The Miami Valley’s rich and colorful past never ceases to amaze me as I compile photographs and anecdotes each week for a subscriber-only feature called History Extra.
We’ve now published 100 of those features. Here are 12 of my favorite excerpts from the history collection:
1. This building had a code name. During World War II, Liberty Tower, the highest vantage point in the city, was used as an air raid lookout. Men in the United States Army Signal Corps were stationed in pairs 24 hours a day to keep an eye out through their binoculars. The Liberty Tower’s code name through the war was “Dog Easy 77.”
2. The things you didn’t know you could buy at the Dayton Arcade. More than 200 vendor stalls congregated under the glass dome of the Dayton Arcade during its heyday. Not only were the daily staples of life, coffee, breads and ice cream sold but exotic Jamaica bananas, Messina lemons and parakeets and canaries could be purchased.
3. The Rolling Stones bombed in Dayton. The Rolling Stones performed at Hara Arena in 1964, just two years after the band formed. A Dayton Daily News critic panned their appearance, describing it as “rag-tag” and the music as “their brand of noise.”
4. This 84-year-old event started in Dayton. The first soap box derby was held in Dayton in 1933. The race, held on steep and brick-paved Burkhardt Avenue, was conceived by Myron E. “Scottie” Scott, a Dayton Daily News photographer. A crowd estimated at more than 40,000 lined the course to watch the racers in their wooden contraptions.
5. Harry Houdini wowed Dayton crowds. World renown magician Harry Houdini hung by his ankles from the Dayton Daily News building in 1916. Houdini appeared in the area many times in the early 1900s. On one visit he escaped from a box made by NCR carpenters.
6. The Deeds Carillon bells are astonishing. Of the 32 bells originally forged for Deeds Carillon, eight were “silent,” each a memorial to a member of the Deeds family. The largest bell, the “bourdon,” weighed 7,000 pounds and was named after Col. Deeds. Today it is on display at ground level on the east side of the carillon. The smallest bell weighed 150 pounds and was named after the Deeds’ grandchild, Barbara Burling Deeds.
7. One of the city’s biggest crowds ever welcomed a monument that still stands. When the Civil War Soldiers Monument was unveiled downtown in 1884, a crowd of 100,000 people turned out, one of the city’s largest at the time when Dayton’s population was reported to be 40,000. The model for the tribute was Pvt. George Washington Fair, a carpenter and bricklayer who was born in Dayton.
8. The country’s oldest college of its kind is here. Wilberforce University, founded in 1856, is the country’s oldest private historically black university. It is named in honor of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century abolitionist.
9. The world’s first speeding ticket was written in Dayton. It was written by the Dayton Police Department in 1904, according to the Dayton Police History Foundation. The ticket was issued to Harry Myers on West Third Street for traveling 12 mph.
10. This Irish Setter was the bravest of all time. Annie Oakley, known as “Little Miss Sure Shot,” picked up her father’s old muzzle loader when she was 8 years old. She and her husband adopted an Irish Setter named Dave who had nerves of steel. The dog sat like a statue on a stool and let Oakley shoot an apple off its head.
11. Dayton used this bygone travel more than almost anyone. Before automobiles became a way of life, there was the interurban car. In the heyday between 1900 and 1917, there were 10,000 interurban cars in the country running on over 18,000 miles of track. Dayton was the second largest interurban center, behind only Indianapolis.
12. The famous art institute lion was first a school mascot. Leo the Lion, the bronze sculpture that keeps watch from the Dayton Art Institute, originally was the mascot for Steele High School. It took 10 years and a combination of fundraisers, including a monthly five-cent donation from the students, to come up with the funds for the statue.