Dr. Know: Lost Uncles, Knitted Vandalism, and a Lonesome Bench

The good doctor ponders puzzling queries, like historic streets seemingly vanished into thin air, previous attacks on poor Romulus and Remus, and the purpose of an unclaimed park bench.

I am stalled researching my family history. According to old Cincinnati directories, my great uncle moved in 1947 from Marquis Street in Walnut Hills to Layton Alley. But I can’t find a Layton Alley on any map, old or new. Where did my Uncle Arthur go? I’ve lost him. Help! —CRYING UNCLE

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

The Doctor, proudly flexing his six-pack of research muscle, found Layton Alley and your Uncle Arthur. Solving this mystery, however, uncovered something even more mysterious. Follow along:

In 1936, Uncle Arthur’s front door was on Marquis Street in Walnut Hills. Outside his back door ran a slimmer street called Lawrence Alley—or so it seemed. The city had renamed it Layton Alley back in 1908, but mapmakers seemed to have missed the memo. They showed it as Lawrence Alley for decades, which is why your research stalled. But it got screwed up even more.

In 1947, for reasons unknown, the city of Cincinnati shoved all the addresses along Marquis Street over to Layton Alley. You didn’t “lose” Uncle Arthur; he never moved. He and all of his neighbors suddenly had their back doors designated as front doors. Did the city reimburse residents for new landscaping? Or maybe paid for rotating each property? We’ll never know, because the entire area was later obliterated by Interstate 71, possibly to hide any embarrassment.

When the “Capitoline wolf” statue in Eden Park was stolen in June, my older brother said it wasn’t the first time the statue has been attacked. He can’t remember the details, but he says about 10 years ago it was “dressed up in embarrassing clothing.” Do you know what that’s supposed to mean? —WHEREVER I MAY ROME

First, some history: Romulus and Remus were the original Property Brothers—the mythical founders of ancient Rome. A bronze statue there depicting them as babies suckling a wolf goes back centuries. In 1931, Italian dictator Mussolini bestowed a replica of the statue to us, an American city named for a Roman leader (Cincinnatus). And it was here our troubles began.

Italy delivered the wrong statue, only 30 inches long; kind of like that Stonehenge scene in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. This error was quickly corrected. Later, the fact that Mussolini’s best friend was Adolf Hitler became, um, triggering, and park officials had to hide the statue for a while. In the 1950s, some Cincinnatians briefly expressed discomfort with the babies’ exposed pee-pees, but we got over that.

The statue’s most recent humiliation was in 2011, when the babies suddenly sported colorful little booties and their mom wore a hat and knitted scarf. A group called Bombshells had left their “non-destructive graffiti” on the statue as part of their yarn-bombing. This is the source of your brother’s memory. At this writing the bronze wolf has not been found, but the thief was undoubtedly a Cincinnatian—he or she didn’t touch the twins or their pee-pees.

Park Place, the condo next door to the Taft Museum of Art, has a pedestrian ramp running from Butler Street in the back to Pike Street in front. Halfway up is a lone park bench, with no transit nearby. The only view is of the wall on Columbia Parkway’s ramp. The bench has no reason to exist. Who put it there and why? —SIT AND WONDER

The Doctor, as noted above, prides himself on his formidable Indiana Jones–like powers of solving the most stubbornly hard-to-crack and monumentally trivial mysteries. The more pointless the quest, the more pointed becomes the Doctor’s focus. Your question may qualify as the winner for Outstanding Triviality 2022, but it’s only fair that we wait until the end of the year.

All this is prelude, as readers may have guessed, to the fact that your submission must be added to our extremely short list of Frustratingly Unanswered Inquiries. After visiting the park bench in question, after sitting upon it and confirming its lonely placement of seemingly little practical or aesthetic function, the Doctor set out to discover its parentage and purpose. Park Place denies all connection to the bench; they almost demanded a DNA test, as if trying to escape child support. Various departments of the city of Cincinnati were about as responsive as you would expect. The quest continues, but we’ll probably see that bronze wolf recovered first.

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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