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Dayton, Ohio - An Intimate History
Chapter Eleven




Not all the Daytonians of the ‘sixties were Princeton patricians who inherited ancestral mahogany and lived on First Street. Some were quite humble folk, but if they had less of the world’s goods they did not lack the compensating qualities of native wit and pungent comment. I like to think that no other town possessed such interesting people, and it is people and not institutions that make the soul of a city.

In how many dim sitting rooms have I sat, as a girl to listen, by the light of one kerosene lamp to reminiscences told by one who had never read a book in her life and never been as far as Cincinnati, but who rejoiced in imagination and insight. Universal education has standardized these interesting old people out of existence. Newspapers and public schools have dug their grave. If, here and there one remains she is thought to be “different” and as it is only one step from “different” to “queer” she is kept out of sight by judicious snubs on the part of grandchildren and so lost to the world she might have been happy in.

I would like to know where modern social classification would put Aunt Sally Davis.*  They would not see the qualities of mind and soul that we did. They would not sense the quick wit, the warm sympathy, the clever characterization of people and affairs that illumined her talk. If she had been educated it would have spoiled her. As it was, her low-ceilinged “settin’-room,” with its one little window on the side street, was a kind of “salon” where she held forth and we listened. She was never alone. But if her talk was necessarily of people because her horizons were narrow, it was not therefore ever malicious. She extracted the pith of a story and left the acrimony – if there was any – to evaporate.

How different from Mrs. Davis in her blunt honesty and plainness was another neighbor of ours whose name I will not mention. She entertained us too, but not in the way she thought she did. Her one topic was Detroit. She had a married daughter living there whom she occasionally visited. Her return was marked by the determination to exalt Detroit at the expense of Dayton and make us feel our nothingness by the side of one who had participated in its glories. Our stores, our clothes, our best furniture, were compared to the same things in Detroit in a withering manner meant to reduce us to despair. It only reduced us to rage, for even then I was a passionate Daytonian. I defended Dayton against every other city in the United States, but as I had not been anywhere I was soon crushed and defeated, whereupon she enlarged upon girls of my age in Detroit all of whom, it seemed, were models of good behavior and never contradicted their elders.

I meditated revenge and was upheld by the other girls in the neighborhood who were smarting under the black insinuations. If she had had any flowers I fear we would have pulled them up. If she had owned a porch we would have thrown sand upon it Foiled in these plans I could only resolve to go to Detroit myself at the earliest opportunity and come home and contradict her. I did, in time, accomplish the first, but not the second, for by the time I became sufficiently informed to do the subject justice, the old lady had passed away, and I hope she found Heaven equal to Detroit!

Sometimes when I walk on modernized Ludlow Street I seem to see a tall ungainly ghost with a red shawl and a basket. It is Mrs. Kilworth taking home the week’s wash. Wherever she takes it the children (if they have not been deceived into thinking that washerwomen are not interesting) will gather about her while she lets her arms drop down between her long grasshopper legs and will tell them, while she sways back and forth in a low chair, all about when the Indians lived on Dayton ground and how her father shot a deer on Main Street. Education had not spoiled her either, for this was before disorganizing general information began its leveling process. Ugly past belief, awkward and ungainly, Mrs. Kilworth still remains one of the figures that come out of the Dayton past to give my soul unimagined pleasure.

Uncle Tommy Morrison might qualify in the millionaire class if he lived today, for he owned both sides of Ludlow Street from Third down to the railroad, which, to one who


*See “Dayton Saints and Prophets,” Conover

 knows real estate values in the Dayton of today is impressive. Mr. Morrison was an

ever-present figure in the Dayton of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. His chief claim to eminence lay in the fact. (attested by his relatives but unsubstantiated by data) that he – a Harrison enthusiast – had vowed if the election of 1840 was successful, to walk to Washington and hurrah for his candidate from the top of the Capitol. He did go, on foot, and he did come back, but how he was engaged in the interim was never fully disclosed. The only contributing factor toward the truth of his adventure was that everybody knew that what Mr. Morrison said he would do he always did. There never had been any difficulties which his will could not brush away.

They say he talked very interestingly of his travels but I, a child, saw in him only a white-haired, pink-faced ogre forever preaching temperance and a hell-and-damnation variety of religion much in vogue at that day and interfering as much as possible with our fun. All play and pleasure was sin in his eyes and all modern improvements the work of the devil. Continually in pursuit of some boy who had trespassed on forbidden backyards of some girl who wore ribbons in her hair, Thomas Morrison was the self-appointed guardian of town morals of that day.

Since we have touched on the subject of human peculiarities among our early Daytonians we must not forget their perennial interest in each other’s affairs. Not a fact of their neighbor’s existence nor an incident in their lives was unknown to any of them. Who was doing her spring sewing, who was having her hall repapered, who was putting up cherries, who was expecting company, was known and discussed all up and down the street. One elderly spinster may have thought she was concealing the fact that the thumb of her left hand glove had been torn off by holding it in her right hand when to church, but she didn’t We knew!

And when old Mrs. Martin went out of her gate to get her cent’s worth of milk from the milkman we got out of ours in time to hear her tell him it was not a fair cent’s worth and make him pour it back into the can.

Hanging on a gate to watch Sol Puterbaugh move a family from one house to another was a favorite recreation of my own. Sol was a mastodon of a man, nearer seven than six feet tall, to whom a piano was nothing in a day’s work. It was no job for him to get a heavy bureau through a doorway alone but it was some job to get himself in. After the invariable irony of circumstance he lived in the smallest house on our block, around on Wilkinson Street near the alley. Into this tiny domicile he ducked and edged around the door frame every time he went home to dinner. Mr. Puterbaugh was as good natured as he was big and gave us rides in his express-wagon on its return empty trips.

There was a lady whose curiosity about her neighbors might partially be condoned because she watched their activities from a sickroom window. But her identity must be withheld, first on the Gampian principle of “no names being mentioned no offense can be took,” and second, because the window from she pursued her researches belonged to an imposing stone mansion in the aristocratic row of residences on the west side of Main Street just below Fourth. Her semi-invalidism prevented activity of every sort except that of investigating to the least item all that her neighbors did, thought, hoped, borrowed or built. The morning market baskets going by under her window on their owners’ arms, offered the first interest.

“A four-rib roast for Sunday dinner when they generally buy only a two-rib! That must mean the Worthingtons driving over from Chillicothe.” “Raspberries” They’re going to make jam. But where are the currants?” “It’s early for sweet corn but they’ve had green beans twice this week.” “liver again! Well, it’s only ten cents a pound.”

And so on, ad libitum. In this way she could visualize the dinner tables of the Lowes, the Rogers, the Lytles, the Gebharts and the Davies.

It was the latter family which unwittingly gave this lady censor her most bitter disappointment. It will be remembered that Samuel Davies had his law offices on the corner of Fourth and Main with his residence adjoining. Later he occupied a house in the middle of the block on Main Street. A moving was of interest to everybody, most of all to a house-bound observer across the street. She ensconced herself at the upper window with an uninterrupted view of the household furnishings that were going to be taken out of one house and into the other. Here she would be able to discover if that table leg still waited for repairs, and if it should happen that a mirror were broken in transit she hoped it would occur between the two front gates so that she would be able to testify just how it happened.

The clock on the mantel ticked on and on and no signs of activity across the street. Could Sol Puterbaugh have had a stroke or could she have been mistaken in the day. Both equally unthinkable. What then? The fact was that the Davies found it more convenient to move by the back way – out of one alley gate and into the other. Perhaps the Gormans or the Voorhees’ on Jefferson Street with their back windows looking out on the alley might see something. She couldn’t. It was a blow never quite recovered from.

Fanny Stacey sewed. Every spring and fall she made the rounds of her customers. They were all the “best people” in Dayton in the ‘sixties. She was a transplanted English woman whose misplaced H’s were a source of interest to us children. She was deaf – very deaf – with a face whose blankness was that of soft pale dough but with a mind behind it and a sense of humor that fairly sizzled when she opened up on the foibles and frailties of her customers. Gossip?  Of course. What do you expect in a day when the papers lacked a personal column, when there were no movie shows, small chance to travel and few books?

Fanny’s talk, however, was never malicious – my mother would not have allowed that – but it was funny, and I have reason to believe was confined to our family circle which offered an appreciative and a secretive audience. And say what you may, it was interesting, after Fanny explained how she had “let new breadth to Mrs. Loomis’ best brown silk where it got stained with preserves, to carefully check up on the repairs the next time we saw that skirt go walking down. Third Street. Sewing? Does anybody now remember what that meant in the ‘sixties? I can see Fanny, sitting close to the table which was close to a small window shaded by a wide porch, her near-sighted eyes fixed on the seam she was hemming. It was held by a sewing-bird which was screwed to the edge of the table. This ornithological specimen had a spring in its tail which, when pressed upon, opened its beak to receive and hold the seam. There was also a receptacle for holding spools.

The needle must be set in the seam exactly back of where the thread came out of the preceding stitch, presenting when finished a row of stitches – minute, exact, delicate and not so different from a seam made by sewing-machine. In this way Fanny’s needle went in and out, hour after hour, day after day, in our house and others on father’s shirts, mother’s petticoats and the baby’s long gowns. Every garment worn had to be made in that way. Fanny’s left fore finger was rasped by the needle point into a nutmeg grater surface, her eyes grew more and more nearsighted as the years went on. Who is there that will begrudge her narratives of remodeled dresses, small pants made out of long ones – the little and big economies that everybody practiced in those frugal days?

A good housekeeper as well as seamstress, Fanny took charge of the house and the children when father attended the conventions of the American Medical Association and took his wife with him. Fanny lived with the Lights on East Monument Avenue – then Water Street. Peace to her whimsical soul!

Some of the familiar figures on the streets of the Dayton of my childhood were colored people, and Joel Chandler Harris is classic witness of their perennial interest in point of character.

A daily visitor from the “Commons” below the railroad was an ancient negro whose shabby clothes and peculiar gait marked him as far as the eye could reach – and it reached far on the unobstructed sidewalks of that day. Standing by our gate on the corner of Fourth Street, I could plainly see him crossing the tracks down by the depot on Ludlow. Each leg, as he put his weight on it was accompanied by a teetering movement – up and down – up and down, before he decided to try the other. How the directory specified him I do not know, if at all, but the boys called him “Springbottom.” The nickname was inelegant, but highly descriptive. Only a moving picture camera could do it justice, and they did not exist in the ‘sixties.

Springbottom seemed to have but one aim in life – to get filled up. From house to house he went, teetering past the lilac bushes and the pump to the kitchen door where the amount of cold potatoes, ham bones and derelict fried eggs he consumed must only be hinted at by an historian with claims to accuracy. I don’t remember how he came to be such a perennial free boarder or that there was any pretense of work done to equalize the value of the eatables. I only know that Springbottom flits in and out of my childish memories – a black wastrel, always on the go, balanced on his two shaky legs, vibrating between kitchen and kitchen – always stoking – never full.

Another gentleman of color there was who made up in personal elegance all that poor Springbottom lacked. Any warm sunshiny day in spring would bring “Professor Brooks” out from whatever he called home south of the depot. So regular was he as to seem as much a part of the festal season as the crocuses or Easter Sunday. If I am right he made it a point to appear for his annual debut on that holiday. First it was his raiment that attracted the eye, as he meant it should, then his phraseology which was as gorgeous as his dress, and finally the expression of sublime self-admiration that graced his black features. Clad sometimes in a Prince Albert coat and sometimes in dazzling white duck, with a rose or lily in his buttonhole, holding with mincing gestures a green silk fringed parasol against the rays of the sun, Professor Brooks paced the length of Ludlow Street sure of being the center of interest, as he invariably was. Whatever jeering the small boys hurled at old Springbottom then withheld from Professor Brooks. His very magnificence was his protection.

The picture here painted is not complete until you had heard him acknowledge a salutation which he frequently did, for he had many acquaintances of both colors. “How does your corposity sagashiate this morning’?” he would inquire solicitously of one, with a wave of his hat and a deep bow. “A  lovely morning for pergrinations, madam” to another. The picture was complete. The necktie equaled the buttonhole bouquet, the bouquet equaled the parasol, and “pergrinations” bound them all together in a transcendent whole.

Never could the professor be caught napping; always was he ready with a reply. Once a loquacious and very Hibernian washerwoman met him and poured upon him a torrent of brogue. With lordly gesture he waved her aside saying “Madam, your language is too copious for my comprehension.”

Why Professor Brooks played this part of a masculine Queen of Sheba no one ever knew. How he attained all his luxury was never disclosed, for one could never associate carpet beating or any such base and lucrative activities with Professor Brooks. More authoritative sources of information than myself have hinted at whitewashing done “on the side” as it were, but I prefer to think of Professor Brooks as a lily of the field who toiled not neither did he spin but remained for years a part of the entertaining street life of Dayton.

Auctions were a free source of amusement in those days. For hours before performance the streets patrolled by a white-haired negro named, I don’t know what, but called “Nigger Ed.” With a huge brass bell and a voice as clamorous as the bell he advertised to the public that at a certain place would be held an auction. A red flag hung in front of a house indicated the place. It was a sign that we might go in without knocking, wander through the rooms, see the family treasures spread out to view and then stand and listen to the stentorian appeals of the auctioneer (it was generally Mr. Huber) on behalf of old clocks, nicked dishes and framed chromo-lithographs as bargains which, if we did not buy, we would regret to the end of our days. In the background of the flag and Mr. Huber was always Nigger Ed. His official position, so to speak, was that of town bell-ringer. His brass bell and his own loud voice assailed our ears whenever there was a sale of cow, horse, or house, a lost child to be recovered or anything that required prompt public attention.

All the pictures in my mind’s eye of those far-off days do not give pleasure. Some of them gave the “creeps” both then and now.

On  Jefferson Street, between Fifth and the railroad crossing, stood a low, dingy, frame house with various signs hanging on the outer wall. At times a gangling old man with very stooped shoulders – almost humped – appeared at the doorway looking out on an uncordial world.

His sign said:

Dr. Rose. Discoverer Of A Positive Cure For Consumption.


If, as Moliere puts it, “A beard is the biggest part of a doctor” then Dr. Rose was well equipped, for his fell down over his shirt front nearly to his waistline. This unvenerable, pompous, grease-spotted old imposter “had it in” for the medical profession as for the doctors he was their perennial source of amusement. Handbills from the Rose dispensary scattered though the streets implored the public not to give themselves up to the tortures of the operating table or into the hands of the bloody doctors, but to consult Dr. Rose who, out of his love for mankind, had invented a mild remedy which cured every known disease from toothache to fits. One of the signs read:


No Poisoning or Torturing Done Here



No Burning or Dissecting The Living.


A third:

Slaughter Pens Farther Up.

No One Has Died Under My Treatment In Twenty-Five Years


Sometimes he dropped into poetry:


                              No Cure, No Pay;

                              Half Cure, Half Pay.

                              Full Pay Work Well Done,

                              And Cures Performed That Are Done By None


The chef-d’oeuvre of them all was a hinged sign, displayed only when a funeral went by, for Jefferson Street was one of the routes to the cemetery. The operation of this placard was watched for by the initiate in the funeral carriages – I fear with distraction from the consideration of the virtues of the deceased whose mortal remains they were following. As the procession passed, the sign clicked and turned over. On the obverse side were the words in very black paint:


This is Not My Patient!


It is the irony of fame that the only existing record of Dr. Rose either verbal or pictorial, has been preserved by Dr. Jewett in whose “slaughter house farther up” were preserved two photographs of the house and its occupant, as well as the wording of the signs.

“When I first saw him in 1860,” wrote Dr. Jewett, “his beard was as white as snow. He wore a steeple-crowned hat and long dressing gown with cabalistic figures, presenting a perfect picture of an ancient magician.”

In my own memory the magician’s hat is replaced by a very shabby “stovepipe” which he wore constantly – in his office fussing over his bottles, to market and, I presume to bed.

Second Street had, during those years, a dentist who laid some claims to idiosyncracy if not to necromancy. He was lame, a crutch being necessitated by a withered foot which hung short and always sported a dirty white sock. The doctor was evidently not troubled by an overplus of patients because he was generally to be seen out of doors leaning against the hitching post from which vantage point he watched the goings on up and down the street. Bald-headed and fat-stomached, clad in a gay-figured and much soiled dressing gown which nearly touched the ground, Dr. Pease was even less an ornament to his profession than Dr. Rose.

Only one patient did I ever hear express herself upon her experiences in his operating chair. Her bitter complaint was of the dirty fore finger he introduced into her mouth. Her objections were not I think, based upon sanitary consideration, of which we then knew so little. But she was a fastidious lady and did not like the taste of it. Of course, seventy years ago there were good dentists, or at least better dentists than Dr. Pease, but this one was left to pursue his career of squalor undisturbed by modern standards or over-particular patients until death carried him off and past Dr. Rose’s office where he was undoubtedly “not my patient.”

In the days when a four-story office building made us feel metropolitan, when street-cars were innovations and getting into them an adventure complicated by mud, when buggies joggled in and out of ruts in the streets and cows were driven the length of Third Street on their way to the slaughter pens, a voice could be heard most any time of the day on any downtown corner: “Shine! Shine!” And that was Al Shartle.*

And now, in another century, when the courthouse is over-shadowed by skyscrapers, when the Phillips House has disappeared into the past, when traffic officers try to keep the public from destruction and when electric lights and street-paving proclaim Dayton the metropolis that it really is, the same voice is heard – Shine! Shine! Shine! And the voice belongs, as always, to Al Shartle, as much a part of Dayton and getting as old as the courthouse.

Once, some years ago, he met a disturbed looking gentleman walking slowly along Main Street as if not quite sure of his surroundings. Shartle made his usual plea: “Shine, Sir; Shine, Mr. Conover!”

“Yes,” was the pleased reply. “You may. And when you have shined them once do it right over again and keep on doing it until dinner time. I have been out of Dayton for thirty years and you are the first person who has called me by name.”

From which it may be rightly inferred that Al Shartle’s acquaintance was a wide one and his memory for names phenomenal. For over sixty-three years this original character has walked the streets of Dayton with his shine-box and his greeting of every customer by name. He has blacked the shoes of four Presidents of the United States: Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, and Harding; and of many governors, senators, congressmen and lesser lights. His hobby is politics of the Democratic variety and much valuable support has he given to candidates in election time. All  his life he has kept both eyes and ears open and has absorbed a large amount of general information.

In 1920 Al Shartle and his wife were members of the Ohio Boosters Club which went to San Francisco by special train, determined to make James M. Cox the Democratic candidate for the Presidency. While there Shartle made a personal plea for his friend to William Jennings Bryan.

His quick gait from office to office around the streets of Dayton makes Al Shartle seem a part of the city’s life, which indeed he is. Many of our leading citizens do not think their shoes are shined quite properly unless Al does it and they appreciate not only his work, but his comments on the affairs of the day.

At this point in my narrative the spirit of an original Daytonian looks over my shoulder and whispers “Where is Billy Wolf?” I am indebted for the reminder, for no chronicle would be complete without a description of that short, hurried figure which lasted nearly as long in the annals of the town as Al Shartle did. He walked as many miles in his day’s work of carrying papers as the shoeshiner – some say from twenty-five to thirty miles a day. He carried the Cincinnati “Enquirer” from door to door, a familiar figure to all on his beat. The day began for many a business and professional man when Billy Wolf mounted the steps of the porch and handed in the morning paper. The weight of his canvas sack hanging from one shoulder gave his body a bent attitude and the heat.

*Al Shartle died in 1930.


Of it on summer days marked his back with the X of crossed suspenders. He had a stentorian voice and always a pleasant word for children.

Life was not always a rosy path for Billy Wolf. Politics he loved and pursued until a fateful day when he bet a lot of money on Republican victory. The party went out of power and with it about all that Bill had saved. It made him bitter and he turned Democrat, though it is to be guessed not a very enthusiastic one, for his Republicanism was bred in the bone. Whatever his affiliation Billy was one of the best informed men in the city on local politics, knowing the factional leanings of everybody and much of the record of virtually every man in public life. He knew how the United States senators and representatives voted and was keenly alive to all public issues. Having bought space at alley entrances and on blank walls, he established a bill-posting business of which he was president, secretary, board of directors, janitor and actual paste wielder. But luck was once more against him. The field was entered by a company with more capital than he could command and Billy went out of business very bitter against trusts and powerful combinations. His comments were pungent and expressed with conviction and heat. Nevertheless his listeners were always impressed with his sincerity and knowledge.

For over a half a century Billy Wolf had been a familiar figure in my eyes and I thought I knew that loquacious, dogmatic peripatetic little news vendor with his papers, his handbills and his working clothes. But I was to have a surprise.

It was at a confirmation service in the Synagogue, a most moving occasion. Among the candidates of the platform was a sweet rosy-cheeked girl with clustering brown curls and bright eyes. At the conclusion of the ceremony and without waiting for the congratulations of the congregation this girl detached herself from the rest of the class, as if she could not wait, and came running down the aisle. With a happy sigh of triumph she threw her arms about the neck of some one in a rear seat. Did my eyes deceive me? It was – no, it couldn’t have been – yes, it was Billy Wolf! Dressed in a black suit and minus his Cincinnati “Enquirer,” there he was, the light of fatherhood in his eyes and a loving smile of greeting to his beautiful daughter. It should not have surprised one who knew as well as I did the affectionate family life of the Jewish people. 


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