Oberlin Heritage Center Blog


A Visit to the Norfolk Waterfront

May 27th, 2018

By Melva Tolbert, Oberlin Heritage Center Volunteer

In keeping with the theme of freedom and the Underground Railroad, I recently visited Norfolk, Virginia which is rich in history and stories of freedom. After a stop at the Norfolk Visitors Bureau, I set out to find the Norfolk Waterfront. I ventured a couple of blocks to the Elizabeth River and found an Underground Railroad historic marker which denotes the place where many enslaved blacks sought freedom along the waterfront.

Prior to the Civil War, the waterways along the east coast served as a transportation mode that brought enslaved Africans and free blacks to the east coast. It also was the site for a busy commercial activity. This historic marker highlighted the story of George Latimer, an enslaved black man seeking freedom like thousands like him in the North. George and his wife Rebecca escaped by the waterways to Boston and he did not return to his owner.

George_Latimer_lithograph

George Latimer 
Thayer & Co. (Boston, Mass.)–Lithographer
New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Because such a large number of blacks were employed in the shipping industry (shipyards, boats, and steamships) they were able to quietly assist African Americans with securing transportation heading North. Additionally, whites, either for a fee or by aiding the efforts of the Underground Railroad movement, transported enslaved men and women out of the Virginia and North Carolina area. It is believed that thousands of people were able to reach northern cities and Canada through these heroic efforts. Much like the abolitionist of Oberlin, you could find men and women in another part of the country who were committed to the message of freedom and the network of the Underground Railroad (on water).

Link to Waterways to Freedom interactive map and historical information

It Happened in Oberlin

October 25th, 2017

by Officer Bashshar Wiley,Oberlin Police Department

For the past 5 1/2 years I’ve been a police officer with the Oberlin Police Department. Prior to being employed by the city, I lived in Oberlin until the age of 11 when I moved to the Village of Grafton. Growing up, I became enamored with history due to an exceptional teacher I had while attending Open Door Christian School in Elyria. At the same time, I had a strong interest in law enforcement and investigations due to the fact my father worked as a detective after retiring at the rank of sergeant.

Wiley Photograph

Officer Bashshar Wiley (Right) and his father, retired Oberlin Police Sergeant and current Oberlin Municipal Court Deputy Bailiff, Bill Wiley.

 

My father, Bill Wiley, has seen just about everything there is during his law enforcement career which spans decades. This includes murders, arsons, sexual assaults, robberies, shootings and suicides. What is surprising about this fact is that my dad didn’t work for a police department in Cleveland, Akron, Lorain or Elyria. My dad spent 27 years as a police officer in Oberlin, Ohio from 1968-1995.

The quote “it happened in Oberlin” is something I heard many times over the years when my dad would share stories from his career. It’s important to note that while Oberlin is a very safe community, there have been incidents where some dangerous and even deadly occurrences have taken place. Although some of these incidents have been forgotten over time, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as a “crime free” community. In fact, cities and villages, no matter the size, do not have the ability to commit crimes. The unfortunate act of committing a crime is left to the resident or individual “passing through” the city or village to commit such an act.

As a 29 year-old man with interest in history and law enforcement, imagine my surprise when my father emailed me a month ago about an officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty way back in 1881 and completely forgotten about over time. This officer was Constable Franklin Stone, and he was shot and killed in Oberlin, Ohio.

The information provided to me by my dad began when retired Elyria Police Detective Alan Leiby was having a conversation with Oberlin author, Don Hilton, about police officers in Lorain County who had lost their lives in the line of duty. One of these officers, Constable Franklin Stone, was believed to be from Oberlin. Constable Stone’s name was not engraved on any memorial walls, nor was he acknowledged at any police memorials for fallen officers. There were no streets named after him or buildings constructed in his memory. In fact, there was no information at all about Constable Stone. At that point, the three of us were “all in” with conducting our own investigation into the life and unfortunate death of Constable Stone.

From three separate locations, my father, Alan Leiby and I each conducted our own investigation into the Constable Stone case. I don’t know how many times his name was typed into the “Google machine”, in a variety of ways, but anytime information was located, it was shared within our group. Although never in the same room together, we each found clues leading to just what took place back in 1881 on the streets of the “Village of Oberlin” with only a population of 3,242 according to the U.S. Census of 1880.

These “clues” consisted of old newspaper articles from The Oberlin Weekly News, book articles, Lorain County court records, gravesite information and even a map of Oberlin dated from 1876. Nothing was more exciting or rewarding than finding an old newspaper article describing the event. In fact, investigations are my favorite part of my job. Using the information we collected over the course of a two-week investigation, we were able to determine just what exactly took place.

Franklin Stone was born in Pittsfield Township on August 15, 1835. Stone lived there until 1866, when he moved to Iowa, where he remained for three years until relocating to Oberlin on South Professor Street. Stone worked as an agent for the United States Express Company and also owned/operated a carriage and transfer line. In the spring of 1881, Stone was elected marshal (constable) of Oberlin and New Russia Township.

Constable Franklin Stone succumbed to a gunshot wound sustained on May 12th, 1881, after a foot pursuit of a subject whom he was attempting to arrest at approximately 7:00 pm. Stone had arrested a man the previous day in an attempt to serve an assault warrant. The man initially cooperated with Constable Stone and agreed to accompany him to the police station, but then hesitated as they passed a blacksmith shop where his father and brother were working. The family members exited the shop and attacked Constable Stone, allowing the prisoner to escape. Constable Stone swore out warrants for the father and brother and then attempted to serve them the following day. As he attempted to arrest the brother, the man fled on foot with Constable Stone firing at him as he ran southbound on South Main Street. One of the rounds wounded the man, who ran to his home on Mechanic Street (modern day Locust Street). As Constable Stone reached the home, the man’s father stood in the doorway and shot him in the chest with a rifle, causing a serious wound. Constable Stone was taken to his home where he remained until passing away on June 4th, 1881. The man who shot Constable Stone was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 1891 due to his old age and frail condition. Franklin Stone is buried with his family at Westwood Cemetery.

Constable Stone is one of two Oberlin officers to lose their life in the line of duty. The other being Patrol Officer Robert Woodwall who died in a motor vehicle crash on March 10, 1971 when his patrol vehicle slid off the icy roadway and crashed into a tree on East Hamilton Street. Constable Franklin Stone will now be added to the Lorain County Police Memorial, Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial and his name will be engraved at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, Constable Stone’s memory could’ve been lost over the course of time if it wasn’t for the dedication and research of those involved. This includes the work of Maren McKee from the Oberlin Heritage Center who was able to provide me with additional articles describing the incident and even locating Constable Stone’s obituary.

Not only is this incident important to the history of Oberlin, but also Lorain County as Constable Stone is now the first recorded law enforcement death in the history of Lorain County.

I am very proud of the work which led to the rediscovery of Constable Stone and it will be one of the highlights of my career here in Oberlin. Although Constable Stone’s story was “lost” for 136 years, he can now be remembered and his life celebrated for his dedication to the safety of the citizens of Oberlin. Please share the story of Constable Stone, and when people ask, you can tell them “it happened in Oberlin.”

Constable Franklin Stone

1835-1881

Gone…but NOT FORGOTTEN

A Visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House

September 8th, 2017

by Melva Tolbert, Oberlin Heritage Center volunteer

As my husband and I recently traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio for a family reunion, it was a great opportunity to spend time visiting some historic sites in a city that was so active in the struggle for freedom. My brief time at the Oberlin Heritage Center (OHC) has helped me gain a greater appreciation of not only the local history of Oberlin, but the history that encapsulates some other communities in Ohio. I became curious of Cincinnati’s local history after touring the OHC Freedom Friend’s History Walk that touched on the connection between the seminary in Cincinnati and the early settlers of Oberlin.

After a few word searches, I found information on the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, which depicts the horrors of slavery in the south. Additionally, I found information on the former location of the Lane Seminary which held debates on the issues of slavery. A historical marker sits in front of a Cadillac dealership that was the former site of the seminary. It is in walking distance of the Beecher House. As our visit to Cincinnati was winding down, I made my way towards Madison Avenue in Cincinnati to seek out the only remaining building that documents a turbulent time in Cincinnati’s history as well as our nation.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati

Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Photographer: Nora Pritchett

The Beecher House is located in the historic Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati and served as the residence of Harriet Beecher Stowe and her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, the president of Lane Seminary. When I arrived at the house, a number of adults and children were touring the first and second floors. Once you enter the house, you find yourself in a large foyer and facing a long hallway which stretches into the back addition. I was told that the first three rooms were the original structure of the house. The front room to the right, which may have served as the parlor, had a poster board presentation on the Rev. Lyman Beecher, the Lane Seminary, and individuals in the community including local abolitionists. Our tour guide spoke of a community that was benefiting economically from the commercial activity along the Ohio River and the conflict over not viewing slaves as equals. Many students at the seminary and local abolitionists found the conditions unacceptable and sought immediate emancipation for those enslaved. Lyman Beecher was portrayed as part of the former, which resulted in the turmoil at the seminary. A fourteen day debate on the issues of slavery ensued over the merits of emancipation versus slavery.

In the room that was considered the family dining room, a large timeline depicted the activities of the family, the Lane Seminary, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work and family, including her husband and children. Harriet had her own personal struggles with the issue of slavery which led to her writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She felt it was important to document the difficulties of slavery particularly as
people left the south for Ohio. In 1835, the timeline indicated that many students left Lane Seminary and traveled to nearby Cumminsville, Ohio and then unto Oberlin, Ohio to continue their studies and work towards emancipation.

My visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House led full-circle to another guided tour by the Oberlin Heritage Center entitled Scholars and Settlers, which led us through the early settling and growth of Oberlin College. This tour began at the corner of College and Main Streets in Oberlin and proceeded along the brick and paved walkway around Tappan Square. As our small group walked along College Street near the  Oberlin Conservatory of Music, I was pleasantly surprised to see the former location of the large wood dormitory that housed those early settlers from Cincinnati.

The Election of 1857 and Oberlin’s Dissent

November 19th, 2016

by Ron Gorman, Oberlin Heritage Center volunteer docent, researcher and trustee

The recent Presidential election, in which Ohio continued its recent trend of flip-flopping between blue and red every 8 years, got me thinking about early Ohio history. It was even worse back then actually – with the flip-flops often happening every two years. In particular, I thought about the election of 1857, another biennial flip with accompanying flop, where the issues of the day were much more divisive than the issues we face today (as hard as that may be to believe!) The 1857 election would arguably turn out to be particularly significant to Oberlin, but it didn’t go Oberlin’s way at all. Nevertheless Oberlin would face the problem with characteristic steady and calm resolve, and ultimately Oberlin would prevail. (Note: This topic was originally covered in great detail in my Northern States’ Rights three-part series of blogs three years ago, but in light of recent events I thought it was worth revisiting from a new perspective with some additional information.)

The election of 1857 was a state election, not a national one. State elections were more significant then, as many Ohioans, including most Oberlinites, had given up on the federal government altogether and put their faith in the state to protect their rights. The federal government at that time seemed hopelessly wedded to the “slave power”, run by Democrats at a time when the Democratic party was unabashedly pro-slavery. The 1850s had seen an endless stream of intrusions by the Democratic “slaveocracy” on the liberties of the northern states and western territories, beginning with the notorious Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which denied accused fugitive slaves even the most basic legal rights and proscribed stiff penalties for anyone who assisted them, or even refused to assist in their capture. Even at the time of the 1857 election, Democratic President James Buchanan was doing everything in his power to force an oppressive pro-slavery state constitution and legislature on the overwhelmingly anti-slavery inhabitants of Kansas Territory.

But there was one ray of hope amidst all this angst for Ohio’s anti-slavery residents. In 1854, a new anti-slavery party called the Republicans had formed. And the statewide elections of 1855 saw an extraordinary flip where this brand new party took control of the governorship and both houses of the state General Assembly from the Democrats. Over the next two years, the Republican General Assembly passed four “personal liberty laws”, which partially counteracted the federal Fugitive Slave Law and restored some basic legal rights to Ohio’s black residents, hundreds of whom resided in Oberlin. The most radical of these laws, a “Habeas Corpus act”, was written by Oberlin’s own favorite son, Representative James Monroe, an Oberlin College Professor (see my  Northern States’ Rights, Part 2 blog for details).

James Monroe

James Monroe (courtesy Oberlin College Archives)

All of this was in jeopardy, however, with the statewide election of October, 1857, as every state Representative and Senator was up for re-election. Without today’s sophisticated polling techniques (and yes, my eyes were rolling as I typed that), it’s hard to know exactly what the people of 1857 expected from the election, but clearly Oberlin hoped for another Republican victory and did its share by reelecting James Monroe to his seat. The rest of Ohio didn’t come through, however. There’s some indication of Republican complacency and low turnout, and some indication that the Democrats were particularly motivated to repeal the personal liberty laws, but whatever the case, the Democrats regained control of both houses of the General Assembly. (The Republican governor did manage to win reelection by a slim margin, but the governorship at that time was a relatively weak office, with no veto power.) [1]

If there was any adverse reaction in Oberlin to the election results, it’s not apparent from the historical record. Instead, James Monroe would return to his seat in Columbus and fight to keep Ohio Democrats from overturning the personal liberty laws, and Oberlin would quietly go about its usual business as if nothing had changed: assisting freedom seekers who appeared on its doorstep, and sending out abolitionist missionaries, teachers, preachers, journalists, lawyers, etc., to spread the anti-slavery message throughout Ohio and the northern states.

But elections have consequences, and the consequences of this one would be severe for Oberlin. Returning to his seat in Columbus in January, 1858, James Monroe, now a member of the minority party, knew he would face an uphill fight. The Democrats wasted no time in proving him right. Within days of their arrival at the capitol, they introduced a bill to repeal one of the Republican personal liberty laws, leaving no doubt that they intended to repeal the others as well and potentially turn Ohio’s citizens into “bloodhounds” for the “slaveocracy”. So Monroe addressed the Ohio House of Representatives and in his characteristic style issued the Democrats a stern warning:

When God created me, he set me erect upon two feet. I have never had any reason to doubt the wisdom of the arrangement. At least, I will never so far disown my own manhood, as to prostrate myself into a barking quadruped upon the bleeding footsteps of a human brother struggling to be free…
 
I believe you are pursuing a course well adapted to ruin your own party in the State, and restore the law-making power to the hands of the Republicans. When I came to the Legislature this Winter, I expected you to engage in a moderate share of Pro-slavery action; but this is an immoderate share of it… Even though, as a party, you should feel under the necessity of eating your peck of dirt, why should you – for that reason – volunteer to swallow a bushel? I have strong hope that you will not…
 
Some of the [news]papers in this part of the State, after the last election, complained, with good reason, that in some portions of the [Western] Reserve the Republicans did not turn out to the election. But gentlemen, if you will only pass this bill, and repeal the Habeas Corpus Act and the law to prevent slaveholding in the State of Ohio, and indorse Mr. Buchanan’s Kansas policy, there will be no complaint, two years hence, about the Republicans of the Reserve not turning out. The Yankees of Ashtabula, instead of staying at home to make cider on the second Tuesday of October, will leave the cider to work on its own account, and, thronging to the polls in a mass together with their fellow Republicans throughout the State, will, by triumphantly returning a majority to this General Assembly, rebuke this disposition to extend and fortify the slave power. [2]

Monroe’s mention of Ashtabula, a county in the staunchly abolitionist, far northeastern corner of the state, appears to have had some merit. “We are ashamed,” lamented an Ashtabula County correspondent the day after the election, “but we cannot help it. It rained hard nearly all day, and our lazy fellows could not be got out.” But the problem extended well beyond Ashtabula. [3]

Monroe also distributed a pamphlet urging the General Assembly not to repeal his own Habeas Corpus personal liberty law, describing a hypothetical situation that could play out without the protection that the personal liberty laws provided against the “unjust” and “hated” Fugitive Slave Law:

A law breathes its own spirit into all the proceedings under it. The deep hatred of the community, also, against an unjust law, often exhibiting itself in unmistakeable [sic] expressions of hostility, will sometimes justify, in the opinion of the officers of such a law, hasty and extraordinary proceedings. A United States marshal who should be sent to Greene County to seize a supposed fugitive, would be tempted, unless a man of uncommon courage, to enter the county in the night, seize the first colored man that he could find alone and unarmed, and leave before morning, without making any very extensive inquiry, as to whether he had taken the right man or not. [4]

The Democrats ignored Monroe’s warnings. They went ahead with their agenda and repealed three of the Republican personal liberty laws, leaving only the most conservative one standing. Not content with turning the clock back to 1854, they also took aim at an Ohio tradition that dated back sixteen years. “We are unalterably opposed to negro suffrage and equality, without reference to shade or proportion of African blood,” they proclaimed. Although Ohio’s state constitution had restricted voting rights to white men only from its very inception, the Ohio Supreme Court had ruled in 1842 that any mixed-race man who was “nearer white than black” was white enough to vote. Now in 1859, the Democratic General Assembly passed a law overturning that decision. [5]

As if that wasn’t enough, the federal government took the opportunity to pile on. Federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law had always been lax in the Western Reserve, and overt slavecatcher activity had been virtually non-existent in Oberlin for over a decade. Even in southern Ohio, President Buchanan had backed down from a confrontation with Ohio authorities over Monroe’s radical personal liberty law in 1857. But now that would all change. In the spring of 1858, while Ohio Democrats were earnestly repealing the Republican personal liberty laws, President Buchanan felt emboldened enough to appoint an aggressive new federal marshal named Matthew Johnson to the Northern District of Ohio. Johnson intended to go after fugitives from slavery not just in the Western Reserve, but specifically in Oberlin. To that end, he appointed a disgruntled Oberlin insider named Anson Dayton as his deputy. The election of 1857 was about to come home to Oberlin. [6]

Oberlin would stand firm, however. Dayton’s direct attempts to capture freedom seekers within the borders of Oberlin village in the summer of 1858 met with stiff resistance from Oberlin’s black community. By the end of summer he had grown more cautious, helping only to identify an alleged Oberlin fugitive named John Price to a visiting pair of Kentucky slavecatchers. It would be another U.S. marshal from Columbus who would join the Kentuckians in a duplicitous scheme to lure Price out of Oberlin, ambush him, and put him on a southbound train in nearby Wellington – actions eerily reminiscent of the hypothetical situation James Monroe had described just six months earlier. In an event that gained national notoriety as the “Oberlin-Wellington Rescue”, scores of Oberlinites rushed to Price’s assistance in Wellington. Although they succeeded in rescuing Price from his captors and escorting him safely to Canada, Oberlin and Wellington now found themselves in the crosshairs of an irate Buchanan Administration. A federal grand jury convened in Cleveland and indicted 37 men for violating the Fugitive Slave Law. [7]

The Buchanan Administration could scarcely have made a more damaging move to their own cause, however. Oberlin, whose purpose from its inception as a colony was to “exert a mighty influence” on American spirituality, seized upon this event as an opportunity to exert a mighty influence on American public opinion regarding the “slave power” as well. After holding a defiantly jolly “Felon’s Feast”, the indicted men cheerfully turned themselves in to federal authorities, and as their trials dragged into April, 1859, they literally dared the federal government to jail them pending the verdicts, which the federal government compliantly did. [8]

It was a public relations bonanza. In Painesville, just a stone’s throw from Ashtabula County, a meeting of citizens “large in numbers, and earnest in spirit” responded two weeks later by passing the following resolutions:

Resolved, That the act of the Federal Court in causing the arrest and imprisonment of our fellow citizens of Lorain county, for no crime, but for the performance of a duty clearly required by Religion and Humanity, is an outrage…
 
Resolved, That the events now transpiring in Ohio, remind us of the duty of strenuous efforts for the return of a Legislature at our next election that will enact a Personal Liberty bill, providing for the political disfranchisement and outlawry of any citizen who shall in any way attempt the enforcement upon the free soil of Ohio of the hated Fugitive Law. [9]

The next month, thousands of Ohioans flocked to Cleveland, just blocks from where the Rescuers were being held in jail, to rally in support of the Rescuers and condemn the actions of the federal government. Republican Governor Salmon Chase addressed the angry crowd and reminded them: “The great remedy is in the people themselves, at the ballot box. Elect men with backbone who will stand up for [your] rights, no matter what forces are arrayed against [you].” [10]

Five months later, In the statewide election of October, 1859, Ohioans would do just that, fulfilling James Monroe’s prophesy of the year before. Not only the “Yankees of Ashtabula”, but “Republicans throughout the State”, left “the cider to work on its own account” and headed to the polls, “triumphantly returning a majority to this General Assembly.”

The Republicans returned with renewed energy and enthusiasm, but also tempered by their previous defeat. They would pass only one new personal liberty law* to join the lone personal liberty law that the Democrats were previously unable to repeal. (That unrepealed law, by the way, was instrumental in getting the charges dropped against the Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers.) The more radical personal liberty laws, like Monroe’s, the Republicans would leave on the shelf. But Ohio Republicans would also “demand the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.” The General Assembly did its part in accommodating that wish, electing Republican Salmon Chase, the country’s most vocal opponent of the Fugitive Slave Law, to the United States Senate (as U.S. Senators at that time were elected by state legislatures, not by popular vote). The Republican Ohio Supreme Court also pitched in, striking down the Democratic law of early 1859 that had denied the vote to any “persons having a mixture of African blood.” [11]

Republican enthusiasm flourished right on into the 1860 Presidential election, when Ohio elected by a wide margin the first ever Republican President, Abraham Lincoln. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But history repeats itself, as another saying goes, over and over again. Great progress is never linear, but a series of forward steps interrupted occasionally by the inevitable and often disheartening backstep. History teaches us that antebellum Ohio’s progress was no more linear than today’s – in fact far less so. But history also teaches us that progress can resume after a backslide, if its advocates use the opportunity to regroup and re-energize, to constructively “exert a mighty influence” on public opinion, to listen to the grievances of their opponents, and to accommodate those grievances that are reasonable while standing firm and courageous against those grievances that are not.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “We may stumble and fall, but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle.” [12]

 

* Historians have traditionally taken the stance that this General Assembly passed no new personal liberty laws – a claim that I myself repeated in my Part 3 blog. Since then I have discovered that the Republicans discreetly passed what amounted to a low-key personal liberty law in 1860. [13] This law would have an impact on the infamous Lucy Bagby case of 1861, and will be discussed in detail in a future blog.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED:

Ron Gorman, Kidnapped into Slavery: Northern States’ Rights, Part 1

Ron Gorman, Monroe’s Personal Liberty Law: Northern States’ Rights, Part 2

Ron Gorman, “Odious Business” in Oberlin: Northern States’ Rights, Part 3

James Monroe, “Speech of Mr. Monroe of Lorain, In the House of Representatives, Jan 12, 1858”, Oberlin College Archives, RG30/22, Series 5, Subseries 3, Box 27

James Monroe, Speech of Mr. Monroe of Lorain, upon the bill to repeal the Habeas Corpus Act of 1856

The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue 1858“, Oberlin Heritage Center

Jacob Rudd Shipherd, Oberlin Wellington Rescue

Steven Lubet, The “Colored Hero” of Harper’s Ferry

Stephen Middleton, The Black Laws: Race and the Legal Process in Early Ohio

“Public Voice of the People. Public Meeting at Painesville”, Cleveland Daily Leader, Apr 28, 1859, p. 2

“Benighted Ashtabula”, Ohio State Journal, Oct. 16, 1857, p. 2

The Ohio Platforms of the Republican and Democratic Parties, from 1855 to 1881 Inclusive

Joseph Patterson Smith, History of the Republican Party in Ohio, Volume 1

“Alfred J. Anderson v. Thomas Milliken and Others”, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Ohio, Volume 9

Acts of the State of Ohio, Volume 57

James H. Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College, 1833-1883

Gaye Williams Ortiz and Clara A. B. Joseph, Theology and Literature: Rethinking Reader Responsibility

 
FOOTNOTES:

[1] Gorman, Part 3
[2] Monroe, “Speech…Jan 12, 1858”, pp.4, 7-8
[3] “Benighted Ashtabula”
[4] Monroe, Speech…Habeas Corpus Act of 1856, p. 5
[5] Ohio Platforms, p. 9; Middleton, pp. 130-131
[6] Lubet, pp. 58, 65, 77; Gorman, Part 3; Gorman, Part 2
[7] Gorman, Part 3; The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue 1858
[8] Fairchild, p. 19 (quoting John J. Shipherd)
[9] “Public Voice”
[10] Shipherd, p. 255
[11] Gorman, Part 3; Smith, p. 91; “Alfred J. Anderson”, p. 458
[12] Ortiz, p. 126
[13] Acts…Volume 57, pp. 108-109

“Unyielding dedication”: Stephen Johnson on Richard Lothrop’s Legacy

July 22nd, 2016

by Hannah Cipinko, Oberlin Heritage Center Junior Intern

 

Untitled

Richard Lothrop (1925-2015), pictured with his cocker spaniel Rusty. [1]

Oberlin is well known for its historic qualities, its strong sense of community, and high amount of community involvement. In this post we will explore the legacy of an extraordinary historian and community member, the late Richard Lothrop.  His legacy lives on today through his impressively thorough collection of significant documents and newspapers from Oberlin’s history, which are now both preserved and available for research at the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Richard Lothrop was born in 1925 in Washington, D.C., and came to live in Oberlin at only three months old. He lived with his father, mother, and younger sister. His father was a professor of chemistry at Oberlin College. After graduating from Oberlin High School, Lothrop attended the College of Wooster and then worked in various college administration positions until taking a teaching job at Fairview High School. Richard went on to become “archivist emeritus” at Oberlin’s Christ Episcopal Church, and was named “Oberlinian of the Year” in 1996. This quote from his 2015 obituary in the Oberlin News-Tribune demonstrates the extent of his “unyielding dedication to his hometown”. . .

“Richard’s legacy included an almost obsessive trait to save newspaper clippings and document people, places, and events. He kept hundreds of files on subjects ranging from Oberlin events, Oberlin residents, and Oberlin College students, faculty, and staff to trains, planes, automobiles, and stamps!”[2]

I spoke with Oberlin Heritage Center Board of Trustees member Stephen Johnson, who is undertaking the immense project of sorting and preserving the files for posterity, to find out more about both Oberlin’s more recent history and Lothrop’s legacy of preservation.

 

Hannah Cipinko (HC): To start us off, how long have you been working with the Oberlin Heritage Center?

Steve Johnson (SJ): Well, I’ve been a trustee now for five years, and I’ve had an association with them for over twenty. We’ve been members for a long, long time. And my father was president for thirteen years of the predecessor of the Oberlin Heritage Center, O.H.I.O (Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization) so that’s where I got my interest.

 

HC: Do you know how the Heritage Center in particular came to possess these documents instead of any other organization?

SJ: Our former executive director Pat Murphy was friends with Dick Lothrop and knew of his collection. Dick had assured OHC that upon his death we would receive all this material. When he went into a nursing home . . . we ended up with twelve boxes of this material, so now we’re in the process of going through it.

 

HC:  What is that process like? Do you grab a file, or go alphabetically, and just dive in?

SJ: We’ve been working through it alphabetically. You open a file, and then . . . I sort the files into people, obituaries, and then miscellaneous, which is anything from churches, or town events, businesses in town, you know . . . anything that doesn’t qualify as people. . . We also sort out any documents from college publications because the college already has those in their archives, and there’s no need to duplicate that here . . . Once it’s sorted out, it has to be copied onto acid free paper and filed.

 

HC: What do you consider the most interesting story or item you have discovered so far?

SJ: I recently ran into a big stack of articles on our former congressman from Oberlin, who had also been the editor of the Oberlin News-Tribune, Charles Mosher. That was really fascinating to go through, it turns out he was quite an eloquent speaker and writer. So that was fun [laughs].

Untitled 2

An article about Charles Mosher found in Lothrop’s collection.

The Lorain Journal, December 12th 1975 [3]

SJ: There have been articles that have gone back to World War II, which is an interest of mine, and it’s interesting to see what the town was doing as far as scrap drives, and that kind of thing, as well as the boys and women who went off to war. Then, some of the articles are from an Oberlin Times newspaper from way back in the beginning of the century, and anything in there is interesting, just to see what life was like way back when.

The newspapers back [from] anytime before 1945 are very social. So you get little half column inch things about Mrs. Jones who threw a party and tea was served with these little crumb cakes. You know, these little snippets of life in Oberlin.

 

HC: Things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as history.

SJ: Exactly. It shows, definitely, a way of life that has changed. It’s all interesting stuff; when you look at it, it’s like a time capsule that you open up and all of a sudden it’s 70 years ago, 80 years ago, 90 years ago.

It’s interesting to see because sometimes you get articles that are very factual, very illuminating of a person or a thing, and then you’ll have a one column inch thing that he saved of somebody who got a traffic citation. So it’s everything in between. I’ve see the heights of Oberlin history, and I’ve also sort of seen some of the depths of Oberlin history, but it’s all history. It’s something we will keep.

 

HC: What’s really fascinating about this is that it’s not only a snapshot of Oberlin’s history, but also of the perspective of Richard Lothrop as someone immersed in Oberlin’s modern culture and history. Do you think there is anything to be learned about his perspective from what he chose to keep in his files? Were there any items in particular you were surprised to see that Lothrop preserved?

SJ: The thing that strikes me about this collection is just how all inclusive it is. It doesn’t seem like he left out much; if a new business opened in town and there was a newspaper article about it, he clipped it. If there was a newspaper article in the New York Times about somebody who did something fantastic, and he had an Oberlin connection, maybe graduated from Oberlin in 1935, he has that in there.

It’s an incredible collection, and I think the most amazing thing about it is how widespread it is. He didn’t focus in on just his friends or his acquaintances, he didn’t do just Oberlin government or Oberlin sports or anything else, it’s an all inclusive thing. And for him to sit there — I sometimes get a vision of him sitting alone in his house at night, going through all the newspapers, making these clippings, and filing them away. It must have taken an incredible amount of time.

 

HC: How long do you think it will take, in full, to sort through and organize these documents?

SJ: Right now, I’m at 13 months. I probably have close to at least 200 hours at this point, probably more than that. I can see another, two years to finish it up. It’s all got to be filed, Linda Gates here at OHC has been doing all of the filing, as I get things done she grabs them and files them. I think I’m on box four or five; I’m into the M’s right now [laughs]. I have six or seven boxes left to go. So that’s at least another year and a half. It will be three years by the time everything is done completely.

 

It is clear that Lothrop’s legacy is particularly present at the Oberlin Heritage Center, whose mission it is to preserve and share local history and stories such as his. Lothrop’s obituary says it best: “History was his passion. He loved to tell stories. He had stories to tell.”[2] The Oberlin Heritage Center will continue to share his stories alongside others with the addition of his files to our collections.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED:

“An Interview with Steve Johnson.” Interview by author. June 22, 2016.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Oberlin News-Tribune. “Richard Lothrop.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 31, 2015. 2015. Accessed June 18, 2016. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theoberlinnewstribune/obituary.aspx?pid=175693314. Web.

[2] “Richard Lothrop Obituary.” Cowlingfuneralhomeoh.com. 2015. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://www.cowlingfuneralhomeoh.com/obits/obituary.php?id=657250. Web.

[3] Cutleur, Bob. “Congressman Charlie Mosher Closes Out An Industrious, Undefeated Career.” The Lorain Journal, 12 Dec. 1975: n. pag. Print.