Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Q: What is Cincinnati's smallest historic landmark?

A: The 1858 Historic Landmark Flag Pole!

This 50' cross-shaped wooden flagpole sits in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Carthage at 7011 Vine Street. It's been moved a few blocks from it's original location at Seymour and Vine where it stood in front of the Avenue House, a 19th-century hotel and tavern founded by a German immigrant named H.H. Lammers. I'm not sure if he was related to the Nazi War Criminal with the similar name and initials. The nearby plaque didn't say and Google wasn't any help.

The pole sat there being a pole for over 100 years displaying all the different American flags in great fashion starting with the 32 star US flag until the Sun Oil Company wanted to put a gas station in the old hotel's spot. I know you are thinking "boo! bad oil company people! boo!" However, I am happy to report that the Sun Oil Company was a good sport and paid to have it moved up the street to its present location in 1970. The citizens of Carthage then celebrated their fantastic historic wooden flagpole with a big party on Flag Day. I'm sure it was a great celebration.
Then in 1982, it was designated a Cincinnati Neighborhood Landmark, making it the city's smallest historic landmark!

If anyone is working on creating "Trivial Pursuit: Cincinnatus Edition" this should definitely be included.

In case you were wondering...nope, there is no geocache here. I was just driving by and saw the sign.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Great North Bend Train Robbery

unrelated train car in North Bend w/ unrelated scoundrels
If asked where the first US train robbery occurred you might think it was in the Old West right? Everyone knows that because of movies.
Wrong. It happened in the Old Northwest, if you will, right outside Cincinnati OH on May 5, 1865, in North Bend, OH whose other claims to fame is being the home of two US Presidents named Harrison, as well as the resting place of John Cleves Symmes.

Under cover of darkness, several men apparently removed one rail to stop the 8:00 PM Ohio & Mississippi train that had departed from Cincinnati bound for St Louis MO with over one hundred passengers.

After the train was stopped from the derailment, twenty armed men "with the vilest oaths, demanded the money and valuables of the passengers." The scoundrels then blew open several safes that were said to contain over $30,000 in U.S. bonds.

With no serious injuries to the passengers or the perpetrators, the robbers made off with the loot and fled across the Ohio River into Kentucky. Military troops were called and sent to hunt down the outlaws who were traced south through Verona, Ky., but were never captured.

the Ohio River from North Bend looking toward KY
Another Indiana train robbery a year later in 1866 is sometimes listed as the "first" but because this 1865 North Bend event occurred during the last months of the Civil War and the suspects, although wearing civilian clothes, were thought by some to be members of the Confederate Army, many historians consider this a military action rather than a civilian train robbery. Since no one was ever caught I suppose we will never really know. The infamous brothers Frank and Jesse James were even suspected as the orchestrators of what a Cincinnati newspaper described as “one of the boldest robberies that we have been called upon to chronicle.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meet the Thunder-Skys

The Thunder-Skys...left to right, 
Michael, Chief Thunder-sky and Raymond

The other day I was browsing an online database of famous people buried in Cincinnati. (Everyone does this right?) Mostly it was the familiar local athlete, businessman or politician. Many were surnames that a lot of Cincinnatians would recognize as streets or areas of town like Chase or Groesbeck, etc. As expected, almost all were buried in the beautiful and sprawling historic Spring Grove Cemetery

Then an unusual name caught my eye...Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky.  That's just not the sort of name you expect to discover in Southwest OH. I had to know more of course and lucky for me, this gentleman's grave was just a couple of miles from my house. So I did some research before going for a visit.

Born on St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in Upstate NY in 1911, Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky was apparently the "last full-blooded hereditary Sachem Chief of the Mohawk Nation". To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what that means. I know a sachem is basically the Chief of Chiefs although I'm not sure what duties he would have had in fulfilling that that role in the 20th century. It's still pretty cool and interesting since the Mohawk were not known to have ever lived in the Cincinnati area.
Chief Thunder-Sky also played parts in several old Westerns such as Gene Autry's 1950 Indian Territory and Tyrone Power's 1952 Pony Soldier. Not bad gigs at a time when many Indian parts were being played by non-Natives such as Italian-Americans for their close physical resemblance or whites with make-up.


In 1961 Thunder-Sky moved to Cincinnati OH with his wife Irene and two sons Michael and Raymond and helped organize the North American Indian Council which still operates in Mt Healthy OH. His wife of 49 years was Irene Dianna Szalatzky, the daughter of a Hungarian nobleman of the Habsburg Dynasty
Richard died in 1989 and is buried at Arlington Memorial Gardens in Mt Healthy OH just outside of Cincinnati a couple miles from my house.
Irene died in 1994 and is also buried at Arlington but I was unable to find her marker.

Here is where the story gets a little more interesting...

If you spent any time in Cincinnati OH in the 1980s and 90s as I did you may have seen a man going about his business wearing a clown suit, donning a construction hat and carrying a toolbox. I didn't know this back then, but the mysterious man was Raymond Hiawatha Thunder-Sky, the eldest son of  Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky. It turns out that Raymond was autistic and created hundreds of paintings over the years that he kept secret (he kept his art supplies in the toolbox) and revealed to his social worker in 1999 a few years prior to his death from cancer. When he died in 2004, Thunder-Sky, Inc. in Northside was founded to preserve Raymond's artistic legacy. 

Unfortunately, it was difficult to find further information on Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky to fill in the gaps in his life. It seems the son eclipsed the father. I don't know what brought Richard to Cincinnati or why he quit the movie business. Or what happened to the younger brother Michael. Or how Irene lived out her final years. Even Richard's IMDB entries for his movies were hodgepodge and incomplete due to uncredited roles. However, much has been written about his son Raymond who not only was a half-blooded Mohawk, but also the descendant of Hungarian royalty on his Mother's side. I never would have guessed this as I saw him wandering around town back in the day known only to me as "the Construction Clown". 
I won't delve any more into Raymond's history here. Many nice articles have already been written about this man. If you would like to read more about him, see some photos of him and his artwork, here is a great article from 2010 with further links to other websites. Update 2016: Original link is dead, try this instead.