Springfield summertime of 100 years ago full of curiosities

Finding the year to call that “good old summertime” is a bit like fishing. You stand on the dock whose wooden poles are sunk into the mud of your own time, cast a line into the passing river and wait.

For this second Sunday in July of 2014, I spun the reels of microfilm at the Clark County Public Library and landed on the second Sunday in July of 1914.

The worm of my curiosity began to wiggle, and soon there were nibbles.

Springfielders looking to stir a little history into their iced tea learned they could do so by stopping into Steele, Hopkins & Meredith Co. The dry goods dealer had 400 bags of refined sugar that had been among the 139,000 shipped as raw sugar the week before through the Panama Canal.

The “big ditch” wasn’t scheduled to open for regular business until Jan. 1, 1915, but something had to be on the barges that were part of the test run.

A little sweetener might have helped fans of the 1914 Champion City Reapers, whose 8-0 drubbing by the league leading Dayton that Saturday gave them their 50th loss against 31 wins, and a firm grip on last place.

Better sports news came from the rails of the race track at the county fairgrounds at the now Davey Moore Park. There, the trotter Grace Hussey was turning laps that had earned her not only a picture in the paper but a spot in upcoming money races at Toledo and Lima.

Meanwhile, back on the streets of the Champion City, leaders were trying to slow down boys and men mounted on bicycles.

The city commission had directed Police Chief R.E. O’Brien to enforce laws against bicycles running people off the sidewalks.

The report told the harrowing tale of a man who left the front gate of his home and dodged down the walk, ending up in the street, where more hazards lurked.

“As he started across the street, two Italian banana men, thinking that he wanted to buy bananas, started for him with their carts.

“Escaping the Italians,” the story continued, “the man … was brought up sharp by the ‘honk, honk’ of an automobile.”

The story doesn’t mention the model of car, but the classified advertisements of that Sunday list three for sale:

•A 1914 Hudson six-cylinder Roadster with wire wheels and seat covers (presumably not wire), electric starter and lights for $1,250;

•A repaired and rebuilt Springfield-made Westcott Roadster for $675, and

•A rebuilt Mitchell truck with good tires and a load capacity of 1,500 pounds for $500.

As those were being offered for sale, the paper reported the recent thefts of vehicles that used traditional horsepower.

The most offensive seemed to be the disappearance of R.W. Binns’ horse and buggy, which had been taken Saturday from in front of the Central Methodist Church at Center and High streets.

To add insult to injury, “Binns and a friend each had their Sunday dinners in the rig at the time it was taken.”

The city was trying to guard the food eaten by many of its residents who shopped at the City Market, where a fly on the wall would have been in the minority.

“The city has had all of the doors and windows in the market house screened. It is now up to the holders of the stands and stalls … to do their share in protecting the goods offered for sale.”

In an era in which a few people had taken flight and in which horses, automobiles and bicycles were vying for space on the nation’s roadways, coal remained king as a source for energy.

So Springfielders thinking of the cold of winter greeted as good news the front-page story reporting that 20,000 of Ohio’s 40,000 striking coal miners were heading back to work.

Meeting in Columbus, the United Mine Workers of District No. 8 had ratified an agreement with scale that provided for “47 and 67.6 cents a ton respectively for machine and pick-mined coal.”

A hundred summers before one in which the Washington Redskins find themselves under pressure to change their team name, Springfielders read a front-page story about President Woodrow Wilson’s pardon of the Blackfoot leader Spo-Pe, who had spent 33 years in prison for a revenge killing the report said he committed “so that the souls of his mother, father and a score of his people might find rest in the happy hunting grounds, whither they had been hurried by a troop of United States cavalrymen.”

The sympathetic report said “Mrs. George Hamilton, a little Blackfoot squaw, was principally instrumental in bringing to the knowledge of those in authority the story of (Spo-Pe’s) woes and in arousing from its long lethargy the dormant memory of the days that used to be, before the white man had taken almost all the Indian’s hunting ground in the West.”

Attitudes toward women also appeared to be changing in 1914.

The Springfield school board was adopting a new policy to put its four women principals on the same salary schedule as men and announced that “those on the faculty of the high school will be placed upon an equal salary basis with the male teachers holding like positions.”

The forward-looking nature of the community, which had just relinquished its gold cup as the best small city on the continent, was also reflected by sentiment in favor of the vote for women. “Clark County secured more than the number of signers asked by the headquarters form the county,” the paper said.

Still, men were men, and 10 men in the Robbins & Myers mechanical department were gearing up for an epic tug of war against 10 men from the electrical department in a rematch of a contest that had ended in a draw the previous summer after an hour’s struggle.

The Ohio Electric railway had set aside 40 large passenger cars and “as many baggage cars as are necessary” to haul R&M employees to the company picnic at Neff Park south of the city.

Proud of their other athletic feats, 1,000 R&M men were planning to don their white, black and gold shop colors for the event.

To underscore the drama of the tug-of-war rematch, the paper said “over a ton of the finest physical manhood ever put on exhibition is represented by the ten men on each side.”

Although a company nurse would be standing by, the company promised there would be no draw.

Finally, the paper reported that city elder statesman and war hero, Gen. J. Warren Keifer, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was leaving that Thursday for Hoboken, N.J., his first stop on a visit to Stockholm as a lifetime member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union for Peace.

The gathering of “delegates all of the civilized nations of the world, about 48 in all” was set for late August.

The meeting was, alas, too late, in that good old summertime.

By the Tuesday following the second Sunday of July, Europe was itself being tugged into a real war, a devastating conflict that only later would be called World War I.

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