Dr. Know: Christmas Traditions, Sidewalks, and Carl Lindner

Christmas traditions, sidewalks, and Carl Lindner.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

I’m so glad Cincinnati brought back some of its Christmas traditions that had almost gone extinct: the CG&E trains, the Shillito’s elves, etc. Are there any local holiday customs that disappeared forever? —DAZE OF YORE

Dear Daze:
We must cynically point out that our warmly remembered “traditions” were created by corporations to attract shoppers. And it was ever thus: In 1887, Mabley & Carew was first in Cincinnati to book an appearance by Santa Claus himself. This was immediately cloned at competing stores, spawning generations of Awkward Family Photos. Let us rejoice that no tradition grew from Santa’s visit to Bell, Miller & Co. dry goods at Sixth and Race: “See Living Human Head on exhibition at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily in our Toy Department!”

A tradition almost got going when Cincinnati hosted the Dresden Boys’ Choir in 1935. Radio stations aired the choir’s Christmas performances from Dresden in subsequent years, and the boys came to town again in 1938. To understand why these shows suddenly stopped, download some Kurt Vonnegut to your Kindle.

Here’s one old tradition that Cincinnati does not miss: mammoth, out-of-control fires. Several blocks of downtown became a giant Yule log on Christmas Day 1888, and again in 1889. A Cumminsville house that didn’t completely burn down for Christmas 1902 tried again on its first anniversary. Cincinnati’s “Shoe District Fire” of 1910 ignited just before Christmas, roasted chestnuts almost until New Year’s Eve, and was upstaged a few days later when the Chamber of Commerce building burned to the ground. God bless us, everyone!

I live in Amberley Village, where many Orthodox Jews also live. On Rosh Hashanah, I saw families walking to synagogue in large groups, including kids, and it looked a bit unsafe to me. Many Amberley streets don’t have sidewalks, forcing residents to walk to temple on wet, slippery grass or in traffic. Shouldn’t there be some police support during these events? —GOY VEY

Dear Vey:
The Doctor will answer your question with a question, just like a learned and slightly passive-aggressive rabbi: So every weekend you’re cooped up, binge-watching Hulu? You never noticed these families until recently? You should get out more.

Relax already, and don’t worry about safety; all those Jewish mothers are worrying for you. The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and township police have partnered to erect numerous signs throughout these neighborhoods alerting motorists to the routine foot traffic. They’ve also distributed reflective outerwear for those who walk home after dark.

Many Gentiles wonder why driving a car on the Sabbath is considered “creative labor.” Power steering and talking maps, this is work? Officially, yes: making a spark plug spark means you’re kindling a fire, an explicit Shabbat prohibition. Ergo, holidays like Rosh Hashanah tend to generate clusters of pedestrians in the Orthodox communities of Amberley Village, Golf Manor, and elsewhere. Rabbi Ezra Goldschmiedt of Amberley’s Congregation Sha’arei Torah says that in addition to township support, he and his colleagues regularly remind congregants to walk facing traffic, keep an eye on the kids, and only cross at the crosswalks. (Don’t dwell on the word cross.)

Where is Carl Lindner buried? I promise I’m not some crazed body snatcher. It was just something I wondered one day, and the more I searched online and found nothing, the more I wanted to know. Is there an actual effort to keep it unknown? —GREAT AMERICAN

Dear Great:
There are probably more places in this town sporting Carl Lindner’s name than there are locations of United Dairy Farmers. A guy with a bank account so big he bought his own bank, Lindner was famous for donating huge chunks of his fortune to local charities and causes. He was famous for buying and selling icons like the Reds and Chiquita Banana. He was famous for aggressively supporting conservative causes. Ironically, he was also famous for being allergic to fame. Donald Trump he was not.

Information about the ultimate display of his name—his tombstone—has not been made public. Lindner’s hometown of Norwood hosted a well-attended parade the day of his funeral in 2011, but the funeral/burial itself was private and unpublicized. A determined sleuth could probably unearth the piece of earth you seek. The Doctor has been provided reliable sources, but for the first time in this column, he stands down. Lindner gave us much; let’s give him this. Salute him during your next 32-ounce chocolate malt.

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