Journal-News, Monday, June 1, 1992
Depression era fueled local coal theft arrests
By Jim Blount
Hamilton police records provide a glimpse of life in the city during the Prohibition and Depression years of the early 1930s. Entries in police blotters reflect the suffering and desperation of local families and the relative few demands on police.
For perspective, consider that Hamilton police received 68,549 calls for service in 1990 and 70,792 in 1991. For 1991 that's approximately 5,900 calls a month. In 1990, Hamilton police charged 5,140 persons with crimes and issued 13,201 traffic citations.
By contrast, in 1930 — the first year of the Great Depression — the department recorded 2,842 investigations and 2,489 arrests, including traffic violations.
During a five-day period over a weekend in January 1930, the Hamilton blotter listed only six arrests — five on disorderly charges and one for robbery. In Hamilton Municipal Court, three of those cases netted the city a total of $37.55 in fines and court costs.
During the month, officers reported 296 investigations and arrested 134 people, including 31 charged with disorderly conduct and 42 for intoxication, despite prohibition laws.
In April 1930, three Hamilton men — ages 22, 35 and 45 — were arrested for prohibition violations (possession of a still, manufacturing liquor and possession of liquor). Each man paid $411.70 in fines and costs in municipal court — personal losses which could have been easily covered in a few days of moonshine sales.
In 1931, police records are evidence of the worsening economic plight of some local families. By then, a familiar offense noted on the Hamilton police blotter was the theft of coal from freight "rains on local railroads.
During the Depression, some men obtained fuel for coal-burning stoves and furnaces by walking the tracks and searching for lumps which had fallen from hopper cars.
Others were more enterprising. They jumped onto moving trains or cars on sidings and filled bags with coal. Still others worked in teams, one man climbing onto a car then throwing coal from a slow-moving train while a partner collected the loot at trackside.
Railroad detectives rounded up 12 local men in a two-day period in March 1931, charging each with larceny at police headquarters. Each was ordered to pay $10.85 in fines and court costs, but the penalty was suspended on good behavior.
On Easter April 1931, five men were arrested at the railroad crossing at Millville Avenue and charged with loitering while they were waiting to hop a train to steal coal.
Still later, other men were booked on train riding charges, which also cost them fines and costs totaling $10.85 each in municipal court, if a judge didn't suspend the penalty.
Regarding the March arrests, railroad detectives said the 12 men had taken from one to five tons of coal each. The day they were apprehended, the City of Hamilton had contracted for 25,000 tons of coal for the municipal electric plant at a bulk rate of $2.87 a ton.
At the same time, a local coal dealer charged $6.50 a ton for coal dumped at the curb, and $7 a ton if delivered into the coal bin in your house.
A police summary for October 1930 noted that an "average of about 32 men were sleeping in flop rooms each night during the month." The flop room offered basic overnight necessities for homeless, jobless men — a cot or hammock, plus showers and toilets — in the basement of Hamilton police headquarters.
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Journal-News, Monday, June 8, 1992
1820s world doubted Symmes hollow theory
By Jim Blount
"I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within," said John Cleves Symmes in explaining his "theory of concentric spheres and solar voids" to a doubting scientific world in the early 1820s.
He claimed the earth had "a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open to the poles. 12 or 16 degrees." Symmes also believed plant and animal life existed in the opening, which soon was called the Symmes Hole.
Documents explaining the theory contained maps of Symmezonia, including the Symmes River, which discharged water from inside the earth into the world's oceans.
The theorist was the nephew of Judge John Cleves Symmes (1742-1814), who promoted settlement in this region after buying land north of the Ohio River and between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers from Congress in 1788.
While selling his Miami lands, the uncle also served as a judge in the Northwest Territory, an area that later spawned the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.
The nephew was born Nov. 5, 1780, in Sussex County, New Jersey. He entered the U. S. Army in April 1802 and held the rank of captain by the start of the War of 1812.
In 1816, with the war ended, Captain Symmes left the army to develop his hollow earth theory. He resided in St. Louis until 1819 when he moved to Newport, Ky., and in 1824 relocated to a farm in Fairfield Twp. near Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Symmes was writing articles, lecturing and soliciting financial support for exploration, which he planned to start from Siberia.
"I pledge my life in support of this truth," Symmes said, "and am ready to explore this hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking." But his ideas also prompted ridicule from skeptics and Symmes failed to persuade Congress to finance hollow-earth exploration.
After an exhausting lecture tour, Symmes died May 29. 1829, on his Butler County farm. He was buried the next day with military honors in the Hamilton cemetery, which Israel Ludlow had provided when he laid out the town in the 1790s.
When Greenwood Cemetery was created north of Hamilton in 1848, many of the remains in the Hamilton graveyard were removed to the new cemetery. But Symmes' body remained in it original location.
His son, Americus Symmes of Louisville, Ky., appeared at a Hamilton City Council meeting in December 1873 to outline plans for the monument.
"Last winter when I was here, permission was granted to me by this council to erect a monument in the Fourth Ward Graveyard over the remains of my father," reported the Hamilton Telegraph.
"I am here tonight to report that I have obtained drawings of designs for the monument, both from Europe and this country, and I submit now for your approval a small design of the one which most suits my taste.
"I desire that it shall beautify and adorn the spot," Symmes said, "and attract attention from the travelers on the railroads, which pass it on either side."
He also asked council for permission to transport the remains of his mother, then buried in Illinois, to Hamilton.
Regarding his father's theories, Symmes told council that "I find that every day and year is proving the correctness of that theory, which was promulgated by my father nearly 60 years ago; and, I believe, in future years, when its truth becomes a part of history, future philosophers will inquire for this grave and visit his tomb" in Hamilton.
The Symmes monument — which features a hollow earth —remains in the former cemetery, now a Hamilton park, between S. Third, S. Fourth and Sycamore streets. A $16,000 renovation, commissioned by Historic Hamilton Inc., was completed in 1991.
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Journal-News, Monday, June 15, 1992
Navy schools operated in Oxford during war
By Jim Blount
The U. S. Navy moved into Oxford 50 years ago during the sixth month of World War II, and proved to be a development which would have lasting repercussions in Hamilton.
Operations began Monday, June 1, 1942, at the Radio Naval Training School on the Miami University campus. Lt. G. L. Dusland was in charge as 150 men arrived in Oxford.
Additional 150-man units were to be added monthly until October when enrollment would reach 600 men. Their four-month training would include instruction in typing, radio code and radio theory.
The trainee, bunked in Fisher Hall (since demolished) while officers were housed nearby in the Pines. A month earlier, Miami had completed a $10,000 mess hall to serve the 600 men.
In preparation Oxford citizens had also formed a USO (United Service Organization) center in the village. Heading the Oxford USO citizens committee were Mayor R. J. Todd; Dr. A. H. Upham, president of Miami University; and Mrs. Alexander Thomson, president of Western College for Women.
The radio school was the first of several U. S. Navy programs which would be located in Oxford. Seven weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Miami trustees approved purchase of 300 acres located a mile and a half west of Oxford as the site for a university airport designed for flight training. Runway construction began in August 1942.
By the war's end in 1945, the navy had train more than 7,800 men and women in a variety of skills on the Miami campus.
The industrial city of Hamilton — with an abundance of bars and dance halls — became a favorite weekend destination for naval personnel seeking relief from "dry" Oxford.
But Hamilton also was known for its numerous houses of prostitution, a legacy of the city's lawless Prohibition years.
Congress had anticipated such problems in 1941, before direct U. S. involvement in the war, enacting the May Anti-Prostitution Law, which gave the federal government authority to close houses of prostitution within 50 miles of military installations. The Oxford navy school was within 15 miles of downtown Hamilton.
Friday, June 26, Hamilton officials received an ultimatum from the Office of Defense and Welfare Service of the Federal Security Agency. It ordered the city to close houses of prostitution within 24 hours.
The federal action had been initiated by the Ohio director of health, who said city officials had ignored his requests for cooperation. He said Hamilton was the only city in Ohio not complying with the state.
State health officials reported that the rate of venereal disease in Hamilton was 48 per 1,000 among selective service examinees — more than double the state average of 23 men per 1,000 examined.
Failure to comply with the federal ultimatum would have meant that Hamilton would have been classified "off limits" for military personnel.
The off-limits threat prompted a city crackdown during the weekend of June 26-28. More than 300 persons were arrested on an assortment of charges in Hamilton's red light districts.
"They (houses of prostitution) have obeyed this order," it was reported three days later, "and indications are that with federal heat on the Hamilton situation, they will remain closed."
That statement may have exaggerated the response.
Houses of prostitution — which had multiplied in the 1920s and 1930s during Hamilton's infamous "Little Chicago" era — remained here for several years after the war.
According to contemporary observers, the task of closing the houses — which started in June 1942, thanks to the federal edict — required nearly 10 years to complete.
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Journal-News, Monday, June 22, 1992
Somerville grocer reported 1922 auto trip to California
By Jim Blount
Imagine a 2,841-mile auto trip to California with driving costs of slightly more than eight cents a mile. That's what it cost a Butler County couple 70 years ago, "including every item and one week's room rent."
A letter describing the trip was reprinted in a Hamilton newspaper in 1922. The writer was identified as "D. Muskopf, grocer of Somerville." It had been sent to an Oxford friend.
The trip to Los Angeles, Calif, began Oct. 10 with Muskopf and his wife driving through Indiana and Illinois "on good roads and in good weather" in a Ford of undisclosed age.
From Illinois into eastern Colorado, Muskopf said they saw "beautiful prairie land for miles and miles on a 60-foot well-graded dirt road. Everywhere prosperity showed itself, well-built buildings, fences, tractors, large cribs of corn, every indication of a prosperous country."
In western Kansas, the couple was "overtaken by a severe sand storm" which was "so dense that we were compelled to stop for fear of running into other machines. The storm turned from sand to snow, which made the roads very slick." They waited until road conditions improved and continued into Colorado where they encountered similar storms.
"We spent a few days at Colorado Springs, viewing the many sights," Muskopf explained, before continuing south to Pueblo and Trinidad, following the Santa Fe Trail.
"Then on to the Raton Pass, 25 miles up and 10 miles down," said Muskopf, referring to the 7,834-foot elevation road and railroad corridor on the Colorado-New Mexico border. "Here is where I lost my nerve, but not until I had guided the machine safely into the city of Raton" in New Mexico, Muskopf wrote.
"There are times on that pass where it is necessary for a large machine to pull up and back to make the turn, with a 2,000-foot drop if the brakes do no work.
"I do not think that we spoke a dozen words while going over the pass," he said. "My little Ford worked to perfection, but I had both feet on the reverse and brake and hand on the emergency. When we arrived in Raton, I simply gave way and told Mrs. Muskopf that I had to rest."
After the pause, the couple continued 115 miles on "a fine state road" to Santa Fe, founded by the Spanish in 1609.
From Santa Fe, "we again took up our trail which led up what they called the LaBajada Hill," which Muskopf said was "a fair sample of the wonders of road building in the West."
"As you approach the hill, it seems so large that you begin to think that the climb is impossible," he said, "but as you get closer, you find that your machine is eating it up on high, the grading and deep cuts making this possible. The driver should be very careful for there are some very sharp curves which may cause him to lose the road and plunge down 200 or 300 feet," he warned.
At Holbrook, Ariz., they reached "the edge of the desert," he wrote. "Beginning here, we were told to put in plenty of supplies, such as water, gas and oil, but I wish to inform those who are contemplating this tour, that the desert is a joke."
He said "the traveler need not carry a surplus supply because the roads are such that with few exceptions, machines can travel from 20 to 25 miles per hour" and "filling stations and lunchrooms are located every 15 or 20 miles."
"The deep ruts and lava beds are the only things that the driver need watch, being careful of the sharp stones that cover the road," Muskopf said.
Upon arrival in California, Muskopf said "I am still using the same spark plugs and fan belt that I had when I left Ohio. I have had no blowouts, only eight nail punctures, not one minute loss on account of engine trouble."
In California, the Muskopfs enjoyed "the benefits of a splendid climate" and traveled on "wonderful roads that lead us through beautiful groves filled with trees loaded with oranges and grapes."
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Journal-News, Monday, June 29, 1992
Liberty Bell visited Hamilton in 1915
By Jim Blount
"The greatest patriotic celebration in the history of the City of Hamilton," according to a contemporary newspaper report, wasn't a Fourth of July observance, but Monday, Nov. 22, 1915, when the Liberty Bell arrived in Hamilton.
The bell's brief appearance came as it was being shipped back to Philadelphia from the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. That event celebrated the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal and the earlier discovery of the Pacific Ocean.
City officials had learned that the patriotic symbol would be transported by railroad from Cincinnati to Dayton on its eastern return trip, and they successfully arranged a stop in Hamilton, then a city boasting a population of 37,500 people.
Darrell Joyce, superintendent of Hamilton schools, headed an arrangements committee including Fred J. Meyers, J. W. Myers, W. H. Snoderly, Will H. Lebo, C. E. Deneen and Captain Charles Hunter of Company E. of the Third Ohio Regiment.
The Liberty Bell was scheduled for a 15-minute stop at Fourth and High Streets at 5:25 p.m., arriving via the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
Festivities began at 3:45 p.m. with a band concert at the courthouse, including speeches by Judges Walter S. Harlan and John B. Connaughton and the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Judge Clarence Murphy.
Joining them were about 5,000 children who had marched from 13 public and eight parochial schools.
The plan was to time the ceremonies so that the children would march from the courthouse and arrive at the Fourth Street tracks just before the train arrived. But those plans went awry when the special train was delayed.
"This intelligence was conveyed to the large crowd," a newspaper reported, "and the school children were told to go to their homes and get their supper, returning when they heard the ringing of the fire bells."
The bells rang at 5:55 p.m., but that was a false alarm which "sent people scurrying to Fourth and High Streets from all directions, and the intersection there became a mass of humanity, each one pushing and shoving in an effort to be near the track when the bell arrived," wrote an observer.
The train didn't arrive until 6:55, an hour and 30 minutes off its schedule. Fortunately, local planners had arranged to have a large searchlight on hand to illuminate the bell.
"The bell was displayed on a flat car which was hooked onto the rear of the special train," a newspaper said. "There was nothing to obstruct the view" and those who waited and braved the crowd were "repaid for their efforts by having seen the famous Liberty Bell."
It had been commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary in 1751 of the democratic constitution of Pennsylvania colony.
The New Province Bell — its original name — was designed to be placed in the unfinished statehouse in Philadelphia.
The English-made bell cracked while being tested in 1752 in Philadelphia. It was recast, but rejected. It was recast a second time by two Philadelphia men, John Pass and John Stow, and placed in the tower of the statehouse, which was completed m 1758.
It rang July 8, 1776, as the first public announcement was made of the Declaration of Independence, and eventually it became known as the Liberty Bell.
The replica in front of the Hamilton Municipal Building on High Street was unveiled July 4, 1976, as part of the city's American Revolution bicentennial observance. It was produced by the same English bell foundry which cast the original bell in the 1750's.
In 1976, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd. of London sold 100 Liberty Bell replicas in the United States. A Hamilton commission, headed by Jim Grimm, raised more than $12,000 to obtain one of two Ohio bells for the city.
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