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Readers Recall Long-Lost Memories

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on October 26, 1991


by Roz Young


            History columns bring out many responses from readers, particularly those who have been a part of local history for a long time.
            Something here made Elizabeth Stephens of Palomar Avenue remember the day of John H. Patterson's funeral.
            We all have heard many stories about Patterson, the unique founder and long time president of NCR. He was at heart a showman, and he loved applause. Every time he went out of town, so his biographers have said, he wanted to be welcomed home. Just before he was to arrive after a trip, the factory whistles blew. The workers left their desks and lathes and hurried to the windows. There they waved flags and shouted "Hurrah!" as John and his entourage drove by.
            His funeral had a little of the same flavor.
            Patterson died of a heart attack on a train as it was nearing Atlanta May 7, 1922.
            His funeral was private in his home, Far Hills, with Rev. Phil Porter, Christ Episcopal Church, reading the simple service.
            The entire town closed down the day of his funeral. High schools and the University of Dayton closed; elementary schools closed for half a day. Businesses closed, flags flew at half staff and streetcars stopped for 5 minutes between 11:45 and 11:50. The front page of the Dayton Daily News May 9, 1922, carried only the portrait of Patterson and a short poem.
            Representing every school in Dayton, 1,500 students lined both sides of Woodland Avenue from Brown Street to the gates of the cemetery; Patterson School pupils were given the place of honor at the cemetery entrance.
            The day before the funeral, Elizabeth Stephens was chosen among others to represent her school. "We were to bring as many spring flowers as we could find," she wrote in her letter. "The girls were to be dressed all in white and the boys were told to wear white shirts.
            "The morning of the funeral was chilly," Elizabeth recalls, "but sweaters were discouraged. Most of us needed an early start because of the need to transfer on the streetcars to reach Woodland, where we were instructed to line up for blocks along the curb on both sides of the street. We were instructed to step forward and toss our flowers when the hearse was quite near and then to back off quickly.
            "We shivered, partly from the solemnity of the occasion, partly from our scant attire and mostly from a chilly shower. By the time I reached home at the foot of the East Third Street hill, my dress, which I had washed, starched and ironed the night before, was a bedraggled mess."
            Another vivid memory from her childhood is the Great Distillery Fire at Trebein. Elizabeth's aunt, working as a switchboard operator in Xenia, received a call one night from a man at the distillery saying the building was on fire and would she please ring the owner. She rang the owner, who told her to call the fire department. Later she was asked to call the Dayton Fire Department for additional help.
            Firefighters and equipment came by flatcar on the railroad from Dayton. Keg after keg of whiskey caught fire and the contents spilled into the Little Miami River, which flowed right by the distillery. Citizens by the hundreds came to watch the fire and gather up stunned and drunken fish by the bushel basketful.
            Another Winters on the scene
            Incidental note: Another Jonathan Winters has arrived into the world to carry on that name so long a part of Dayton history. This Jonathan is one of twin grandchildren recently born to former Daytonians Jonathan and Eileen Winters, now in Montecido, Calif.
            If you watched the Emmy Awards ceremony, you may have wondered why Grandfather Jonathan wasn't there to receive his Emmy. He had been nominated once before but did not win. This time he was sure he wouldn't win. Friends gave a party for him on award night to celebrate his being nominated. He and Eileen went to the party instead.