Dr. Know: Unsightly Trapeze Contraptions, Origins of the Teleprompter, and an Oddly Personal Greyhound Bus Misadventure


The trapeze contraption in Burnet Woods near UC is unsightly. I much prefer to see pristine greenery. Why is it permitted to be there? It’s a park, after all, not a circus. Can you get that thing removed? —DISMOUNT AND OUT

Dear Out:
Readers are reminded that this column attempts to provide answers about our city’s esoteric traits, not interventions over its minor injustices. The Doctor is not “On Your Side.” Think of me more as “Off Your Rocker.”

Nonetheless, we shall proceed. The trapezes in Burnet Woods are most certainly perceived by its overseers as appropriate for a park, as they were installed under the auspices of the Cincinnati Park Board, in partnership with Cincinnati Circus, a local entertainment firm that offers a variety of events and workshops. They actually teach trapeze there, with scheduled classes.

As for your quest to find a patch of “pristine greenery” in Burnet Woods, you will somehow have to make do with its other 89 acres. If you were to succeed in evicting that “trapeze contraption,” consider that your victory would leave you with the serene and peaceful Thoreau-like solitude at the tranquil corner of Clifton Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive. You’ve been there, right?

One of the stupider debated issues of the 2016 election is the teleprompter. It gets a lot of attention, even when it’s not used. Somebody told me the damn thing was invented in Cincinnati, but I don’t see that on the Wikipedia page. Is it true?—I THINK I CAM

Dear Cam:
Let us first note that the device’s original company name, TelePrompTer, shows us one of the earliest instances of modern “InterNal CapitaliZation,” a spelling tic that is now annoyingly common. Only last month this column discussed WeatheRate, a firm that seems to believe a capital letter compensates for a missing one.

Nonetheless, we shall proceed. The damn teleprompter does have a Cincinnati connection. (Really, you trust Wikipedia?) In the late 1940s, Madisonville native Fred Barton moved from a Broadway acting career to the emerging television business, but he hated having to constantly memorize new lines for live TV. This inspired his bright idea: a scrolling script device. Some engineering buddies worked up a model, which Barton showed to producers at 20th Century Fox, but they rejected it. This gave Barton an even brighter idea: He quit acting altogether and turned to marketing the product he believed in.

Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati again!) was Barton’s first big client, debuting the teleprompter in 1950 on their new daytime drama, The First Hundred Years. That show tanked, but Barton’s electronic cheat sheet was soon added to every political campaign and soap opera (sorry, the Doctor repeats himself) in America. Over the decades, politicians have been the device’s best customers. They seem to have the most trouble remembering even their own ideas.

In June of 1961, I boarded a Greyhound bus in Cleveland bound for Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The interstates were not completed yet, so I wonder exactly where my bus would have crossed the Ohio River. Might you find this information? Greyhound was of no help.—BEFORE THE BRENT

Dear Before:
Your question (a) is oddly personal and (b) requires considerable effort toward an answer that, if discovered, is of no discernible value.

Nonetheless, we shall proceed. Greyhound, the Doctor confirms, is spectacularly unresponsive. Its corporate answering service faithfully re-creates the bus station window experience: A thoroughly bored employee mumbles unintelligible information into a speakerphone that is turned the wrong way. We’re on our own here.

An answer does suggest itself, however, beginning with your bus’s arrival at Greyhound’s old terminal at Fifth and Sycamore. Since its next major objective toward Ft. Knox was Louisville, it most likely went straight down Sycamore onto the brand-new Ft. Washington Way, whizzed past the Suspension Bridge (a toll bridge at the time), and probably crossed the river on the old version of the C&O Bridge, an ancestor to the Clay Wade Bailey (don’t ask, it’s complicated).

But there are two caveats to this theory. First, your bus may have needed to also stop at Greyhound’s Covington depot on Madison at Sixth, almost certainly requiring a trip over (and a toll for) the Suspension Bridge. Also, Ft. Washington Way did not open until June 29, 1961, so if your “June of 1961” trip was before that date, it’s hard to guess how your bus made it across the river at all. It may have had to swim.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com

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