Down at the Hamilton County Courthouse, they called him Duffey. He was the assistant custodian and mopped the expansive marble floors of the hallways and trial rooms. In other words, Duffey was the janitor. His real name was Anderson W. Hayes, and he was universally well-liked. According to the Cincinnati Post [27 July 1909]:
“Anderson has a heart as big as the Courthouse, and a fund of sympathy that extends to the lowest crawling creature.”
But Duffey was not just any janitor. He was twice elected mayor of North Bend, Ohio, where he lived. By all accounts, he was a fairly astute politician. The Post [19 October 1910] related one example of his skills: One day, as Duffey was walking up Main Street, he came across a woman of a certain age struggling to move a load of coal from the sidewalk into her cellar. Duffey opined that she ought to let her husband handle a task like that, but the woman responded that her husband worked a strenuous shift and was too tired when he came home. Duffey asked about her husband’s politics, and was informed he was a Democrat. At that Duffey grabbed the shovel and began loading the coal down the chute. The woman asked how she could ever repay his kindness.
“Anderson thrust the cards of several Republican candidates into her hand. ‘By getting your husband to vote for these,’ he said, hurrying away.”
The villagers out in North Bend loved Anderson Hayes because he ran errands for everyone. It was common knowledge in North Bend that Hayes took the train into Cincinnati every day, so his neighbors constantly asked him to run errands. Mayor Hayes delivered their laundry to the cleaners, or their shoes to the cobbler, and picked up prescriptions or patent medicines for ailing constituents.
At various times, Hayes also served North Bend as village constable, notary, justice of the peace, assistant postmaster and custodian of William Henry Harrison’s tomb. If that wasn’t enough to get him elected mayor, his fiscal policies carried the day. Back in 1920, the annual salary for North Bend’s mayor was $150. The village was having trouble making ends meet, so Mayor Hayes unilaterally reduced his own salary to just $50 a year. The Cincinnati Post [21 December 1920] was effusive in praise of the mayor’s example:
“If it happened 50 years ago, it would still be a green and pleasant memory, cherished by a grateful people. In fact, years hence, when folks at North Bend are discussing affairs of the moment, such as the weaknesses of public officials, someone will suddenly exclaim: ‘They don’t make ‘em any more like Anderson Hayes. He cut his salary 66 per cent!’”
Anderson’s wife, Mary Ellen, served as postmistress of North Bend for many years, so the two of them were the local power couple. They had a long – 47 years – marriage, producing three children and six grandchildren.
Eventually, Duffey’s energy and initiative (and political connections, no doubt) got him promoted out of the custodial ranks into an assistantship in the County Clerk’s office.
Although Duffey’s generosity and forbearance were legendary, even he had his limits, and those limits were tested by a Court Street butcher. One day, according to the Cincinnati Post [27 July 1909], a “half-starved, homeless, flea-bitten” dog wandered into the Courthouse and plucked Duffey’s heart strings.
“Anderson immediately bustled about making the canine comfortable. After giving him a drink of water and finding a soft place for him to lie, he ambled to the nearest butcher shop.
“’Give me 10 cents’ worth of dog meat,’ he said, puffing from his unusual burst of speed. ‘You know what I mean,’ he added, anticipating the usual reply. ‘I want some meat for a dog.’
“’Sure,’ said the butcher, with a cruel glitter in his eye. ‘Shall I wrap it up, or do you want to eat it here?’”
Anderson died in 1928, a year after his wife. They are both buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Cleves.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities.