Dr. Know: The Human Fly, Leaf Laws, and Another Local Answer Guy

The good doctor explores troubling issues, including the “human fly” on Fountain Square, when and how to dispose of leaves, and WVXU-FM’s “OKI Wanna Know.”

My dad wants some help with the details of an incident from his childhood: the “human fly” on Fountain Square. A man climbed several floors outside an office building, drew a crowd, and got arrested. My dad thinks it was in the mid-1950s, and wonders what happened to the guy. —CLIMB EVERY FOUNTAIN

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Climb:
Sorry, Dad, but time blurs the memory. It was Government Square, and it was 1947 when John Ciampa climbed out a fourth-floor window of the Traction Building at Fifth and Walnut. Ciampa slithered upwards and downwards, chatting with startled building occupants and waving to the obligatory crowd of gawkers as he avoided several rescue teams. Then, like Rocky the Flying Squirrel, he launched himself across an alley and down to the roof of the Kroger Building next door. (Oh, yes there was.) At the bottom of a fire escape he was met by a Cincinnati welcoming committee, who generously presented him with a pair of handcuffs.

The talented Ciampa, a Brooklyn native, had been hired to promote a traveling rodeo. He was paid $50, half of which covered his fines. Over the years he performed many attention-getting stunts in many cities; sometimes on stage, but more often on the way to jail. News clips about Ciampa’s adventures stop abruptly at age 30, and he died at 48. Watch your step.


I recently moved from Bellevue to Cincinnati, and I don’t know your rules for pickup of leaves. Weekly or bi-weekly? In a bag? Can? Rake them to the curb? The city’s website has some info, but I worry if it’s updated for these “uncertain times.” What’s the latest? —CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LEAF

Dear Falling:
First, welcome to Cincinnati. Unlike Bellevue, we don’t make you submit a form re­questing leaf pickup. Unlike Covington, we don’t ticket you for parking at the curb on leaf collection day. Unlike both, however, Cincinnati requires leaves and yard waste to be in cans labeled “yard waste” or in approved bags, because curbs are reserved exclusively for rude parking. Pickup happens on trash day every other week, when you put out your recycling. Until further notice, each leaf should be carefully wiped with a sanitized cloth. Kidding!

For people of a certain age, your topic triggers nostalgic childhood aromas of burning leaves. Interestingly, Cincinnati’s first leaf-burning bans resulted in protests that mirror today’s face-mask resistance: Totalitarian power grab! Fake science! Protect our precious freedom to spread airborne microscopic particulates! Tattletales and enforcers back then were given Soviet nicknames like Ivan; today they’re called Karen.

WARNING: DO NOT rake leaves into a pile so you can jump in them! Small children only! The leaves provide no cushion whatsoever for adults! Do not ask why the Doctor is so certain of this.


This is a personal question. There’s a new feature on WVXU-FM called “OKI Wanna Know,” where they answer questions about quirky little Cincinnati things. Isn’t this a direct steal of the magazine column you invented? Shouldn’t they have asked you, a radio person, to do it? Is your attorney on this? —OH KNOW

Dear Oh:
First, a correction: This column was invented in 2008 by Albert Pyle. Before his retirement, he was a staggeringly productive and erudite contributor to this magazine. The unbearably exhausting and pressure-filled work of producing this monthly column was only occasionally relieved by his part-time hobby as executive director of the Mercantile Library, a world-renowned Cincinnati treasure since 1835 (perhaps we have confused the time commitments). Your current Doctor inherited the column in 2015, and in the years since has made peace with the fact that the Mercantile Library clearly misplaced his phone number.

Cincinnati has more than enough oddities in its past—rivaled only by the oddities in its present—to occupy the inboxes of several sleuths. Bill Rinehart at WXVU is eminently qualified, having worked in radio news for many years. It takes experience and perspective to know where to look when seeking obscure facts about Cincinnati, plus an ability to punt when a source never gets back to you. We wish Rinehart all the best in his endeavors, and look forward to e-mailing him copies of past columns every time he answers a question we already covered.

Facebook Comments