Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 1998
Explosion of USS Maine in Havana shocked Hamiltonians Feb. 15, 1898
(This year is the centennial of the Spanish-American War. This column is the first of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the 1898 war.)
By Jim Blount
The explosion that wrecked the USS Maine in Havana harbor shocked Hamiltonians nearly 100 years ago. But they weren't surprised that the blast eventually triggered a war between the United States and Spain. The Feb. 15, 1898, disaster that claimed 260 seamen ignited the Spanish-American War.
It was weeks before a U. S. naval court of inquiry issued its findings on the tragedy. In its March 21, 1898, report, the navy said the explosion came from outside the Maine's hull. Although it didn't place blame, most Americans assumed it was sabotage by Spanish operatives.
In Hamilton, several factories already were engaged in war-related work . Starting in 1895, Cuban nationalists had intensified their resistance to Spanish colonial rule. Americans had read about brutal concentration camps, and the cruel deaths of Cuban men, women, and children.
Although diplomatic moves indicated otherwise, it seemed Spain wanted to test American resolve in war.
Two days after the navy released its report on the Maine, residents of Hamilton and other communities bordering the Great Miami River had more pressing local concerns.
March had been a wet month, but news from Havana, Madrid and Washington had overshadowed the weather. That focus changed Tuesday, March 22, when, according to a newspaper, "one thunderstorm followed the other and the rain for hours dashed down in torrents. For an hour the river remained stationary, and then it started to rise at the rate of about two and one-half feet an hour."
At 2 a.m. Wednesday, the rising water broke over the banks and began flooding parts of Hamilton and low-lying surrounding areas. "Families have been driven from their homes, hundreds of acres of farm lands flooded, railroads washed out and traffic generally suspended," the Hamilton Democrat reported.
The banks of the Miami-Erie Canal eroded at Amanda, south of Middletown, and near Port Union in Union Township. At least five washouts were reported west of Hamilton on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis Railroad. High water also stopped traffic north of Hamilton on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
The Columbia Bridge collapsed at about 8 a.m. Thursday. By that afternoon five people were reported dead in what the Democrat called Hamilton's "greatest flood." It surpassed the inundation of September 1866.
When the flood ended seven people were known to have died and four others were believed to have been victims. As the cleanup began, the Cuban situation regained attention.
Patriotic residents could obtain a souvenir spoon, depicting the USS Maine, at Hafertepen's Shoe Store at 225 Court Street. It was free with purchases totaling $3 or more. Men's and ladies' shoes ranged from $1.48 to $2.98 a pair at the store in March 1898.
Wednesday, April 20, President William McKinley signed the Cuban Resolutions in which Congress recognized the independence of the people of Cuba, demanded that "Spain at once relinquish its authority . . . and withdraw its land and naval forces." The edict also directed the president to use the entire land and naval forces of the United States" to enforce the resolutions.
Hamilton voiced its approval as soon as news of the presidential signing reached the city at 11:30 a.m. "The fire bells were ordered rung and the shop whistles joined in the chorus, telling to the people of Hamilton that almost the last step had been taken before the country is plunged into war in the name of humanity and justice," the Democrat said.
The formal declaration of war came April 25. A month later, Thursday, May 26, about 3,500 Hamilton public school children joined in the national observance of Maine Day. Teachers and pupils engaged "in appropriate exercises of a patriotic character" as the nation prepared for the war that established the United States as a world power.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 1998
American coastal towns relied on guns manufactured in Hamilton factory
(This column is the second of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the Spanish-American War of 1898.)
By Jim Blount
In the spring of 1898, from Maine to Florida, coastal towns of every size feared that a war with Spain could bring death and destruction from enemy warships. Leaders in Boston, New York, Charleston and the smallest Atlantic seaport villages envisioned Spanish ships lobbing shells into their homes and businesses.
"Applications are pouring into the war and navy departments for the immediate protection of supposedly exposed points on the Atlantic and Gulf seaboard," said a news report from Washington April 20, 1898. "Some towns ask for the immediate construction of batteries, while others want warships stationed off the shore."
Spanish ships posed no threat to Hamilton, but at least one of the city's many industries was vital to the defense of U. S. coastlines.
"The Niles Tool Works are at present very busy on government work which consists of disappearing gun carriages and 12-inch mortars," said the Hamilton Democrat in March 1898. "To judge from this activity, there is not the least doubt but that the government expects to have a brush with the Spaniards sooner or later," the newspaper reported about six weeks before the U. S. declared war on Spain.
The plant was between North Second and North Third street along Mill Street (north of Hensel Place, formerly Vine Street). Some buildings have been demolished, but others remain in use as a warehouse for Champion International.
"Long before any trouble with Spain was anticipated," the newspaper said, Niles had "secured a government contract for the building of disappearing gun carriages for fort and coast defense of this country."
"The Niles Tool Works had 14 gun carriages to build under two contracts. Of these, eight have been finished, inspected, accepted and delivered to the ordinance department of the government." The report offered the following details:
"The weight of each gun carriage is 100 tons and consists of steel and brass. The carriage supports 10-inch guns that are 32 feet in length, weigh 67,000 pounds with a 30-inch diameter at the breech and a diameter of 16 inches at the muzzle, the bore of the gun being 10 inches and rifled. These guns discharge a projectile weighing 512 pounds with a powder charge of 250 pounds which will carry the projectile from seven to eight miles."
In its firing position, the gun "is just above and extending about 10 feet over the parapet of the fort. The carriage is behind the parapet in the pit. After discharging, the recoil carries the gun to the rear about 10 feet and down into the pit, thus dropping it out of view of the enemy."
"It requires five or six months to finish a gun carriage, and there are several almost completed at the Niles Tool Works. Nearly every important seaport now has one or more of these 30-ton disappearing guns of 10-inch caliber for its defense."
The Democrat said Niles "has also under contract for the government 15 mortars. They are 12 feet long, have a 12-inch bore, are breech-loading and rifled. These mortars weigh 13 tons or 26,000 pounds apiece and are made of steel. The tube is built up at breech with two separate rings, one pushed over the tube red hot and the second ring over the first in a similar manner, where they are shrunk to the tube and increase the resisting power of a charge of powder."
Niles Tool Works Co. had moved from Cincinnati to Hamilton in 1872. The city, under the leadership of Job E. Owens and William Beckett, donated land and materials for the plant, considered a model factory in 1872. Water power was supplied by the Hamilton Hydraulic.
The U. S. declared war on Spain April 25, 1898. The action followed the mysterious explosion of the USS Maine Feb. 15 in Havana harbor.
For weeks after the declaration -- as the location and destination of the Spanish fleet remained in doubt -- coastal towns waited in fear. From their perspective, the 1,000 workers at Niles couldn't produce enough of the massive gun carriages.
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998 -- Have you been to Centerburg and Boy's Town:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 1998
Have you been to Centerburg, Boy's Town and Little Chicago?
By Jim Blount
Have you been to Centerburg, Boy's Town, Home Town and Little Chicago? If you've been to Hamilton, you have been to all those places. They're names that have been attached to the county seat of Butler County. They don't include numerous names and nicknames bestowed on Hamilton's neighborhoods (Lindenwald, East Hamilton, etc.).
The city didn't originate as a town. Its first name was Fort Hamilton, a log stockade completed Sept. 30, 1791. It was a fort of deposit, or supply center, for the army of Gen. Arthur St. Clair, which was advancing toward Kekionga, a Miami settlement near the site of present Fort Wayne, Ind.
St. Clair named the fort after Alexander Hamilton, then the secretary of the treasury in President George Washington's cabinet. Earlier, St. Clair had named Fort Washington at Cincinnati in honor of the president. During his 1791 campaign, he built a third fort in honor of Thomas Jefferson, the secretary of state.
Gen. Anthony Wayne, who assumed command of the frontier army in 1792, defeated the Indians Aug. 20, 1794, in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near Toledo. After the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in the summer of 1795, the army abandoned Fort Hamilton.
The fort became the nucleus for what became the City of Hamilton. But at first, the small community around the site of the fort was called Fairfield. It was soon changed to Hamilton.
About 100 years later, Hamilton was affectionately called Boy's Town. William Dean Howells' book about his boyhood, titled A Boy's Town, was published in 1890.
Howells (1837-1920) -- a newspaperman, editor, novelist, poet and literary critic -- was acclaimed as the "dean of American letters" during the final decades of the 19th century.
In A Boy's Town, he said "it seemed to me that my Boy's Town was a town peculiarly adapted for a boy to be a boy in." Howells, who resided in Hamilton between the ages of 3 and 11, later wrote that he considered his "years passed in Hamilton as the gladdest of all my years."
Centerburg was the creation of writer-artist Robert McCloskey, who recalled his boyhood in Hamilton in Centerburg Tales, a book for ages 8 to 12. The real Centerburg, Ohio -- the geographical center of the state -- is in Knox County between Columbus and Mount Vernon.
McCloskey was born in Hamilton and was graduated from Hamilton High School. He designed the stone carvings on the Hamilton Municipal Building in the mid 1930s before starting his literary career.
Hamilton is called Centerburg in McCloskey's 1951 book, which is a sequel to his Homer Price stories about a boy growing up in the Midwest. His other books for children include Lentil, published in 1940; Make Way for Ducklings, 1941; Homer Price, 1943; Blueberries for Sal, 1948; One Morning in Maine, 1952; A Time of Wonder, 1957; and Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man, 1963. Twice he won the Caldecott Medal, awarded annually to "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published in the United States."
Little Chicago was the unsavory name given Hamilton and the surrounding area during Prohibition (1919-1933), continuing into the 1940s because of criminal activities. Hometown was Hamilton in a 1982 book by Peter Davis. The complete title of the book, published by Simon & Schuster, was Hometown, A Contemporary American Chronicle. Davis said his purpose was "to understand America by going into one community and penetrating its society as deeply and widely as possible." He was directed to Hamilton by the chief of the Demographic Statistics Branch of the Population Division of the U. S. Census Bureau.
The city attracted international attention after city council officially added an exclamation mark to the name. The May 28, 1986, action said "that the City of Hamilton, Ohio, shall be hereafter known as the City of Hamilton! Ohio," replacing the traditional comma between the names of the city and state." The exclamation mark was the idea of Stewart Jones, a Hamilton resident and veteran advertising executive.
"The reasons for the addition of the exclamation point are twofold," explained Jack Becker, then city manager. "First as the dictionary definition indicates, it expresses strong emotion -- which reflects the high esteem in which residents and visitors alike hold our city. Second, it is a means of distinguishing Hamilton! from the many other worthy, but different Hamiltons throughout the world."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1998
Former Hamilton patrolman turned hijacker and killer in summer of 1921
By Jim Blount
In the summer of 1921, a gang capitalizing on Prohibition's law of supply and demand learned that a shipment of whisky would be hauled to Cincinnati from a distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind. The truck would travel through a remote part of Hamilton County, west of Cincinnati, and security would be minimal.
It was an inviting target for a gang of experienced hijackers.
At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 8, 1921, the truck -- loaded with grain alcohol and iodine, not whisky -- was midway between Elizabethtown and Cleves. Two men were in the truck: Mathias Shuler, driver, and Frank Junker, guard. Suddenly, nine men in two cars surrounded the truck and forced it to stop about two miles west of Cleves.
Leading the gang was Ernst W. (Red) Clark, a former Hamilton police officer. He had resigned from the department June 30, 1921, after being confronted with rumors that he was involved with a Cincinnati bootlegging and hijacking gang.
Before the hijacking could be executed, the truck driver started the vehicle in an escape effort. More than 50 shots were fired in the ensuing gun battle. Shuler, the driver, was seriously wounded. The would-be hijackers fled into the countryside, leaving behind the truck and its cargo, valued at $25,000.
Roland Adamson, Cleves marshal, declared a legal holiday in the town, ordered stores and businesses closed and enlisted men in and around Cleves for a posse. Later, the posse of about 250 men and boys flushed out three of the hijackers.
Clark and the others hid until dark, and then forced a passing motorist to drive them into Cincinnati.
The next day, Aug. 9, the 27-year-old truck driver died of his wounds. Murder was added to the charges facing Clark and his accomplices.
The former Hamilton police officer was captured 12 days later at the home of a brother in Union, New York.
It took a Cincinnati jury only 30 minutes to find Clark guilty of first-degree murder, but it recommended mercy. That meant he faced life in prison instead of the death penalty.
Seven years later, Ernst W. (Red) Clark was paroled because of good behavior in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, including helping the authorities during an attempted prison break.
In addition to the fatal failed heist near Cleves Aug. 8, Clark also was a suspect in a July 1 incident in Scott County, near Georgetown, Ky.
E. A. Paulin of Hamilton and two Cincinnati men were indicted in the hijacking in Kentucky. They were arrested in Lexington July 3 when police found rifles, revolvers, nitroglycerin, bombs and surgical instruments in their cars. Paulin was released on $1,000 bond, but failed to show for his trial. He reportedly fled to Canada.
A newspaper said Clark, Paulin and the others were part of a 40-man robbery and hijacking gang composed of men from Hamilton, Cincinnati and Chicago.
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