Friday, June 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to Thee. Gehio Is Three!

Gehio is three years old today with over 20,000 page views. Thanks to all those who read (I look at my stats), leave comments and those who subscribe. I started this blog to help me remember the interesting history I encounter, mostly while out geocaching, but it's nice to know others enjoy it as well.
Speaking of stats, I noticed there have been 88 posts prior to today which is the same number of counties in Ohio. I love it when stuff like that happens.
Stats. The post with the most page views is Some quick Ohio history for September, a hodgepodge of This Month in Ohio History with some cartoon references. I had fun doing that one. In 2nd place is Going Underground on Hamilton Avenue about the Underground Railroad and in 3rd place is The death of Tecumseh. An historical sign about that Shawnee Chief started it all for me.

The most fascinating thing I've run across was the story I did on Ohio pioneer and land speculator John Cleves Symmes' nephew, also named John Cleves Symmes, who thought the world was hollow and inhabited. His odd theory indirectly led to the discovery of the Antarctica continent.
Geocaching+History+Ohio=Gehio

Another crazy but true story is how they carved up and boiled the remains of the American General Mad Anthony Wayne.
The recipient of the first Purple Heart is also buried in Cincinnati in a previously overgrown abandoned cemetery.
Along the way I've learned that our brief 9th president William Henry Harrison wasn't just some insignificant rube. He played a vital role in the development of our country but then had the misfortune of ending on a bad note. He also passed out free booze at campaign stops in log cabin shaped bottles. Huzzah!

These sort of things continue to remind me that interesting history is all around us waiting to be discovered. Past events are the story of  who we are and how we came to be. Also, the weird stuff is just pretty damn cool.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Garfield documentary coming in February 2015

Who knew a book on an obscure Ohio born US President could be so excellent? Even I had my doubts. However, "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard turned out to be one of my favorite history books. I wrote a blog post about President James A. Garfield after I read her NY Times best selling book last year and I was blown away by her engaging and gripping style that really brought these characters to life like a novel without any speculative padding. That's tough to do with history, which we all know can be a bit dry and tedious at times. Anyone could enjoy this book, not just history nerds. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I  learned a PBS American Experience documentary is being filmed for a scheduled release of February 2015. How exciting is that?

Even though her first book "River of Doubt" regarding Teddy Roosevelt's trip to the Amazon has nothing to do with Ohio history, I highly recommend that one as well. It is written in the same colorful and suspenseful style as her Garfield book. As I understand it Candice Millard is currently working on a book about Winston Churchill. I will definitely be looking forward to that. Now I wonder if I can talk her into a book about William Henry Harrison?....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Something rank in Ripley

Ripley OH: an abolitionist stronghold.
This is the restored home of John P. Parker,
a noted African-American abolitionist
I agree that the American Civil War was about States rights, but one must remember that the main right the Southern states wanted to preserve was the right to own black people as property while the Northern states were making progress to end the practice. If the South had won the war, we would have had a separate country to the south of the US called the Confederate States of America where slavery remained legal for at least several decades longer. The end result of this war was preserving the Union and the13th Amendment abolishing slavery in one of the the last holdouts in the Western Hemisphere. It was a great leap forward for equal rights in the US, which we all know is supposed to be the land of the free.

top to bottom:
1st (Stars and Bars),
2nd, 3rd National flags
of the CSA. The rebel
battle flag is last.

So too bad about the Confederate flag. This is a good time to point out that this flag was never the official national flag of the CSA, it was the the battle flag used by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee and the Army of Tennessee, the largest CSA field army. The first national flag was the Stars and Bars. The second national flag did incorporate the more familiar rebel flag as did the third.
People that display the rebel flag in modern times like to say "it's about heritage, not hate". Maybe the flag had noble origins to some but that doesn't really matter now. The Southern states dashed that notion when they started a war which cost the lives 750,000 people. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups dashed that notion when they used this flag to terrorize and murder African-Americans in post-Antebellum America.  The states of Mississippi and Georgia dashed that notion as well when it was used as a protest against school integration in the 1950s. The Confederate flag flew over the Alabama state capitol from 1961-1993. On June 11th 1963 the University of Alabama was desegregated by Federal force while Gov. George "segregation forever" Wallace, protested in front of the school doors and 5 years later used the Confederate flag in his Presidential bid. Wow, that's some heritage! I hate to invoke Godwin's Law but the swastika was a perfectly acceptable symbol to many cultures for centuries until the Nazis appropriated it. Same thing. No one is walking around with a swastika on their shirt or truck unless they want to be known as a white supremacist. So Mississippi, follow Georgia's lead and get the rebel battle flag of oppression off your US State flag. Oh also, enough with the passive aggressive license plates, 10 US States offer the flag as an option. I realize you think that this is the good old days but please stop. It's embarrassing y'all.

Rankin House
So what does this have to do with Ohio history?

On a beautiful sunny Easter weekend in April 2014 I visited the Ohio towns of Point Pleasant, Ripley and Georgetown. My main objective was geocaching but the route I planned had an unplanned common thread. In the 19th century, Southwest Ohio and the towns along the Ohio River were a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity, there are signs and markers everywhere and many of the structures still stand or have been restored. This was also the area that future President US Grant was born and raised. You've probably heard of him. He helped win that Civil War that the Southern states are still mad about losing.

from KY across the Ohio to freedom
The Rankin House in Ripley is probably the most famous stop on the Underground Railroad. For 40 years, Reverend John Rankin, at risk of imprisonment himself due to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, helped over 2000 slaves flee the US to Canada. One of these escaped slave stories inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Toms Cabin, about which Lincoln famously remarked upon meeting the author, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" A nearby marker in town states that a Confederate General wanted to burn this "abolitionist hell hole of Ripley" to the ground. Everyone knew what happened in Ripley. So the town bought a cannon as defense against any Confederates who decided to invade. It turns out that they didn't have to use it since the infamous Rebels known as Morgan's Raid only got within a mile of of Ripley. They still have the cannon proudly displayed in front of their library. The town of Ripley has built up quite a heritage tourism industry around its role in abolition and they should be proud of it. America should be proud of it. Everyone that lives or passes through Ripley surely knows these things.

despicable display
As I approach one of the many signs pointing the way to the famous Rankin House perched 300 feet high upon a hill overlooking the Ohio River, something catches my eye. It's a Confederate flag flapping from the front porch of a tiny home not 200 feet from the only road up the hill to the house. In this context, this is not about heritage, the person that lives here is clearly making a statement. I started thinking of all the African-Americans that have passed by here to see the land where their ancestors first saw hope for freedom... and this is what they will see when they arrive. This mocking display thumbs its nose at the bloody struggle that occurred over 150 years ago. What else is anyone supposed to think when they see this well defined symbol of racism fluttering on this hallowed ground? So get the rebel Confederate battle flag off your porch, it's embarrassing.