Monday, December 1, 2014

History Synergy in Cynthiana

Last week, I was witness to something extraordinary in Cynthiana's City Hall. With my previous post, Death of a National Landmark, I outlined the sorry state of our efforts to save Ridgeway, aka, the Handy House. With one vote cast for demolition by the Fiscal Court, we were one vote away from making that order a reality with the meeting of the City Commissioners. If they had voted to agree with the Fiscal Court, demolition would soon take place. But something magical happened on Tuesday that halted such action for the time being. Just note that phrase: "for the time being." The fight is by no means over as the motion that carried only tabled any decision. At some point, a vote and motion will be passed, but we still do not know what that yet might be. We remain cautiously optimistic for Ridgeway, but tremendously hopeful about the state of history/preservation activism in Kentucky!

When the word was spread via word of mouth, social media, local and state press, people got fired up. Locals, regional parties, state officials and national friends joined together to fight for this 200 year old treasure. According to one City Commissioner that night, support was pouring in from all over the country, asking them to save the house for the future generations, and for the nation. Those voices of support made a difference and will live on forever in the annals of history as an example of synergistic activism in the fields of history and preservation.

The most remarkable aspect of the movement surrounding the salvation of Ridgeway was the diversity of age. As the meeting was set to take place, people kept filing into the Commissioners room until there was standing room only. To our delight, the age range of those attending and willing to speak in favor of saving the house stretched across the spectrum. The number of young people involved and in attendance was so encouraging! We are constantly bombarded with statistics and reports about how the younger generations are not as motivated when it comes to history and heritage, but this meeting proved all of that wrong.

To see the various voices step to the podium - from state officials, to local activists and concerned citizens, to descendants of the builder, and to state activists such as Griffin VanMeter - the passion and energy in the room was contagious and exhilarating! By the time everyone had expressed their support - including City Commissioner and Rohs Opera House owner, Roger Slade - folks were hooping it up and hollering for history. When those passionate about saving history have to be shushed by the Mayor, it's a good day!

So far, the motion to table the vote could be temporary. We have not been notified when a vote might come up on the agenda next - and could be as early as next week. However, a couple of things did happen that evening: The HCHC is still pressing for a vote to lease the property to them, allowing them to get started restoring the house. Griffin VanMeter from Kentucky for Kentucky spoke and offered to purchase the property to begin restoration. Many voiced their support through letters, calls, and a line to the podium. It was a beautiful thing - but we have a long way to go. As of the next morning, one of the Commissioners called the HCHC to encourage them to purchase the property instead of Mr.VanMeter, simply to keep the house in the hands of a non-profit group.

As of today, the Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting that several local officials are in favor of the HCHC purchasing the property, but only if we relocate the house out of the park. Personally - not my vote. Relocation is a bad idea, but negotiations have not yet begun. If you didn't get to express your support in saving the house - you still have time to do so and encourage others to follow suit!

Sending a big THANK YOU to those who got involved and voiced your opinion! It truly made a difference last Tuesday! Hopefully the support will continue and we will succeed in saving this treasure!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Death of a National Landmark

For one last opportunity to help save this national landmark, please contact local Cynthiana officials! For more info about the house:
Cynthiana Board of Commissions: (859) 234-7150 
Cynthiana Fiscal Court: 859-234-7136 or  
Representative Tom McKee:  or (859) 234-5879 

On Veterans Day, the Cynthiana Fiscal Court chose to ‘honor’ the memory of one of its most prominent Veterans by voting to demolish his residence, Ridgeway (aka The Handy House), just 3 years shy of its 200th birthday. For those of you who wanted a pool to be built in the place of this national historic treasure, congratulations, you have quite a victory on your hands. Since there is no money to construct a pool, and since the demolition of a house on the National Register removes the possibility of federal money helping in said construction (or completion of the park), you will be the proud new owners of a hole in the ground – with only the memory of the opportunity and heritage that just slipped through your fingers.

Out of all the wonderful memories I have of Cynthiana from my childhood, none quite compare to the recent memories I have of Cynthiana’s people, fighting to save one of the most important pieces of history left in the community. I watched dedication and love of community in action. Years of tireless work, acts of love, in the vain hopes of preserving a piece of our heritage to pass on to future generations.

With each temporary victory, political winds would blow once again, pressuring those who gave an oath to preserve history until they violated said oath and gave up the hard won victory before its allocated time was fulfilled. Despite the 2000+ signatures of community members expressing their support, and despite the thousands of dollars continually raised to save the house, those who wanted a pool had a more powerful voice, sometimes whispered in the right ears instead of expressed outwardly in open dialog.

As I cherish the memories of new friends made, and proud moments witnessed, there are a few memories I will gladly try to forget: the easy disregard for historically significant properties expressed by a few local officials, and the sarcastic comments of a county magistrate who was of the opinion that we should just pick another house to “waste” our time and efforts on – namely his house – as he thought this was just another “Money Pit” waiting to happen - Despite the fact that no city or county money was to be used for restoration. Well, I have an answer for that comment made out of ignorance: history and the heritage of a community are not interchangeable nor fabricated. They are tangible elements of a community’s narrative that we, as wise stewards, have a responsibility to preserve for the future generations.

Just what kind of history is Cynthiana voting to erase? The kind that solidifies its place of prominence among our statewide and national histories. When we point to significant accomplishments of this community, should we forget the earliest foundations of pioneer accomplishments? The same foundation that built educational institutions, fought to keep our independence, governed through the Missouri Compromise, built an agricultural success story that inspired a new generation of pioneers that traveled west. From these accomplishments grew a struggle with slavery, freedom, more war, a split state, and an indelible connection to one of the most beloved Presidents of U.S. history.

When our students learn about the Civil War, and they read the words spoken by Lincoln: “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game” (1861), will Cynthiana students be taught about their community’s connection to this important moment in U.S. history – Lincoln writing them to a native Cynthiana boy from Ridgeway? Wouldn't it have been a remarkable lesson learned if they could walk the hill up to a restored and beautiful landmark in their community, and could proudly point to it as evidence of Cynthiana’s rightful place in our national history? Sadly, that opportunity has passed. But hey, maybe in a decade or so, some of the kids of the community might be able to go swimming, and isn't that more important anyway?

For those of you who have not followed this issue with rapt attention: Despite the house’s cosmetic appearance, it was inspected and deemed structurally sound by a top Cincinnati architect. After producing a sound business plan by real estate developer and Brown descendant, as requested, and as favorably received in late July by both the Fiscal Court and City Commission, the finances necessary to restore the house were within grasp. Since the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, simply allowing interested parties to raise the money for restoration, federal funding opportunities would be available for the park’s completion. However, this disgraceful decision by the Fiscal Court has denied the future generations a national historic treasure in their community they can look upon proudly, a new community space which has been greatly needed, and a completed park they were promised over a decade ago. The plan proposed was a sound one and a benefit to all in the community as it also included provisions for the pool next to the house. Now that this landmark is passing, just how many 200 year old structures with city, statewide, and national prominence do you have in Cynthiana to make this one obsolete?

Raising a glass in final farewell to a great and beautiful monument of history not worthy of a community not willing to allow able hands to save it within the proposed few years. “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” ― George Orwell

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Flambeau' from the Roaring 20s

If only an object could talk. Wandering through a local warehouse-sized antique store, I spied an object that practically reached out an imaginary arm and pulled me over with a command to "buy me!" As much as I adore antiques, I rarely have this type of encounter, and as a shopper on a very low budget, I've not allowed it to happen. But this was fate - kismet in its purest form, because the item of beauty was also beckoning from the discount shelf!

It was just one martini/cocktail glass, its siblings long gone. One very special glass that had seen better days, but still had that air of glamour and mystery, and wore it proudly. Upon closer inspection, it jumped out as one of the most intricate examples of Art Deco finery that I have ever encountered. And that's saying a lot after growing up in Cincinnati (Union Terminal and the Netherland Plaza just to name a couple.)

The glass of the cup portion is flame red, but opaque, like tinted milk glass. The stem is similarly opaque, but black as night. The bottom of the stem has a rim of metal circling it that matches the filigree decoration adorning the cup. And what an adornment it is: the iconic leaping gazelle, framed in a circle that it surrounded by an intricate maze of angled and swirling designs. Previous handling has peeled some of the metal away, but you can still see the design left underneath. What a gorgeous beauty it must have been in its heyday!
Researching this one has been difficult. I can find no mark on the glass or in the metal appliqué. Describing it in a search engine brought up everything but this style. I have yet to see another just like it. The closest I could find is a sale on Ebay for one that does not include the metal design. In reviewing pieces of similar design, (red opaque glass with metal appliqué) the closest I can find is a series made by the Pairpoint Glass Company, referred to as 'flambeau' from the 1920s and 30s.

If it is a piece made by this company, the metal is probably silver overlay, which makes it an even more unique object. My romantic self assumes such craftsmanship was ordered by a wealthy family who gave many elegant parties...again, if this glass could talk...I'm sure it could share some amazing stories.

Of course, the memory it would like to forget is being relegated to the sale shelf with a $2.00 price tag. Yes, that's right $2.00....the poor thing. I have rescued it from that extreme embarrassment and have it displayed prominently in my corner curio. No longer a citizen on the island of misfit antiques. Back to a place of prominence, where she clearly belongs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Broken Wings: Finding George Remus

A few weeks ago, while attending a festival in my Mother's hometown, Falmouth, we stopped in to Riverside cemetery to "visit" with my grandparents. As we paid our respects, I realized it was just daylight enough to go scoundrel hunting. About a year ago, I was watching Ken Burns' series Prohibition. As the story unfolded, he covered a chapter of history I had only vaguely heard stories about: prohibition and the Cincinnati area. I knew the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area had been a hotbed of illegal activity that began with the prohibition era, but I had never heard of its king: George Remus. In a stunning footnote to history, it turns out George was buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents, despite his life and death in the Cincinnati/Covington areas. Burns also noted that locals remembered his stone because it contained angels, whose wings were ripped off shortly after he was buried there. This was something I had to see for myself.
In very short order, we found him. It wasn't hard at all since the cemetery isn't that large. Plus, I can count on one hand the number of stones that contain any type of statue. Based on the date of his death, I knew he had to be in the older portion of the cemetery, and with the "angels" clue, we found him within a few minutes of driving around. And sure enough, the wings were missing.
The stone itself marks a joint plot containing George, his third wife, Blanche Watson, and two individuals from Blanche's family: Belle and J. Taylor Watson. Based on the life dates of Belle and J. Taylor, I'm guessing this may be Blanche's parents (Belle: 1854-1938 & J. Taylor: 1846-1889)

So, looking at the stone as a joint product, I tried to link up a timeline of its construction. Based on the style of the stones, it was not something from the 1880s when J. Taylor died, nor did it appear to be contemporary to the 1950s when George died. However, taking the death date of Belle into consideration, I'm guessing the stone was nearer to her death date of 1938, when George and Blanche were already a married couple.

I also noticed that the individual burial locations based on gender had been switched. In most cases, the husband is planted first, on the left, and the wife on the right. Here we have George and Blanche correct, but Belle and J. Taylor are switched to place Belle and Blanche next to each other. This is not completely unheard of, but solidifies a close bond between the women. Ironically, in the newer part of the cemetery, my grandparents pulled the same switcheroo so my grandmother and her sister could be buried next to one another without displacing their spouses. Of course, even this switch is odd because if J. Taylor was the first to be interred in 1889, Blanche and George did not even know each other at the time. Perhaps the arrangement was made sentimentally at an earlier date? Conjecture on my part - but all things must be considered when analyzing burial placement. Of course, it goes without saying: wouldn't we also love to know who ripped the wings off? If it was done prior to Blanche's death in 1974, as the reports say, why didn't she have them repaired? Unless she knew that was a useless waste of money.

If the monument itself is a product of 1938, this speaks volumes as to George's last years. These years are something that has begun to intrigue me a bit. Of all the things written about George, his bootlegging, prison time, and murder of his second wife (without prison time for the murder), very little has been written of his years after prohibition. The last 20 years or so are relegated to postscripts - most concur that he attempted to rebuild his fortune, through business and liquor sales, etc., but they all conclude that he failed in his attempt and lived out the rest of his years in obscurity, dying at his home in Covington. But, how obscurely did he live, and to what extent did he really fail?

According to other reports, he had a nice real estate office in Cincinnati, and even owned stock in the Reds baseball team. From what I remember of Burns' production, it was the liquor part that failed on the second go round. I'm assuming the rest of his business was lucrative, at least to provide comfortable means. Let's just assume that the stone itself, in all its elaborate design serves as proof that George did have a decent size fortune. After all, the rest of Blanche's family plot does not match this opulence. The surrounding Watson stones are modest to say the least - very small indeed. Which brings me to the conclusion that the statue was a product of George's money, not Blanche's.

If you ever get the time, you should read up on George. It is a fascinating story. As a young German immigrant (age 5), he was later known as the King of the Bootleggers, and also got away with murder after shooting his second wife, Imogene, in cold blood up at Eden Park. Seriously, a rather twisted guy. Legend has it that Fitzgerald based his Great Gatsby character on Remus after meeting him at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville (legend light on documentation) - but you get the idea about this guy's lavish and brazen lifestyle.

I also found it worth note that his change in professional venue from Chicago to Cincinnati, during the height of prohibition, was not just based on the overly crowded and protected territory under Capone, but on the German friendly population of Cincinnati that was already adept at producing a crap ton of liquor. Those family ties folks - remain strong in crime as well as genealogy.

As a postscript to my own family history - George's link to Falmouth has intrigued me even more. When I heard about the prolific nature of liquor production in Northern Kentucky, during and after prohibition, I suspected my great-grandfather's German immigrant family had a part in this profession. They were always listed as farmers in the census, but the family tradition of wine production is cemented with family artifacts related to said endeavor. One court record even relates the story of accused slander during a wine sale gone wrong - in Covington.

The family's wine production is a subject I hope to research more, but it's hard to research a profession purposefully veiled in secrecy. One clue that keeps me hot on the trail is a picture from 1935 - just after prohibition. My great aunt and uncle (brother and sister) sitting on the hoods of their matching brand new cars. By legal profession, he was a farmer, and she was a domestic servant in Cincinnati. During the depression, this was a highly unusual purchase for their legal circumstances. 1935 was during the time when Remus was trying to rebuild his liquor empire - with the Falmouth/German connection, did they know the Watson family and work for Remus? I highly doubt it - but Remus was known for a complex network of "connections" to supply his inventory - and he was well known for paying them quite handsomely. I guess I have some more research to do!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Delights at Dinner with the Dead

For a closet taphophile, I somehow spent several years missing the Dinner with the Dead events that have taken place in the surrounding areas. Fortunately, the Lexington History Museum resurrected the event this past weekend, long dead since 2009.

The event this Saturday was quite a novelty on many fronts. First, as a cemetery that is only open by appointment, just getting in was delight numero uno. From that point onward, I was just taking it all in: the stones, the falling leaves, the side events, the food, and the entertainment.
As a cemetery, the Old Episcopal Burying Ground is old for the area, 1832, but too young to be in this state. The ravages of time have not been kind. Most of the stones are either in pieces lying along the edge of the property, or weathered away, never to be read again. This fact made the scavenger hunt a tad disconcerting, but there were pockets of stones in decent enough shape to be read for the activity.
Personally, I found the size of the cemetery perfect for this type of event. It was small, yet not too small. There was plenty of acreage for folks to wander around at leisure, with plenty of space. Kids were running around, having fun, and groups had ample time to see all the stones available without getting overly tired.

Speaking of kids, there were several small activities to keep them engaged: besides the scavenger hunt, there was an eyeball (ping-pong) toss, and a cauldron-like musical walk that resulted in prizes based on the image each child stopped on....again, with plenty of room.

Probably the only awkward part of exploring was the abundance of walnuts and hedge apples on the ground. This is something one cannot control, but I found myself watching every step carefully, simply because I didn't want a twisted ankle. It made me think about liability with this type of event - should that be a concern, or am I over thinking this?

The dinner included a rather long wait due to each person being served at a time, but the choices were nice, yet simple: Pizza, mac and cheese varieties, jambalaya, chips, and a tiny cupcake dessert. As everyone was eating, the character interpretations got underway. One that was particularly educational was the Reverend London Ferrell. As the only African American buried in this cemetery, his story of pre-Civil War popularity among the white population was fascinating. He reminded everyone that he had the second largest funeral in Lexington, only Henry Clay's was larger.
It was a cloudy, and slightly drizzly evening, but that fit the somber nature of this cemetery, begun as a result of cholera that ravaged the area in the 1830s. As I took in the names and stories with reverence, the families and young people were bringing life back to the space. Ironically, the crowd had VERY few gray hairs....most were college students, young families with children, or middle-aged professionals. The families were also culturally/ethnically diverse which was representative of the urban population, but perhaps, also a reflection of the event itself. Many other cultures enjoy celebrating the dead, and others enjoy the fright of the season. Either way, the life celebrated was quite a treat - I'm sure the dead would have approved!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eternal Membership Level

This weekend, our family went cemetery traipsing in Pendleton County and stumbled upon a new stone we had not seen before. I cannot tell you how old the stone is, nor even if the person memorialized is dead or not. I know it is fairly new because I had not seen it last year when visiting my grandparents' graves, plus, it is constructed in a current style: Solid black, polished granite with fine etchings. Despite the stone containing a name, there is no date range to determine time frame of this person's existence. After a little research, I have determined that this person was from the Falmouth area, but was living in Biloxi Mississippi as recently as 2004. A few possibilities: This person is still alive and will be buried here someday, the person is buried in MS and simply wanted a memorial stone in his hometown and family plot, or, this person has died recently and the dates are still waiting to be etched.

It is, however, the flip side of this stone that caught my attention. Every organization he was affiliated with is represented in the applique or etching of the official logo. I'm serious...EVERY ORGANIZATION. His church affiliation is the first and largest organization represented, followed by military insignias, educational logo, and finally LINEAGE societies seals. Some of the Lineage societies represented are: SAR, Kentucky First Families, Sons of Union Veterans, First Flight Families. He also chose to include membership affiliations such as the Kentucky Genealogical Society, and the Kentucky Historical Society, among others. As much as I enjoy my affiliations and memberships, I would personally prefer family information to be on a tombstone. Then again, this does tell me about the individual possibly buried there. I learned that he was very passionate about his membership in lineage societies and valued history. I also had a clue as to further research directions, such as church membership and education connection. My question is: what is your impression of this...good information or over the top allegiance?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Cincinnati Union Terminal

Some places on planet earth have the ability to transport the living back through time as they envelope us in waves of sensory memory. With a look, a touch, a reflection of light off of a surface, we physically sense time. Not just seconds or minutes on a clock, but the emotions and heavy presence of life that came before us. The lives that built our present still resonate in the structural echos.

When the Museum Center asked "why" we love this museum, my mind immediately passed over dozens of scenes from more than one lifetime. With the building's construction in 1928-33, I saw my great grandfather, Clyde Daniels. Family tradition has always proudly remembered him as not only a railroad employee, but one that was employed and on-site when the building opened. 

His son Charles followed in his footsteps, working at the terminal, monitoring and maintaining train cars for over 25 years. When the flood waters of 1937 rose steadily, it was Charles that was in the lower levels that night (Black Sunday), witnessing the flood waters come up through the sewer system as the lights began to fail in this part of the city. His call to authorities began mobilization in his area.

"I was a young man of twenty five years of age and was employed by the Cincinnati Union Terminal Company and a First Sergeant of Company C 147th Infantry Ohio National Guard....On Friday night, the water started to back up onto Freeman Avenue near the ball park and around the Union Terminal. All activity stopped at the Mail Building at the Terminal and I was left there to watch the property. I was in the basement of the office and just outside of the door the lid blew off the sewer and water started to bubble up into the street. I called the Master Mechanic and suggested he get some people to start moving the material up stairs. He laughed at me and said I was just being excited. Soon the water got so deep I went upstairs on the first floor. I went to the water fountain for a drink and there was no water. I tried to use the telephone and it was dead. Then the rising water in the basement hit the generators and the lights went out. I then started down the platform toward the Coach Yard. When I reached the end of the platform I could see that the water was several feet deep. So I turned around and went toward the passenger station. I was able to get to the station and stayed there until my time to quit at 7AM. The water by this time had backed up in front of the Terminal and it was necessary for a high bed truck to take us out. I was told not to report to work that night." Charles C. Daniels, Sr. 1985

I saw the many travelers, especially in wartime. My grandfather and his brother would have been among the many men who had to say goodbye to their families as they were called to serve their country. I saw the women in the USO, providing comforts of home to weary soldiers. I saw tearful partings and reunions. It was under these colorful arches of the semi-dome that many said final goodbyes. 

I saw my father Charles Jr. as a boy, following his father around the terminal, getting glimpses of the nooks and crannies rarely seen by the regular visitor. Years later, he applied his profession of photography to the back tracks with his father as the subject, chronicling his retirement. I saw generation after generation of parents teaching their children to talk in the far corner of the front entry as they were given a magical lesson in acoustics.

I saw the fast paced buzz of train travel in the 20th century, and the busy cabbies driving through the circular underbelly to transport new arrivals or drop of the departing passenger. 

Fast forward to the lean years of indecision and trepidation. I saw shoppers and a whole room of suits as my parents took their time, shopping and savoring the palpable remnants of the past. 

I saw rebirth. A new generation of visitors. Some train passengers, the rest time passengers as they were transported through Cincinnati's history. Children exploring and learning at every turn. My brother and I screaming and laughing in the sink hole cave exhibit. Dad taking a picture with a flash, and blinding us all. The train of twinkling lights stretching across the iconic clock each Christmas as a bright and joyful treat coming down the expressway.

I remember ice cream in the soda shop and marveling at the Rookwood tiles inside. I remember weddings, theatre, and flying over the Grand Canyon. I remember walking the plaster statues of WWII, having a bowl of Skyline in the rotunda, and being transfixed with wonder every time I see the massive murals of colorful glass that tell a story all their own: Seriously, EVERY SINGLE TIME. 
Today, we talk about uniqueness, aesthetics, and sense of place as necessary building blocks of a happy and satisfied community. How do we draw them in and make them want to live here or stay here? Give them a unique experience unlike any other, so they say. There is no more unique place in this city than the Museum Center at Union Terminal. Where else can you get a healthy dose of art, culture, history, and architectural wonder? It has no equal in the entire country, let alone in this Queen City. Union Terminal is not just a building, an Art Deco echo, filled with exhibits and theatre, it IS Cincinnati. This temple of time, this holy place, tells OUR story as no other could.

For more information, including how you can help support this American treasure in trouble, visit the Museum Center website. or @CincyMuseum on Twitter


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