Tag Archives: exhibits

Un-Review of Dayton Art Institute’s 1913 Flood Exhibition

[I hate the term “review.” It has this overtone, like if you’re not sufficiently critical, you haven’t really “reviewed” the thing. So this is not a review in that sense. It’s “I experience this super-cool thing, and I want to share it with you,” whatever that’s called.]

Last Thursday, February 21, was a busy but fun day for me. After the Miami Valley Archives Roundtable meeting, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend a special preview of the Dayton Art Institute‘s new exhibition commemorating the centennial of the Great 1913 Flood: Storm, Watershed, & Riverbank.

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute - Storm--Watershed--Riverbank

Dayton Art Institute – Storm–Watershed–Riverbank

(The 1913 Flood was a defining moment in the Miami Valley’s history. It was a horrible disaster, but it ultimately led to flood control measures that have successfully averted such a thing happening again: the creation of the Miami Conservancy District. To learn more about the flood, check out 1913flood.com or even Wikipedia for a basic overview.)

The exhibition consists of three parts:

  • Storm: Paintings by April Gornik
  • Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River
  • Riverbank: Exploring Our River-Centered Development

Storm: Paintings by April Gornik, consisted of several large scale (we’re talking LARGE scale, like 6 feet by 8 feet!) paintings depicting various kinds of storms, weather, and other natural waters. They were really beautiful. You can see many of April’s paintings on her web site, although my favorite one from the exhibit, “Light Passing” (1987), doesn’t seem to be on there.

After a transitional area showing three enlarged lantern slide views of the flood, as well as a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad map with notations about flood damage, we embarked upon the second part of the exhibition: Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River.

The Watershed exhibit consists of “before” and “after” photographs showing a scene from the flood, paired with a recent photograph taken at the same location and angle. The photos showed scenes from Piqua all the way down the Great Miami River to Hamilton.

The “before” photographs had been gathered, enlarged, and reproduced from the collections of many Miami Valley archival repositories, including Wright State University Special Collections & Archives, Dayton Metro Library, and many others. (I gleefully recognized many of the Dayton photos!)

The “after” photographs were created by Dayton photographer Andy Snow, who created more than 5,000 digital files for this project.

Andy Snow

Photographer Andy Snow giving us insights to help us more fully appreciate his photos.

Mr. Snow was present on the tour to share his insights about the photos and the project. He shared lots of interesting stories and pointed out details that helped us more fully appreciate what we were seeing. He told us that he manipulated some of the photos slightly in order to make them “pop and sing,” saying, “I like singing photographs.” 🙂  He also gave us some historical context, including a lesson in historical photography equipment (examples of which is included in the exhibit) and the reasons why in old photos, the sky looks gray. He also referred to Dayton as “the Silicon Valley of the time,” in explaining why its destruction was such major nationwide news.

Angela Manuszak of the Miami Conservancy District, who was integral to the project, was also present on the tour and also gave us great historical context to help us better understand and appreciate what we were seeing.

Angela Manuszak

Angela Manuszak of Miami Conservancy District sharing snipptes of the flood story to help give us context.

For instance, she pointed out that there are no known photographs of the river’s cresting in Dayton because it happened in the middle of the night. She also said that the Miami Conservancy District was the largest privately-funded infrastructure project in the world at the time; it was designed to protect against a flood equivalent to 140% of what the 191 3 flood was! (And it has worked!)

Here are a few pictures to give you a taste of the Watershed exhibit. (And I apologize that these are not the greatest — I’m no professional photographer, and my little pocket camera can’t even begin to do these things justice anyway. That’s why it’s really just a taste, even of these very photos, because the real ones look so much more amazing. Oh and also – Mr. Snow said it was OK for us to take pictures! Plus, I like to think I’ll make you want to visit and see the rest, if I show you a few ideas of what you’ll find.)

Dayton Before and After the Flood

Before and After view from the hill where Dayton Art Institute is today. (Yes, it’s blurry; it’s not your eyes.) This pair was just awesome. You’ve got to see it!

lantern slides

Some of the 72 original hand-tinted lantern slides on exhibit from the Miami Conservancy District’s collection.

Everett Neukom's Beaver Power Building photo

Everett Neukom’s Beaver Power Building photo (This was one of my favorite pairs, too, because I recognized the photo on the right immediately as one taken by Everett Neukom- it came from our Neukom collection at WSU.)

Near the end of the Watershed exhibit, there was a sitting area with the chairs pointed at a large flat-screen TV that was showing the Before/After photos fading into one another. I almost walked right by it, thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen this,” but after my brief conversation with Mr. Snow, he encouraged me to check it out, that it gave a little different perspective on the photos. And it really did: in some cases the photos were framed so perfectly that when the Before faded into the After, certain details that existed in both photos (like a church steeple, for instance) were lined up perfectly. It was almost like that part of the photo was simply turning color and having its surroundings changed, while it remained the same. VERY COOL. Thanks, Mr. Snow, for encouraging me to take a second look at that– it really was worth it. Plus, hey, it gave me an excuse to sit for a minute.

Also in talking to Mr. Snow, I asked if these were the same photos that will be featured in the 1913 Flood before/after book that I’ve been hearing about — the real title of which I couldn’t remember at the time, but which is, for your information A Flood of Memories–One Hundred Years After the Flood: Images from 1913 and Today. The answer was, yes, but only about 1/2 the images in the book were featured in the exhibit. So there’s MORE. Yay!  He said the book should soon be available for sale in the book stores at Dayton Art Institute and Carillon Park (which incidentally also has a new permanent exhibit on the 1913 Flood opening March 23).

The third part of the exhibition, Riverbank: Exploring Our River-Centered Development, had maps and sketches and sallelite images showing the development of the Great Miami River corridor over the years. The giant satellite map was pretty awesome. And I also enjoyed seeing a publication from the 1960s of proposed development of the river area near where Sinclair currently is– apparently, they wanted to put some kind of stadium or theater there at one point. (It’s always fun to see those architects’ or city planners’ renderings of proposed building projects from Back in the Day that never quite came to pass, knowing what’s there now.) There was also an interactive component with a big map of downtown Dayton and an invitation to answer the question “What would entice you to spend the day on the river?” on a Post-It Note and stick it to the map. (I admit I didn’t do this part; I was already late for a reception I was supposed to be attending upstairs, because I just couldn’t tear myself away from the photos…)

The Storm, Watershed, & Riverbank exhibition runs February 23 through May 5, 2013, and museum admission is $12. If you are interested in a visual history of the 1913 Flood, you don’t want to miss this. It was absolutely amazing.

[In addition to the official exhibition info on the Dayton Art Institute site, you might also be interested in this article from the Dayton Daily News: “Dayton Art Museum to Commemorate Historic Flood in New Exhibit,” 17 Feb. 2013.]

Civil War case exhibit, Vallandingham and Schenck

As I wrote last week, we have a Civil War case exhibit up in Local History Room at the Dayton Metro Library (Main) right now. One part of the case exhibit focuses on Robert C. Schenck (below, upper left) and Clement Vallandingham (below, upper right):

Civil War Exhibit, Local History Room

Civil War Exhibit, Local History Room

(For a better look at both of the above photos, see Dayton Remembers for Schenck and Vallandingham.)

Robert C. Schenck and Clement Vallandingham were important public figures in Dayton during the Civil War era. (Hence, their inclusion in our exhibit!) As a matter of fact, many eyes were on these men — not just in Dayton, but (in the case of at least one of them) across the country.

By the Fall of 1862, Vallandingham had served as U.S. Congressman for Ohio’s Third District, which included (and still does) Dayton, for more than 4 years. Vallandingham’s name was quite well-known throughout the country, as he was one of the leaders of the “Peace Democrats,” more commonly known as “Copperheads” — Democrats who opposed the Civil War.

In 1862, Schenck was a former U.S. Congressman (Whig) for the Third District and was serving as a Union general. That fall, he ran for re-election (as the Republican candidate) for Third District Congressman against the incumbent Vallandingham.

According to Wikipedia, Schenck was “elected by a large majority.” While that may be true (I could not lay hands on the complete election returns), the majority of Montgomery County actually supported Vallandingham, 4972-4607 (a difference of 365 votes). Just an interesting tidbit. Some have said that Schenck only won because Warren County (mostly Republican and also Schenck’s home county) had recently been added to the Third District. It has also been claimed that the Republicans cheated in various ways (see Kokkinou, pp. 138-139).

In any event, the short version is that Schenck defeated Vallandingham for the Congressional seat. (But if you’re reading me, you didn’t honestly expect just the “short version,” did you?)

I recently found a few interesting references to the 1862 election in the collection I am processing (MS-018, Forrer-Peirce-Wood — hopefully to be completed and ready for use very soon!).

Henry Eugene Parrott, age 23 and one of the youngest in a reasonably well-off Dayton family (and whose brother Edwin was a colonel commanding the 1st O.V.I. at the time), wrote in his diary on election day, October 14, 1862:

Spent the day pretty closely in the office, and the evening on the street gathering news about the election. Somebody is elected now, and for the honor of the third district I hope it is Gen. Schenck.

The following day, October 15, 1862, Parrott wrote:

The district has come out nobly, and repudiated the traitor Vallandingham, by 1000 to 1200 or more votes. Warren helped us out handsomely. We hoped to beat Val in his old district, but are glad to beat him under any circumstances…

Parrott mentions Schenck a few other times during the course of his year-long diary. It seems that he knew the Schenck family fairly well, on multiple occasions he mentioned that he had visited them or attended a party at their house.

Other sources from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection mention General Schenck but not in such a favorable light.

On September 21, 1862, Sarah Forrer wrote to her grown daughters Mary and Augusta about Schenck’s recent injury (his right arm was seriously wounded in the Second Battle of Bull Run, Aug. 30th.):

Lucky hit, was it not? to gain him a seat in Congress and a Major Gen’s commission. I am sorry I feel so cross but I cannot well help it when I see how artfully he keeps himself before the public.

Ouch! Those are definitely the words of someone who strongly dislikes the guy. Schenck did receive a commission to major general after that battle (on Sept. 18th), and he also received the Republican nomination for Third District Congressman, over (Sarah writes) a man named Craighead [probably Dayton attorney Samuel Craighead] who apparently expected to get it.

She goes on:

In the mean time, our people seem to have grave fears that Vallandingham will be re-elected. So many of our men are away.

Several members of Sarah’s family were serving in the Civil War, including a son, a son-in-law, and a nephew. When she says “our people” she must mean those who support the war. And when she says “our men,” I assume she is referring to the fact that so many war supporters are soldiers who are away and might not be able to vote.

In a letter to her daughter Mary on October 15, the day after the election, Sarah wrote:

This evening the town is full of bonfires and there is great rejoicing over Val’s defeat. I too am glad he did not succeed, but sorry we had not a better man to vote for. I believe we might have elected another as easily perhaps more so. Uncle John [Sarah’s brother John Howard, a Dayton lawyer] worked pretty hard, and Father [Sarah’s husband Samuel Forrer] voted the whole [Republican] ticket. It was a bitter pill, but he swallowed it. And now, the scoundrel [Schenck] has got in to warm by the fire, after being ‘out in the cold’ so long. I feel we shall never get shot of him. Brooks came to John, and said, ‘You won’t vote for S. [Schenck] after his telling you so many lies and treating Mr. F. [Forrer] in the way he did?’ John answered, ‘I will not vote for any man who is opposed to the war.’ I hear they calculated on John and Father too. Ann says Mr. Odlin did not vote for S. and would not help either by speaking or by money. He says S. has treated him meanly, and he cannot do anything for him. I would tell you much more than I can write. I thought Luther would like to hear a little of the news. I was glad he did not have to vote for the scamp.

Sarah’s son-in-law, Luther Bruen, was stationed in New York with the 12th U.S. Infantry at the time, which – as Sarah points out – made him blissfully free of the need to decide whether to vote for the Copperhead Vallandingham or for the “scamp” Schenck.

It is interesting the way she writes of their family’s dislike for Schenck. It seems to stem from some personal offense, but unfortunately she does not elaborate about what the offense actually was.

I thought perhaps it might have something to do with Schenck’s previous terms in Congress, in relation to the the Miami-Erie Canal, of which Samuel Forrer was one of the main engineers (from the 1820s-1870s). Schenck had previously chaired the U.S. Congress Committee on Roads and Canals from 1847-1849 and was involved in some other canal-related matters. However, all the sources I’ve found show Schenck as a supporter of the canals.

I do suspect the offense is probably related in some way to Schenck’s and Forrer’s interactions regarding the canals. There are a few letters between the two in the collection, but nothing to shed any light on any sleight or disagreement. I’ll probably never know what it was. But it definitely piqued my curiosity, that’s for sure!

The last thing I want to point out about Sarah’s letter is the quotation she attributes to her brother John Howard, when asked how he could vote for Schenck after what he’d done (whatever it was) to the Forrers. He essentially stated that he did not support Schenck so much as he opposed Vallandingham: “I will not vote for any man who is opposed to the war.”

John’s eldest son William, a young man of about 21 years old, had recently enlisted in the 17th Ohio Light Artillery Battery.  About the same time, Sarah’s only son Howard began recruiting with the 112th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and her son-in-law Luther Bruen was already serving in the 12th U.S. Infantry. Another Howard cousin had died from his war wounds earlier in the year.

Then, as now, families with loved ones in the service find it pretty difficult to support candidates who don’t support “the war”. In their eyes, not to support the war, is not to support the soldiers, their sons (and today, also daughters). They have to believe that their sacrifices are for a good cause.

So, to the Forrer and Howard families, to vote for Schenck might have been “a bitter pill” (for reasons I may never know!), but to vote for Vallandingham was simply not an option.



Vallandingham was eventually arrested (on grounds of “disloyalty”) by General Burnside in May 1863, prompting an angry mob (presumably of Vallandingham-supporting Democrats) to burn down the Dayton Journal office (the Republican newspaper in town). Val (as many called him) was exiled to Canada, where he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio in 1863. He did eventually return to the U.S., dying in Lebanon, Ohio, in 1871. If you are interested in the details about Vallandingham, I recommend Frank Klement’s The Limits of Dissent (which you can also see is in our exhibit case).

Schenck remained in Congress until he lost the 1870 election. In 1871, he was made U.S. Minister to England. He was involved in a bit of a scandal in regards to that position, which caused him some shame, but unfortunately that does not explain why the Forrer family already disliked him (for seemingly personal reasons) in 1862. If you are interested in Schenck’s life, you should definitely come down to the Dayton Metro Library and look at The Political Career of Robert Cumming Schenck, a master’s thesis by Epiphanie Kokkinou, or at our Robert C. Schenck manuscript collection (MS-032).



Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018). Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.

Klement, Frank L. The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandingham & the Civil War. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.

Kokkinou, Epiphanie Clara. “The Political Career of Robert Cumming Schenck.” Thesis (M.A.), Miami University, 1955.

Schenck, Robert C., Collection (MS-032). Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.

The manuscript collections discussed here are publicly available for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

Civil War case exhibit, Bickham’s cartes de visite album

If you are interested in the Civil War and have a few minutes, please stop by the Local History Room at the Dayton Metro Library (in the basement at Main). We currently have a case exhibit (well, three cases, actually) showcasing Civil War materials from the Dayton Collection. The exhibit will be up through the end of 2011.

This is my favorite portion of the exhibit:

Civil War Exhibit, Local History Room

Civil War Exhibit, Local History Room

The young man in uniform on the upper right is Howard Forrer; the shoulder boards were his. You’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the future. (I haven’t forgotten that I promised to tell you some Civil War stories; it’s just that they’re still “stewing” and haven’t fully formed yet.)

The copy of the Dayton Daily Journal (May 6, 1863) is the first issue published by W. D. Bickham after taking over as editor of the paper, following the burning of the Journal office by a mob in response to the arrest of Copperhead leader (and Daytonian) Clement Vallandingham. (There is actually a picture of him in the case as well; I’ll share a little more about him in another post, in a day or two.)

Last but certainly not least, you’ll notice the large album at the bottom of the photo. This album belonged to W. D. Bickham and contains cartes de visite he collected during the Civil War era, many depicting famous politicians and generals. For instance, the page currently open shows off a photo of none other than President Abraham Lincoln, plus Generals Winfield Scott, Philip Sheridan, and George Thomas (all 3 on the opposite page).

The Bickham cartes de visite album is from the Bickham Collection (MS-017), which I processed. This was my first experience with this type of archival item. Obviously, I had seen cartes de visite before. I recognized them as a small, mid-19th-century type of albumen photograph. But as yet, I had only worked with family photo collections wherein all the cartes de visite were from friends or relatives. But this had to be something different; the majority of the images in the album are of famous people like Lincoln, Sheridan, Bragg, John Clem (aka Johnny Shiloh), just to name a few. While Bickham did have many famous (or later-famous) contacts due to his profession as a journalist, I seriously doubted that he had been given all of these photos personally.

As it turns out, it was extremely common during that era for people to collect cartes de visite in a manner similar to how one might collect baseball cards. The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian has an excellent blog post [“Civil War Portraits: Where Personal and Public Meet,” Oct. 3, 2011] discussing this practice. They also have a YouTube video [“Civil War Portraits: Personal and Public,” Sept. 25, 2011] to go along with it. This was a great help to me in understanding what I was actually looking at, in the case of the Bickham Album.

I hope you’ll come down and see us and check out our exhibit. Although the Bickham Album is currently on display in a locked case, you can browse its contents online anytime on our Flickr page. I scanned each individual photo and added them to the set Bickham Civil War Album. There are several unidentified individuals — probably famous politicians or generals that I just don’t happen to recognize (we can’t all know everything!) — so if you see any marked unidentified and know who it is, please leave a comment to help us out.

The collections discussed here are publicly available for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

The Bickham Civil War Album is from the Bickham Collection (MS-017). The Howard Forrer photograph is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018). Other items shown are from various parts of the Dayton Collection; contact librarian (i.e., me, or the library!) for info on specific items.

Oh! One more thing:  Just so you know, I did not create this Civil War exhibit, although I did suggest the inclusion of the Bickham scrapbook and the Howard Forrer photo and shoulder boards. The majority of the exhibit (like, 99%!) was done by our lovely and talented Local History Specialist, Nancy Horlacher. The other two cases, which I have not photographed, include materials pertaining to the Dayton Soldiers’ Home and the 131st O.V.I. (a regiment made up primarily of men from Dayton).