Friday, June 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to Thee. Gehio Is Three!

Gehio is three years old today with over 20,000 page views. Thanks to all those who read (I look at my stats), leave comments and those who subscribe. I mostly started this blog to help me remember the interesting history I encounter, mostly while out geocaching, but it's nice to know others enjoy it as well.
Speaking of stats, I noticed there have been 88 posts prior to today which is the same number of counties in Ohio. I love it when stuff like that happens.
Stats. The post with the most page views is Some quick Ohio history for September, a hodgepodge of This Month in Ohio History with some cartoon references. I had fun doing that one. In 2nd place is Going Underground on Hamilton Avenue about the Underground Railroad and in 3rd place is The death of Tecumseh. An historical sign about that Shawnee Chief started it all for me.

The most fascinating thing I've run across was the story I did on Ohio pioneer and land speculator John Cleves Symmes' nephew, also named John Cleves Symmes, who thought the world was hollow and inhabited. His odd theory indirectly led to the discovery of the Antarctica continent.

Another crazy but true story is how they carved up and boiled the remains of the American General Mad Anthony Wayne.
The recipient of the first Purple Heart is also buried in Cincinnati in a previously overgrown abandoned cemetery.
Along the way I've learned that our brief 9th president William Henry Harrison wasn't just some insignificant rube. He played a vital role in the development of our country but then had the misfortune of ending on a bad note. He also passed out free booze at campaign stops in log cabin shaped bottles. Huzzah!

These sort of things continue to remind me that interesting history is all around us waiting to be discovered. Past events are the story of  who we are and how we came to be. Also, the weird stuff is just pretty damn cool.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Garfield documentary coming in February 2015

Who knew a book on an obscure Ohio born US President could be so excellent? Even I had my doubts. However, "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard turned out to be one of my favorite history books. I wrote a blog post about President James A. Garfield after I read her NY Times best selling book last year and I was blown away by her engaging and gripping style that really brought these characters to life like a novel without any speculative padding. That's tough to do with history, which we all know can be a bit dry and tedious at times. Anyone could enjoy this book, not just history nerds. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I  learned a PBS American Experience documentary is being filmed for a scheduled release of February 2015. How exciting is that?

Even though her first book "River of Doubt" regarding Teddy Roosevelt's trip to the Amazon has nothing to do with Ohio history, I highly recommend that one as well. It is written in the same colorful and suspenseful style as her Garfield book. As I understand it Candice Millard is currently working on a book about Winston Churchill. I will definitely be looking forward to that. Now I wonder if I can talk her into a book about William Henry Harrison?....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Something rank in Ripley

Ripley OH: an abolitionist stronghold.
This is the restored home of John P. Parker,
a noted African-American abolitionist
I agree that the American Civil War was about States rights, but one must remember that the main right the Southern states wanted to preserve was the right to own black people as property while the Northern states were making progress to end the practice. If the South had won the war, we would have had a separate country to the south of the US called the Confederate States of America where slavery remained legal for at least several decades longer. The end result of this war was preserving the Union and the13th Amendment abolishing slavery in one of the the last holdouts in the Western Hemisphere. It was a great leap forward for equal rights in the US, which we all know is supposed to be the land of the free.

top to bottom:
1st (Stars and Bars),
2nd, 3rd National flags
of the CSA. The rebel
battle flag is last.

So too bad about the Confederate flag. This is a good time to point out that this flag was never the official national flag of the CSA, it was the the battle flag used by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee and the Army of Tennessee, the largest CSA field army. The first national flag was the Stars and Bars. The second national flag did incorporate the more familiar rebel flag as did the third.
People that display the rebel flag in modern times like to say "it's about heritage, not hate". Maybe the flag had noble origins to some but that doesn't really matter now. The Southern states ruined that notion when they started a war which cost the lives 750,000 people. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups dashed that notion when they used this flag to terrorize and murder African-Americans in post-Antebellum America.  The states of Mississippi and Georgia ruined that notion as well when it was used as a protest against school integration in the 1950s. The Confederate flag flew over the state capitol from 1961-1993. On June 11th 1963 the University of Alabama was desegregated by Federal force while Gov. George "segregation forever" Wallace, protested in front of the school doors and 5 years later used the Confederate flag in his Presidential bid. Wow, that's some heritage! I hate to invoke Godwin's Law but the swastika was a perfectly acceptable symbol to many cultures for centuries until the Nazis appropriated it. Same thing. No one is walking around with a swastika on their shirt or truck unless they want to be known as a white supremacist. So Mississippi, follow Georgia's lead and get the rebel battle flag of oppression off your US State flag. Oh also, enough with the passive aggressive license plates, 10 US States offer the flag as an option. I realize you think that this is the good old days but please stop. It's embarrassing y'all.

Rankin House
So what does this have to do with Ohio history?

On a beautiful sunny Easter weekend in April 2014 I visited the Ohio towns of Point Pleasant, Ripley and Georgetown. My main objective was geocaching but the route I planned had an unplanned common thread. In the 19th century, Southwest Ohio and the towns along the Ohio River were a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity, there are signs and markers everywhere and many of the structures still stand or have been restored. This was also the area that future President US Grant was born and raised. You've probably heard of him. He helped win that Civil War that the Southern states started.

from KY across the Ohio to freedom
The Rankin House in Ripley is probably the most famous stop on the Underground Railroad. For 40 years, Reverend John Rankin, at risk of imprisonment himself due to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, helped over 2000 slaves flee the US to Canada. One of these escaped slave stories inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Toms Cabin, about which Lincoln famously remarked upon meeting the author, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" A nearby marker states that a Confederate General wanted to burn this "abolitionist hell hole of Ripley" to the ground. Everyone knew what happened in Ripley. So the town bought a cannon as defense against any Confederates who decided to invade. It turns out that they didn't have to use it since the infamous Rebels known as Morgan's Raid only got within a mile of of town. They still have the cannon proudly displayed in front of their library. The town of Ripley has built up quite a heritage tourism industry around its role in abolition and they should be proud of it. America should be proud of it. Everyone that lives or passes through Ripley surely knows these things.

despicable display
As I approach one of the many signs pointing the way to the famous Rankin House perched 300 feet high upon a hill overlooking the Ohio River, something catches my eye. It's a Confederate flag flapping from the front porch of a tiny home not 200 feet from the only road up the hill to the house. In this context, this is not about heritage, the person that lives here is clearly making a statement. I started thinking of all the African-Americans that have passed by here to see the land where their ancestors first saw hope for freedom... and this is what they will see when they arrive. This mocking display thumbs its nose at the bloody struggle that occurred over 150 years ago. What else is anyone supposed to think when they see this well defined symbol of racism fluttering on this hallowed ground? So get the rebel Confederate battle flag off your porch, it's embarrassing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ohio's Aunt Jemima

Rosa Washington Riles 1901 - 1969
File under: "Cool stuff you learn while geocaching"

I almost didn't stop at this old cemetery on my April 19th 2014 trek through Ohio's abolition country. I was headed from Ripley toward the boyhood home of US Grant in Georgetown. But it's so hard to resist the lure of geocaches in old cemeteries as I nearly always find something interesting. This was no exception.

At first I thought this was an impostor buried along U.S. 68/62. Maybe someone who had the head bandanna look down and cooked a mean stack of flapjacks and got a cool nickname out of it. I even called my wife and she confirmed via Google that the original Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green, a former slave born in KY who died in 1923. Oh well. I kind of forgot about all this until I went through my photos from that day and decided to Google the name on the gravestone.

I learned there were multiple Aunt Jemimas through the years and Rosa Washington Riles was one of them. Born (and buried) in Red Oak OH, Rosa was recruited by Quaker Oats in the 1950s and traveled around the country making public appearances portraying Aunt Jemima. Every year a pancake breakfast is even held at the early 19th century Presbyterian church on the same property. The proceeds are used for the upkeep of the old part of the cemetery next to the church where several Revolutionary War veterans are buried.
AJ: Buckeye version

She isn't officially acknowledged as one of the Aunt Jemimas by Quaker Oats I suppose because by the 1950s multiple people were portraying her, but this article on Jim Crow Propaganda (warning: old timey racist imagery ahead) has a copy of a 2001 article in the comments section with some more information on Ohio's very own Aunt Jemima. Also, check out this article on the history of the old church and cemetery and its role in abolition and the Underground Railroad.

Geocaching and history, my chocolate and peanut butter as I always say! In this case, my pancakes and syrup.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Giving back at the CHM

In January I decided to become a volunteer at the Cincinnati History Museum at Union Terminal. I figured it would be nice to share my existing local history knowledge with interested folks as well as learn some new things myself.
I already went to the volunteer program orientation, got my badge, ordered a shirt and shadowed a few shifts. I also helped out with Ohio History Day on March 1st for high school students competing in the National History Day competition, which is basically like a Science Fair but for history. To be honest I never knew such a thing existed. I got to talk to a few very bright kids while escorting them to their interviews about papers they wrote.

I will mostly be working the AM shift on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month and will likely be in the Early Settlement and Regional Capital sections. They are also going to start up their guided tour program again and I may look into that but right now I'm just learning the ropes.
They are always looking for volunteers so check that out on the CHM website. If you happen to be there on a Sunday morning stop by and say "Hi!".

Friday, April 4, 2014


On this date, April 4th 1841, William Henry Harrison, an adopted Buckeye like myself, died one month after taking office as President. At 68, his detractors said he was too old and sickly to be President. That IS pretty old by 1841 standards so I suppose they were right. It's too bad he is mostly only remembered for this event as he had an impressive resume and life.
I kind of hate how folks list him as a "worst President". He was consumed by office seekers lining up and looking for jobs in the new administration for the first three weeks and then the fourth week he was bedridden, filled with opium and brandy. He didn't even have a chance at a Presidential legacy.
The doctors said he died of "bilious pleurisy", an archaic term for pneumonia. Recently a new theory has emerged that he died of typhoid due to the poor Washington DC sanitation in those days. Who knows. Life was rough back then and medical treatment in the early 19th century sometimes killed you faster than if they just left you alone.

WHHs Cincinnati funeral was here
His death was officially at 12:30 AM on April 4, 1841 just 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes after taking the oath of office.
On April 7th, an Episcopalian funeral service took place in the East Room of the White House. Lying on a table in the middle of the room was the glass-covered open casket of William Henry Harrison.
Other memorials and funerals took place across the country on the same day. One was at the Methodist Wesely Chapel on 5th Street between Broadway and Sycamore in Cincinnati OH where the P&G Garden Pavilion is now.

WHH's eternal view in North Bend OH
Following the White House funeral he was loaded up and the funeral procession, led by Whitey his riderless horse, took him down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building where he laid in state for mourners to see. WHH spent the Spring of 1841 in the public vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Later in June 1841 after Winter had passed, a train carried him to North Bend, Ohio where he was laid to rest overlooking the Ohio River near Cincinnati.

Here are a few previous Gehio posts on William Henry Harrison:
Tippecanoe and Trivia too!
WWWHH Do? Free Booz!
Straight Outta Tippecanoe

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pyromania pays

battling a fire in Cincinnati 1854 style
On April 1, 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio, established the first professional and fully paid fire department in the United States. The same year, Cincinnati was the first city in the world to use steam fire engines too.
You might think this was a swell gesture to properly compensate hard workers for a dangerous job well done. Nope. It was arson. Firefighters were being paid on an as needed basis. No fires meant no pay and only the first team of firefighters that arrived on the scene got paid. It seems fireman started setting fires to get work and on top of that rival fire companies were sabotaging each others equipment in order to be the first responders. And the professional US firefighter was born. Don't get me wrong, modern firefighters do a fantastic job but they certainly have come a long way since the mid 19th century.

Click here for more info on Cincinnati's firefighting history.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Tecumseh!

in Old Town, North of Xenia OH
I've written a few things about the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh, the Pan-Indian Confederacy leader and William Henry Harrison's adversary in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are some links at the end of this post or you can use the search box to your right. This post will just focus on his date and place of birth, both of which are somewhat speculative.
Since American Indians of this time period had no written records, historians have to rely on statements and observations by whites who interacted with them and deduce from there.
It is generally agreed upon that Tecumseh was born in the Spring of 1768. The month of March is derived from Stephen Ruddell, a captured white who was an adopted brother of Tecumseh for 17 years that had the Shawnee name Big Fish. Ruddell was born on September 18th 1768. In later years Stephen told his son that Tecumseh was 6 months his senior which would be about March 1768. This is also backed up by a letter that Ruddell wrote where he refers to Tecumseh being the same age as he when they met at age 12 in 1779. Putting all this together let's just call it March 18th 1768.

possible Tecumseh birth locations in 1768
There is also a question of the specific location of his birthplace in Ohio. I have read several books and articles on Tecumseh and historians don't all agree on this. Many agree that it was probably a Shawnee town called Chalahgawtha. The problem is, this band of Shawnee called their "principal village" Chalahgawtha and the town was relocated at least six times and the same name was used each time. Incidentally, modern day Chillicothe OH derives it's name from the Shawnee town so that adds to the confusion. This means his place of birth could have been in present day Springfield, Piqua, Xenia or Chillicothe. It turns out that the Ohio Historical Society thinks his place of birth is in Old Town just north of Xenia OH. The Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma agree and have placed their own marker there too. That works for me.
So Happy Birthday to Tecumseh or perhaps in Shawnee/Algonquin, Minowaazon Tibishkaman Tecumtha!

Additional Gehio posts about Tecumseh:
The death of Tecumseh
Tecumseh! - the play
The War to End All Indian Wars
How It All Began

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's Ohio Statehood Day! Now about that flag...

weirdo Ohio flag
I have to be honest. I used to hate the Ohio flag because it tried to be different than the other flags. Now I love it for its uniqueness.

The pennant shaped Ohio flag is called a burgee, also known as a guidon. Ohio is the only US state to have a silly flag like this. Because of its odd shape there is also a specific procedure for folding the Ohio flag and since 2002 even has its own pledge:
“I salute the flag of the state of Ohio and pledge to the Buckeye State respect and loyalty”
Never in my life have I heard anyone recite that.

Now, on with the obligatory symbolism explanation...
15 star US flag
Sorry Ohio, you have to wait 15 years for a star

The 5 stripes for the 5 states that came from the NW Territory as well as the the roads and waterways.

The 17 stars are for the fact that Ohio was the 17th state. It is interesting to note that while Ohio was the 17th state in 1803, there was never a 17 star US flag. Or 18 and 19. Or 16 for that matter. The 15 star US flag (the one that inspired the Star Spangled Banner) was used from 1795-1818 until the 20 star flag was created. What a ripoff!
at the McKinley Library in Canton OH

The blue field represents Ohio's hills and valleys. Um, sure!

The O seems obvious to most sane people, however when Barack Obama ran for President and was doing a photo op in front of the Ohio flag, an ignorant radio host was outraged and alarmed that Obama had his own flag.
The white circle with red in the center, is for the the "O" in Ohio and symbolizes the "Buckeye", Ohio's nickname. It's not an Obama flag. It's not a Puerto Rican flag either.

I wondered what flag designs were used before the "official" one but it turns out from 1803 - 1902 there was no official Ohio flag. I thought this was strange at first but it turns out that most States adopted their first official flags in the period between 1890 and 1925. Why? The same reason Ohio did it, to promote their State at various Expositions that occurred in those days. It was for PR to encourage new business which turned into jobs and taxes.
You see, the Ohio flag was created by John Eisenmann, a Cleveland architect, to fly over the Ohio Building at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo NY where it was flown for the first time. Ironically at this very event is where Ohio born US President William McKinley was assassinated on September 6th 1901.
The Ohio General Assembly officially adopted it as the state flag of Ohio on May 9th 1902, known state wide as "Ohio Flag Day". No, not really, I highly doubt anyone observes this except people that have read this far.

For more about Ohio Statehood Day and how it's really not, read this excellent blog post.

ORC 5.224 Ohio Statehood Day.
The first day of March is designated as "Ohio statehood day," in recognition of the date in 1803 when Ohio became a state. In addition to those duties imposed on the Ohio historical society under section 149.30 of the Revised Code, and those duties imposed on the superintendent of public instruction under section 3301.12 of the Revised Code, the society shall, throughout the state, and the superintendent shall, in all school districts, encourage and promote the celebration of "Ohio statehood day."
Effective Date: 05-31-1988

Monday, February 17, 2014

Breaking Buckeye

Billy's Tomb in North bend OH
I've written a few posts about our Ohio Presidents including another general one for President's Day. Having a 50% mortality rate of the eight Ohio Presidents along with the poor showing of the survivors is not a great legacy but an interesting one at least. They were also all Republicans with one Whig. Draw your own conclusions there. Just kidding. Republicans in those those days barely resembled the modern GOP and both the Republican and Democratic parties have produced fine Presidents. That is the closest I will get to modern political commentary on Gehio.

#9 William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia (and his treatment no doubt) 32 days into his 1st term. I have written about Billy (his friends really called him that) a few times on Gehio. OK, he is an adopted Buckeye (like me!). He was born in the colony of Virginia but spent nearly his entire adult life in the Ohio Valley when there was no opportunity for him in the failing Virginian planter class economy. He had an impressive political and military resume (Governor of the Indiana Territory and General in the Northwest Indian Wars and War of 1812) and decided to get back into politics late in life. At age 67 when he ran in 1840, they said he was too old and sickly to be President. They were right.

Now here comes the triple threat Civil War General, Ohio President domination from 1869-1881...

Grant's ironic sign near his birthplace
in Point Pleasant OH
#18 U.S. Grant was the only Ohio president to be elected to 2 (scandal ridden) terms and sought a 3rd later (Garfield became the nominee in 1880 instead). The end of his life wasn't as grand as his deserved war hero status from the Civil War. Good warriors do not always make good Presidents.

#19 Rutherford B. Hayes chose not to run for a 2nd (a campaign pledge). It's a good thing I guess. Hayes actually lost the popular vote and there was a backroom deal to decide disputed electoral votes similar to Gore v. Bush in 2000. His presidential legacy will always be known for that rather than anything else he did.

Garfield preaching it
in Cincinnati OH
#20 James Garfield finished out the Ohio Presidential hat trick but was shot by an angry office seeker named Charles J. Guiteau and died 6 months into his 1st term from infections caused by his poor medical treatment. This was standard at the time. In my opinion, he could have been a truly great President but who knows? Maybe he would be led down the path of power and corruption like many others. Read more about James' fascinating life in Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard. It should be noted that this could have been Grant's 3rd term and he may have been killed by Guiteau himself. Grant did die in 1885 when he would have been finishing that 3rd term. So no matter what, I think #20 was doomed.

After that hot mess, we go in twos from 1889-1923...

#23 Benjamin Harrison, William's grandson lost re-election for his 2nd term. Another Civil War General. He was sandwiched in between the two Cleveland wins. I guess people felt they made a big mistake with Ben. The Harrison's just couldn't catch a break in the state they helped create.

#25 William McKinley was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz 6 months into in his 2nd term. he was a Major in the Civil War. Believe it or not it wasn't until McKinley was President that Ohio got a state flag (1902) and the first place it was flown was where he was shot and killed. Coincidence?
McKinley's not so modest tomb
in Canton OH

#27 William Howard Taft of Cincinnati lost his re-election thanks in part to Teddy Roosevelt's 3rd party run that siphoned off votes. The first Ohio president to have no military service. He was appointed a Supreme Court Justice later so he did pretty well for himself compared to the other Ohio guys. I am obligated to point out that he was very fat.

#29 Warren G. Harding ran and won against another Ohioan, a Democrat named James Cox. I believe that was the first Ohio vs. Ohio match-up. Then he died of congestive heart failure 2 years into his 1st term. Harding also had no military service.  My Great Grandfather sent a telegram of congratulations on his win in 1920. They were both from Marion OH. There are lots of weird things about Harding's Presidency and death.

Eight Buckeye's to a plate
Then that’s it. The end of the Ohio Presidents.
Americans gave up on Ohio after that. Too risky. Other Ohioans such as Dennis Kucinich have sought their party nomination and there has been talk of Senator Rob Portman or current Governor Kasich having a go but there has never been another major party nominee from the Buckeye State since 1920.  Ohio still plays a key role in modern presidential politics and her electoral votes are much coveted as no Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio. If I were a politician from Ohio thinking about a Presidential run, I would take a deep breath consider the legacy thus far.