Hitless Wonder

Oestreich, Joe. Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll. Guilford, Connecticut; Lyons Press, 2012.

Hitless Wonder begins with the author’s band (Columbus’s Watershed) playing for an almost non-existent audience in a bar in Detroit—the first stop on a ten-show tour. The local opening act has pulled out and there is no one to see the headliner. There are people in the bar, but none willing to pay for concert’s five dollar admission. The band waits at the bar while the club manager tries to talk them out of playing. The reader has already figured out that Oestreich is going to document the tour and it would not be far fetched to think we are in for a tragic-comedy. A band that once almost made it—over a decade before—is on one last failed tromp around old stomping grounds that are no longer looking for the next Watershed record.

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Here I Thought I was Normal

Satullo, Frank Rocco.  Here I Thought I was Normal.  Middletown, Ohio; ZoneFree Publishing, 2013.

You have likely been in the situation.  You are in a conversation with an acquaintance who begins telling an episode from his or her life.  This may be an absurd story, a bizarre tale that has no explanation, or often a sentimental story (likely to involve some children you may or may not be familiar).  The story may not leave much of an impression, or you may be thinking about it weeks later.  Years later you may remember the story but forget the storyteller.  It is an anecdote, the casual form of how tales are told in conversation.  If you wrote such a conversation down, it would likely require no more than 500 words (about the length of this review).

Frank Rocco Satullo has put together a hundred plus anecdote in his collection of micro-memoirs Here I Thought I was Normal.  It works.  There is no real continuation between one story and another, other than names and places reappearing, but read together they tell a life story similar to more traditional memoirs.    This can be seen in how the trouble young Satullo gets into (less mean-spirited, more having a “knack for adventure”) in his early stories about growing up in Avon Lakes help explain the adult narrator’s mindset in conundrums, where now others (family, neighbors, co-workers) are initiating the trouble. Continue reading

Seven in a Jeep

Gaydos, Ed. Seven in a Jeep: A Memoir of the Vietnam War.  Columbus Press: Columbus, Ohio, 2013.

In Seven in a Jeep, Ohio author Ed Gaydos colorfully renders his experience serving in the LZ Sherry artillery battalion of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. From waiting for his draft number, going through basic training and specialized training, to his tour in central Vietnam, this story is wonderfully told through brief anecdotes and character sketches, and is intended to “leave something for the next generation beyond dates on a tombstone and an old fatigue shirt.” 

Seven in a Jeep is more literary memoir than history book, but the casual reader will still learn a lot about military maneuvers: at the time of Gaydos’ service (1970-71), the Nixon administration was in the midst of drawing down US Forces in an attempt to transfer military duties to the South Vietnamese Army. Often supplemented with letters he had sent home from the war, the story is full of military and technical lingo, but Gaydos explains it all to the reader as he learned it forty years prior. Some of the best writing in Seven in a Jeep details day-to-day life in the battery (rats and dogs, taking a shower, monsoon season) and Gaydos’ job in the FDC (Fire Direction Center) and artillery. Learning about weaponry fills a large bulk of the new soldier enlistment process and there are plenty of interesting tidbits about the weapons found in the war. One will walk away with a better understanding of how brutal howitzer fire can be.

A mostly apolitical work, Seven in a Jeep avoids any real discussion of why the US military was engaged in combat against the North Vietnamese forces, instead using both the war and the military bureaucracy as darkly comic foils. From fake reports about flies, to incompetent fresh lieutenants put in charge of seasoned veterans, to minesweepers holding their helmets on with one hand for Army protocol, while sweeping for mines with the other, the war seemed to be more about regulations, protocol, and more regulations than anything else, and soldiers fought the rules just as much as they were fighting the Vietnamese. In this sense, Seven in a Jeep is reminiscent of Richard Hooker’s M.A.S.H. Continue reading

A Time of Terror

Eckert, Allan. A Time of Terror: The Great Dayton Flood. Dayton, Ohio; Landfall Press, 1981 (1965)

Though not as prominent today, the books of Allan Eckert (1931-2011) are still some of the more well-known works in the last half century dealing with Ohio: among them the Frontiersman series, the Tecumseh biography A Sorrow in Our Hearts, along with the scripts for the outdoor dramas Tecumseh and Blue Jacket (no-longer in production).  Today, we will look at A Time of Terror, his 1965 historic narrative of the March, 1913 Great Miami flood and the damage it did in Dayton.  You may have seen it in the news or are good at subtraction, but this is the 100 year anniversary of the devastating flood that caused havoc throughout the state and ended the last days of the canal system in Ohio.

Eckert’s connection with Ohio was happenstance.  He finished his enlistment in the Air Force while stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force base and he stuck around.  After attending several schools in the state and working for the Dayton Journal Herald, he settled down in the western part of the state for much of the rest of his life.  It was during this time, still located within the Dayton area and working now as a full time writer with the successful publications of two novels dealing with extinct animals, that he started researching the day-to-day events of the disaster.  What he ended up with was a nature story that looked exclusively (not much backstory) at the hour-by-hour events from Sunday the 23rd to Sunday the 30th.   Continue reading

Murder of a Journalist

Crowl, Thomas. Murder of a Journalist: The True Story of the Death of Donald Ring Mellett.  Kent, Ohio; The Kent State University Press, 2009.

I have looked at several Crime of the Century stories.  The “Crime of the Century” was a genre of crime that was very popular in the 1920s, where a murder in Columbus becomes front page news on the New York Times.  The murder of editor Donald Ring Mellett in 1926 and its subsequent trials is notable, as it not only told the nation the story of Mellett (he posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize), but it helped tell the story of Canton, Ohio, whose trial attention was not welcomed by the locals.   Thomas Crowl’s Murder of a Journalist recreates Prohibition Canton from “the Jungle” red-light district along Cherry Street to “Whiskey Alley” behind the court house and the excitement that the court case brought from such a horrible murder.

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Integrating Cleveland Baseball

Liscio, Stephanie M. Integrating Cleveland Baseball: Media Activism, the Integration of the Indians and the Demise of the Negro League Buckeyes. Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2010.

Now that the World Series is over, there is nothing better to do than look back on baseball history (until Spring).  Today, we are looking at Stephanie Liscio’s Integrating Cleveland Baseball, which has several story lines, but basically tells the history of African-Americans and baseball in Cleveland between 1922 through the early 1950s told through newspaper reporting from the era – specifically Cleveland’s African-American newspapers: Cleveland Gazette and the Call and Post.

The history of the Negro Leagues (or black baseball in general) is an expansive story, which some have been able to tell in a condensed storyline, but it is nice to see one work devoted to one city and team(s).  There was African-American baseball in Cleveland prior to 1920 (which probably could receive its own treatment), but this date is important as begin the first year of a financially organized league (Rube Foster’s Negro National League), which included the Cleveland Tate Stars in 1922 (along with teams in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo before the league dissolved in 1931).   Continue reading

King of the Queen City

Fox, John Hartley. King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records.  Urbana, Illinois; University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Somewhat overlooked along the great early independent labels – Sun, Chess, Dot, etc. – King Records from Cincinnati  has a long list of recognizable artists from the 1940s and 1950s in its catalog of “roots of rock” artists.  King was one of the few labels that released both “hillbilly” (county and bluegrass) and “race records” (blues, R&B, and gospel).  In the 1940s, Nashville and Memphis had not evolved into hubs of the music industry that they became, and there were mid-size labels in many cities, such as Cincinnati.  King Records success spread well beyond the Queen City.

Fox’s King of the Queen City attempts to capture the story of King Records from the its inception through the late 1960’s roughly following the time founder Syd Nathan ran the label.  One advantage Cincinnati had in developing such a prominent label, especially in its early years where it focused more on country music, was the presence of the 50,000 watts WLW radio station, open from coast to coast.  Continue reading


Dyer, Joyce. Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood. Akron, Ohio; The University of Akron Press, 2010.

Dyer’s Goosetown is a kind of sequel to her memoir Gum-Dipped (2003), the story of her childhood growing up, mostly, in the Firestone Park neighborhood of Akron of the 50s and 60s. It is a sequel in the sense that it was chronologically written after the first work. But the two works are fundamentally opposites. Where Gum-Dipped was told more from the author’s memory, Goosetown is a collection of things forgotten. This makes for an intriguing read. The style is not experimental in confusing the reader, but Dyer is able to craft a story out of a handful of divergent family lore and the memories of surviving family from the neighborhood.

For Dyer’s mother’s family Goosetown was the “old neighborhood.” It is where she spent the first five years of her life and it was the neighborhood her mother’s generation left for greener pastures. The general premise of the story is that Dyer visits the remnants of the neighborhood (along Grant Street from Exchange to where Interstate 76/77 exists today) with her uncle Paul, who grew up in and lived the early years of his marriage in the now lost/changed community. Continue reading

Cover Me

Huber, Sonya. Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir.  Lincoln, Nebraska; University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

I try not to do this, but I happened to read another review of Sonya Huber’s Cover Me (the Booklist review on the Clevnet catalog).  My fear is that reading another reviewer’s opinion on a work will only create an outline for developing my own opinions.  I like my reviews to be pure.  Needless to say, I made it three-fourths through Huber’s memoir of her diverse and often chaotic post-college years, told through her progression of health care coverage, with one line from the Booklist review stuck in my head:

It’s hard to be too sympathetic about her lack of coverage when she chooses to quit job after job (including eight with health insurance) that she finds dull or beneath her.

Bear with me, as I don’t mean to criticize the reviewer – who wrote a much more succinct and useful review than the one you are reading presently and who overall liked Cover Me.  I didn’t keep track, but the eight jobs quit with health insurance referenced is likely correct, but my reading was different. Continue reading

The Professor & the Coed

Gribben, Mark. The Professor and the Coed: Scandal and Murder at The Ohio State University.  Charleston, SC; The History Press, 2010.

Does the name Dr. James Howard Snook ring a bell?  It may be a result of this reviewer not being familiar with the general history and folklore of Columbus, but Snook’s story is new to me.  He was an Olympic sharp shooter and pioneering veterinary science researcher at Ohio State in the late 1920s.  But, if remembered at all, it would be for having an affair and murdering med student Theora Hix in 1929, known as the “Crime of the Century” at the time.  Mark Gribben painstakingly puts together all of the pieces of the whole affair in The Professor and the Coed.

As mysteries go, the murder of Theora Hix would make a disappointing 48 Hours episode.  While the sordid details of the affair would fill an interesting segment or two, the Columbus police went from difficulty identifying the body to getting a confession from Snook within several days.  The trial lasted several weeks – Snook’s testimony was very explicit – but the jury deliberated and convicted Snook of first-degree murder (which by state law at the time resulted in execution for all convictions) in about thirty minutes.  There was never any doubt, or mystery, in the crime.

It is the simplicity of the case and the lack of unsolved questions that would typically leave the whole affair as little more than a foot note in a larger work of history – possibly a “Famous Murders in Columbus”.  But Gribbens does a thorough investigation and places the story within the phenomenon of a “Crime of the Century”.  Within the Columbus newspaper market, there a scramble to uncover outrageous details from the crime.  At one point, the prosecution allowed a few papers the chance to interview Snook (not a common practice today).  The other papers then scrambled to make up facts to compete for sales.

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