428. Oct. 2, 1996 - Government building site formerly theater:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 1996
Site of proposed government building formerly occupied by vaudeville theater
By Jim Blount
The serious business of government may soon be heard on a High Street tract that once resounded with laughter, cheers and applause. A government services center is proposed for the block bordered by High, Court and State streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Ninety years ago, a vaudeville theater occupied a portion of that land.
The Grand Family Theater -- later known as the State Theater and the Lyric Theater -- opened in 1905 on the southeast corner of High and State streets. It was built "to give the people of Hamilton good vaudeville at low prices," according to contemporary reports.
The Grand was erected in the midst of the golden age of vaudeville. That era extended for about 40 years, from the 1880s through the start of the Great Depression in the late 1920s. The name came from a French town, Vau-de-Vire in Normandy, whose residents were known for the satirical songs they sang.
Vaudeville meant variety to American audiences. Shows featured a series of act, ranging from comedians, acrobats, jugglers, magicians, singers and dancers to ventriloquists and animal acts. The shows -- which ranged from 60 to 75 minutes -- usually had six to 10 acts.
The Grand, said a 1905 advertisement, scheduled "polite vaudeville" shows "catering to ladies and children" at "a popular price." That apparently meant patrons would be spared comedy skits which included "adult dialog" and routines bordering on burlesque, a fleshy variant of vaudeville.
A 1916 report described the Grand as "the first home of Hamilton's advanced vaudeville." It was built by John Ward and John E. McCarthy on a site previously occupied by a blacksmith shop. McCarthy had been reared at Jones Station in Fairfield Twp. He had theatrical experience as an actor and comedian before operating the Grand. Ward, his partner, was a native of Baltimore. He had a varied background, including work in railroading and mining in western states.
The theater opened Tuesday night, Aug. 29, 1905, with two shows (7:45 and 9:15), each offering six vaudeville acts. The?program included a magician, a female vocalist, a pantomime with a trained poodle, a musical duo and a pair of comedians, supplemented with slides and music. All 400 seats were filled for both shows. The Journal said the theater "could not seat one-half the people who sought entrance at either of the two shows last night."
"The theater makes no pretensions of costly splendor," the newspaper noted, "but does claim to seat comfortably 400 people, any one of whom can see and hear the actors from any angle, or from any seat in the compact little playhouse."
In 1905, general admission was 10 cent and reserved seats 20 cents for three shows daily.
Because of vaudeville's popularity in Hamilton, McCarthy and Ward soon realized the Grand wasn't grand enough. A larger theater was needed. Less than 13 months after opening their High Street playhouse, the partners announced plans to build a new complex on the west side of South Third Street, opposite the Maple Avenue intersection.
The new Grand Theater opened at 201 South Third Street March 2, 1908. The old Grand on High Street switched from vaudeville to silent films. By the 1920s it was showing "talking" movies. For most of its 40 years it was known as the Lyric Theater. For a few years it was called the State Theater because of its location along the one-block street of that name.
The Lyric closed in 1948, when a television set was a novelty which few families in Hamilton could afford.
The theater was demolished in July 1953 to clear the way for retail development in the High Street block, then bounded on the east by the busy tracks of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Now the former theater plot and the remainder of the block are empty, awaiting completion of a study on the feasibility of the proposed government building.
Gone, too, are the railroad tracks, replaced within the last dozen years by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, now a major north-south artery.
# # #
429. Oct. 9, 1996 - Hamilton's vaudeville boom continued in 1908: (The new Grand Family Theater at 201 South Third Street, opposite the Maple Avenue intersection, opened Monday night, March 2, 1908.)
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 1996
Hamilton's appetite for vaudeville entertainment seemed insatiable in 1908
By Jim Blount
Hamilton's appetite for vaudeville seemed insatiable in 1908. Most of the week, theaters offered patrons as many as eight daily shows totaling nearly 4,000 seats, thanks to John E. McCarthy and John Ward. The show business entrepreneurs opened their second vaudeville theater that year in the city of about 35,000 people.
Weekly vaudeville shows -- usually featuring about a half dozen acts -- started here before the turn of the century at the Globe Opera House (southeast corner of High Street and Journal Square). After a few weeks, the Globe dropped the variety shows in favor of its traditional dramatic and music features.
The vaudeville drought ended in 1905 with the arrival of McCarthy and Ward. They built the 400-seat Grand Family Theater on the southeast corner of High and State streets. Soon after it opened in August 1905, the partners realized they had under-estimated Hamilton's demand for vaudeville.
They broke ground Aug. 12, 1907, for a larger showplace at 201 South Third Street. It was designed by Frederick G. Mueller and built by Bender Brothers & Co. at estimates ranging from $50,000 to $65,000. The new complex on the west side of South Third Street, opposite the Maple Avenue intersection, opened Monday night, March 2, 1908.
The exterior of the new Grand Family Theater was brick and stone. The lobby, measuring 18 by 90 feet, featured ceramic tile on the floor and part way up the walls. It was the product of the Ohio Tile Co. of Hamilton. Off the lobby were offices and restrooms. Five dressing rooms were in the basement.
The lobby sloped upward to the finely-appointed 125x150-foot theater. There were six boxes (admission 25 cents) on the main floor. The theater seated about 800 people, including a balcony.
In 1908, general admission prices were 10, 15 and 20 cents. There were four shows most days, including 10-cent matinees Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
After the opening of the new theater, the old?Grand on High Street was renamed the Lyric Theater. It continued vaudeville with four shows daily, admission at 5 and 10 cents.
By 1908, the Globe Theater on High Street had been converted to retail and business space. The new Grand's major amusement competitor was Smith's Theater. It had opened as the Jefferson in March 1903. Features there included plays, musicals and concerts. The 1,600-seat theater -- on the west side of South Second Street, midway between Court and Ludlow streets -- was just a block west of the new Grand.
In its final years -- before consumed by a 1928 fire -- Smith's Theater was again called the Jefferson and included vaudeville among its varied offerings.
The new Grand continued to be "Hamilton's home of high-class vaudeville" for a decade. It was purchased in August 1918 by John H. Bromhall and John Schwalm who renovated it, added a marquee and switched the playbill from vaudeville to silent motion pictures.
Another change came in January 1921. Ralph Candler, who operated theaters in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, leased the Grand, renamed it the Regent and replaced movies with three vaudeville shows daily at 3, 7 and 9 p.m..
In the early 1920s vaudeville was in decline, a victim of improved movie technology, including "talking pictures." This trend included the 1920 openings of the Palace on South Third Street and the Rialto at Front and High streets, both designed as movie houses.
By March 1926, the 18-year-old Grand⁄Regent was seldom used and eventually was closed.
# # #
430. Oct. 16, 1996 - Missing paper delayed veteran's pension:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 1996
Missing paper in 1895 delayed pension for veteran of Civil War
By Jim Blount
In 1895, Theophilus Carr decided to apply for a Civil War pension. The Seven Mile resident could verify his military service, but he lacked another important document. Unlike most of his former comrades in blue, he had to produce his freedom certificate to qualify for monthly payments from the federal government.
The 71-year-old veteran -- described by a Hamilton newspaper as "highly respected in the community and well liked by one and all" -- was a freed slave.
He was one of several thousand African-Americans who served in the Union army late in the Civil War. His 13-month term had extended from October 1864 through November 1865.
Carr was a member of one of 14 "colored" (the descriptive term of the era) heavy artillery regiments in the Union army. There also were more than 100 black infantry regiments, six cavalry regiments and 10 batteries of light artillery. Their ranks were a combination of free blacks from northern states and escaped slaves from southern states. Their officers were white.
Official counts list at least 178,000 African-Americans in the Union forces. Later estimates place the number as high as 300,000 enrolled.
At age 10, Carr had been bound to a North Carolina man in "the manner of a servant and apprentice until he should attain the age of 21 years," according to the contract.
In September 1845, he had fulfilled the terms of his bondage and, at age 21, was granted his freedom from slavery.
In 1895, Carr no longer had the freedom certificate which had been issued in Lincoln County, N. C., 50 years earlier. His Hamilton lawyer wrote to the clerk of courts in Lincolnton, but the southern official couldn't find a copy of the vital paper in the files.
The disappointed Seven Mile resident related his problem in a letter to relatives in Portsmouth, Ohio. Surprisingly, their reply included Carr's original freedom certificate. It stated that Carr was "entitled to all the rights and privileges of a free person of color in any state or territory of the United States."
The important paper was forwarded to Washington, D. C., with his pension application and other required documents. In a few weeks, Carr received notice of approval of a $12 monthly pension, retroactive to April 1892.
Carr had become eligible for a pension in 1890, thanks to the efforts of President Benjamin Harrison, an 1852 graduate of Miami University. Congress helped Harrison, a Civil War veteran, realize a campaign promise when it passed the Dependent and Disability Pensions Act in June 1890.
The original Civil War pension program, enacted in 1862 during the war, had applied only to those men disabled during military service.
The 1890 pension act granted pensions to Union veterans of at least 90 days service. It extended the benefit to those physically or mentally disabled after the war, and to those no longer able to support themselves. It also provided coverage to minor children, parents and widows who had married Union veterans before passage of the act.
During President Harrison's term (1889-1893), Civil War pension appropriations jumped from $81 million to $135 million. Between 1891 and 1895, the number of pensioners increased from 676,000 to 970,000.
By 1900, one of every three federal tax dollars went into pensions for Civil War veterans and their dependents.
# # #
431. Oct. 23, 1996 - No TV, no radio to inform 1920 voters:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 1996
There was no TV and no radio to inform voters of 1920 results
By Jim Blount
Butler Countians seeking election news in November 1920 had to leave their homes to satisfy their curiosity. Radio was in its infancy, and television was years away when James M. Cox, a native son, carried the Democratic Party's White House hopes.
In recent decades, election watchers have been blessed with a deluge of results, analysis and interviews via radio and TV. In the 1990s, on-line computer services have provided election night coverage.
In 1920, the progress of the vote count was reported in several Hamilton locations, but not in local residences, businesses and factories.
"Several thousand Hamilton and Butler County people were last night the guests of the Evening Journal in Journal Square and Court Street to learn the result of the election," the newspaper boasted Wednesday, Nov. 8, 1920. The crowd was estimated to have peaked at about 3,000 people between 8 and 9 p.m.
The newspaper received returns from around the nation via telegraph throughout the evening. Slides were then prepared in the Journal office and the information was flashed on a large outdoor screen.
"The projecting machine . . . which threw the returns upon the screen placed upon the front of the building of the Hamilton Brokerage Company on Court Street was in charge of Tom C. Smith, chief projectionist of the Jewel Photoplay Company," the newspaper explained.
"At such times as there were no returns immediately available, a number of educational pictures, loaned . . . by the board of education, were thrown on the screen," the Journal said.
Election watchers assembled around the newspaper office until the "Good Night" slide was flashed on the screen.
Some western states results remained unreported, but by that time it was clear that Cox, a Butler County native, would not be the next president of the United States. Instead, another Ohioan, Republican Warren G. Harding, moved into the White House in January 1921.
Voting results also were flashed that evening to theater-goers. The Rialto, Jefferson, Palace, Grand and Jewel theaters in downtown Hamilton "received a constant supply of special slides through the courtesy of the Evening Journal."
The newspaper also cooperated with Frank Snyder, a Lindenwald druggist, who displayed similar slides on a screen opposite his Pleasant Avenue store.
Four years later, in 1924, the newspaper said "the Auto Accessories Company will have a high-powered radio in the Journal office, and the people will get by radio the latest news obtainable."
Actually, the results were heard in the newspaper office, and then "flashed by stereopticon to the people on a large screen on the front of the Hamilton Brokerage Company building, directly across the street from the Journal building."
The downtown election-night gatherings started to fade in November 1928. Many residents that year followed news of Herbert Hoover's victory at neighborhood radio parties.
Another first in 1928 was adding machines at the Butler County board of elections. They were used by Grover Kirgan, Ivo Binder, Walter Riegert and William Ludeke to tally local results.
Through the 1960s, before computerization, the news staff of the Journal-News worked through the night, gathering election news and monitoring local vote counts.
Every hour or sooner, if necessary, highlights and tabulations were hand written on large sheets of paper. These were posted on store windows at several downtown locations for the edification of election watchers. That service is believed to have started in the late 19th century.
# # #
432. Oct. 30, 1996 - Grave robberies discovered in 1908:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 1996
Multiple grave robberies discovered in Butler County family cemetery in 1908
By Jim Blount
If you've heard grave robbers once roamed Butler County, it isn't a tale contrived for Halloween. The ghoulish deed was discovered and reported in local newspapers in 1908.
When it happened, isn't known. The weird scenario began in mid February 1908 when a native of Hanover Twp. died in Indianapolis.
The man had resided in the Indiana capital city for at least 32 years, working 19 years as the baggage master at Indianapolis Union Station, 13 years as a post office employee and shorter stints as a Marion County deputy sheriff and a clerk in a county office.
He was survived by two sons and a daughter, all Indiana residents. Relatives remaining in Butler County included a brother in Hamilton and a cousin in Millville.
Before his death, the widower had asked his children, all adults, to transfer the bodies of his wife (their mother) and two other sons from their Butler County graves to Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, where the man was to be buried.
The wife -- a native of Reily Twp. -- had died 32 years earlier, at age 49. Although she succumbed in Indiana, she was buried in a graveyard on her family's Ohio farm. Also resting there beside her were a son who had been killed at age 9 by a train in Indianapolis, and a son who had died of natural causes at age 4.
The two surviving sons accepted the responsibility of completing the three removals from the cemetery west of the community of St. Charles in Reily Twp. The family burial plot was near the railroad tracks that cross Hamilton-Scipio Road (Ohio 129).
The sons arrived here via passenger train on the Cincinnati, Indianapolis & Western, a railroad connecting Hamilton and Indianapolis. (The line is now part of the CSX system.)
In Hamilton, they hired an undertaker to arrange and direct the grave openings. The trio headed west through Millville with the necessary tools in a horse-drawn wagon. The cemetery was easily located and they found the mother's grave marked with a tombstone. Nothing appeared unusual. There were no signs of the surprise they would soon discover.
The sons assumed most of the hard labor for the somber task. After shoveling away several feet of dirt, they uncovered the box containing the coffin of the mother they hadn't seen in 32 years.
"The coffin was in a good state of preservation," explained a Hamilton newspaper. "The men lifted the coffin from the grave and then opened it. They were horrified to find it empty. Where the head of their mother once rested, the sons found a huge boulder. No trace of the corpse was found. It contained no bones," the report said.
After some of the shock and disgust had worn off, the Indiana men resumed digging. The coffins of their two brothers were uncovered and opened. In both instances, they found only stones. There were no remains in the caskets.
What happened to the bodies? Were they taken by Satan worshippers?
According to the newspaper account, the sons blamed the violations on familiar culprits in 19th-century grave robbings. The brothers, the report said, "think the bodies were sold to some medical college."
Circumstantial evidence tended to confirm their assumption. Based on the 1908 description, the bodies appear to have been stolen soon after each burial. In that state, they would have been acceptable as cadavers for dissection by medical students.
The Reily Twp. body-snatching mystery was never solved.
# # #