Centennial Slice of Life

Stories about the daily life of Highland Park during our neighborhood’s vintage years.

A Crime in Highland Park

The scene of the crime, the intersection of Cereal and Haven Avenues.
Photo: Dave Duricy.

The early days of Highland Park weren’t all luncheons and croquet tournaments. Highland Park lay on the outskirts of Hamilton. The empty lots and open homes attracted crime. The typical crimes were minor, like a stranger trespassing through a front door and out the back. Occasionally, a less forgivable crime occurred.

Miss Dorothy Sullivan was a respectable young woman. She moved to Hamilton in 1923 with her parents, John and Mary. The family came from Pittsburgh, where Mr. Sullivan had been a successful insurance solicitor. Dorothy and her parents took up residence in a house on the 600 block of Haven Avenue.

The Sullivans came to Hamilton probably to be near Dorothy’s sister, Grace. Grace had married John Schwalm, a go-getter in local entertainment. Schwalm co-owned the Jewel Photoplay on the southeast corner South Second and Court Streets. Schwalm’s Jewel was “Hamilton’s prettiest, costliest, and best moving picture theater.” It showed no “sensational or melodramatic pictures.”

Dorothy Sullivan played the musical accompaniment for “The Witching Hour”, a film about a brutal attack, hours before a mysterious thug assaulted her in Highland Park. Source: IMDB.com.

Dorothy happened to be an organist, which was useful for her brother-in-law in the silent picture business. On October 22, 1924, she substituted for the regular organ player at the Jewel. The films showing that day were the comedy short “Pop Tuttle’s Long Shot” with Dan Mason and “The Witching Hour”, staring Elliot Dexter. After work that night, Dorothy walked home alone. Shortly after 10:00 PM, near the corner of Cereal and Haven Avenues, Dorothy noticed someone following her. She turned. The man she saw frightened her. She quickened her pace northward on Haven.

Just two doors away from Dorothy’s house, the man hit her in the back of the head. Dorothy reeled round, faced her attacker, and he struck again. He hit her in the mouth and broke several teeth. Miss Sullivan cried out for help.

In 1924, 659 Haven Avenue was the residence of Mr. Thomas G. Zoller who, along with neighbor Frank Weissman, rushed to the aid of Miss Sullivan. Photo: Dave Duricy.

Mr. Thomas G. Zoller, 659 Haven Avenue, and Mr. Frank Weissman, 643 Haven Avenue, heard the screams. The two men ran down the street. The attacker fled in the opposite direction toward a house still under construction. The two neighbors carried Miss Sullivan, semi-conscious, home.

Police were called. Alarm and anger spread quickly through Highland Park. Residents grabbed guns and took to their cars to search for the fiend in the lots and fields surrounding the neighborhood. Patrolmen questioned multiple suspects, but the criminal got away.

Dorothy Sullivan was taken to Dr. Frank Zerfass, 135 North Third Street. She required stitches for the injury to her scalp. Dr. Zerfass also treated a cut to her nose and bruises to her hands.

The Hamilton Evening News shouted the story, an assault in Highland Park.

Miss Sullivan described her attacker as a white man about 5 feet 7 inches tall wearing a gray cap and coat. Theories for his motive vary. The attack may have been a purse snatching gone wrong. Miss Sullivan was carrying cash and important papers. However, neighbors told police that an unknown man and girl had been meeting at night in one of the nearby vacant houses. Detectives suspected that the attack may have been a case of mistaken identity relating to the strange rendezvous.

The severity of the assault was such that Miss Sullivan remained confined to her house the following day due to shock and nervousness.

Detectives Herman Dulle and Albert Mueller found a potential clue in the case, a Ford touring car abandoned on the Belt Line Railroad. The owner of the Ford could not be determined, and Miss Sullivan’s attacker remained at large.

Dorothy Sullivan recovered from her injuries. She subsequently married a printer and lived in Dayton.

Concerts in the Park

A Hamilton Symphony performance in Virginia Park circa 1975. Photo by Carol Duricy.
A cello case leaning against a Hamilton Foundry truck during a Hamilton Symphony concert in Virginia Park circa 1975. Photo by Carol Duricy.

Not so long ago, the Hamilton Symphony would play concerts in Virginia Park. The concerts usually happened on summer evenings. Families walked down to the park. They’d lay out a blanket on the mowed grass, or unfold their lawn chairs, then wait for the music to begin. The people who lived on Virginia and Marcia Avenues had it best; they could sit in comfort on their porches.

I remember my parents and I taking our dogs, Max and Sophie. Other people also brought their dogs, and there would be barking and other doggy antics. Neighborhood kids rode their Schwinns around the park. Adults talked in friendly little groups. Then the orchestra, with every musician dressed in black, would tune up the instruments. The crowd hushed. The conductor raised his baton, and music we all loved rang out across the neighborhood.

Dan Duricy (crew cut) with Max, Sophie, me and (I think) Tim Scott. Photo by Carol Duricy.

I looked forward to these concerts. They seemed to be something that Highland Park had always done, and always would do. In truth, the concerts began in 1974, three years after my family moved into Highland Park.

Roger Meissner, Hamilton Symphony President. Photo: Hamilton Journal News, September 17, 1973.

According to the Journal News, the concerts came about after Dick Haid and Roger Meissner, the Hamilton Symphony president, were chatting on Haid’s porch at 929 Virginia Avenue, which faces Virginia Park. Meissner lived just around the corner at 826 Park. Meissner asked, “Why don’t we have the symphony in the park?” Haid replied, “Why don’t we?”

Dick Haid led the effort to raise money to cover the cost. Neighbors donated in advance, and donations were accepted on the day of the concert.

The Hamilton Symphony, circa 1975. Photo by Carol Duricy.

On Sunday, September 8, 1974, the first concert in Virginia Park took place. Approximately 1,100 people attended. The performance went on for 1 hour and 45 minutes. A Highland Park tradition was born.

Sadly, the concert series seemed to die out in the 2000s. It’s a shame. The concerts in the park were the perfect complement to the Home Beautiful way of life in Highland Park. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for those childhood evenings filled with music, but I wonder. Could the concerts ever return?

The Journal News generously covered the first concert in Virginia Park in the September 9, 1974 issue. Although the pictures are blurry, you can see the big 1,100 strong crowd.

Your Downtown Dodge Dealer

935 Virginia, built for Mr. and Mrs. Gene Welborn.

The residents of Highland Park have played a leading role in downtown business ever since the neighborhood began. Take, for example Mr. Gene H. Welborn. He and his wife Edith Valeta lived at 935 Virginia Avenue, a pretty, brick Colonial with a stylish porte-cochère on the southeast side. They built the house in April of 1926.

An early ad for Welborn's Dodge dealer from July 1922 in The Hamilton Evening Journal.
An early ad for Welborn’s Dodge dealer from July 1922 in The Hamilton Evening Journal.

Mr. Welborn owned the local Dodge dealership. That explains his car port at home. He started selling Dodges and Graham trucks in 1922 at 14-16-18 Main Street, which stood on a block of Main that is now gone. Welborn’s Main Street address happened to be the location of the last hitching post left in Hamilton. The post stood in the way of drivers opening their car doors, so away went the post much to the consternation of the Hamilton Daily News.

935 Virginia is a luxurious, but sensible house, not unlike the Dodge cars Welborn sold. The first floor rooms are thoroughly trimmed in gum wood. A carved stone fireplace mantel perfectly matches the large and gracious living room. The house, of course, has a sun room, but with the added feature of its own fireplace. Behind the house is an enviable two-car, brick garage.

Welborn picked a lucky time to be a Dodge dealer. In 1928, Chrysler Corporation bought the Dodge Brothers Company. Under Chrysler care, Dodge prospered while other pioneer cars failed during the Great Depression. Dodge dealers also started to sell Chrysler’s popular, low-price Plymouths. In 1930, only three months after the stock market crash, Welborn expanded and moved his dealership to downtown proper at 321 Market Street.

In 1938, Gene Welborn died of a heart attack on the showroom floor of his dealership. He is buried at Rose Hill Memorial Park.

What happened to the Dodge dealership after that isn’t clear. The building on Market Street is gone. However, Welborn’s handsome house in Highland Park is still here. Stroll by sometime and imagine Mr. Welborn in a posh 1931 Dodge Eight pulling through his porte-cochère after a busy day of selling cars in downtown Hamilton.

The 1931 Dodge Eight bristled with innovations, including Chrysler Corporation's new "Floating Power" engine suspension system that prevented engine vibration from spoiling the ride.
The 1931 Dodge Eight bristled with innovations, including Chrysler Corporation’s new “Floating Power” engine suspension system that prevented engine vibration from spoiling the ride.

The Fabulous Fridge!

In 1935, Mrs. Edwin Merrill of 667 Emerson Avenue advertised for sale a General Electric refrigerator. By doing so, she unwittingly commemorated one of the great innovations found in Highland Park homes, electric refrigeration.

A 1931 Frigidaire built by the Frigidaire Corporation of Dayton, Ohio and doing its job using healthy Freon in a Home Beautiful. Source: The Hagley Digital Archives.

Before 1930, refrigerators typically used ammonia, butane or sulphur dioxide as their refrigerant. All three gasses are dangerous. It’s no wonder that homeowners preferred the tried-and-true ice box. It took the invention of non-toxic, non-flammable Freon in 1928 to make electric refrigerators welcome in the kitchen.

Unlike older urban and suburban houses built at the turn of the 20th Century, houses in Highland Park typically have no ice door for the ice man to put his block of ice. Instead, there is a space set aside, either in the kitchen or adjacent, for a refrigerator.

Mrs. Merill’s GE likely was a Monitor Top model similar to the one shown in this 1928 advertisement. She probably paid in the neighborhood of $300 for her GE, which equaled the cost of a new Ford Model T. That’s about $4,400 in 2019 money. From 1927 to 1936, Monitor Tops were among the most popular fridges sold in the world.

Ironically, the Monitor Tops didn’t use Freon, but rather sulfur dioxide or methyl formate. General Electric’s carefully sealed cooling system made the Monitor Tops safe, quiet, and almost trouble-free. Freon, though, won in the end. That is until the Ozone Hole scare in the Eighties.

We don’t know what kind of refrigerator replaced Mrs. Merrill’s GE. She had plenty of choice. In Hamilton, Spoerl’s Hardware at 164 High Street sold Kelvinator; George Bast and Sons at 332 High Street sold Leonard Electrics; the Imfeld Music Store at 203 Court Street sold Electrolux refrigerators; Sears at 210 South 2nd Street sold Coldspot ($10 down, $10 a month!); Krebs at Third and Court Streets carried the “Mighty Monarch of the Arctic”; and Humbach’s at 333 High Street dealt in General Electric. This list is not complete!

Electric refrigerators did more than keep food from spoiling. They opened up new culinary possibilities. In October of 1930, nationally known home economist Mrs. George Thurn held a cooking school at the Journal News Building. A GE refrigerator from Humbach’s figured prominently in her demonstrations.

Curious to know some of the dishes Highland Park residents might have made using their new refrigerators? Browse this book of practical recipes from Electrolux circa 1932:

Mr. Pierce’s Playboy

Cheap! Pierce’s Playboy for sale in The Hamilton Daily News, June 25, 1932.

In 1932, Robert P. Pierce, a traveling salesman living at 925 Virginia Avenue, advertised a used Jordan Playboy roadster for sale. Playboys, whatever their year, were racy machines made infamous by their poetic advertising.

Virgnia Avenue, Highland Park
In 1932, 925 Virginia Avenue was the residence of Mr. & Mrs. Robert P. Pierce.
Photo by Dave Duricy.

Take, for instance, this line from Jordan’s 1923 Somewhere West of Laramie campaign: “Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale. Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.” Scandalous stuff for Virginia Avenue.

The Jordan Motor Company headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Hamilton had a Jordan dealership at 519 Main Street. The building may be the present day Paul’s Upholstery.

A factory photo of a 1928 Jordan Playboy New Series Air Line Eight give some idea of how Mr. Peirce’s Playboy roadster may have looked. Source: Freelibrary.org.

So, the next time you walk by 925 Virginia, imagine a traveling salesman driving a roadster down the road as if he’s really somewhere west of Laramie.