Dr. Know: Cincinnati’s Thanksgiving Day Race, Sawyer Point’s Bicentennial Bricks, and O’Bryonville’s Official Borders


I’m excited about running my first Thanksgiving Day Race this year. I’ve looked up the event’s long history, but I keep finding inconsistencies about how old it actually is. Your column seems good with history; can you confirm a “starting line” for Cincinnati’s wonderful tradition? —PLACE THE RACE

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Place:
The Doctor appreciates your trust, your deference, and especially your gullibility. This column attempts to dig up accurate answers to questions both historical and current, but our shovel is only so large. Our city’s Thanksgiving Day Race has a deep heritage; it can be difficult to confirm precise details about an event that began as long ago as 1907. Or 1908. Or 1909. Or 1910.

Even those familiar with the race’s history admit that its origins “are a bit hazy.” Most hazy Thanksgiving memories can be blamed on late-afternoon family fistfights fueled by alcohol, but in this case we’re talking about an early-morning competition among fitness freaks. The event’s own Facebook page places the first race in 1907. So does an old Cincinnati Post, but in later years they say 1908. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s math in 1955 suggests 1910. No, make that 1909 in 1981 and again in 2010.

Confused? Part of the problem is that no event happened at all in 1918 thanks to World War I—instead of racing, everyone was running around changing street names—and in 1936 thanks to “mismanagement.” So this year’s event could be, say, the 110th anniversary but the 108th race. Choose your own number, and good luck.

My parents bought one of those Sawyer Point “Bicentennial Bricks” when they were laid in 1988. I have no idea how to find it among the thousands. There seems to be no directory online, or even there at the park. My parents are long gone; how can I find their brick? Just keep walking around? —SAWYER POINTLESS

Dear Pointless:
Were you born in 1989? Please review the implications of your opening sentence; word choices matter! As for your parents’ Bicentennial Brick location, just call (513) 352-6180. Sawyer Point’s administration office will gladly assist you in not having to amble the area hunched over.

Yes, they are working on digitizing and posting the brick directory online, but the process has been, um, difficult. You must appreciate that creating a database for about 35,000 bricks began in 1988, back when GPS meant “Gait, Pencil, Scribble.” Computer screens were green, as were the humans using them. The project broke down because “the computer could not handle the job.” Probably a Commodore with that whopping 64KB of memory.

Digital cleanup, verification (at one point about 3,000 bricks went missing), and physical corrections to misspelled bricks make for a tedious job, but eventually a solid list will appear. Maybe someday they’ll put an RFID chip in each brick, so yours can simply call out to you. Misspelling your name.

Long ago, neighborhoods like Westwood and Bond Hill were independent villages until Cincinnati annexed them. Was my neighborhood, O’Bryonville, ever an actual municipality? My neighbors and I disagree. While we’re on the subject, what are O’Bryonville’s official borders? —STILL IN THE ’VILLE

Dear Still:
We shall answer your borders question first, thusly: Hyde Park, where wealthy elites sneer at the peasants in adjacent O’Bryonville, contains a small street called East Hill Avenue. It is so named because—and the Doctor is sorry to inform the street’s residents of this—all of those homes originally bore the stench of being located in East Walnut Hills. Even worse, some decades show that street listed as part of O’Bryonville. Oh, the humanity! In other words, O’Bryonville’s boundaries have shifted many times.

Almost as fluid are the neighborhood’s spellings. Maps, directories, and ads have included O’Bryanville, O’Brienville, and O’Briansville. This mishmash of names and borders suggests an answer to your first question: a lack of municipality. Indeed, after Laura O’Bryon’s farm was subdivided in 1865, it was promptly annexed by Cincinnati in 1870. If, during that five years, O’Bryonville had a mayor, a police department, or a conflict over a soccer stadium, there’s no surviving evidence. However, O’Bryonville was once an official part of the village of Evanston, so there’s your pedigree.

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