Hundreds participated in hunt for dreaded Shandon wolf
(This column is the eighth in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Was it a massive event for outdoorsmen or another example of neighbor helping neighbor during the agony of the Great Depression? Whatever the motive, hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of men and boys participated in the series of adventures in the southwestern corner of Butler County in 1931 and 1932. They were united in purpose -- capture or kill "the Shandon wolf."
A showdown with the marauder was organized for New Year's Day 1932 under the sponsorship of the Ross Township trustees. The search started at 9:30 a.m. with 160 captains designated to direct lines of hunters, according to James Noes, chairman of the Ross trustees. Sheriff John C. Schumacher cooperated in the effort.
Between 2,000 and 5,000 were expected to participate, but a cold rain limited the hunters to 1,500.
Rules prohibited the use of guns and dogs. Motor vehicles weren't allowed within the 18-mile circumference of the drive. The boundaries were along U. S. 27 between Venice (Ross) and Millville on the east; Ohio 126 between Venice and Shandon on the south; along Shandon Road between Ohio 126 and Ohio 129 on the west; and along Ohio 129 into Millville on the north.
"The plan of the drive will be similar to those for fox hunts," the Journal explained, "and many believe some foxes as well as the wolf will be driven to the center of the advancing lines for the kill."
The Ladies Aid Society of the Venice ME Church provided lunch near the center of the drive.
Everything went as planned, but the wolf didn't show up. Instead, two foxes were bagged. A 22-pound red fox escaped the advancing line and was shot by one of the gunners stationed outside the perimeter. A smaller gray fox was captured alive. Both were auctioned, the red fox bringing $10.50 and $2.50 for the smaller one.
A report said "the hunters enjoyed the sport" and evidenced "a jovial spirit," despite failure to confront the dreaded wolf, who some believed could be a coyote.
A week later, a Somerville area resident said he may have killed the elusive wolf Dec. 31, 1931, the day before the hunt in Ross and Morgan townships. He described it as a large dog, five feet long and 2.5 feet high, not a wolf.
Two farmers in the Shandon area discounted the possibility that the Shandon wolf had ventured as far north as Somerville. They said they had seen the wolf the afternoon of Jan. 1, after the hunt had ended.
Hunters, individually and in small groups, continued to search the Ross-Morgan area. The wolf was blamed for killing more than 150 lambs and other animals, including chickens and ducks. Some estimates place the loss at more than 200.
Victory came Saturday morning, May 7, 1932, on the Oscar Eschenbrenner farm, about a mile west of Venice. That farm had been a frequent target, losing 74 lambs over several months. Albert Fiehrer of Hamilton -- described as "one of the most persistent hunters" during the 14-month campaign -- killed the wolf with a single shot from a 32-40 rifle.
Dr. S. W. Brown, Butler County dog warden, identified it as a 50-pound male, about seven years old. He described it as a timber wolf, of reddish brown color along the back, and a tan shade on the sides and legs. It was missing its right hind leg, believed to have been severed a year or two earlier when shot near Okeana while the wolf was preying on lambs in that area.
"Farmers were overjoyed at the success of Fiehrer's efforts," the Journal said. "Lambs and fowls have been killed with regularly, causing financial loss which was not met from the county fund provided to reimburse those whose sheep were killed by dogs." Value of the losses exceeded $1,500
There were skeptics who said the animal couldn't have been a wolf, claiming they had been extinct in Ohio for at least 80 to 90 years.
An unconfirmed report said the wolf had been part of a traveling show that had passed through the area. Because of illness or other reasons, the wolf was no longer useful and its owner turned it loose.
For several days, the dead wolf was displayed on the Eschenbrenner farm. Admission was charged to recoup some of the loss and visitors contributed $23 in one weekend. Later, an Aurora taxidermist preserved the predator so it could be exhibited at the 1932 Butler County Fair.
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Federal leaders finally reacted to Depression in 1932
(This column is the ninth in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Unemployment in all Ohio occupations hit 37 percent in 1932. By the end of the year, 40 percent of the state's factory employees and 67 percent of its construction workers were jobless. Nationally, about one out of four no longer had an income. Only a fourth of the U. S. jobless families were receiving any relief. Local governments and charities -- prime sources of assistance in 1930 and 1931 -- could no longer afford to provide aid for victims of the Great Depression.
On the positive side, it was 1932 when President Herbert Hoover and other federal leaders seemed to realize the serious plight of many citizens. Hoover took a 20 percent pay cut and the vice president and nine cabinet members sacrificed 15 percent -- yielding a total of $37,500.
"At last, and reluctantly, Hoover made one concession to conditions," wrote Nick Taylor in his 2008 book, American-Made, The Enduring Legacy of the WPA."
"Early in the year," Taylor said, Hoover "allowed the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corp. (RFC), a $2 billion agency whose purpose was to shore up weak banks, railroads and insurance companies by making loans to them." The RFC bill was introduced Dec. 7, 1931, approved Jan. 22, 1932, and the agency was operating Feb. 2, 1932.
Not much money trickled down to benefit the needy. The RFC was called "a millionaire's dole." In an attempt to improve it, the RFC was authorized in July to make loans to states and cities, whose leaders were reluctant or unable to assume more debt.
In June, Hoover signed the Federal Home Loan Bank Act. aimed at making loans to families to stimulate home construction and jobs.
Also in June 1932, to boost the federal treasury, the Revenue Act of 1932 was approved. It was called "the largest peacetime tax increase in the nation's history." It raised top income tax rates from 25 to 63 percent, reduced exemptions from $1,500 to $1,000 for single persons and from $3,500 to $2,500 for married couples. It also doubled the estate tax and raised corporate taxes by almost 15 percent.
The federal actions did little to improve local conditions and apparently didn't impress Wall Street either. July 8, 1932, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its Depression low of 41.22, down 89 percent from its September 1929 peak of 381.17.
"In the spring of 1932 it became apparent that the immensity of the problem [the Depression] precluded efficient handling through local communities, many of which already had exhausted their resources in an effort to provide for those in distress," the Journal-News reported a few years later.
Ohio "created a state relief commission and the trend of the period was that only by a centralization of authority could an efficient and satisfactory job be done. In November of that year  a county advisory board was named to work in cooperation with the county commissioners who had charge of funds," the writer recalled.
Farm prices continued down in the fall of 1932. Butler County wheat prices hit a new low -- 32 cents a bushel. Local farmers had received $2.33 a bushel in 1929.
In December, Hamilton's Christmas in Every Home campaign distributed 2,200 baskets of food and toys to needy families. In a city of 52,176 (1930 census), recipients totaled 11,000 people, including about 7,500 children. In 1920, the campaign's first year, fewer than 300 baskets had been delivered.
A year-end report of Middletown relief showed the city had spent $162,000, an increase of $46,000 over its 1931 aid amount. That didn't include the value of Red Cross assistance, including 575 tons of coal and 823 barrels of flour for jobless families.
Oct. 28, 1932, an optimistic President Hoover campaigned in Hamilton less than two weeks before the election. "We are on the road out" of the Depression, he told more than 6,000 people crowded around his stopped train at South Third and Sycamore streets. In his five-minute speech, Hoover asked voters "to not change the strategy of the government just after the Depression had been forestalled and measures taken by the government were proving successful in attaining a start toward prosperity."
Hoover said "we are now attacking the economic Depression with the result that men are returning to work in all parts of the country . . . and other signs of recovery are apparent."
In defeating Democrat Alfred E. Smith in 1928, Hoover had won Butler County by 13,461 votes. But Nov. 8, 1932, Hoover lost the county to Franklin D. Roosevelt by 2,532 votes.
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City and schools struggled through depression years
(This column is the 10th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
It wasn't just the 2 percent of Americans who owned stock that suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some businesses and industries went bankrupt or curtailed operations. When jobs were cut, individuals and families lost their homes and had little or no money for food and clothing. Eventually, local governments and schools also suffered serious economic woes.
In November 1929 -- a month after the stock market collapse -- the City of Hamilton, the city school system and the county were short of money, but not because of a sudden decline in local commerce.
Hamilton was owed more than $231,000, the schools were short about $37,500 for the year and the county $36,000. The shortfall was blamed on Butler County officials who had failed to try to collect delinquent taxes.
"Delinquent taxes have been on the books for many years," said the Journal, noting that part of the problem was ignoring annual tax obligations by political colleagues. "It has been grossly unfair to the large body of taxpayers that some [people] have been allowed to go along and not pay," said a Journal editorial.
Complicating the situation was a 12.5 percent reduction in land and building values ordered by the county. Facing a 13 percent decline in revenue in 1930, City Manager Russell P. Price said Hamilton was forced to "trim every department to the bone." In November 1930, county government, including courts, faced a shutdown because of unpaid back taxes.
In March 1931, Hamilton officials said the city had an operating surplus, but they were unable to make plans because of the uncertainty of tax income for that year. Later, they learned the city's real estate valuation had dropped to about $65.4 million, down from $73.9 million the previous year.
In 1931, only $728,072 was spent on construction in Hamilton -- much of it for city and school projects. The total was less than half of the $1.6 million in 1930. In five of the seven years, 1924 to 1930, the city total had exceeded $2 million.
Before the 1931-32 school year began, Hamilton schools faced a 38 percent tax loss and planned to shorten the term with corresponding pay cuts for teachers and staff. The school board adopted a single-only rule for women teachers. Married women teachers would no longer be employed. Single women teachers who married later would be relieved. That rule continued until August 1942.
In December 1931, Hamilton asked the state for help in funding relief for the unemployed. Instead, Gov. George White ordered a 15 percent cut in Ohio government spending for 1932.
Despite its protests, the city suffered another loss in its real estate tax base in 1932. The state ordered a 20 percent drop in valuation, leaving the city with $183,317 less than it received the previous year. By early February, that loss was up to $252,930. "No funds will be available from the city for poor relief," the Journal said, and "requirements for relief are mounting steadily."
That setback led to a series of pay cuts for city employees, starting with 10 percent reduction in April, an additional 5 percent in August and up to a total of 20 percent by the start of 1933.
Hamilton schools started in September 1932 with $135,000 less than the previous year. The school year was shortened and employees suffered a 20 percent salary loss, despite enrollment increasing from 10,976 to 11,381.
The delinquent tax issue was raised again in December 1932. The county total had climbed to more than $1.3 million, including $703,783.50 which had been due in 1931 and $630,670.93 from previous years. Hamilton was owed $664,470, almost triple the 1929 amount.
The Journal said the county "has ignored the law and refused to obey the law for non-payment of taxes for 10 years." The list of delinquents hadn't been published for at least seven years.
Finally, budget juggling and pay cuts weren't enough. Three days after Christmas the city announced it would start 1933 without 21 firemen and six policemen. The layoffs reduced the Hamilton departments to 44 and 40, respectively. Hospital benefits stopped and the 1933 budget omitted money for jobless relief.
The financial struggles continued as the nation waited for the inauguration of a new president March 4, 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt -- who had won 53 percent of the Butler County vote -- prevailed 472 to 59 in the electoral college to displace Herbert Hoover in the White House.
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Hamilton became one newspaper town in 1933
(This column is the 11th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
News was plentiful in 1933, the fourth full year of the Great Depression. Much of it was created by the rapid pace of relief programs initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the progress of those proposals in the U. S. Congress. Newsmen were challenged to explain the impact of the varied measures to their readers -- most of them jobless or surviving with less.
In his first 100 days in office -- starting with his March 4, 1933, inauguration -- FDR issued executive orders and won congressional approval for many actions aimed at reviving the economy.
The list included -- but wasn't limited to -- a nationwide bank holiday, a switch to the gold standard and creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Home Owners Refinancing Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Banking Act, the National Recovery Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Civil Works Administration and more.
The rapid pace and magnitude of New Deal programs didn't bring a quick end to the Great Depression in the Hamilton area in 1933.
Despite the wealth of news, Hamilton became a one newspaper town a month before FDR assumed office. Hamilton's oldest daily newspaper, the Daily News, announced Feb. 4 it was ending operations after battling financial difficulties for several years. The Daily News, which had started in 1879, agreed to merge with the Hamilton Evening Journal. The first edition bearing the Journal-News banner appeared Monday, Feb. 6, 1933.
A few weeks later, the City of Hamilton renewed its municipal gardens project for a fourth year. It offered free plots and seeds to city residents. More than 1,200 applicants, representing thousands of family members, took part in raising some of their food needs. The city spend about $2,600 for seeds in 1933.
Hamilton residents experienced two transportation changes. Area residents participated in the March 31, 1933, dedication of the $41 million Union Terminal in Cincinnati. The terminal -- capable of handling 17,000 passengers and 216 trains daily -- consolidated passenger service from five scattered depots.
The new terminal not only improved service for local travelers, it also revived hopes for a smaller scale union station in Hamilton. The 1920 city plan had included a proposal to combine the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio tracks through the downtown area, including an underpass or overpass at High Street.
The city's last electric-powered streetcar completed its run July 23. The next morning gasoline-powered buses assumed the routes. Electric streetcars had been hauling Hamiltonians since replacing horse-drawn cars Dec. 30, 1890.
June 14, 1933, Hamilton's new downtown post office was dedicated. It opened for business the next day. It took more than four years to complete the on-and-off project at the southeast corner of Court and South Front streets.
Another positive was an August report that, collectively, Hamilton electric consumers would save $103,000 a year. The rate reduction was one of a series of rate cuts in the early 1930s.
State and national events promised to produce more tax income for financially ailing local, county and state governments. Nov. 7, 1933, more than 70 percent of Butler County voters favored repeal of both state and federal prohibition. A month later, Dec. 5, the 21st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified, repealing the 18th amendment, which had established national prohibition.
Earlier, beer had returned to Ohio April 1 with demand quickly exceeding supply. Dec. 23, Ohio prohibition, in effect since May 1919, was repealed when Gov. George White singed a new state liquor law.
Hamilton was in the limelight as John Dillinger resumed his bank-robbing career. Oct. 1, six men moved into a house in the 1000 block of South Second Street in Hamilton to form the Dillinger Gang.
Dillinger -- who had robbed five banks in four months in 1933 -- was in jail in Lima after capture Sept. 23 in Dayton. Oct. 3, the gang -- needing money for weapons -- robbed a bank in St. Marys, Ohio, of more than $11,000. The group returned to Hamilton to make plans to release Dillinger.
Oct. 12, the gang killed the sheriff and freed Dillinger from the Allen County jail. The search led to Hamilton, and Oct. 16 at least 100 police from two states advanced from the courthouse to the house on South Second Street. The gangsters, apparently told of the raid, were gone.
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County banks weathered FDR's 1933 bank holiday
(This column is the 12th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Shoddy banking practices, starting in the early 1920s, and a lack of federal oversight were a major cause of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Bank failures -- and loss of client savings and investments -- were not unusual.
In 1929, wrote Amity Shlaes in The Forgotten Man, A New History of the Great Depression, "some [banks] were failing, but the rate was not outside the norm for the 1920s. Total commercial bank failures for 1929 would be lower than the same statistic for 1924, 1926 and 1927."
Until December 1930, "most of the banks to fail had been rural banks," said Shlaes in her 2007 book.
"Now an important bank in a big city [the Bank of the United States] ran into trouble, one that was a member of the Federal Reserve System." Shales said "by 1931, panics at the larger banks began in earnest."
If Butler County banks had any problems, they weren't publicized, but they didn't escape state limitations in the final days of the Herbert Hoover administration.
Feb. 28, 1933, based on Ohio legislation, Hamilton's four banks began limiting withdrawals to no more than 5 percent of each account. Although meant to protect depositors, the state measure added to the public concern about banks that had swept across the nation.
With national unemployment at 24.9 percent, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office March 4, 1933. The next day FDR called Congress into special session, but he didn't wait for Congress to act to correct the bank crisis. More than 5,500 banks, with deposits exceeding $3.4 billion in deposits, had failed.
March 6 the president declared a four-day national bank holiday and promised that Congress would expedite a plan to save the nation's failing banking system. Lawmakers responded March 9 by passing the Emergency Banking Relief Act, which enacted federal bank inspections. FDR signed it the same day.
Business had continued during the four-day holiday. With Ohio's 800 banks closed, Ohio lawmakers quickly approved the use of script (certificates of indebtedness) for payment of state debts. Many local businesses also devised temporary systems until banks reopened.
Banks were closed an extra day -- Friday, March 10 -- because the new federal law didn't permit reopening until a bank could demonstrate it was in solid condition. Hamilton's four banks reopened March 14 with no restriction on withdrawals. The next day, nine other banks in the county resumed business.
Looking back a few years later, the Journal-News said "to the everlasting credit of the banks of Hamilton, it can be said that not one of them closed its doors during the darkest days of the worst financial, industrial and business depression in all history."
During FDR's first 100 days -- when he proposed dozens of depression-fighting measures -- Congress approved several laws regarding finances.
May 27, it passed the Federal Securities Act. It mandated full disclosure to investors of information relating to new securities issues publicly offered or sold through the mails or in interstate commerce. New securities had to be registered with the Federal Trade Commission.
June 13, the Home Owners' Loan Act was enacted. It allowed home mortgages to be refinanced for non-farm owners. It started with capital stock of $200 million and was authorized to issue $2 billion in bonds to refinance mortgages. When the law expired in June 1936 it had made loans covering a million mortgages.
June 16, the Banking Act of 1933 -- also known as the Glass-Steagall Act -- created the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) to guarantee individual bank deposits under $5,000. Other sections of the law expanded the banking system by permitting branch banks and separated commercial from investment banking.
FDIC protection began Jan. 1, 1934, with 431 of Ohio's 461 federal and state banks covered, including 13 in Butler County. Nationally, 97 percent of banks were included.
"The protection of deposit insurance is provided without cost to the depositor . . . effective immediately and automatically," said an advertisement by the Hamilton Clearing House Association, which included the First National, Second National, Citizens and Dime Savings banks in the city. "There is no red tape, nothing for the customer to do" for coverage of deposits "in a total amount not to exceed $2,500 for any depositor." The amount was raised to $10,000 July 1, 1934.