Monday, December 21, 2015

Taft's Whale House*

Taft's birthplace decked out for Christmas
On a whim a few weeks ago I decided to hit some geocaches in the Mt Auburn area of Cincinnati. A newer one was near the September 15th, 1857 birthplace of  William Howard Taft, where he also lived for his first 25 years.
There are all sorts of schools, museums, and roads around town named for the prominent Taft Family. Believe it or not, as a 36 year resident of Cincinnati and a self-described local history nut, I have never been there. Or more correctly, I believe I was dragged here as a teenager with my parents and grandparents many years ago. I don't think that counts.
These days, of course, I love my local history and especially the 19th century oddball Ohio Presidents. I find the other 20th century Ohio POTUS' like the prematurely deceased Harding and McKinley interesting but for some reason, Bill Taft never clicked with me. I suppose with the others there is some sort of sideshow curiosity about them. They were either Generals, died in an unfortunate way, or just outright forgotten by most. Sometimes all of those things. Other than Taft's sizable girth (along with the related bathtub legend) and his spat with Teddy Roosevelt,  I suppose I just found Taft kind of...normal. The man himself remarked later in life, "I do not remember that I was ever President." So don't worry, this post isn't really about Taft. However, here is a list of enjoyable 15 Wonderful William Howard Taft Facts.

I wasn't sure if I was going to take the tour, so I parked in the empty lot behind the house thinking I'd just walk around the outside. As I was strolling through the property, staffed by the National Park Service, a Ranger (with the Ranger Smith hat and everything) came out and asked if I was going to take the free tour that was just starting. This seemed like fate to me. I said "yeah" and walked over to the house and caught up with the group which consisted of an older couple and probably their adult sons.
Mt Auburn was once an affluent neighborhood, but times change and that isn't so any longer. In fact, the property of one of Cincinnati's most prominent families is flanked by the Hamilton County Juvenile Court complex and William Howard Taft Elementary. As our Ranger tour guide led us through each of the period furnished rooms and talked about the Taft family legacy and the only Cincinnati born POTUS, she locked the door behind as we left. The Ranger clearly loved her job but I felt like deep down she drew the short straw and was just making the best of her assignment. I suppose everyone can't be a Ranger at Yosemite or Ford's Theater. The guided tour wasn't long. Maybe 20 minutes. After that, we were free to roam about the unlocked areas where they had timeline information and other items on display (in sealed and locked cases of course) on the life of our 27th President and 10th Chief Supreme Court Chief Justice.

One take away I had was the fact that they don't know exactly when the 19th-century Greek revival house was built (probably 1842). All the records were lost when the Hamilton County Courthouse burned down in the 1884 Cincinnati riots. That particular event comes up a lot when researching Cincinnati history.

Of course, no visit to a museum is complete with a stop at the gift shop! In this case, it was next door in the Taft Education Center where I was greeted by a young lady who asked if I wanted to see the film that was playing. She seemed excited to see another human being. I politely declined and perused the offering of Taft swag instead. They tempted me with t-shirts and Ranger hats but I opted for the understated fridge magnet and lapel pin. Afterward, I scooted off to claim the geocaches that brought me to the area. At any rate, I'm glad I took the tour. It was somewhat spontaneous and I enjoy visiting Ohio Presidential sites anyway. Not a bad way to spend a dreary late November afternoon.

*You may be thinking, "What's with the post title, "Taft's Whale House"? I get it that Taft was fat and but that was later." There is a newish Cincinnati microbrewery and restaurant in Over-The-Rhine called Taft's Ale House in honor of our portly President. So it's a play on that. I had to get one fat joke in, right? I've never been to Taft's Ale House myself but I hear it is good. Tell them Gehio sent you! Be prepared for a blank stare.

I should pick up a book on Taft. I guess. As far as Presidential spots go, Rutherford B. Hayes, you are (probably) next!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Indiana Giver

Toth working on one of his creations
I was in Vincennes IN recently checking out the gubernatorial home of frontier General and brief 9th US President William Henry Harrison. I was aware of a nearby 23' wood carving of  Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh, Harrison's adversary in the beginning of the 19th century, and planned to stop by. It was a nice bonus that geocache had been placed near the statue since it was a Tecumseh historical sign early in my geocaching life that sparked my interest in this era of history.

It was pretty impressive seeing it up close but I had WHH on my mind and really hadn't thought much more about it since that visit. I figured it was a one-off thing by a local artist, which in itself would still be pretty cool. The real story is more impressive though. It turns out that this was made by a guy named Peter Wolf  Toth. Nope, he's not the guy in the J. Geils Band either.

Since 1974, Toth has created a series of 74 sculptures across North America called the Trail of the Whispering Giants to honor Native Americans. It's to honor his own heritage right? Nope. He's not even Indian. He wasn't even born in North America. He's from Hungary. His dirt poor family fled during the 1956 Soviet takeover and settled in Akron OH at a young age. He later developed an interest in Native American culture and history in his new country. Paul saw in their story a parallel to the violent repression he had experienced in Hungary. In fact, his only non-Indian statue is #73 of St. Stephan, King of Hungary c.1000AD. Toth completed that one in 2008 in his native country.
my view of Chief Tecumseh in Vincennes IN
He has one in his adopted hometown of Akron called Rotayna he sculpted in 1985.
Chief Tecumseh in Vincennes IN is the most recent statue #74 completed in 2009. It is made of oak and stands 23' tall.

Unfortunately, some of the other statues have been destroyed by rot, termites, lightning, disease or other natural forces over the years, including his first one in CA made of stone. He is trying to replace the ones that he can. Toth accepts no money for his sculptures and works odd jobs in between projects.

For more about Peter Wolf Toth and his work, use the links above. His bio even mentions that geocachers have used the sites of his statues for geocaches.

Also, I mean no disrespect with the blog post title. It's a slight play on the title of his 1983 book, Indian Giver: Gifts Of Statues For All 50 States To Honor The Indian

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Darke County Poorhouse Cemetery

The original infirmary c.1868
when Annie Oakley was a resident
The Darke County Infirmary opened in 1854. It was one of the many 19th century Ohio poorhouses that took care of the destitute (or just their children), mentally ill, and elderly. Residents were referred to as "paupers" in the register. Sometimes parents under financial burdens would send their children to places like this. Eight-year-old Ohioan Annie Oakley was sent to this infirmary by her widowed Mother and lived there for 2 years in the 1860's until she was hired out by a family to do chores. Annie never got paid by the abusive family and ran away. She returned to the home and was eventually reunited with her Mother by age 12. It's hard to imagine a life like that.
the second infirmary, from a 1915 postcard
The original infirmary building was struck by lightning on June 2, 1897. It burned to the ground and another one was built. It also was hit by lightning and burned. Since 1978 another Darke County Home still operates as a modern nursing facility. To my knowledge, it has not been struck by lightning.

The county home also had its own cemetery located to the east of the intersection of US-127 and OH-49 outside Greenville OH.

Most of the marble markers in the infirmary cemetery have no names, just numbers. I guess that cost extra and this was the poorhouse after all. There are records online that list the names and dates of the deceased although several are still listed as "unknown". Many of the markers with names seem to have been military veterans or recent burials. There are at least eight Civil War veterans and one WWII veteran interred in the cemetery. It's kind of sad knowing that some of our nation's veterans ended up in a place like this, alone or too ill to care for themselves.

When I was in the area geocaching on October 22, 2011, grave No. 26 happened to catch my eye since it was also marked with a name. James Perry was a Private in the 7th Independent Company, Ohio Sharpshooters mustered in on January 27, 1863, at Camp Cleveland, OH in the US Civil War. Records show he likely fought in the Battle of Atlanta, Peachtree Creek, and Kennesaw Mountain. Perry was buried here in 1917 at the age of 75.

But wait, there's more!

This post was originally going to end there. Then I learned a few sad stories as I looked through the online records.

George Henry Davis has several aliases listed. He was killed in 1936 during his attempted poolroom holdup in Greenville. His occupation is listed as "robber" and cause of death, "justifiable homicide". He was identified by fingerprints and was buried under marker number 104 which is now gone. It's almost as if he never existed.

unmarked, numbered gravestone
Katie Melissa McNutt was born at the home in 1911 and died 22 days later. Several members of the McNutt family are buried here.

Grave no. 139 is listed as "unknown". This was a child found in a ditch east of Castine OH in 1947.

Partheria Mullen lived at the home for 6 years. She died in 1909 at age 46 due to "softening of the brain". I had to Google that one. I think it is an archaic term they used for senile dementia caused by a cerebral hemorrhage. She was just left and forgotten. The records state that no one ever visited her during her stay.

But possibly the most tragic of all is the story of the Jane Doe buried here.
A nude body was discovered on October 11, 1970, in a cornfield in nearby Arcanum OH. The condition of the body was so bad that photos or fingerprints could not make a match to anyone. The identity of this young woman remained unsolved for 39 years. In 2009 DNA testing revealed this to be Jeanne Marie Melville, an 18-year-old missing person from Green Bay WI. Sadly, Jeanne's mother died the year before, never knowing what happened to her daughter. The murder case itself is still unsolved. Use the links for more info. It breaks my heart to look at this young woman's photo.

I'm not sure if this place is haunted, but it should be.

other sources:
- Records of the Darke County Infirmary
- Annie Oakley: Darke county’s favorite daughter
- Darke County Home Cemetery (more photos)
- This Dark County

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The 180 Pound Gorilla

beardless lanky Ape-raham in Lytle Park, Cincinnati
We have notions that our beloved leaders from the past were always admired. We tend to think that gentleman in ye olde days were more civil and less obnoxious than we are now with all the screaming and yelling on cable news shows. It's kind of always been that way.

In 1855 a young patent lawyer was hired to hear an infringement case in Illinois on a new reaper that was about to revolutionize farming. The trial was moved to Cincinnati so the young lawyer and former Congressman traveled there to meet with the new team. On this day in 1855, he was met by one of the most prominent attorneys of the day named Edwin Stanton. As you may have guessed by now, the visiting lawyer was Abraham Lincoln. He was treated rudely and dismissively by members of his own team. Stanton was unimpressed and regarded Lincoln as an ill-schooled rube and called him a "long-armed ape". He went on to remark that Lincoln was a “long, lank creature from Illinois, wearing a dirty linen duster for a coat and the back of which perspiration had splotched with wide stains that resembled a map of the continent.” At least the insults then were more eloquent. Lincoln was shut out of the proceedings. They wouldn't even read his brief. With nothing to do,  Abraham Lincoln spent most of his time touring Cincinnati. His team won the case and he was paid but he tried to return the fee since he hadn't really done anything.  He ended up accepting half of the fee which he then split with his partner in Illinois. Lincoln admitted he did not enjoy his stay in Cincinnati.

a long way in 10 years
Lincoln, of course, went on to become the 16th President of the United States overseeing a critical point in US history. Who did he choose for Secretary of War as the Civil War got underway? The man who snubbed and insulted him seven years prior but who Lincoln felt was best suited for the job, Edwin Stanton. They sometimes remained at odds but Stanton eventually became one of Lincoln's closest friends and advisors. Upon Lincoln’s death in 1865, it was Stanton who tearfully said the famous words “Now he belongs to the ages.” 

Lincoln’s lousy week in Cincinnati
Lincoln in Ohio

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mount Molehill

Mountain-shaped McKinley Tomb in Canton OH
On August 30th, 2015 President Obama changed the name of Mt. McKinley, the 20,237-foot mountain and the tallest in North America to Denali.
What is a lover of Ohio history and a Native American sympathizer like myself to do?
Ohio politicians are fit to be tied. Some are saying it's an example of the President circumventing Congress. Others say it's a slight against Ohio's martyred native son. A meme going around had racist overtones. Former Ohio Congressman Rep. Ralph Regula (R) went so far as to call Obama a dictator. Hyperbole much?

After some soul-searching (in the form of Google), I uncovered some things known as "facts".

Obama himself didn't really change or "decree anything". The headlines you see are mostly clickbait. More on that in a bit.

1896 adoption certificate
The mountain was known as Denali or Deenaalee, a Koyukon Native American word meaning “the high one” or “great one", for centuries. The first documented non-native sighting was by a Russian named Andrei Glazunov in 1834 who used a variant of the name "Tenada" in his 1839 map. Then along came a gold prospector in 1896 named William Dickey (not from OH but just gaga for gold and McKinley) who decided to call Denali, Mt. McKinley since he had just been named the Republican nominee for President. That's pretty good PR. McKinley was elected, served a full term, started the Spanish-American War, annexed Hawaii, got re-elected. But his main legacy is being assassinated in his second term by an anarchist in 1901. For that, he got a whole mountain.

The first mapped depiction of Denali
in an 1839 expedition
In 1917, sixteen years after the President's death, the US officially recognized the name Mt. McKinley when the surrounding national park was created.
Here's the thing. Charles Sheldon, who promoted the idea of creating McKinley National Park, wanted Congress to call the mountain Denali. They ignored that request. Alaska just kept calling the mountain Denali and has had a standing petition for the Federal name to be changed back to Denali since 1975. Ohio politicians kept blocking the 1975 proposal and the name remained Denali in Federal records. McKinley National Park was later renamed Denali National Park in 1980 without much controversy. But Mt. McKinley stayed. I suppose if they had done what Charles Sheldon wanted in the first place, we wouldn't even be discussing this now.

In 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, citing authority in a 1947 law passed by Congress, changed the mountain name back to Denali. The 1947 law states that the  Interior Secretary can authorize name changes if the U.S. Board on Geographic Names does not act within a reasonable time. Alaska's entire Congressional delegation, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) praised the decision saying "Denali, the 'Great One' comes home" and "Today, the nation recognizes what Alaskans have known for generations". It's worth noting that Sen. Sullivan was born in OH just 70 miles from McKinley's birthplace.
McKinley was never here

The Obama administration isn't entirely innocent. The timing of the restored name came on the eve of a planned presidential visit with an emphasis on Alaska's connection to climate change. So there is some political maneuvering there. But it's not all rainbows and unicorns for Obama with the state of Alaska. Protesters are planning to greet the President. Not to protest the name change, but to urge him to reverse his decision to allow Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic.
Keep in mind that McKinley never visited Alaska and has absolutely no historical connection to the state of Alaska. None. Re-naming it Mt. McKinley in 1896 was the political stunt.

“With our own sense of reverence for this place, we are officially renaming the mountain Denali in recognition of the traditions of Alaska Natives and the strong support of the people of Alaska.”  - Interior Secretary Sally Jewell

The new 2015 GMC McKinley. Thanks, Obama.
McKinley, a pretty mediocre POTUS in historical rankings, has lots of things named after him, schools, streets, a gun club(!), memorials, a great tomb.
Get over it Ohio. It's embarrassing. I love you lots but you don't get to name mountains in Alaska.

Bonus trivia: McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile. The one that took him to the hospital after being shot. There is no car named after McKinley, but there is a GMC Denali. Go figure.

Another Gehio post on McKinley

Friday, August 21, 2015

Little Phil

Sheridan in his Civil War prime
History is full of great people who did wonderful things but flawed in other ways. I sometimes wonder how Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, etc would fair in today's hyper-critical sound bite world. The Founding Fathers kicked the slavery issue down the road, Lincoln was called a tyrant by half the country, FDR ordered internment camps for the Japanese-Americans. Imagine if they had Twitter or cable news then. Those were different times we always say. Future generations will no doubt say the same thing about us.

I never know what to think of guys like General Philip Henry Sheridan.  He certainly isn't a Jefferson or FDR but he was a major figure in preserving the Union during the Civil War which also ended the institution of slavery. That in itself is a noble thing. But he isn't really remembered for that so much. With the Union intact, the US looked again to the West. Sheridan and his peers resumed American expansionism with the exploitation and near genocide of the indigenous people of America. He is mostly remembered for an infamous (mis)quote "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Sheridan Monument in Somerset OH
March 6th, 1831 is considered to be Philip Henry Sheridan's birthday and I meant to post something on that day. 2015 is also the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. I had thought Sheridan was born in Ohio which is why I decided to write up something about him. In history, even the simplest things can be quite murky.

It turns out Sheridan, who earned his "Little Phil" nickname from his 5'5" stature, either didn't know where he was born or lied about it because he had early Presidential aspirations. He is on the record as saying Somerset OH at one point, Albany NY another time, and even Massachusetts. In all likelihood, he was born in Ireland or possibly on the ship from Ireland to the US. The dates of his parent's immigration seem to suggest this. The city of Somerset OH claimed him as early as 1888 and erected a statue of him in 1905. The memorial is the only Civil War equestrian statue in Ohio. His Mother is also on Team Somerset but said his birth certificate was burned in a fire. Convenient. We do know he spent his early childhood there. For the record, Albany NY claims him as well. For more on all this check out this link with telegrams and articles from February 1888.

During the Plains Indian Wars in the last half of the 19th century, they had a tough time determining a friendly or a "good" Indian vs a hostile or "bad" Indian. Some "good" Indians assisted Americans soldiers as scouts and provided intelligence on other Indians. It got complicated. Some bands or individuals within the same tribes had differing allegiances. To most Americans on the Plains, there was no distinction. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

The original "dead Indian" story has Comanche Chief Tosahwi identifying himself to Sheridan in 1869 at Fort Cobb in present-day Oklahoma as a "good" Indian meaning he was cooperative and not hostile to US goals. Sheridan supposedly replied,  "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Sheridan denies he ever said such a thing.

Post Civil War diplomacy in the 1860s and 1870s seemed to be shoot first and...who the hell cares about asking any questions, just shoot! Entire villages, women and children too, could be easily mowed down by the new automatic Hotchkiss guns. Keep in mind, many whites at that time considered Indians as an inferior savage race. Even good old George Washington stated a hundred years prior “Indians and wolves are both beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape". Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," tells the 1867 account of Colonel Maynadier and a local "good" Indian named Spotted Tail. He was shocked to see Spotted Tail cry upon hearing the news of his daughter's death. The Colonel was raised to believe Indians didn't really have human emotions like whites.

Little Big Phil Sheridan in 1876
Several witnesses claim Sheridan did make his remark in some form. If true, given the climate of the time, I'm not sure why he would deny it. Some have argued that the "dead Indian" statement was a message of regret and not an insult. Supposedly opponents of the General changed it to the infamous quote to smear Phil politically. I don't know about that. While not as catchy as the dead Indian statement, he is known to have said, "If a village is attacked and women and children killed, the responsibility is not with the soldiers but with the people whose crimes necessitated the attack." In essence, "kill em all, let God sort em out."
So, if he denied the quote why wasn't he taking credit and bragging rights? Or for that matter, if it was a statement of regret, why not just say that? No one seems to know. The General died in August 1888 from heart failure at the age of 57. Ironic, right?  If he ever wrote about it we'll never know. His personal papers were burned in the 1871 Chicago Fire. I assume this was the same fire that destroyed his birth certificate.
I suppose it makes no difference if he said it or not. While the quote is apocryphal it certainly embodied the spirit of his attitude and the general American outlook in the late 19th century. At the end of the day, even though his name and image adorn towns, counties, tanks, mountains, stamps and old bank notes, the "quote" will always be his legacy.
Happy late belated birthday. I guess.

other sources:
Philip Henry Sheridan at
Philip Sheridan at
Colonial Williamsburg - The Indian War

Collection of 1888 articles & telegrams claiming and disputing Sheridans birthplace

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Fool and The Buckeye

Arthur St. Clair doodle
On this day in 1787, the Northwest Ordinance was enacted forming the Northwest Territory

People tend to think of history as some sort of concrete timeline where the occasional revisionist meddles with the facts. While that may be true at times, the fact is, some history just gets lost. Original sources like books, documents, paintings, etc turn up missing or get destroyed. Sometimes the original source is found to be wrong or subsequent authors didn't have access to good sources. Then folks use that as a source. You get the idea.

Back in the 18th century, seals were all the rage. Not the adorable trick-performing fish-eating mammals but rather the circular emblem type with a Latin motto. It made things all official-ly looking. The Old Northwest Territory, which would give birth to six US States had its own official seal designed by my favorite terrible frontier General and Governor Arthur St. Clair himself. I hadn't really thought about the Seal of the Northwest Territory too much until I ran across a funny reference to it in a 1939 book called "Cincinnati: Story of the Queen City" by Clara Longworth de Chambrun.

Arthur St. Clair
The man who runs the Dust Jacket, a collectible bookstore in Mt Lookout in Cincinnati told me a little about the author. Clara was a Longworth, one of Cincinnati's first and richest families, related to Teddy Roosevelt and Marquis de Lafayette. That's pretty good breeding. She had lived just up the road and said the book had some "real gossipy stuff". I was intrigued. After reading it I understood more of what he meant. It wasn't scandalous like TMZ or something, it was full of unsourced and anecdotal historical stories. Don't get me wrong though, she meant well and it's still a very interesting and worthy book with lots of good local material and illustrations. Just don't take everything she says as the last word.

Clara Longworth de Chambrun
Clara Longworth de Chambrun states that the seal design by "Saint Clair" (her odd spelling) represents the planting of a buckeye among the stumps of the fallen forest. She says that the design was criticized by people insisting "the Fool had cut down a good apple tree and replaced it with a worthless buckeye" (her quotes). She goes on to say that many felt no seal was needed since statehood was in sight. This was accompanied by an image of the seal. Notice she also spells "St. Clair" as "Saint Clair". I guess she really was a blue-blood Francophile. I think she just took a shine to the original French spelling of this surname. While there were variations, Arthur definitely spelled it "St. Clair" in his signature and I've never seen spelled any other way. Most historians pronounce it "Sinclair" too.

At any rate, as funny as I thought that "worthless buckeye" comment was, something didn't quite sit right with her apocryphal statement. She makes it sound like the seal was only in use very briefly. While St Clair certainly made his mistakes, he was a scholarly and educated man. The Old Northwest Territory existed from 1787–1803. The seal's first recorded use was in a proclamation made on July 26, 1788, by Arthur St. Clair himself. Statehood certainly was not in sight in 1788. That wouldn't happen until 1803. So it was in use for at least 15 years. In the image, there also seems to be no way to tell what kind of tree that is in the design.

William Hayden English
In the late 19th century a man named William Hayden English (a one time 1880 VP Democratic candidate who lost to the Garfield team) did some research while serving as the President of the Indiana Historical Society. He found that no official record existed on the full description or on the symbolism of the seal. In fact, it was difficult finding a copy of it that had all parts of it distinctly shown. Remember, these were nearly 100-year-old papers and they weren't exactly stored in a sealed climate controlled room. English basically recreated it from six photographs of documents and a lead rubbing of an impression of the seal.

His research was published in the 1896 book, Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio, 1778-1783 and concluded:

The coiled snake in the foreground and the boats in the middle distance; the rising sun, the forest tree felled by the ax and cut into logs, succeeded, apparently, by an apple tree laden with fruit; the Latin inscription, "Meliorem lapsa locavit," "he has planted a better than the fallen," all combine forcibly to express the idea that a wild and savage condition is to be superseded by a higher and better civilization.

I believe what English came up with reconciles with what someone like Arthur St Clair had in mind. White men civilizing nature and "savage" Indian country. Also, English's book was published over 60 years prior to de Chambrun's. Whatever image Clara was looking at was the one re-created by English's research. As amusing that remark is about the fool and the buckeye is, and as much as I wanted it to be true, I think I have to go with English's more mundane interpretation. But where did Clara Longworth de Chambrun's notion come from? I guess that's the story lost to time.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Whirlwind Weekend WHH History Tour

inside the 2nd gate at last!
Perhaps you've noticed that I have a zeal for our trivialized 9th President? My wife has. For my half-century birthday, she surprised me with a Whirlwind Weekend William Henry Harrison History Tour in Ohio and Indiana. How about that? All the stops were presented to me in a sealed envelope along the way, so I didn't know what was next! She even packed my "got William Henry Harrison?" t-shirt for the occasion. Huzzah!

Stop #1 on Saturday, June 13th was a short drive to the Harrison Memorial and Tomb in North Bend OH.
I've been here several times but my wife really went the extra mile on this one. You can usually only go into the 1st gate of the tomb and peer into the main area. The 2nd gate stays locked except on special occasions. I guess this was one those. Tricia got a hold of Terry Simpson who is in charge of the property. She arranged for him to meet us there at 7:30AM and let me in the 2nd gate to stand inches away from WHH himself!  I've spoken to Terry before over at the Harrison-Cleves Museum. It was fantastic of him to meet us there early on a Saturday morning. Oh, and there appeared to be some empty spots in the tomb near William Henry and wife Anna Symmes. I called dibs on one of them. I just found out I'm related to WHH by marriage. My 4x Great Grandfather William Henry Smith was a cousin of the Symmes family.

Stop #2 was the main course, Harrison's home he had built in Vincennes IN, the Indiana Territorial capital in the early 19th century, population 700. He named his home Grouseland, for the many game birds on this 300-acre tract of land in this former French trading post. Harrison arrived in Vincennes in 1801 as Governor and once completed lived at Grouseland from 1804 - 1812. This has been on my "local" history bucket list for a while.
view of Grouseland from the historic walnut grove

William Henry Harrison moved from North Bend OH to Vincennes with his wife Anna Symmes after he was appointed Governor by President Jefferson. Tricia and I had the luxury of a modern highway that took a pleasant 4 hours. By contrast, land routes were rare, rugged and dangerous in 1801 so the Harrison family took the 4 week trip by boat down the Ohio River to Louisville KY and then to southern Indiana where they continued upriver by keelboat on the Wabash. By all accounts, they had good weather or it would have taken much longer. I'm glad we live in 2015!

Our drive along Rt 50 was beautiful and highly recommended vs the somewhat faster but more boring I-74 to I-70 route. We passed through and by Hoosier National Forest Martin State Forest, a couple of wildlife refuges and many small historic towns. I would like to come back to that area and explore it a bit more. Indiana ain't just corn fields. One would think it would all be flat (like the Interstate) but it was hilly and forested in many spots and reminded me of driving through parts of rural Kentucky. Of course, if you enjoy billboards and chain restaurants take the interstate. Your call.
My friend and fellow geocacher Mark also helped Tricia pre-plan some geocaches for me to find on the way so I didn't have to do that on the fly. Huzzah!
Harrison and Tecumseh met here!
Once we got to Grouseland we took the guided tour of the Virginian plantation styled brick home and its 17 rooms, including an attached one and a half story dependency. The friendly staff there was great and rather than just be a good sport, my wife actually enjoyed it herself. Because it was a private collection, no photos were allowed in the home. There were signs everywhere about that. Did I cheat? Maybe once. This site and the official site have some pretty good interior photos and descriptions as well as some history of the home after Harrison moved back to Ohio during the War of 1812.
Some interesting tidbits I took away from the visit - The house was built to withstand attacks by hostile Indians, British or any general melee. The windows were shuttered inside and out as a defensive measure. There was, in fact, a bullet hole in the dining room shutter, an alleged attempt on Harrison's life by a rogue frontier ruffian. The basement windows also had bars with a clear view of the Wabash River so that any incoming river traffic could be observed and defended if necessary. Exterior and interior walls were three bricks thick and the basement had a water well, munitions storage and a French drain toilet in the case of any long siege. As I understood it reading elsewhere, Harrison started the first Indiana Public Library in this basement too.
It's worth noting that Vincennes University, across the street from Grouseland, was Indiana's first college and, you guessed it, founded by WHH in 1801.
gift shop stop
The home was quite spacious for his large family (I think five of his ten children were born here). We learned that the good Governor had an open door policy whereby any citizen that felt unsafe in this hostile frontier could find refuge at the mansion. It was common for one to find regular citizens and travelers sleeping in the upstairs hallways.
We could also see some minor structural damage from the powerful 1811-12 New Madrid Earthquakes. These were the quakes that caused the Mississippi River to run backward in one section and the rumble was felt as far away as Boston. This is one strong house and it's clear that Harrison cared for the people he governed based on his protective policies and promotion of education. Huzzah!
One of the highlights for me was seeing the hat and sword that Harrison wore at Tippecanoe along with a remnant of the flag from his regiment in that battle. It was also great sitting in the walnut grove where the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and Governor Harrison had their parleys in 1810. One of those meetings almost ended in bloodshed but cooler heads prevailed. If that had turned out differently we may never have heard much of Tecumseh or Harrison, if at all. Lewis and Clark, whom Harrison knew from the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, also stopped here on the way back from their famous expedition.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indy
I was unsuccessful in playing matchmaker to my teenage daughter (unbeknownst to her back in Cincinnati) with the teenage docent who really seemed to enjoy his volunteer work and knew his stuff. He was taken, so I'll have to look for another future son-in-law. Because of my yakity yak with the wonderful like-minded staff and my dawdling in the gift shop (where I picked up some great trinkets for my collection), we blew Tricia's timeline a bit for the next stop. That just meant we had to eat lunch on the run.

Stop #3 was an overnight stay at the Hilton in Downtown Indianapolis a block away from the mighty impressive 19th century Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle which includes accolades to local early history including of course WHH. They were doing repairs so it was all covered in scaffolding. We had a nice dinner downtown that evening.

Stop #4 on Sunday was also near the hotel. It was the grandiose Indiana War Memorial which was dedicated by General Pershing in 1927. It had well-done displays on Indiana's contributions to the various war efforts from the Revolutionary War to WHH's War of 1812 service up to the present day and ended with the 110' tall Shrine Room with its massive 24 marble pillar. You can see it in a virtual tour here. It is quite overwhelming to stand in that quiet and massive room.

Pez Prez WHH overlooks Downtown Indy
Alas, all good things must come to an end and we had to head home on Sunday afternoon. What a great way to spend a weekend for a WHH and local history fan like me!

Maybe for the 60th, Tricia will take me to Harrison's birthplace, Berkeley Plantation in Virginia? Fingers crossed!

Other Gehio related WHH posts you may find interesting:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The City of Seven (Three) Hills (Ridges)

Apparently, #513Day is a thing now. In case you didn't know today is 5/13 and Cincinnati's area code is 513. So Happy 513 Day Cincinnati.
Now pardon me while I pull out my wet blanket.
Cincinnati is often referred to as the City of Seven Hills. No one can agree on a definitive list. What is the origin of this nickname? I'm sorry to report that there is no such thing. It's made up. Sorry.

1938 Cincinnati book
Let's review some geology! 
Cincinnati doesn't even have hills. Technically they are ridges.
The city of Cincinnati is in a peneplain, a plain carved out by the ancient Teays River millions of years ago. This plain is surrounded by three ridges. The high points of these ridges are nearly all the same height and seem like hills from downtown Cincinnati. The city is actually in a valley. The Ohio River Valley. They just look like hills when viewed from the lower elevation of the Downtown area.

Let's review some history!
Northwest Territory Governor Arthur St. Clair re-named Losantiville to Cincinnati in 1790 after the Society of the Cincinnati, a veterans club tribute to George Washington named after the Roman farmer-leader-farmer Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. By the early 19th century Cincinnati was a growing metropolis, eager to draw new citizens and business. The steamboat era was in full swing and the Miami & Erie Canal had just been completed. The city was the gateway to the Mississippi and all points beyond. Cincinnati's location made it a major thoroughfare for commerce and travel. The population of Cincinnati went from 2,500 in 1810 to over 100,000 by 1850. In short, it was a boom-town. It seems likely that someone decided Cincinnati had Seven Hills just like Rome simply as a nod to the origin of the city's name. This reference didn't even show up until June 1853 in a periodical called Bickley's West American Review. By 1860 the population was at 160,000.

Now back to the "seven hills" themselves...
The Cincinnati area now has over a dozen places with the term "Mount", "Heights" or "Hill" but it wasn't always this way. Some "hills" have changed names over the years or have been combined into one name.
An obvious thing to do is go back to the original list. As I said before, no one mentioned "Seven Hills" until 1853 over a half-century after Cincinnati's founding. This 1853 list is also strange because it includes College Hill way to the North. In 1881, someone came up with a new list. By then there were different hill names as the city expanded even more. Oddly the 1881 list replaces College Hill with Mount Lookout way over to the East. By the 20th and 21st century we had updated lists.
Six basic "hills" seem to be common in all of the era's but if you ask me the best list is from the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1958. That list hugs around those three ridges just perfectly. They can all be easily observed from the point of view of the downtown area.

  1. Mount Adams
  2. Walnut Hills
  3. Mount Auburn
  4. Clifton Heights
  5. Fairview Heights
  6. Fairmount
  7. Price Hill
A terrain map makes this more apparent:

On the terrain map, you can see the flat plain at the bend north of the Ohio River and the three ridges to the Northeast, North, and Northwest. (click on the icon in the upper left of the map to see the different layers with the different hills mentioned in 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.)
I'll agree that the City of Three Ridges doesn't have the same panache as the Romanesque sounding City of Seven Hills and this myth will never die. That's OK. We know the truth.
Now feel free to make your own list and argue with a lifelong resident about it.

other sources:
-Digging Cincinnati History
-Cincinnati Enquirer March 18 2012
-Cincinnati Magazine May 1985

Friday, April 17, 2015

I Red The News Today Oh Boy

Pete, you scoundrel!
In 1960 a band from Liverpool England formed and called themselves The Beatles. By 1970 The Beatles were finished. The members went their separate ways playing music under various other names.
In an alternate history, by 1981 another group of lads from Liverpool decided to form a new band and called it The Beetles. They have been recording music for the last 33 years. That makes The Beetles the longest running rock band in history!
The Beetles est.1960.

Stay with me. This post is about something sacred and holy to Cincinnatians. A topic you won't see much of here.
It's not politics.
It's not religion.
this sign skips from 1869 to 1876
It's not even chili.
It's sports. Namely, the Cincinnati Reds.
Now it's no secret to my friends that I'm not a sports fanatic but I do like history and I like debunking historical myths. In other words, I like the truth.

I'm sure you've heard the Cincinnati Reds referred to as the oldest professional baseball team, "established in 1869". Some Cincinnati Reds shirts and merchandise say "est. 1869". A big sign at the stadium even states this. It just isn't true.
It is certainly a fact that the first professional baseball team was the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. This was a baseball team from Cincinnati with "Reds" in the name, but this was a different team with a different genealogy. Let me explain how that happened...

you wear a t-shirt of lies!
The original 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings folded after a short run. The end.
In 1871 several players from that folded team moved to Boston and formed the Boston Red Stockings. There were several name changes in bean-town like my personal favorite, the 1893 Boston Beaneaters.
In 1913 they became the Boston Braves. This team then moved to Milwaukee in 1953 as the Braves and then moved once more to Atlanta in 1966 again as the Braves.
This is the modern Atlanta Braves, the oldest professional baseball team, est. 1871. Sorry.
I hear you screaming "Lies! Sacrilege! Heretic!".

There's more...

Cincinnati had no professional baseball team from 1871-1875. None. Zip.

There WAS a second Red Stockings team that formed in Cincinnati in 1876, but they folded in 1880. The end. Again.
A third Red Stockings team started in 1881.  This team dropped "Stockings" from the name when joining the National League in 1889. This is the same Cincinnati Reds franchise that exists today.

In the 1940s the idea began to appear that the Cincinnati Reds was the oldest team in professional baseball. I'm not sure of the reason behind this. Perhaps nostalgia or hometown pride. We did have that war going on. The point is, the notion did not exist prior to that time. It certainly didn't exist in 1883. Here is an excerpt from a Cincinnati Commercial Gazette article on 09/13/1883
"The Cincinnatis have played remarkable games during their career since 1882, but never did they accomplish such a feat as that of this game. Never was there such batting done in this city - in fact the slugging has not been equaled in this country in late years. From the time the first Red Stocking went to the bat up to the last one was extinguished (the NL Reds 1876-1880), it was a continuous larruping picnic"
(Larrupping means a "thrashing")
While the Reds Major League Baseball site does not make this claim directly, they do skimp on the timeline a bit much like Ohio Historical Marker #54-31 in front of the Great American Stadium . They both refer to the original Cincinnati Red Stockings as being the oldest team but omit the folding, subsequent franchise moves, and name changes. Keep in mind no one associated with the original 1869 Red Stockings had anything to do with the 1881 Red Stockings.
Here is another analogy for you. If Pete Rose lived at 1414 Main Street, Cincinnati OH sells his house and moves away to let's just say... Philadelphia, then another man moves into 1414 Main Street and changes his name to Pete Rose, is that the same Pete Rose? I don't think anyone would say it was. It's a different man with the same name living in the same house.
angry revisionist history Reds fans
Apparently, this topic gets debated from time to time so this is nothing new to the hardcore fan but to the casual rabid fan, this is religious doctrine.

1881! Someone got it right!
Need more proof?
Baseball folks are all about stats right? Take a look at the MLB Reds statistics page. Let's see, where is 1869.... Oh! They begin in 1882 for the 3rd Cincinnati Reds Stockings. Look at the Braves MLB site, their stats begin in...drum roll...1871. Yeah yeah, I know it says Boston Braves but almost all other online sources list them as the Boston Red Stockings for the years 1871-1875. Here is one source.
Atlanta Braves win by 11 years.

It's fair to say that Cincinnati's baseball tradition dates back to 1869. BUT the Cincinnati Reds franchise per the MLB stats began in 1881, 11 years after the Atlanta Braves and thus is not the oldest pro team.

Cincinnati Reds est. 1881

The next thing you know, I'll be telling you that the Wright Brothers from Ohio didn't fly the first airplane in 1903 but rather it was a German immigrant in Connecticut named Gustav Whitehead two years earlier. That's another topic for later.

Should I hire a bodyguard now? uh, play ball and good luck in 2015! Huzzah.

other sources: 
-the biggest Reds fan I've ever known: James L. Farmer Sr. of the Society for Cincinnati Sports Research
-Major League Baseball

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March Ohio History Madness!

March is rich in Ohio history goodness. 
OK, not all of it is good. Some of it is bad and downright shameful. It is interesting nonetheless and makes us who we are. Are we learning yet?

I've written up some things on most of the following items. The link will take you to that post.

Tecumseh was born in 1768 somewhere in SW Ohio. Historians don't agree on the exact day or place (probably Xenia) but the date is likely sometime in March based on conversations with a white man named Stephen Ruddell who grew up as his adopted brother.

The month also marks Ohio Statehood Day when Ohio became the 17th state March 1st, 1803. So happy belated birthday.

Adopted son of Ohio, war hero, Tecumseh adversary and shortest term President William Henry Harrison gave that long speech on March 4th, 1841. It contributed to his early demise one month later. March really sucked for him. You can follow him on Twitter.

A terrible scar...
"Adopt our religion and our ways, be farmers and everything will be fine"...that's basically what the Americans said to the Indians.
It made little difference when they complied.
The Gnadenhutten Massacre took place March 8, 1782. Ninety farming Christianized Delaware Indians were slain by militiamen in Ohio as revenge for raids carried out by other Indians. They were even praying as the men, women and children were executed en masse. This escalated tensions greatly in the area and led to years of bloody conflict and distrust.

Onto something more positive...
Ohio produced 24 astronauts including Neil Armstrong. March 16th, 1962 marks his first trip to space aboard Gemini 8. He would later, of course, be the first man to walk on the Moon.

Back to bummersville...
Many Wyandot, like Leatherlips and Tarhe, sided with Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries but it didn't matter. Their reward? They were the last Indians get booted from Ohio to "Indian Country" upon the signing of the Treaty with the Wyandot on March 17th, 1842. The last sentence of the treaty may as well have been "Thanks for the help with the British and other Indians, we'll take all the land now."

Time for some music!
March 21st, 1951 was the first rock concert, Allan Freed's Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland OH. 20,000 people showed up to a venue that held half that. Pandemonium ensued. Headlining was Paul Williams and his Hucklebuckers. Tickets cost $1.50. The fact that it was interracial was a big big deal too.

Ah well back to terrible good old days...
On March 27th, 1884 a mob in Cincinnati, Ohio, attacked members of a jury who had returned a verdict of manslaughter in a clear case of murder, and then over the next few days would riot and destroy the Hamilton County Courthouse. This would become known as the Cincinnati Courthouse Riots. One of the worst riots in American history. 50 people died and many important historical documents and court records were lost in that melee.

Arthur St Clair, governor of the Northwest Territories was born in Scotland on March 27, 1737. He was infamous for his major Indian defeat as well as naming Cincinnati.

March 31st, 1933 marks the completion of Union Terminal which now houses the Cincinnati Museum Center. The citizens just passed a levy to save this fantastic building that needs plenty of work. Thanks for that! I no longer volunteer but my heart is there.

And last but not least, I acknowledge March 21st, 2010 as my Ohio History Epiphany Day. This is when the local history lightbulb went off for me. Read all about it here if you like.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ship's Sensors Detect A Day of Birth

Nurse Chapel

Ohio has produced 24 NASA astronauts including Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Jim Lovell and Judith Resnik. Resnik was even recruited into the astronaut program in 1978 by Star Trek actress Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols who headed a project to attract women and minorities to the agency.
Ohio is also the birthplace of Cleveland native Majel Barrett on February 23rd, 1932. So happy birthday!
Spock denies Nurse Chapel's interface attempts
While not having the direct influence or notoriety as Nichols, Majel was involved in nearly every single incarnation of the Star Trek franchise. Nicknamed "the First Lady of Star Trek" she is best known as the iconic female computer voice in five Star Trek series' and several of the movies including the 2009 reboot. She also portrayed several recurring onscreen TV characters such as Nurse Christine Chapel in the original series (promoted to Dr. Chapel in the movies) and lusty Betazoid Ambassador Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation and Deep Space 9.

Hello Nurse!
Thanks to Gene Roddenberry's progressive visions of the future, her first Star Trek gig was in the 1964 pilot The Cage as Number One, the ship's first officer. NBC network executives thought Mr. Spock the alien science officer was too demonic looking and they didn't care for a woman playing such an uppity lead role. In 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act, Americans weren't quite ready for strong female roles on TV or in real life. Roddenberry was pressured to give the first officer spot to the now half alien, less demonic looking man and demote the Earth woman to a more suitable role for the 23rd century. A sexy blonde nurse. Because it was really 1964 America. I suppose the show would have been much different without the misogyny It wasn't that long ago. Interestingly, Chapel's unrequited love for the mostly emotionless alien Mr. Spock would become a plot subject in the series. I guess by the end of the 60s, the network censors were okay with a little inter-species mind noodling, and Chapel even carried Spock's essence once.  I've learned this relationship has become the subject of some tawdry fan-fiction. Google it. I try to keep it PG-13 here.

Gene and Majel in the 80s on set
When the first series ended in 1969, Majel married Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Besides her Star Trek work she produced and played roles in other science fiction shows such as Andromeda and Babylon 5 as well as doing voice-overs for animation and video games.
Gene died in 1991, Majel in 2008 and their ashes will be launched into space by the company Celestis in 2016. The space burial will include among others, fellow Star Trek co-star James "Scotty" Doohan who died in 2005.
Not a bad legacy for someone who's college dream was to become a law clerk.

other sources:
-Majel Barrett Bio on

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Yeatman's Cove. All Cincinnati folks know what this is. I'll bet most have no idea who this Yeatman person is.
For those unfamiliar, Sawyer Point Park & Yeatman's Cove is an outdoor recreational area along the Cincinnati Riverfront. It's popular for many outdoor events like the annual Riverfest Fireworks, Party in the Park and other large community events. The area has a spectacular view of the Ohio River and the bridges from many places including the sprawling Serpentine Wall. You can almost always catch a barge or a steamboat chugging down the river. There are playgrounds, tennis courts, and trails to enjoy. It's very nice place to bring a family, maybe catch some live music or just walk around on a nice day.
1869 sketch of Cincinnati in 1802. The tavern would have been just above the boats by the tree.

illustration of the Square and Compass
of unknown date/origin but it seems old ;-)
Griffin Yeatman, a Virginian born lawyer built the first public house in Cincinnati OH in 1793. Yeatman, a Freemason, called his 2 story log tavern the "Square & Compass", no doubt a nod to the symbol of Freemasonry. Located at Front and Sycamore (where the left field of Great American Ballpark is now) this became the center of social and political activity in the fledgling city with around 800 citizens. A "Who's who?" of the Old Northwest such as Marquis de Lafayette, George Rogers Clark, Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, William Henry Harrison, Arthur St. Clair and Mad Anthony Wayne frequented the tavern. Over time the country became more partisan and so did the Tavern. By 1800 only old Federalists (who tended to be Freemasons) hung out at Yeatman's while the new up and coming Democratic-Republicans (who tended not to be Freemasons) started going to future first Cincinnati Mayor, David Ziegler’s general store next door. Things never change. The new generation always wants their own stuff, new ideas and cool places to hang out.

1936 marker on building prior to the
baseball stadium being built at the location.
Griffin Yeatman wasn't just some attorney turned bar owner. He was a real big shot. For 27 years Griffin served as the Hamilton County Recorder, County Clerk, and Justice of the Peace. Don't be fooled by the word "tavern" either.  Oh sure, you could get a pint of ale and a meal at the "Square and Compass" but it wasn't the chicken wing, burger and craft beer type place we know today. Many taverns of that time served as multi-functional community spaces, much like the modern public park that bears his name. The "Square and Compass" also acted as a hospital, post office, court and town council. By 1819 Cincinnati,  now at 9,000 citizens, had 70 other taverns but I suspect they were more along the lines of our modern notions.

It is difficult to come up with much else on the man or his tavern. I can't find a single image of Griffin or his bustling public house. It's a bit surprising that no period sketches of this high profile spot seem to exist and one would think a man of such prominence would have sat for a portrait or two. Griffin died at age 79 in 1849 of "rush of blood to heart" (?) and like many Cincinnati VIPs is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.
It is worth noting that even though Griffin Yeatman's full story seems to be lost to time, there are attempts to honor his name with an annual Griffin Yeatman Award. The award recognizes people who work to help others understand historic preservation and promote public interest in the topic. <ahem>

sources: - Griffin Yeatman
University of Cincinnati Historical Maps
Cincinnati Cemeteries: The Queen City Underground 
BeerMumbo - Yeatman's Tavern
OhioPix - Ohio Historical Society managed repository of Ohio images
- Cincinnati, a Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors (1943)