Dr. Know: SpongeBob Tombstones, the German Purge, and Alphabet Street Names.

Maybe this was in the news and I missed it, but how did the controversy end at Spring Grove Cemetery over those giant SpongeBob SquarePants tombstones? Last I heard, the cemetery took them away and the family brought in the lawyers. Who won? Were the tombstones restored? —SQUELCHBOB


Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Squelch:
First, let us concede that the family involved in this incident suffered a tragic loss, and that the cemetery officials intended no harm or offense. Done. Now let the rest of us explode in laughter. If mercy exists in this world, it must forgive the overpowering molecular-level compulsion to snicker at this situation.

The grieving family received permission from both the cemetery and SpongeBob’s copyright owners to erect a monument depicting the deceased’s adored cartoon character. Only after the installation was completed and observed—a towering pair of granite SpongeBobs, each almost seven feet tall, in military fatigues (the deceased served twice in Iraq)—did Spring Grove’s administrators sense a conflict with the cemetery’s “historic” reputation. The duo was hastily removed (“My leg!!!”). Enough publicity, legal briefs, and jokes erupted to fill countless undersea pineapples.

Apologies have since been issued all around, and the cemetery has paid for the return of The SpongeBobs in modified form. Each is now backed by a mighty slab that displays affectionate tributes and that tempers the visibility of the characters. The Doctor laments that this incident has all but ruined his personal dream of sharing eternity with Michigan J. Frog.

The downtown building at Fourth and Vine housing the Starbucks and UPS Store shows the name “German National Bank” above its main entrance. I recently noticed this engraving also has holes drilled at the corners, which I’m assuming was a result of the name being covered during World War I’s German-avoiding period. When was the name finally uncovered? —GOT YOU NOT COVERED

Dear Not:
The Doctor must first call attention to your entirely inadequate phrase: German-avoiding period. This fails to capture the depth of Cincinnati’s manic purge of all things German from 1917 to 1919. Salem witch frenzy gets only slightly closer. Our large German population, eager to show its patriotism as America threw itself into the Great War, threw everything German down the Memory Hole—minus its beer, because even a frenzy has limits. But German books and fashion disappeared overnight. Business and street names, even family names, were Americanized. Locals probably started saying “what?” instead of “please?”

German National Bank abruptly became Lincoln National Bank, but that didn’t solve everything. The, um, verboten name at Fourth and Vine was not removable; it was deeply etched into the building’s massive stone lintel (the Doctor learned a new word today), so a new sign swiftly arrived to cover it. The etching remained unseen across decades as Lincoln National morphed into Fifth Third Union Trust, Security Savings & Loan, Eagle Savings & Loan, and eventually AmeriTrust in 1986.

Past this point, the timeline leading to the original name’s emancipation gets murky. The only hard evidence of its visibility is a 1999 Enquirer article offhandedly mentioning it. Perhaps it was uncovered in 1995 when Starbucks arrived, with a grand opening that featured Freedom Frappuccinos, Deutschland Dark Roast, and Aryan Espresso. Just guessing.

What’s with the streets in Forest Park? They’re all grouped together alphabetically. You see streets that all start with, say, “C,” then after a few blocks, they all start with “D,” and so on. Why? —BUT NO SESAME STREET

Dear Sesame:
Cincinnatians of a certain age will recall the famous Home State Savings collapse of 1985, and its infamous villain, owner Marvin Warner. To the list of crimes for which he was imprisoned, feel free to add Felonious Cuteness. In the mid-1950s, it was Warner’s real estate firm that developed the community of Forest Park and subcontracted the street namings to a Scrabble dictionary.

Warner, however, might direct blame at the jackbooted thugs of the Federal government. The cutesy-poo naming of Forest Park streets simply duplicated what the feds had done 20 years earlier when they created Greenhills, the community next door. Those streets also have names you can drive past while singing an alphabet song with the kids. Better call your agent, Big Bird.

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