Journal-News, Wednesday, April 1, 1998
Bungled booze hijacking led to death
By Jim Blount
Butler County's first violent death directly attributed to prohibition was in January 1922 -- the 32nd month of the great social experiment. Previously, there had been several deaths blamed on bad liquor, and some fatal shootings may have climaxed quarrels about home brew or moonshine whisky.
Beverages of more than one-half percent alcohol content had been illegal in Ohio since the stroke of midnight Monday, May 26, 1919. .
The first proven prohibition death was Thursday, Jan. 12, 1922, but local officials didn't learn about until two days later -- when a man's body was found along a road eight miles east of Columbus, Ohio.
It began when two Columbus men and one from Newark came to Hamilton to buy bootleg whisky. They patronized a soft drink parlor -- the proper prohibition name for places once called saloons.
The trio overheard a conversation in which a customer said "five" to an employee. They assumed the man was ordering five bottles or five cases of booze to be placed in his car.
When the customer left the Alsace Avenue establishment in East Hamilton, the three visitors followed the Ford with an Indiana license through Hamilton and north over North B Street and Seven Mile Pike.
Just north of Coke Otto (now New Miami), one of the three jumped from their Hudson onto the running board of the Ford. He fired eight shots, all missing the occupant of the Ford from Indiana.
The besieged driver fired back and the man jumped or fell off the running board. The Hudson stopped, permitting the Hoosier to escape.
The next day -- more than 100 miles away -- Franklin County deputies found the body of Leland Carl Catt along the Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road. Later his companions admitted he had been shot as they tried to hijack a car loaded with whisky north of Hamilton.
The intended hijack victim was located Sunday. The 33-year-old Anderson, Ind., man said he had fired a shot at the man on his running board, but he didn't know if the man had been hit or jumped in fright. He denied hauling whisky, but said he had cash and valuables worth about $1,800 in the car.
After additional investigation, Catt's death was ruled a justifiable homicide by Dr. Edward Cook, Butler County coroner.
Meanwhile, local officers questioned Catt's companions about a previous highway shooting similar to the one Jan. 12 between Coke Otto and Seven Mile.
At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, July 24, 1921, a Columbus man had been shot to death on the Middletown Pike (now Ohio 4), about 2.5 miles northeast of Hamilton.
Albert B. Conery, 47, and his wife, Cora, 45, both of Columbus, were driving from Columbus to Cincinnati where he was to open an auto agency. A car pulled beside them south of Millikin Road and forced Conery to stop. Two men roughed up Mrs. Conery and shot her husband once. Their motive disappeared with them in the darkness.
Several suspects were quizzed, but Mrs. Conery was unable to identify any of them as the men responsible for her husband's death. It remains an unsolved crime.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 8, 1998
CCC camp opened in Butler County in 1935
By Jim Blount
While local enlistees served elsewhere, a Butler County camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps was established northeast of Hamilton in 1935. Officially named Camp 3533, it was one of 35 camps in Ohio that year.
Congress created the Civilian Conservation Corps in March 1933, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-fighting program.
Unemployed young men were enlisted for six-month terms to increase, preserve and restore the nation's natural resources. They were paid $30 a month, $25 of which must be sent home. They also were provided food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education and medical care. The men could serve multiple terms, but were limited to a total of 15 months in 1935.
When the CCC started in 1933, the screening of Butler County applicants was guided by Frank K. Vaughn, county welfare director. Butler County had a limit of 200 men for the first CCC contingent, sometimes called "the forest conservation army." The first 200 left May 18, 1933, assigned to work in California.
About 1,080 Butler County men, mostly from Hamilton, had served in the CCC through May 1935. The total topped 1,400 later that year. Local recruiting continued for at least four more years. Nationally, more than 2.9 million young men, including 133,551 Ohioans, were gathered in more than 2,600 CCC camps between 1933 and 1942.
In Southwestern Ohio in 1935, other CCC camps were near Eaton, Lebanon, Xenia, Yellow Springs, Vandalia and Wilmington.
Work on the Hamilton camp began July 23, 1935, when 23 men arrived from a CCC camp nearly Ripley, Ohio. It was located on the W. A. Shafor (or Shaffer) farm, about a mile and a half northeast of Hamilton on Middletown Pike (Ohio 4). Dan Buskirk, of Cleveland, an employee of the Soil Conservation Service, directed the preparations.
The first group, the Journal-News said, was expected to be "composed principally of war veterans, sent here from various parts of Ohio." They were to do "stream channel, forest and erosion work in Butler County for all owners of farms who desire this type of work done."
CCC crews executed a Butler County Farm Bureau soil terracing program. It aimed at saving farm land that, without preservation measures, would eventually wash down hillsides into waterways.
The newspaper said "no public work of any kind will be done by these men, all work being for the individual land owner," and would "be absolutely free and without conditions on the part of the farm owner."
The CCC construction crew, composed of men ages 18 to 29, erected tents that served as barracks until wood structures were completed. The temporary facilities, according to 1935 reports, included "a cot, covered by netting, inside a khaki tent." A tent also housed the camp administration building, which was "equipped with a typewriter on a box. A lantern hangs on a nail overhead." The men worked, ate and slept on the site, but went to the Hamilton YMCA to bathe for several weeks.
The Journal-News said "the camp when completed will consist of five weather-proof barracks built to withstand sub-zero temperatures, besides an administration building, mess hall,
recreation hall, officers' quarters, wash house and bath house."
It officially opened Tuesday, Aug. 5, 1935, with the arrival of 87 men from Youngstown, 19 from Canton and 12 from Butler County. Later, other arrivals, including 54 from Wheeling, W. Va., brought the total to 206. Still later, camp enrollment was listed as 191 men, indicating some dropouts.
The CCC enlistees received their necessary shots at the Ohio National Guard Armory at North Fifth and Dayton streets. .
Their daily routine began 6:30 a.m. Lights were out at 10 p.m. The CCC followed a five-day week, plus Saturdays reserved for camp duties. They had frequent recreation breaks at the YMCA. The camp was directed by U. S. Army officers; the work assignments by employees of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
In October 1935, to secure a better water supply, the camp was moved to the Rentschler Farm at Millikin and Morris roads in Fairfield Twp. It operated until 1937.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 15, 1998
Local guardsmen ready for war
(This column is the fourth of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the tSpanish-American War of 1898.)
By Jim Blount
About 40 Hamilton men expected to be among the first called to military service in February, March and April 1898 as the United States and Spain moved toward war. The conflict seemed inevitable after the mysterious Feb. 15 explosion that destroyed the USS Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba.
The U. S. didn't declare war until April 25, but local preparations had intensified a month earlier. Among those gearing for combat were members of Company E, a local Ohio National Guard unit commanded by Captain A. W. Margedant.
Company E traced its origin to Sept. 2, 1875, with formation of the Hamilton Light Guards. From 150 applicants, 50 men were sworn in that year under Captain John Peterson and First Lieutenant Fremont Snider for five-year terms.
The unit had two name and organization changes before 1898: (1) the Hamilton Light Infantry, Company G, Fourth Ohio Regiment, headquartered in Dayton; and then (2) Company E, First Ohio Regiment, based in Cincinnati.
The Hamilton guardsmen had physical examinations and vaccinations in March 1898 as war seemed certain. The military activity centered around the Hamilton Armory, which had been established in Music Hall.
The building at 457 South Second Street, at the Central Avenue intersection, had opened in 1882 as the United German Society Hall. It became known as Music Hall, the site of dramatic and musical events.
In 1899 it was sold to the Hamilton Board of Education and remodeled as the 16-room Harrison Elementary School. The school closed in December 1952 when the new Harrison on Knightsbridge Drive was completed. Later it was used for commercial purposes.
Monday evening, April 11, Captain Margedant put his men through an hour and a half drill on High Street. "Considerable enthusiasm was created by the appearance," a newspaper said, "and soon a crowd assembled to witness its movements, which were cheered to the echo, showing the patriotism of the people of Hamilton."
Later that week, new equipment arrived at the Hamilton Armory. The Hamilton Democrat said each member of Company E received "a six-shot repeating rifle, which discharges steel bullets; new leggings and canteens." The newspaper said "the repeating rifle is provided with a rod bayonet fastened to the barrel by a spring, and which necessitate a new manual for a charge with the bayonet."
Wednesday morning, April 20, Captain Margedant was ordered to recruit men to bring the company strength to 75. The captain and Dr. H. E. Twitchell, the company surgeon, were busy that evening examining applicants.
An enthused reporter for the Democrat described the scene this way: "Application after application was tendered by the patriotic American willing to defend the stars and stripes and fight for humanity, and self-government of the Cubans and, most of all, to punish the perpetrators of the plot which sank the Maine with 266 of America's sailors during the time of peace."
When the U. S. declared war on Spain five days later, Company E was ready to go. The Hamilton soldiers didn't have to wait long for their call to service.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 22, 1998
City paused as troops left for war
(This column is the fifth of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the Spanish-American War of 1898.)
By Jim Blount
"April 26, 1898, will always be a great and memorable day in the history of Hamilton. It was a day never to be forgotten, when Company E, amid stirring scenes, tumultuous cheers and silent tears, departed from the city in willing response to the nation's call for defenders," wrote Karl W. Heiser in his book, Hamilton in the War of '98.
The day before, the United States had declared war on Spain. That night, more than 3,000 people visited the armory at 457 South Second Street to "see the soldier boys," a newspaper reported. Heiser said the armory at Music Hall had been "converted, as if by magic, into a military camp where field discipline reigned and the soldiers slept in their blankets."
More than 5,000 people watched Monday evening, April 25, as Captain A. W. Margedant drilled the soldiers on High Street. That night Company E was ordered to report at the Ohio National Guard Armory in Cincinnati by noon Tuesday. Captain Margedant allowed his 75 men to spend Monday night in their homes with their families.
Tuesday morning, April 26, Heiser said "grim and determined, those heroic men were lined up in Music Hall, while mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and sweethearts, kinsfolk and friends gazed in mute farewell or weeping agony on the faces of those they loved and might never be allowed to look upon again. There were tears in eyes that had never known weeping before."
A newspaper said "the ringing of bells, (and) the blowing of whistles at 9 o'clock Tuesday morning" started "a fitting farewell . . . for these boys in blue." Schools were dismissed and most shops and businesses closed for the send-off ceremonies.
"By 9:30 High Street from the bridge to Third Street was one mass of humanity," said the Hamilton Democrat. "The scene was an inspiring one."
The parade started about 10 a.m. From Music Hall, it went north on South Second Street to Ludlow, east to Fourth, north to High, west to Main and then returned, finally making its way to the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad Station on South Fifth Street.
Among the hundreds in the parade were veterans of the Civil War (1861-1865). "They know what it means to go forth to war," the Democrat observed, "and their presence added inspiration to those of a younger generation who will fight in the war of 1898."
The Democrat estimated a crowd of 10,000 at the railroad station. Later, at Jones Station, a CH&D rural stop in Fairfield Township, "at least 500 people assembled with a band and gave the boys a royal send-off." the newspaper reported. "
The special train left Hamilton at about 11:15. Company E arrived in Cincinnati at noon and marched to an armory to become part of the First Ohio Regiment. At 1 p.m. Company L, including 75 men from the Middletown area, passed through Hamilton on the CH&D to join the First Ohio.
Two days later, Friday, April 28, members of the First Ohio were transported from Cincinnati to Columbus over the New York Central System, passing through Middletown. The men were officially mustered into U. S. service at Camp Bushnell in Columbus. They started earning army pay, which ranged from $13 a month for privates to $150 a month for captains.
Members of the First Ohio believed they were moving closer to combat May 16 when they left Columbus. The regiment was headed for a training camp at Chickamauga, Ga., where some of their fathers and grandfathers had fought a major Civil War battle Sept. 19-20, 1863.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 29, 1998
Reily sailor served at Manila Bay
(This column is the sixth of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the the Spanish-American War of 1898.)
By Jim Blount
The first American triumph in the Spanish-American War of 1898 wasn't in Cuba, which had been the focal point of diplomatic conflict between the United States and Spain. Instead, the first victory came in the Philippines May 1, and at least one Butler Countian participated.
The naval campaign began April 27. That's when Commodore George Dewey led the U. S. Asiatic Squadron (five cruisers and two gunboats) from China waters toward Manila Bay. .
Dewey attacked the Spanish squadron of Admiral Patricio Montojo (four cruisers, three gunboats and three other vessels) May 1, 1898. In the Battle of Manila Bay, U. S. guns completely destroyed the Spanish force. Dewey's casualties were only eight men wounded. Spanish losses totaled 381 sailors killed or wounded.
After shelling the shore batteries into submission, Dewey took possession of Cavite naval yard and blockaded the City of Manila. Then he then awaited arrival of U. S. troops to capture and occupy the city.
Dewey's flagship was a cruiser, the USS Olympia. During the Manila assault, the executive officer of the Olympia was Corwin Pottenger Rees, a native of Reily in Butler County. Commanding the Olympia was Captain Charles V. Gridley. He is best known for the six-word order he received from Dewey that opened the battle: "Fire when you are ready, Gridley."
After the battle, Gridley's report said the Olympia led the attacking column of six vessels "against an unknown force, and being the most conspicuous, naturally attracted the fury of the enemy's fire. Shot and shell fell on every side, and many of them struck in various places, but no repairs are required and the vessel is ready for action."
Dewey, Gridley and Rees began their military careers during the Civil War (1861-1865). Dewey and Gridley were in the Union navy, Rees in the army.
The Butler County native was in the battles of Resaca, Dallas, Kenesaw Mountain in Georgia and Bentonville, N. C., and some minor encounters during the siege of Atlanta, Sherman's march to the sea, and the storming of Fort McAllister, Ga.
After a year and a half of war, Rees returned to Reily as a 17-year-old. Soon after the end of the war, he was appointed to U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.
Later, Rees entered the navy and performed a variety of duties in an era of transition from the wood-hulled Civil War fleet to steel ships at the turn of the century. Rees was aboard the USS Essex when it cruised around the world from 1881 to 1885.
He was a lieutenant in 1898 when he was a staff officer on the Olympia in the Battle of Manila Bay. Rees earned advancement of five numbers in his grade for his "eminent and conspicuous conduct" in that engagement.
After 28 years of sea service and 16 years of shore duties, the 62-year-old Rees retired from the navy in July 1910. At retirement, he held the rank of rear admiral. In his last assignment of a 34-year naval career, Rees was commandant of the naval station at Hawaii.
# # #