MOUNT VERNON — It takes most folks three hours to cover the 150 miles between Canonsburg, Pa., and Mount Vernon, but for cowboy showman Eddie Roskowski it has been an eventful odyssey of half a century and a million or so miles.
Roskowski was born in Canonsburg in 1928, and for the past decade he and his wife, Jane, have called Mount Vernon home. In between, he traversed the continent countless times working as a trick roper, bullwhip artist, sharpshooter, stuntman and rodeo cowboy. He rubbed elbows with Hollywood heroes and stars of the Grand Old Opry. And it all started with a minor act of vandalism inspired by a trick roper called Texas Tommy.
“He came to our school when I was 12 or 13, and he taught me how to spin a rope,” Roskowski recalled. “I went right home and cut down my mother’s clothesline to make a lariat, and after that I just never stopped.”
Even in a sleepy borough of 8,000, Eddie found good company in show biz. One neighbor, Perry Como, had embarked on a singing career that made him “Mister C” to millions. And Roskowski worked Pittsburgh nightclubs with a skinny singer named Stanley Vintula, who would attain fame as Bobby Vinton.
“There was drinking in the nightclubs, so we had to have a chaperone,” Roskowski said. “Sometimes we’d be out after the streetcars stopped running. Bobby wasn’t old enough to drive, so I’d give him a ride home.”
Roskowski was too young to serve in World War II, but was called up for the Korean War. His talents did not go unnoticed, and he spent four years entertaining troops in Korea and Japan. He received commendations from the Secretary of Defense, Department of the Army and the American Legion. After his service he hitched a trailer behind a station wagon and began barnstorming as Roskowski Rosco. He put on thousands of shows at fairs, rodeos, clubs and arenas. For months at a time he would do 15 school assembly shows a week, and estimates that he performed for more than three million kids.
There’s an adage among performers that trick roping isn’t about roping, but about making it look easy, and Roskowski Rosco’s contemporaries said his routines looked effortless. He worked with lassos as large as 35 feet in circumference, and could extinguish candles with slugs from his brace of stag-handled .357 pistols. He rode saddle broncs and bulls — “Nine seconds on a Brahma bull is an eternity” — but said he was best with a bullwhip. Roskowski could snap a cigarette from a brave accomplice’s mouth with a 50-foot whip.
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