How Beer Built Clifton, Mt. Adams and Mt. Auburn

Although housing conditions varied widely in the basin, from opulent mansions to squalor, rich, poor, and everyone in between lived and worked within the roughly two by one-and-a-half miles that constitutes the Cincinnati basin until the mid-1870s. An omnibus service to Mt. Auburn was started in 1850, but it was not an effective or efficient means of traversing the hills. The trip to the picturesque summit of Mt. Auburn took roughly two hours from the center of downtown. The bus (a covered horse cart) could only hold 12 people at a time and required four horses to pull it up the hill; and even with the double team the trip from the base to the top of the hill required multiple stops to let the horses catch their breath.

That all started to change when the first incline plane opened at the northern end of Main Street in 1872. The train let riders climb the 275 ft. hill in a mere 90 seconds. The demand for the incline was verified when roughly 6,000 people showed up to use it on its first day of operation. Six-thousand people did not ride the incline because they lived in Mt. Auburn. Extremely few people lived there in 1872, and they were all farmers or extremely wealthy. The vast majority of people who made that maiden voyage travelled up the hill to get out of downtown — just for a few hours. They sought the fresh air at the top of the hill and the panoramic views of the river and the city below. The owners and operators of the incline recognized additional opportunity in these attendance numbers and quickly built a two-story resort house at the top of the hill. Constructed quickly, it was architecturally uninspired, but it managed to open two floors of saloon, restaurant, and ball room with unrivaled views and a public garden by the fall of 1872.
When the Lookout House opened it relied on the novelty of the view and being served by the city’s only incline. Frank Harff, a successful saloon operator who was hired to managed the resort, understood that the novelty would wear off and that the key to long-term success was a variety of entertainment. He brought in world-class orchestras and elaborate fireworks displays.

The popularity of the Main Street Incline and its Lookout House inspired the construction of four more inclines and three more resort houses in the following years. In particular, the Bellevue House, built in Clifton Heights at the top of the Elm Street Incline, and the Highland House, atop the Mt. Adams Incline were built to rival – and outclass – the Lookout House. Unlike their predecessor, both the Bellevue and Highland were architecturally beautiful and complex structures.

Both the Bellevue House and Highland House were also strong competition for booking the best and most audacious entertainment. Both had concerts and huge pyrotechnic displays, but neither stopped there. Plans for the Bellevue House included “a one-hundred pounder Parrott gun, which will be fired at sunrise, noon and sunset every day in the year.” It also sponsored wrestling matches and boxing matches. The Highland House fancied itself a slightly classier establishment, having a reputation for the best orchestral music on the hills, but it was not above theatrics. A crowd gathered there on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1879 to watch an amazing new phenomenon: A hot-air balloon was filled so that the courageous Miss Helen Augusta Thiers could descend into the air, cross the river, and land in Campbell County. To make things more interesting, she took along “Little Daisey Horton, aged eleven years….[who] seemed to enjoy the prospect rather than to be alarmed, and promptly took her place in the basket by the side of Miss Thiers.” For those who found the balloon insufficiently compelling entertainment: “The wire-walking performances of Mons. Charest and Madame Tululu, in the afternoon and evening, were remarkable for extreme daring, closing by Mons. Charest (blindfolded) carrying the Madame on his shoulders, and walking the wire forward and backward.”

After both the Bellevue House and Highland House opened in 1876, the Lookout House stepped up its game. In June 1877, they shipped in a white whale from the East Coast, brought by train in a 168,000 gallon tank. The conditions were inhumane. By early July their ad promoting the whale exhibit told Cincinnatians to “see it today, for tomorrow it may be dead.” The ad told the truth. The whale was dead a few days later. After the whale incident, the Lookout House added an expanded promenade and a large theater.

Beer did not build the incline planes, but it played a huge role in making them happen. Private companies built the inclines as for-profit ventures. This meant that they needed adequate ridership to justify their construction and to keep them open. There was a catch-22 in these ventures. While many of the backers of the inclines also invested in hilltop real estate development, you could not sell houses that were virtually impossible to get to, and you could not run a profitable incline until you had enough hilltop residents commuting on it to justify its costs. The hilltop resorts helped bridge this gap. Tens-of-thousands of people who did not live in Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams or Clifton Heights took the inclines weekly to get to the Lookout House, Highland House and Bellevue House.

Although there was more to do at the hilltop resorts than consume German-style lagers, alcohol sales were critical to the financial survival of the hilltop houses. Most of the entertainment – orchestral concerts, firework displays, sporting competitions etc., etc. – were free. The entertainment was just an inducement to buy booze. The Bellevue House considered any day that they sold at least 100 kegs of beer to be a good day, and they often went through more than that. The Price Hill House was the only one that refused to sell alcohol because its backer, General Price, was an evangelical who considered drinking a sin. However, the financial necessity of beer sales became apparent and beer started flowing freely at the Price Hill House as well (causing its nickname “Buttermilk Hill” to wane with time.)

The most festive and prosperous days at the hilltop resorts were Sundays. It was illegal to sell alcohol on Sunday’s throughout the State of Ohio from 1831 until Prohibition went into effect in the state on May 27, 1919. Cincinnati had a long, colorful history of largely ignoring the Sunday closing laws, and complaints about noise from the hilltop resorts were simply ignored by city officials for the first couple of decades that they operated. In fact, local policemen’s and political party picnics were on the list of beer-swilling events that took place on Sundays. That changed in the Spring of 1882. Bowing to pressure from the “Law and Order organization,” the Mayor issued an order on April 23, 1882 calling for strict enforcement of the Sunday closing laws. Three days later, a warrant was sworn out for David Billigheimer, the manager of the Bellevue House. Billigheimer took an aggressive approach to defending the charges, but his warrant was one of 30 issued on the same day in a moment in Cincinnati history when the champions of the Sunday closing laws had the upper hand. Frank Harff, manager of the Highland House, joined Billigheimer in court on May 8th, but took a different course. While Billigheimer was seeking an additional continuance (and his lawyer was vowing to change the law), Harff “[t]o the surprise of every body….pleaded guilty to the charge of violating the provisions of the Smith Sunday Law” and said that he “would faithfully promise to live up to the very letter of the law hereafter.”

He did, but the end of Sunday sales brought the end to the hilltop resorts. Business declined rapidly. They closed, were shuddered, and fell into disrepair. On March 15, 1894, the Enquirer reported the final demise of the Lookout House. “No attention was ever paid” to it after the beer hall and opera house were closed. Kids broke out the windows. “Thieves stole all the lead pipe” and the building inspector declared it “unsafe and ordered it pulled down.” Both City and private coffers were spared the cost of demolition when the vacant building burned to the ground. Firemen contained their work to protecting adjacent structures and put no effort into saving it. The property loss was “only about $3,000 owing to the dilapidated condition of the building.”

When the Highland House opened in December 1876, it was heralded “in all its appointments, [as] the most complete of our hilltop resorts.” It enjoyed such a high standing in Cincinnati society that President Hayes attended at concert there in the summer of 1879, but those days were long-gone a few years after the Smith Sunday Law took effect. On March 19, 1896, the Enquirer reported a fire at the hilltop resort. The building that the newspaper mourned as once being “one of the landmarks of the city” was partly destroyed by a mysterious conflagration. The rest was to be demolished. It was vacant and the building inspector had declared it unsafe.

The Price Hill House joined suit and burned to the ground in 1899. The demise of the Bellevue House was less dramatic. It was slowly dismantled.
By the time the hilltop resorts closed, enough people had moved to the hilltops that the inclines could survive on ridership without the subsidy of alcohol sales. The Main Street Incline closed in 1898 and Fairview in 1923, but both suffered from management and mechanical problems. Bellevue, which had a problem with erosion, was demolished in 1926. Price Hill closed in 1943, and Mt. Adams was the last to go in 1948.

There is nothing left of the hilltop resorts today, no direct physical legacy, but their impact on Cincinnati still looms large. The incline planes radically transformed Cincinnati. Before they were built, living on the hilltops surrounding the basin was only a practical option for farmers or the very rich; but by 1890 it was widely accepted that all future residential development in the city would occur on the hilltops and the basin would be relegated to industry and business. That never happened completely, but the growth, development and vision of the city did follow this basic vision for roughly 100 years. Mt. Auburn, Clifton Heights, Walnut Hills, Clifton and Price Hill were all made possible by the inclines. The inclines were feasible because of the hilltop resorts, and they were profitable for one reason above all – beer.
HighlandHouseClfitonInclineJPG

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The Innocent Mr. Neill — A Prelude To Riot

The “Brothels, Bootleggers & Booze Tour” that leaves from Arnold’s at 11AM throughout the summer includes the story of the Courthouse Riot of 1884. The story of the riot itself takes up enough time that I cannot go into detail about the murder that sparked it. This is some of the background — the story behind the story.

William H. Kirk was 45 years old. He struggled financially. In an age when men were the sole breadwinners in the family, Kirk’s struggle with money may be why he didn’t get married until age 43, and fathered his first child at age 45, just five weeks before his death. Kirk was also probably insecure about his financial struggles because he had a habit of flashing money around when he had any, making himself appear more flush than he was. That habit lead to his death.

Kirk lived on Elizabeth St. in the West End with his wife of 2 years and his infant child. He worked in a stable in an alley between Mound and Cutter where he bought and sold horses. On the morning of December 24, 1883, Kirk showed his wife a wad of cash he had, telling her that it was $413. He wasn’t showing off. He was trying to reassure the young mother that they were doing fine, that everything would be OK. He even let her count some of the money, all in $5, $10, and $20 denominations, with one single silver dollar, but he took the money back after she had counted only a little of it. He told her that he was going to work but would return early, around 3PM, with presents for Christmas Eve. That didn’t happen. Kirk’s wife waited alone with the infant in what the “Commercial Gazette” described as a “miserably furnished up-stairs room” for three days until the fate of her husband was known.

Kirk’s body was found on the shore of the Mill Creek, just west of Springrove Cemetery. His hat and coat were missing, he had a noose around his neck, and there were pieces of bloody straw stuck to his clothes. The circumstances caused the police to believe that Kirk had been murdered at his stable and the body had been moved. The noose was not the cause of death. It was superfluous. Kirk died from any one of three mortal wounds to his skull.

In the West End stable, police found Kirk’s hat and coat hidden in a stall that was rented by a cartman named John Neill. Neill was 44 years old. He lived alone. When the police searched his apartment, they found dried spots of blood on some of his clothes. When asked about his whereabouts on December 24th, Neill denied being anywhere near the stable, but this contradicted the statements of eyewitnesses. Police also found just under $400 in Neill’s apartment, most of it hidden in the cupboard. When asked about the money, Neill denied having it. The money that he lied about hiding was all in $5, $10 and $20 denominations — large bills for 1883 — with the exception of one single silver dollar. When pressed with more questions, Neill clammed up and said, “we will see what you can prove.” He was taken into custody and everyone seemed sure that the murderer had been caught. A jailhouse snitch even claimed that he heard Neill making vague, incriminating statements while in custody (although the snitch was visibly intoxicated at the time that he shared this information.) The “Gazette” wrote: “Neill is a bad looking customer. He wears gray whiskers and has keen, piercing eyes. His statements are very contradictory and suspicious….all agree that he is the right man to have behind bars.” Neill was so obviously guilty, in fact, that there were public calls for his lynching. The murder was ferocious. Kirk had been beaten savagely and the noose was tied around his neck and pulled upon after his death just to make sure that he was dead; and the murder took place in the middle of the afternoon, in a crowded, bustling part of town, on Christmas Eve.

Luckily for Neill, a livery stable owner came forward with evidence that lead to his exoneration. Blood in a rented wagon lead to the real killers, two stable-hands named Berner and Palmer. Neill was entirely innocent. The fact that his life-savings was roughly the same amount of money that Kirk told his wife he had in his pocket on the day of the murder was just a coincidence. In fact, Kirk had exaggerated to his wife. He only had $235 or $245 dollars, but his tendency to flash cash and exaggerate the amount caused his killers to believe that he had roughly $800 — enough money to motivate them to kill their boss.

Berner’s and Palmer’s trials were bifurcated. Berner was tried first. The trial received a lot of media attention and the verdict sparked one of the worst riots in American history, ending in over 45 deaths, hundreds of wounded, and the courthouse burned to the ground. Obviously, that’s the part of the story that gets the most attention, but Neill is an interesting prelude. The riots caused everyone to forget about how an innocent man was on the fast-track to being hung for murder. Berner and Palmer tried to clean the wagon that they rented to move Kirk’s body, but they had stopped at several saloons along the way, it was dark out and the wagon was black, so they did a sloppy job and left a lot of evidence behind. In fact, they returned the wagon early and tried to get some of their $3 rental back. If they had kept the wagon until daylight and done a better job of cleaning it, they would have probably gotten away with murder. Nobody suspected Berner and Palmer and Neill looked guilty as sin. Just a little more soap and water would have spared Cincinnati a massive riot and probably caused an innocent man to be hungCourthouseRiot.

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Don’t Drink the Water!

CholeraMapCholera epidemics hit Cincinnati hard in 1832-33, 1849-50, 1866, and again in 1873. Each one was devistating, killing a significant portion of the population. Cholera usually kills through dehydration. It acts like a bad case of food poisoning, with the same basic symptoms. Although that sounds unpleasant, it is hard to imagine in a modern country, with access to modern medicine, how someone could die of diarrhea; but cholera is no joking matter. Otherwise healthy people sometimes fell dead within hours of their first symptoms.

There was medical treatment for cholera, but it often ensured your death rather than making you better. The scientifically accepted understanding of cholera was that it was an airborne pathogen. By being near stagnant water, corpses, or dirty streets or tenements, you could breath in the poison. This mis-understanding of its origins meant that doctors were useless in preventing cholera from spreading and had no idea how to cure it. Worse, they exacerbated the effects of the disease through their treatment. Homeopathic medicine believed that the cure to diseases mimicked the symptoms. We still “treat” hangovers with the “hair of the dog that bit you” approach, but that’s fortunately ALL that we treat that way. (The “hair of the dog” expression actually came from serious homeopathic medical practice.) In the case of cholera, doctors believed that the best way to get the cholera poison out of the body was to purge it — induce the loss of MORE bodily fluids which, of course, would speed up dehydration and kill you.

Not everybody believed in the airborne poison theory of cholera. A guy named John Lea was the founder of the Geography Theory of cholera. Lea was wrong about a lot of things. He wouldn’t have argued with the purging treatment. He didn’t understand the as-yet-unknown germ theory, and he erroneously attributed cholera to natural salts and minerals in water. To Lea, there was water that would give you cholera and water that wouldn’t. Some creek or sping water gave you cholera because it had too much lime in it as a result of the geological composition of the area. Other water, like the water in some wells, was infected by the minerals around where the well was dug or high levels of natural salts. Lea did much of his work to prove his theory in Cincinnati. He created the map of Sycamore Hill (above) showing what water supplies residents used and which ones died of the 1849 epidemic. As a general rule, his theory got support from this study. People who drank only rain water escaped getting cholera, whereas people who drank spring water almost all died. And he found similar results in tenements in Over-the-Rhine. Well-water killed you. Rain water didn’t. Lea also found an anomoly that he couldn’t explain. The people who owned the saloon on Sycamore were supplied by deadly spring water, yet escaped cholera.  Lea couldn’t explain this and seems to have overlooked the possibility that there was a little saving whiskey in all the water that the saloon owners drank.  And down the hill at the Walker Brewery, where workers explained to him that they drank beer all day, there was only one case of cholera, and the man who got and died from the disease was often mocked by his co-workers for drinking water rather than beer all day.

Although Lea was wrong about WHY specific water sources resulted in cholera, he was FAR closer to being right about the origins of the disease than his more respected colleagues. If people had listened to him in 1849, even if they listened to him for the wrong reasons, he would have saved tens-of-thousands of lives in Cincinnati alone. Even more importantly, if he had been taken seriously, scientists might have learned that although the mineral theory was wrong, some springs and wells were the source of the disease because they were being polluted by livestock, leaking privies, and other disgusting means of polluting the drinking water that were common in the 1800s.

Of course, nobody did listen to Lea. He was considered a nut. The “real” doctors continued to believe that it was a poison that floated through noxious air, and they kept treating the disease with purging. A few years after Lea did his research in Cincinnati, a man named John Snow traced a cholera outbreak back to a polluted well in London in 1854. Snow actually put all of the pieces together correctly. He was eventually credited as the man who discovered the cause of cholera, but that took a lot longer than it should have taken.  He was still considered a nut by most of the world for another 30 or 40 years. Here in Cincinnati, we continued to believe that it was airborne until the late 1800s and, as a result, had two more extremely deadly outbreaks of the disease after both Lea and Snow were telling people not to drink the water.

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Goetz House Cherubs

CherubsGoetzHouse 003Many people dining at Lenhardt’s over the years have noticed a similarity between the cherubs on the first-floor ceiling mural and the ones on the old Christian Moerlein crockery bottles. The bottles are one of Cincinnati’s favorite pieces of breweriana. (They’re also on the cover of the book “Over-the-Rhine: When Beer Was King”.) They were originally made to contain Old Jug Lager, a beer that pre-Prohibition Moerlein advertised as “recommended by physicians and connoisseurs,” but an error in the glazing process made many of them leak. As a result, hundreds were never used. They were placed in boxes and stored in the basement of the bottling plant, then re-discovered in like-new condition in the 1980s.

Cherubs are fat babies. By the nature of the subject matter, they don’t have too many artistic variations; and the medium of the crockery bottles did not permit a lot of detail. However, what makes the similarity between the cherubs on the crockery bottles and the cherubs on the ceiling of Lenhardt’s interesting is timing. The building Lenhardt’s resides in was originally the single-family home of John Goetz, Jr. and his wife Lizzie, one of the daughter’s of Christian Moerlein. Lizzie and John met when they were neighbors on Ohio Avenue and they were married in 1881. Ten years later, Christian gave the opulent home to his daughter and son-in-law as an anniversary gift. Interestingly, construction would have been taking place on the home in the summer of 1891 at roughly the same time the Old Jug Lager crockery bottles were introduced (in June 1891.) A lot of people could have painted the cherubs on the ceiling of Lenhardt’s, but if you were Moerlein and you wanted to have a mural painted on a ceiling of a house that you were building just a few blocks from your brewery, why not use the artist that you have on staff who has been designing packaging? Moerlein was a pioneer in marketing and beer packaging. At present, nothing is known about the artists who designed the intricate labels and ads that gave the brewery its iconic look, but the brush strokes of one of those artists may still be on the ceiling at 151 W. McMillan — for now.

Unfortunately, other than through these photos, you may never get the opportunity to make the comparison. The Lenhardt’s sold their business to their daughter and son-in-law, Joe and Erika Windholtz two generations ago. The Windoltzs kept one of the city’s great culinary institutions alive for decades, then handed the reigns over to their daughter. Today, the extended Windholtz family has the building under contract to an out-of-town developer, along with the surrounding parcels, with the intention of bulldozing it. The fight to save the property can be followed on “Save Clifton Heights” Facebook page, as well as through ongoing coverage of the battle reported at www.wcpo.com. In historic designation applications, the property is referred to as the Goetz House. In one of the more ironic twists in the preservation fight, the Windholtz family has frequently taken umbrage with the reference to the original owner, noting that most Cincinnatians know the building as the home of Lendhardt’s. True enough. Although John Goetz, Jr. was an extremely prominent and important resident of the city during his lifetime, there is no doubt that most of the people who refer to “the Goetz House” today would never have known the name Goetz without the pending threat of demolition. John Goetz, Jr. accomplished a lot more in life than just living at 151 W. McMillan, but his legacy is being revived because there is a beautiful physical reminder of his time on Earth in the center of what remains of the Clifton Heights business district. It is unfortunate that the current caretakers of that life, as well as the lives and legacies of their own family, fail to understand that future generations never look back at a legacy of demolition — not fondly at least.

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The Ladies’ Entrance

Arnolds1902

This photo of Arnold’s from 1902 gives clues to part of its unrecorded history.  Solid evidence suggests that the building was originally built as a brothel in 1838.  In the 1850s it was a “men’s salon” and a boarding house.  In the first half of the nineteenth century, prostitution was an entirely female-run business.  “Fancy men” often worked for brothels, but they were employees who were paid to go into saloons and places where men congreated and entice them back to the house.  They also served as security and handymen, but they worked for the woman of the house.  Increased crime and Progressive Era movements to “save” women from lives as prostitutes made the vocation more dangerous.  Ladies of leisure came under more frequent threat by both cops and criminals, and this caused “fancy men” to morph into “pimps.”

Crime rose in Cincinnati during the Civil War.  Soldiers went months without getting paid, and groups sometimes came into town, got drunk and demanded free services.  It is probably not a coincidence that Arnold’s saloon was founded in 1861, the year the war started.  The saloon may have simply been converted from the brothel reception area to an entrace space that was more dominated by men in order to provide a layer of protection from rowdy customers.

The 1902 photo tells us several things about the business.  The sign out front advertises Hugo Arnold’s saloon and boarding house.  There was nothing illegitimate about boarding houses, but it depended on who ran them and how they were run.  Many refused to rent to single women because even women who were employed as seamstresses or domestics made such little money that they often turned tricks on the side to make ends meet.  Other boarding houses knew this but didn’t care; and others rented primarily to independent prostitutes and made proceeds from tricks part of the rent.  We have no idea how Hugo Arnold ran his business, but the left side of the photo is extremely interesting.  It shows the “Ladies’ Entrance” side of the bar with one man standing in front of two or three single women.  The circumstances of the photo make it pretty clear that these ladies were some of Cincinnati’s fallen doves; and that while Arnold’s may have predominately been a saloon by the early 1900s, hooking was still on the menu.

 

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Getting to Know George Remus

Surprisingly little has been written about George Remus, the “King of the Bootleggers.” That’s why I bought and read “Jazz Bird” a so-called historic-fiction novel a few months ago. The writing is mediocre, but more importantly it is not “historic-fiction,” at least not as I define it. It’s just irresponsible. To me, the best of that genre describes books that weave fictional characters into historically accurate events in order to convey the history in a more entertaining narrative. Although it starts to push the bounds of responsibility, these novels sometimes use known facts to infer emotions or motives of actual historic characters. “Jazz Bird” goes way beyond this, completely fabricating characters, personalities and significant historical events that never occurred. “Jazz Bird” is to historic-fiction what Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” is to WWII documentaries. The difference is that “Inglorious Basterds” is fun because essentially everybody alive today knows that WWII was not won by a beautiful woman in a movie theater. By contrast, the dearth of information on Remus makes “Jazz Bird” wildly irresponsible.

If you want to read really good fiction based on George Remus, read “The Great Gatsby.” F. Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have based the character of Jay Gatsby very loosely on Remus after a chance meeting between the two at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville. It’s a classic. Fitzgerald was a masterful writer who had the integrity to call his book fiction.

If you want to read a really well researched and well written non-fiction account of the man, buy a copy of “King of the Bootleggers” by William A. Cook. Aside from being chocked absolutely full of glaring typos that make you wonder exactly what publishers get paid for these days, it’s a great book. The narrative is well-constructed and placed very nicely into context of the surrounding events and circumstances. It’s a great read that makes you wonder why there are so many books and movies about far less interesting gangsters like Al Capone and so little about a man who remains an incredible mystery.

Option number three: If you have already made the mistake of reading “Jazz Bird” and it constitutes the totality of your knowledge about George and Imogene Remus, let me hit the highlights of misinformation. First, Imogene was a clerk in a deli in Chicago near where Remus practiced law, not the daughter of one of his Cincinnati attorneys. She was from Chicago and is buried there. All of the significant aspects of the plot to “Jazz Bird” that flow from Imogene’s fictional background – betraying her father, the relationship with her mother, her attempt to introduce Remus to Cincinnati high-society as a patron of that world, the suicide that comes out of all of this, the vision quest in the desert that follows (where an uncomfortable amount of time is spent concentrating on Imogene’s nipples in the moonlight), etc., etc. – is all fiction, and mostly bad fiction.

That’s not to say that “Jazz Bird” is completely without some accurate history. Reality is in there too, the problem is that there is no way to feel the difference between reality, speculation, fiction and fiction that completely changes the facts of history. What “Jazz Bird” does get right – and Cook gets even better – is the mystery of George Remus and what his mental state was when he murdered Imogene.

Imogene seems to have remained loyally by Remus’ side even after he was sentenced to serve several years in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. A federal agent named Franklin Dodge played a key investigative role in putting Remus away and was subsequently sent to the Atlanta prison to investigate corruption there. Remus asked Imogene to make contact with Dodge and try to hasten his release from prison. Instead, she apparently started sleeping with him. As this relationship blossomed, Imogene seems to have decided that keeping Remus in prison as long as possible was in her best interest, so she put her efforts into exacerbating his legal problems and trying to get him deported. Partly using the power of attorney that Remus had trustingly given her to run his bootleg business while he was in the can, she and Dodge stole the withdrawal permits that Remus had bought from the Harding administration, stole his liquor, and sold off his assets – sometimes for pennies on the dollar.

Remus owned ten distilleries in the Cincinnati region. The Fleishman Distillery was one of the first things she sold for a meager $18,000, and then taunted him by mailing him a $100 check in prison for his share of the profits from the sale. The extent or exact nature of the relationship between Imogene and Dodge is lost to private history. “Jazz Bird” fills in some of these gaps with speculation, which would be fun if so much unnecessary slaughter of reality were not also tossed into the plot. Whether Imogene was a gold-digging sociopath or just easily led is unknown, but Dodge stopped being a federal Prohibition agent and went into the bootlegging business with Remus’ assets, and Imogene filed for divorce while Remus was doing time.

Remus had to do more jail time in Ohio after he got out of prison in Atlanta. When he was finally free he arrived home to his Price Hill mansion to find that Imogene had cleaned it out. She sold almost everything: the Rookwood pottery in the opulent indoor pool, the statuary in the yard, the art, the furniture, even the chandeliers. She also had the place nailed shut so that Remus had to break a window to crawl into his own empty home. She did leave a few things in the house – a bunch of women’s shoes and, according to Remus, a revolver that was lying in the garage. It was that revolver that Remus claimed to have used to shoot her dead in Eden Park on October 6, 1927.

Remus’ entire life is fascinating, but it is the murder trial of Imogene that draws the most curiosity. Remus, along with co-counsel, defended himself in the murder trial using the defense of insanity. In Chicago Remus had become a very successful criminal defense attorney. Representing bootleggers inspired him to go into the business himself, transforming him from lawyer to criminal and from affluent to mega-rich. The most interesting thing about Remus’ legal career, however, is his representation of a Cincinnati socialite named William Cheney Ellis who murdered his wife while visiting Chicago in 1913. Police found him in a room full of blood, wearing a bathrobe and calmly smoking a cigar. Remus defended Ellis with what was, at the time, a very novel defense – “transitory insanity.” This trial, so many years and so many events before he murdered Imogene, along with one other interesting piece of information, will always leave questions about who Remus really was. He shot his wife on the day that their divorce trial was scheduled to start. Intriguingly, although he was an attorney and had hired a competent divorce lawyer, he seems to have done essentially no preparation for the trial.

It is possible that Remus failed to prepare for the divorce trial because he was emotionally unable to do so. There is ample evidence that he was in genuine emotional pain over the events that transpired between himself and Imogene. The other explanation is that he didn’t prepare because he was planning on eliminating the Plaintiff before the trial. If so, if the murder was planned, a guy with Remus’ connections could have arranged a much cleaner hit than a high-speed car chase ending in him personally shooting his wife in front of dozens of witnesses on their way to work. Again, maybe he was just overwrought, irrational, genuinely unhinged; but the other possibility is much darker. Is it possible that he planned to get by with murder by acting as his own counsel and using the defense of insanity? The logistics and the nerve that would have been necessary to execute that kind of twisted plan is almost unfathomable, but is it what happened?

The jury found Remus insane. He was sent to an asylum for a few months, until the doctors there declared him sane and issued his release. He eventually married his third wife, Blanche Watson, from Covington. Remus moved to New York for a while but moved back to Cincinnati where he owned stock in the Reds and sold real estate out of an office at 5th and Walnut. He spent the rest of his life trying to get back the money and assets that Imogene stole. He was mostly unsuccessful, although he did reclaim much of his furniture from where it was being stored in the Art Joinery building at the corner of Clay and 13th in OTR.

Remus was buried in his third wife’s family plot in Falmouth, Kentucky. I don’t know how I feel about Remus. I can read the history and see a brilliant, morally pliable man who is somewhat sympathetic for being betrayed by essentially everyone around him. He may also have been one of the steeliest nerved sociopaths to ever live – and the two things may not be mutually exclusive. After finishing Cook’s book I felt the need to go see Remus. His grave itself is part of the lore that surrounds him. Years ago, while people who knew Remus were still alive, somebody tore the wings off the angels.

This cemetery is in Falmouth immediately adjacent to Rte. 27. You can’t miss it and the photo will give you a pretty good sense of where to find the grave, on the northern, tobacco field side of the older, western part of the cemetery. Amy Morgan took the photo of the grave. Although Remus was a teetotaler – never drank a drop of alcohol – we toasted him with a nice German Riesling anyway, and sort of renewed our vows in a limited way. She promised not to steal my meager possessions or, should I ever be sent to prison, sleep with the cop who put me there. I, in turn, promised to never hunt her down and shoot her dead in Eden Park – or any of the city’s finer parks. It was romantic.

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The Greek Who Made the Spaghetti “authentic” at Arnold’s

If you order the Greek Spaghetti at Arnold’s, you may enjoy it just a little more if you know the history behind the man who put it on the menu. Before Tarbell, another colorful Jim was the caretaker of Arnold’s. Jim Christakos was the first notable owner of Arnold’s after the bar left the Arnold family. Jim bought the business in the late ‘50’s: his son, Chris, says 1957 but an old Enquirer article claims ’59. By then he had already lived a pretty interesting life and earned a reputation as a decent, honest man that you didn’t want to cross.

Strong and stout with a gravelly voice, Christakos was straight out of central casting as a Greek Mafioso. In his younger days, he worked as a “collector” in Newport when the city was still run by a combination of local, Cleveland and New York mobsters; and he later ran a craps table in the extensive, opulent and completely illegal gambling facilities at the Beverly Hills Country Club.

Christakos also used his strength as a wrestler. As the pride of the Central Parkway YMCA, he was crowned Cincinnati’s amateur light-heavyweight champ in 1934 and went on to the pros. Wrestling wasn’t much different back then than it is today. Amateurs were part of a disciplined and regulated sport, but “professionals” wore costumes, wrestled under names like “The Terror” and “The Strangler” and made trash-talk, drama and scripts as important as moves or holds. Christakos was good enough to pair up with Jack Londos, the Hulk Hogan of his day. Starting his career as “The Wrestling Plasterer,” Londos changed his wrestling moniker to the catchier “Golden Greek” and became the World Heavyweight Champ. Londos possessed strength of both body and personality. Admired for his handsome, chiseled features, he riled up crowds by challenging wrestlers to matches based on who he thought was ugly.

Christokos only stayed on the road with Londos for a couple of years. He probably had the moves and seems to have even had the looks, but probably lacked the flare for drama to be a good pro wrestler. Family and friends describe him as a decisive “man of few words.” Ken, a former friend of Christakos and bartender at Arnold’s in the ‘60s, says the best of example of this is how he proposed to his wife, Athena. Only having recently met her at a mutual friend’s wedding, Jim called Athena’s mother on the phone. Paraphrasing, Ken recalls that Jim’s end of the conversation was something like, “yeah, I’m a wrestler and I’m not real stable but if you’re daughter’s interested, have her call me.” Apparently she was and she did. Jim and Athena were married a few weeks later.

Having previously run a bar in northern Ohio, Jim and his brother George bought Arnold’s together. In 1961 the Enquirer reported on the brothers’ celebration of Arnold’s 100th anniversary, giving a little history of the bar and of its current owners. The article lightly noted: “Both Jim and George are former wrestlers….George says he can whip Jim.” As it turns out, George was wrong. Chris Christakos, Jim’s son, remembers a heated argument between the brothers one evening. Jim thought George was doing too much late-night carousing and wasn’t pulling his weight and, during the latter part of the discussion, Chris watched George go flying over a living room chair. Chris recalls simply, “I never saw him again after that. He moved to Florida;” and that’s how Jim became the sole proprietor.

Like Ronda and Bret today, Christakos spent most of his time at Arnold’s and the bar was the center of the family’s life. Jim arrived early every morning and worked till close, sometime around 7:30 or 8PM. Athena waited tables, and the kids leant a hand. Chris remembers that the bar used to have a second dumbwaiter. “One day the dumbwaiter broke,” he says, “so at about 12 years old I became the dumb waiter.”

Back then, Arnold’s business model centered mostly around morning drinks for third-shifters and guys on their way to work in the “Mad Men” days, lunch and happy hour. Christakos ran the bar himself and presided over an eclectic collection of professionals, blue-collar shift workers and destitute alcoholics. Now a cliché scene in movies, Ken the former bartender recounts actually having a regular who needed to tie his handkerchief around the wrist of the hand that held the shot glass and slowly pull the first shot of the day up with the other hand so that the shakes wouldn’t spill the liquor in the distance between the bar and his mouth. “He was fine after the first one,” Ken recalls. Like today, proximity to the courthouse and government offices caused a lot of attorneys, judges, and some elected officials to be Arnold’s regulars, but although the lunch was good and the crowd was diverse, the more professional clientele still didn’t like to be seen going in or out of the front door and used the entrance off the alley.

Christakos is remembered as an honest, likable and generally nice guy, but he seems to have earned some of those characteristics through his earlier life. Who would be stupid enough to try to stiff a former professional wrestler with mob ties on a bar tab? And if you discovered that “authentic Greek Spaghetti” doesn’t actually exist anywhere outside of Arnold’s, would you want to be the one to challenge Christakos on this menu item? Of course not, and that’s why it’s still on the menu.

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Historic Code Changes Discussion

"Economic hardship" caused the HCB to let the pictured building become this.

On June 20, 2012 City Council adopted changes to the portions of Cincinnati’s
Municipal Code that govern historic preservation.  The vast majority of these changes wound up being positive and well-drafted.  Unfortunately, one extremely important aspect of the new body of code may actually weaken preservation law in Cincinnati rather than serving the stated purpose of strengthening it.  While many people are interested in these changes, far fewer understand them.  In part, this is attributable to the fact that the subject matter – the statutory language of a subset of the municipal zoning code – makes most people’s eyes glaze over in 30 seconds or less.  It also has to do with context:  Even if you are one of the few people who have been willing and able to read the drafts of proposed changes, you may still lack a lot of the historical and unwritten context that motivates them.  I have heard enough confusion surrounding these changes that I am going to attempt to bring some clarity to some aspects of them and open this blog to questions and comments.

The part of the changes that concerns me most is the section that sets out the standard for obtaining a certificate of appropriateness (COA.)  If you are in a designated historic district, in addition to ordinary permits, work that affects the exterior façade of the building requires obtaining a COA from the Historic Conservation Board.  You need a COA to do positive redevelopment work or to demolish a building.  In theory (and I’ll get to the distinction between theory and reality in a moment), every historic district has written
guidelines that dictate what work is and is not permissible in that district; and – in theory – if proposed work meets the guidelines it is supposed to be approved and receive a COA, and if it fails to meet the guidelines the COA should be denied and the right to do the work or the demolition is denied.

Formerly, Sec. 1435-15 of the municipal code governed whether a COA would be issued or denied.  It said:  “The Historic Conservation Board has the duty to approve ….the Certificate of Appropriateness when it finds that….[t]he Proposal conforms to the guidelines” OR that “[t]here is no feasible and prudent alternative alteration or environmental change that would conform to the guidelines, and the strict application of the guidelines would:  (1) Deny the owner a reasonable rate of return on the real property; and (2) Amount to a taking of the property of the owner without just compensation.”
This language was basically redundant.   The phrase “deny the owner a reasonable rate of return” has a specific constitutional meaning in legal takings cases (I’m getting ready to explain that), so the prior version of the law effectively said that your plans to rehab a building or destroy it either had to comply with the guidelines or constitute an unconstitutional taking of property.  Since the very purpose of historic districts is to preserve historic buildings, demolition of historic buildings never complies with the guidelines.  Therefore, the law said that an owner who wanted to demolish a historic property would need to show that preventing him from demolishing it would constitute an
unconstitutional taking of his property.  If he couldn’t meet that standard, the City was supposed to deny him a demolition permit.

A brief explanation of takings law:  The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution says that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.”  The government can take your property to build roads or schools or parks but it has to pay you fair market value to do it.  So when cities started enacting historic preservation codes decades ago, some building owners started filing lawsuits that claimed that by restricting what they were allowed to do with their property (e.g. demolish it) the government was effectively taking the value of their property away from them without compensation.  The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that a governmental restriction on a property like zoning or historic district designation only constitutes “taking” your property “without just compensation” when the restriction is so complete or odious that it deprives the owner of
almost ALL “reasonable rate of return” on the property.  Making an insufficient profit does not meet the standard.  Not getting to do what you planned is insufficient to meet the standard.   Showing that it is impossible to make any profit at all on the property and that being required to fix it will cost you more than it is worth is not  sufficient to meet the standard.  To show that you will be denied a “reasonable rate of return” under takings law you need to show that you will be deprived from using the property in any
economically viable way.  You also almost always need to show that the government intervened after you purchased the property:  The owner always assumes the risk of existing zoning, including historic designations.

If you have followed the state of historic preservation in Cincinnati over the past few decades, you are probably ticking off multiple instances in your head when building owners in historic districts have been permitted to destroy buildings without meeting this extremely high standard.  There are two problems that explain this.  First, the Ohio Supreme Court has said that municipal administrative boards like the Historic Conservation Board (HCB) are not permitted to make constitutional decisions like, for example, whether or not enforcement of historic guidelines constitute an unconstitutional taking of property.  The HCB is a perfect example of why this is a good rule.  There is only one lawyer on it.  It is a lay board chaired by an architect who possesses zero qualifications for determining what does or does not constitute an unconstitutional taking of property.  (That’s not an insult, just a fact.  Similarly, I possess zero qualifications for designing buildings.)  Secondly, that chair has been on the board since 1986!  Members of the HCB are, by law, appointed for one year, but only 3 members have been on it for less than 6 years.  The chair has been on the board for 26 years and the vice-chair for 21 years.

Side note for perspective:  In 1986, gas cost 89 cents a gallon, President Reagan had groundbreaking talks with Gorbachev (the Premier of a country called the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics that doesn’t exist anymore), IBM unveiled the first laptop computer, “Aliens” was on at the theaters, teenagers were cranking up Culture Club on their cassette tapes, a few obnoxious rich guys had things called “cellular phones” that were as big as their heads and weighed several pounds, and a huge percentage of Americans watched “Growing Pains” on one of the three TV stations they received because most of the country didn’t have cable TV.

Because the board has never possessed the legal education or qualifications to properly determine what constitutes an unconstitutional taking, they have simply ignored the takings language entirely and created their own definition for what does and does not constitute a “reasonable rate of return.”  To the HCB, this has meant that owners who have argued that they would make more profit by demolishing an historic building and erecting a new one have been allowed to bulldoze properties simply by asserting this.  The historic properties that used to sit in Mt. Auburn just south of Christ Hospital were demolished because the owners argued that their own neglect over the previous decades made it more cost-effecitve for them to demolish the properties than to cure deferred maintenance!  Of course these decisions have violated what the law actually says, but the HCB started making up its own laws and ignoring the code and the guidelines for different neighborhoods.  Owners with good, responsible plans have been required to incur unnecessary expense doing things that are not required by governing guidelines, while owners who have wanted to bulldoze our historic fabric have been allowed to do so on the basis of an “economic hardship” exception that has not existed in the law – until now.

The unfathomable stagnation in the composition of the HCB has exacerbated this problem immensely.  The lack of turnover and a general lack of oversight by city government
has created a star-chamber that is antithetical to both preservation and development.  Nothing about the changes to the municipal code do anything to address this.  In fact, the “improved” code can be read as making the illegal and dysfunctional practices of the HCB the new law rather than actually fixing anything.

Former Sec. 1435-15 has been replaced with a new Sec. 1435-09-2.  Here’s what it says:  “The Board may approve….an application for Certificate of Appropriateness when it finds either:  (a) that the property owner has demonstrated by credible evidence that the proposal substantially conforms to the applicable conservation guidelines; or (b) that the property owner has demonstrated by credible evidence that the property owner will suffer economic hardship if the certificate of appropriateness is not approved.”  In other words, the extremely strong “takings” language that the board was ignoring has now been replaced with much fuzzier “economic hardship” language that they have been using to justify the demolition of historic properties for the past twenty-some years.  Rather than fixing the substance of the problem the City has “fixed” it by molding the law to be more aligned with the illegal and arbitrary practices of the HCB.

There were (and are) simple ways to fix the actual problems.  The law should say that an
owner has to comply with the guidelines. Period.  Historic preservation is part of the zoning code.  No other portion of the zoning code says that you have to comply with it unless you can show that it is economically inconvenient for you to do so.  Although the takings language in the former version was never actually appropriate, it would have made sense when it was enacted in 1980.  At the time, historic designations and protection were a new concept in Cincinnati.  While it is extremely difficult to establish the standard of an unconstitutional taking due to a zoning regulation, when the standard is met it is usually met as a result of recent changes to the law, so referencing takings and a “reasonable rate of return” had a problematic but reasonable purpose in 1980.  Today, the only legitimate reason for creating an “economic hardship” exception in the code might be that the guidelines are outdated (and they are), but the answer to that is to update the guidelines, not make the law weaker.

The new standard for receiving a COA does include a checklist for determining when an “economic hardship” exists, and this checklist mirrors things that courts consider in determining whether or not an unconstitutional taking has occurred.  For example, the board is supposed to consdier whether an owner’s own neglect has created the “economic hardship”, but it is only something to be considered.  In a sense, this is an improvement.  At least there is a defined set of rationale.  The problem is that a lay administrative board is still being asked to determine whether or not something meets a takings standard, they’re just doing it under a different name.  More importantly, the existing board has been ignoring the prior, more stringently written code.  In the absence of long-overdue change in the leadership and composition of the HCB there is no reason to suspect that “economic hardship” is going to have any more clear or consistent meaning than it has had for the past 26 years.  For the past two or three decades, the HCB has been fabricating its own law out of whole cloth.  The only hope for real change has lied in the fact they have been violating the law.  Now, the worst case scenario is that a court could determine that the standard for “economic hardship” is purely an invention of municipal law that has whatever definition it is given by the harbingers of historic destruction that have been using the words to justify razing the historic fabric of this city since the Reagan administration.

This unfortunate shortcoming in the new version of the code is not an inevitable disaster.  Entrusted in new hands, the new law may continue a march toward improved preservation in Cincinnati, but nobody should be naïve enough to believe that the state of preservation or development in Cincinnati’s historic neighborhoods is going to change significantly until there is turn-over on the HCB.  Jefferson thought that tyranny was inevitable without a violent revolution about every 20 years.  That seems a little unnecessarily disruptive, but he had a point.  The problem is not that the HCB is composed of bad people with bad intentions.  It isn’t.  The HCB is composed of people who have dedicated their time to doing what they have thought was best for the city and some have been doing that for
a very, very long time.  The problem is that stagnation in government is bad in general.  It isn’t 1986 anymore.  Back then, preservation in Cincinnati was a new thing and the HCB was often timid due to a fear that taking their role too seriously could lead to a backlash, a dismantling of preservation altogether, but because the board has never changed that weak, “you can’t save them all” mentality has never changed either.  New Orleans began prohibiting demolitions in the French Quarter in the 1920s and Charleston stopped demolition in historic districts in the 1960s.  Cincinnati started wading into those waters
in 1980, but due to stagnation on the board we’re still standing in ankle-deep
water watching the bulldozers go by.  It’s time for this city to get out of the ’80s and start catching up to where Charleston was in the ’60s.

The new version of code governing historic preservation effectively gives much more authority and discretion to the HCB than the old version.  If a new HCB is empanelled to
apply the new law, that may not be a bad thing, but in the absence of major and immediate change in the membership of the HCB the change in the law could wind up being several big steps backward for those of us who want to stop the destruction of Cincinnati’s history.  Please let City Council know that the city’s administrative boards need term limits, and that the one for the HCB should be effective retroactively.

Also, being the person who began lobbying for these (and other) changes in 2008, writing their initial versions and vetting some of the subsequent versions, I’m happy to answer any questions about the state of the law and the next steps toward preserving Cincinnati’s character.

This is one of the Mt. Auburn properties demolished on the basis of "economic hardship"

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The Story of Cincinnati’s Criminal Founding Father

I knew the early history of Cincinnati involved some legal disputes about property claims but I just recently learned how fascinating the story is, that parts of Cincinnati were the subject of a land scam that probably remains the largest in American history. Long before the expression “and if you believe that I’ve got a bridge I’ll sell you” became popular, there was a guy named John Cleves Symmes and a huge chunk of Ohio called “the Miami Purchase.”

Symmes lived an extremely successful and well-regarded life before setting his sights on the West. He was a Justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court, had commanded several forts during the Revolutionary War, and had been a member of the Continental Congress. This meant that he knew a lot of powerful politicians and people of great means, and those connections helped him enter a contract with Congress to buy 2,000,000 acres of land between the Great Miami River and the Little Miami River, with the Ohio River serving as the southern boundary. The purchase price was to be a little under $1,500,000 – between 66 cents and 75 cents an acre. The terms called for him to pay an initial $200,000, have the land surveyed himself, pay an additional $200,000 after that, then pay the rest over the three subsequent years.

Because the federal government lacked funds, it issued “land warrants” to Revolutionary War soldiers. These were basically vouchers for land in unsettled western territories that were owned by the federal government. If you had a nice farm in Pennsylvania or a tavern in Rhode Island you didn’t really have any use for land in Indian territory, so the land warrants could be bought from war vets at a fraction of the theoretical value in land. This let Symmes pay an estimated 22 or 23 cents an acre for part of the land and the rest was going to be financed by wealthy investors. In a story that is still repeating itself today, Symmes didn’t let the fact that he lacked the adequate capital to develop his purchase stop him from making the purchase. In fact, he didn’t even let the absence of an executed contract stop him from leaving New Jersey to go start settling his 2-mill. acres. His behavior was so overly zealous that members of Congress thought he was staging a rebellion and taking the land by force. Congress ordered a general to arrest him before he reached Ohio. He resolved that little misunderstanding but it was only the first of his problems.

Symmes started selling land even before he left New Jersey. One of his early sales was to a guy named Benjamin Sites. He founded a settlement named Columbia in November 1788 and started selling off parts of it to settlers. Columbia, the second settlement in Ohio, eventually became incorporated into the City of Cincinnati and is now the neighborhood of Columbia-Tusculum.

When the first payment of $200,000 came due, Symmes only had $83,330, so he asked to re-negotiate his contract with the federal government. He wanted to cut the purchase down to 1-mill. acres, cutting 1-mill off of the top half of the original purchase. Congress agreed to reduce the acreage, but bulked at the boundaries. They told Symmes that he would have to divide the land east-west rather than north-south and declared that he no longer had any right to land along the Ohio River that was further than 20 miles east of the mouth of the Great Miami. The problem was that Symmes had already sold land outside of this boundary, including the entire settlement of Columbia. Not only had he sold it, but Sites surveyed it, divided it and re-sold it.

Symmes’ approach to this dilemma was to cover his ears and keep repeating to Congress, “I can’t hear you.” He kept selling land that he didn’t own because he thought that if he sold enough of it and the territory became settled enough, it would become politically unpalatable for Congress to kick people off “their land” and they would eventually agree to the terms Symmes wanted – even though they had already expressly rejected them.
Ultimately, Symmes couldn’t even fulfill the terms of his modified agreement. He eventually received clear title to only 311,682 acres, and he didn’t get that until 1794 – 7 years after he started selling the land. By the time he got clear title to any of the original territory, Symmes had already sold much of what is now the eastern neighborhoods of Cincinnati, the eastern half of Hamilton County, and a sizeable chunk of Warren County without what we lawyers technically refer to as “owning it.” When Ohio’s Governor St. Clair realized this, he had what eighteenth century doctors referred to, technically, as “a conniption fit.” St. Clair, who was simultaneously a governor and a military General, issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of Columbia in the summer of 1791. The proclamation delivered the bad news that they didn’t really own the land that they’d bought from a guy who bought it from a guy who didn’t own it, and went on to advise them that they were trespassing on federal land and that he intended to use military force to eject them.

Symmes also had a problem with surveys. The line from where surveys started was moved several times and multiple teams of surveyors did the work. This resulted in overlapping boundary lines – i.e. different people buying the same land.

Symmes was spunky. He didn’t let the little things in life like not owning the land he was selling get him down. In 1795 the Treaty of Greeneville was signed with the Native Americans who lived in Ohio. The increased safety that this brought caused the value of land to shoot up to $2.00 an acre. Not only did Symmes keep selling land that he didn’t own, but when the price of land shot up, he tried to enforce the terms of the original 2-mill. acre contract. Given the fact that he was known to be perpetuating massive fraud by then, it was a pretty optimistic move. (It didn’t work.)

The residents of Columbia were not forcibly kicked off of their land by the Governor and in 1799 the federal government gave them the “right of preemption.” This was the right to buy their land for $2.00 an acre — a little less than market-rate in 1799, but pretty steep for people who had already bought the land in good faith and had spent much of the previous decade trying not to starve and dodging arrows and tomahawks. In their great generosity, however, Congress did give these struggling farmers who dealt primarily in the exchange of goods an entire six months to come up with the cash.

Like today, the working people paid the price for white-collar greed run amok in Biblical proportion. Symmes was never prosecuted and the federal government never took any action against him. He did get sued though – a LOT! He spent the rest of his life in lawsuits trying to defend his intensions and visions and losing everything he had. He had to sell the land that he legitimately owned to pay judgments on land that he had sold without title. He died broke in Cincinnati on February 26, 1814.

John Cleves Symmes was buried in North Bend, Ohio, the town that he envisioned as the jewel of the Miami Purchase – a plan that also didn’t work out so well. If you visit his grave today on the anniversary of his death, legend says that if the day is quite enough and you listen closely, you can still here the people buried around Symmes saying, “what the Hell were you thinking?!” (OK, I made that last part up.)

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Was Arnold’s A Brothel?

I’ve been increasingly curious about the original owner of 210 E. 8th. She was a single woman named Susan Fawcett who does not appear to have been a member of a prominent or otherwise established family. She bought the land in 1835 and had the building constructed in 1838. That seems pretty progressive for a woman of that time when most working women were, well, “working women.” And early city directories are curiously lacking business listings at this address despite the fact that it seems to have always had commercial spaces on the first floor; and the first two known uses of the building are as a boarding house and a men’s salon. Susan was lucky at love. A few years after running whatever business she was running at the Arnold’s location she got married. Although downtown land was at a premium at the time, she and her new groom wanted to rid themselves of the building for some reason and sold it. There may be other explanations for the building’s early history, but the case for Arnold’s being the site of one of the city’s early brothels seems pretty strong.

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