Dr. Know: Phone Numbers, Rooftop Decorations, and a Grumpy Enquirer Columnist

The good doctor explores troubling issues, including the local phone number that’s been in service longest, what’s on top of the Gwynne Building, and Bob Brumfield’s distaste for The Beatles.

When my father bought my grandparents’ College Hill house in the 1970s, he kept the telephone number he’d grown up with. I grew up with it, too. Now he and Mom have moved to Florida, finally retiring the number. It’s made me wonder: What is Cincinnati’s oldest consistent landline number? —HUNG UP

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Hung:
A note for our younger readers: In ye olden days, a home or business phone number changed with almost every move, requiring a notification to all persons you weren’t actively avoiding. And so the question is: Over time, has any landline stayed with one customer for the long haul? What an utterly pointless—and perfect—quest for the Doctor.

Today’s mature phone numbers looked a lot slimmer in their youth. For instance, let’s pretend you’re calling (513) 621-0717. In the 1950s you would have just dialed MA1-0717 (as in MAin). It was simply Main 717 in the 1920s, and before that you’d ask an operator to contact 717. By the way, thanks for calling The Mercantile Library on Walnut Street. That venerable Cincinnati institution has had that very phone number since at least 1896, the longest-lasting one we could find. Don’t tell your dad.

Perhaps an even older number survives? Any Cincinnati family or business still using a pre-1896 telephone number—with documented evidence—is hereby challenged to contact the Doctor’s e-mail address and claim no prize whatsoever. And please, no phone calls.

On the roof of the Gwynne Building, Procter & Gamble’s original headquarters at East Sixth and Main downtown, there is a little tower sticking up on one corner. It looks like a place where a war widow gazes out for her never-to-return soldier. What’s it about? —BABE ROOF

Dear Babe:
Please don’t squeeze the facts. P&G’s 1837 headquarters was on that corner, but construction of the Gwynne Building in 1913 ended that era. As for your war-widow theory: You may think it floats, but no.

The building’s dawn began with Alice Claypoole Gwynne, whose career was strong enough for a man. Despite being no cover girl, this Cincinnati native married super-wealthy Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the best a woman can get. With his bounty, she played a bold role designing several noteworthy American buildings. But Gwynne was choosy. Grandiose skyscrapers that towered head & shoulders above older buildings gave her no joy, so she insisted that this icon to cheer her family name should limit its scope to only 13 floors.

The “little tower” that puffs above the building’s northwest crest? Well, 99.44 percent of us would assume it was a lavish apartment to safeguard and pamper guests, but the Doctor is told that it’s a tiny and “underwhelming” room. One must also bounce and dash like a comet across the roof to access it. The tower’s original purpose, then, seems lost in the tide and cascade of time, remaining a secret, always.

The 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder is coming up. I remember feeling total outrage toward a Cincinnati Enquirer columnist who all but cheered his death! He hated rock music and blamed Lennon for the drug culture. Who was that jerk, and what became of him? —SITTING IN HIS NOWHERE LAND

Dear Sitting:
Imagine there’s no mercy. After John Lennon was shot, Bob Brumfield took a sad song and made it worse—his standard attitude toward most everything. Brumfield was a lucky man who made the grade, turning his copy editor job at The Cincinnati Enquirer into an almost-daily column during the 1970s. And though the news was rather sad when Lennon died, Brumfield claimed it was nothing to get hung about: “The Beatles were not of my generation. To be quite frank about it, I am glad that they were not. [My music heroes] didn’t spawn a drug culture or a legion of rebellious, young, semiliterate punks, [or] publicize their drug habits, or try to get their fans hooked.”

Would you stand up and walk out on him? Brumfield’s columns may have been curmudgeonly, but they were popular. If it’s any solace, he died suddenly less than one year after his Lennon-bashing column. He considered The Beatles and Lennon as just passing fads destined to be forgotten, but now it looks as though they’re here to stay. He’s a loser.

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