MAY DAY, 1843 Devout Cincinnati girl skips school for the fun of it.

Even 170 years ago, Cincinnati buzzed in the spring….a veritable garden from the Ohio River up to Dr. Allison’s Peach Grove and beyond…..that continued to grow fine peaches long after the site of Ft. Washington had been transformed into the epicenter of our city. Mary Jane Irwin, born in 1829 in Cincinnati, took it upon herself to document one particular year , 1843, before she died of tuberculosis in 1847, at 18 years old.
Irwin’s pages are windows into a world and place…losing all sense of time and dimensions, if we pause to think when we read her words in indelible ink tucked away and preserved in her journal.
That former Fort became the literal front door of Mary Jane Irwin…her father’s house was where the Ft. Washington public memorial stands today. One of Dr. Allison’s peach trees apparently doesn’t know how old it is and currently presents peaches.
Irwin’s next door neighbor was Robert Buchanan….a popular and busy man about Cincinnati; a philanthropist in the greatest sense of the word. Mr. Buchanan, in 1843, had a garden behind his home on McAllister Street (now the site of Western Southern on 4th St.) He and his nice cronies (including Nick Longworth and Probasco) created the Cincinnati Horticulture Society that continues to this day. Their meetings were in Buchanan’s home, just across the unpaved, frequently muddy Fourth St., across from the Irwin’s where Mary Jane wrote her journal, day in and day out. A teenager, she undoubtedly thought this group to be just one more of her father’s so many associates crowding up the porch rails. (R. Buchanan also founded Spring Grove Cemetery).
Mary Jane Irwin (her family pew was filled every Sunday at Christ Episcopalian Church, just steps from her home) wrote in her journal about not attending a ‘heathen goddess celebration’, which apparently wasn’t okay to do, according to her instructor Mr. Van Doren and the rest of society, on Monday, May 1, 1843:
As there was no celebration, ANY WHERE, I attended school and received 25 good marks ‘for not being so foolish as to attend a party in honor of a then goddess’. Josey Lytle sent over for me…I spent the evening there, “non est” was quite amusing.”
By Friday the outlook was 100% better for Mary Jane and her socializing for spring.
Here she tells us what developed later that week; when she skipped school!
I did not go to school, as I wished to attend Miss Comstock’s “May Party”. Anna Hewson was Queen…and in the afternoon I went to Schnetz’s Garden. We bought cakes.”
Of a well-to-do family, Mary Jane was incensed by no parties anywhere on Monday, but by Friday, all was well and good regarding May, Queens’, Parties and the rest.
By that Sunday Mary Jane was back in church; as to be expected.
And it’s a safe bet she told no one but her journal she skipped school that day.
So, let’s keep it to ourselves here on FB, shall we?


The next time you hear the term blue baby  (a congenital heart defect: tetralogy of Fallot) or if the word conjures up images of a small child that is actually blue.. …the lips and nails (cyanosis) can turn pale to dark if not enough oxygen is getting through the extremities due to poor circulation through the heart; here’s a medical cardiac history milestone to beat them all.
Dr. Helen Taussig, pediatric-cardiologist, coined the phrase blue baby ; endearingly calling her little patients with this tetralogy this, in desperate need for a corrective surgery, watching most of her young patients die in infancy and early childhood.
The first successful surgery to correct this congenital heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot, was in 1945. Dr. Thomas Blalock performed the surgery at John Hopkins Hospital. Blalock was a busy doctor and hired a man to help him, for not much pay.
A little known aspect of this important medical breakthrough was a black man named Vivien Thomas, from New Orleans, father of 2, who couldn’t afford to go to college, but would stand at Blalock’s side for many decades working in the medical field, performing, testing, researching. Thomas worked alongside Blalock with his experiments, dedicated to the art of healing…and received no recognition until 1976.
It was a medical breakthrough pediatric cardiac life-saving procedure, and a miracle some would say. Drs. Blalock and Taussig were lauded around the world for this pediatric-cardiac procedure. Parents brought their ailing children from around the world to the doctors for the surgery. Thomas worked part time as a bartender to support his family, all the while assisting the cardiac surgeries that were increasing.
Jim, the tyke in plaid pictured below, was one of the first babies to ever survive this congenital heart-condition and procedure. The Blalock-Thomas-Taussig Anastomosis for Tetralogy of Fallot was performed on him in late 1947 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He lived a successful, healthy life…and of course lived to see the PBS 2002 production on American Experience, Partners of the Heart. Following that, there was the 2004 Emmy Award film produced Something the Lord Made. 
It’s not often someone you know is written in human history in such goodness.
Books abound on the doctors, the procedure, the history.
When Jim was hospitalized in 2011, doctors in Cincinnati would make special efforts to come down the halls of the cardiac unit to see this adult patient who had had a Blalock Anastomosis performed on him as a baby. The good young doctors had learned about it in medical school, but there’s been much advancement in this surgery that the procedure is no longer performed (too old-fashioned now, one doc told me).
There he was, smiling at the doctors as he’d done since a toddler, a modern-day miracle one more time.


In another place in ‘real president’s-time’, a U.S. President lasted a mere 30 Days, 12 Hours, 30 Minutes in Office.
And he had a collective of women to help him get into that office.


Shortest serving First Lady, to 9th U.S. President William Henry Harrison of North Bend, Ohio….Jane Irwin Findlay Harrison Whiteman (a long name and story) went to the White House in February, 1841, for her father-in-law’s inauguration, in place of Harrison’s wife, Anna, who felt it a long arduous journey from North Bend, Ohio.

ANNA SYMMES HARRISON minus her unattractive headwrap


Jane Irwin Findlay Harrison, William and Anna Harrison’s recently widowed young daughter-in-law (son W.H.Harrison, Jr. died in 1838, after a long illness commonly known then as the drink); and mother of their grandchildren, was just the right person to go along with the new President Harrison, her sister-in-law Anna Harrison Taylor of Virginia would come too.


On a peculiar role Jane Harrison would find her life as both maternal and paternal aunt to future president Benjamin Harrison. Jane  and her sister Elizabeth’s first cousin Mary Anne married another Harrison son, Carter. Jane I. F. Harrison Whitman’s sister Elizabeth Ramsey Irwin (1840-1850) married Wm. H. Harrison’s other son, John Scott Harrison and bore their son, Benjamin, 23rd U.S. President.


Young, vivacious Jane, also a niece and foster daughter of Cincinnati’s Mrs. James/Jane Findlay (The Market People, whose husband James was buddies with Pres. Wm. H. Harrison), who at 73, escorted Jane Harrison and Anna to Washington for the soirees, dinners, parades and all the formalities we have come to expect with a Presidency, arrived for all the bells and whistles attached to such celebrations.
Both Jane’s and Anna’s stays in D.C. in 1843 would be tragically brief; the President succumbed to ailment (current theories are septic shock) on April 4, 1841. In the official Presidential Deathbed Portrait  we see two young women mourning this death. One woman is Jane the daughter-in-law, alongside her is W.H.H. daughter, the Mrs. William H. Harrison’s first lady’s namesake, Anna Harrison Taylor.


Elderly Aunt Jane Findlay returned to Cincinnati, living at Broadway and Arch Street—hosting a lively family and social life that whirls the mind of any reader seeing her list of visitors.


Anna Harrison Taylor, the president’s daughter, would return to Virginia, living in her father’s birthplace until her death.

Two years after Harrison’s death, in 1843, John Quincy Adams would come to Cincinnati, after much polite begging in written invitations…to lay the Cincinnati Observatory Cornerstone in anticipation of the soon to arrive German Merz & Mahler telescope Ormsby McKnight Mitchel would personally buy and retrieve back to Cincinnati in 1845; it’s why we named it MT. ADAMS. The Irwin and Findlay families were on hand for this Cincinnati milestone, making history was in their blood.


35-year old Jane I. F. Harrison married prominent Cincinnatian Lewis Whiteman; she died in 1847 of the that melancholic and most mean of diseases, tuberculosis.
She’s buried in Spring Grove Cemetery…as is her Aunt Jane Irwin Findlay and Lewis Whiteman, and her children.


With even the casual reader we see, maybe 3 degrees of separation between these Cincinnati people and history.  And I didn’t even touch the Cincinnati’s President Taft.



It’s In The Cards

Some stuff you might not know.
And it’s sure not political.
That first job.
We all had one.
In 1966, my first job was at the U.S. Playing Card Company, Norwood, Ohio.
I was 18 and didn’t know dit-squat or even pinochle.
I was entering the University of Cincinnati part time.
I walked up the street from my grandmother’s house
and applied at the world famous U.S. Playing Card Company.
I dreaded getting up at 7 a.m.
I dreaded working with the nosie-body ladies transplanted from Kentucky and Appalachia (like my own grandmother) to Norwood, to work at the huge factories (Ford Motor Co., Globe Wernicke Furniture, and U.S. Playing Card).
Those ladies scrutinized every paisley and bell-bottomed outfit I’d wear to work. They ‘tsk-tsked’ everything all day.
The company had an archive on the premises….and I’d wander the halls leading to it gazing over framed 18th century French decks of cards with Harlequins, witches, medieval symbology. The bookshelves in the archive lined with magic books in other languages, books on the Occult, Books on Witchery and Voo Doo.
Stunning…and that is a tasty collection today, still owned by the company.
I hated the scratchy, dusty velour drawer-pull Bridge sets.
I despised the Canasta sets…
Do not ask about the Samba decks. Don’t.
The gold-flake paint on the Aladdin decks, bound for Las Vegas filled our nostrils, eyelashes and hair until we looked like the Midas family walking out the door at 4 o’clock. Our fingertips glowed!
I hated the stamps….the mini-decks, the guys staring when I’d have to go thru the printing department.
My skills repairing stamping machines was profound. I could push that ‘stop’ hammer like nobody’s business..and who’d wait for the mechanic Jimmy….I’d do it myself.
We younger women would hang on the same 3-person stamping machine as best we could. Sometimes we’d put our names and addresses in a deck, if we knew it would be traveling overseas….and not Las Vegas, or Air Force One or Viet Nam. Yes, we got letters back. I still have one, from some guys in Scotland who worked at a potato factory. Go figure.
The cafeteria was a pale-mint green, in a window-less, basement environment nearly out of “Oliver Twist’!
Our ‘time clock’ was also from Charles Dickens…dated around 1915, way after the founding of the USPC.
I hated it yes, but time will have its way with you after so many decades….and the magic, the cards, the superstitions…they’re still on board…and now, as fate would have it..the ladies from Kentucky, now mostly gone, who ran those cello machines, fanned the card decks out for inspection, and generally kept the place going….
the U.S.Playing Card Co. moved to Erlanger, Ky. as fate would have it.
I think those ladies would clear the decks.

Loudermilk Still Louder


By 1966, bar none for strange, songwriter John D. Loudermilk had a passel of hits in his pocket. That ended recently; he died September 21, 2016.
Loudermilk’s legend is solid in pop, folk and country.
Many know him for ‘Indian Reservation‘ ‘Norman‘, ‘Tobacco Road‘ (Nashville Teens), ‘Ebony Eyes‘ (Everly Bros.), ‘Break My Mind‘ (Ronstadt), ‘Turn Me On‘ (Norah Jones), Sittin’ In The Balcony‘ (Eddie Cochran) and scores more.
I go back to the year I first heard of Loudermilk; 1966.
Fifty years ago my art-school boyfriend was a huge fan of Loudermilk’s nontraditional approach to life, love and romance in his lyrics.
Toss this up with my first job e.v.e.r. that same year, making Bicycle Playing Cards in Norwood, Ohio. Lots of young women going to college, newly-wed and otherwise, found a job there. Good pay, 19th-century Draconian architecture, a hierarchy of transplanted Appalachian ladies too strong-headed to be reckoned with.
A newly-wed named Judy Hughes working at the U.S. Playing Card Company with me would talk a lot about her husband who was in a singing group. But we knew lots of guys in singing groups….and well, we humored her at first. She’d come in every week and tell us that The Casinos “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (Loudermilk’s tune) had hit #30 on the Billboard Charts. We were impressed, considering it was 1966 and we were living in the age of music explosions everywhere.
Judy said her husband’s group was going to really make it, she knew. He and his brothers had grown up singing in The Church of God, Over The Rhine, in Cincinnati. Church music, it always helps. And to note here: for years, even today….many thought and still think, The Casinos were a black singing group. Many more black performers are influenced by their church music than white performers. But The Casinos were their own. Once a day..and about every day, Judy would nicely remind us at work that her husband  was going to hit it big up there. She’d tell us their shows were gaining in fame and popularity. We started to think the same…radio stations were playing it.
The last months of the year  of 1966 went like this. Shows, charts, shows, charts, shows. We’d hear the Loudermilk tune constantly on local radio….Judy was the music weather-vane; reporting to us about the soar to fame across the nation.
In January, 1967, The Casinos’ song hit #6 on the Billboard charts.
High 5’s all day for Judy at work were in order.
We loved hearing the tune played on the radio; we were unabashedly smug knowing it was a hit from our Cincinnati. The next 3 years at my first job ever were a small dose of different after one of our own had hit the big time. Eventually The Casinos were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame ‘One Hit Wonders’.
There’s a reason for that category. I get it.
I eventually married the art-student that first loved Loudermilk.
That same year Loudermilk’s 1969 funky, Steve Goodman, Jacques Brel-esque album, complete with a skull on the cover, was released.
Loudermilk achieved Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, gold records, and lauds and credits over his 82 years.
After that, the next thing we knew we were living on the land ourselves, wearing denim and planting seeds;  Loudermilk wrote ‘Indian Reservation‘, an anthem for a people over and above the usual call of a song-writer.
Gene Hughes, the lead Casinos singer, died in 2004.
We all rise, float and yield; knowing music makes a claim on us in all its shapes and forms. Don’t forget that…take it with you. Fifty years is a long time ago.
Think on it a while; after that “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye“.

Fried Pies

Monday, September 12…
Sometimes things come in waves…they appear to come out of the blue.
But really, at times those six degrees of separation narrow to nearly nothing.
I get in my car in the evening, the weather has turned autumn-nice.
I decide to drive and roll over the hills of Grant and Owen County; as I do from time to time.
When I get to Gold(s) Valley (somebody with deep dreams once thought they’d found gold in the creek, it wasn’t true. But why not name the lowest point for something really high in the sky?), I think about my ancestors; and exactly what was it all about. The earliest of years, far from the lights of anything resembling modern transportation, appliances or even telephones; tenant farmers; how did they make it?
This time arriving…..I found myself thinking about my cousin Connie….how though we were close in age, we’d not gotten to spend every holiday together as children. I thought about my maternal relatives not taking to my paternal-side folks, the Kinman side were ‘lamp-shade-wearing-party-ers’ of the family. But I didn’t know that….if anything I’d always loved my grandmother Clara…thinking her sincere, and straightforward. I thought about her sister Cozy, the same genuineness and even more so (she didn’t own a mink coat like her sister Clara).
Driving in the near dusk on Gold(s) Valley, I thought of Clayton, the second to youngest of four brothers.
Clayton was tall and Lincolnesque in appearance; to my mind’s eye. My grandmother certainly had this same figure; statuesque back in the day. Clayton was a man of few words in my experience. As I drove by several typical abandoned Kentucky bungalows on Gold(s) Valley the other night; I wondered if the Kinmans lived high or low on the Pike. There’s a Stevens Creek, and it’s a deep descent, then back up again to the height of the Pike.
Did the Kinman kids walk through all this green, views nothing short of Tennessee small mountain tops?
Clayton must have remembered it, as he and his family returned to visit the part of Kentucky he came from when we all lived in Ohio, and I’d hear via a visit, that they’d gone back down. I’d never been taken; and that’s why I go so much today.
Because I can.
The last time I saw Uncle Clayton was with my brother Len; who had the equally angular height from this Kinman side. Uncle Clayton was frail, but loving the visit. I don’t know how we got on the subject…but it was fried pies from down in Kentucky. He then described how they were made, in an iron skillet. I wished they could have magically appeared in front of us.
Clayton drew out the two words: “Fr-i-i-e-d p-i-e-s” he’d say; looking right at us, as if we were required to remember these words.
And we did.