Monday, October 27, 2014

'Flambeau' from the Roaring 20s

If only an object could talk. Wandering through a local warehouse-sized antique store, I spied an object that practically reached out an imaginary arm and pulled me over with a command to "buy me!" As much as I adore antiques, I rarely have this type of encounter, and as a shopper on a very low budget, I've not allowed it to happen. But this was fate - kismet in its purest form, because the item of beauty was also beckoning from the discount shelf!

It was just one martini/cocktail glass, its siblings long gone. One very special glass that had seen better days, but still had that air of glamour and mystery, and wore it proudly. Upon closer inspection, it jumped out as one of the most intricate examples of Art Deco finery that I have ever encountered. And that's saying a lot after growing up in Cincinnati (Union Terminal and the Netherland Plaza just to name a couple.)

The glass of the cup portion is flame red, but opaque, like tinted milk glass. The stem is similarly opaque, but black as night. The bottom of the stem has a rim of metal circling it that matches the filigree decoration adorning the cup. And what an adornment it is: the iconic leaping gazelle, framed in a circle that it surrounded by an intricate maze of angled and swirling designs. Previous handling has peeled some of the metal away, but you can still see the design left underneath. What a gorgeous beauty it must have been in its heyday!
Researching this one has been difficult. I can find no mark on the glass or in the metal appliqué. Describing it in a search engine brought up everything but this style. I have yet to see another just like it. The closest I could find is a sale on Ebay for one that does not include the metal design. In reviewing pieces of similar design, (red opaque glass with metal appliqué) the closest I can find is a series made by the Pairpoint Glass Company, referred to as 'flambeau' from the 1920s and 30s.

If it is a piece made by this company, the metal is probably silver overlay, which makes it an even more unique object. My romantic self assumes such craftsmanship was ordered by a wealthy family who gave many elegant parties...again, if this glass could talk...I'm sure it could share some amazing stories.

Of course, the memory it would like to forget is being relegated to the sale shelf with a $2.00 price tag. Yes, that's right $2.00....the poor thing. I have rescued it from that extreme embarrassment and have it displayed prominently in my corner curio. No longer a citizen on the island of misfit antiques. Back to a place of prominence, where she clearly belongs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Broken Wings: Finding George Remus

A few weeks ago, while attending a festival in my Mother's hometown, Falmouth, we stopped in to Riverside cemetery to "visit" with my grandparents. As we paid our respects, I realized it was just daylight enough to go scoundrel hunting. About a year ago, I was watching Ken Burns' series Prohibition. As the story unfolded, he covered a chapter of history I had only vaguely heard stories about: prohibition and the Cincinnati area. I knew the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area had been a hotbed of illegal activity that began with the prohibition era, but I had never heard of its king: George Remus. In a stunning footnote to history, it turns out George was buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents, despite his life and death in the Cincinnati/Covington areas. Burns also noted that locals remembered his stone because it contained angels, whose wings were ripped off shortly after he was buried there. This was something I had to see for myself.
In very short order, we found him. It wasn't hard at all since the cemetery isn't that large. Plus, I can count on one hand the number of stones that contain any type of statue. Based on the date of his death, I knew he had to be in the older portion of the cemetery, and with the "angels" clue, we found him within a few minutes of driving around. And sure enough, the wings were missing.
The stone itself marks a joint plot containing George, his third wife, Blanche Watson, and two individuals from Blanche's family: Belle and J. Taylor Watson. Based on the life dates of Belle and J. Taylor, I'm guessing this may be Blanche's parents (Belle: 1854-1938 & J. Taylor: 1846-1889)

So, looking at the stone as a joint product, I tried to link up a timeline of its construction. Based on the style of the stones, it was not something from the 1880s when J. Taylor died, nor did it appear to be contemporary to the 1950s when George died. However, taking the death date of Belle into consideration, I'm guessing the stone was nearer to her death date of 1938, when George and Blanche were already a married couple.

I also noticed that the individual burial locations based on gender had been switched. In most cases, the husband is planted first, on the left, and the wife on the right. Here we have George and Blanche correct, but Belle and J. Taylor are switched to place Belle and Blanche next to each other. This is not completely unheard of, but solidifies a close bond between the women. Ironically, in the newer part of the cemetery, my grandparents pulled the same switcheroo so my grandmother and her sister could be buried next to one another without displacing their spouses. Of course, even this switch is odd because if J. Taylor was the first to be interred in 1889, Blanche and George did not even know each other at the time. Perhaps the arrangement was made sentimentally at an earlier date? Conjecture on my part - but all things must be considered when analyzing burial placement. Of course, it goes without saying: wouldn't we also love to know who ripped the wings off? If it was done prior to Blanche's death in 1974, as the reports say, why didn't she have them repaired? Unless she knew that was a useless waste of money.

If the monument itself is a product of 1938, this speaks volumes as to George's last years. These years are something that has begun to intrigue me a bit. Of all the things written about George, his bootlegging, prison time, and murder of his second wife (without prison time for the murder), very little has been written of his years after prohibition. The last 20 years or so are relegated to postscripts - most concur that he attempted to rebuild his fortune, through business and liquor sales, etc., but they all conclude that he failed in his attempt and lived out the rest of his years in obscurity, dying at his home in Covington. But, how obscurely did he live, and to what extent did he really fail?

According to other reports, he had a nice real estate office in Cincinnati, and even owned stock in the Reds baseball team. From what I remember of Burns' production, it was the liquor part that failed on the second go round. I'm assuming the rest of his business was lucrative, at least to provide comfortable means. Let's just assume that the stone itself, in all its elaborate design serves as proof that George did have a decent size fortune. After all, the rest of Blanche's family plot does not match this opulence. The surrounding Watson stones are modest to say the least - very small indeed. Which brings me to the conclusion that the statue was a product of George's money, not Blanche's.

If you ever get the time, you should read up on George. It is a fascinating story. As a young German immigrant (age 5), he was later known as the King of the Bootleggers, and also got away with murder after shooting his second wife, Imogene, in cold blood up at Eden Park. Seriously, a rather twisted guy. Legend has it that Fitzgerald based his Great Gatsby character on Remus after meeting him at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville (legend light on documentation) - but you get the idea about this guy's lavish and brazen lifestyle.

I also found it worth note that his change in professional venue from Chicago to Cincinnati, during the height of prohibition, was not just based on the overly crowded and protected territory under Capone, but on the German friendly population of Cincinnati that was already adept at producing a crap ton of liquor. Those family ties folks - remain strong in crime as well as genealogy.

As a postscript to my own family history - George's link to Falmouth has intrigued me even more. When I heard about the prolific nature of liquor production in Northern Kentucky, during and after prohibition, I suspected my great-grandfather's German immigrant family had a part in this profession. They were always listed as farmers in the census, but the family tradition of wine production is cemented with family artifacts related to said endeavor. One court record even relates the story of accused slander during a wine sale gone wrong - in Covington.

The family's wine production is a subject I hope to research more, but it's hard to research a profession purposefully veiled in secrecy. One clue that keeps me hot on the trail is a picture from 1935 - just after prohibition. My great aunt and uncle (brother and sister) sitting on the hoods of their matching brand new cars. By legal profession, he was a farmer, and she was a domestic servant in Cincinnati. During the depression, this was a highly unusual purchase for their legal circumstances. 1935 was during the time when Remus was trying to rebuild his liquor empire - with the Falmouth/German connection, did they know the Watson family and work for Remus? I highly doubt it - but Remus was known for a complex network of "connections" to supply his inventory - and he was well known for paying them quite handsomely. I guess I have some more research to do!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Delights at Dinner with the Dead

For a closet taphophile, I somehow spent several years missing the Dinner with the Dead events that have taken place in the surrounding areas. Fortunately, the Lexington History Museum resurrected the event this past weekend, long dead since 2009.

The event this Saturday was quite a novelty on many fronts. First, as a cemetery that is only open by appointment, just getting in was delight numero uno. From that point onward, I was just taking it all in: the stones, the falling leaves, the side events, the food, and the entertainment.
As a cemetery, the Old Episcopal Burying Ground is old for the area, 1832, but too young to be in this state. The ravages of time have not been kind. Most of the stones are either in pieces lying along the edge of the property, or weathered away, never to be read again. This fact made the scavenger hunt a tad disconcerting, but there were pockets of stones in decent enough shape to be read for the activity.
Personally, I found the size of the cemetery perfect for this type of event. It was small, yet not too small. There was plenty of acreage for folks to wander around at leisure, with plenty of space. Kids were running around, having fun, and groups had ample time to see all the stones available without getting overly tired.

Speaking of kids, there were several small activities to keep them engaged: besides the scavenger hunt, there was an eyeball (ping-pong) toss, and a cauldron-like musical walk that resulted in prizes based on the image each child stopped on....again, with plenty of room.

Probably the only awkward part of exploring was the abundance of walnuts and hedge apples on the ground. This is something one cannot control, but I found myself watching every step carefully, simply because I didn't want a twisted ankle. It made me think about liability with this type of event - should that be a concern, or am I over thinking this?

The dinner included a rather long wait due to each person being served at a time, but the choices were nice, yet simple: Pizza, mac and cheese varieties, jambalaya, chips, and a tiny cupcake dessert. As everyone was eating, the character interpretations got underway. One that was particularly educational was the Reverend London Ferrell. As the only African American buried in this cemetery, his story of pre-Civil War popularity among the white population was fascinating. He reminded everyone that he had the second largest funeral in Lexington, only Henry Clay's was larger.
It was a cloudy, and slightly drizzly evening, but that fit the somber nature of this cemetery, begun as a result of cholera that ravaged the area in the 1830s. As I took in the names and stories with reverence, the families and young people were bringing life back to the space. Ironically, the crowd had VERY few gray hairs....most were college students, young families with children, or middle-aged professionals. The families were also culturally/ethnically diverse which was representative of the urban population, but perhaps, also a reflection of the event itself. Many other cultures enjoy celebrating the dead, and others enjoy the fright of the season. Either way, the life celebrated was quite a treat - I'm sure the dead would have approved!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eternal Membership Level

This weekend, our family went cemetery traipsing in Pendleton County and stumbled upon a new stone we had not seen before. I cannot tell you how old the stone is, nor even if the person memorialized is dead or not. I know it is fairly new because I had not seen it last year when visiting my grandparents' graves, plus, it is constructed in a current style: Solid black, polished granite with fine etchings. Despite the stone containing a name, there is no date range to determine time frame of this person's existence. After a little research, I have determined that this person was from the Falmouth area, but was living in Biloxi Mississippi as recently as 2004. A few possibilities: This person is still alive and will be buried here someday, the person is buried in MS and simply wanted a memorial stone in his hometown and family plot, or, this person has died recently and the dates are still waiting to be etched.

It is, however, the flip side of this stone that caught my attention. Every organization he was affiliated with is represented in the applique or etching of the official logo. I'm serious...EVERY ORGANIZATION. His church affiliation is the first and largest organization represented, followed by military insignias, educational logo, and finally LINEAGE societies seals. Some of the Lineage societies represented are: SAR, Kentucky First Families, Sons of Union Veterans, First Flight Families. He also chose to include membership affiliations such as the Kentucky Genealogical Society, and the Kentucky Historical Society, among others. As much as I enjoy my affiliations and memberships, I would personally prefer family information to be on a tombstone. Then again, this does tell me about the individual possibly buried there. I learned that he was very passionate about his membership in lineage societies and valued history. I also had a clue as to further research directions, such as church membership and education connection. My question is: what is your impression of this...good information or over the top allegiance?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Cincinnati Union Terminal

Some places on planet earth have the ability to transport the living back through time as they envelope us in waves of sensory memory. With a look, a touch, a reflection of light off of a surface, we physically sense time. Not just seconds or minutes on a clock, but the emotions and heavy presence of life that came before us. The lives that built our present still resonate in the structural echos.

When the Museum Center asked "why" we love this museum, my mind immediately passed over dozens of scenes from more than one lifetime. With the building's construction in 1928-33, I saw my great grandfather, Clyde Daniels. Family tradition has always proudly remembered him as not only a railroad employee, but one that was employed and on-site when the building opened. 

His son Charles followed in his footsteps, working at the terminal, monitoring and maintaining train cars for over 25 years. When the flood waters of 1937 rose steadily, it was Charles that was in the lower levels that night (Black Sunday), witnessing the flood waters come up through the sewer system as the lights began to fail in this part of the city. His call to authorities began mobilization in his area.

"I was a young man of twenty five years of age and was employed by the Cincinnati Union Terminal Company and a First Sergeant of Company C 147th Infantry Ohio National Guard....On Friday night, the water started to back up onto Freeman Avenue near the ball park and around the Union Terminal. All activity stopped at the Mail Building at the Terminal and I was left there to watch the property. I was in the basement of the office and just outside of the door the lid blew off the sewer and water started to bubble up into the street. I called the Master Mechanic and suggested he get some people to start moving the material up stairs. He laughed at me and said I was just being excited. Soon the water got so deep I went upstairs on the first floor. I went to the water fountain for a drink and there was no water. I tried to use the telephone and it was dead. Then the rising water in the basement hit the generators and the lights went out. I then started down the platform toward the Coach Yard. When I reached the end of the platform I could see that the water was several feet deep. So I turned around and went toward the passenger station. I was able to get to the station and stayed there until my time to quit at 7AM. The water by this time had backed up in front of the Terminal and it was necessary for a high bed truck to take us out. I was told not to report to work that night." Charles C. Daniels, Sr. 1985

I saw the many travelers, especially in wartime. My grandfather and his brother would have been among the many men who had to say goodbye to their families as they were called to serve their country. I saw the women in the USO, providing comforts of home to weary soldiers. I saw tearful partings and reunions. It was under these colorful arches of the semi-dome that many said final goodbyes. 

I saw my father Charles Jr. as a boy, following his father around the terminal, getting glimpses of the nooks and crannies rarely seen by the regular visitor. Years later, he applied his profession of photography to the back tracks with his father as the subject, chronicling his retirement. I saw generation after generation of parents teaching their children to talk in the far corner of the front entry as they were given a magical lesson in acoustics.

I saw the fast paced buzz of train travel in the 20th century, and the busy cabbies driving through the circular underbelly to transport new arrivals or drop of the departing passenger. 

Fast forward to the lean years of indecision and trepidation. I saw shoppers and a whole room of suits as my parents took their time, shopping and savoring the palpable remnants of the past. 

I saw rebirth. A new generation of visitors. Some train passengers, the rest time passengers as they were transported through Cincinnati's history. Children exploring and learning at every turn. My brother and I screaming and laughing in the sink hole cave exhibit. Dad taking a picture with a flash, and blinding us all. The train of twinkling lights stretching across the iconic clock each Christmas as a bright and joyful treat coming down the expressway.

I remember ice cream in the soda shop and marveling at the Rookwood tiles inside. I remember weddings, theatre, and flying over the Grand Canyon. I remember walking the plaster statues of WWII, having a bowl of Skyline in the rotunda, and being transfixed with wonder every time I see the massive murals of colorful glass that tell a story all their own: Seriously, EVERY SINGLE TIME. 
Today, we talk about uniqueness, aesthetics, and sense of place as necessary building blocks of a happy and satisfied community. How do we draw them in and make them want to live here or stay here? Give them a unique experience unlike any other, so they say. There is no more unique place in this city than the Museum Center at Union Terminal. Where else can you get a healthy dose of art, culture, history, and architectural wonder? It has no equal in the entire country, let alone in this Queen City. Union Terminal is not just a building, an Art Deco echo, filled with exhibits and theatre, it IS Cincinnati. This temple of time, this holy place, tells OUR story as no other could.

For more information, including how you can help support this American treasure in trouble, visit the Museum Center website. or @CincyMuseum on Twitter

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PSA: Backward Balloons

This Public Service Announcement is brought to you from the past. The little girl in the photo, proudly holding a balloon, is me. The year is probably around 1979 or 1980. My Mother and I are standing outside our Church in Cincinnati, ready for the yearly Vacation Bible School balloon release. This annual tradition served as the kick-off for VBS, and provided two weeks of wonderment for children who eagerly anticipated the return of the cards attached to said balloons. The contest was simple: each balloon had a card attached. As the balloons popped at the end of their journey, we hoped someone would find the card and mail it back to the Church. The winning balloon was the one that had traveled the farthest.

This tradition went on for years....but I remember when it ended. There was a shift in collective opinion regarding the environmental safety of releasing dozens, hundreds, or thousands of balloons into the atmosphere. Once we understood the impact of these repeated and widely popular actions, we just stopped. In fact, several states went as far as to make such releases illegal: California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. In Kentucky, such releases are currently illegal in the city of Louisville.

Unfortunately, I have noticed a huge resurgence in this activity. In 2014, the activity appears to be almost untouchable or irreproachable due to its connection to mourning. It has become the new go-to celebration of a life passed. Yes, I will admit, such releases are beautiful...but the brief moment of beauty does not erase the harm inflicted on wildlife that may come across the balloon remnants once the pieces fall back to the earth.

When history does repeat itself, sometimes the same horrible results follow. I am saddened that we are taking a step backward to make the same mistakes of the past. Instead of celebrating a life passed by releasing dozens of items that could bring death to other creatures, why not come up with alternatives? Some have suggested doves or butterflies or even bubbles. While gardening the other day, I had thought of ladybugs. Gardeners purchase these beneficial little bugs on a regular basis as a natural balance of power when battling flower pests.

Some will argue that this concern is no longer valid because of two things: 

1. The balloons are made of latex which is a natural substance and biodegradable: Not really - natural latex could be, but it takes 6 months for a natural latex balloon to decompose - plenty of time to adversely affect an animal. Most released today are not natural, but modified to decompose after years of exposure.

2. The helium inside the balloon takes it to a height that shatters the balloon's surface, thereby removing the danger of larger pieces falling to the ground: Not really, this can happen in some cases, only if every balloon is tightly sealed or tied closed. If the closure is loose at all, the pressure can cause the end to open and the balloon floats down intact. However, you cannot seal them with anything but the balloon bottom - any other closure, such as string, plastic, or tape is regarded as non-biodegradable and littering according to most local laws. Plus, even the shattered pieces can be large enough to choke a small animal. 

***One special note about closures, strings, or tags: Non of the aforementioned items should be used if you do make the sad decision to release balloons. Unfortunately, when viewing some local releases here in Kentucky, I have observed strings or ribbons attached to the balloons when let go. Which tells me this new and hazardous retro-fad has not even been researched prior to the organization of such events.

For those of you who have lost loved ones, I have every sympathy for your loss, and believe you should celebrate their life in beautiful, grand gestures of love. However, in the case of balloon releases, please take that off your list, and try to think of a celebratory gesture that will not harm the environment or accidentally take a life as a result. Please pass on this word of knowledge from the past. I implore you to make a different choice BEFORE this new collective activity takes too great a hold!

For more info: http://balloonsblow.org/

Friday, May 9, 2014

#NGS2014: Librarian Lessons

The official kickoff of the NGS conference was quite exhilarating this year! Attendees were treated to a lovely talk by Dr. Sandra Treadway of the Library of Virginia. As the State Archivist and Director of the Library, she sees first hand, the challenges faced by researchers, and the staff that serve them. This is one of those libraries that is not only a research facility, but a public library as well. From the administrative standpoint, that makes for a complex approach to serving their patron base. How do you make the collections available to the public, while meeting their changing technological needs, while still managing to protect the archival/rare materials that are under your care? It's certainly not easy, and it's a challenge they have met head on by creating specialized areas for type of use.
Most of you have spent a good amount of research hours in this relatively new facility (ca. 1994). And as beautiful as it is, the administration is eager to change things around to better serve their patrons. According to Dr. Treadway, they are already consulting architects to review options. So far, the report is favorable....they can modify in almost any configuration they desire, fitting in with the budget. The lesson here is multi-faceted. Libraries are ready to adapt their spaces for maximum patron engagement and use. Most all are restricted by budget cuts, but if the economy recovers, be on the look out for new library directions.....directions that serve the diverse patron groups seen everyday! 


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