Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2003
Leftover flood problems factor in 1913 city election
By Jim Blount
The March 1913 flood -- the worst in the city’s history -- was still on the minds of many Hamilton voters as they went to the polls Nov. 4, 1913. Almost eight months after the disaster, some cleanup details remained in Hamilton. Disgruntled residents -- impatient with city efforts -- sought new leadership in electing 27-year-old Fred A. Hinkel as mayor.
He headed the Socialist ticket in the 1913 election as the party won 10 of 16 city elective positions. The Darrtown native and Miami University graduate became Hamilton's first and only Socialist mayor. His party also elected a majority in city council, plus the posts of treasurer, solicitor, municipal judge and clerk of municipal court in the three-party contest.
Joining Hinkel in the dramatic transition were Frank J. Leisner, Charles J. Norris, Joseph B. Buckner, Charles Baker and Ferdinand Aker on city council; B. F. Primmer as solicitor; Ernest Shafor as treasurer; William Blackall as clerk of municipal court; and Horace Shanks, as first judge of the newly-created municipal court.
The usually dominant Democrats elected only one candidate -- Joseph Vidourek as second ward councilman. Five members of the Citizens Ticket won offices, E. G. Ruder as president of council; Christ Benninghofen, Charles Gath and Henry Welsh to council; and Ernest E. Erbe as auditor.
The flood that hit Hamilton March 25, 1913, took more than 200 lives within two days. Complications added 85 to 100 people to the death list in following months. More than 10,000 people -- nearly a third of the city's 35,000 residents -- were homeless as water invaded 75 percent of homes, factories, schools, stores and Mercy Hospital, then the county's only hospital.
About 300 buildings were destroyed; another 2,000 damaged houses and structures had to be razed; and property damage in the city topped $10 million in 1913 values -- or about $167 million in recent dollars.
Socialist success at the polls -- in a system designed for political patronage -- meant the new mayor had the authority to replace department heads in the city administration. That included those directing safety services, water works, electric and gas generation and distribution, building inspection and a host of other municipal jobs.
Unresolved flood problems greeted Mayor Hinkel as he took office Jan. 1, 1914. Shortly after the changeover in city government, property owners residing on South Second, Lane, Owen, Short and Minster streets and South Avenue [now Knightsbridge Drive] petitioned the city "to fill up the lots washed out by the flood and restore them to their former grade as they were financially unable to do so themselves," reported the Republican-News.
The newspaper noted "a regular pond of slime right in front of the city building" near Monument Avenue. By 9 a.m. the next day "the mud had been carted away and employees of the city were getting ready to gravel the street."
The article said "people are complaining of obstructions and piles of flood debris in several sections of the city that menace the safety of wayfarers at night."
County officials were questioned about fallen trees and debris remaining along the Great Miami River. That cleanup task, reported to be costing the county between $500 and $600 a week, "was proceeding slowly . . . but with little chance of its completion by March 1."
The flood also a had long-term impact on the court system. For example, in Butler County Probate Court in 1914, an executor of a Middletown doctor's estate wasn't able to complete his report because the flood had washed away the deceased physician's records.
Before 1913 and until the start of non-partisan voting in 1927, Democrats usually dominated Hamilton city elections.
In the previous vote in 1911, the Socialist Party had shown unusual strength, electing six candidates. Democrats elected seven, including Mayor Thad Straub, three members of council, solicitor, auditor and treasurer. The only Republican victory was for the fourth ward council seat.
Socialist control ended with the 1915 election when the party won only one city office. That was Aker, who re-elected to council in the sixth ward. Democrats won the remainder of the positions. The Republican-News said Democrat John A. Holzberger amassed "biggest plurality ever given a Hamilton mayor in a three-cornered fight." He had a 1,412-vote advantage over Hinkel, who was seeking re-election.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003
'Miller's Fliers' based in Seven Mile in 1944-45
(This column is part of a series on the history of flight in Butler County in observance of the Centennial of Flight in 2003.)
By Jim Blount
Allied forces were moving through Europe and the Pacific when the 1944-45 school year started at Seven Mile High School. The rural school was surrounded by farms producing food for local consumption and for American armed forces scattered around the globe. Some farmers in the Seven Mile area did double duty -- also working in war plants in Hamilton and Middletown. Principal Paul Miller did more than was expected, too, adding aeronautics to the senior curriculum.
"He was an outstanding administrator as well as a teacher," said Mac Sloneker, a 1945 Seven Mile graduate. "His instruction included life beyond school subjects."
"Mr. Miller foresaw the importance of air power that was taking place in World War II," Sloneker recalled, "so he instituted an aeronautics class in the fall of 1944. Fifteen senior boys were enrolled as 'Miller's Fliers.'
"We learned the technical stuff," including "a homemade wind tunnel where we tested the various air foils, or wing shapes, that we designed as part of our class work," Sloneker said.
"The real highlight of the class," according to Sloneker, "was taking individual half hour flying lessons at Hamilton Airport with the Hogan brothers as teachers. We did this on seven consecutive Tuesdays in the fall of 1944. Each student paid $2 per lesson. There was only one accident -- John Rand tore off a tail wheel in landing."
Sloneker said "in later years, two members of the class, Leighton Reynolds and Neal Moberly, earned their pilot licenses."
"I always wonder if any other public school in the country had a course which included actual flying lessons," said Sloneker, a former teacher and coach, who worked under Miller when the former Seven Mile principal was school superintendent in Warren, Ohio.
Miller came to Seven Mile in 1939 from Darrtown High School, which closed after the 1938-39 school year. He was at Seven Mile from 1939 to 1945, except for a year at Okeana, Sloneker explained.
Miller was a science teacher as well as principal at Seven Mile -- and he did much more, Sloneker emphasized in relating the "little known flight story" that took place at his alma mater that became part of what is now the Edgewood school district. (April 6, 1959, Seven Mile and Wayne schools merged to form the Shiloh District. The Shiloh and Trenton districts combined Feb. 14, 1968, to create the Edgewood district.)
"He [Miller] also filled in as part time football coach in 1942 when our coaches were drafted into the service" during the first year of U. S. involvement in World War II. "He also filled in as umpire when needed," Sloneker said.
"At least one winter night he stayed at the school all night to keep a faulty furnace working so school could be in session the next day." Sloneker said "Mrs. Miller, worried about his absence from home, called my dad late that night to ask if he would go to school to check on him. He did, and found Mr. Miller asleep on a bench in the furnace room."
At the 2002 Seven Mile alumni dinner, Sloneker presented a tribute to Miller, who died July 18, 2002.
Two teachers -- Robert Blackburn and Albert Cool -- weren't around in 1944 as the 15 Seven Mile seniors started flight training.
Blackburn was an industrial arts teacher and coach at Seven Mile High School when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. "Coach Blackburn was drafted into the navy in January 1942," Sloneker said. "He reached the rank of lieutenant commander and participated in the Normandy invasion in 1944 as a skipper on a LST."
Cool, a vocal and instrumental teacher, "finished the 1941-42 school year and went into the Army Air Corps, becoming a B-24 pilot," Sloneker said. "Many in school in the fall of 1943 will remember hearing a low-flying airplane as it passed over the school," Sloneker recalled. "Mr. Miller dismissed the entire student body to watch and wave as Lt. Cool made a return pass. The next word we received was that Lt. Cool lost his life in a raid over France in 1944."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2003
Normal functions froze at word of Kennedy death
By Jim Blount
Friday afternoon, Nov. 22, 1963, is one of those indelible days. You know where you were and what you were doing when you learned that President John F. Kennedy had been shot to death in Dallas, Texas. It was an unusually warm 69 degrees that cloudy afternoon as disbelief and grief replaced the anticipated relief of weekend activities in the Hamilton area. Another shock came Sunday afternoon as television camera captured Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin, in the Dallas police garage.
Normal functions froze between the assassination Friday afternoon and the televised funeral Monday afternoon as the area reacted to the death of a young, energetic president 40 years ago.
Cincinnati Bell reported record telephone traffic Friday in the Hamilton area, peaking between 1:45 and 3 p.m., as people spread the news and shared their shock and grief.
Some high school basketball games were played in Butler County Friday night, but none Saturday.
Meetings, dances, dinners, plays and other social events were postponed or canceled from Friday evening through Monday.
The tragedy dominated weekend services in churches and synagogues. Christian clergy said Sunday attendance was comparable to Christmas and Easter. Churches conducted additional memorial services Monday afternoon and evening. Several businesses and industries erected simple memorial displays in honor of the fallen president.
Government offices and stores announced plans to close Monday, some all day, some only during the funeral. Several industries excused workers to attend memorial services. Financial institutions closed at noon Monday.
As of Saturday morning, public and parochial schools had planned to hold classes Monday, but reversed that decision when Monday was declared a national day of mourning. Monday morning classes were shortened at Miami University in Oxford, ending at 10:30 a.m. A campus memorial service began at 10:50 in Withrow Court. Afternoon classes were canceled.
Three TV stations in Cincinnati and two in Dayton announced that networks would cancel all scheduled programs and suspend commercials until after the funeral Monday. Radio networks also dropped regular programs and most local radio shows were canceled. There was no cable TV in 1963.
At first, Miami and Cincinnati were going to play their annual football game Saturday. The Redskins (as Miami teams were called then) were already in Cincinnati when it was decided to postpone the game until the next Thursday afternoon. Miami won the Thanksgiving Day game, 21-19.
Local law enforcement groups were collecting contributions for the widow and three children of J. D. Tippit, a Dallas police officer killed while trying to arrest Oswald.
Kennedy hadn't fared well locally in the Nov. 8, 1960, election. His opponent, Richard M. Nixon, carried Butler County by 13,740 votes (46,518 to 32,778). Nixon's total represented 58.5 percent of the county's 79,296 votes. Nixon -- who was completing his second term as vice president under President Dwight D. Eisenhower -- won 58.8 percent of Hamilton's 30,947 votes. His margin was 5,021 votes (17,984 to 12,963) in the city.
Kennedy had visited Butler County twice-- Oxford in 1959 as a prospective candidate, and Middletown in 1960, a few days before he became the youngest person to be elected president.
Sept. 17, 1959, when speaking at Miami University, he was a Massachusetts senator, not yet a declared presidential candidate. Classes had not started on the Oxford campus. But many Miami students came to Oxford early to see and hear Kennedy. His speech had to be moved from Withrow Court to Miami Field to accommodate an audience of about 6,000.
The 43-year-old Kennedy spent several hours in Middletown two days before the final TV debate. He had been scheduled for a whistlestop at the railroad crossing at Fourth and High streets in Hamilton before going to a party function in Middletown Monday morning, Oct. 17, 1960.
A Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press" caused a change. The show was televised in Detroit, forcing JFK to skip a scheduled Sunday night speech in Louisville. He was to travel from Louisville to Middletown by train. Instead, he flew from Detroit to the Dayton Airport at Vandalia.
He spent the night at the Manchester Hotel in Middletown, arriving by car at 12:30 a.m. More than 1,000 people heard his speech at the Jackson Day brunch of the Butler County Democratic Party in the hotel ballroom. Later, more than 7,000 people gathered outside the Manchester for a brief speech by the candidate.
Next week this column will take a look at Hamilton in November 1963.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2003
Changes many in Hamilton since Kennedy assassination
By Jim Blount
It was a different Hamilton Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The city was changing character 40 years ago when the federal minimum wage was $1.25 an hour and a first-class postage stamp cost five cents. Ten years earlier, as the Korean War came to an end, at least 22,000 people were employed in local shops. In the late 1950s, more than 150 factories reported about 18,000 blue collar workers.
In the Cold War year of 1963, Hamilton officials reported 59 industries employing more than 12,800 people -- a job loss of 29 percent in about five years. Reasons for the decline varied from aged facilities, changing technology, market shifts and mergers to government encouragement of wider geographic dispersal of key industries.
In 1963, industrial employment was still Hamilton's prime economic gauge. Retail, restaurant, service and professional employment weren't important yardsticks in measuring the local economy.
Three years earlier, in the 1960 census, Hamilton's population had peaked at 72,354 -- about 17 percent higher than 2000's count of 61,368
Shopping and dining also have changed in the last 40 years. Hamilton had more than 170 restaurants of various size in 1963 -- the majority one-of-a-kind local establishments. There was only one fast food restaurant -- McDonald's at 1771 South Erie Hwy. Other chain operations were a pair of Frisch's at 2549 Dixie Hwy. and 1475 Pleasant Ave.; Carter's on Dixie Hwy.; and Jerry's on North Erie Hwy.
Ten hardware stores and several bakeries were locally owned. There were about 200 grocery stores in the city, mostly small neighborhood family operations. Five chains had 11 stores.
In November 1963, the three Kroger stores were selling beef roast at 89 cents a pound and whole pumpkin pies at 29 cents each. The two Liberal markets advertised 17 to 20-pound turkeys at 29 cents a pound, and the one Marsh Store had smoked hams at 49 cents a pound. The two A&P stores featured 1.5-pound bags of shrimp -- peeled, deveined and cleaned -- at $1.99. For dessert, the three Albers stores were selling half gallons of ice cream at 49 cents each. Five Points Market, a local independent, offered three pounds of hamburger for 59 cents.
Wilmurs, a popular local department store at Second and High streets, was selling women's shoes at $5 to $7 a pair, and men's suits at $36. The Grant store on High Street, part of a chain, promoted nylon stockings at 37 cents a pair and men's cotton flannel sports shirts at two for $5.
This writer was driving a 1962 Ford Falcon that had cost $2,100 a year earlier at West Side Motors on South Second Street -- one of several new car dealers in the city. A gallon of gasoline was in the 30 to 35 cent range. In November 1963, the Firestone store on High Street was selling a pair of new tires for $25, including installation. There was not yet a fee for disposing of old tires.
Hamilton in 2003 has two movie theaters with a total of 18 screens. In 1963, there were eight theaters, each with only one screen. They included the Court at North Front and High streets; the Rossville, 509 Main St.; and the Linden, 2233 Pleasant Ave. There also were five outdoor drive-in theaters in the area -- the Ramona, at 3101 Dixie, within the city; the Acme, 6130 Dixie, Fairfield; the Colonial, Ohio 128, Hamilton-Cleves Road; the Holiday, 1816 Old Oxford Road, Ohio 130; and the Valley, U. S. 127, north of New Miami. Only the Holiday operates today.
The Anthony Wayne Hotel on Monument Avenue was the only hotel. It would close a year later. There were four Hamilton motels, none chains. They were the Durby, 20 South Erie; the Capri, 3256 Dixie; Eaton's Hamilton Inn, 1767 Dixie; and Hamilton Plaza, 2800 Dixie.
Local bus service was provided by the Hamilton City Lines, based at 331 Court Street. The Ohio Bus Lines Co., operating from 130 Main Street., provided connections to Oxford, Middletown, Cincinnati and Dayton. Two railroads -- the Baltimore & Ohio, and the Pennsylvania -- offered passenger service to Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Detroit, Chicago and other points.
There were four high schools in 1963. The public high schools were Garfield (now a junior high) and Taft (now Hamilton High). There were two parochial high schools -- Hamilton Catholic (now the Hamilton schools administration center) at North Sixth and Dayton streets and Notre Dame (now an elderly housing complex) on South Second Street. Three years later they would combine to become Badin High School.
Ohio's per capita income had climbed from $2,391 in 1960 to $2,604 in 1963. By 2002, the average had increased more than 11 times -- to $29,405.