A Year-End Collection Of Cincinnati Oddities

Dedicated as it is to keeping alive the weird soul of the Queen City, this blog has endeavored to illuminate the bizarre and uncanny aspects of our town’s past. Here are some tidbits of peculiarity to tide you over as we transition through the holidays to the dawn of a new decade.

Check Your Cigar

Smoking was strictly forbidden in the Vine Street Dime Museum, probably because so many of the displays were highly flammable. According to the Cincinnati Post, [October 17, 1894] doorkeeper Ike Cohen devised a system to accommodate tobacco-addicted patrons:

Ike now takes each cigar as the person comes in and places it on a card bearing the person’s name, so he can call for it when he comes out. Monday afternoon he had the window-sill back of him literally covered with smoking stumps of all sizes.

Robbed By A Hat Pin

Albert Lores, traveling salesman, thought his luck was amazing when he locked glances with comely Ann V. Nelson in the Majestic Concert Hall. Apparently unaware of the Majestic’s unsavory reputation, he downed several bottle of cheap domestic champagne with Miss Nelson and accepted an invitation to follow her back to her boarding house room. While there, he alleges, she removed $50 from his clothing—it would have been unseemly for the Enquirer [April 18, 1907] to explain why Lores and his clothing were separated—and attacked him with a hat pin when he attempted to retrieve his money. Upon her arrest, Miss Nelson gave her occupation as a “fancy rider” with the Ringling Circus, who had followed a circus strongman to Cincinnati.

Image Courtesy The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 2, 1911 | Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Ice Lion Bring Tourists To Workhouse

It is obvious, from published guides to the city, that the old Workhouse on Colerain Avenue used to be something of a tourist attraction. According to the Post [January 28, 1893], residents as well as tourists flocked to the jail to see an unusual sculpture of a lion formed from ice atop the fountain on the Workhouse lawn. With a cold snap imminent, the Superintendent James Morgan elected to keep the fountain running so the pipes would not freeze. Per the Post:

As the water flowed, it congealed, and, like an artist modeling in clay, the ice assumed the shape as depicted in the accompanying cut. Note the leonine face and the claws.

Superintendent Majors apparently sold photos of the random sculpture to visitors.

Milking An Elephant

The Cincinnati Enquirer [March 15, 1961] ran a classified advertisement seeking an experienced man to milk an elephant. With a little digging, reporter Paul Lugannani, ferreted the truth: It was a publicity stunt to promote the upcoming visit of the Shrine Circus. The gag was cooked up by longtime Cincinnati publicist and photographer Sargent Marsh, but it was no joke. The circus provided a female elephant and WLWT agreed to televise a milking contest between the pachyderm and a cow during the station’s early morning farm report. The ad, Marsh claimed, was legit. The elephant milker would earn $100 for an hour’s work. More than 30 applicants responded to the advertisement. Louise King of Alexandria, Kentucky, was declared “Queen of the Elephant Milkers.”

Burglar Cooks Breakfast

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Diers of Leland Avenue were sound asleep when a peculiar odor aroused them from their slumber. As Mrs. Diers entered the kitchen, she found a strange man cooking something on the stove. He did not appear at all concerned at her presence, so she brought in Mr. Diers, who demanded an explanation. The stranger offered none, so Mr. Diers closed the kitchen door and called the police. When he returned to the kitchen, the intruder was gone. According to the Post [March 30, 1921], the Dierses found nothing missing from anywhere else in the house, but the remains of two bananas boiling in their teapot. Footprints beneath a window indicated the stranger’s access and egress.

Skeleton Arrested

A man named D.C. Myer told the Enquirer [June 25, 1894] about his days as a Cincinnati policeman. One night, he spied a man standing in the middle of a doctor’s office that he knew to be closed. He watched the man for some time and then, drawing his pistol, climbed in through a window to apprehend the suspect.

I found a skeleton grinning at me as though he enjoyed it. The flickering of the electric light had caused the appearance of moving. I dropped the pistol and started to run, but soon recovered my senses. I never reported the case at headquarters.

Image Courtesy The Cincinnati Post, January 28, 1893 | Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Appetite Saves Man From Prison

According to the Cincinnati Post [May 2, 1911] a man named Ben Kelly, who claimed to live on West Fourth Street, walked into a restaurant at the Central Union Station, sat down and ordered spring chicken. After polishing off the dish, Kelly ordered another serving of the same, then another and finally a fourth and a fifth. At this point, the waiter produced the bill, even as Kelly clamored for more chicken. Railroad Policeman Raymond Olmstead was summoned to haul Kelly to the pokey. When Kelly appeared in court, Judge August H. Bode expressed a quandary:

“They haven’t got enough food at the Workhouse to keep you there,” Judge Bode mused. “I guess the best thing is to give you the costs.”

Happy Solstice and a Hopping New Decade!

Cincinnati Curiosities will return with the new year and the new decade in January. Coming up: How Old Cincinnati thought about the future, the baddest badass in Cincinnati history, and the strange afterlife of the Cincinnati Post’s boy reporter.

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