Monday, January 8, 2018
Toledo once had such an active night life that a small magazine was published to keep track of it. Toledo Nite Life helped keep patrons of dining, dancing, and drinks aware of what each club and joint was offering. I’m not sure how long Toledo Nite Life existed – I have only seen one issue from 1947 and one from 1948. If the December 25, 1947 issue that I studied in depth was any indicator, Toledo had a many faceted social scene in those postwar years.
In that Christmas issue, the Top Hat Nite Club on St. Clair featured music by “The Famed Klingensmith Family” and had no cover charge. At Brady’s Bar on Sylvania Avenue, Joe Brady was offering a “Gala New Year’s Eve Party” with noisemakers and favors for all. Hats and noisemakers could also be had at the Stardust Inn on Phillips, where nightly dancing could be had to music by Skippy Emline’s Star Dusters. Ka-See’s Night Club featured Jimmy Harry’s Orchestra “for your pleasure.” The 1103 Bar (at 1103 Detroit Avenue) invited dancers to “Swing and Sway to American and Polish Music and Jive.” Further out, The Tivoli at Monroe near Secor offered “Toledo’s Only Smorgasboard,” coupled with Royal Miller on a Hammond Organ. The list goes on and on.
Of special note was the party at the Kin Wa Low. The name means “lovely flowering place” in Cantonese, and the restaurant had a four decade run. “Ha Sun Loo opened the restaurant in a single storefront in 1913. It became so popular it eventually expanded to three full dining rooms seating as many as 200 people, plus a bandstand and a dance floor that could be raised a few feet to serve as a stage.” Serving American and Chinese food, many Toledoans got their first taste of Chinese culture at the Kin Wa Low. The supper club was a venue for singing stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Patti Page, and Johnny Maddox. Keeping late hours, the Kin Wa Low offered floor shows at 7:30 & 10:00 pm, plus 1 am. On weeknights, there was no cover charge, just 50c on Saturday nights, and a $1.50 if there was a nationally prominent act was showing.
On Christmas Day, the Kin Wa Low featured Don Smith and his Orchestra, as seen in the advertisement reproduced here. It also offered “a Great All-Star Fun Revue!” The Kin Wa Low was not just singers; comedy acts, jugglers, even a contortionist were featured. In the Christmas week “fun revue,” Bernie Green, “Toledo’s favorite M. C. Mirthmaker” introduced the acts. They included Ann Craig, a “singing comedienne,” Yvonne & Victor, singers, and The Pauline Parks Dancers, “five dancing darlings.”
The Kin Wa Low must have been a very festive place for “dinner and a show” on that long ago Christmas. All good things come to an end, however, and the restaurant closed in 1962, a victim of television and a change in the way the facility was taxed. The son of founder Ha Sun Loo, Howard Loo, died in January 2017. Mr. Loo had begun his working life at the Kin Wa Low, and later ran his own restaurant, H’Loo’s Steakhouse. According to his son, he remembered the Kin Wa Low as a great place to work and a great place to visit. And for all of us, whether with personal memories or just to have read about it, to remember when downtown Toledo was full of bars, restaurants, stage shows, and supper clubs.
[Quote from Toledo Blade, April 23, 2010. See also David Yonke, Lost Toledo, pp. 80-81.]
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Maumee Valley’s First Priest Couldn’t Get along with Anybody by Alan Borer
Imagine the scene. General Anthony Wayne, the scourge of the Native Americans of the Old Northwest. During the delicate negotiations following the American victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers and which brought about the Treaty of Greenville, Wayne made a speech to a group of Indians. After lambasting a pro-British chief, he stated:
“I hate very much that priest who is at the River Raisins [Monroe, Michigan]. I will go and take him…as I pass by and hang them [the priest and the chief] on two trees.”
Wayne, who was called “Mad” by contemporaries, may have just taken a dislike to the priest. But he had his reasons. Why was the hero of Fallen Timbers taking a verbal shot at a Catholic priest?
The object of his dislike was one Father Edmund Burke (1753-1820), the first English-speaking missionary to work in what is now northwest Ohio. Edmund Burke was born in Ireland. He emigrated to Canada in 1787, where he worked as a parish priest and a teacher at the Quebec Seminary. In August of 1794, the Governor of Canada asked the Bishop of Quebec for a priest who could work with Indians and settlers in Michigan. Father Burke was given the job.
In October of 1794, Burke arrived at the River Raisin. He immediately incurred the dislike of the men who were involved in the Indian trade, who were pro-American and had requested a priest of American leanings, Thomas LeDru, who Burke described as a “vagabond.”
Father Burke apparently did not understand that after the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the future of Michigan lay in American hands. In a tirade, he described the traders as
“the most profligate and contemptible characters on earth, wretches destitute of every principle of common honesty or even humanity, equal to any crime, fearing nothing but a halter…”
At other times, Father Burke called his opponents “peasants,” “a horde of banditti,” and other choice phrases.
Father Burke’s main problem was his own loyalty to the British crown in an area rapidly changing sides to the Americans. In January of 1795, a letter that he had written to some Catholic Wyandots fell into the hands of General Wayne. Wayne also had a colorful vocabulary:
“This caitiff renegade Irish Priest…was sent from Quebec, late last fall…to try the effect, or Trick of priest craft, in poisoning the minds of the Indians…to dissuade them from treating with the United States…”
Father Burke wandered throughout the Great Lakes country, always looking for converts to his faith and his British loyalty. In 1795 or 96 he spent some time in a cabin near Fort Miamis in the Maumee Valley in what is now downtown Maumee, just upriver from Toledo. There he carried on the work of a priest, distributing food and parlaying with Ottawa, Chippewa, and Pottawatomie tribesmen. He appreciated Ohio’s fine climate, but called the valley “the last and most distant parish inhabited by Catholics on this earth,” a place where “You never meet a man, either Indian or Canadian, without his gun in his hand and his knife at his breast.” Burke thought about extending his travels to Michilimackinac, but never made it that far. Meanwhile, his fellow priests were taking a dislike to him. One wrote:
“He is causing trouble everywhere…He follows no ecclesiastical rule or regulation, hardly ever wearing his habit. There are many other things that I don’t want to mention that lead to much public slander.
Nearly all the people I meet speak ill of him…
Father Burke’s temper continued to get him in trouble. He argued about church pews with a priest in Detroit. The French Canadians mistrusted him, and his British superiors were wary of him. In 1796, when Michigan finally became American territory, he left for Windsor. In 1818 he became bishop of Halifax, Nova Scotia. True to form, he got into a controversy with the Protestant clergy of Halifax.
American Bishop John Carroll summarized Father Burke’s problem. Carroll wrote of Burke’s troubles with Anthony Wayne:
“The general and all his officers detest Father Burke for the alarm that he caused among the Indians…It’s a good thing he has gone away…”
It is interesting to speculate on what an even-tempered priest might have accomplished. But Father Burke’s bad temper and antagonistic ways make him worthy of remembering, if only as a cautionary tale.
[Notes: Edmund Burke’s life is recounted most completely in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. IV (Toronto, 1979). His activity in the Maumee Valley is discussed in George Houck, A History of Catholicity in Northern Ohio (Cleveland, 1903).
Other sources used are Thomas Hanley, ed., The John Carroll Papers (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1976), Richard C. Knopf, ed., Campaign Into the Wilderness: The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence (Columbus, 1955), and Ernest J. Lajeunesse, ed., The Windsor Border Region: Canada’s Southernmost Frontier (Toronto, 1960).]
Sunday, October 29, 2017
“Circleville had mail facilities at a very early day. . . . The first mails were carried between Columbus and Chillicothe, which provided the city with a regular mail service. Caleb Atwater, one of the earliest postmasters, was succeeded in January 1822 by George Wolfley. . . . “ [Aaron R. Van Cleaf, History of Pickaway County, Ohio and Representative Citizens (1906), p. 52.
To call Caleb Atwater [Figure 1] “pansophic” would be to pronounce him scholarly, erudite, and with many interests. In various stages of his life he was an attorney, state legislator, archaeologist, teacher, explorer, diplomat, anthropologist, publisher, reformer, and author. And postmaster. The role of postmaster was important to understanding Atwater. By his generous use of the postmaster’s “free frank,” or the ability to waive postal charges by signing his name [Figure 2], he was able to carry on a large correspondence with scholars and scholarly societies on the East Coast. At a time of relatively high postage fees, Atwater was able to do what many were not: carry on an extensive correspondence about topics that interested him.
Much of the scholarship on Atwater states or implied that Caleb Atwater was postmaster for a good long time. “He also was the postmaster of Circleville for many years….: But was it? A contact from the USPS throws doubt on the phrase “many years:”:
“Thanks for contacting the USPS Historian’s office.
The information we have about Caleb Atwater as Postmaster is quite limited.
He was appointed Postmaster on December 19, 1818.
He served for nearly three years, when he was succeed by George Wolfley on November 5, 1821.. . . .
The Official Register of the United States was published biennially in odd-numbered years and listed Atwater’s compensation:
1821 $ 94.50
It also listed Massachusetts as his state of birth.
I am afraid that is all I can provide about him.
[Email - Stephen A. Kochersperger, United States Postal Service, November 21, 2016]
So not quite three years But they were three crucial years for Atwater’s best known scholarly interest, the study of the prehistoric earthworks, or “mounds,” that littered the state.
Atwater (1778-1867) was a native of Massachusetts. He studied for the law, and moved from the East Coast to Circleville, Ohio, in 1815. There he set up a law practice. He added U. S. postmaster to his resume in 1818. The job of postmaster was not particularly time-consuming. The incoming and outgoing mails had to be sorted, and payments collected from recipients. Atwater had to prepare a monthly “List of Letters” to be published in Circleville newspapers. Since all mail was sent “collect,” or paid for by the recipient, Postmaster Atwater used this common tactic to track down deadbeats, the uninformed, and the impoverished who would not or could not afford their letters. [Figure 3]
Beyond strictly postal business, Caleb Atwater used the most important “perk” of his appointment, postage-free personal correspondence. “Atwater was a man of learning and of wide ranging interests,” states a recent scholarly work. A member of the Lyceum of Natural History and of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), Atwater frequently used his franking privilege in his scholarship.
The AAS, which elected Caleb Atwater to membership in 1818, had a stated interest “in recruiting persons of information who were in a position to promote the study of mounds.” An ideal candidate for this idealistic and proto-archaeological work was Caleb Atwater. Atwater studied the mounds of south central Ohio, dashing off letters describing his finds to the AAS. All through 1818 and 1819, the letters poured in to the Society. “He wrote most of those letters in haste and carelessness. . . . Atwater’s handwriting was not always legible, resulting in mistaken place names and other errors.” I have read some of these letters, and legibility is indeed and issue. [Figure 4]
Atwater also used his frank to send reports, research, and drawings to the AAS. The publishers at the AAS not surprisingly made errors of omission and commission in publishing their final report. Errors aside, Atwater’s summation appeared in volume one of the Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society (1820), gorgeously illustrated with engraved plates. Atwater’s text was new and novel as well. Although he came to erroneous conclusions (he believed the Moundbuilders were Hindus from India), he was one of the first to thoroughly study, catalog, and categorize the mounds and their contents. The illustrations of his work in some cases provide the only views of destroyed earthworks. Circleville, his adopted hometown, was thusly named because the town was built on a large circular mound. Atwater’s note and engraving provide one of our few glimpses of a since destroyed work. [Figure 5]
Caleb Atwater gained some fame, or notoriety, through his publications, and by the time he died in 1867, he was probably better known in Europe than America. Historian Henry Howe visited him in 1846 in Circleville found him in a funk. According to Howe, Atwater was “a queer talker, and appeared to me like a disappointed, unhappy man.” With a wife and nine children to support, Atwater was by then eking out a living selling his books “by solicitation.” Yet Atwater made a lasting contribution to American archaeology. Some of the enthusiasm that propelled him is captured in his letters, and more generally, the need to communicate that those letters represented:
How anxiously have I wished for the company of someone like the person to whom these observations are addressed, so that he might participate with me in the emotions which filled my breast.
Caleb Atwater ”addressed” his “observations” partly via the free frank bestowed on him by the office of postmaster of Circleville. Whatever his accomplishments as an antiquary, and they were numerous, were in part made possible by his postal position.
Caleb Atwater, Description of Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States (1820); new introduction by Jeremy A. Sabloff; New York: AMS Press. 1973, p. ix.
Terry A. Barnhart, American Antiquities: Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), pp. 179-83, 197-98, 204.]
Figure 2, Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.
Albert and Charles Borer, May 1, 1924
My paternal grandparents were married on May 1, 1924 in New Riegel, in Seneca County, Ohio. That’s almost a century ago. A few faded photos in my grandmother’s photo album are about all that is left of their wedding. I know the names of the wedding party. I know the church in which they were married. They both came from large families, and quite a crowd must have gathered.
I wish I knew the details of another part of that long-ago wedding day. In the evening, their friends treated them to a “shivaree.” The shivaree happened when friends and neighbors made noise to keep the newlyweds from retiring. The noise was made by beating pots and pans together, banging on washboards, along with yelling and laughter. Anything to disturb the new couple!
The shivaree, which was depicted in the 1948 movie version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, has a long but not well documented history. Shivariee, or more formally “charivari,” is a French word. The custom dates from the late Middle Ages. Originally, shivarees occurred when there was community disapproval of a couple’s match. A great difference of age between a bride and groom, or a young widow married very quickly after losing her first husband, were that sometimes sometimes called for a shivaree. In a world of small farming villages, where there were no secrets and everyone knew each other’s foibles, a community could “tut-tut” a couple with a shivaree.
The tradition crossed the Atlantic as the American colonies were settled. Shivarees flourished in North America, where life again revolved around tiny, rural settlements. The shivaree lost its scolding tone in the new world, and slowly became a night of teasing, where the pranksters merely do their best to separate groom and bride. There were regional variations, as in this recollection of a shivaree in 1951 Texas, where the event took place after the honeymoon:
At times shivarees were friendly. If the newlyweds were needy, gifts of food and household goods were brought, much like today’s bridal shower. If the groom had been a participant in previous shivarees, memories were long and revenge was sought. . . . . Just after dark the abuse began with the largest crowd ever gathered at a shivaree in our community. This was probably because I had been a very active participant in many previous community shivarees. One cousin drove 200 miles to exact his revenge after waiting years for the opportunity. [Farm Collector, October 2007.]
The shivaree survives in the American rural Midwest and especially in the prairie provinces of Canada (where it is spelled “chivaree”). I have never been to a shivaree, but a couple of times I have been at wedding receptions and observed a custom in which the guests spontaneously used tableware to beat on their drinking glasses. The ringing noise would not stop until bride and groom kissed publicly. I’m not enough of an anthropologist to say for certain that this custom is descended from the old shivaree, but it seems to me the customs fulfill the same purpose. They slightly embarrass the newlyweds, yet in a gentle way, welcome them to the married world.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
When I was a boy, my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio, spent several days in late summer/early fall smelling strongly of ketchup. I do not know how adults reacted, but the tomato ketchup (or is it catsup?) smell was an important milestone of the year. It meant that summer was ending, that school was right around the corner, and that we would have plenty of ketchup for French fries. The tomatoes that grew in sandy patches of the old Black Swamp were coming home in a form that even kids could understand. Any hot dog vendor could speak to the importance of ketchup.
The reason Bowling Green smelled so strongly of cooking tomatoes was the H. J. Heinz plant located just east of the courthouse. Opening in 1914, Heinz built the factory on the property of the former Ohio Cut Glass factory. There had been a short-lived natural gas boom in Bowling Green at the end of the nineteenth century, but the gas, and the industry it brought, was short lived. The Heinz plant covered several acres near where the state had just opened a new teachers’ college in 1910 that evolved into Bowling Green State University.
Heniz built the Bowling Green plant as a “field to bottle” facility; all major steps from growing tomatoes to bottling the project could be done in Bowling Green. The ketchup factory grew into a bustling production facility. As one of the city’s major employers, established in one of the most productive agricultural districts in the world, Heinz set many records. At one time, the Heinz plant in Bowling Green was the largest tomato ketchup factory in the world. In 1948, it set a record for the most ketchup processed in one day.
The plant had an interesting mix of workers. Heinz Bowling Green was one of the first to employ large numbers of women. Because of the rush of work at harvest time, Heinz had to use temporary help. During World War 2, German and Italian prisoners of war were made to labor at planting the millions of tomato plants needed to supply the Heinz factory. Some of the first migrant farm labor came to Heinz, first from West Virginia, then from Mexico. Staying only three weeks or so, the Mexican laborers were housed and fed by Heinz, although admittedly in sparsely furnished housing.
Heinz closed the Bowling Green factory in 1975. Processing equipment was antiquated by then, and the price of wastewater treatment had climbed enough that Pittsburgh based H. J. Heinz & Co, could not see a future for its Bowling Green operation. Another Heinz facility in nearby Fremont continues to operate.
The Heinz buildings in Bowling Green were destroyed by fire in 1980. Student apartments now occupy the site. Bowling Green no longer basks in the odor of ketchup in the fall. But the memory of so many tomatoes, and so much ketchup, lingers on.
It is the faintest of memories. My grandmother’s mother was an orphan. Rosa Faber was born shortly after her mother arrived from Germany. She was raised with another orphan girl named Rosa. In the mid-nineteenth century, this was not unusual. County and church orphanages took in some foundlings, but many of them were poorly equipped and life there was grim (think Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens). In rural areas or small towns, orphans were left to whatever charity existed.
The two orphans named Rosa went different ways in adulthood. One married Oliver Elchert, a well-to-do farmer in New Riegel in Seneca County. The youngest of their children was my grandmother. The other Rosa married a tailor in Bowling Green named Michael Greiner. But the two Rosa orphans kept in touch over the years. When they wrote to each other, they addressed each other as, “Dear sister.” When fate brought me to grow up in Bowling Green in the 1970s, several of Michael and Rosa Greiner’s daughters were still living in town, and treated us as family. As a youngster, I can remember being amazed at seeing my grandmother and one of the Greiner ladies holding hands! The bond was that strong after a century.
I only knew Michael Greiner, Rosa’s husband, by reputation. He was born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1854, that little chunk of France that had a majority of German-speaking residents. We do not know just when he came to the United States, but became a citizen in 1878. As a tailor, he had a good reputation, judging from an article in a Bowling Green newspaper:
“Michael Greiner, High Grade Tailoring
Very little can be said about Mr. Michael Greiner as a merchant tailor of high repute, that is not already known to the major portion of our citizens. An experience of several years in working for others, and about two years in furnishing the male portion of our society with up-to-date garments has given this gentleman's thorough knowledge of what is required in his line of trades. And that he is prepared to meet all demands made upon him no one will dispute after examining the carefully selected samples exhibited by him one door north Exchange Bank, upstairs.
In the line of tailoring, cleaning and repairing Mr. Greiner is an expert, and has built up a patronage which includes many of the leading and influential men of this section. The large trade enjoyed has been drawn to him because of the fact that he can always be depended upon; because he gives entire satisfaction, and because his charges are always as low as consistent with first class service.
Mr. Greiner is straightforward in all transactions, is a worthy citizen and stands high in his large circle of acquaintances.” (Wood County Democrat, February 16, 1900).
The Greiners had a good sized family as well. Six children were living at home in 1900. Mary, the oldest was following her father into tailoring, while Leo was listed in the Census as a baker. By 1910, third child Joseph was working in one of Bowling Green’s glass factories. At the time, Bowling Green rivaled Findlay and challenged Toledo as glass-producing towns. Natural gas, so plentiful that the towns could give it away, turned out not to be long-lasting. Even younger daughter Rose had a career as the City Editor of a Bowling Green newspaper. I knew her as “Aunt Rose” when I was a boy.
I still have one of my grandmother’s many recipe books. There are many handwritten recipes for such things as angel food cake, doughnuts, ‘green corn pudding,’ cough syrup, and mailing addresses, It was only years recently that I noticed the name of the merchant who had passed out the book as a free advertisement.: “M. Greiner, The Tailor, Bowling Green, Ohio.” I may try to make the doughnuts when next I remember the two orphan girls.
Otterbein Homecoming: Making Tradition, Keeping Tradition
The tradition of a “homecoming,” or a selected weekend set aside for the return of alumni to the scene of their undergraduate work, usually to enjoy a mid-season football game, is a time-honored event. Otterbein University is not unique in holding the autumn celebration. When Otterbein joined a national trend of holding collegiate homecomings, the idea of ‘homecoming’ was neither original nor unique. Colleges all over the United States were setting up homecoming celebrations. Nor was Otterbein’s concept of a homecoming “culture” noticeably distinct from other educational institutions. The football game, the parade, the theatricals, the Greek life influence, were and are features of Otterbein’s homecoming, and these are shared with many other colleges.
Otterbein’s Homecoming is in fact a mirror of student and alumni life. To the extent that Otterbein is unique, the story of her Homecomings is unique as well. That this history is shared by other, similarly sized colleges with a background of church ownership is not surprising. The college reflected trends nationally. Otterbein has been a pioneer in parts of her history. In Homecoming, she has been more of a follower. Yet, the purpose of Homecoming is, perhaps, more suitably fitted to the common themes of recollection, boosterism, and non-confrontational rivalry. Homecoming at Otterbein is not so much about creating new idioms but about reflecting on and preserving memories. With those caveats, let us reflect back on homecoming at Otterbein over the last century.
Otterbein College announced it would have a “Home Coming” in the Tan and Cardinal issue of October 15, 1917. The Tan and Cardinal, the recently created student newspaper of the college, announced it would take place on November 3 of that year. The event was planned by the Varsity “O” club, Otterbein’s athletic club. Varsity ‘O’ called on all local alumni to participate in the celebration. “The local Athletic Club” also established a committee, which planned “entertainment” for “visitors not included” in the Varsity ‘O’ plans.
By October 29, the T & C was able to declare that “Home Coming [Is] To Be Big Affair.” By then, Varsity “O” and the Otterbein Athletic Club were working together, with sixty people participating in the planning. Among the plans were that soldiers in uniform were to be special guests at the banquet following the game, while a separate dinner for women was planned at the Cochran Hall dining room. This was one of the few reminders that Homecoming was established in the midst of World War I.
In that first homecoming game, Otterbein lost to Heidelberg, 9 – 0. A banquet followed in the Association Building. The menu that evening was roast pig with “rich brown gravy,” baked beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and ice cream. Many of the other, “traditional” homecoming events lay in the future. In that first homecoming, the game and the postgame banquet made up the entire celebration.
It took five years before Otterbein won its first homecoming game, another match with Heidelberg in 1922, which Otterbein won 20 – 0. During those years, there was much fine-tuning of what “homecoming” was all about. In 1920, a homecoming “central committee”was formed, with subcommittees such as “Reception,” “Invitation,” and “Pageant,” a new idea. Varsity O was still involved in planning, although a year later (1921), Student Council began to play a roll. But the earliest homecomings were looser affairs. In 1918, a rally took place the night before the game. The next day, which saw Otterbein once again losing to Heidelberg, the crowd at the game, perhaps in frustration, knocked part of the grandstand off.
1920 also marked the first multi-day celebration. While the literary societies held open house on Friday night, Saturday had become a full day of activities. In the morning, a rally, including cheers, speeches, songs, and band music, followed by the football game. The day finished with a supper sponsored by Varsity “O.” 1921 was even larger, with the beginning of Otterbein’s Diamond Jubilee as a centerpiece. In an odd choice of venue, a pep rally took place in the Chapel. One of the speeches made by Philomathean member E. R. Cole was titled, “Racial Superiority.” The text has not survived, so we do not know how “politically incorrect” this effort may have been.
1922 was a landmark homecoming. The three hundred alumni who attended were entertained by a vaudeville act by students Joe Mayne and Paul “Piggy” Harris, which included “broom swallowing, puns, and repartee.” In a nod to new technology, Mayne also did a skit called “The Wonders of the Wireless.” As America eagerly entered the age of the radio, automobiles, and widespread electric power, the emergence of low cost and easily accessible communication and transport made weekend events like homecoming affordable and reachable. It is no wonder that Otterbein’s homecoming started and grew right along with the automotive society.
The other new event in 1922 was the parade, missing before that year but quickly becoming a feature of “traditional” homecoming. The first mention of a parade in 1922 was followed in 1923 by a much bigger affair. That year, the names of some of the parade floats survive: “The Spirit of 25,” “Bring the Bacon Home, Boys,” and float with a model of Otterbein’s new gymnasium. “Piggy” Harris returned to do a ventriloquist act, while his fellow student “Skinny” Weinland did a “horseshoe” act.
The parade quickly become an annual feature of Homecoming. A series of rainy homecomings in the later 1920s kept attendance down, but there appears never to have been any doubt that the parade was a permanent fixture. In 1924, several Westerville businesses decorated their buildings for Homecoming weekend. Rain forced Robert “Slippery” Snavely to punt in a 12 – 0 loss to Muskingum in 1926.
Homecoming was and is an occasion for the premiers of new campus buildings. In 1928, President Walter G. Clippinger and board of trustees chairman F. O. Clements broke ground for a new Gymnasium. The two presidents got into a good-natured disagreement about who should turn the first spade full of earth, settled only when Clements gave Clippinger a direct order to go first. The building was dedicated at the 1929 homecoming a year later. The tradition of dedications continued with the groundbreaking for Cowan Hall in 1950, followed by its formal opening on Homecoming Sunday, 1951, while East, West, and North Halls were dedicated at Homecoming, 1960. Homecoming, 1964 included dedication of the Campus Center, and Homecoming 2004 saw the dedication of the Dick Fishbaugh Baseball Field.
As the carefree age of the Roaring Twenties descended in to the Depression of the 1930s, Otterbein College saw a downward trend in enrollment and finances. It also welcomed the next evolutionary steps in homecoming icons, that of the Homecoming Queen and the Homecoming Play. Both of were introduced on October 12, 1933. Marjorie Bowser won election as Homecoming Queen that year. There was some minor controversy; the T & C failed to run a picture of the Queen in favor of printing a blank scorecard for the convenience of football fans. Meanwhile the Theater Department put on a play titled “Oh! Susan.” With some interruptions, the homecoming theatrical was a centerpiece of the evening of Homecoming Saturday untilthe 1980s. Plays are still a part of Homecoming in some years; 2016’s Homecoming featured “The Addams Family” as post-game entertainment.
The position of homecoming queen has survived with only a few alterations. In 1934, the queen presented the football used in the homecoming game. Homecoming 1936 called the parade a “procession,” while the queen rode in a “phaeton.” As the years rolled by, other, non-Otterbein groups joined the parade, literally, starting with the Ohio State Patrol in 1940. The Westerville High School band joined later, and by 1946, the parade included seven sororities, three fraternities, and nineteen clubs and organizations.
Just as Homecoming was the ideal venue for buildings, it has also been the scene of at several presidential inaugurations. Dr. J. R. Howe was inaugurated president on Homecoming Saturday, November 4, 1939. That homecoming eve saw one of the most daring stunts of the decade. A person or persons unknown replaced the American flag with a hand-lettered flag that read “FRESHMEN.” The rope below the flag was cut, which made lowering the rogue flag impossible. Freshman James Sheridan was able to climb the flagpole and get the American flag in place before the game. President J. Gordon Howard was also inaugurated atHomecoming in 1945, and current president Kathy Krendl was inaugurated the day before Homecoming, 2009.
As in World War I, World War II affected Homecoming in only minor ways. The disappearance of much of the male student body had an effect, but less so than the huge numbers of freshmen veterans did in the 1950s. Homecoming 1941, just weeks before Pearl Harbor, saw the first staging of a homecoming dance. The dance, usually following the play, was a tradition for many years. The wartime 1942 Homecoming saw the play cancelled, the dance relocated to the Westerville Armory, and the banquet details withheld.
Postwar homecomings seemed to present no outward changes. In some years, the postgame banquet was replaced with an ox roast. In the late 1940s, an all-campus Leaf Raking party took place during Homecoming. By then the fraternities and sororities were taking over many of the social aspects of Homecoming, with lunches and afternoon receptions dominating the once standard dinner. Homecoming in the 1950s was not unlike America at large: serene, placid and unflappable.
As the postwar generation came to college age, things began to change. In what may have been foreshadowing, the 1962 Homecomingwas all but replaced by a convocation titled “Crisis of Freedom.” Meetings of intellectuals, capped by an evening address by Senator Karl E. Mundt, which replaced the play, replaced all but the game, the queen, and the dance. Homecoming at the end of the 1960s looked much like those before the 1960s. Junior Chris Eversole lamented in the T & C in 1970: “homecoming had gone off without a hitch and without any reminder of war, unemployment, and suffering.” Homecoming, like Otterbein herself, missed much of the turbulence of the 1960s.
Small changes were seen in the decade following. 1972 saw the first African-American candidate for homecoming queen, Victoria Coleman. The Homecoming dance, on hiatus in 1970, was not resurrected. The student body elected Independent queens, with no connections to Greek communities, in 1970 and 1973. If coverage by the T & C was any gauge, the 1970s were a decade of informality and less attention to tradition. The later 1970s saw little coverage of homecoming beyond the election of the queen and the football scores.
In 1987, Homecoming itself professionalized, as the Campus Programming Board took over planning and created a “Traditional Events” committee. The year before, students elected the first Homecoming “king,” repeated in 1989 and a Homecoming tradition ever since. As Otterbein’s class sizes expanded and the student body grew in diversity, it was perhaps inevitable that Homecoming would change as well. The days when class size was small and drawn from a (mostly) homogenous population faded. To appeal to the greatest number of students, some traditions inevitably died out.
For the first time in 1993, the homecoming parade was (re) opened to non-Greek participants. The following year, all campusorganizationswere allowed to offer candidates for king and/or queen. Ninety campus organizations queried for entrance rules. More and more signs of deviation from tradition appeared. In 1996, no less than four dinners were offered to accommodate diversity: Cardinal, “O” Club, Reunion, and Parent & Student. With the design of Homecoming now accomplished by committee, albeit a mostly student committee, new ideas were tried. A “donut run” to Schneider’s Bakery in uptown Westerville was popular for several years. At Homecoming in the Sesquicentennial year of 1997, a carnival was tried during the football game for attendees who could not stay until the end.
During the 1990s, talk of Homecoming being “too Greek” and overwhelming other campus interests came to the fore. 1999 saw a complaint of the lack of publicity aimed at students outside the Greek system, while a T&C editorial in 2007 complained that Homecoming was too “Greek-oriented.” Fraternities, perhaps inspired by the 1978 film Animal House, occasionally set a bad example. In the 1992 Homecoming parade, Eta Phi Mu passed out condoms instead of candy. The 1997 parade included a “Ratmobile,” a marcher disguised as Bill Clinton, and a poster with a borderline-obscene joke. Clearly, and not always willingly, the conservative, Christian denominational college was being frog-marched into the modern world.
As the twenty-first century began, the Campus Programming Board continued to tinker with the Homecoming formula. A bonfire was added to Homecoming eve and kept up over the century’s first decade. Friday pep rallies were added, although in 2004 the T&C noted the bonfire attracted a “limited number of students.” 2007 saw the first biracial King and Queen. By 2016, the last Homecoming as of this writing, Homecoming was both familiar and mysterious. Homecoming still had the parade, the Queen (and King), the football game, and the play. New was the “Grove Festival,” with food trucks, music, zoo animals, a mixer, a pancake breakfast, a soccer game, and other tidbits.
As we end our look at one hundred years of Homecoming at Otterbein, we again note that Homecoming reflects trends in society at large. If students in the early 1920s marveled at the radio, students in the 2010s are glued to their I-phones and I-pads. If a previous generation of Homecoming attendees were entertained by church choirs, it is perhaps not surprising that the Columbus Gay Men’s Choir sang on Homecoming eve in in 1993. If students in Warren G. Harding’s time rushed to trade the horse for the Model T, students in Donald Trump’s America are using social media to make the world both closer to home and keep it farther away. Changes are bound to keep coming to Homecoming, but if the task of Homecoming is to keep memories of time spent at Otterbein alive, the task will continue as long as does the institution.
[Written for a Homecoming presentation. Thanks to Stephen Grinch, who used the bulk of it.]