Dr. Know: Karmic Hills, Restroom Noises, and the Westwood Library

The good doctor explores the origins of street names, libraries—and even shares some legal advice.

Charles McMicken’s name is disappearing at the University of Cincinnati. Probably McMicken Street will also get renamed soon. But I wonder why McMicken’s name went on that particular street in the first place. It’s nowhere near UC. —SO FAR AWAY

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Poor Charlie McMicken. Well, he actually wasn’t poor at all—not even close. In Cincinnati and elsewhere he owned vast amounts of money, land, and—in case you didn’t know—human beings. That is why, despite helping to launch the University of Cincinnati, he has become nom non grata.

As for the street bearing his name (at press time anyway), the Doctor urges you to look at a satellite view of McMicken Avenue at Elm Street. You will notice a large, steep hill. McMicken built his final home around 1850 at the bottom of this hill; the street was called Hamilton Road then. UC later built its first home on the same hill. So it made sense in 1876 to rename Hamilton Road as McMicken Avenue, the better to honor a famous city father. Unfortunately, we now know that McMicken was also an infamous father to at least two of the above-mentioned human beings. His good name is no longer good.

And that hill? A huge landslide in 1972 obliterated most of it, leaving no trace of McMicken’s footprint. Maybe UC should be renamed Karma College.

Attached are screenshots showing the decibel levels of a public restroom hand drier, the new kind where you dangle your fingers down inside. It turns out these things are louder than leaf-blowers, and actually dangerous to unprotected ears. Don’t they violate some kind of Cincinnati noise ordinance? —I CAN’T HEAR ME

The Doctor will not judge the kind of person who goes around with an app measuring decibel levels. Take comfort in knowing that you have a kindred spirit who addressed a similar topic in our April 2019 column, asking if the explosions and musical thuds in movie trailers cross some auditory threshold into illegality.

Our answer from then is the same as now: Cincinnati noise ordinances apply only to acoustic disturbances that travel from their source to another place, such as over-enthusiastic concerts reaching your home or that early-morning leaf blower next door. There’s nothing about noises inside a room with you, especially a room you’ve voluntarily entered in a venue you may have paid to be in.

The Doctor is not a lawyer, but perhaps your particular example presents a slim legal opportunity. Since you’re in a public restroom, maybe you could claim that your presence is not voluntary! Just throwing it out there. If you don’t feel courageous enough to call an attorney with this case, consider a psychiatrist for that thing about carrying around a decibel app.

We all know about robber baron Andrew Carnegie donating the funds to build many of Cincinnati’s public library branches. Good for him. But why did he ignore Westwood? Our library is beautiful, but it came years later and looks very different from the other branches. Why was our prominent neighborhood overlooked by Carnegie? —LEFT ON THE SHELF

The Doctor hesitates to repeat suggesting a therapist in this column, but you may want to reconsider your response to Westwood’s splendid library: Billy got his popsicle first, waahh!! Perhaps more than a library is the issue here, just sayin’.

Your resentment is also misplaced. When Carnegie began donating the funds for libraries in the late 1800s, he was far too busy crushing entire U.S. industries than to bother with designating specific locations. That was done locally. Cincinnati’s nine branches were chosen by a committee, headed by someone so distinguished and prestigious that he had three initials: N.D.C. Hodges. This man came from Harvard and settled in Walnut Hills, so, really, how much of a chance did Westwood ever have?

Furthermore, your library’s pedigree is none too shabby. Its architect was Stanley Matthews, grandson of a Procter on one side (yes, that Procter) and a Supreme Court Justice (also named Stanley Matthews) on the other. He was Cincinnati west side all the way. The Westwood branch opened in 1931 to great acclaim. Even its first librarian was a spinster named Marion, undoubtedly the inspiration for that song from The Music Man (even though Meredith Willson, the musical’s composer and lyricist, spelled the name Marian). Gratitude, please!

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, radio personality and advertising prankster. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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