Journal-News , Wednesday, April 3, 2002
Eleanor Roosevelt 1940 visit to Hamilton a first
By Jim Blount
Hamilton recorded a first in 1940 when Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, under the sponsorship of Hamilton High School American History Club, spent six hours in the city, highlighted by a speech before a capacity audience in the high school auditorium.
In seven years in the White House, the activist wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt had maintained an exhaustive speaking schedule across the nation, but she said her Hamilton appearance Friday, March 15, 1940, was the first hosted by a high school group.
She arrived from Chicago on a regularly-scheduled passenger train, accompanied by only her secretary, Malvina Thompson. There were no Secret Service agents. Hamilton police handled security during her visit.
At her request, there was no formal welcome at the Pennsylvania railroad station on S. Seventh Street, but that didn’t stop a thousand people or more from greeting her train at 5:17 p.m.
The First Lady was driven to the Anthony Wayne Hotel by Jack Mueller, president of the HHS American History Club, and accompanied by two club members, Marvin Eubanks and James Skinner. She was met at the hotel by the club’s faculty advisors, Miss Ella Mae Cope and Miss Marjorie Graft, and the hotel manager, E. E. Burdge.
In her hotel room, with a view of the Great Miami River, she granted interviews to reporters before taking time to snack, relax and work on one of her syndicated newspaper columns, "My Day" published from 1936 until her death in 1962.
During the interviews, Mrs. Roosevelt noted that it wasn’t her first visit to Hamilton. She had accompanied her husband on a campaign trip in 1920 when he was the vice presidential candidate on a Democratic ticket headed by James M. Cox, a Butler County native. FDR spoke in Hamilton and Oxford Oct. 16, 1920, and spent some time in a residence on South D Street.
Later, at Hamilton High, members of Frank Durwin Post 238, American Legion, formed an honor guard as she walked onto the stage. She was introduced by Skinner. Her speech was about youth and its problems.
"Education is not just to prepare one for earning a living," she told the overflow audience in the auditorium at the old Hamilton High at the southeast corner of N. Sixth and Dayton streets. "Education should prepare us to live our lives. It should give us ideals and character, and should open as many windows for our mind as we can possibly have open."
World War II had started in Europe Sept. 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland and Pearl Harbor was 22 months in the future when the 53-year-old First Lady spoke in Hamilton.
"We are the one great democracy of the world which is not at war, and war is the greatest threat to our economy," she observed. "When war comes, all other problems are sidetracked and only that matters," she said.
After the speech, she joined 15 members of the history club council for dinner at the hotel. She left the Anthony Wayne at 11:15 p.m. Mrs. Roosevelt and her secretary were driven to Cincinnati by Robert Black, a club member, accompanied by Miss Cope and Miss Graft. From Cincinnati, she went to Terre Haute, Ind., for a speech before returning to Washington.
Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady longer than any other woman -- 12 years and 39 days, from FDR’s inauguration March 4, 1933, until his death April 12, 1945.
After the death of her husband of 40 years, she remained in the limelight. She was President Harry Truman’s choice to direct the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1945, and three years later she was instrumental in drafting the Declaration of Human Rights. She remained prominent in the Democratic party until her death Nov. 7, 1962.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 10, 2002
Butler County men volunteered for 100 days duty during Civil War
By Jim Blount
After three years of fighting, the human cost of the Civil War was well known. Besides the deaths from disease and combat, soldiers were returning home maimed and disabled. But the risks didn't stop 757 Butler County men from volunteering for the 167th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in May 1864.
The enlistees were obligated for 100 days of military service. During that term, they were expected to guard bridges, railroads and supply centers and perform other routine military chores. They would relieve veteran soldiers for combat duty.
Whitelaw Reid, a Miami University graduate who was a war correspondent, credited the 100 days idea to Gov. John Brough. The governor promised President Abraham Lincoln 30,000 volunteers from Ohio.
The nucleus of the force was existing Ohio National Guard units, supplemented by recruits. The new regiments featured a mixture of men considered too young or too old for military service, plus veterans previously discharged because of wounds or disability.
In less than two weeks in May 1864, Ohio organized 41 regiments and one battalion of seven companies, a total of 35,982 men for 100 days service, said Reid in his two-volume book, Ohio in the War. The Buckeye response for 100 days service represented 44 percent of the 80,961 troops raised from all states.
The 167th regiment was organized May 2 in Hamilton and mustered into U. S. service May 16. May 21 the regiment reached Charleston, W. Va. Six companies were sent to Camp Piatt and four to Gauley Bridge, replacing parts of three cavalry regiments who were reassigned for offensive action against Confederate forces.
Both places, according to Reid, "were points of supply, and the only duty the regiment was called upon to perform was guarding government stores, and accompanying trains to and from the main bodies of the national forces in that portion of western Virginia." After its important, but routine service, the 167th was mustered out Sept. 9, 1864.
Leading the regiment was 39-year-old Thomas Moore of Hamilton. The colonel -- born in Quebec, Canada, July 28, 1822 -- had moved to Pennsylvania with his parents in 1828. After his father's death, his mother brought her three sons to Ohio, first to Oxford in about 1831 and then to Preble County in 1833.
At age 15, Moore started working as a tailor. His earnings enabled him to enter Miami University in 1838, but he didn't graduate. About 1844, Moore started reading law in the Hamilton office of Lewis D. Campbell. He also studied in the Eaton law office of Jackson & Hawkins. He was admitted to the bar in 1846 and opened a law practice in Hamilton.
In 1845 he married Mary C. Caldwell. They were the parents of seven children. Later, they established their home at 350 South D Street.
Moore -- who was mayor of Rossville in 1850 -- was elected to represent Butler and Warren counties in the state senate in 1860, the first Republican to hold that office.
Other regimental officers were Lt. Colonel James E. Newton; Major John F. Bender; Surgeon Moses H. Haynes; Assistant Surgeon James S. Ferguson; Adjutant Lafayette Traber; Quartermaster Henry P. Dore; and Chaplain Jeremiah Geiger.
Commanding the 10 companies were Captains James E. Stewart, Edward T. Jones, John Koenger, B. F. Bookwalter, George C. Warvel, John C. Lewis, David B. Kerr, James A. Stevens, Samuel K. Wickard and Daniel D. Zeller.
Sixteen-year-old William G. Cubberly was a private in Company I. After the Civil War, he joined the regular army and, as a member of the 8th U. S. Cavalry, earned a Congressional Medal of Honor May 30, 1868, at San Carlos, Ariz., in action against Apaches.
Six members of the 167th OVI died while serving in West Virginia, including one soldier killed during a scouting mission by friendly fire from another company in the regiment.
The 757 members of the 167th were among more than 4,400 Butler County men involved in the Union effort during the four-year war, 1861-1865.
At least 313,000 Ohioans, or three out of every five men between the ages of 18 and 45, served at various times in the Union army or navy. Combat and disease claimed 35,475 lives and about 30,000 returned partially or totally disabled.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 17, 2002
Butler County men heroes in 1930 prison fire
By Jim Blount
Until April 21, 1930, few people would have called John (Todd) Messner and Breck Lutes heroes. Messner, a Hamiltonian, and Lutes, from Middletown, had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1929 for their roles in the April 8, 1928, murder of Peter Dumele, marshal of North College Hill. Messner had once been called "one of the most desperate criminals who ever went out of Hamilton to follow the paths of gangland."
Messner had been tried in the 1925 murder of Eddie Schief in Hamilton. He was acquitted when key witnesses either disappeared or suddenly lost their memories on the witness stand. Both men had been involved in bootlegging, rum running, hijacking and possibly other vices in Butler County for several years before their incarceration in Columbus.
Monday evening, April 21, 1930, fire swept through part of the Ohio Penitentiary, killing 322 people. More than 150 others were hospitalized. The toll would have been worse had it not been for the brave efforts of some guards and a handful of inmates. Messner and Lutes were among the heroes.
Their unselfish deeds were reported by two guards, William C. Baldwin and Tom Little, who owed their lives to the inmates. A news report said the Butler County men "dared seething flames and suffocating smoke in their attempts to rescue fellow convicts."
Little had just unlocked the last cell on the fourth range when he collapsed. "Lutes and two other prisoners carried him out," a newspaper said. "Baldwin struggled to the fifth tier (of cells), collapsed and was carried to the hospital in the arms of Messner and another convict."
Messner and Lutes were each credited with saving about 20 prisoners and one other guard. While some inmates cut fire hoses and stoned guards, Messner and Lutes saved lives.
There were 4,214 inmates in the prison, including about 50 persons sentenced from Butler County. The prison had opened in 1834 to handle only 1,600 prisoners.
Among the 322 victims were nine men who had either been active in Butler County crimes, or who had called the county their home. They were Charles Fiehrer, 28, Hamilton; Arnold Begley, 38, Hamilton; George P. Jacobs, 40, Hamilton; Lonnie Caywood, 30, New Miami; George Baker, 30, Hamilton; Roy Wallen, 37, Shandon; Robert Nance, Hamilton; Edward (Scotty) Scott, Cincinnati; and Edward (Ponzi) Nagel, Cincinnati.
Fiehrer, serving a 10-year term for a Hamilton robbery, also had been charged by Hamilton County authorities in the murder of Marshal Dumele in North College Hill, but those charges were dropped.
Caywood, also serving a 10-year sentence for a Hamilton robbery, had been an enforcer in the Hamilton "Slot Machine War" of 1926-27, according to the Journal.
Scott, serving 15 years for a robbery in neighboring Hamilton County, had been a rum runner and hijacker in Butler County. He also had been charged in the shooting death of Eddie Schief in 1925, but the charges were dropped because of uncooperative witnesses.
Begley was serving a life sentence for the murder of Kelsey Smith June 2, 1928, in a Madison Township farmhouse. Wallen was in for life, convicted of murder in Columbiana County. Baker was completing the first year of a four-year sentence on four charges of housebreaking in Cincinnati. Nance's conviction and term weren't reported.
Nagel -- serving life for a murder conviction in Hamilton County -- was the prime suspect in the Jan. 25, 1926, robbery of the county treasurer's office in the Butler County Courthouse in Hamilton, but never charged for the crime.
Since 1930, the loss of life in a single fire has been topped only once in the United States. That was the 491 deaths in the Coconut Grove night club fire in Boston Nov. 28, 1942. The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire May 28, 1977, at nearby Southgate, Ky., claimed 167 lives.
The Ohio Penitentiary closed in 1984 and was demolished in 1998. Today, the site is part of the Nationwide Arena district, and since September 2000 home of the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Indian tales saved by Depression program
By Jim Blount
Writers were among those distressed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, and a few were among the millions of unemployed Americans who benefited from government assistance programs. Some found work in Butler County. A sampling of their work was noted in a 1936 Journal-News article.
"By the long and diligent search by members of the Federal Writers Project, M. E. Kennel, editor for Butler County, another interesting story of early Butler County settlers and their experiences with the Indians has been uncovered," the newspaper said.
One of the tales recorded by FWP workers involved Thomas Carr, described in the newspaper account as settling in 1795 between what became Oxford and Hamilton. "Here he had built for himself a one-room log cabin and ventured about his daily task of clearing his land and putting what he had cleared under cultivation."
"It so happened," the report continued, "that one evening a band of Indians stopped and asked for lodging for the night. Being aware of their cunning, he made each Indian of the group hand over his firearms and knives, after which he proceeded to fix for them a bed about the fireplace."
Carr, "after being careful that he had every weapon tucked carefully behind his bed, put out the light except that which was produced by the glowing embers in the fireplace, and all were ready for the night."
"Many times during the night he was awakened by one or other of the Indians who tried to sneak to the corner where the weapons were concealed. Not to be outdone, the pioneer would jump out of bed and crack the Indian's head against the floor."
"After several futile attempts to gain possession of their weapons, the night was gradually fading into dawn when bright and early, Carr awakened his guests and, with his horse, followed the braves two miles into the woods, where upon he returned to them their firearms and knives."
"The outwitted braves went into the woods, jokingly admitting to one another that they were completely beaten. Because of his act of bravery, Indians never again bothered Carr or his frontier home," the report concluded.
Another story told to the WPA writers concerned the great grandmother of a Butler County woman. The Indian encounter also took place about 1795 in this area.
"One night, when she was left alone in the cabin," the article said, the pioneer woman "carefully had all doors and windows barred for safety. Late in the night she heard a noise on the roof of the cabin and concluded that the Indians were trying to enter the cabin by way of the chimney."
"Almost immediately, she placed a feather bed on the coals in the fireplace and, in a short time, the intruders were driven off the roof. One of the Indians was badly burned."
"For many years after," the legend goes, "she was known to the Indians as 'the Fire Maiden.' "
The Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration was created in June 1935. It involved more than 300 writers in 24 states whose efforts included collecting oral histories from more than 10,000 people between 1935 and 1942.
A product of the FWP was the American Guide series, books that focused on the history, culture and economy of cities, states and regions of the United States.
The Ohio Guide -- which includes brief sections on Hamilton and Oxford -- was part of the series. It was published in 1940 by the Oxford University Press under the sponsorship of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society (now the Ohio Historical Society).