Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Where Paddock meets Vine at the big Indian sign"

Chief "Pontiac" at Paddock and Vine
Cincinnati folks all know the 50' Chief Pontiac sign from the old car dealer slogan “where Paddock meets Vine at the big Indian sign”. The sign was built in 1954 by Jake Sweeney and was the place to go if you wanted to buy a brand new Pontiac sedan. The car lot changed hands over the years. Keeping with the Indian theme, it was Cherokee Motors then later Miami Motors. The sign used to light up with neon (broken now) & the arm waved a bit (not allowed anymore this close to the road). The current owner, Motor Time, has the sign repainted annually to keep this Cincinnati landmark looking nice. Thanks!

A geocache led me to the iconic location again.  I did a bit of research after I noted the signs of history all around me in this older somewhat disheveled Cincinnati suburb called Carthage. Here is what most long-time Cincinnatian's may not know:

Technically, Vine St, which comes up all the way from the Ohio River (sort of) and becomes Anthony Wayne Ave while Paddock (Rt 4) becomes Vine for a short jog until it continues North as Springfield Pike (Rt 4). Or you could say Paddock and Vine join here and Wayne begins...It's confusing and you really have to look at a map.
1928 Pontiac Indian Head Mascot
About 1000' from Chief Pontiac, where Wayne Ave crosses the Mill Creek, there is an historical marker for White’s Station.  This was a 1790 stockaded settlement that took on a big Indian attack in October 1793. Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne (note the street intersection here above) camped here later in 1793 on the way to the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers near Toledo. This was the final major battle of the Northwest Indian Warr that resulted in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. Settlers then flooded the area and Ohio became a state in 1803.

The historical marker was sponsored by the National Distillers Producers in 1953 (1 year before the big Indian sign was here). They built a new distillery nearby to produce Gilbey's Gin in 1935 right after Prohibition ended. There is sad irony here in that that Native Americans have a propensity toward alcoholism. This was a significant factor capitalized on by traders and negotiators in gaining the upper hand in negotiations. Alcohol pretty much destroyed the Indian family structure as well.

1950's Pontiac logo

The automaker Pontiac had a popular car line called the Chieftain during the 1950s. They'd been using Native American imagery in its logo since their beginning in the1920s. One wonders if Jake Sweeney was aware of the nearby historical connection or if the sign just seemed like a good attention grabber? This was a time when The Lone Ranger was the biggest show on TV. The Pontiac headdress logo was discontinued in the late 1950's. It was replaced by the red arrowhead design used until they stopped making Pontiac cars in 2010.

Mad Anthony Wayne slept here
There was a real Chief Pontiac. He was an Ottawa who led Pontiac's Rebellion from 1763 to 1766. This was the first known confederacy of American Indian tribes to fight Europeans. This would inspire Little Turtle in the late 18th century and later inspire Tecumseh in the early 19th century. I wonder if the car maker ever considered naming a model the Rebellion? Might be a good SUV name...anyway...
Finding themselves with no European ally after The French and Indian War, when the Brits booted the French, Pontiac's Confederation struck British settlements, forts, and posts across the Great Lakes region on their own.  It was during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763 when the British infamously gave smallpox infested blankets during a negotiation at Fort Pitt to intentionally infect the Indians. Germ warfare.
This resistance ended as a military stalemate but considered successful for the Indians. The war resulted in British policy changes toward the Indian land claims and required colonists to stay east of the Appalachians. That part kind of helped cause the American Revolution. 
Chief Pontiac was murdered in Cahokia, Illinois in1769 by another Indian with an unclear motive, possibly a revenge killing. Some historians suspect he was bribed by the British who still saw him as a troublemaker. Times would change and treaties would get ignored and the British would find themselves allied with the Indians for the next round, this time to fight the Americans during their rebellion. That would continue throughout the rest of the 18th century until the end of the War of 1812.
Oh. The sign. There have been recent efforts to remove old signs like this as some feel it is derogatory or racist toward Native Americans. I won't get into that here. I go back and forth. Sometimes I think it does belong in a museum. More folks may see it that way and appreciate it for what it is. On the other hand, I would miss it as I drove by and maybe I never would have discovered all the great history that day. Also, this Pontiac looks like a white man playing Indian dress up to me.

Pontiac from 1950-1959 - I took the 1928 mascot photo from this site, great pics of early use of Indian imagery and themes by Pontiac

Note: some edits and revisions were done to this post on 07/24/2015

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