Journal-News Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006
By Jim Blount
"As you had no doubt heard very alarming accounts about the earthquakes and other dangers of descending the Mississippi River, I suppose you would have looked upon me as going to certain destruction," said James McBride in a letter recounting his experience in piloting a flatboat on the Mississippi River during the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.
Between December 1811 and April 1812, "the Mississippi River Valley was rocked by a chain of catastrophic earthquakes," said Jay Feldman in his 2005 book, When the Mississippi Ran Backwards. "Of the more than 2,000 tremors," he said "three would have measured near or over 8.0 on the later devised" Richter Scale.
McBride said he joined Joseph Hough, an early Hamilton merchant, "with the intention of carrying on the business of merchandising" Butler County products in New Orleans. "We purchased a quantity of flour and whiskey in the Miami Country and loaded two flatboats on the Miami River which we have brought out of that stream." Upon selling their cargo in New Orleans, McBride said, they planned to "go round by sea to Philadelphia and purchase goods, and return with them to Hamilton."
In an April 1, 1812, letter to an aunt, McBride said "I think we have now passed those dangers, and if some untoward accident does not overtake us, shall pass safely to New Orleans, and if flour bears the price, which I understand it does, we shall make something very handsome."
"Our cargoes consist of 700 barrels of flour and some whiskey and pork which we purchased in the Miami Country on very reasonable terms, as the reports prevailing, of the dangers to be encountered from the Indians, and the earthquakes had so much frightened the people that none would venture to encounter them," he continued. "These stories I considered improbable, but have since found too much reality to exist in them, particularly those relating to the earthquakes."
"Soon after entering the Mississippi River," McBride wrote, we discovered "the effects of the earthquake. . . . Above New Madrid on the west side of the river is a grove of cotton wood and willow trees, two or three miles long, these were all bent up stream and stripped of their leaves and branches in a singular manner. It is said that at the time of the most violent shock the river at this place for some time ran up stream with great velocity, and from the appearance I have no doubt of the fact, as I know of nothing else that could have produced the appearance here exhibited. We were now experiencing considerable shocks every few hours," continued McBride, who is considered Hamilton's first historian.
The Hamilton merchants planned to stop for the night after passing New Madrid at the southeast tip of what later became Missouri. Unable to reach the river bank before darkness, McBride stopped at "a willow island in the river and fastened to the willows, where we remained all night in a very exposed situation. . . . The river was falling and myself and hands were obliged frequently during the night to jump overboard into the water, cold as it was, to push off the boat and prevent her getting fast aground."
The next morning he stopped at Little Prairie, a village of about 20 houses. McBride said "we soon discovered that the place where we were moored had been part of the town, now the bed of the Mississippi River, a considerable portion, several acres, on which part of the town had stood had sunk down . . . and the river flowed over the place. The place where we made fast our boat was a burying ground, part had sunk into the river, and coffins were exposed along the bank."
"Of about a dozen houses and cabins which I saw, not one was standing, all was either entirely prostrated or nearly overturned, and wrecked in a miserable manner," McBride wrote.
He found "the surface of the ground was cracked in almost every direction and stood like yawning gulfs, so wide that I could scarcely leap over them, at other places I came to spaces of ground several poles in width sunk down two or three feet below the common level of the ground." Eight to 10 shocks were felt while at Little Prairie, McBride said. "Each shock continued about two minutes and was preceded by a rumbling noise like distant thunder or the discharge of a cannon at a great distance."
"We experienced slight shocks at intervals for the distance of 100 miles above and below Little Prairie," McBride recalled. The shore "presents a most melancholy spectacle, the banks cracked and fractured, trees broken off and fractured, and in many places acres of ground sunk down so that the tops of the trees just appeared above the surface of the water. All nature appeared in ruins, and seemed to mourn in solitude ever her melancholy fate," he said.
From near Natchez, McBride wrote: "The high wind still continues today, and the river so rough that we cannot pursue our voyage, I therefore devote the day to writing you this letter intending to put it in the post office when I arrive at Natchez."
Hough and McBride, each piloting a flatboat, survived the perilous trip and returned to Hamilton. McBride's many services to Hamilton, Butler County, the state and Miami University have been mentioned in numerous previous columns.
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Journal-News Wednesday,Aug. 9, 2006
By Jim Blount
In 1817, when Cincinnati interests were trying to convince state officials to locate Miami University in the Queen City instead of Oxford, the Western Spy, a Cincinnati weekly newspaper, described the proposed university as a "college in the gloom of the beechwood flats where the footsteps of enlightenment and liberal patronage cannot penetrate, and from whence not a ray of science will be reflected for a century." Those efforts failed and collegiate instruction began in 1824 in the isolation of Oxford.
Through the early years of the 20th century, some Miami students and university officials would agree with at least part of that derisive description in the 1817 newspaper.
"She is a rural college, with a homogenous student community, free from the distractions and vices of city life," said a 1914 university publication in describing the atmosphere in Oxford. "Every visitor to Oxford is impressed by the loyalty, diligence and seriousness of purpose characteristic of Miami students, free to think and develop amid the natural beauty and historic associations of this famous old college town," said the publication, that reported it cost $1.25 a week for a dormitory room and $2.50 a week for food.
For at least a century, parents and students venturing to Miami by horse power and later in gasoline-fueled vehicles faced numerous risks and hardships, including the narrow, winding, rutted roads into Oxford that were either dusty or muddy, depending on the recent weather, and the unpaved streets in the village.
A student arriving or leaving Oxford by auto was a rarity, according to Larz Hammel, a Miami student from September 1916 until his graduation in June 1920, and a university trustee, 1934-65.
Hammel, interviewed by this writer in the early 1980s, said he believed "one of the most tremendous thrills is gone" because of the use of cars, vans, etc. as the means of traveling to and from the Oxford campus.
"Everybody came to Oxford on the train. There were no buses and not many cars. The students had to come in on a train," Hammel said, recalling the comradeship of riding the rail line that had served Oxford. The Junction Railroad had opened from Hamilton to Oxford June 4, 1859. Eventually it became a 98.2-mile line between Hamilton and Indianapolis. The railroad -- that has operated under several names, now CSX -- provided passenger service to and from Oxford until Dec. 16, 1950.
During those years, the railroad also offered special trains for Miami students at holiday and spring breaks, other peak travel times and for special events.
In 1922, for example, it cost $1.80 for a round trip to and from Cincinnati for the Thanksgiving Day football game. The Miami team rode the same train that departed Oxford at 10 a.m.. An added feature was the return trip leaving Cincinnati after 11 p.m., allowing time to attend shows in the Queen City.
Hammel said the Oxford railroad station at South Elm and West Spring streets became a social center for returning students each fall. "We all would go down to the station to meet those who came later. It was a tremendous thrill to see your friends again. It was the same at vacation times," said Hammel, who explained that Miami students knew the schedules of the passenger trains passing through the community.
Evidence of the student dependence on the trains was the postponement of spring vacation in 1913 because of the tragic flood that struck the Great Miami River valley March 25.
Spring break, scheduled to start April 3, was delayed one week "on account of impaired railroad facilities due to the flood." One impairment was the absence of the railroad bridge over the Great Miami River in Hamilton. It was one of four bridges in the city washed away by the flood.
Student reliance on the railroad started to decline in the 1920s with the steady proliferation of cars and the extensive paving of streets and surrounding roads.
An alumni publication in August 1919 announced that the state legislature had appropriated $30,000 as Miami's share of paving High Street with brick and concrete the length of the campus. Also in the process then was the paving of Colerain Pike (U. S. 27) between Millville and Oxford. "The resulting improvements should be of immense value in making Miami accessible to her friends," the alumni newsletter declared.
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Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006
By Jim Blount
"One year ago today," the Republican-News recalled in its March 25, 1914, edition, "four-fifths of Hamilton was covered by a roaring, rushing irresistible flood, over 200 of her citizens were being hurled into eternity and millions of dollars worth of her property was being destroyed." It was a reminder of Ohio's greatest natural disaster, the 1913 flood along the Great Miami River.
As the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, similar recollections of the 2005 disaster will be published and broadcast. Residents of the stricken area won't need reminders of the most powerful storm of the year's Atlantic hurricane season that struck the Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana coast Aug. 29, 2005. Levees in New Orleans broke, wind and water caused about $75 billion in damage, about 80 percent of the city flooded and more than 1,400 people died.
The 1913 flood in Hamilton killed more than 200 people within two days and took 85 to 100 more lives in following months. Nearly one out of three residents in a city of 35,000 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, and another 2,000 damaged structures had to razed.
The local numbers were smaller than Katrina's toll, but the agony was no less for those affected.
"Few there were in the section inundated, as they looked from the windows in the day, and peered into the darkness at night -- an unpenetratable darkness, lighted only by occasional flashes of lightning -- can ever forget the experience. They would not be human were they able to do so," said the local writer on the first anniversary of the 1913 flood.
"Few there were as they stood at the garret window and watched the fire demon add to the terrors of the imprisoned, who did not think that Hamilton and her citizenship was doomed.
"The awfulness of that never-to-be forgotten night; the realization of what a pigmy and helpless atom man is when the Creator lets loose the elements of His power; the conviction that he or some of his loved ones were in or near the Great Divide; the pledges of better and more correct living, are recollections never to be effaced from the mind of any in the water-covered zone."
"Who will ever be able to drive from his memory, the sensations of that day?" the writer asked.
"In the early morning hours there was to occupy the mind the excitement of something new and novel; a rushing from one part of the city to another to note the rapid rise of the Great Miami; until either in his own home or in the home of a friend or charitable stranger, one found himself unable to leave the house.
"Then, as the hours wore on and the excitement subsided," the writer recalled, "all one found himself able to do was to watch and measure the slowly creeping flood of death and destruction, and to listen to the ones [crying] for help and the crashes of one building as it was hurled against another one -- perhaps so loosening it from its foundations that it soon followed, doing damage as it went."
"Will one ever to be able to forget, if he was imprisoned in the house of a new-made friend, with what misgiving and yet hoping against hope, he started for home picking his way through the ice cold water covered streets?"
Elsewhere on the same page, an article summarized the situation in the city a year later.
"Hamilton today presents an appearance such as even the optimistic dared hardly hope for at this time last year," the Republican-News said. "Flood traces have vanished as months rolled by, until today memory recalls those days of disaster."
"There are really but two buildings in Hamilton which prominently display the havoc wrought by the flood," the reporter said.
"These are the Gordon Flats at Main and A streets, and the Schattschneider Flats at Central and Hanover streets. Little has been done at the Gordon Flats to improve that portion of the building which was damaged by the flood, and it still bespeaks the tragedy which occurred there."
"The Schattschneider Flats, however, are being torn down, little at a time, and in a few weeks, this building, where another of Hamilton tragedies occurred, will have become a memory."
There were no federal programs for immediate relief or long-term assistance for victims of the 1913 flood. The state sent the Ohio militia (National Guard) to enforce martial law. Most help came from neighboring communities, especially Cincinnati and Butler County farms and villages. Contributions of money, clothing and other needed items arrived from as far as California. The Red Cross, religious groups, fraternal organizations and other non-government agencies joined the recovery in Hamilton.
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Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006
(This is the first of two columns on the football career of Paul Sarringhaus.)
By Jim Blount
As the high school football season begins, there will be comparisons with previous teams and players. Proclaiming someone Butler County's greatest high school running back guarantees an argument. Among those old enough to have witnessed several decades of local football, a favorite nominee is Paul Sarringhaus who played three seasons at Hamilton High School, 1937-39, before an outstanding college career at Ohio State.
Some say he was one of the best to play in Butler County. Others who saw him play claim he was the best runner in Hamilton high school football history.
Sarringhaus captained Coach Ray Tilton's undefeated 1939 team that claimed the state championship. Sarringhaus combined speed and power as he overcame poor eyesight. He was a stellar running back who also was a passer, kick returner, punter and kicked extra points.
He excelled in other sports, too. He played on the Big Blue basketball team that was runner-up in the 1938 state tournament and ran the 100 and 200-yard dashes on the track team.
"Oftimes the husky speedster didn't need blockers. His hula hips had the ability to send the would-be tacklers flying into space as if hit by a truck," said a 1939 description by Bill Moeller, a Journal-News sports writer and sports editor for nearly six decades, 1936-93.
In the three seasons Sarringhaus played for the Big Blue, the team won 25 of 27 games. "He missed one losing game entirely and played only a minute of the other," Moeller wrote.
In 1937, because of a knee injury, he played only one minute at the end of the first half in a 20-0 loss to Portsmouth. In 1938 a back injury caused him to miss the 18-7 loss to Cincinnati Hughes.
He scored 10 touchdowns as a sophomore, including a 90-yard run that earned Hamilton a victory in the cold and snow at Middletown. He had 17 TDs as a junior and 18 his senior year. His career scoring total was 288 points, including extra points.
Sarringhaus also was a capable passer, but a 1939 newspaper report said his record suffered because of "butter-fingered receivers."
In a newspaper interview in the 1980s, Sarringhaus said the 1939 team "used only eight running plays and a couple of pass plays." He said "we went both ways [offense and defense] and in some games only one or two substitutes. It was simple, but hard-nosed football." That team scored 229 points while allowing only 47 in nine games.
Sarringhaus "saved the grandest game of his brilliant scholastic career for last," said Moeller in reporting Hamilton's ninth 1939 victory, 20-13, in Middletown.
Hamilton entered the season-ending match unbeaten in eight games. Middletown had six wins and two 0-0 ties in eight games. No team had scored more than one TD against the Middies, who had held four opponents scoreless and had yielded a total of 26 points during the season.
But Coach Elmo Lingrel's Middies couldn't contain Sarringhaus and the Big Blue. Moeller said "Sarringhaus romped 61 yards to his first score on the fourth scrimmage play of the game, plunked a foot for the second [TD] and swished 76 yards for the third. He also kicked the points."
It was Hamilton's third straight victory in the Butler County rivalry. The 1940 HHS class was the first to graduate without a football loss to Middletown during its high school career. Seniors joining Sarringhaus in that distinction, according to a 1939 report, were Ed Cappelli, Eric Childs, Charles Orme, Jim Shriner, Al Woedl, Lou Falconi, Tom Galbraith, Steve McMullen and Bob Rinck
Sarringhaus was declared Ohio's outstanding high school football player in 1939, and, according to a November 1939 report, "is now sought by every university east of the Mississippi." Ohio State won the recruiting contest, but Sarringhaus had to wait until 1941 to play for the Buckeyes. Freshmen weren't eligible for varsity games then.
In his first varsity season, 1941, Ohio State had a new coach. Paul Brown, a 1930 Miami University graduate, earned the job with an 80-8 record in nine years at Massillon High School. The 33-year-old Brown's first OSU squad had a 6-1-1 record, and promised to improve.
Sarringhaus rose to stardom and national attention during the 1942 season as Ohio State football achieved a first in its rich football history.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006
(This is the last of two columns on the football career of Paul Sarringhaus.)
By Jim Blount
At this time of the year, most college football fans wish for a winning season and a post-season bowl invitation for their team. But Ohio State followers have bigger dreams -- beating Michigan, winning the Big Ten title and capturing an eighth national championship. The Buckeyes -- with a Hamilton player helping lead the way -- accomplished all those goals for the first time in 1942.
Paul Sarringhaus rushed and passed as a single-wing tailback, played defense and punted. He led the Big Ten in touchdowns and was second in conference scoring that season. His exploits earned him all-Big Ten and All-American honors.
The 1940 Hamilton High School graduate -- whose local exploits were covered in a previous column -- had two 100-yard-plus rushing games for Coach Paul Brown's Buckeyes, a team that averaged 33.7 points a game with a 9-1 won-lost record. It upset Michigan and ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll that first college football season during World War II.
Brown -- a 1930 product of Miami University's "Cradle of Coaches" who later started and coached the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League -- was in his second Ohio State season after a standout nine-year coaching career at Massillon High School.
Sarringhaus scored Ohio State's touchdown in its only 1942 loss, 17-7, at Wisconsin. That setback has been called the "The Bad Water Game." Teams traveled by train in that era and during the trip to Madison about half the team became ill because of contaminated water on a train. The Badgers -- with a tie and a loss in 10 games -- were third in the final 1942 poll.
Winning the Big Ten didn't guarantee OSU a bowl bid in the 1940s. There were fewer bowls in the pre-TV seasons and post-season games were limited that year because of wartime travel restrictions. The Buckeyes stayed home on New Year's Day while two teams that had been No. 1 for part of the season split bowl games. Second-ranked Georgia beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl and Boston College, which finished No. 8, lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
In December 1942, about 150 people attended a testimonial dinner for Sarringhaus at the Anthony Wayne Hotel in Hamilton. The Journal-News called it "a fitting tribute to one of Hamilton's greatest athletes."
Attendees heard Hugh McGranahan, an OSU assistant coach, reveal that Sarringhaus "was able to rise to any occasion during the season despite several injuries." Although he had spectacular statistics, his outstanding Hamilton High career also had been limited by nagging injuries. Because of vision problems, Sarringhaus was one of the first to play while wearing contact lenses. Plastic lenses had been introduced in 1939.
Sarringhaus didn't return to Ohio State the next year. Instead, he joined the army, as did most of his teammates.
With the war over, Sarringhaus returned to the OSU lineup in 1945 and his early success led to his picture on the cover of the Oct. 22 Life magazine. That distinction followed the Oct. 13 Wisconsin game when he gained 120 yards and scored one touchdown on 20 rushes in a 12-0 victory. Earlier, he had scored four touchdowns against Missouri.
For the remainder of the 1945 season, the 1942 All-American appeared to be a victim of the "magazine cover jinx." Purdue ended OSU's 12-game winning streak, 35-13, Oct. 20, and limited the Hamilton graduate to 68 yards on 11 carries and one pass completion in three attempts.
After suffering a shoulder injury in an Oct. 22 practice, Sarringhaus saw limited action the remainder of the year. He and Coach Carroll Widdoes disagreed on his playing time. He didn't enter the Illinois game until the fourth quarter. Ohio State finished 7-2 overall and third in the Big Ten.
After graduation, Sarringhaus played two years of professional football with the Detroit Lions (1946) and the Chicago Cardinals (1948). Injuries shortened his NFL career to only eight games in two seasons. He returned to Butler County and started his business career.
He was inducted into the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and was a member of the inaugural class of the Hamilton City Schools Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997. Sarringhaus died April 7, 1998, six years before he was elected to the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.