Dr. Know: An Old School, Area Codes, and Racist Behavior

The good doctor explores troubling issues, including Madeira’s original schoolhouse, 10-digit dialing, and broken glass in city pools.

I can’t afford any of the nice houses on Shawnee Run Road in Madeira, but I like driving past them. There’s one house, though, near the Camargo Road train tracks, that’s empty and run-down, with broken windows and structural damage. It’s a dump, surrounded by high-end homes. Surely there’s a story? —HOMELY HOME

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

DEAR HOMELY:
The Doctor humbly confesses he is constitutionally incapable of suppressing any enticement to say Don’t call me Shirley. There, you’ve won. As for that house on Shawnee Run Road: Yes, there is a story.

You have been driving past the oldest surviving structure in Madeira, originally built as a schoolhouse (the “McCullum School”). It’s hard to imagine enough Madeirans in 1839 to fill a buggy, much less a school. Over the decades it has also been a church, an auto mechanic’s business, and often a residence. When the current owner purchased it in 2006, he intended to demolish the already-dilapidated structure and expand his rental property, but upon discovering the building’s forgotten significance (and a blackboard behind several layers of wall) he decided to try to save it. Neither he nor the Madeira Historical Society, however, has found financing for a restoration. The poor little schoolhouse hopes to one day be as stately as its neighbors; it may someday even become Blue Book–worthy.


Cincinnati is, happily, one of the last places in America where we can make local phone calls without having to include the 513 area code. My friends say that this will change soon and that every call will require 10 digits even if I’m on a landline calling next door. What? Why? When? —I’M HUNG UP

DEAR HUNG:
Times change. Long ago, non-local phone calls required an “operator” who had to manually connect every conversation between cities. Today she’s so extinct that we now must explain to puzzled children who the strange woman is at the end of that Pink Floyd song.

Originally, every locality or region had one telephone area code. But when fax machines and internet modems vastly increased the need for new numbers, “layover” area codes were added to existing ones (Dayton’s 937, for example, added 326), requiring the 10-digit commitment. We of Cincinnati’s 513, however, escaped such befoulment—clearly because we are of superior stock—and so we continue to enjoy seven-digit local calling. Inexplicably, so does Northern Kentucky’s 859, carved out of 606 in 2000.

But times change. The Deep State (in this case, the FCC) has decreed that come October 24 all Americans must succumb to the backbreaking toil of 10-digit dialing. Protests will be ruthlessly crushed. A possible upside is that, perhaps, humanity will finally find the courage to get rid of the word dialing.


The best-selling book about racial issues, Caste, mentions Cincinnati. In 1951, nails and broken glass were thrown in a public pool to keep Black people from using it. I know a lot of our city’s shameful history on this subject, but that specific incident was news to me. Can you tell us more about it? —THROW SOME LIGHT

DEAR LIGHT:
We joke about Cincinnati responding slowly to trends, but our city’s foot-dragging during the civil rights era was no joke. It was especially glaring at swimming pools. Coney Island had an infamous whites-only policy until 1955, with Sunlite Pool restricted until 1961. Local media didn’t report violent incidents when Black people attempted to enter there.

The story you read about in Caste (which happened at a city pool, not Coney) comes from an earlier book about America’s struggle to desegregate its public recreation areas. Sadly, there’s an entire chapter about Cincinnati. While the Doctor found nary a word in local newspapers about the nails/glass incident, it was documented by members of Cincinnati’s Jewish Community Relations Council; they had joined the fight to open up the city’s public pools.

Last summer, the pandemic “restricted” recreational events for everyone. Just multiply that experience by about a hundred bajillion zillion, and you might get a sense of what segregation felt like. OK, no you won’t. Many thanks to the brave Cincinnatians who mightily dragged our city over to the right side of history.

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