In 1901, everybody in Cincinnati knew Edwin W. “Eddy” Bayliss, proprietor of the Stag Café. For more than a decade, he’d been the city’s most popular host as proprietor of the highest-class watering hole in the Queen City. George “Boss” Cox, Governor and Senator Joseph Foraker, and Mayor Julius Fleischmann were among the regulars.
A great many people were distraught when Bayliss blew his brains out, standing in front of a mirrored wall in the Stag Café billiard room.
Among the distraught were the Masonic brethren of Miami Lodge No. 46, who gathered to conduct funeral services at Spring Grove Cemetery. Also distraught were the members of the Laughery Club, one of Cincinnati’s elite social organizations.
Although based in Cincinnati, the Laughery Club conducted all club activities along the Ohio River west of Aurora, Indiana, at a rustic compound built in the woods between Laughery Creek and Laughery Island.
Of course Eddy Bayliss was a Laughery member. August Herrman, one of Boss Cox’s lieutenants and owner of the Cincinnati Reds, was president. Ohio Magazine [June 1907] describes the membership, and it could well be a description of the Stag Café’s clientele:
“The Laughery Club is Cincinnati’s most famous organization. It is not in any sense a political club, but as all of the big political leaders of one or the other of the dominant parties are prominent members, there is little doubt that many a political deal has been arranged on the grounds of the Laughery Club. But it is with the social side of the organization that this article is to deal. There are two hundred and fifty members of the club. Nearly all of them are men of means.”
Ohio Magazine also describes a “pretty custom” observed annually at the Laughery Club compound during the organization’s annual August meeting. On arrival from Cincinnati, the club convened on the lawn and planted a magnolia tree in remembrance of each member who had died the previous year.
“Each tree is given the name of the deceased member in whose memory it was planted. An address, breathing hope and faith, is made by one of the club’s orators, and the exercises are at an end.”
By 1904, superstitious members of the Laughery Club were beginning to get the heebie jeebies about one particular tree or, rather, three particular trees. Dedicated to the memory of Eddy Bayliss, all three had died, as if they were committing suicide like their namesake.
Eddy died the same year as Michael Burgoyne, a farrier whose shop on Central Avenue was known as the “Village Smithy” in Cincinnati. Trees for Bayliss and Burgoyne were planted simultaneously. Burgoyne’s magnolia thrived, while Bayliss’ withered and died. The Cincinnati Post [4 July 1904] reported:
“It failed to take root and died. It was removed and another tree planted near by, in memory of Bayliss. In a short time this second tree also died and it was taken up.”
This time, the Laughery Club prevailed upon Dwight R. Herrick, Green Township nurseryman, former township magistrate and two-term representative to the Ohio General Assembly, to provide a healthy magnolia tree, transported and inhumed with the greatest care. The Post reported the outcome:
“Word now comes from Laughery Island that this third tree is dead, despite the extraordinary care of the nurseryman and the employees at the island. When the report that the third Bayliss tree had died was circulated among the Laughery Club members there was some excitement and numerous comments of a weird nature.”
No decision was reached in 1904 to plant or not plant yet another tree to the memory of the suicide. No subsequent news report informs us whether another tree was ever planted.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities