Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brown's body & the 1st Purple Heart

Pioneer Cemetery and Brown's marker near Lunken
Pioneer Cemetery near Lunken Airport is the site of the 1st settlement called Columbia in 1788 that would later become modern Cincinnati. The man who led that landing, Benjamin Stites, is buried here along with many other of those early pioneers.

Sgt. William Brown (1764-1804) a member of the 5th Connecticut Regiment in the Revolutionary War received the newly created Badge of Military Merit by George Washington in May of 1783. It was a purple cloth badge. Only 3 were awarded (the other two were Sergeant Elijah Churchill and Sergeant Daniel Bissell) and none were given again until it was later re-named in WWI to the Purple Heart as a revival of the original badge. While not entirely clear, it is believed that the badge 1781 Siege of Yorktown. Only two of these badges are known to have survived. Brown's was found in the 1920's in an old barn and is currently in the possession of The Society of the Cincinnati, New Hampshire Branch. Brown, like many other Revolutionary War veterans seeking cheap land, eventually settled in the newly developed booming river-town of Cincinnati OH where he lived and later died.
was awarded for Browns efforts in the

recently renovated Fulton Cemetery
So where is Sgt Brown's body? It’s not here with the marker. In 2004, the marker seen in my above photo was placed in the nicer maintained Pioneer Cemetery where others from this time period are buried. His body was thought to be about 1000 ft away next to some old railroad tracks in what was the once weed-filled and trash strewn forgotten Fulton Cemetery with no legible tombstones. I actually tried to locate Fulton once to no avail. It was that bad and a bit dangerous. However in early 2011, thanks to a geocache that led me back to the area, I discovered that because of the Ohio River Trail Bike Path that was extended past the older unkempt cemetery, it generated an interest in renovating the old cemetery. On my second visit, it was easy to locate and I saw they placed new markers for the seven other Revolutionary War Veterans buried in Fulton. The volunteers of the Cincinnati Preservation Association also tried to reassemble the old tombstones for these men as best as they could but all are badly worn and mostly unreadable. They also added some nice historical plaques about the old cemeteries, the Purple Heart, the Flood of 1937, the railroad and Columbia at the Carrel Street Station next to the new bike path.

some of the original Fulton tombstones
It is nice to see the efforts of the many individuals to honor and respect Brown and these other men who fought for their new country.

There are more pictures of the Pioneer Cemetery here and the Fulton Cemetery here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

OH the humanity! - Ohio's Airship Disaster

Greenville honors its native son
The 1937 Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey was pretty dramatic with the "oh, the humanity!" and the fancy newsreel coverage but did you know Ohio was home to another airship disaster that predated the Hindenburg by 12 years on this date in 1925? It's true!
The first US airship was called the 1923 USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) built by the Navy for the purpose of being a scout ship. I heard you thinking, "Shenandoah...that sounds sort of Indian..." well you are correct! This is, in fact, an Algonquin word that means Daughter of the Stars.
The Daughter of the Stars was 600' long and traveled at 60MPH. The Americans decided to use helium instead of flammable hydrogen like the German airship program. Nowadays we just go the party store and fill our kid's balloons with it but not in 1923. Helium was hard to come by and expensive to produce in those days. In fact, it cost $235,000 to fill the Shenandoah in 1923 which equals about $3 million in 2011 money.
She crossed North America several times and went on one military scouting mission but spent a lot of time grounded because of that darn helium shortage. 
The Shenandoah was piloted by Lt Commander Zachary Lansdowne who was born in 1888 in Greenville, OH. Yes as in Treaty of Greenville Greenville! You are catching on! Anyway, Zach was in the Navy and had become an accomplished airship pilot, received the Navy Cross due to his mad dirigible skills and was awarded the command of the USS Shenandoah in February 1924.
On September 3rd, 1925, while on one of her goodwill trips that started from Lakehurst NJ (sound familiar?) the USS Shenandoah encountered a violent storm after reaching Ohio and broke up over the skies of Noble County OH while cruising at 1700'. A wind from the storm swept the Shenandoah up to 6000' and down again several times which tore the control car free killing Lansdowne and 13 others as it fell from the sky. A stern section glided safely to the ground with 22 men aboard. By safely I mean no one was killed but I'm sure it was several terror-filled moments of grown men screaming for their mommies. The bow of the ship with 7 others glided on low to the ground for 8 more miles. A local farmer named Ernest Nichols intervened and was able to secure a cable to stop it and then the crew members exited the ship and shot it with shotguns to release the helium.

Supposedly 2 civilians witnessed the event unfold and said (now say this in the Pepperidge Farm commercial voice) “It looks like it’s breaking in two!” The other then said, “My God, it is!” but they weren't on the radio sobbing like Herbert Morrison did for the Hindenburg coverage so they aren't famous.
The wreckage site became a tourist attraction for a few days while 10,000 people visited and took pieces for souvenirs. The Garst Museum in Greenville OH has a nice display for Lansdowne and the Shenandoah with a memorial marker outside to honor Lt. Zach who is interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The crash landed him the cover of Time magazine in September 1925 and the WWII destroyer USS Lansdowne (DD-486), was named in his honor.