Stafford: The Dome’s Class of 1911 had its prophesies and realities

I like rooting out words.

But last week, while digging around the Latin term tempus fugit, I realized how much I have in common with the heavyweight champion of today’s punch-drunk idiots: Captain Obvious.

“Yes, Admiral Obvious,” a voice told me, “fugit in is the root word of ‘fugitive.’

“And if you had bothered to look sometime before your fifth decade as a supposed journalist, you would long since have learned that the tempus fugit translates not only as “time flies” but “time flees – flees from us all like a fugitive from justice.

Two things led me to hear this voice: 1. The realization that 50 falls have fled since my arrival on the campus of Wittenberg University. 2. I’ve been reading the 1911 edition of Springfield High School yearbook, the Herald.

The Class of 1911, which would be celebrating its 111st class reunion this fall, didn’t spend much time in the school, which was being finished that year. It nonetheless was the first class to have its commencement exercises in the building now called The Dome on June 22 of that year.

The Herald’s school dedication edition tells us it’s the dome Dayton architect Albert Pretzinger intended “slightly to reproduce that of the Library of Congress.”

It poetically adds that the dome “sheds light down to a museum 62 by 92 feet, the only room on the third floor, and through an oblong opening in the floor … to the smaller assembly or lecture room.” The result: “A striking effect and upward view from this point.”

More striking to my mind was the light Katherine H. Folckemer sheds on that time in her Prophecy for the Class of 1911.

“Our war with Japan will continue three years – from 1925 to 1928 – and will be, generally a naval war,” she tells us.

“The fight will be pretty evenly matched until Canada, who will have been watching for an opportunity to rebel against the power of England, will ally herself with our cause.”

The prediction continues like a drunken game of Risk.

“England will lend her aid to Japan who, with the addition of the former’s huge army, will be much stronger than our own forces and will begin to devastate our coasts.”

After the war, she said, the Class of 1911′s “Noble Wilt, as civil engineer, will superintend the rebuilding of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

That would occur after the Class of 1911′ would save the day – with a Folckemer prediction what was on target: Just when affairs of the United States are in bad condition, Charles Kay will invent a device employing the concentration of radium upon one point, and by this invention, the fleets of England and Japan will be destroyed by the explosions of their own ammunition.”

Clearly the weapon is close enough to an atomic bomb to earn Miss Folckemer some extra points in science class.

Among Folckemer’s wholly incorrect predictions was that her class’s Robert “Bob” Tuttle would become a prize fighter. But the real story of Bob Tuttle, who had a hand in building the school, gives us firmer ground for understanding the years during which the Class of 1911 watched time flee.

Rob, Tom and Curt Tuttle now all in their 70s, said their grandfather co-founded the Tuttle Brothers auto parts store with brother Millard at an ideal time in automotive history, 1917.

A Springfield newspaper of the day reports: “These two brothers have bult up one of the finest accessory and tire businesses in the city … and consider the outlook for the future of the automobile industry bright, despite the prevailing war conditions.” That was not, of course, a war with Japan, but World War I.

The younger brothers Tuttle say their grandfather and his brother likely had some financial backing from in-laws and acted on the advice of Edward Wren, the department store founder founder, who gave Robert a buffalo robe after travelling west.

.Robert and Millard’s grandfather, Caleb, had worked for Wren, and both men may have taken a special interest in the boys for good reason.

Millard, Robert and their older sister, Mary, lost their father in 1892 the day after he was kicked in the heart by a horse, an occupational hazard of that time. Robert was still their mother’s womb, and their mother moved the family to Springfield. There, death would visit again a few years later when Mary died of typhoid fever, a common killer of pre-antibiotic era, at just 13.

While Millard went to Selma High School. Robert likely went to Springfield’s Southern School, which was on the grounds of the current Dome. The building was relocated to make room for the Dome’s construction.

After high school, Robert went on to then Wittenberg College and in 1915 marked his graduation by buying an Indian motorcycle and traveling to Washington state. His grandfather Caleb said Robert showed the close devotion he would have to his future wife Angie Woolsey, by writing her a letter every day of the journey.

" Angie, inherited a farm in Madison County from her father when he passed away in the early 1930s. Robert A. centered almost if not entirely his whole life around the farm and the Tuttle Bros,” the current Robert writes. “He was an early to rise (4 a.m.) type. He was highly intelligent and was a talented carpenter and mechanical drawer.

“He was friendly to all, but had few if any close friends. Brother Millard was the social, outgoing member of the duo. Millard being the eldest was president of the company and Robert A. was the vice president.”

The two, he was told, never raised their voices to one another in anger.

The former stables at the corner of Spring and Main streets proved an ideal location for the business, though the building, which housed the city’s first tavern and gathering place, did not last.

In 1924, perhaps while a neighboring building was being torn down, the second floor collapsed, killing one person and leaving the rest shaken, including Millard, who was in the basement at the time.

When they built the store, Robert and Angie’s first son, Robert Frank Tuttle, was 4 years old, and the steady growth of automobile traffic had the company using its expanded facilities to park cars for overnight visitors at the Bancroft and Shawnee hotels.

Robert F. followed his father in graduating from Springfield High School and, in 1942, Wittenberg College, where he, too, pledge the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. His wife,

Younger Robert already been working with the company when he entered the Navy in 1942. He would be among the many children of the Class of 1911 to fight in the actual war against Japan. He married his Wittenberg Ruth and, upon his return, worked at Tuttle Brothers until his retirement in 1982.

During the post-war prosperity, the company, which at one time had 40 employees, dealt in trailers, tents and camping gear for those traveling on U.S. 40, the old National Road. Others, of course, stayed in the motor hotels – motels – here and elsewhere.

Robert F’s three boys remember from their early days their Great Uncle Millard making them slingshots and painting the faces on walnuts to pass the time. They remember, too, Millard’s poor aim when near the spittoon and their grandpa using jelly as a condiment on his ham sandwich.

The boys were delivering auto parts to car dealerships around town during their formative years, and by the time they took over the business. a new phase in the auto industry had arrived.

Said Tom, the youngest: “What really made our generation profitable, we were specialized in carburetion. And with the fuel emission and pollution control, that was our main bailiwick.”

It’s interesting to think of that period as an initial foray in the battle against global warming.

Tuttle Brothers did business in a roughly 25-mile radius, serving London, Jamestown, South Charleston, Cedarville. Fairborn and Mechanicsburg.

Tom was president and treasure ; Rob, vice president; and Curt, the baby, secretary. The three also stayed connected with Wren’s, and when the store remodeled, ferried the globe lights the store no longer used into their store.

Another feature of the boys’ years at Tuttle Brothers were the number of cars that came into the building as the result of collisions at Main and Spring streets, incidents document in newspaper photos.

While they were happy to have their children work at the store, when they closed in 2007, after 90 years of operation, Tom, Rob and Curt all were glad their children weren’t in the business.

Their grandfather’s intense devotion to his wife paired with his introversion to give his life a sad ending.

As those who knew him predicted, he had a hard time carrying on, particularly when, like the grandfather he never knew, he was injured at work.

As Rob writes in his note to the family: “In October of 1965, he had a fall at the store and broke both of his shoulders. He then went to a rest home for the remainder of his years. Your great-grandfather said he gave up all thoughts of wanting to live. He was no longer interested in anything, not even the store was of concern to him.

“I remember visiting him at the nursing home and how melancholy he would be. He was not able to go to your grandma’s and my wedding on Dec. 20, 1969. However, we made our first stop after the wedding before going to the reception to see him. In June of 1970 he passed away.”

But when time had finally escaped him, the remains of his days still were what most of us who watch time flee would hope for: A legacy of a business that was right for its time, and the regard of grandsons who had worked in it.

As Rob writes: " I loved your great-grandpa and have so many wonderful memories of him.”

Tom Stafford is a columnist for the Springfield News-Sun.

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