letter Confirming Acuff's signature

Roy Acuff was born in Maynardsville, TN Sept 15, 1903.  A country music singer and fiddler, he sold more records in the 1930s and 40s than any country music star. In 1938, Acuff recorded the Wabash Cannonball, one of his most enduring songs.
Listen to it here

Roy Acuff
In addition to performing, Acuff co-founded a recording company,the Acuff-Rose Publishing Co.  During the 1940s, he appeared in eight movies. He earned the nickname "King of Country Music" and in 1962 he was the first living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Throughout the 1970s, he performed almost exclusively with the Grand Ole Opry.  He remained active in the music business until his death November 23, 1992 at the age of 89.
Roy Acuff, 1992

The U.S.O. Piano is on exhibit at the Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives.  A data base of the names on the piano is also available for researchers. 

Sources:  Those Who Served by William Jewell, Kansan Printing Co., Newton, Ks; World War II Piano Signatures, compiled by Stephanie Hill, Harvey County Historical Society, 1998; U.S.O. Piano File, Curatorial, HCHM

For more information on the Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, visit:

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