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810. Oct. 1, 2003 -- Curtiss biplane first to fly over Hamilton in 1912: 
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003
Curtiss biplane first to fly over Hamilton in 1912
(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
Friday and Saturday, July 12-13, 1912, were days to remember for many Hamiltonians and visitors to the city. As advertised, "fancy flying and daredevil feats in the air" were performed by members of the Curtiss Exhibition Company during a two-day aviation show at the Butler County Fairgrounds. Flying the Curtiss biplanes were Lincoln Beachey and Charles F. Walsh, promoted as "the world's greatest birdmen."
Walsh, interviewed after arriving in Hamilton, said "I want to show the people how safe and easy flying really is."
He may not have realized the doubts of Butler County residents who had expected to see one or more planes in flight during the 1910 and 1911 county fairs. Both years the promised daily flights never materialized. Weather was the problem in 1910. A maze of legal and technical questions kept an under-powered plane on the ground in 1911.
Admission for the 1912 event -- sponsored by the Hamilton Retail Merchants Association -- was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. There was no charge for children under 10. Reserved seats cost an extra 25 cents.
Walsh became the first pilot to fly over Hamilton when he made a practice flight at 11:25 a.m. Friday, July 12, 1912 -- about eight and a half years after the Wright brothers first flights Dec. 17, 1903.
"There were only a few people on the fairgrounds," the Journal said, as Walsh "soared for 10 minutes midst the clouds." He circled at altitudes of about 400 to 800 feet in the vicinity of the fairgrounds.
The afternoon program began with a five-mile motorcycle exhibition, followed by a motorcycle pursuit race and a 10-mile motorcycle race. Besides a series of five flights, a race between one of the planes and an automobile was scheduled.
Another feature was the establishment of a temporary post office at the fairgrounds, manned by Postmaster Carl Schell and three assistants. Cards and letters mailed during the air show bore an "Aero Mail Service, Hamilton, Ohio" cancellation mark. Mail was placed on the last flight each day and dropped by the pilot to a postal employee waiting near the intersection of High Street and Fair Avenue.
An "aeroplane wedding" was promoted for Saturday, but it wasn't performed in the air. A Cincinnati woman and a Newport man were married by Mayor Thad Straub in Beachey's plane while it sat on the ground.
The 25-year-old Beachey was the main attraction. By the summer of 1912 he was regarded as one of the nation's leading stunt pilots.
He had honed his mechanical skills in a bicycle shop as a teenager. By age 15, he was repairing motorcycles. In 1905, he started piloting dirigibles in air shows. Beachey switched from balloons to airplanes in 1910 and became the star pilot of the Curtiss exhibition team, sponsored by aviation pioneer Glen Curtiss.
Advance publicity said Beachey would attempt to set a world's altitude record on a Hamilton flight. He had established the official record at 11,642 feet at the 1911 Chicago International Aviation Meet.
Beachey reached 8,200 feet on a 25-minute, 30-mile flight Friday in Hamilton. Walsh achieved about 7,500 feet the next day.
The Journal reported about 5,000 people attended the Friday events. Later, an editorial called the show "very successful," but said "it deserved better patronage than it received. Perhaps a number of fake 'flies' at the Butler County Fair made people skeptical." Others in the area witnessed the flights that ranged as far south as Symmes Corner (now part of Fairfield).
Walsh, a 35-year-old San Diego native, died less than three months after the Hamilton event. He and Beachey were performing before 50,000 people at the Interstate Fairgrounds at Trenton, N. J., Oct. 3, 1912, when Walsh's engine stalled and his plane fell about 2,000 feet.
Beachey also died during a show. March 14, 1915, the San Francisco native was performing a stunt over San Francisco Bay as part of the Panama Pacific International Exposition when a wing fell off his plane.
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811. Oct. 8, 2003 -- Henry Ford built, operated airport in Hamilton in 1920s
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003
Henry Ford operated airport in Hamilton in 1920s
(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
Mention Henry Ford and the name suggests a man who had a tremendous impact on the infant automobile industry, including a plant his company opened in Hamilton in 1920. But Ford also is in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, and his varied flying ventures included operation of an airport in Hamilton in the 1920s.
Ford biographers note that Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, the same year the Wright brothers made the first controlled, powered flight. Their success aroused Ford's interest in aviation. In 1909, Henry Ford and his son. Edsel, built a plane with a Model T engine.
July 12, 1918 -- while the United States was involved in World War I -- Henry Ford announced he would build a tractor plant in Hamilton after the war. During the war, Ford was mass producing engines for U. S. aircraft.
In April 1920, the Hamilton Ford plant began operations, producing parts for Fordson tractors. Within months -- because cars where selling much faster than tractors -- the factory switched to making lock parts and wheels for Ford's popular Model T.
The local economic boom associated with the Ford opening was responsible for building 509 new residences in Hamilton over a three-year period, 1918-1920.
With the Ford plant came the Ford Airport on land north of the factory. The airport occupied part of a 500-acre tract south and east of the Great Miami River and west of the waterway of the Hamilton Hydraulic. The Ford airport was east of present North Third Street (U. S. 127) and west of Joe Nuxhall Blvd.
The airport opened with no fanfare in 1924 -- when Ford was increasing his involvement in aviation.
In 1923 he had invested in the Stout Medal Airplane Company that built the first all-metal, single-engine monoplane. Two years later Stout became a division of the Ford Motor Company.
In 1925 Ford started Ford Air Transport Service, the first corporate airline, devoted exclusively to the needs of the Ford Motor Company. Ford also won a contract to fly mail between Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.
In January 1925, Henry Ford dedicated the Ford Airport at Dearborn, Mich., considered the first modern airport. It had the first concrete runway. Other facilities included hangars, weather station, radio communications, passenger terminal, hotel and limousine service to Detroit.
Also in 1925, Ford built the first experimental Ford Tri-Motor. A year later, with that plane powered by the first Wright Whirlwind engines, Ford's airplane manufacturing division became the world's largest producer of commercial aircraft. Its enclosed cabin increased passenger comfort. Its capacity ranged from eight to 12 passengers.
Ford built nearly 200 Tri-Motors between 1926 and 1933. The plane had a range of 500 miles and could reach speeds as fast as 115 miles per hour.
Tri-Motors were frequent visitors to Hamilton's Ford Airport, including transporting Ford executives on trips to the local plant. Other Hamilton industries, especially the Champion Paper Company, took advantage of the field that was just minutes away from most local factories and offices.
Late in November 1929, Ford officials announced the airport would close Dec. 1, 1929, because the entire 500 acres had been leased to farmers. In reporting the closure, the Journal noted that "Ford field here has seen the planes of many famous aviators quartered on the runway at different times."
Nearly 11 months after the formal closing, planes were still landing at Ford field. Oct. 18, 1930, a plane carrying Orville Wright and Colonel E. A. Deeds of Dayton used the field. They came to Hamilton for a business meeting with George A. Rentschler Jr., president of the General Machinery Corporation.
After the closing, an adjacent portion of the Ford tract was still under consideration as the site for a Hamilton municipal airport. Those efforts -- led by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce -- continued into the early 1930s. The campaign was nullified by the Great Depression and the city's choice of the Ford land for new well fields for the Hamilton water system.
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812. Oct. 15, 2003 -- Struggles to revitalize downtown areas began 50 years ago: 
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2003
Struggles to revitalize downtown began 50 years ago
By Jim Blount
Hamilton leaders are involved in another study to preserve and revitalize the city's core. This time the focus is not on just a few downtown blocks along High Street. Instead, a variety of proposals emphasize riverfront development between the low-level dam opposite Miami University Hamilton on the south and the dam at Combs Park on the north. Ideas include housing, recreation and entertainment, retail and business possibilities, a convention center and another hotel.
The riverfront study is another chapter in the 50-year struggle by Butler County cities to attract people and revenue back to older areas. Since the 1950s, Hamilton, Middletown and other older cities have seen downtown retail businesses close or move to suburban malls.
Concern for downtown Hamilton began in August 1954 when construction started on the Hamilton Plaza Shopping Center on Dixie Highway (Ohio 4) between the end of Erie Highway and Laurel Avenue. Developers promised 174,000 square feet of retail space on the 25-acre site. Parking for 1,900 cars was part of the $3 million project.
The shift away from downtown Middletown started in October 1958 when the Middletown Shopping Center opened along Breiel Boulevard on the eastern edge of the city.
Later, larger retail complexes in northern Hamilton County entered the competition for consumer dollars. Tri-County Shopping Center opened in 1960, Northgate Mall emerged in 1972 and Forest Fair Mall, partly in Fairfield, opened in phases in 1988 and 1989.
City council and planners considered radical changes to downtown Hamilton as early as 1959. Proposals then included converting the area between Front, Fourth, Court and Market streets into a pedestrian mall. That idea would have eliminated vehicle traffic on High Street between Front and Fourth and on Second and Third streets between Court and Market streets. Several years later, nearby Richmond, Ind., implemented such a plan.
Hamilton's early strategy was to seek an anchor department store for downtown. A plan called Center Punch combined local initiative and city development funds with a federal grant and private capital. It involved the block bordered by High, North Front, Market and North Second streets.
Local efforts began in 1961, but it wasn't until June 1964 that the city and federal agencies reached agreement on the urban renewal project. In July 1965 Arthur Beerman, who headed a Dayton-based department store, completed a contract with the city as Center Punch gained momentum.
Seventeen buildings were demolished before construction could start on the $3.5 million, three-story Elder-Beerman Store. It was to include 121,650 square feet of retail space, plus 42,475 square feet for storage and offices. Before the store opened Sept. 28, 1968, Beerman acquired Wilmurs, a popular locally-owned department store.
Middletown tried to thwart the exodus from its core with a city-sponsored downtown mall, approved by city commissioners Dec. 27, 1968. City Centre Mall was dedicated Nov. 23, 1973. Aided by state and federal funds, the $30 million project involved 75 acres bounded by Main and Clinton streets, Verity Parkway and Manchester and First avenues. Streets closed to vehicle traffic were roofed in a climate-controlled shopping complex, and a parking garage was built.
But Middletown's downtown makeover didn’t stop development on the city’s fringe. Towne Mall opened Feb. 7, 1977, in adjacent Warren County, just west of I-75. The 500,000 square foot enclosed mall, with more than 35 shops, was built on 612 acres and included 3,350 parking spaces.
In the mid 1970s, Hamilton leaders inspected Richmond's open pedestrian mall and Middletown's inclosed mall as they continued to wrestle with a declining downtown retail base. Instead of copying either the Richmond or Middletown models, Hamilton's efforts focused on improved parking and retaining downtown government and private offices.
In September 1975, Hamilton opened a 555-car municipal parking garage along Market Street between North Third and North Second streets to bolster downtown stores and serve Ohio Casualty and other downtown employers. City leaders also headed off county plans to move offices outside the city. Instead, the county administrative center on High Street, on part of the Center Punch tract, was completed in 1976.
The riverfront study is the latest of several proposals over the last 50 years aimed at bringing business, jobs, consumers and tax revenue into Hamilton. Meanwhile, Richmond has reopened its pedestrian mall to vehicle traffic and within the last year Middletown, at a cost of more than $13 million, removed the City Centre roof and reopened streets in reversals of their earlier downtown programs.
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813. Oct. 22, 2003 -- Fairfield site considered for World War I air base: 
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003
Fairfield site considered for World War I air base
(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
Military aviation was in its infancy when a location in Fairfield Township was considered as a base for the U. S. Army air service during World War I. The site was described in 1917 as about two miles west of Symmes City -- more commonly known as Symmes Corner -- and south of the road between Symmes City and Venice (Ross). Today, that field would be south of River Road and east of the Great Miami River in the City of Fairfield.
The inspection came six months after the United States had entered World War I against Germany. It would be another six months before U. S. airmen would fly in a combat zone in France.
"The location for the Hamilton aviation landing field has been chosen and now only awaits the approval of Major Peebles, commanding the Wilbur Wright Aviation Field," north of Dayton, said a Hamilton newspaper in October 1917.
Several days before the anticipated inspection, Mayor John A. Holzberger completed arrangements with Major Peebles, including a Hamilton flyover. The mayor announced that the city's fire bells would be rung to alert citizens of the approach of the army plane.
The alarm came at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, 1917. "When the fire bells rung, the telephone exchanges were kept busy as to the cause," said the Journal. "Thousands of people kept an eye upon the sky" when it was realized the bells weren't related to a fire or disaster.
About an hour later, shortly before 10 a.m., the Journal said, "thousands of Hamilton people got their first near view of the giant battle planes of Uncle Sam's Army . . . soaring over the city." The newspaper said "Hamilton was bombarded" with literature promoting Liberty Bonds to support the war effort as the unidentified plane flew over the city.
"A big white sheet had been spread in the [Symmes Corner] field proposed for the aviation field and here the landing was made," the newspaper explained.
Major Peebles -- in a plane named the "Black Maria" -- made several passes over Hamilton at about 3,500 feet and inspected the Symmes Corner site from the air before landing.
"Should the field be accepted, Mayor Holzberger was informed . . . that with a full capacity of 800 machines [airplanes] at the Dayton field, the local field would have 100 machines weekly," the Journal said.
The army major "did not indicate either its acceptance or rejection" before returning to his base in Dayton, said the newspaper report. A positive announcement never came. Symmes Field or Hamilton Air Base never materialized during World War I or later.
The U. S. had declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. At that time, "it had no military air arm capable of fighting an enemy," explains a website of the Air Force Museum in Dayton. "It did have, however, an untapped pool of men and materials to which England and France, bled almost dry after years of war, looked hopefully."
"Because of the lack of combat planes, flying cadets received only primary flight instruction in the U. S. and Canada. They had to wait until they got overseas to receive advanced instruction prior to going into combat."
"To accelerate the pilot training program, more than 2,000 cadets were sent to England, France and Italy for primary flight instruction. Some of them later flew combat with the air services of these foreign countries before being assigned to U. S. squadrons."
By the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice, the museum says, "16,587 cadets had graduated from ground schools and 8,689 from primary flight schools in the U. S. In addition, schools in Europe had trained 1,674 men as pilots and 851 as observers. Flight training had its price, however. In Europe, for example, there was an average of one man killed in an airplane accident for every 18 fully trained flying officers."
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814. Oct. 29, 2003 -- Ghost appeared soon after fatal rail crash: 
Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2003
Ghost appeared soon after fatal rail crash
By Jim Blount
How soon does a ghost appear after a person’s demise? When four men died in a 1902 railroad accident, paranormal sightings were reported in just a few days. A Hamilton man was among the victims in that crash about three miles east of Indianapolis on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis Railroad.
Charles A. Bunting of Hamilton was the engineer on a freight train that collided with a work train on the CH&I, then a division of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. Three railroad employees were killed outright and at least six people injured Nov. 8, 1902, a little more than a week after Halloween.
Bunting died 13 days later, Nov. 21, of burns and multiple injuries suffered in the collision. A few hours after his death in an Indianapolis hospital, his body was returned to Hamilton for funeral services and burial. He left a wife and two children.
Less than three days after Bunting’s death, ghosts were reported at the Indiana accident location. "The scene of the wreck," a Hamilton newspaper reported Nov. 24, "is now said to be haunted," basing the statement on "a dispatch from Indianapolis."
"Track walkers report that weird sounds are heard on the Irvington curve . . . where the collision occurred" on the CH&I mainline between Hamilton and Indianapolis, said the Hamilton Democrat.
"Mysterious lights are seen flitting about and several people who have undertaken to walk home by the railway track after night profess to have been terribly frightened by uncanny apparitions," the newspaper said.
"Among these is H. N. Admiral, a Pan Handle [Railroad] employee," the report continued. "He was walking along when he saw a white object approaching, which he challenged.
"The figure disappeared, only to reappear at the bottom of the fill, where it joined two others in dancing about." The article said "Admiral took to his heels, his speed accelerated by shrieks and boisterous laughter" from ghosts haunting the accident site.
The 1902 story of weird sights and sounds at the Irvington curve wasn’t unexpected. It was common for ghost tales to become associated with fatal railroad accidents (including some local incidents recounted in this column over the last 15 years). What was unusual was how quick the images were reported -- two weeks after the collision.
Most train ghost stories include a warning message to railroaders -- proceed with caution, follow orders and obey trackside signals. The eerie sightings often include lights assumed to be a conductor or switchman’s lantern or lights on a locomotive or caboose.
An example is an early ghost tale that originated after a North Carolina collision involving two trains operating in the same direction on the same track A conductor was riding in the rear car when it became uncoupled from the lead train. As the car slowed, he waved his lantern to warn the following train, but it didn’t prevent a crash that decapitated the conductor.
Later, people near the 1867 accident site reported a mysterious moving light near the Maco trestle -- assumed it come from the lantern of the conductor’s ghost. Some observers believed the unfortunate conductor was signaling a warning. Others said he was searching for his head.
The white mysterious light caused train crews on that section of the Altantic Coast Line to alter signalizing procedures. In the vicinity of Maco -- near Wilmington -- brakemen, conductors and other railroaders used two lanterns -- one white, one green -- instead of one to communicate.
In that area, engineers didn’t pay attention to one light because it could have been from the ghost lantern. Instead, they responded the combination of a white light and a green light.