Recalling the Great Snow of ’94

It’s hard to believe that events I remember from my childhood are already reaching the “20 years ago” mark, but it’s true. And one of the biggest large-scale  (and by that, I mean, not specific to myself or my family) memories I have from childhood is what I’ve always thought of as “the Great Snow of ’94.”

That was 20 years ago this weekend. I’ve always remembered that it was the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day holiday weekend. I was 11 years old and in the fifth grade. We all knew when we left school on Friday that we were in for a holiday (MLK Monday is a holiday most places), but little did we know that a blizzard was about to turn our 3-day weekend into a 2-week vacation!

Great Snow of '94 #5

That’s me sitting on a swing in our back yard during the Great Snow of ’94. As an archivist, I cringe at the thought/speech bubble sticker, but I also know that somewhere at my parents’ house, the negative for this picture is safe (and unmarred) in a cabinet, waiting for me to scan it someday.

Great Snow of '94 #1

A portion of our back yard (that’s a trampoline, the net of which was at least 2 feet off the ground), during the Great Snow of ’94.

As I did not remember to research this at the local library when I was home for Christmas (which is really too bad, since I was there over a week and had plenty of time to do so!)   And I really wanted to include some true historical details about the storm, rather than just my own recollections.

I have had little luck finding information about this snowstorm on the Internet, at least not specifically pertaining to my hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio (on the Ohio River). I have found several links to information about northern Ohio and Louisville, KY (to which I will link at the end). I was just about to give up, when I finally came across Thunder in the Heartland on Google Books. (I knew of this book, and I even own a copy, but unfortunately it’s packed away somewhere.) Thomas Schmidlin’s Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio (Kent State University Press, 1996) is a fantastic source if you want a short overview of any remotely notable weather event from Ohio’s history. And that’s just what I needed!  (I was beginning to fear that my memory of “about 2 feet of snow” was a figment of my imagination until I found Schmidlin’s description.)

Here’s an excerpt of what Schmidlin had to say about (what I call) the Great Snow of ’94 (from pages 76-77):

January 1994 was an “old-fashioned” winter month in the upper Ohio Valley, with two exceptionally deep snowfalls followed by record cold on 19 January. Snowfall on Tuesday, 4 January totaled twelve to twenty inches from Marietta to Steubenville…

A greater snowfall arrived on Monday 17 January. This storm left six to ten inches across nearly all of Ohio but, again, the deepest snow was along the Ohio River. Portsmouth received twenty inches of snow, and thirty inches was reported at Lucasville. Twenty-two to twenty-four inches fell in Adams County, with fifteen inches reported in Piketon and Jackson. Snowfall intensities of five inches an hour were measured at Chillicothe.

Highways were closed Monday by deep drifts and abandoned cars in extreme southern Ohio. Nine south-central counties declared snow emergencies Monday morning, banning all but emergency travel and essentially shutting down the region. Temperatuers were cold, so the snow did [p. 77] not stick to trees and there was no widespread disruption of phone and electric service. Businesses assisted residents who could not get out in the deep snow. The pharmacy at Kroger’s in Portsmouth delivered medicine to customers who were unable to travel, according to the Portsmouth Daily Times. Southern Ohio Medical Center [the hospital in Portsmouth] employees were picked up and delivered to the hospital in four-wheel-drive trucks and rescue squads.

Major roads were reopened Tuesday, but rural highways of southern Ohio were blocked and families remained snowbound. The effort to clear side roads continued into Wednesday. Schools were scheduled to be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day and remained shut all week in southeastern counties by the deep snow and temperatures below -25 degrees…

Snowfall during January totaled 45.5 inches at Newport and 33.3 inches at Marietta. These were among the heaviest snowfalls ever recorded in Ohio outside the Lake Erie snowbelt. At the Parkersburg Airport, five miles south of Marietta, snowfall totaled 40 inches during January 1994. This was a record for any month, exceeding the old record of 35 inches in November 1950. The January snowfall was more than had fallen in the entire past two winters combined in southeastern Ohio.

Wow, after all that detail, the comparatively small amount that my 11-year-old brain saw fit to commit to permanence seems pretty weak. Nevertheless, here are my recollections (and some photos, throughout this entry, which I was thrilled to realize I had on hand at my house, rather than being inaccessible—and possibly difficult to locate—at my parents’ house):

We actually lived in Minford, Ohio, a smaller rural town outside of Portsmouth; it was closer to Lucasville (7 miles away, mentioned in the excerpt as having 30 inches of snow!) than Portsmouth (14 miles away).

I remember that there seemed to be about 2 feet of snow (which is substantiated by the above excerpt); it was over my knees (as illustrated in the included photos!). I remember that simply walking through the snow (which was no easy feat) left these trailing paths like you were in some sort of a maze, because the snow was so high it almost felt like maze walls (maybe I made this association because I always loved doing mazes in those activity books when I was a kid).

Great Snow of '94 #7

As you can see, the snow was over my knees. I was 11. We had about 2 feet of snow in Minford, Ohio.

Great Snow of '94 #6

My younger sister, then 9 years old, wading through the snow.

When I asked Mom what she remembered about the snowstorms, those paths were the thing that stuck out in her mind, because my youngest sister was only 4 at the time, and following us in the paths we made was the only way she could get through the snow at all!

Great Snow of '94 #4

My youngest sister, age 4, diving into a snow drift.

Another snippet that Mom remembered was how concerned we were about our pet rabbit, a Californian bunny named Pretty (seriously) who lived in a pen (which I think had a wooden house part also) in the backyard. Dad was worried, so he went (er, waded) out to the rabbit house, expecting to find a dead rabbit, but when he finally unburied enough of the thing to see inside, she was just fine in there; the deep snow had created a sort of igloo!

When I read in that excerpt (above) that there were NOT widespread power outages from heavy snow and ice causing downed trees to break the lines, I realized that this was not something I had ever thought about before with relation to that particular snowstorm. I suppose if we HAD experienced a power outage, I would have remembered, as school was out for….two weeks, I think…and that would have been a long damn time to be without electricity when the temperatures were so cold. We had a gas furnace, but if the electric blower isn’t working, it’s still not much use; my parents do have 1 fireplace in the part of the house that we were living in at the time—it was still a work in progress—but I don’t recall if the fireplace itself was installed and working yet! A power outage certainly would have been a disaster in that storm!

Great Snow of '94 #3

Well it looks like there was plenty of snow on the trees in this picture of our back field, and yes, I’m fairly certain it was from the same storm. But yay for no downed power lines!

We did eventually want to go to the grocery store—and this is the only other particularly vivid memory I have from that storm—but the driveway, like everything else, was covered in 2 feet of snow. I remember my father plowing the driveway with the front-loader on his tractor. (I am thrilled to have a photo of this, which appears to have been taken by my aunt, who lived next-door, as I can see the metal porch supports from their house in the shot.)

Great Snow of '94 #8

Dad plowing the driveway with his tractor—my favorite photo of this event!

Great Snow of '94 #2

Believe it or not, there is a Dodge Caravan (left) and a Toyota Corolla (right) under all that snow.

Eventually, once the driveway—and the car—was cleared off, I remember getting into my Dad’s old Toyota Corolla and puttering down the highway to the local grocery store (about 1 mile away), only to (if I recall correctly) find that it was still closed due to the snow—I guess the employees couldn’t get there. So much for bread and milk!

I asked my husband what he remembered about the snowstorm, as he was also an 11-year-old in southern Ohio at the time—he actually lived in Lucasville. He seems to recall that he was at the local Boy Scout camp, Camp Oyo, that weekend for a winter camp-out (now known as Okpik, though he says they weren’t calling them that at the time). They were scheduled to go home on Sunday, and they actually did so, although they briefly considered staying another day…which would have had them stranded, as the majority of the snow fell on Monday. Thank goodness they went home when they did!   He said he remembers sticking a yard stick into the snow at their house in Lucasville and measuring almost 3 feet of snow (which again meshes with what the book said).

Pitiful selection of relevant items I found online:

What are your memories of the Great Snow of ’94?  I’d love to hear them! (Please include at least an approximation of where you lived at the time, since geography is important here.)

Revisiting old friends in the Archives

I got to revisit some “old friends” in the Archives at work today. These were old friends from the Dayton Metro Library, but they found me at my new job as an archivist at Wright State.

They weren’t living people or current friends; not really friends at all, if I’m being honest. But in a way, they felt like friends at the time, so I consider them that, still.

I’m talking about (long-dead) people whose papers I arranged & described. People who never knew me; who might not have even liked me (or I them) if we’d known each other in real life; but whom I hold in a special regard since I handled, (to some extent) read, and lovingly organized some of their most personal thoughts, little pieces of themselves committed preserved paper, and thereby history.

The first of the day today was David W. Schaeffer (whom you can learn more about in this biographical sketch I wrote about him in July 2012). A researcher, and relative of his, came to visit us today in the Archives from the Los Angeles area. She had found my blog post about him (the one linked above) last year, and we emailed back and forth a bit. I’m not sure how much help I could be, since basically all that I knew, I had poured into the biographical sketch already. But she wanted to meet me and see what we might have at the Wright State Archives that could help her during her research trip to Ohio. We talked about a few things, and I think she told me more about David than what I told her—for instance, that his middle name was Winters. The Schaeffers and Winters families were both early settlers of Germantown, so there seems to have been some connection there. After she left WSU, I believe she was on her way to Germantown. I’m not sure if that was the plan before she stopped in to see me, but I told her she really needed to check it out before she left the area (tomorrow being her last day in Ohio, she said). If nothing else, it would be a nice drive to Germantown at this time of year… (She had already visited the Dayton Metro Library and looked at David’s papers there.)

The second “old friend” that I ran into today at work was Horton Howard (read my biographical sketch of him from Aug 2012 on this blog), an early Quaker settler of Ohio—and sometimes doctor—whose daughter Sarah was married to Dayton canal engineer Samuel Forrer; all of these people (and many others) have papers in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection at Dayton Metro Library, which I processed in 2011-2012.

Anyway. I ran into Horton while hunting around one of our storage locations for some Sanborn Maps. I did eventually find the map books, and nearby was part of our collection of rare medical books. A large book with the name “Howard” stamped on the spine caught my eye:

Howard's rare medical books at Wright State University Special Collections & Archives

Howard’s rare medical books at Wright State University Special Collections & Archives

And I thought, Oh that can’t be the same guy; that has to be a really common name, and I’m sure any number of “Howard”s have written medical books. Then I saw the book right next to it—about botanic medicine—and, recognizing it was a subject that Horton had in fact studied and written about, I pulled it off the shelf to look.

Sure enough, the title page said Horton Howard:

Horton Howard's Botanic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

Horton Howard’s Botanic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

So I checked the other one. Yep, Horton Howard:

Horton Howard's Domestic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

Horton Howard’s Domestic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

The publication dates through me for just a minute, knowing as I did that Horton died during the 1833 cholera epidemic in Columbus (as did his wife, a daughter, a son-in-law, and 2 grandchildren). But it turned out these were just reprints. One of them (I forget which one, sorry!) was like the seventh printing since 1832.

Now, I wasn’t QUITE as giddy about these finds as I might have been, since I had found the full text of the botanic medicine book online already and gleaned what I wanted to from it—-mostly from the fantastic preface that gives tons of info [block-quotes in the blog post] about Horton’s early life and medical knowledge (most of which was self-taught). But it was still pretty darn cool to see real life, 3-D copies of the works, complete with old school leather covers (which were in much better condition than I would have expected for 150+ year old books), hold them in my hands, and, I don’t know…..just remember good old Horton.

Just as an aside… I could visit Horton Howard and his family in one collection at the Wright State Archives anytime, but I already knew about that so it wasn’t a surprise: There are a few letters from Horton, his daughters Sarah and Mary, and a few other related people, in the Dustin/Dana Papers (MS-207). I have so far refused myself the indulgence of sitting down with them and just reading them all (even though there are only 10- just goes to show how busy I am)…but maybe one of these days! I’ve read so many pieces of that family’s story; it’s like found treasure when I stumble across pieces I didn’t even know where “missing” and are now found…

So, that’s my story for today. Hope you enjoyed it. Just goes to show, you never know when history will find you.

Intersects of History (or, a Tale of Freaky Coincidence)

History is full of intersections. The “story” of…well, everything…really is like this giant tapestry woven out of the lives and choices of people (all people), the occurrence of events, the development and course of ideas, and the circumstances of place, time, and situation. Some of the intersections of all these things can be fairly obvious, expected, or downright sequitur. And sometimes they’re not.

And sometimes, you are working in the Archives, minding your own business, churning out the day’s work—some of which, on this particular day, is rather unusual, versus what you normally do at your job on a daily basis—and you suddenly run across an intersection among two things you would have expected to be completely unrelated, and it gives you the goosebumps…

I had one of those days on Tuesday, September 17. Let me explain. (Bear with me on the “job duties” part.)

One of my primary job duties as Archivist for Digital Initiatives & Outreach at the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives is to manage and coordinate the use of social media for sharing the Archives and our collections with the world. Among the social media channels that we use for this are a couple of blogs (Out of the Box and Dayton Daily News Archive) and Facebook and Twitter (the latter two being recent additions – if you haven’t yet, you should go check them out and like/follow them! *notevensubtlehinthint*).

Part of what I do with these social media channels is plan their content. We post all kinds of things, but many times, I like to try to coordinate the social media content with a particular time period, date, or event in history. I love “today in history” posts—if we can think of them—and if they pertain to our “stuff” or our collecting areas (aviation, local history, WSU history).

So, that all being said…let’s get back to my freaky experience on September 17, which, let’s face it, is why you clicked on this post in the first place.

September 17, 1908, is widely recognized as the date of the first fatality from a powered airplane crash. (OK, maybe “widely recognized” isn’t exactly true, but everyone who works in aviation history knows this story! Or they should…) Orville Wright was demonstrating his airplane to the military at Ft. Myer, Va., when the plane crashed, injuring Orville and killing his passenger, 26-year-old Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge.


I had this on the calendar to mention on September 17 for a while, and so I did so in the above tweet. (Later in the day, we also posted a great blog post written by my supervisor Dawne about the crash and about Orville’s sister Katharine. You should check it out; plus, it has more pictures!)

OK, so…that all being done, I turned to some other tasks on my plate. One of those tasks was to either locate, or otherwise procure, transcripts of a few Civil War letters from our Wallace Collection (MS-92). Long story short, when transcripts of the Civil War correspondence of William McKinney were made, somehow a couple of letters were apparently missed. This was noticed during the migration of digital versions of the letters (and transcripts) from one system to another, and we really wanted to have ALL the transcripts ready (better for access purposes because transcripts are keyword searchable, handwritten letters are not) before the formal launch of the new system.

SO, not being able to locate any existing transcripts for these two particular letters, I located the original letters, took a look, decided that the handwriting was pretty legible and that they shouldn’t take too long to transcribe, and sat down to transcribe those few items myself, so I could get them over to the Digital folks ASAP.

One of the letters I transcribed was this letter from William McKinney to his cousin Martha McKinney, circa 1862. (You can see the original handwritten letter as well as my now-completed-and-posted transcription if you click that link. Or you can take my word for things. Aren’t original documents grand? You don’t have to take my word for it; you can see the original evidence. But I digress…)

I had a bit of trouble with a particular line on the last page of the letter where the paper had been creased right through a line of text, so it was particularly worn and faded. William had been describing some of the sights during a recent stroll through Nashville, and he mentioned coming across one of the (Union) iron-clad ships, the…Carro…Cairo…what does that say? I wondered.


Snippet from William McKinney to Martha McKinney, ca. 1862, from MS-92 Wallace Family Papers, item # ms92_9_4_08, Wright State University Special Collections & Archives.

“Cairo” made more sense, but I wanted to be sure, so I Googled it to make sure. And the first thing that seemed promising was a National Park Service web site for the U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat and Museum in Vicksburg, MS. From this site I learned the thing I needed to know—that the word on the page was in fact “Cairo.”

I also learned that the U.S.S. Cairo was sunk in the Yazoo River in December 1862. I learned that it was raised again (in pieces) in the 1960s and eventually turned into a museum.

But, mostly fascinatingly…and strangely…I learned that the skipper in command of the U.S.S. Cairo was one Lt. Cmdr. Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr.

Yes, I “encountered” two historical figures named Thomas Selfridge on the same day—one of which being rather expected as I knew about that anniversary, the other being a complete surprise.

And if that wasn’t strange enough…then I was curious. Though I don’t have the stats to back this up, I’d wager that Selfridge isn’t a terribly common name. Well, it’s certainly not like if I had run across two “John Smith”s or something, anyway! I wondered if they were related…the Thomas Selfridge who commanded an iron-clad for the Union in 1862 and the Thomas Selfridge who died in a plane crash in 1908.

I didn’t have far to look to find that, indeed, they were. All it took was a quick trip by Wikipedia. Thankfully, the site is rife with pages about military men, whether they were super-duper important like Robert E. Lee or more of a blip on history’s screen (or a footnote on the page, if you’re a little more old-school).

Thomas Ethelon Selfridge (now I want to know where that middle name came from!), 1882-1908, the casualty in Orville’s plane crash at Ft. Myer, was the son of the Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Oliver Selfridge, Jr., 1836-1924. Another weird point of coincidence? Both men were 26 at the time of the history intersects described in this little story (the plane crash and the U.S.S. Cairo sinking).

And here’s the thing that makes me really wonder: How on Earth did I just happen across these two things on the same day? I mean, what the hell, Universe? It’s so bizarre.

On any other day of the year, I wouldn’t even spend too much time thinking about Thomas E. Selfridge (sorry, mate), but on September 17, it’s the obvious choice for a “today in history” about aviation.

And I don’t normally do manuscript transcription…ever. Heck, there are plenty of days (even whole weeks) where I don’t even so much as handle an actual manuscript, because the primary functions of my position don’t always require it. But on this particular day, I not only got to work with an original manuscript—a handwritten 19th century letter, no less, which is some of my favorite “stuff”—but I got to read it…really read it…as a legitimate work activity, because somebody had to do that transcript ASAP, and it might as well be me!

And none of it had (seemingly) anything to do with each other. The tasks were unrelated. The collections were unrelated. Even the reason we HAVE those two particular collections was completely unrelated. The Archives has items pertaining to the Selfridge crash fatality because of our focus on aviation history and the Wright Brothers. The Wallace Family Papers (MS-92), where William McKinney’s Civil War letter came from, is part of our collection because of its local history significance (the family lived in Clark County, which is one of the counties about which we collect local history).

You know I could go on and on. I have gone on and on. (If you read this far, I should bake you cookies. Er, no, biscotti: they’re the only cookies I can consistently make well because they’re meant to be hard.)

I should stop wondering, stop being surprised when I find bits of history that are related, even if they initially seemed so…completely unrelated. My husband is one of those people who likes to say “everything happens for a reason.”

Maybe sometimes the Universe just wants to remind us that all of history is woven together in one big story, driving the point home by showing you the relationship between two things you never would have guessed had any ties to each other.

Whatever it was, what an interesting day!

Tech in the archives- what should I teach them?

Don’t get too excited. I’m not teaching a whole course. That didn’t happen. Yet. (Though I get the impression it may eventually be eminent…)

But I have been invited to speak to a graduate level Intro to Archives class about “Technology in the Archives” in November. The course instructor is basically giving me free reign to talk to the students about any and all tech-related stuff that I think they should know before going off to work in an archives today. Well, “any and all” that will fit into an approximately 2-hour discussion.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that technology has permeated practically every aspect of our lives these days, and yes, it’s made its way into the archives world as well, of course. So I’m trying to organize my thoughts as to what areas I would like to try to cover and how to arrange that discussion.

Right now, I think I’m going to start with some broad categories and go from there. Those categories are:

  • Access tools (technology-based ways of getting the “stuff” to the people)
  • Outreach/promotional tools (mostly social media since that’s a lot of what I was hired to do)
  • Organization tools (the behind-the-scenes ways of using tech to keep yourself from going completely insane as you attempt to manage, locate, preserve, etc. the beloved “stuff”)

I have plenty of ideas about what to talk about- web development, social media (SO MANY IDEAS), databases, digitization, digital asset management systems, metadata, digital preservation… And there’s always trolling the recent job posts to see what’s listed in those, tech-wise, under the required/desired skills.

But I thought I’d post an open forum to see what any of the rest of you might like to suggest to help me help the students. So I ask you, fellow archivists:

What “tech stuff” do you think is critical for future archivists (or heck, current archivists) to learn these days?

And when I say “critical,” let’s take that with a grain of salt and ride the line of generality- pretend this archivist is suppose to be a jack of all trades or perhaps a “Lone Arranger.” Obviously, there’s going to be some kind of continuum spanning from All-Things-Digital-Archivist to I-Only-Handle-Historic-Manuscripts-and-Have-Nothing-to-do-with-their-Digitization-Archivist. But even in the case of the latter, they probably still have a computer at their desk and the occasional (electronic) finding aid or database to contend with! But let’s aim for somewhere in the middle, because I only have 2 hours!

I also plan to sneak in some tech-related snippets of career advice. OK, so since I’m publishing that statement for all to see at the moment, it probably can’t really be considered “sneaking” at this point…but anyway.

So what do you think, folks? What tech stuff could you not live without? Or what tech knowledge (yours or others’) do you use frequently in your work as an archivist? Or what tech stuff do you wish they’d taught you (or at least warned you about!) in your formal library/archives training?

My talk is on November 6th, but I plan to have this PowerPoint geared up and ready quite a while before then, although it’s already a work in progress.

Thank you, Mr. Oelman. No, really.

In June 2004, the summer between my junior and senior year of undergraduate studies at Wright State University, I received a notification from the Wright State University Scholarship Committee that I had been selected to receive the Robert S. Oelman scholarship in the amount of $500 for one year.

Unlike most of the scholarships I had received from WSU over the years, this one had very specific stipulations to along with it, one of which being to write a letter addressed directly to the donor, Robert S. Oelman, which I had to send back to the WSU Foundation, who then forwarded it to Mr. Oelman at his home. No complaints here! A timely and sincere thank-you letter seemed a more than fair requirement in exchange for $500 towards paying for my college.

And so I wrote the following on June 26, 2004 (yes I still have a copy of the letter and managed to dig it up in a matter of minutes- archivist here!):

Dear Mr. Oelman:

I hope this letter finds you well. Recently, the Wright State University Scholarship Committee notified me that I have been awarded the Robert S. Oelman Scholarship in the amount of $500 for next school year. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful to receive your generous donation because, as you know, the cost of higher education is rising every day.

Next year will be my fourth and final year at Wright State University. In June 2005, I will graduate with a B.A. in History and Latin. After graduation, I plan to further my education. I have learned many things these past few years, not least of all the fact that knowledge is valuable and powerful.

Once again, I whole-heartedly thank you for your kind generosity to Wright State University and to me. It is very much appreciated.

Lisa M. Pasquinelli

At the time, I did not know to whom I was writing that letter, other than that he was a presumably wealthy man who lived in Florida and who gave generously to the university, though as to his specific connection to WSU or why he would choose to give us money, I had no idea—except, oh hey, he had the same last name as one of the main instructional buildings, Oelman Hall. But whether that was the same man the building was named after (it was) or why they’d name a building after him, I honestly had no clue.

But now I know.

Robert Schantz Oelman (1909-2007) was one of the founders of Wright State University—before it was even Wright State, when it was still the “Dayton Campus” of Ohio State University & Miami University in the early 1960s; he was chair of the first WSU Board of Trustees and served on it until 1976. He and his wife were also descended from prominent Dayton families: his mother was a Schantz, and his wife Mary was descended from the Peirce and Forrer families.

I know all this now for a number of inter-related reasons:

I’m glad to finally know who he was and how he “fit” into Dayton and Wright State. And I’m so, so pleased that I’ve had an opportunity to, in some small way, help to pay him back a little bit—not that he was looking to be paid back, certainly, but it’s a nice little twist of fate.

I took that $500 and put it towards a B.A. in history (at a school Mr. Oelman helped to found), that later led to an M.A. in history with an emphasis on archives (again, at the same school that he helped to found). That led to my first archives job (indeed, my first full time job) at the Dayton Metro Library, where one of my last tasks before leaving (and certainly the one that took the longest and possibly the one of which I am most proud) was arranging and describing a large archival collection, which happened (I found out as I was researching it) to contain the papers of several generations of Mrs. Oelman’s ancestors. And just as I finished that up, I was offered the opportunity to work as an archivist at Wright State University, a university which, without Mr. Oelman, might never have existed in the first place—and now there I am, helping keep its history safe and promoting its collections to anyone who will listen (and, I hope, helping in some way to preserve and protect part of Oelman’s legacy).

Now that I know who Robert Oelman really was, that 2004 thank-you letter looks pretty lame. I should have been thanking him for a lot more than the money. Sure, $500 is a generous gift, any way you slice it, and I did then, and do now, appreciate it.

But I know now, he didn’t just give me $500. He (and a number of others, of course) gave me Wright State University. I spent 6 years learning and growing as a student at Wright State, and now I continue learning and growing there as an archives professional. Wright State University is where I started dating my husband and where I met the best friends I’ve ever had.

I literally don’t know where I’d be if it hadn’t been for Robert S. Oelman’s interest in and dedication to Wright State University.

So I say again–with infinitely more gusto and understanding this time–thank you, Mr. Oelman. No, really. You have no idea.

Robert Schantz Oelman died May 10, 2007, in Palm Beach County, Florida (read his obit in the New York Times), so I know he’ll never read this. But I wanted to “put it out there” to express my thanks to him, even if it has to be posthumously.

Sure it’s genealogy; it’s just not mine!

I don’t know what it’s been about the past few weeks, but I’ve been somewhat inundated with emails stemming from this blog recently. Now, when I say “inundated,” okay, it’s still only been about one a week or so. (I think there have been 4 or 5 separate reach-out emails in the past month.) But that still seems like “a lot” when sometimes it’s weeks or months in between receiving those kind of communications.

It was a variety this time, too:

  • One was thanking me for the Howard Forrer story. (You’re so welcome; thank you for enjoying it!)
  • One was: Can I use your  Bessie Tomlin article in this non-commercial digital history project I’m doing? (Yes you can, thanks for asking first, & your project sounds awesome!)
  • Two were family history related: Do you know anything about my rather noteworthy Dayton relative so-and-so? (No, actually, I don’t, but here are some suggestions of where else to look.)

I love these. You have no idea.

Not just because they make me feel like a rock star for (apparently) writing an interesting story or a well-researched history or bio sketch. But because it’s proof positive that there’s somebody else out there who cares about these people, places, and events.

Sure, hypothetically, I know that such people probably exist out there somewhere. And sure, I see the search terms on my blog statistics page that tell me people are looking for these things (and finding me). But when you sit down to actually take the time and write me an email — even if it seems half selfish because you’re really writing to ask me something — it makes  my day. And I’m happy to help you if I can.

But getting back to the title of this post. Over the past couple of years with the blog, based on the emails and comments I receive, usually with reference to the people I write about, I often have people asking me if these are my relatives. I guess it’s because they can tell that I’ve taken much care to write these lovingly detailed biographical sketches of them. After all, why would anyone do that if it wasn’t their own family?

Well, the short answer is that I did all that research in order to write the the biographical sketch portion of archival manuscript finding aids, and my boss gave me permission to re-post them here, my intention being additional discoverability for the collections. To write these biographical sketches, I used the collections themselves (duh, what better than a primary source right there in my hands?!) as well as genealogy research techniques to fill in the “Wait, who’s Aunt Sarah?”-type gaps. (You can read the longer versions of essentially this same explanation in my posts from May 21, 2012, and Sept. 2, 2011.)

But anyway—again—why would anyone go to such lengths to write these detailed, foot-noted, multi-page biographical sketches? After all–you caught me, fellow archivists–I admit they are probably longer and much more detailed than what was strictly necessary to fulfill my obligation of providing some biographical/historical context for the researcher via the finding aid.

But I can’t help it. I love these people. These wonderful, colorful, real people, who lived in the past, whose papers, whose stories, I’m holding in my hands (unless it’s photos- then in my gloved hands). They suck me in. I want to know them. I want to “get” them. Who are they? How do they fit together- with this “stuff”? with the other people they talk about? with the community where they live? Er, I mean, lived.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of genealogy anyway. My grandma got me started on it, and I’ve been interested in it — oh dear God, I just did the math at this very moment — over half my life. But unfortunately, I couldn’t write such detailed biographical sketches about most of my own ancestors (at least, ones from the same time period as the Bio Sketches I’ve written here), even if I wanted to — and believe me, if I could, I would.

But I just don’t know their stories. And I don’t have the diaries and letters and other documents needed to “fill in the blanks” in between the official records (birth/death records, census, city directory, etc.). The manuscripts I would need just don’t exist. Or, if they do, I haven’t found the relative that’s stowed them away yet.

So, if you’re one of my relatives and you’re holding out on me, now would be a good time to speak up, please. I swear I won’t try to guilt you into giving me the docs; I just want a look. (And probably some photocopies.)

And while we’re at it, same goes for the owner of Sarah (Howard) Forrer‘s diary. It’s mentioned in other sources, but it’s currently “lost to history.” If anyone has it, I’d love to see it.

And there I go again, getting wound up about the history of people who aren’t even my relatives. Which seems to baffle the genealogists who email me, thinking they must have found a distant cousin in this girl who has made such an effort to document the life of their ancestor (or great-uncle or whoever).

Nope. Just doin’ it for the love of history, folks. And for the love of these super-cool people whose “stuff” I’ve been charged with arranging, describing, and preserving.

But don’t worry. I don’t mind if you think I’m a distant cousin. And I promise not to laugh or anything when I have to tell you I’m not. Keep those emails coming. I’m always thrilled to “meet” someone, anyone—genealogist, historian, whoever—who still cares about these long-dead people that I’ve cared about. And if I can help you, I will, and I’m happy to.

1913 Flood Survivors: A Before and After

My goal in this post is to show you some cool “before” and “after” photos (or at least before OR after photos) of some survivors of Dayton’s 1913 flood—no, not people, but buildings! I thought it might be of interest to highlight some of Dayton’s older downtown buildings that “survived” the flood and (perhaps even more impressively) still survive today (i.e., they haven’t been torn down in the interest of so-called “progress”- but that’s a whole other entry).

But before I dive into the photographs, I wanted to address the radio silence of the past nearly two months. I suppose perhaps I was a little bit “blogged out” after writing a zillion (or so it seemed at the time) posts about the 1913 flood on the blogs at work: if you haven’t already done so, check them out on Wright State U. Archives’ Out of the Box blog and the Dayton Daily News Archive blog.

And on top of being “blogged out,” I had rather run out of steam on the whole topic of the 1913 flood (and still kinda am, though I’ve set it aside for you today because I don’t want to put it off any longer). I’m a little sick of talking about it, to be perfectly honest! I know, I know! That sounds horrible. But for about a month it seemed like I was eating, sleeping, and breathing the topic—ok, not really, of course—and I did that because it was an extremely important event in Dayton’s (even Ohio’s) history, and the commemoration of that event deserved my full attention and to be “done up right.” And so I did. (If you don’t believe me, see my previous entry.) And I don’t regret that. But…I’d really love to not talk about it anymore for a while.

After this entry, of course.

And so…onward, as promised, here are some of Dayton’s historic downtown buildings that survived the flood and that can still be seen today. So the next time you’re downtown and you see one of these, I want you to gaze up at it, appreciate the fact that it’s been there 100+ years, and maybe muse about how long it took to shovel all the flood mud out of it…

[All of the before/flood photos are courtesy of the Dayton Metro Library's Local History Room. You can see all their 1913 flood photos online. The present-day photos are courtesy of yours truly, unless otherwise stated. For all photos, you can click on the photo to go to the associated Flickr page with more info.]

Doubletree Hotel (southwest corner Third & Ludlow- it was the Algonquin Hotel in 1913)
Third Street Post Office (now the Federal Building, south side of Third St., between Ludlow & Wilkinson)

Algonquin Hotel 1913 (Dayton Metro Library, 1913 Flood postcard #37)

Algonquin Hotel & Post Office, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, 1913 Flood postcard #37)

For a current photo of the Doubletree Hotel, check out this photo taken in 2010 by Flickr user Flyer E901; if he gives me permission, I’ll img src it here instead of just linking… Don’t ask me why I don’t have a pic of the Doubletree myself; obviously I was right next to it when I took this picture of the Federal building:

Federal Building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Federal Building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Conover Building (southeast corner Third and Main)
Memorial Hall (northwest corner First and St. Clair)

You can see them both in this flood photo below. The Conover Building is the really tall  building near the center of the photo (not the one with the clock tower- that’s the Callahan Bank Building); Memorial Hall is the rounded topped building in the upper right of the frame.

Main Street in Dayton, 1913 (Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #806)

Main Street in Dayton, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #806)

And here are two more recent photos of the Conover Building and Memorial Hall:

Conover Building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Conover Building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Memorial Hall, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Memorial Hall, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Emmanuel Catholic Church (Washington St.)
Sacred Heart Catholic Church (northwest corner Fourth & Wilkinson)
Holy Trinity Catholic Church
(Fifth & Bainbridge)

I couldn’t find great flood photos of these, so you’ll have to trust me on this when I show you these pics of the steeples in the distance that that’s really what I’m showing you!

Okay, in the pic below you can see Emmanuel Catholic Church — the two very tall steeples on the right of the photo. And actually, I wasn’t even going to include Sacred Heart in this because I couldn’t find a pic, but I realized you can see it in this picture: it’s the low dome in between the tall towers of Emmanuel and the single campanile-looking tower of Union Station at the far right. (And somewhere, I know I’ve seen a great panorama of Dayton looking south from about Deeds Point, and you can see Sacred Heart plainly, but I can’t seem to find that. Maybe it wasn’t a flood pic…)

Looking north from the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #911)

Looking north from the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #911)

Here’s a recent photo of Emmanuel Catholic Church from Flickr’s catholicsanctuaries (used with permission):

Emmanuel Catholic Church (by catholicsanctuaries, 2012, used with permission)

Emmanuel Catholic Church (by catholicsanctuaries, 2012, used with permission)

And, in another “take my word for it” silhouette-type photo, here is Holy Trinity Church- the tall steeple rising up on the far right of the frame:

Fifth and Eagle Streets, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #996)

Fifth and Eagle Streets, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #996)

As for the “now” photo, I don’t seem to have a photo Holy Trinity (but here’s a  great one from Flickr user SyntheticTone).

But here’s one of mine showing Sacred Heart:

Sacred Heart Church, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Sacred Heart Church, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

These next three, the flood photos don’t show much of the building, so again you might have to take my word for it that it is where it says or that the building is in there somewhere (because I know it must be). The photos depict primarily the clean-up or debris.

It’s like people 100 years ago weren’t concerned that someday I might come along and wish I had flood photos of these building so I could write about it; how inconsiderate of them, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and not taking enough photos. (Although, really, there are QUITE a lot of photos, even during the actual flood, which when you think about it, is kind of amazing.)

Dayton Arcade (Third Street entrance, between Main & Ludlow)

The Arcade is the building on the right in the photo below. You can probably recognize some of the stonework from the facade.

Dayton Arcade, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Flood Postcard #39)

Dayton Arcade, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Flood Postcard #39)

Dayton Arcade, Third Street entrance, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Dayton Arcade, Third Street entrance, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Dayton Daily News building (northwest corner Fourth & Ludlow)

See that bright white building in the background that looks kind of like a bank (there’s a great historical explanation for that, btw- another time, perhaps), just to the left of that bally lamp post? Yeah, that’s the DDN building.

Debris on South Ludlow St, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #799)

Debris on South Ludlow St, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #799)

Dayton Daily News building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Dayton Daily News building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Not sure how much longer the DDN building will look like this, though, since it was recently announced that Sinclair Community College is planning to incorporate the block into some kind of dormitory project; allegedly, the original (bank-looking) portion of the DDN offices will be “preserved,” though. So if you haven’t seen it before, you should go see it ASAP before it changes too much!

Delco building(s) (E. First St., east of St. Clair, now part of Mendelson’s)

Okay, full disclosure: I’m not sure the two photos I’m showing here depict the same exact building. There were several Delco buildings around the same area, and the one in this flood photo may not be the same as the Mendelson’s one I’m showing next. But you get the idea…

Flood repairs at Delco, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #1074)

Flood repairs at Delco, 1913 (Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File #1074)

Mendelson's building, 2011 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Mendelson’s building, from the rooftop parking lot at the Reibold Building, 2011 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

And finally, last but not least, here are three more buildings that I couldn’t find before/flood photos for, but trust me, they were around during the 1913 flood, and they are still around today:

Old Court House (northwest corner Third and Main, built in 1850)

Old Court House, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Old Court House, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Victoria Theatre (southeast corner First & Main, built in 1866 & rebuilt a few times afterwards)

Victoria Theatre, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

Victoria Theatre, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

United Brethren Publishing House (northeast corner Fourth & Main, built in the late 19th century; now called the Centre City Building)

United Brethren Publishing House aka City Centre Building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

United Brethren Publishing House aka City Centre Building, 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

(You can also see the back of the UB Building in the background of my “now” photo of the Conover Building above.)


Well, there you go, folks- a little photo tour of downtown Dayton with emphasis on buildings that survived the 1913 flood (as well as humanity’s need for tearing down old buildings to build newer, usually uglier, ones). There are certainly others I could have chosen, most of them smaller and a little less grand, but there nonetheless.

Actually, here’s one such building (quite old), now that I think of it (a bonus!):

120 N. St. Clair St., 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

120 N. St. Clair St., 2012 (Photo by Lisa Rickey)

But I was trying to think of grandiose buildings that it would be easy to locate “before” (or flood) pictures of. I still seem to have failed at finding as many of those before photos as I really wanted, but nevertheless. It’s something. And I hope you enjoyed it.