Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2002
Butler County approaching 200th birthday
By Jim Blount
Butler County is within 14 months of a major milestone, the 200th anniversary of its founding by Ohio lawmakers. The state was only 24 days old when the General Assembly, meeting in Chillicothe, Ohio's first capital, created Butler County.
The legislators organized March 1, 1803, and Gov. Edward Tiffin took his oath of office two days later, March 3, the date recognized as Ohio's official birthday. Ten counties had been formed before statehood between 1790 and 1801. Butler County -- taken from Hamilton County -- was one of eight new counties formed by the Ohio General Assembly March 24, 1803. The others were Gallia, Franklin, Warren, Montgomery, Greene, Columbiana and Scioto.
Commissioners began planning Butler County's centennial in April 1902. The 100-year observance was held in May 1903, not March, probably in the hope of having better weather.
County commissioners appointed a committee including Stephen D. Cone, who had promoted the observance, and Joseph W. Culbertson, William C. Miller, F. R. Vinnedge and Judge John F. Neilan. The committee elected Neilan president.
An executive committee also was formed with Culbertson, chairman; Cone, secretary; and Vinnedge, Frank M. Hughes, Gaylord Overpeck, Bert S. Bartlow, Richard Brown, Dr. C. Markt, Edward Rosencrans, Jacob Jacoby, August W. Margedant, Robert Durbin and J. H. Shollenbarger. Later, planners appointed subcommittees in cities and townships.
The two-day centennial celebration opened Thursday, May 28, 1903, despite threatening weather. It started with a bang at 6 o'clock in the morning. That's when a salute of 100 guns rumbled from the city's southwestern hills. Captain Moses Klein commanded the gun squad, whose wakeup call was joined by the ringing of fire and church bells and the blowing of factory and locomotive whistles.
Residents and business leaders got in the spirit by decorating their houses, businesses and factories in patriotic colors.
Official ceremonies were centered on a platform built in front of the courthouse on High Street. Judge John Neilan presided over the opening, Judge E. A. Belden delivered the welcoming address and the featured speaker was Dr. W. O. Thompson, president of Ohio State University.
An opening day concert featured a chorus of 1,600 third and fourth grade students from the Hamilton schools and a 45-piece military band directed by Will H. Lebo.
That afternoon Captain August W. Margedant led the floral parade through downtown. Also that afternoon, a variety of athletic events was held at the fairground, ranging from dashes and distance runs to novelty contests, including bicycling, blindfolded wheelbarrow competition and a sack race.
Friday, May 29, the second day, also opened with the 100-gun early morning alarm, but the schedule was delayed because of overnight rain. Judge Edward H. Jones of Middletown presided over the program at the courthouse. Speakers included Walter S. Harlan, Middletown city solicitor; Edward Rosencrans of Union Twp.; and Dr. Dan Millikin of Hamilton.
The afternoon highlight was an industrial parade, also directed by Captain Margedant.
Weather interfered with evening plans. "The grand pyrotechnical display of fireworks was to have taken place Friday night, but rain prevented," a writer explained. "It took place on Wednesday night, June 3, 1903. Before the display was one-fourth finished a drenching downpour of rain began and the fine set piece had to be fired at once. But despite the rain, at least 10,000 people remained to the last."
In reviewing the centennial events, an editorial in the Hamilton Democrat said "the rush of business and society makes it proper to stop now and then and indulge in the memories of the days of long ago and mingle the past with the present ."
In his speech, Judge Belden noted a popular recent change, the conversion of privately-built turnpikes to public roads. "We assure you that today there are no tollgates to the avenues of our hearts," the judge declared in 1903.
In the 1900 census, Butler County had 58,870 inhabitants. A hundred years later the total has jumped to 332,807 people, more than five times the 1900 count.
Journal-News , Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002
Truman last president to visit Hamilton
By Jim Blount
It has been almost 50 years since a U. S. President has visited Hamilton. The last time was Friday, Oct. 31, 1952, when President Harry Truman came to the city for the second time during his seven years and 283 days in the White House. He also spoke here Oct. 11, 1948. Both appearances were brief whistlestop speeches during presidential election campaigns.
In 1952, Truman wasn’t running for re-election. He appeared on behalf of Democrast Adlai Stevenson, who was opposing Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican nominee and eventual victor.
Truman’s 16-car special train, powered by three diesel units, arrived at 2:26 p.m. over the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, stopping at Fourth and High streets. More than 8,000 people gathered under sunny skies to hear the outgoing president.
The president reminded listeners that the Democrats had been responsible for starting Social Security, and said the party "never lost sight of the small businessman or the housewife."
As he spoke, the U. S. not only was involved in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but had been fighting in Korea as part of a United Nations force since June 1950. The progress of that conflict was a major issue in the 1952 campaign. "We gave been meeting the threat of Soviet aggression. If we had not acted, we might be fighting the war in Ohio instead of Korea," Truman told his local audience.
Four years earlier, more than 10,000 people braved a chilly autumn wind for Truman’s 15-minute stop, starting at 10:20 a.m. Monday, Oct. 11, 1948.
The president -- who had moved into the White House April 12, 1945, with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt -- arrived from Cincinnati over the B&O. His 16-car special, pulled by a single diesel locomotive, stopped at Fourth and High streets on tracks that were removed in the early 1980s when the High Street underpass was built.
"Briefly, he touched upon major subjects -- peace, prices and places to live -- attacked his Republican opponents for their failure to discuss issues, and then declared he asks support on his record," said Reporter Sam Carr in reporting Truman's remarks in the Journal-News.
From 1941 through 1944, the Missouri senator had chaired the Special Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, known as the Truman Committee. Based on that experience, the president had some kind words for Hamilton's labor record, noting that the community had fewer man-hours lost during World War II than any comparable area.
His Hamilton speech was one of 11 in a 15-hour, 350-mile day which ended in Akron. Three separate Truman whistlestop tours covered 21,928 miles in 33 days in 1948.
David McCullough, a Truman biographer, declared the Hamilton stop a turning point in the campaign. McCullough said "the sight of 10,000 people spilling out in all directions at Hamilton" produced what a reporter called "the most striking change in the Democratic candidate's demeanor. Truman then was a decided underdog against Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate.
As Truman spoke in Hamilton, U. S. and British flyers continued the Berlin Airlift, which had started after the Soviet Union began blocking Allied road and rail access to West Berlin April 1, 1948. Food, coal and other necessities were delivered to Berlin by planes until the Soviet blockade ended Sept. 30, 1949.
In November 1948, Truman won a 2,100-vote advantage over Dewey in Hamilton as Democrats swept Butler County elections for county and state offices. The president had a 3,000-vote plurality in Butler County. Nationally, his 1948 surprise victory embarrassed pollsters who had forecast a Dewey triumph.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2002
Bandits robbed Butler County treasury in 1926
By Jim Blount
At about 11 o’clock on a January night, five armed men surprised the chief deputy county treasurer and a night watchman in the darkened Butler County Courthouse in a well-planned robbery of the treasurer’s office. No one was ever arrested for the Jan. 25, 1926, crime, despite a $2,000 reward offered by county commissioners.
At first, the loot was reported at more than $5,000, including $3,378.41 in cash. Left behind was a bag of pennies because it was too heavy, the bandits told their victims -- Governeur C. Morey of Hamilton, the chief deputy county treasurer, and Albert Ogg of Trenton, a night watchman at the courthouse.
Morey, who was working overtime, was surprised as he walked from his office into a dark hallway. He was forced back into the office where the gunmen confronted Ogg.
The intruders -- armed with shotguns and pistols -- forced Morey to open a large safe. A second safe was untouched because it had a time lock that couldn’t be bypassed. The victims said the robbers discussed the possibility of using explosives to blow open the second safe.
After about a 40-minute ordeal, Morey and Ogg were handcuffed and chained to a drinking fountain in the northwest corner of the second floor of the courthouse. The robbers left through the Court Street door, apparently unseen. No witnesses ever came forward to describe their getaway.
While still handcuffed together, Morey and Ogg worked themselves free from the fountain. They returned to the treasurer’s office to call Hamilton police.
The five bandits didn’t wear masks or disguises, but were careful to keep their victims from getting a clear view of their faces. "At all times," a newspaper reported, "the men remained in position so that Morey could not readily study their features." They all wore hats pulled down on their faces. Morey described one of the men as about 37 years old and another as about 40, but offered no information on the other three.
Morey said it was evident the robbers were well acquainted with the building and office operations. They indicated they had expected to find more cash, believing the treasurer’s receipts hadn’t been deposited in a bank for some time.
Police found no evidence that windows or doors had been pried open. It was assumed that one or more of the quintet hid in the courthouse when it closed and later admitted his accomplices to the building, which had few lights. News reports said the bandits were so careful that they left few clues, none of which proved productive.
Later, the extent of the loss was raised from more than $5,000 to $26,498.67, with most of the amount in large non-negotiable checks. A few days later, it was lowered to $20,409.79 when some checks were found in a box near the looted safe. The robbers had sorted through the checks and decided not to take them.
Further investigation reduced the total to about $5,000, the original estimate. That apparently included the $3,378.41 in cash, less than half used for change at three cashier windows and the remainder money that had been collected by the Miami Conservancy District.
Officials reported that the county had no insurance covering the loss.
More than four years later, a fire swept through the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, killing 322 inmates. Among the dead April 21, 1930, was Edward (Ponzi) Nagel of Cincinnati, believed by some local law enforcement officials to have been one of the gang, and possibly the mastermind of the 1926 treasurer’s office robbery.
Nagel -- also known as Joseph Walz -- was serving a life term for a murder conviction in Hamilton County. Nagel had been free on $5,000 bond at the time of the courthouse robbery. He was found guilty of the murder charge Feb. 12, 1926, less than three weeks later.
Alleged to have been among Nagel's cohorts were Jack Parker, found shot to death between Monroe and Lebanon in 1928; Muzz Tierney, later murdered in Detroit; and Bob Kolker, subsequently a key prosecution witness in several gangland murder trials.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2002
George W. Bush fifth occupant of White House to visit Hamilton
By Jim Blount
George W. Bush last week became the fifth U. S. President to visit Hamilton while exercising chief executive duties. Bush -- who traveled by helicopter -- signed a $26.5 billion education reform bill in the Hamilton High School gymnasium Tuesday, Jan. 8. His 45 minutes on the ground contrasts with brief speeches from trains between 1898 and 1952 by four predecessors -- William McKinley, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
William McKinley visited Hamilton in 1898 a triumphant leader who had guided the nation to the status of world power. "The country has had some notable events in the past five months -- events which have added luster to the history of our country and given a new and added meaning to American valor," he said during a 270-word speech Friday, Oct. 21, 1898.
McKinley -- a visitor several times before becoming chief executive -- was referring to military success in the Pacific and Caribbean during the Spanish-American War. A peace agreement had been reached Aug. 12, and a treaty would be signed Dec. 10, 1898, with Spain, freeing Cuba and ceding Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the U. S.
Mrs. McKinley accompanied the president on the special train that arrived on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis Railroad. Between Indianapolis and Hamilton he also gave brief speeches at Rushville, Connersville, Liberty, College Corner and Oxford.
Herbert C. Hoover expressed optimism in the depth of the Depression Friday, Oct. 28, 1932, speaking from a train at South Third and Sycamore streets. He didn't begin active campaigning for re-election until October -- when about a fourth of the nation's banks were closed. His five-minute Hamilton whistlestop was part of his last-minute effort to win a second term. Hoover lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 50-year-old Democrat governor of New York
Roosevelt's special train stopped here during the early stages of the 1936 campaign. His Saturday, Sept. 5, 1936, visit was part of a 7,000-mile inspection tour of drought-affected Midwest states. The stop had been planned so the steam locomotives could take on water at the Baltimore & Ohio depot on South Fifth Street. FDR hadn’t been scheduled to speak, but seeing a crowd, he responded. Joining him on the platform was a son, John.
Harry Truman made two brief whistlestop speeches in Hamilton during the 1948 and 1952 campaigns. Monday, Oct. 11, 1948, his special train arrived from Cincinnati over the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. It stopped at High and Fourth streets, the latter renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard after railroad consolidation and completion of the High Street underpass in the 1980s.
The president introduced his wife, Bess, and their daughter, Margaret, before his speech, one of 11 in a 15-hour, 350-mile trip that day. Eight days later, Truman -- who had become president in 1945 upon the death of FDR -- won election to a full term in the White House.
He returned to Hamilton Friday, Oct. 31, 1952, his train stopping at the same spot. This time Truman was campaigning for Democrat Adlai Stevenson to succeed him. Instead, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican nominee, won the office.
Among the several presidents who visited the city before or after their White House years, two had close connections with the community.
In 1791, William Henry Harrison served at Fort Hamilton as an 18-year-old ensign recently assigned to the First Regiment of the U. S. Army. Later, the military hero of the War of 1812 claimed he had raised the first national flag over the fort when it was completed Sept. 30, 1791. That event is considered the city’s founding date.
Harrison -- who had two children who married Hamilton residents -- visited Hamilton several times before election to the White House in 1840, but he didn’t have a chance to come back as president. Ohio's first president died April 4, 1841, a month after his inauguration.
A future president who spent a few weeks in Hamilton was Andrew Johnson. He was the only southern senator who remained loyal to the United States when the Civil War started in 1861. That hectic summer, he found a haven in Hamilton.
His Hamilton host was Lewis D. Campbell, who, although a member of a rival political party, had befriended Johnson when both were serving in the U. S. House of Representatives. Vice President Johnson became president April 15, 1865, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002
Theodore Roosevelt encountered glitches on two train trips through Butler County
By Jim Blount
No problems were apparent during President George W. Bush’s Jan. 8 Hamilton visit, but it hasn’t always been that way when someone of that political stature has traveled in Butler County. Bloopers marred two local appearances by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president. One happened as he campaigned for the vice presidency in 1900, the other when he visited as a former president 10 years later.
Roosevelt, a national hero after the Spanish-American War, made his first visit Tuesday morning, Oct. 16, 1900, as a candidate for vice president on the Republican ticket headed by Ohioan William McKinley, who was seeking re-election.
A Hamilton delegation went to Cincinnati to meet the special train carrying the governor of New York. They were O. V. Parrish, W. L. Tobey, Frank P. Richter and C. E. Heiser.
Roosevelt's "special train of elegant palace cars," according to a newspaper report, arrived at about 8:40 a.m. on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. He walked a block from the tracks at Fourth and High streets to Third and High streets. There a speaker's platform had been erected, and between 2,000 and 2,500 people were waiting to hear him. He was introduced by George T. Reiss.
Unlike many vice presidential candidates, TR was well known in Butler County because of his recent war record.
He had organized the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment -- better known as the Rough Riders -- in May 1898. Colonel Roosevelt experienced combat in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, emerging from that brief conflict as a national hero. He was elected governor of New York in 1898 and held that post when nominated for the vice presidency.
After his brief, uneventful Hamilton speech, Roosevelt's train also stopped at West Middletown and Miamisburg before reaching Dayton at 11 a.m.
An incident marred his Middletown appearance, noted George Crout, a Middletown historian. As TR's train stopped at the West Middletown station, he "was greeted by the roar of the Republican cannon," Crout wrote. "The shot, he thought, was too near him and the crowd."
According to Crout, Roosevelt said: "What do you want to do, blow us all up?" Crout said "he left Middletown very much out of humor."
Roosevelt was inaugurated vice president March 4, 1901. Later that year, at the age of 42, he succeeded to the presidency after the assassination of McKinley. Roosevelt’s presidential term extended from Sept. 14, 1901, through March 3, 1909, or seven years and 171 days.
After leaving the White House, TR remained very much in the headlines with his varied personal and political activities, including an African hunting trip in 1909. He was a presidential candidate again in 1912, this time for the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party. He finished second in a three-way race with President William Howard Taft and challenger Woodrow Wilson, the victor.
That election was still more than two years away when Hamiltonians greeted Roosevelt on Friday morning, Sept. 9, 1910. But they didn’t see or hear much of the former president, thanks to a glitch..
"The most distinguished American Citizen," according to the Journal, spoke at High and Fifth streets from the rear platform of a special train that arrived from Chicago on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Roosevelt was headed to Cincinnati to visit a daughter, Alice. She had married Nicholas Longworth Feb. 17, 1906, in the White House.
As the train stopped at 7:20 a.m., about 1,500 people "surged around the rear platform," the newspaper reported, and "the colonel was on the platform ready for business."
After a few general remarks, he said: "Let me say one word about the many babies I see in the audience this morning."
But his admirers never heard that word. For some unexplained reason, the train started moving before TR finished the thought. Undaunted by the error, Roosevelt "stood on the platform waving adieu to the crowd until he was out of sight around the curve," the Journal said.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2002
"Hoodoo" locomotive involved in fatal 1905 Heno collision
By Jim Blount
It wasn’t the worst railroad accident in Butler County history. Only one person died in the head-on collision on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton mainline west of Middletown. But the accident Sunday night, Jan. 1, 1905, attracted unusual attention among trainmen because the victim, a veteran engineer, had defied railroad superstition and died a hero.
Jacob Meyers of Lima was at the throttle of the southbound Detroit-Cincinnati limited at 6:36 o’clock that evening when it plowed into a northbound freight train. His devotion to duty probably spared lives and limited injuries to mostly cuts and bruises. The 11 injured included eight passengers, the fireman on the southbound train and two crewmen on the freight.
A Hamilton businessman, Clyde Tarrell, was among the injured aided at the scene by other passengers during the 45-minute wait for the arrival of medical help. Tarrell returned to Hamilton later that night with stitches in his nose.
The southbound passenger train, traveling at least 40 miles an hour, was on schedule and was supposed to have the right of way on the main track. The engineer on the freight had been ordered into a siding -- either at Heno or at Poasttown, the next station north. His train was stopped, or backing into a switch when the two steam locomotives collided.
Nine freight cars were derailed and demolished in the collision. A combination baggage and smoker coach on the passenger train was heavily damaged. Both locomotives overturned after the head-on impact, and "tilted up at an angle of 45 degrees," according to a witness. The tender on the passenger locomotive crushed the cab, killing Meyers. Other crewmen on both trains jumped from the locomotives before the crash.
A newspaper the next day said Meyers’ body "cannot be found, but his hand still grasps the throttle in its last act of duty, having been torn from the body when the crash came."
Another newspaper -- with later information -- said "with his hand on the reverse lever in his last act of heroic duty, Engineer Meyers was found dead and mangled, wedged in the wrecked cab of passenger engine No. 200. He made no attempt to jump from the engine, although he might have had time to do so, but he bravely stuck to his post of duty, probably thinking that by so doing he would be better enabled to save the lives of his passengers."
That account said the fireman, a Toledo resident, "was crazed by the accident and had to be restrained from seeking the dead body of his engineer in the hot wreckage of the engine."
Meyers -- who left a wife and four children -- had taken the controls about two hours earlier, despite No. 200’s reputation, in railroad parlance, of being a "hoodoo," a locomotive or train plagued with bad luck. He accepted the assignment after another engineer had refused the run because of the jinxed locomotive. The steam engine reportedly had earned the "hoodoo" label after being involved in several accidents, including one north of Dayton two years earlier that had taken the lives of its engineer and fireman.
No. 200’s record for speed offset its history of misfortune in Meyers’ mind. In a conversation in Lima, he was quoted as saying: "There’s nothing on the road that can beat her, even if she is a hoodoo."
The accident site in rural Madison Township, west of the Great Miami River, has been known by several names, including Middletown Station, West Middletown, Madison Station and Heno. A post office was established as Heno Jan. 31, 1890, and changed April 5, 1907, to West Middletown.
Five and half years after the 1905 crash -- July 4, 1910 -- 24 people died and about 35 were injured in Butler County’s deadliest rail accident in a similar collision on the CH&D about 500 yards north of the West Middletown station.