Daytonians Tell Their Story


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on October 3, 1992

DAYTONIANS TELL THEIR STORY -
DAILY MAIL DELIVERS ANOTHER HISTORY LESSON

by Roz Young

 

            You may have read here not long ago about a historical booklet that Herbert McClelland published recently, called Daytonians - Their Story. It is a collection of reminiscences of a number of ancient Daytonians.
            One was by William T. Burger, an usher at Loew's Theatre when Gone with the Wind opened there in February 1940. His duty was to patrol the lines of customers waiting to get tickets and answer any questions. One morning he noticed a black woman in line and, since in those days blacks were not allowed to attend the downtown theaters, he reported her to the manager.
            In a short time a police car arrived in the alley next to the theater, and the manager came out and nudged the woman from the line. "She protested," Burger wrote, "and demanded her rightful place in line. Two cops came from the patrol wagon and arrested her for disturbing the peace. They escorted her to the wagon and drove away."
            Burger said that ever afterwards he has felt ashamed of his part in that episode.
            A few days after the column appeared, I received a letter.

 

            Dear Mrs. Young,

            I find your piece of August 1, 1992 in the Dayton Daily News interesting. I am that colored or black woman. I write to you that that black woman should have a name. Women and blacks so often are recorded with no names.

            I know of two people who can attest to the fact that I am the person nudged (spell pushed) out of line at the Gone with the Wind ticket line.

            I was arrested, taken to the police station and then released. I don't regret my actions that day.

            I believe that the staff of Loew's knew that a group from the west side had planned to make an appearance at Loew's.

            I recall that the incident occurred as I was also trying to obtain employment after graduating from Wilberforce University.

            Elizabeth Hollaway

            501 North Upland Avenue

 

            Elizabeth Holloway was born in Alabama in 1912 and came to Dayton with her family in the early 1920s. She attended elementary school at Willard, where, as she recalls, they put the black children in the basement. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1931, from Wilberforce Wuniversity in 1939, and received her degree in library science from the University of Chicago shortly thereafter.

            She was a librarian at the Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library from 1941 to 1947 and in various science libraries at the Wright Patterson Institute of Technology from 1947 to 1977.

            In the days of the incident blacks were not permitted to attend movie theaters in downtown Dayton. They had their own theaters in West Dayton; those theaters generally had films three or four months after they had appeared downtown.

            A group of young people in West Dayton decided to try to gain admittance to see Gone with the Wind, knowing that probably there would be trouble. At first the whole group joined the line on Main Street. But as the line edged nearer the theater, all the others lost courage and disappeared. "I was the only one that stuck it out," Ms. Hollaway said. "Some were watching from across the street. It was a cold day, I remember, but I was sweating with anxiety."

            She had read the book and saw the movie sometime later at the Classic Theater on West Third Street, and has seen it since, too.

            On August 22 a column about a spelling bee appeared here, a bee sponsored by the forerunner of the YWCA to help raise funds to establish the Widow's Home. The bee took place March 26, 1895.

            In it was the story of how the winner of the booby prize was one Charles Wuichet. He was the first speller to miss a word, and for this he received a special presentation of a spelling book. The word he missed was "irrelevant," and the audience was particularly pleased when he missed because he was the president of the board of education.

            Shortly after the story appeared, came this letter:

           
            Dear Roz,

            I was delighted to learn that Charles Wuichet (1846-1927) was the first to go down at the spelling bee. He was my grandmother Remick's uncle and we all have been interested in the Widow's Home for years.

            A similar experience happened to me. I was not the president of the board of education then like Uncle Charlie or even a teacher (I've taught Latin, German and math for the last 25 years). I was an eighth-grade student in the Bellbrook schools. I became the school's champion speller and was sent to Dayton for a spelling bee sponsored by the Dayton Daily News. My parents, brother and grandmother were there to watch me perform. No one had gone down yet and I was nervous. I was given the easy word "booth," which I knew how to spell without trouble, I got up and started to spell it, and to my own amazement I added an extra "o." There was no retraction of a letter possible, and I sat down more than a little embarrassed.

            I wish I had known about Uncle Charlie's misspelling of "irrelevant" and of his receiving of the booby prize of a small speller. I also won a booby prize. That was 35 years ago and the prize had progressed to that of a transistor radio in the form of the space ship "Sputnik." I am a great one for family history and tradition, and I could have found solace in the fact that I was perpetuating a family tradition.

            Incidentally, Uncle Charlie was a member of a prominent old Dayton family. His father, Jean Jaques Louis Wuichet (1802-1872) did all the stone cutting work on the old Dayton Courthouse and that on St. Peter-in-Chains Cathedral in Cincinnati. His maternal grandfather Eugene Dutoit (1793-1865) owned 11 acres of downtown Dayton property, where Stivers High School now stands and where there is a street bearing his name.

            Uncle Charlie's brothers all had businesses: Eugene and Frank Wuichet had the Gebhart-Wuichet Lumber Co., and Will and George Wuichet the Wuichet Asphalt Co. His brother-in-law Ira Carnes had the Lima Locomotive Co., which became the Baldwin Locomotive Co. Uncle Charlie himself had the Charles Wuichet Co., which did roofing. He was also chairman of the committee that built Memorial Hall. There is a fine bronze tablet to him and the committee there. For a while Uncle Charlie was on the Dayton Board of Trade. There is a nice picture of him at a 1903 meeting of that board with John H. Patterson and Morris Woodhull in Dayton, the Gem City on page 211. In that picture he has a beard and glasses like mine.

            Uncle Charlie was very out-going and was often in demand as an after-dinner speaker. He compiled these speeches in a slender volume entitled The Sunny Side of a Busy Life. In this book are delightful sketches of him and his wife, done in a comic style, as she was much taller than he was.

            John Remick