Dr. Know: November 2015

Cincinnati professional sports, tornado sirens, and John Cleves Symmes.
Illustration by Lars Leetaru
Illustration by Lars Leetaru

In a past column, you stated that Cincinnati once had another baseball team along with the Reds. Did this ever happen again, and also, have there ever been any pro football teams besides the Bengals?

The 1884 “Outlaw Reds” were the best of Cincinnati’s few other major league baseball teams, leaving a brief but respectable record. By contrast, our pro football history features a vast graveyard of humiliation. The worst stench comes from the corpse of an ancient NFL franchise bearing the name—hold your nose—“Cincinnati Reds.” Its principal owner, M. Scott Kearns, was also the Hamilton County Coroner, a clear warning.

Whatever heartbreak you may carry thanks to today’s Reds and Bengals, be grateful that you never pinned a single hope on the NFL Reds. Consider: The team played a total of only 18 games and lost 14 of them. Ten were shutouts, the last of them holding the record for worst regular season NFL shutout ever, 64–0. The only reason these stats aren’t even worse is because after that game, midway into their second season, the players were abruptly informed that they were now the St. Louis Gunners.

Then there were the Cincinnati Bengals. The Doctor refers to the 1937 Bengals, who won two out of seven games, then bounced between independent and professional leagues before eventually folding. Paul Brown resurrected the Bengals name when he started our current franchise in 1968, apparently thinking somebody might be nostalgic for this horrid memory.

I live near a tornado siren. I’m used to dealing it with it every first Wednesday of the month, but is it blaring more often than usual? Maybe unnecessarily?  Who exactly decides whether to push the button? And is it really just a button, like in Dr. Strangelove?

You have triggered the Doctor’s TMQWOQ siren, the “Too Many Questions Within One Question” Emergency Alert System. Take shelter immediately; we shall try to provide all the answers before your supplies run out.

Your annoyance is officially called the “outdoor warning siren,” and gets activated for a variety of reasons: tornado, high winds, hazardous material release, sudden streetcar plan revisions, etc. Contrary to your hunch, the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency has actually reduced the instances of alerts. No longer do sirens announce a simple storm of heavy rain and lightning (though sustained winds are still on the menu).

Agency Director Nick Crossley also says that because the sirens are divided into six separate zones, the horn near you howls only when it’s really, truly you they are trying to warn. And yes, it’s a series of buttons. To button or not to button is a decision made by the person(s) on duty. Master control in South Fairmont is not nearly as elaborate as the War Room in Dr. Strangelove, but at least it’s in color.

Is it true that John Cleves Symmes, the man who owned almost all the land that became Cincinnati, was also a nutcase who preached that the Earth is hollow? —ECHO, ECHO

Poor Mr. Symmes—his memory eternally battles this false story. John Cleves Symmes was an 18th-century hybrid of Donald Trump and Warren Buffett, with a whiff of Bernie Madoff. He served as a colonel in the American Revolution, and later turned to land development, getting most of what became Hamilton, Butler, and Warren counties for the price of a LaRosa’s franchise. His legacy is proud—but compromised. Symmes’s brother Timothy screwed up the family tree by naming his own son John Cleves Symmes, Jr. This Freudian stunt perhaps explains the lad’s addled biography, which is often misattributed to his uncle. It was Symmes the Younger who proclaimed, “I declare the Earth is hollow, and habitable within.” The North and South Poles, you see, each had openings hundreds of miles wide, just waiting for civilization to install a future Costco.

In 1818, no human had yet reached the poles (we’re using 1818’s white-male definition of “human” here), so it was hard to challenge Symmes’s contention. He went on lecture tours and weathered considerable ridicule. Still, his work helped to prod Congress into funding the world’s first Arctic expedition. That mission never happened, but Symmes has earned a grudging historical nod for sparking interest in the region. He retired to Hamilton, where a rather bizarre monument to him features a concrete Earth seemingly pierced by a shotgun.

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