Journal-News , Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002
Well-known Butler County men defied Lincoln
By Jim Blount
Reputable Butler County men, in defiance of Abraham Lincoln's exile order, escorted an outspoken critic of the president across the U. S.-Canadian border in June 1864 during a hectic period in the Civil War. They brought Clement L. Vallandigham -- who believed civil rights were being violated in the conduct of the war -- to Hamilton in the hope that it would be his first step toward ousting Lincoln from the White House.
John McElwee, Jacob Troutman, David Brant and Edward Dalton plotted and executed Vallandigham's secret railroad journey from Canada June 15, 1864, so he could attend a district Democratic Party convention at the Butler County Courthouse. It was part of a plan to promote Vallandigham to challenge Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election.
Vallandigham had represented the county in the U. S. Congress from May 25, 1858, until March 3, 1863. He had attacked Lincoln and the war effort with congressional immunity until his term ended. Without that protection, he was arrested two months later, found guilty of "expressing sympathy for those in arms against the government" and exiled from the country.
His four Copperhead "liberators" had held, or were serving in local elective offices when they made the risky trip from Windsor, Ontario, to Hamilton, Ohio, in June 1864.
Dr. John McElwee, a Miamisburg native, graduated from the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati, but practiced medicine only briefly in Hamilton. Instead, he concentrated on politics and journalism.
When the Civil War started, he was editor and part owner of the weekly Hamilton Telegraph, the official organ of the Butler County Democratic Party. A disagreement about publication of a Copperhead resolution ended the partnership in August 1861.
Thirteen months later, McElwee bought the equipment of the Oxford Union, a paper that reportedly had been suppressed for printing alleged treasonable statements. He moved the assets to Hamilton and Sept. 22, 1862, published the first issue of the Hamilton True Telegraph, much to the satisfaction of the growing dissident element in the county.
The new paper, a contemporary said, "denounced the war, its leaders and abolitionists and demanded the impeachment of President Lincoln for high crimes and misdemeanors." McElwee was so vigorous in pursuing his editorial policy that it led to his arrest twice (April 1863 and November 1864) on treason charges.
His indictment in 1864 cited excerpts from his editorials to support four separate counts of treason. In one, he wrote "it is our subtle conviction that the war, if protracted, will bring anarchy upon the North, and ultimately some form of despotic government." In another editorial, McElwee called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities, and the appointment of commissioners empowered with authority to negotiate peace."
But McElwee was more than an observer and critic who owned a printing press. He also was an officeholder. The editor -- a close friend of Vallandigham -- had served two terms in the Ohio General Assembly; six years, 1858-64, as county clerk of courts; and four years, 1861-64, as a member of the Hamilton Board of Education.
Jacob Troutman, a native of St. Clair Township, had been elected marshal of Rossville before its merger with Hamilton. After the union, he was a city councilman from the First Ward for several years. He was Hamilton's postmaster from 1857 through 1861. Throughout most of the Civil War he was a member of the Hamilton school board.
David Brant, a native of Fairfield Township, had been a farmer before moving to Hamilton where he operated a distillery and a flour mill for several years. He was Butler County treasurer from 1864 to 1868.
Edward Dalton, born in Ireland, had been educated in Hamilton. He studied law, but never applied for admission to the bar. He was appointed deputy county clerk of courts in 1858 by his brother-in-law, Michael C. Ryan. Dalton was elected clerk of courts in 1863, taking office in February 1864, four months before he and his colleagues escorted Vallandigham to Hamilton in defiance of President Lincoln's exile orders.
McElwee, Troutman, Brant and Dalton certainly were aware of the personal risks involved in aiding Vallandigham. But did they know what could have happened to other Hamiltonians and visitors to the city that day? That's a question for discussion in a future column.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2002
Detectives reported terrorist threats to Hamilton
By Jim Blount
Undercover agents discovered plans for a terrorist plot in Hamilton in June 1864. Elements included taking political hostages; assassination of leading Republicans in Southwestern Ohio; building a cache of weapons and ammunition to arm a rebellion; and the establishment of a new nation in the Midwest -- all with the help of prominent Butler County men.
Was there really such a terrorist scheme, designed by local Democrats who were frustrated by their loss of political power?
Or was it an example of political dirty tricks based on wild rumors, circumstantial evidence and planted lies -- for the purpose of assuring the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln and other Republican candidates in 1864 as the outcome of the Civil War remained in doubt?
The startling scenario was based on reports from two federal undercover detectives dispatched to Hamilton to spy on political activities, especially those of Copperheads opposed to continuing the war and Lincoln's policies, including harsh penalties for civilians.
The first spy was William Thorpe, who was identified as a stenographer. He was in Hamilton for one day, June 15, 1864. The second detective used an alias, Edward F. Hoffman. He pried around Hamilton for five days, June 18-23, 1864.
Both had been sent by Colonel John P. Sanderson, the provost-general based in St. Louis.
Thorpe was here to spy on the district Democratic Party convention that nominated Clement L. Vallandigham for president. Vallandigham had been brought to Hamilton in defiance of an exile order by Lincoln. The former congressman had been arrested and convicted in a military court of "expressing sympathy for those in arms against the government."
After listening to Vallandigham's speech in Hamilton, Thorpe sent a telegram from the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad depot informing Sanderson, Gov. John Brough in Columbus and others of Vallandigham's return.
He warned Vallandigham backers "have ulterior designs if he is interfered with by the military authorities." He said their "designs are -- I am told -- the application of a torch to every house in town [Hamilton] and the laying of Dayton in ashes and its conversion to a cornfield."
Hoffman, who stayed at the Straub House, heard from one resident "that a day will soon be designated on which the states will notify the president that if members of this organization now in arrest are not released, that hostages will be taken, property destroyed and revolution begun" by Butler County Copperheads and their friends.
From another man, Hoffman wrote, he learned that "the great object is a Northwest or Western Confederacy." He said he was told "there must be a separation of the East and West" because "the East monopolized all the patronage of the government, imposes unjust things on the West, and finally will aim to saddle the greater portion of this war debt upon her Western people." (The Northwest and West is a collective reference to the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.)
Hoffman encountered a resident of Mount Carmel, Ind., just across the Indiana-Ohio border on the road between Millville and Brookville, Ind. The former Butler County resident said barns and buildings around Mount Carmel had more weapons and ammunition than the Copperheads could possibly use.
The sensational claims weren't kept secret, a factor which clouds their credibility and supports the "political dirty tricks" theory. The startling assertions from Thorpe and Hoffman were published a few weeks later in an official government document released by Joseph Holt, judge-advocate general of the United States.
The Holt Report was distributed in time to be read by voters who would participate in the 1864 election. How much, if any, influence it had on the re-election of Lincoln is unknown.
Fortunately, none of the events happened. Before the election, the fortunes of war turned in favor of the Union armies and Lincoln won a second term, one that was abbreviated by assassination. Vallandigham's national political hopes plummeted, but not his presence and popularity in Butler County. His post-war connections will be explored in the future.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2002
Marine platoon honored fallen Hamilton pilot
By Jim Blount
Hamilton staged a dramatic sendoff 60 years ago for 65 young volunteers for the U. S. Marine Corps who had enlisted in honor of 24-year-old Raymond E. (Buzz) Petzold, a Marine lieutenant killed in a training accident in California. The Hamilton pilot trainee, who had been stationed at San Diego, died Aug. 13, 1942, in the crash of a Marine Corps plane.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Petzold, who operated a grocery on Kahn Avenue in East Hamilton, had entered the service in the summer of 1941, a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II.
Petzold was a 1937 graduate of Hamilton High School, where he played football and baseball. He continued both sports at Miami University, earning three letters in baseball and captaining the team in his senior year. He also played summer baseball in a Hamilton league and was a professional prospect until suffering a knee injury.
Soon after the Aug. 20 funeral services for the Marine, a campaign began to form the Lieutenant Ray Petzold Memorial Platoon of Hamilton with the backing of the local American Legion post.
The unit was the idea of Dr. Herbert Warm of Hamilton, then on active duty as a lieutenant in the U. S. Naval Reserve in Cincinnati. Dr. Warm envisioned "a platoon to do the job he [Petzold] never had a chance to do."
About 50 people attended a Sept. 10 kickoff rally at the American Legion post at South B Street and New London Road in the building that was restored and reopened in 2001 as the Colligan Lodge at Veterans Park.
The Marine Corps established a one-day recruiting station in Hamilton Sept. 15 to expedite enlistment. In addition, Claude F. Cohee, a former Marine, volunteered as an acting recruiting agent. He was available to interested young men in his barber shop in the Anthony Wayne Hotel.
By Sept. 16, the platoon had 28 enlistees, enough to encourage the corps to offer another one-day recruiting service Saturday, Sept. 18.
In anticipation of reaching the goal of 64 men, induction ceremonies were scheduled for Saturday afternoon, Oct. 3, at the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in downtown Hamilton with a dinner to follow at the Anthony Wayne Hotel. About a thousand people witnessed the induction on the monument steps and more than 125 people attended the dinner.
Participants in the sendoff, which featured the Hamilton High School band, included Lt. Petzold's parents; Dr. Warm; Congressman Greg Holbrook; Mayor Leo J. Welsh; American Legion representatives; Marine Corps officers and other local and area officials.
The platoon -- numbering 65 men, one more than the goal -- left by train at 6:40 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 4. World War II was still much in doubt as the local volunteers began training at Parris Island, S. C. The war continued for nearly three years -- until the formal Japanese surrender was signed Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
More than four years after their 1942 departure from Hamilton, the Petzold Platoon held its first reunion. Twenty-seven men attended the dinner program in the new American Legion clubrooms at 116 N. Second Street.
Present at the November 1946 event, according to a Journal-News report, were Charles Witt, Don McCafferey, Murray McGee, Don Keefe, Merle Withrow, Henry Pentecost, Floyd Ingram, Frank Burkart, Elmer Bailey, Gordon Adams, Fred Simmons, Marvin McCollum, Gordon Mattox, Fennon Sowell, Charles Smith, Walter Coggeshell, James Morris, Edward Bley, Howard Napier, Henry Erb, Albert Ledford, William McDulin, Renee Ulmschneider, Renee Langworthy, Richard Geisler and Lewis Schardine.
Also in attendance was Dr. Warm, who had initiated the 1942 recruiting campaign in honor of Lt. Petzold.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2002
Haunted house search turned fatal in 1962
By Jim Blount
The fascination and commercialization of halloween seems to grow each year. It goes beyond costumed youngsters enjoying the trick or treat routine. Teens and even adults also seek frightening experiences at contrived haunted houses. Overshadowed by the phony spooks have been some of Butler County's long-standing ghost tales.
Probably the best-known is Liberty Township's "screaming bridge." An October 1909 explosion of a steam locomotive -- an accident that killed two railroad employees -- is believed to be the basis for the story. Although that accident was in West Chester Township, the screaming bridge is in Liberty Township. Some accounts claim the screams and images are those of other people who have died on or near the bridge -- some in accidents, some by suicide.
A similar legend concerns a spot on the same railroad near Monroe. That story was grounded in the fire death of a woman in a railroad work camp kitchen near Kyle’s Station.
An 1833 cholera epidemic took the life of a bride-to-be in Rossville. She was buried on her scheduled wedding day in a cemetery between present Park Avenue, Wayne Avenue and North D Street. The groom was found dead on her grave a few days later, the victim of a self-inflicted bullet. For decades, there were reports of their ghosts dancing in the cemetery.
Also in Rossville, the ghost of a headless woman was said to have haunted a church that once stood at the southwest corner of South A and Arch streets.
The legend of Hangman's Hollow -- involving a ghost that warns travelers -- started in 1851. Four young men from Darrtown, returning from the county fair on horseback, discovered a dead man in a tree in the woods northwest of present Gardner Road and Hamilton-Richmond Road (Ohio 177), west of the Meijers store.
A ghost was reported in the historic Butler County Courthouse -- the spirit of a man hanged in the previous structure. The man -- accused of stealing from the county in the 1860s -- was initially said to have taken his own life. It was believed the ghost appeared to stalk men who had framed the hanged man for the theft, and who also murdered him.
In the Oxford area, a motorcycle, on the wrong side of a narrow road, has been reported speeding head-on toward cars. When motorists brake to avoid a collision, the ghostly motorcycle swoops over the top of the vehicles. Drivers reported seeing nothing in their rear view mirrors as the motorcycle and rider disappeared into the darkness. The tale usually focuses on Oxford-Milford Road, which forms a boundary between those townships.
The ghost motorcyclist is one of several tales associated with Oxford and the Miami University campus. Among several mysteries involving the demolished Fisher Hall is the 1953 disappearance of Ron Tammen, a 19-year-old Miami sophomore, last seen studying in his dormitory room on a Sunday night..
Peabody Hall -- once the centerpiece of Western College for Women and formerly known as the Main Building -- was renamed in 1905 for Helen Peabody, who died that year. Her ashes were buried in Oxford Cemetery, but some believe her spirit still prowls the Miami University building bearing her name.
For many years, a female ghost was reported on Princeton Road that extended east from High Street in Hamilton into Fairfield and Liberty townships. Some motorists claimed they saw her image standing or walking beside the road, warning of danger ahead.
Death greeted an 18-year-old college student from Forest Park when 10 young people went searching for a reputed haunted house in Ross Township on a winter night in 1962.
Four young men from Hamilton County had met six teenage girls from Hamilton and Fairfield at a drive-in restaurant in Hamilton. In two cars, they drove to the farm house on Herman Road on a Sunday night in January 1962.
A University of Cincinnati freshman opened the front door to the dark seven-room, 150-year-old house, believing it deserted. Unknown to the thrill seekers, the house -- which had no electricity -- was occupied by an 82-year-old bachelor, who was in bed in a first-floor room.
The resident -- disturbed previously by trespassers -- fired a double-barreled shotgun as the door opened, killing the UC student. The young man's companions fled to a neighboring house. No charges were filed against the resident, who had been living in the house since 1924.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2002
Monument cornerstone placed 100 years ago
By Jim Blount
Thanksgiving Day 100 years ago -- besides the traditional turkey dinners and football games -- featured a long-awaited community event. Thursday, Nov. 27, 1902, the cornerstone was placed for the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in Hamilton.. (The centennial will be observed in a public program in the building from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13.)
Prominent in the ceremonies that 1902 morning were local members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Civil War veterans. The group included representatives of GAR posts based in Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown.
GAR members formed at Third and High streets before marching to the construction site on the riverbank. The Apollo Band led the procession that began at 8:45 a.m. Brief comments were offered by L. P. Huston, president of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Permanent Monument Committee, and E. M. Imes, GAR commander.
A news report said the cornerstone was placed "amid the falling snow," the first of the season. After the GAR ritual and flag raising, it was "then announced that owing to the uncomfortable weather, the assembly would adjourn to the Globe Theater, where the addresses would be made."
Speakers at the Globe Opera House (later the Robinson-Schwenn Building on High Street at Journal Square) included Colonel D. W. McClung of Cincinnati and Warren Gard, Butler County prosecutor who later would be elected to Congress and the county common pleas bench. Prayers were led by the Rev. Charles E. Schenck, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church.
"The Monument you begin today," McClung said, "will always remain an open and unperishable proclamation by the patriotic people of this county, notifying the world that they hold in highest appreciation the work of the builders and defenders of our institutions."
Later, the memorial supporters would declare that the Monument was erected by grateful citizens to "perpetuate the memory of the soldiers, sailors and pioneers of Butler County," with "the hope and with the prayer that the eyes and hearts of future generations may be as loyal to the flag of our free government as the persons whose names are enrolled on its sacred walls."
The monument -- on land that had been in the center of Fort Hamilton in the 1790s -- was financed by a county-wide tax levy approved Dec. 7, 1899.
The campaign for a memorial began two years earlier -- in July 1897 -- among members of Wetzel-Compton Post, GAR. The Civil War veterans said they had waited 32 years after the end of the Civil War and had seen previous memorial committees get nowhere. Within two years, the committee had won the support of the City of Hamilton, and county and state government.
Boosting the project -- once considered dead because of a lack of enthusiasm -- was a revival of patriotism during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Heading the effort was James E. Campbell, a native of Middletown, a long-time resident of Hamilton, a Civil War veteran and a former Ohio governor. The building was designed by two local men, Frederich Noonan, an architect, and John C. Weaver, an engineer.
With funding assured, site preparation started in April 1901. Work on the limestone structure and its steel framework began in the spring of 1902, setting the stage for the Thanksgiving Day cornerstone ceremony.
The building shell was completed in October 1904. One of the Monument's most distinctive features -- a 17-foot, 3,500-pound Civil War soldier -- was placed atop the building the morning of Dec. 4, 1904. The soldier -- in a victorious pose -- was created by a local artist, Rudolph Thiem, a German immigrant who had arrived in Hamilton in 1886.
The final celebration was July 4, 1906, when the completed Monument was dedicated. The featured speaker was Gov. Andrew L. Harris, a Butler County native and a veteran of the Civil War.
The 1899 tax levy generated $71,267.25. When completed, Monument construction had cost $71,266.73 -- leaving a positive balance of 52 cents, a rare accomplishment for a public project.
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