Dr. Know: Seven Minutes in Heaven, Heartless Bureaucracy, and Racist Streetcar Songs


I saw an old magazine with an article saying that the party game “Seven Minutes in Heaven” originated in Cincinnati. Is there an address? Is the house a registered Historic Place? —PUCKER UP

Dear Pucker:

For those unfamiliar with Seven Minutes in Heaven, it is played thusly: Several bored, unsupervised adolescents create an unimaginative pretext for two of them to go into a closet for seven minutes and, ya know, whatever. There are numerous variations of this game, as there is no box with rules printed inside the top.

For Cincinnati to have been the birthplace of anything not involving soap or machine tools is unlikely, but the Doctor looked into it. He confirms that, at the very least, the game is part of our town’s long history of Battling Moral Squalor. A Pleasant Ridge pastor, Benjamin F. Judd, heard about “the Devil’s game” in 1952 and waged a local campaign against it. When his crusade got picked up by the national press (another bored and unsupervised group), other party games such as Rumor and Telephone kicked in. The story got embellished and distorted as it spread, gratuitously adding details like “it was first practiced by teenagers in Cincinnati.” Pastor Judd’s attempt to quash Seven Minutes in Heaven seems to have only helped make the game more famous and popular. We call this the Cincinnati Flynt-Mapplethorpe Effect.

Perhaps a house somewhere in Pleasant Ridge does deserve a plaque, but it would rightly be posted inside a closet.

Suddenly it’s been announced that the exit to Ridge Avenue North on I-71 North will be closed in a couple years so that a new lane can be added up to Red Bank Road. The current Ridge Avenue South exit will then empty onto Ridge in both directions. But the South exit has always allowed this anyway, and is already a rush-hour backup. Whose brilliant idea was this? —RIDGE RAGE

Dear Rage:

Get out your pitchforks, because the Doctor has uncovered the names of those responsible: “Ohio Department of Transportation officials.” The human buffer for this heartless bureaucracy is Brian Cunningham, communications manager for ODOT. At a recent public meeting he said that in addition to the changes you describe, the area’s traffic issues will be “solved” by building a new exit straight to Kennedy Avenue. Only a fraction of commercial activity occurs there compared to Ridge and Highland, but just think how much cleaner the lines will look on the new map!

But wait, there’s more. The Ridge Avenue South exit lanes will be widened, as will the northbound overpass it empties onto. All this work will be only slightly disruptive, just like the hardly-noticeable results at I-71’s new Martin Luther King Drive exit.

To be fair, local business owners who attended the meeting and saw the actual details of the plan became reassured and supportive. Maybe the original story you heard got some things wrong. Crooked Media!

The launch of Cincinnati’s new streetcar made me realize that you made a mistake in a recent column. You mentioned some terrible old songs about Cincinnati, but left out the worst one: “Cincinnati Ding-Dong,” a song about our retired 1950s streetcars being sold to Hong Kong. It’s a racist, juvenile, horrible song. How could you have overlooked it? —EARWORM

Dear Worm:

The Doctor pleads not guilty. Our June column merely identified the most-recorded song about our city, which was “Cincinnati Dancing Pig,” with 13 versions. Despite that song’s awfulness, we concur that “Cincinnati Ding-Dong” wins the category of Bags-Over-Our-Heads-Most-Embarrassing-Cincinnati-Song-Ever. It was recorded only once, but even that was one time too many.

In April of 1951, Cincinnati’s streetcars ended their run (wink, wink). Some units were sold for scrap, some had second lives in Canada and Mexico, and some were said to have turned up on the streets of Hong Kong. This never-verified rumor inspired a pair of local songwriters to compose the lyric, “Choo-chow, ching-chong, Cincinnati ding-dong.” The chorus imagined grateful Hong Kong passengers singing that refrain as they rode. How ridiculous; if this had been true, China would have abandoned any attempt to take back the island.

Art Lund, a fading star of Broadway and records, sang this horror. It enjoyed a brief popularity on the charts, but let us note: the accomplishments listed in Mr. Lund’s New York Times obituary, Wikipedia page, and IMDB biography all fail to include this one item. Hmm. Ding-dong, the song is dead.



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