ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride
After two weeks of visiting family in Kentucky and North Carolina, I’m back at the keyboard with another Sharpsville story. This post is the third of 4 installments covering my memories of Angel’s Casino, the dance hall that my family owned and operated in Sharpsville, PA, during the 1950s and 1960s.
Angel’s Casino became so frequent a venue for wedding receptions that all that revelry was wearing us out. To possibly discourage some prospective renters, Dad eventually raised the hall rental cost to $500 a day. The renter was responsible for decorations, food, refreshments, and music.
But, oh those celebrations! Much of Sharpsville’s population consisted of people of Eastern European descent, and they knew how to throw a party. According to my dad:
Wedding celebrations and dances were strictly Saturday affairs at Angel’s and booked months in advance. The hall was rented for 24 hours, 6 am Saturday to 6 am Sunday for Polish, Italian, or Greek wedding festivities, each with its own germane flavor. An “American” wedding paled in comparison to the joyous celebrations of these ethnic counterparts.
By late afternoon of the wedding day, we children would watch eagerly for the bride, bridesmaids, groom, and others of the wedding party to arrive at the reception. When the bride stepped out of a fancy car wearing a billowing white gown and veil and holding her bouquet of flowers, we gasped in awe.
Sometimes the neighborhood kids would put on their good Sunday clothes and attend the wedding, invited or not, to pick up a little tulle bag of almonds coated in pastel-colored candy or have a bit of the wedding cake. Mike recalls, “I smoked my first cigar that was for the taking at the wedding reception tables. I also ate a lot of the candy-covered almonds.”
We loved to watch the attendees as they danced the polka, waltz, or jitterbug to a live band that usually included an accordion and a saxophone. I don’t recall whether full-sized dinners were served, but there were plenty of desserts, and alcoholic drinks flowed freely for the adults.
When the wedding was traditionally Italian, the bride and the bride’s father would dance first, followed by the bride and groom. As the newlyweds twirled about the dance floor, a hat or bag was passed among the onlookers who were expected to fill it with money. And then the intoxicating music of the Tarantella was played as guests dance-stepped together in a circle, some waving handkerchiefs above their heads. After many glasses of wine, guests would repeatedly cheer phrases in their native tongue, wishing the newlyweds good luck and happiness, accompanied by enthusiastic applause and much laughter.
Meanwhile, several young guys would often stand on the landing at the side entrance and engage each other in the Italian hand game of Morra. Players would extend their arms to display a certain number of fingers while simultaneously shouting in Italian the total number of fingers they estimated would be presented by both players. If no one guessed the correct sum, or the players guessed the same number, the game continued until there was a clear winner, based on a point system. On many a Saturday night I tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep to the sounds of their exuberant bets backed up by lively dance music just below my bedroom window. According to my brother Mike:
I always referred to it as “Motto”; at least that’s what it sounded like. All the young men and boys in Sharpsville and Shenango Valley knew how to play. I was good at it! A lot of money was won and lost betting on the game.
The bride and groom usually left at midnight, but guests continued their merrymaking for several hours. By that time, I was desperately wanting to sleep and counting the hours until they finally went home.
Years later, “The Deer Hunter”, a 1978 movie about the Vietnam War, opened with scenes from a wedding reception located in western Pennsylvania. The Russian-American traditions the film portrayed reminded me of those wedding receptions at Angel’s Casino.
On the day following a large event such as this, our family and friends met at the hall to bring things back down to earth. We removed the decorations from the walls and ceiling, and scrubbed down the kitchen, bar, and restrooms. Then we sprinkled the floor with saved-up dampened coffee grounds to keep the dust down as we began sweeping. To clean such a wide expanse of dance floor, we would form a sort of brigade, each holding a hog-bristle push-broom and sweeping in unison, side by side, from one end of the hall to the other. But the beer must have soaked permanently into the walls and floor, as no amount of cleaning would rid the place entirely of its odor.
Cleanup after these raucous events was such a chore for us I promised myself that my future wedding reception would be restrained, polite, and non-alcoholic. And it occurred just as I had planned, but I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as much fun.
— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, Arizona, April 2013.
Excerpts from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, Kentucky, and “Trivia & Me,” (1996) by August D. Angel.