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

Breweries of Dayton

Dalton, Curt. Breweries of Dayton: A Toast to Brewers from the Gem City: 1810-1961. 2nd Edition. Dayton, Ohio, 2002.

There has been increased interest in the 1920s and Prohibition.  So much so, that if it has not already happened, the major networks will start bringing out historic dramas set in the 1920s, similar to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  From a history lesson approach, Ken Burn’s documentary Prohibition retells the story in pictures.  In literature, there has not been an explosion of Prohibition-based novels that I know of, but ex-pats living in Paris at the time is having a moment with Paula McLain’s Paris Wife and the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. Paris at the time being the antithesis of Prohibition America. I thought I should jump into the conversation and talk about Ohio Breweries, again.  I know, always with the breweries, even when Ohio was the center of the Anti-Saloon League.  One day I will find the right book to talk about their story.

Prohibition is such a complex and odd issue.  The breweries were the evil big business with political clout, but at the same time the drys very much succeeded in much of the country running a KKK platform against immigrant, Catholics who were more prone to support the “wet” movement.   I find it hard to get my hands around it in a standard narrative.  But, one point that came up in Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition that I find fascinating is how undemocratic local government was at the time — even for white men.  In state government, there was no One Man One Vote.  Each county, regardless of population, had equal representation.  So, even though a majority of Ohio voters (white men at the time) rejected a referendum, the passage of the 18th Amendment steam-rolled through the statehouse (see Hawke v. Smith for the legalities – federal Constitution trumps state constitution in this case).  The ethnic, urban population, who was very wet, really didn’t have much say in the matter. Continue reading

Guided by Voices

Greer, James. Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-one Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.  New York; Black Cat, 2005.

“They are just making music I would make, if I could make music”

– Steven Sodenbergh, from “In Lieu of an Actual Introduction”


One of the best bands to come out of Ohio (Dayton) over the last 20 years, Guided by Voices emerged on the national scene in 1993 — during the height of alternative rock — with the albums Propeller and Vampire on Titus.  Eventually GBV became an international cult classic, signing to Matador Records and gaining notoriety for their long drunken live shows.

GBV was a different sort of band.  Recording with 4 and 8 track technology, they were lo-fi before lo-fi was something. And perhaps more significantly, they were old: band leader Robert Pollard taught elementary school for 14 years before being “discovered” at age 36.  GBV has made news in the last year, regrouping with the classic lineup for a small tour in 2010 and recording new material for an album due out early 2012.  What better time to look at James Greer’s band bio, written shortly after the band’s “last” show on New Year’s Eve 2004.

Reading the beginning of Hunting Accidents (as it is referred within the text) is maddening: James Greer is not your typical rock biographer.  In fact he’s more like a cult member (“[…] free will is a thing granted both by God and by Bob, and like God, Bob will only smite you if you abuse the privilege” (36)).  To the uninitiated, the megalomania that goes into the description of GBV frontman Robert Pollard is over the top.  Before we even get to the band, there are lists of Pollard’s drinking buddies and endless stories of childhood athletics, even testimony from Pollard’s son about growing up with the man as your father and pee-wee football coach.    Continue reading

Politics, Race, and Schools

Watras, Joseph. Politics, Race, and Schools: Racial Integration, 1954-1994.  New York; Garland Publishing, 1997.

This sounds worse than intended, but I would not recommend Politics, Race, and Schools to the casual reader.  It is not a beach read.  The storyline covering desegregation and integration in Dayton public and private schools in the 1960s and 70s, is broken up throughout the text.  The story is retold told over and over again as separate chapters about the city, school administration, the Board of Education, and the court battles.  Each chapter is self-contained, but as a whole it is a burdensome read.

If you do not want to make a long commitment to Politics, Race, and Schools, I would recommend the chapters “School Board Elections and Racial Integration” and “Racial Desegregation and Dayton’s Catholic Schools” and work from there.  The discussion of the School Board Elections in the 1970s gives a good overview of Dayton’s integration story and the views of the communities involved.  Watras’ work is somewhat unique that it tells the history of school integration and private schools.  (Initially, Catholic Schools were very adamant about not taking in students fleeing public school integration.  But, enrollment appears to  have generally increased during this time.)   Continue reading

Broke, USA

Rivlin, Gary. Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.: How the Working Poor became big business.  New York; HarperCollins, 2010.

Though not about Ohio, much of Broke, USA‘s stories are about Ohio.  In Rivlin’s expose on the numerous businesses he terms the poverty industry (payday loans, rent-to-own, subprime mortgages, income tax return advancements, to the old-fashioned pawn brokers), he travels all over Ohio with extended stays in Dayton, Columbus, and Mansfield (along with other non-Ohio places).  I do not want to give away the ending, but Rivlin is not pro-poverty industry.  As James Baldwin is quoted, “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”  Those making the money on the poor do not come across well.

There is a lot to be depressed about in Broke, USA.  But, looking beyond the individual stories, there is the landscape of Ohio that has formed around the industry.  In Cleveland (not covered much in this book), every old business intersection or strip-mall in the city is full of these businesses.  You kind of know that things will never get better (this does not even account for residential neighborhoods that took a hit from subprime/predatory lending).   From my experience, it is the pretty much the same story in all central cities and inner-ring suburbs.  From reading Broke, USA, you learn that there is science to locating these businesses.  Nothing happens by chance.

Though this book may be a kick in the shins, there are some nuggets of knowledge for the Ohio reader.  Rivlin has a great overview of the Issue 5 (remember to vote No for Yes or Yes for No) referendum from 2008, which was an attempt by payday lenders to overturn state legislation capping interest rates.  (In the end, even in defeat, payday-lending lives on in Ohio).  Broke, USA does a thorough job of tying this referendum in with the previous 20-years of the industry along with state and federal action/inaction.  Also, the individual stories of Ohio activists such as Bill Faith, of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) and Dayton City Commissioner Dean Lovelace are worth reading.

And finally, the book ends with a detailed analysis of what Dayton is like today (or when the author wrote the book in 2008).  As Broke, USA is intended as a national publication, much of stories are place less (they could happen anywhere), but the last chapter, ‘Dayton after Dark’, looks at specific neighborhoods.  Not good news, but chronicling Ohio’s story.

If you don’t want to take the time to read the book, or on the fence, I would also recommend listening to the author’s October 29th discussion at the City Club of Cleveland.

For those who want to relive Issue 5, do check out this article.

200 Years of Progress

Roberts, Carl V.  200 Years of Progress: A History of Dayton and the Miami Valley. Dubuque, Iowa; Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1978.

The Miami Valley, or Miami Country, is an ambiguous creature.  Vaguely the land surrounding the Great and Little Miami Rivers, I have seen this region defined as simply Dayton Metro to extending into Indiana (Wayne County) and as far north as Lima.    Roberts’ 200 Years of Progress uses 17 counties in Ohio from just north of Cincinnati (Butler County) to Lima (Allen County).  Though over 30 years old, I have not found a better history of the elusive Valley.  Not a great social history (still looking for that book), but a good record of who moved here, what business was done, and a recount of famous events and residents.

There is a great back story (told in Arnold Rosenfeld’s Introduction) to the publication of 200 Years of Progress.  Finishing up a distinguished career at The Dayton Daily News, Roberts worked a year researching the history of Dayton and the Miami Valley for the bicentennial publication of the newspaper. (That is July 4th, 1976).  That would have been a good year.  The newspaper was then edited and 200 Years of Progress was released a few years later.

While Dayton and Montgomery County is the centerpiece of this work, I would recommend looking at Robert’s research of the other 16 Counties.  Very little of Ohio was settled/incorporated at statehood in 1803.  Only ten counties were created when Ohio became a state and eight more (four counties  in Miami Country – Montgomery, Butler, Greene, and Warren) were created in the first session of the General Assembly.  The early development in Miami Valley (and much of Ohio) was county creation, which Roberts meticulously details involves setting up a courthouse and jail.    (And then replacing the old jail and courthouse).  Robert’s other uniform description for county’s are agricultural production, population, and largest employers.

He has some great histories of business and services.  The history of Elder-Beerman (to 1976, of course) is a find and browsing through the chapter on medicine (hospitals, dentists, podiatrists, osteopathic doctors, and chiropractors) contains unique researched information.  Seriously, Dayton’s first chiropractors were John J. Schueller and Daniel Morgan in 1908.  Where are you going to get that information.

I would love to see an a new definitive history of the Miami Valley written.  This may be hard, as I think the idea of the Valley is passing as older distinct regions are getting blurred together.  Until that day, we have Robert’s bicentennial creation, which I would encourage Miami-Valleyphiles to seek out at their local library.

Grand Eccentrics: Turning the Century : Dayton and the Inventing of America

Bernstein, Mark. Grand Eccentrics: Turning the Century : Dayton and the Inventing of America. Wilmington, Ohio: Orange Frazer Press, 1996.

Bernstein’s Grand Eccentrics is five biographies in one: the Wright brothers (together as one), Charles Kettering, John Patterson, Arthur Morgan, and James Cox. Dayton. 1905. The Wright brothers have been to Kitty Hawk and are mastering flight unknown to the world. Other eccentrics in the prime of their careers. The extremely high per capita patents in Dayton, Ohio at the turn of the century is often cited. This book looks at the culture of the place. All of these subjects have left a noticeable impression on the world. My experience is that you will forget about Cox.
I am not sure why.

What I liked about this book is its wonderment and positivity. I am not saying that history should overlook the many, many negative things that have happened and are still happening, but Bernstein focuses on six people who were quite successful. This work does a nice job of intertwining the lives of these characters along with outlining Dayton at this time. When reading Grand Eccentrics, I felt that it focused heavily on the Wrights and Patterson, but looking back I felt I learned enough about each subject. My experience is that you will forget about Cox. I am not sure why.

In the least, if you are not familiar with the lives of the Wrights or Kettering, this book will be an excellent introduction.