About Me

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Setting the Record Straight: Part 1

(Image from the East Liverpool High School Yearbook “Keramos”; Courtesy of Sayre W. Graham, Jr.)
“A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false.” ~Thomas Babington Macaulay
As a historian it is important to get the facts straight. Pretty obvious, right? But it’s not always as easy as it sounds.

While working on the book about Rock Springs Park, I did my best to research as many sources as possible to back up the oral histories I recorded from folks back home who remember it. I soon discovered, however, that while many written accounts confirmed those oral "legends", many tales conflicted with newspaper coverage. For instance, one source from Chester recalled that the Cyclone Roller Coaster was purchased by a local high school teacher for the potential revenue available from selling its metal brackets as scrap. The Youngstown Vindicator, on the other hand, contradicted this claim and reported in 1974 that the long-neglected thrill ride was sold to a businessman in Calcutta, Ohio, for the sole purpose of resurrecting the wood for use in an auto wrecking building. Which one is true? It would seem the newspaper account would have more legitimacy, but in reality no one seems to know for sure.

Recently, in a very unusual instance, a friend from back home actually corrected a newspaper account with his own research on a story about the park.

On Saturday, March 26, 2011, I reported that a “Fred Schoen” drowned while swimming in the Rock Springs Park pool in June of 1913. The account below, from The Baltimore Sun, was my only source and mostly correct, except for the fact that the paper spelled Fred’s surname incorrectly – a simple typo that could be easily explained by studying the early communication system of the day.
But the real problem with this news brief and my blog on Fred’s death is that by simply listing the cold hard facts of the accident, the reader loses the human side of the story. Who was Fred Shone?

It is easily forgotten by the reader that while young Fred Shone lived a century ago, he was someone’s son and brother and that his death left family members shocked and grief-stricken. That is, until alert reader, Sayre W. Graham, Jr., wrote to me this summer.

“A few weeks ago, I had only just stumbled across your blog. I was reading back through it a little bit each day. I really enjoyed the accounts of your visits with my Dad (See March 2011 entries about Sayre W. Graham, Sr.). You really nailed it, right down to the turkey buzzards. When I got to the article about the deaths at RSP, I saw the mention of the drowning of Fred Schoen in 1913. I had previously noted to myself when I saw in your book, and now again in the blog, that Schoen was a misspelling; his name was actually Fred Shone (Alfred J) whom, had he lived, would have been my Mother's uncle.”

In an amazing coincidence, just days after reading about his Great Uncle Fred in this blog, Sayre W.Graham, Jr. discovered a box of old letters in his father’s den and inside found a journal entry dated June 18, 1913 about none other than Fred Shone’s drowning.

(Courtesy of Sayre W. Graham, Jr.)

“Whoa!” Graham reflected, “I started thinking that Great Uncle Fred wants me to set the record straight.”

In the next installment, Graham recounts how he and his wife, Debbie, spent a month this past summer on a quest to find Great Uncle Fred. See http://rockspringspark.blogspot.com/2012/03/setting-record-straight-part-ii.html.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Almost Heaven

The proposed cover of a new book on the Lincoln Highway features the "Almost Heaven" sign displayed in the front lawn of Rock Springs Park’s Rustic Log Cabin after it was moved 100 yards to avoid “the path of progress” in 1974. Don Chaney, who purchased the log house at auction for 100 dollars, had the sign constructed to greet visitors crossing the new Jennings Randolph Bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. The image (above) on the cover of Eric and Kass Mencher's photographic tribute book shows the sign, placed as it is today, against the cement wall of the park’s arched Shoot-the-Chutes Bridge.

For more information on the book and to find out how you can support its completion read Brian Butko’s Lincoln Highway News at http://brianbutko.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/new-lincoln-highway-photo-book-underway/.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Number One Rule of Showbiz

Joe Comm and Vicki Robinson Jordan at the Orchards at Foxcrest’s Harvest Festival 2011 (Courtesy of Vicki Robinson Jordan.)

On Saturday, September 24th, I appeared at an Oktoberfest event at the Orchards at Foxcrest in Chester, West Virginia. This year’s theme was “Rock Springs Park” and the folks at Fox’s did not disappoint. There were rides for the kiddies, food and craft vendors, a petting zoo, games, and even a live animal act featuring a scorpion, the biggest toad I’ve ever seen, an opossum, a capybara (world’s largest rodent), a monkey, and a cheetah, among others. The cheetah remained crated for the day, but all the other creatures were shown by a petite young girl who nearly had her shirt removed by a feisty macaque. (You know, the monkeys you’ve seen pictured in National Geographic in a hot spring bath in winter with ice covering their pink faces and rockstar fur hairdos.) How could I possibly compete with that?

I couldn’t.

The event planners put me in the awkward position of having to break the number one rule of show businesses – “NEVER FOLLOW AN ANIMAL ACT.” After righting my twice-fallen portable movie screen due to a sudden increase in wind gusts and adjusting my impossible to see slide show images due to the sun deciding to come out just at the moment I was to begin, I realized I was standing in a pile of crushed Frosted Mini-Wheats thanks to my opening act - the show-stealing monkey. (Think Curious George on crack.)

I had planned for every eventuality, not knowing if I would have a microphone or a podium, would appear inside or outside, under a tent or on a grassy hillside. I had a printed speech on paper and made a timed slide show to go with it, and was ready just in case with my old standby - images of the park narrated wuth impromptu verbal descriptions. I even brought along my trusty container of bungee cords to deal with falling movie screens and blowing banners and miles of extension cords, but I did not plan for a monkey. Who would?

It was perhaps my worst performance, ever. I felt bad for those few attendees scattered about in a dozen or so folding chairs, including some old friends and a couple new ones I’ve met while posting about the park on Facebook. They saw a pathetic author giving a running commentary about barely visible slides while shuffling about in Frosted Mini-Wheat dust and giant toad puddles. Yeah, did I mention the girl kissed the toad and he wet himself all over her shoes? C’mon Man!