Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are You An Ohio "Weather Bug"? Take The Ohio Severe Weather Quiz

For Ohioans, weather has always been a topic of conversation - perhaps, more so than other states. The great variation in Ohio's weather frequently leaves us complaining of days that are too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. And, always in the depths of winter, weather seems to be on the minds of everyone as we deal with ice, freezing rain, fog, snow, and rapid fluctuations in temperature. While Mother Nature is often kind to us, Ohio has had its share of catastrophic weather events and extremes.

To see how you fare on knowledge of Ohio's weathered past, take the quiz below.

1. What and where was Ohio's deadliest tornado?

2. Ohio was one of 13 states hit by the infamous "Tornado Super Outbreak" when 148 tornadoes ripped through the Midwest, leaving a 2,500-mile path of destruction in just 6 hours. In what year did the "Tornado Super Oubreak" occur and which Ohio city was hit hardest?

3. What was the highest temperature ever recorded in Ohio?

4. What was the lowest temperature ever recorded in Ohio?

5. The greatest accumulation of snow from a single snowstorm event occurred during a 6-day lake effect snowstorm that began on November 9, 1996 and continued through November 14. Where did the record accumulation occur?

6. In what year did the worst blizzard in Ohio occur?

7. Has Ohio ever been the center of an earthquake?

8. Each year Ohio averages just over 3 feet of precipitation. What was the wettest year on record? What was the driest year on record?

9. Ohio has had at least a dozen severe floods. Which was the most deadly?

10. What was the deadliest storm to ever hit Lake Erie?

Check Your Answers Below:

1. Ohio's deadliest tornado occurred June 28, 1924 when a twister hit the Lorain and Sandusky area, killing 85 people. It ranks 22nd on the list of the "U.S. Top 25 Deadliest Tornadoes."

Tornado Aftermath along Waterfront at Sandusky, Ohio
(Charles E. Frohman Collection)

2. The "Tornado Super Outbreak" took place on April 3 and 4 in 1974. One of the most intense tornadoes hit Xenia, killing 41 people and injuring another 2,000.

Aftermath of Xenia, Ohio Tornado of 1974
(Courtesy of Ohio History Central)

3. The thermostat soared to 113 degrees on July 21, 1934 at Gallipolis, Ohio.

4. The temperature plummeted to 39 degrees below zero on February 10, 1899, at Milligan, Ohio.

5. Hampden Township in Geauga County recorded 68.9 inches of snow during the six-day lake effect snowstorm of 1996.

6. You guessed it. It was the Blizzard of 1978. The storm that hit Ohio on January 26 is often called the "Storm of the Century." Fifty-one Ohioans died and hundreds of thousands were without fuel, food, and electricity.

7. In January 1986 a magnituide 5.0 earthquake centered in Lake County shook northeastern Ohio, cracking plaster and breaking windows.

8. Ohio's wettest year was 1990 with 51.38 inches. Ohio's driest year was 1930 with 26.59 inches.

9. The flood that struck the Great Miami and Scioto River Valley and killed more than 467 people was the deadliest. It occurred Easter weekend in 1913. Flooding and devastation was statewide.

Flood of 1913
(Charles E. Frohman Collection)

10. The deadliest and most destructive storm to ever hit Lake Erie was the Great Lakes Storm of 1913. Called the "Big Blow," the "White Hurricane" or the "Freshwater Fury, the storm that hit the Great Lakes" packed hurricane-force winds, killing 250 people and destroying 19 ships

If you would like to know more about Ohio's weather, check out the Ohio Historical Society's Severe Weather web page.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Madame Marie Selika: First African American to Perform at the White House

Madame Marie Selika Williams

When President Teddy Roosevelt invited the Tuskegee educator Booker T. Washington to the White House in 1901, there was a storm of media protest. But years earlier, the first African Americans had been invited to the White House without incident. Introduced to President Rutherford B. and First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes by Frederick Douglass, soprano Madame Marie Selika, known as the "Queen of Staccato" became the first African American to perform at the White House. On the evening of November 13, 1878 Marie Selika and her husband, opera singer Sampson Williams, entertained the President and the First Lady and their guests in the Green Room. Her performance included Verdi's "Ernami, Involami," Thomas Moore's "The Last Rose of Summer." "Ave Maria," and Richard Mullard's "Staccato Polka." Williams then sang "Far Away" for the more than fifteen guests who had been invited by the Hayeses to join them that evening.

The following year, First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes accepted Madame Selika's invitation to attend her concert at St. Luke's Protestant Episcopal Church. (It would be another 17 years before another First Lady attended an African American church.) After separating from St. Mary's, a mission church, St. Luke's became the first independent African American church in Washington, D. C. Madame Selika's performance was in support of the construction of the new church built in 1880 on 15th Street NW.

St. Luke's Protestant Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.

Born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1849, Marie moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio shortly after her birth. Through the patronage of a wealthy benefactor, she began studying music as a child. Selika eventually moved to San Francisco where she studied with Signora Bianchi. In 1876, Marie made her debut as a concert soprano. Following her White House performance, Selika toured the nation, performing for all-black audiences. During her career, she made two European tours that included command performances for Queen Victoria at St. James Hall.

A leading soprano, Selika nevertheless, did not reach her full potential because of racial prejudice. During the 1890s, she opened a music studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Following her husband's death in 1911, Selika retired from the stage. At the age of 67, she accepted a teaching position at the Martin-Smith School of Music in New York, one of the most important musical institutions for African Americans in the United States. Madame Marie Selika Williams died in New York in 1937.

Monday, January 5, 2009

All of Life Was a Stage for Margaret Stahl

As the curtain came down, Margaret Stahl savored the applause one last time. It would be the final performance of her professional career. Her thrilling, one-woman dramatic portrayals had captivated America’s small town audiences for nearly three decades.

Born shortly after the Civil War on a farm near Fremont, Ohio, Margaret discovered her love of acting on a Cleveland stage. Following training at a Boston dramatic school, she found her niche on the Chautauqua Circuit, an organization that brought both entertainment and enlightenment to millions of rural Americans.

Founded in 1874 in western New York at Lake Chautauqua, the Chautauqua Circuit offered cultural and religious programs that brought renewal of the mind, body, and spirit. It was an instant success. Tents sprang up across the United States. For many small town Americans, the advent of summer meant the arrival of the “big brown Chautauqua tent.” Beneath the canvas, families and communities gathered to enjoy plays, operas, symphonies and lectures on health, travel, and politics. President Teddy Roosevelt called Chautauqua “the most American thing in America.”

Margaret was a perfect fit for the Chautauqua Circuit. Bright, charming, and talented, she thrilled crowds with gripping performances. Her talent was matched only by her hard work. Whether using simple props or elaborate costumes for roles such as “Madame Butterfly” (see photo), Margaret brought life and a vivid reality to each of her characters. Critics praised her artistry, voice, and ability to perform each part from memory. Propelled to the top of her profession, Margaret became a headliner and in constant demand at Chautauqua assemblies, campuses, and local theaters across the nation.

But times changed. radio and the automobile ended the isolation that many American families felt. With the onset of the Great Depression, attendance at Chautauquas began to wane. In 1930, Margaret retired and returned to Fremont where she lived out the remainder of her life.

Margaret Stahl was grateful for her years in the limelight, her financial success, and memories of a life lived to the fullest. She had lived her dream and, as she told one reporter, “I have no regrets.”

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Indentured Children in 19th Century Ohio

Indentured Servant and Apprenticeship Record of
Green Creek Twp., Sandusky County, Ohio

Read abstracts from this township record

The term “indentured servitude” brings to mind a horrifying vision of a ragged, frightened child toiling his or her young life away for a hated tyrant – much like Cinderella in the children’s story. Today’s world, filled with the assistance of public and private agencies, makes it difficult to imagine a time when young children were “bound out’ until they reached adulthood. For families who settled in the wilds of Northwest Ohio’s Black Swamp, the death, illness, or injury of a parent could threaten the very survival of their children. As harsh at it seems, many parents had no choice but to place their children with those who were more financially secure.

During the 19th century, under Ohio law, the care of “destitute” children and orphans became the responsibility of township trustees. Intervening into the privacy of family matters was done with the greatest reluctance. But when relatives or neighbors could not help, trustees had little choice but to find families willing to care for another child.

Officials drew up contracts that legally bound caretakers to provide food, clothing, medicine, and some education for the child. In return, the parent or guardian committed the child to a stated number of years of labor. Beneath the cold, legal language of such documents, a parent’s heart-wrenching agony can sometimes be felt. When John Forester apprenticed his four-year-old Willie in 1866, he requested that his son “be treated as a member of the family.” The standard education was not enough for Forester either: he demanded that his son receive a “complete thorough education in the common sciences.” When Leah Shilts arranged an apprenticeship for her son, she asked trustees to spell out the exact number of months of schooling he would receive each year.

Not every parent felt as John Forester or Leah Shilts about parting with their children. The mother of Mariah and William Pembleton refused to care for her five and six-year-old – even after township trustees provided assistance. Trustees were forced to find them new homes. It must have given officials a sense of satisfaction when they placed the Pembleton children in the homes of two of the township’s most prominent families.

With no formal system for monitoring care, helpless children were indeed at the mercy of their masters. Yet, the record shows that officials remained concerned for them. The same trustees who bound out eleven-year-old William Spence later cancelled the contract and placed the orphan in the county home.

For others, indentured servitude not only saved their lives, but also provided them with loving families who trained and educated them. Boys like William Herald learned the skills of harness making – skills that served him well throughout his life.

After the Civil War, the system collapsed under the weight of so many fatherless and homeless children. Institutions established and managed by charities and churches became home to thousands of Ohio’s orphaned children.

Remembering Andersonville

Gustavus Gessner

72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

For those who knew him, Gustavus Gessner was a successful, dedicated physician, pharmacist, and businessman. But beneath Gessner’s calm, capable exterior lay haunting memories of suffering and death.

Two decades earlier, Gessner, then 16 years old, was among the first to answer Lincoln’s call for volunteers. So outstanding was his military conduct that soldiers of the 72nd Ohio chose him as color bearer. His daring escape at Shiloh, after being seriously wounded, convinced many that he was the bravest man in the regiment.

Soldiering changed for Gessner when, in the spring of 1864, the 72nd received orders to join General Samuel Sturgis’ expedition against Rebel troops led by Nathan Bedford Forrest. After a grueling forced march in stifling heat, the 72nd met the enemy at Brice’s Crossroads. Just as the Union was gaining the upper hand, orders came to withdraw. Although shocked and confused, the 72nd did its duty, covering the retreat of the troops and the cavalry who acted as Sturgis’ personal bodyguard. When ammunition gave out, the men of the 72nd ran for their lives as the Rebel cavalrymen chased them down. Only a third reached safety some 90 miles from the battlefield. The rest - including Gessner - were destined for Andersonville.

Ohio Monument at Andersonville by the Hughes Granite Company
Clyde, Sandusky County, Ohio

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Wallace Eberhard, 2008)

Gessner survived the starvation and torture of Andersonville, but he was witness to countless murders and the suffering of dozens of comrades. He blamed only one man – “the shameless drunken coward” - General Samuel Sturgis. When the war ended, Gessner went on with his life, but he could not forget. “Always,” he wrote, “there was a world of bitter memories filled with scenes of the horror and death of Andersonville - days of torture and nights of agony."

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Wallace Eberhard, 2008)

When Gessner learned in 1882 that Sturgis was appointed head of the National Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C., he was outraged. How could the man responsible for the imprisonment, suffering, and death of brave soldiers be allowed to oversee their care in their final days? It was a cruel irony, and Gessner was having none of it.

He launched a massive letter-writing campaign and published editorials in newspapers throughout the Midwest. He contacted former prisoners of war from Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, telling them that “we owe it to our dead comrades to expose Sturgis’ cowardice.” Hundreds of letters poured in from veterans, recounting Sturgis’ incompetence and their own sufferings. Gessner’s former comrade and business partner U. S. Congressman Dr. John B. Rice printed their letters and presented them to the House Committee on Military Affairs.

Sturgis was embarrassed and humiliated by the scathing testimony of veterans who had suffered because of the disastrous battle at Brice’s Crossroads. Seeking help from his superiors, Sturgis fought back, defending his actions and leveling sharp criticism at Gessner. A regular Army officer, Sturgis was too powerful and politically well connected for Gessner and his comrades. He kept his position, but remained forever tainted by the words of those who had suffered and survived - and would never forget.