Journal-News, Wednesday, June 7, 2000
Hamilton linked to famed 1962 Alcatraz escape
By Jim Blount
The FBI, the Coast Guard, San Francisco police and other lawmen searched the cold waters of San Francisco Bay and surrounding shorelines the morning of June 12, 1962, seeking three men who had escaped from fabled Alcatraz federal prison. Their flight the previous night became the basis for a popular Clint Eastward movie, "Escape from Alcatraz," released in 1979. Two of the elusive convicts -- whose fate remains a mystery -- started their journey to "the Rock" in Hamilton four a half years earlier.
Seven FBI agents nabbed three Anglin brothers -- one sought for bank robbery and two escapees from a state prison in Railroad, Fla. -- in adjacent apartment buildings on Dayton Street Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1958. Freedom for John, 27, Clarence, 26, and Robert, 23, ended that morning in buildings that occupied the present site of a parking lot opposite Mercy Hospital.
John Angolan of Buskin, Fla., was wanted for a $19,000 bank robbery in Columbia, Ala., six days earlier. He and a Hamilton woman and her child were apprehended at 109 Dayton Street. Clarence Anglin was arrested later when he walked into the dwelling. Agents found Robert Anglin and his wife in an apartment at 105 Dayton Street.
The FBI also recovered about $18,000, weapons, ammunition and tools.
Unexplained was why the fugitives came to Hamilton. "The Anglins," the Journal-News emphasized, "are no relation of Hamilton people by the same name."
From Hamilton, the brothers were taken to Cincinnati by FBI agents. Later, after an escape and recapture, John and Clarence were sent to Alcatraz, an island prison reserved for the most troublesome and most dangerous criminals from July 1934 to March 1963.
Swift currents, dangerous undertows, the distance to the mainland and reports of sharks in the cold water discouraged escape by the 260 to 302 prisoners usually confined there. But those obstacles didn’t deter every one of 1,545 inmates who spent time on "the Rock.".
During the 29 years Alcatraz operated, 36 prisoners (including two who tried to escape twice) were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. The fate of 31 is known -- 22 captured, seven shot and killed, and two drowned.
John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris (played by Eastwood in the movie) were involved in the 13th escape attempt.
Before June 11, 1962, with help from other inmates, they prepared an escape route through vents and utility conduits to the roof of the cellhouse. From there, they are believed to have climbed down a drainpipe to reach the water’s edge.
The key to their flight was a convincing ruse left behind in their cells. It fooled guards making early rounds and perhaps gave the convicts a head start of more than nine hours on their pursuers. With soap and other materials, they had fashioned dummy heads, including human hair. The realistic skulls were placed on their bunks. When the fakery was discovered, the three men were already in the water.
Uncertain is how they planned to cross at least a mile and a quarter of San Francisco Bay. Evidence indicates the trio may have tried to build a pontoon-type raft fashioned from prison-issue raincoats.
Their survival is questionable. Officially, the Anglins and Morris are considered "missing and presumed drowned."
Evidence includes the discovery several weeks after the Morris-Anglin flight of a body so badly decomposed that it couldn’t be identified. Searchers also found items believed to have belonged to the fugitives.
The 14th and last try to escape Alcatraz came six months later. John Paul Scott and Daryl Parker fled the island Dec. 16, 1962, but both were captured.
The temporary success of one of the pair has helped to foster the idea that one or more of the Anglin-Morris threesome may have survived. Scott made it safely to the mainland near Fort Point before collapsing from exhaustion and hypothermia.
Three months and a week later -- March 21, 1963 -- Alcatraz closed as a prison. Since 1973, it has been a national park. One of the features of the tour of the island is a visit to the cells of the Anglins and Morris, complete with an explanation of their June 11, 1962, plot.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 14, 2000
Robinson circus once local favorite
By Jim Blount
" The death of John G. Robinson III in Cincinnati recalls to many of the older people of Hamilton and vicinity the glory of the early days of the circus," noted a Journal-News editorial in 1935. "This was no doubt due to the fact that the John Robinson Shows, founded 111 years ago, made Hamilton their first stop after leaving Cincinnati, where the shows were gotten into shape and gave their first public performances," the writer explained.
"In those days," the report said, "circus day was a real day. Schools were dismissed, business almost suspended and everybody went to the circus.
"The Robinson Shows, for one thing, were always what they were represented to be. At various intervals came Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson, Burr Robbins, the Wallace shows, the Hagenback outfit, but for Hamilton, it was always the Robinson Shows that claimed their allegiance."
The group was originated by John Robinson (1802-1886), regarded as "circus proprietor to three generations of Americans," according to John Culhane, a circus historian.
Later, when other family members assumed direction, its advertising boasted "three generations of circus kings" and modestly called its presentation "the greatest of all American shows."
Cincinnati had been the winter headquarters of the Robinson Circus since before the Civil War. During the off-season, costumes, wagons, cages, props and other equipment were made and repaired, and posters and programs were printed in the Queen City. Employment was estimated as high as 800 people. When a new season opened each April, Robinson honed the new routine with a week of shows in Cincinnati.
Headlining the show for much of its existence was horseback riding, wrote Culhane in his 1990 book, The American Circus, An Illustrated History.
Gil Robinson, an adopted son of the founder, was named one of the five great riders of 19th century circuses. He was born in Boston in 1835 as James Michael Fitzgerald, and "adopted by John Robinson, the circus owner, who gave the boy his name and taught him to ride," according to Culhane.
His adoptive brother, James, was acclaimed "'the boss of all riders." Culhane said "in 1856, James turned 23 backward and forward somersaults over banners four feet wide without missing once."
"More than any other rider," Culhane said, "James Robinson was responsible for the acrobatic school of horseback riding, In the 1850s, when he started his career, most of his competitors were still riding 'pad' -- in other words, with the aid of a pad covering the horse's back. Robinson never rode pad, always bareback."
When John Robinson died in 1886, at age 84, the family circus was in its 62nd year.
"In 1924, his son, Gil, representing the last of the old Robinson family, attended the opening of the 100th anniversary season," reported Culhane. "That December, Gil received a letter from William Howard Taft, former president of the United States and 10th chief justice of the U. S. Supreme Court.
Taft wrote "when I was a boy in Cincinnati, and until after I came to the bar, your father was a very noted figure in that community. His was the great circus of that section and he had a rugged individuality and a picturesque method of expression and a force of character and enterprise that impressed themselves on all people. He had traveled all over the country when the country was rough and new, and he had met and overcome obstacles that seem insuperable," Taft recalled.
John Robinson yielded management of the show in 1872 to his son, John F. Robinson, who later passed its direction to his son, John G. Robinson, whose death prompted the 1935 Journal-News editorial.
"The circus of today," that editorial said, "is much the same as it was in the days of John Robinson I. It may travel by motor or by train, it may be more luxurious, it may be more stupendous -- but still it is a circus, with its rings, its elevated stage, its bareback riders, its aerial wonders, its grand entre, its pageant and its final hippodrome race." The writer concluded that "111 years has made but little change, except in size in the circus."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 21, 2000
Skyjacker jailed in Butler County
By Jim Blount
Richard Floyd McCoy Jr. isn’t a household word in Butler County history. His accomplishments and misdeeds were elsewhere. His short residency in Hamilton was not his choice. The North Carolina native’s only local connection was the time he spent in the Butler County jail in 1972.
McCoy was a skyjacker -- a common term in the early 1970s after several commercial flights had been hijacked. His crime -- which he never admitted -- seemed to follow a script written by the mysterious D. B. Cooper, perhaps the most famous skyjacker.
Nov. 24, 1971, Thanksgiving eve, Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines Portland-Seattle flight. He demanded $200,000 in $20 bills and four parachutes, which he received when the 727 landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for refueling. Cooper allowed the passengers to leave before ordering the pilot to fly toward Mexico via Reno.
In the air -- showing a knowledge of flying -- Cooper had the pilot slow to a speed safe for jumping and ordered the 727’s rear stairway lowered. Then he parachuted into legendary status over southwest Washington. In 1980, along the Columbia River near Vancouver, Wash., an eight-year-old boy found $5,800 that could have been part of the ransom.
Cooper -- believed to have been a fictitious name used when paying cash for his ticket -- was never caught. If he survived the jump, he is the only successful U. S. skyjacker. If he died during the plunge from about 10,000 feet, neither his body nor any traces of it have been found.
The 29-year-old McCoy’s copycat crime was less than six months after the Cooper skyjacking. He was accused in the April 18, 1972, skyjacking of a United Airlines flight from Denver to Los Angeles that carried 99 people.
Armed with a pistol and a grenade, he commandeered the plane about 30 minutes out of Denver. He directed the pilot to San Francisco where McCoy received a $500,000 ransom.
After McCoy got his money, the passengers were released and the plane took off. He parachuted from the plane at 14,000 feet near Provo, Utah. That’s where the D. B. Cooper similarities end. McCoy was free less than 48 hours. He was captured April 10 at the home of a sister-in-law in Provo.
Between the hijacking and his apprehension, McCoy had completed a routine flight as a member of the Utah National Guard.
In May, McCoy was convicted by a jury in Salt Lake City and sentenced to 45 years in a federal penitentiary. While transporting him from Salt Lake City to the federal prison at Lewisburg, Pa., federal marshals placed him in the 14-month-old Butler County Jail.
His incarceration here was because federal officials considered the $1.323 million county jail -- built to house 157 prisoners -- to be one of the most secure in the region.
While confined in Hamilton, the father of two agreed to an interview with Jim Newton, a Journal-News reporter. It was believed to have been the first interview with a convicted skyjacker.
"If it’s between a long prison sentence . . . and death by an execution squad," McCoy told Newton, "a guy should be given the option."
A year later, in August 1974, McCoy was one of several inmates who broke out of the prison, giving him the distinction of being the first convicted skyjacker to escape.
He remained loose until the night of Nov. 9, 1974, when FBI agents confronted McCoy and another escapee at Virginia Beach, Va. The skyjacker didn’t surrender. He drew a gun and fired one wild shot. The FBI agent didn’t miss, killing McCoy with a shotgun blast.
McCoy was an unlikely skyjacker. Newton said he had impressive credentials, including seven years in the armed forces and two stints in Vietnam. He claimed to have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, the latter, he said, "for pulling some guys out of a burning helicopter."
The temporary Butler County resident lacked less than six credit hours of completing his bachelor degree. Incredibly, McCoy’s college major was law enforcement.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 28, 2000
Chautauqua popular summer event
By Jim Blount
Mention Chautauqua in a crowd in 2000 and expect bewildered reactions. To most people today, it's a word or name without significance. From the 1880s into the 1920s, it was synonymous with culture and religion, and summer and outdoors.
Description of the program ranged from simply "adult education" to "the oldest summer arts festival," a "cultural encampment," a "religious and philosophical retreat" and "the place where religion, education and recreation meet."
Positive testimonials were numerous. "I stayed for a week, held spell-bound by the charm and ease of everything," said philosopher William James after attending an 1896 session at the original Chautauqua. Speaking there, President Theodore Roosevelt said Chautauqua"is typical of America at its best." A 1999 book was titled "Chautauqua: An American Utopia."
The first Chautauqua was supposed to be summer training for Methodist Sunday school teachers. The Chautauqua Institution evolved into a popular retreat featuring a range of cultural interests -- philosophy, art, drama, music and education as well as religion.
The movement began in August 1874 in Chautauqua, N. Y. The 50-acre complex on Lake Chautauqua included a few cottages, a covered platform for speakers and some tents for that two-week opening session. It soon expanded, not only on that site, but across the nation.
By 1900 there were more than 400 local Chautauqua assemblies, patterned on the New York program. By that year, the original Chautauqua also operated a school of theology, a correspondence school and a publishing house.
The Rev. E. A. Harper, minister of a Germantown church, is credited with founding a Chautauqua in Southwestern Ohio. The Miami Valley Chautauqua was on the west side of a curve in the Great Miami River between Franklin and Miamisburg, about an 18-mile trip from Hamilton on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad (now CSX), or on electric-powered interurban cars that operated from Hamilton through Trenton and Middletown.
The 11-day program had a modest start in July 1896, but not at that location. For a few summers, the institute met at an old fairgrounds west of Franklin.
Part of the 1898 schedule emphasized the plight of black citizens. The featured speaker was Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In later years, speakers would include Evangelist Billy Sunday and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
As the regional Chautauqua gained acceptance, Franklin businessmen combined to buy a riverside location in 1901 and 1902. By the end of the 1903 season, the 80-acre Miami Valley layout featured an auditorium, two dining rooms, hotel, grocery, icehouse and 16 privately-owned cottages.
Other facilities added later included an administration building, drug store, swimming pool, miniature golf course, tennis courts, bowling alley, stables and a variety of playground and recreation equipment. It became more than a Franklin-Germantown operation, adding representatives from Hamilton, Middletown, Dayton and Cincinnati to the board of directors.
The Montgomery County site, west of Cincinnati-Dayton Road, claimed to be the second largest Chautauqua, topped only by the New York institute. It continued until 1968.
A Hamilton man -- Lou J. Beachamp -- was an influential international leader and speaker in the Chautauqua movement. Under his leadership, a Hamilton Chautauqua was established at the fairgrounds in the summer of 1913, a few months after the disastrous March flood.
A newspaper described it as an event that "brought the people of Hamilton together for the first time after the great catastrophe of the flood had swept over their homes." It was proclaimed "a great homecoming, a great reunion of the people of Hamilton."
Beauchamp's home and possessions were severely damaged by the flood. "The Apostle of Sunshine," as he was known on the lecture circuit, interrupted his speaking tour to return to Hamilton to participate in the spiritual relief for victims.
Highlight of the 1930 Hamilton event, one of the last, was a speech by Billy Sunday.
Middletown also had a Chautauqua from 1914 until 1925, joining about 12,000 communities that hosted traveling groups that provided tents, chairs and other necessities.
The national Chautauqua movement peaked in the mid 1920s. Factors in its decline included improvements in auto travel, the increasing popularity of radio and movies and the Depression of the 1930s.
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