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Monday, May 15, 2017

Burr Conspiracy and the Battle of the Muskingum

Two shots rang out in the early morning mist above the towering Palisades on the Heights of Weehawken NJ. It was July 11, 1804. Alexander Hamilton lay mortally wounded, shot by Aaron Burr in a duel. Hamilton died the next day. The aftermath of the duel would soon be felt in the Ohio Valley.
Aaron Burr Portrait, from wikipedia

Burr the enigma
Aaron Burr was then the sitting Vice President of the United States. The duel brought his already fading political future to an end. He finished his term as Vice President in early 1805. After leaving Washington, Aaron Burr redirected his energy to seeking fame and fortune in the West (then considered to be any land west of the Appalachian Mountains). His controversial efforts would involve many in the Marietta community and thrust the area into the national spotlight.

Aaron Burr was an enigma -intelligent, accomplished, and well-connected - but with a dark side. He was a successful lawyer, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, and a prominent politician. In politics, Burr was a chameleon, changing views and making deals according to his own benefit. Most distrusted him. He was called the "modern Machiavelli."

"Glory and Fortune"
The details of Burr's "Conspiracy" were never fully disclosed. But he was thinking big, and seeking "glory and fortune" that he mentions in a letter. The primary goal was the creation of a new republic in the western territories or Mexico, instigated by war with Spain or a paramilitary invasion. His campaign played out over two years, culminating in his arrest and trial for treason in early 1807. 

In early 1804 General James Wilkinson, then head of all U. S. Army forces, met secretly with Burr. What they discussed is not known, though Wilkinson had a long history of interest in military interventions in the Mississippi Valley.

Soon after, Burr contacted England's ambassador Anthony Merry offering to help England "effect a separation of the Western part of the United States" from the eastern states. He was short on details but long on promises of benefits to England. Merry notified the English foreign office via an encrypted message and marked "Most Secret." This was the first documentation of what Burr said he intended to do. 

In the spring of 1805, Burr embarked on a fact-finding tour of western territories. He wanted to learn the attitudes of locals and recruit people to his cause. He would promise prosperity and independence for citizens in the western territories to potential recruits. He made it all sound legitimate and patriotic. 

Starting Westward - Marietta connections
On April 30, 1805, Burr and assistant Gabriel Shaw started down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh in an elaborate 60 foot long houseboat. It was equipped with a dining room, kitchen with fireplace, and two bedrooms. He would visit people at Pittsburgh, Marietta, the Harman Blennerhassett estate, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Louisville before continuing down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

He reached Marietta on May 5, 1805. Aaron Burr records notes from the visit in his journal:
On the morning of the 5th reached Marietta...containing about 80 houses; some that would be called handsome in any village on the continent. After breakfast...came in several gentlemen of the town to offer me civilities and hospitalities. We have been walking several miles to see the mounds, parapets, squares, and other remains of unknown antiquity which are found in this neighborhood. I am astonished and confounded....
He was impressed with the Marietta earthworks, a topic somewhat removed from his intelligence gathering mission. 

Just below Marietta, Burr stopped to see Harman Blennerhassett at his idyllic island estate. He was away at the time. Blennerhassett was a wealthy immigrant from England who settled with his wife Margaret in 1798 on Belpre (later Blennerhassett) Island in the Ohio River. This contact would bring Burr's conspiracy directly to Marietta.

Blennerhassett Mansion circa 1800, from the book Historic Blennerhassett Island Home, by
Alvaro F. Gibbons

Burr continued his trip, meeting with prominent people, listening to local attitudes, and promoting his plans. At Cincinnati he met with Senator John Smith and Jonathan Dayton, former senator and friend. He detoured over land to Nashville to meet future president Andrew Jackson, then a major general of the Tennessee militia.

Burr continued on to New Orleans where he was feted by local dignitaries. He met with the Mexican Association, a group who sought emancipation of Mexico from Spain, and planted seeds that separation from eastern states was part of the Mexican campaign.

Reports about Burr's activity went viral across the region. Daniel Clark, a New Orleans merchant, wrote Wilkinson that "Many absurd and wild reports are circulated here and have reached the ears of the officers of the late Spanish government regarding (Burr)...." The Gazette of the United States featured stories circulating about Burr's plans - expressed as rhetorical questions. Some are listed below. With this kind of publicity, Burr's intentions were no longer secret.
  • How long will it be before we hear of Colonel Burr being at the head of a revolutionary party on the Western waters?
  • How soon will all of the forts and magazines and all the military posts at New Orleans and on the Mississippi be in the hands of Colonel Burr's revolutionary party?
  • How soon will Colonel Burr engage in the reduction of Mexico by granting liberty to its inhabitants, and seizing on its treasures, aided by British ships and forces?
On his return trip from New Orleans, he again stopped in Marietta in late October, 1805. He met with local dignitaries including Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. and Edward Tupper who was clerk of the common pleas court, a boat builder, and mercantile store owner. After Burr left, Tupper wrote him requesting a command in the army if war with Spain occurred. Burr wrote back in January of 1806 assuring Tupper that he would be invited and asked him to recruit others. He also mentioned  that ..."I have lately procured for a few of my friends a few copies of The Duty of A Soldier and Decipline of the Infantry as now practiced by the French Army....and have reserved a sett for you." (spelling as noted in the document quoted). The book was delivered to Marietta by Major Davis Floyd, an ally of Aaron Burr. This was a fascinating example of Burr's attention to detail. 

The Blennerhassett connection
In December of 1805, Burr wrote a letter to Harman Blennerhassett inviting him join in Burr's grandiose plan - with the opportunity for wealth and prominence. Blennerhassett responded on December 21, 1805, effusively offering help in Burr's adventure, "...I should be honored in being associated with you in any contemplated you would permit me to participate in." Blennerhassett was characterized by his friends as a decent person but "having every kind of sense except common sense." He had no business, military, or political experience, yet Burr relied heavily on him for needed logistics (through Marietta connections) and financial support.

Harman Blennerhassett from Ohio History Central viewed at

Seeking money, men, and armor
Burr's planning went forward in late 1805 into 1806. Efforts to obtain help from England then Spain (by trying to play one against the other) were unsuccessful. Burr continued promoting his plan to others, including Wilkinson, Thomas Truxton, and William Eaton. The latter two were disgruntled military officers. He offered them commands in his expeditionary force. Burr boasted to Eaton that he would effectively take over the U. S. government. This prompted Eaton to meet in person with President Jefferson in April of 1806, stating that "Colonel Burr should be removed from the country" because of his treasonous intentions.

The cipher letter: "I have commenced the enterprise"
Burr sent an encrypted message in July 1806 to Wilkinson using a code in which numerals are substituted for letters. His use of code is amusing since most of the country and the President already knew of Burr's intentions. The letter announced that Burr had "commenced the enterprise" and that "detachments from different points and under different pretences will rendezvous on the Ohio (River)" on November 1. He also said that troops would be at Natchez in early December to meet Wilkinson. "The gods invite to glory and fortune," Burr exclaimed. The letter was cited as evidence in Burr's trial. 

Beginning of cipher letter from Burr to Wilkinson dated July 1806, from "Burr's cipher, sir: The 1807 treason case that featured in the Apple/FBI conflict,"

Preparing for the mission
In August 1806 Burr began another trip down the Ohio River to set his plans in motion. His first stop was to see his friend, Colonel George Morgan, in Cannonsburg, PA, believing Morgan to be sympathetic to his views. Colonel Morgan was shocked when Burr suggested that the western states would soon be separated from eastern states. Colonel Morgan and his sons were alarmed at Burr's rebellious talk and wrote a letter of warning to President Thomas Jefferson. 

Burr next stopped at Marietta. Again he met with local dignitaries and even led the militia a few drill exercises. This allowed him show off to locals and attract a few recruits in the process. He also met with Harman Blennerhassett, Dudley Woodbridge, Jr., and others to work out logistics for the expeditionary force.

Image of Aaron Burr exhorting his followers at Blennerhassett Island, 1806, from Granger Collection/NYC, viewed at

Blennerhassett arranged for the construction of 15 boats to transport Burr's expeditionary force downriver to New Orleans. Dudley Woodbridge, Jr. was a businessman and good friend of Blennerhassett. He hired Joseph Barker, a master builder (who built the Blennerhassett mansion), to build the boats near his home about 7 miles up the Muskingum River. Ten of the boats were to be 40 ft long and 10 ft wide; 5 would be 50 ft long. They were to be ready for delivery by December 9th. At least one would have separate rooms for the Blennerhassetts. 

Blennerhassett Island became the mission's operational center. Provisions, including pork, flour, whiskey, bacon and kiln-dried corn meal were ordered for the mission. Corn was dried in a kiln there, bullets molded, weapons gathered. Boats were to assemble and embark from there.

The plan was to set off from Blennerhassett Island in early December, rendezvous with other forces near Louisville, then proceed down the Mississippi River where hoped for troops would assemble. Burr still believed that the mission, though by that time hopelessly unrealistic, was alive and well supported. He counted on military help from General Wilkinson, General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, and General William Henry Harrison (both future presidents) of the Northwest Territory. 

Fault lines develop
However, despite public excitement, circumstances were shifting against Burr. General Wilkinson turned against Burr without telling him. He disclosed Burr's plans and broadcast exaggerated warnings to cover up Wilkinson's own deep involvement in the plan. President Jefferson was well aware of Burr's intentions and monitored the situation carefully. Without help from France or Spain, available resources were not adequate to execute his plan.

On October 6, 1806, citizens of Wood County, Virginia (now West Virginia) which had jurisdiction over Blennerhassett Island, held a mass meeting. They condemned Burr's plan, declared their loyalty to the President of the United States, and ordered that a militia be mustered in case of emergency.

President Jefferson and his cabinet reviewed Burr's actions. Jefferson seemed oddly reluctant to pursue Burr despite numerous warnings. The cabinet approved specific defensive measures on October 22, only to rescind them a few days later. 

On November 4, Joseph Daviess, district attorney for the federal district of Kentucky, cited Aaron Burr into court in Frankfort for crimes against the United States. Daviess had actively worked for months to expose Burr's plan, having written a letter of warning to President Jefferson in January of 1806.

Burr surprised Daviess by voluntarily cooperating. When court convened November 12, Daviess announced that a key witness could not be there and asked for a postponement. The packed courtroom of Burr sympathizers erupted in laughter and catcalls. An embarrassed Daviess was forced to dismiss the grand jury. Burr rose and gave an eloquent speech and left the court in triumph. Another court citation by Daviess in late November had a similar outcome.

The beginning of the end
In early November, President Jefferson sent forth John Graham, Territorial Governor of the Orleans Territory, to spy on Burr with ..."confidential authority to inquire into Burr's movements, put the Governors, etc. on their guard, to provide for his arrest if necessary." 

Graham had to go no further than Marietta to learn the full details of Burr's plan. There he interviewed Harman Blennerhassett who mistakenly believed that Graham was a participant in Burr's mission. He willingly gave Graham full details of the plan. Graham tried to discourage Blennerhassett, whom he believed was sadly deluded as to the prospects for Burr's plan. He then hurried on to Chillicothe, then the state capital of Ohio, to speak urgently with Governor Edward Tiffin. 

President Jefferson was finally goaded to action in late November by further alarming reports of Burr's intended actions. The cabinet convened in haste on November 25. Instructions were issued to authorities from Pittsburgh to New Orleans to thwart the expedition. Included was a directive to seize the boats being built at Marietta. 

Jefferson wrote in his notes from the cabinet meeting: "....Marietta, Mr. Gallatin is to write to the (local officials) to proceed to seize the gunboats building in that neighborhood and suspected to be destined for this enterprise and to call in the aid of the militia." There were further orders the next day for Marietta to station the militia along the river to prevent passage of the "gunboats."

Jefferson issued a public proclamation on November 27 titled "Proclamation on Spanish Dominion Expeditions." The document was a rambling notice about a conspiracy for a ..."military expedition against the dominions of Spain..." It commanded anyone involved to cease and desist and "enjoined and required" authorities everywhere to take any action required to stop the effort.

Graham met with Governor Tiffin on November 28 who in turn submitted a message about Burr's conspiracy to the Ohio legislature which they received on December 2. The legislature passed a law "An Act to Prevent certain Acts hostile to the Peace and Tranquillity of the United States within the Jurisdiction of the State of Ohio."  Tiffin then sent an order to Judge Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. and Major General Joseph Buell in Marietta to seize the boats and gather evidence.  

At this point, the reality of Burr's situation and public perception diverged wildly. Rumors abounded that Burr might have thousands of armed men poised to strike who knows where. The reality was that Burr's expedition was now a ragtag group of a few dozen men with small arms, a dozen wooden riverboats, limited provisions, no military support, and no element of surprise. This "reality gap" persisted for weeks until Burr's capture. Elements of farce began playing out behind the public facade.

The militia in Ohio seized ten of the boats at Marietta on December 9 and guarded the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. The process was, at best, disorganized. The boats were seized at night and floated down the Muskingum River. Clark Green, blind in one eye, controlled two of the boats. Two of his sons, aged 11 and 12, guided another. The boats when finally secured were tied up near Goose Run along the Muskingum River. There were strict orders to carefully guard the boats from being taken by Burr's men. 

Adventuresome young Burr recruits from Belpre heard that the boats had been seized. They tried to capture the boats themselves and nearly succeeded. They advanced unseen in darkness to the Muskingum River and began untying the boats. The group was detected and a melee' ensued. The Belpreans slipped away with one of the boats and took it to Blennerhassett Island; the other boats were secured.

The militia were not a disciplined military force. Historian James Parton describes them "as rude and undisciplined backwoodsmen..." The militia posted along the Muskingum River had little to do and amused themselves with drinking whiskey and devising clever pranks. One night someone set a barrel on fire and floated it downstream. Sentinels below shouted at and then fired at the phantom "boat." When the boat refused their commands, they plunged into the water to stop it, surprised and enraged to learn that they had been duped.

There was apprehension that Comfort Tyler, one of Burr's agents, would try to recapture the seized boats. A party of sentinels opposite the tied up boats decided to trick the guards near the boats. The instigators buried a sack filled with gun powder connected with a fuse. At midnight, when the guards were "resting" after an attack on "whiskey and brandy," a huge explosion shook the earth. The shaken guards scattered in panic. The farce is captured in Edward Tupper's satirical poem "The Battle of Muskingum or Defeat of the Burrites."

General Joseph Buell, militia commander, declared martial law in the area. Sentinels were posted at a guard house on Ohio Street just above "Boiler Corner" at Front and Greene Streets. All boats passing were stopped for inspection. A cannon was placed on the Ohio River bank.

Colonel Hugh Phelps of Parkersburg called out the militia of Wood County, Virginia. Harman Blennerhassett learned that they intended to visit the Island the following day, on December 11, to capture persons and supplies involved with the mission. 

Blennerhassett thought himself immune from Ohio's authority since his island was in Virginia. He realized that the impending Virginia militia action would force him to leave the island that very night, December 10. There was a flurry of activity. Mrs. Blennerhassett rallied the group, especially her downcast husband, who seemed to realize the futility of the mission. There were four boats and a few dozen men. 

That evening after dark, Edward Tupper, appeared on the island. Versions as to what happened during his visit vary. Historian William Saffer (The Blennerhassett Papers...) and Jacob Allbright who testified the trial reported that Tupper tried to arrest Blennerhassett. They said that Tupper, a general in the Ohio Militia, clapped his hand on Blennerhassett's shoulder and said that he was arresting him by the authority of the state of Ohio. Instantly, several muskets of the expedition's men standing nearby were thrust at Tupper. He protested, "Forbear, men! Forbear! Would you act so rashly?" One man close to Tupper growled "I'd as lieve as not." Tupper backed off and encouraged Blennerhassett to turn himself in to Ohio authorities rather than place himself in great personal danger as a fugitive. Edward Tupper stated in a deposition for the trial that he visited Blennerhassett at the latter's request, went there to collect debts owned him, and encouraged him to surrender. Tupper denied making an arrest attempt or appearing in any official capacity.

The expedition begins and ends
Shortly after midnight, Harman Blennerhassett and his group with four boats and a couple dozen men departed. It was cold, dark, snowy, and the river was swift. He was leaving his family behind for an uncertain future. He faced a dangerous, uncomfortable prospect in setting out on the Ohio River in these circumstances.

Later that day, December 11, the Virginia militia landed on the island and quickly discovered that the Blennerhassett and his men were gone. Phelps left a small group on the island and sent the rest of his force overland to the Great Kanawha River to intercept the Blennerhassett flotilla. Neither group performed well. 

At the Great Kanawha (near present day Point Pleasant WV) sentinels "kept the spirits up by pouring spirits down" and were soon oblivious to their duty. The fugitive's flotilla glided silently past as the militia slept. Back at Blennerhassett Island, the militia with little to do "invaded" the wine cellar and vandalized the mansion and grounds. Colonel Phelps later castigated his men for their rude, incompetent behavior.

Margaret Blennerhassett and her two children departed several days later down river in another boat which had arrived from Pittsburgh. It was a sad end to the Blennerhassett saga at the island "Eden on the River."

The party continued down the Ohio River. Though his contingent was pathetically small, news of his "escape" generated panic along the river valley. At Cincinnati, three anchored boats thought to be Burr's sparked fear that the city would be attacked. A prankster set off a bomb and the assault was thought to have started. Local Militia were called out. The next day the boats were discovered to be merchant vessels. Locals were embarrassed at their overreaction. Another example of hyped up rumors: The Western Spy newspaper reported that Blennerhassett had passed Cincinnati in boats loaded with military stores, many boats were being built, Mexico was to be attacked, and 20,000 men were involved. 

Near the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville KY, the Blennerhassett party met up with another group headed by Davis Floyd with three boats and thirty men. At the Cumberland River, Burr with two boats and a few men and some horses, joined the others. The entire flotilla included about nine boats and sixty men. Burr ordered some additional corn and farming implements. From the latter action, it seems likely that Burr had discarded any plan for military action and was resigned to merely settling on land he owned in Louisiana. This was a far cry from the public perception of a vast military campaign afoot.

In late January, Aaron Burr and Blennerhassett were apprehended by civil authorities after the flotilla landed at Bayou Pierre on the Mississippi River. Burr was eventually tried and acquitted on treason charges in the fall of 1807. Blennerhassett was imprisoned but released when Burr was acquitted. Both tried to reestablish their lives and reputations, mostly without success, after their failed attempt at "glory and fortune."
Scene from Aaron Burr treason trial

Several Mariettans were deposed or appeared as witnesses in Richmond for the Burr trial. Soon after, the Burr episode faded into historical obscurity, perhaps to the benefit of the Marietta area's reputation.

The Blennerhassetts never returned to the island and eventually were forced by financial stress to return to Europe. The mansion burned in 1809.

Note: most of these references were viewed in digital editions on line.

David, Matthew L., Memoirs of Aaron Burr, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1855
Fisher, Louis, "Jefferson and the Burr Conspiracy: Executive Power Against the Law," Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2015, accessed at
Henshaw, Leslie, Editor, "Burr-Blennerhassett Documents," Quarterly Publication of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, Vol IX, Nos. 1 & 2.
Henshaw, Leslie, "The Aaron Burr Conspiracy in the Ohio Valley," Columbus, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, 1915, digital edition viewed at
Map, Alf J., Jr., Thomas Jefferson Passionate Pilgrim, New York, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inv., 1991
McCaleb, Walter Flavius, The Aaron Burr Conspiracy, New York, Dodd Mead and Company, 1903
Melton, Buckner F., Aaron Burr: The Rise and Fall of an American Politician, New York, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2004
Parton, James, Life and Times of Aaron Burr, Volume II, Boston, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1888
Robertson, David, Reports of the Trials of Aaron Burr, etc., Philadelphia, Hopkins and Earle, 1808
Safford, William, The Blennerhassett Papers, Cincinnati, Moore, Wilstach, & Baldwin, 1864
Tabler, Dave, "Blennerhassett Island - staging ground for high treason," viewed at, July 12, 2015.
Wiley, Edwin, Editor, The United States: its beginnings, progress, and modern development, Volume 5,New York, American Educational Alliance, 1912

Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County Ohio, Cleveland, H. Z. Williams and Bro, 1881

Friday, February 17, 2017

Marietta College and the Floating Dormitory

Colleges are struggling to maintain enrollments these days, primarily because of fewer college age students in the population. Marietta College ("MC"), for example, has seen its enrollment decline in recent years. That forces a grim balancing act - cutting back and conserving resources while maintaining a quality experience for students.

Imagine the exact opposite occurring - a quintupling of enrollment and a frantic search for more resources - in just a year's time. It actually happened at Marietta College and colleges across the nation. The year was 1946 when millions of veterans returned from World War II. Many had postponed college and wanted to return. And the GI Bill provided incentives with education and training benefits. 

MC enrollment had dropped to 200 students during the war as most men were on active duty. By late 1946, enrollment surged to 1,000. That was good news....but where would they be housed? Who would teach them - and in what classrooms? Dormitory space at the time housed only 95 students. MC began an aggressive campaign to find housing and administrative space.

Fortunately there were multiple sources of help available: temporary buildings provided by the government, purchase by MC of some nearby homes for housing, and opening of private homes for students. Then there was The Pioneer, a floating dormitory purchased from the Coast Guard. More about that novel set-up later.

The Federal Government made available a variety of temporary buildings at no cost for housing and educating veterans. Marietta College was the first institution in the country to apply for such facilities through the Federal Public Housing Authority (FPHA).

The community also assisted. Area churches, civic groups, and the American Legion worked to locate homes that would take in students. There was also a Citizens Committee headed by Eloise Grafton and Silas M. Thurlow. A Marietta College report stated that a "large number of men were placed in private homes in the city."

As part of the student housing solution, 23 men were able to live it up on a houseboat. Well, it wasn't an actual houseboat. MC purchased a 111 ft. long U. S. Coast Guard barracks boat and converted it to a dormitory. It was christened The Pioneer, in deference to MC's being the first to use this innovative type of housing - and recalling Marietta's pioneering settlers. The Pioneer was moored in the Muskingum River at the base of the "Start Westward" monument. 

Copy of article from Columbus Dispatch Magazine July 14, 1946, courtesy Marietta College Special Collections

The "shipmates" were from 11 different states. 20 of the 23 were veterans. The second deck had been a barracks room which would hold 50 men. MC knew that veterans would prefer to avoid a barracks-style setting, so The Pioneer second deck was remodeled into 14 two-man rooms. Dorms at that time were unisex - men or women only. The Pioneer was a men's dorm, though a photo shows women being invited on board for a dance.

The first deck included a kitchen, dining hall which doubled as a lounge, showers, and quarters for the dorm master, John E. Sandt, who happened to have been in the Army.

Life on The Pioneer was a little different from conventional dorm living. The guys living there at the time said they notice "a bit of rocking" when a boat passed in the river. They could fish if they wanted to, but college life and studies left little time for that. MC policy prohibited swimming. In warmer weather, some lounged in the sun on the roof, studying or just hanging out.

Some of The Pioneer's resident men were interviewed at the time by the Marietta Daily Times. James L. Stolberg of Williamsport, PA was glad to return to MC. He attended earlier as a member of the 25th College Training Detachment, U.S. Air Crew, which was stationed on campus. Ex-Marine James M. Bossert of Oakmont PA had not heard of Marietta College as he hitchhiked through Ohio. A Marietta man gave him a ride. Bossert mentioned how hard it was to get into the larger universities. His "driver" said, "Try Marietta (College)." Bossert diverted from his trip and headed directly to MC.

The Pioneer chapter at Marietta College ended when the vessel was sold after the housing crisis ended. It remains an amusing footnote in Marietta College history. The pioneering spirit of resourcefulness which it evidenced lives on. 

Image of The Pioneer from The Tallow Light publication of the Washington County Historical Society, Vol. 27, No. 1, Summer 1996; original photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections.

There is an interesting sidebar to The Pioneer story: The Pioneer is said to have inspired the concept for a 1960's NBC TV series It's a Man's World. That series portrayed the life of four teenage guys attending a midwest college and living on a houseboat named The Elephant. The setting for the show was a fictional town on the Ohio River, loosely based on Marietta, Ohio. Some background scenes for the series were filmed in Marietta.

The series was itself a pioneer: It introduced more real-life characters and situations involving teenagers coming of age in the emerging unrest of the early 1960's. Other programs of that period featured idealized family shows like "Ozzie and Harriett." Kerry Pechter, wrote about the show in a 2001 New York Times retrospective column about the show. "The show's co-creators Peter Tewksbury and James Leighton, set out to capture the rootlessness, idealism, and iconoclasm....of the early 1960s. And their themes - premarital sex, tragic loss, and the gulf between adults and adolescents - were at times treated in a startlingly candid way."

Critics were excited about the innovative dramatic formula of the new series. With great anticipation It's a Man's World premiered in September, 1962. Unfortunately, the show failed to catch on with viewers. Ratings dropped and reviews were mixed. Sponsors - critical to the financial success or failure of television programs - were restless about the edginess of some episode situations. NBC decided in late November to cancel the show.

Tewksbury, cast members, and fans of It's a Man's World mounted a furious publicity campaign to save the show. The controversy gained national media attention. Cast members Ted Bessell (later starred in sitcom That Girl) and Randy Boone began a cross-country drive in a battered jeep used on the show to generate publicity. They contacted local media outlets along the way and organized protest events. They stopped in Marietta on December 18 and appeared in a demonstration at he Parkersburg WV NBC affiliate WTAP TV with students from Marietta College. A photo of that event included signs saying "Viewers of the World Unite" and "No Cancellation without Representation." The network received thousands of letters protesting the cancellation.

But, all the effort did not change NBC's mind. The show's broadcast on January 28, 1963, was it's last. The pioneering series faded into obscurity, though 50 plus years later, some video clips and details still survive. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

WPAR, Radio Pioneer

My tennis friend Stev Pitchford sent me a photo he took as a photographer for WTAP TV news in the mid-1950s. It was a fire in downtown Parkersburg: WPAR studios were engulfed in flames. His photos (seen later in this blog post) prompted me to research WPAR history.

First, some radio background: The radio phenomenon exploded on the scene in the 1920's. Radio wave experiments began in the 1880's. Guglielmo Marconi is generally credited with inventing a radio system for communication in 1895. By the 1920's, technology advances made it more practical for mass audiences. It soon became a societal game changer, just as television, the internet, and smart phones have been in succeeding generations. Radio brought news, music, entertainment, and sports to the nation. Advertising became big business, allowing companies to mass promote their products - and making radio itself financially feasible. 

The first commercial radio station was KDKA in Pittsburgh which went on the air on November 2, 1920. The first major news broadcast on KDKA was the 1920 presidential election. The few thousand KDKA listeners were the first to learn that Warren Harding had defeated James Cox. By 1930 there were 100 million radios in use in America. The stock market was booming; radio stocks like RCA (Radio Corporation of America) were the market stars of that era.

WPAR was the first radio station in the Parkersburg-Marietta area, going on the air July 11, 1935 from a temporary studio in the Chancellor Hotel.  The "studio" was the end of the wide second floor hallway, according to employee Frances Inslee. The station began broadcasting at 100 watts at AM 1420 from a  179 foot transmitter tower on Gihon Road. In 1936 the station moved to new studios in the Grinter Building at 701 1/2 Market Street in Parkersburg. In 1937 it affiliated with the CBS network for expanded news and programming. 

But soon regular radio operations were preempted by a local emergency - the devastating Ohio River flood in January, 1937. This type of community service was new to the industry - and to the fledgling WPAR, then less than two years on the air. The station suspended regular programming and broadcast 24 hours a day through the crisis. It provided warnings, updates, and sources for aid. It also acted as a de facto emergency center, coordinating messages, needs, and resources between area agencies and the community at large. 

Radio stations were acclaimed across the nation for their role in the flood disaster. Harold McWhorter, then President of WPAR, documented the station's flood experience in an article to Broadcasting Magazine published in the February 15, 1937 edition. Here are some excerpts - in his grandiose wording:

"WPAR prepared for a service (the flood emergency) to be continuous until any threat to life and property might be dissipated."

"WPAR cast aside all other phases of broadcasting activity and dedicated its available 24 hours a day to the service of humanity in general. Throughout the night our agents not only stood by for warnings and reports, but also gave every assistance to local authorities, organizations, and agencies, humanly possible."

"On Saturday, WPAR began the job of raising money for the various relief agencies, and by midnight almost $1,400 ($23,300 in 2016 dollars) had been paid, or pledged."

WPAR became part of the West Virginia Network in the late 1930's, along with WBLK in Clarksburg, WCHS in Charleston and WSAZ in Huntington. In 1941, WPAR built a new transmitter off  Emerson Avenue in North Parkersburg, raised its power from 100 to 250 watts, and changed to AM 1450. 

World War II brought changes across the country to media and civic activities. Many stations produced a booklet with patriotic-type promotional information and details about the station itself. Local programs included wartime civic activities - such as war bonds. Click the link below to see the publication for WPAR. Scroll through to page 15 to see WPAR station photos and information.

Below are some photos of WTAP staff and activities from the booklet. Unless noted, all photos and captions (including spelling and punctuation irregularities) are exactly as they appeared in the "Radio at War - WPAR" booklet, circa 1942, viewed at website listed above.

Wartime booklet

Front Row, left to right, Len Carl program director, Marilyn Pickering Controll operator and announcer, Francis Inslee Sales Dept., Paula Carr Writer and announcer, Ken Blain Sports announcer and sales dept., Back row left to right, Geo. H. Clinton station director, Margaret Shedan secretary, bookkeeper, Charles Carroll announcer, Bill Sherman announcer and newsman, Boob Cook announcer and special events man, Hazel Lou Chapman Sales Dept., Tom Garten promotion director and sales

Transmitter at Emerson Avenue site

Radio station programming in the 1940s and 50s consisted of network programs (comedies, drama, new, special events), local news, sports, live studio music events, and occasional recorded classic and big band music. WPAR followed this formula. There was no competition for WPAR until 1947 when two new stations started up - WCOM (later WTAP) and WMOA in Marietta. It also broadcast local music programming, including the The Farm Home Hour Trio, The Burroughs Trio, and The WPAR Hillbilly Jamboree Show (then the largest such program in West Virginia). See photos below from the wartine booklet. Details in the captions about these groups are fascinating. 

WPAR Hillbilly Jamboree Show. Each Friday night from 1000 to 1500 people attend the Coliseum in Parkersburg to see West Virginia's largest Jamboree show. The show gets under way at 7:30 P.M. with a half hour broadcast from the stage then continues until 9:30. WPAR features Hillbilly acts from all sections of the United States.

The "Burrough's Trio" - actually six people - is a favored morning feature for many WPAR listeners. Although the oldest WPAR program from the point of continuous broadcast, it is "the youngest" in the ages of those who perform. "Billy" Jean Burroughs, whose illness prevented her presence for this picture, is the 17-year old director, singer, and "business head" of the crew. The program is nearing its 800th broadcast.

 The Farm Home Hour Trio. From left to right, Billy Jean (Burroughs), Betty (Burroughs), Brother Charles (Charles Carroll, and their sponsor Sid Ardman (was this the Sid of "Sid's the Big Store"?). This popular Trio has set a record of 1769 consecutive broadcasts. 

One of the disc jockeys in the early 1940s was 14 year old Jim Dukes, who later became an actor and was featured in many films, including Coogan's Bluff (with Clint Eastwood) and Ironweed (with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep). 

The station moved to new studios at 211 Fifth Street in the late 40's. A fire burned out the studios - photos below - in 1956. The station retreated to Seventh and Market Streets (Chancellor Hotel?) while the studio was rebuilt.

Firefighting viewed from Fifth Street. Ruth's Furniture store is building on the left. Photo by Stev Pitchford

Interior of studio. Shelving holds melted record library. Photo by Stev Pitchford.

Jack See, a West Virginia radio veteran of more than 50 years, began his career at WPAR in 1943 as a disc jockey while still in high school. See remembers WPAR playing mostly CBS network programs, mainly soap operas and dramatic shows. For a few hours each day, disc jockeys played popular Big Band music. "Every station played about the same music back then. There was no great competition," See said, quoted in a 1996 State Journal article by Paul LePann, "It wasn't until the 1960s and '70s that stations went after 'fragmented audiences.' " 

Frank S. Dodd, another former WPAR employee mentioned in LePann's article, remembers the station playing contemporary and classical music, but no rock-n-roll in the 1960s. CBS network shows filled most of the time slots. National bowling tournaments were also broadcast live on WPAR from Parkersburg bowling alleys during the 1960s, Dodd said.

WCEF (its call letters were the initials of owner Calvin E. Franklin) changed the local competitive radio market dynamics when it signed on in 1954 playing rock and roll music at AM 1050. It transmitted at 1,000 watts, and soon after 5,000 watts, giving it a broader reach over the area. It was a "day timer" station that signed off at dusk. It soon became the most listened to station in the area. 

Adam Jones, WCEF DJ "Bob Franklin" in 1959-60, recalled that WCEF Hooper ratings were 60-70% - very high for a small market and daytime only broadcaster. But Jones said that he was unaware of the high ratings. He later asked GM Gene Snyder why he was never shown those numbers at the time. Snyder responded, "You would have asked for a raise. Frank (the station owner) would have said no, and you'd have gone elsewhere!" 

The WCEF sidebar is included here to illustrate how AM radio became more competitive beginning in the 1960s and 70s. Stations began to specialize their programming ("format") and on-air personalities to maximize their listening audience. For WCEF, the winning formula was rock and roll music all the time.

In the early 1960s, WPAR started playing rock and roll music - at night. Mark Aulabaugh, a former WCEF DJ, recalls this programming change because it was suggested to the WPAR General Manager by Mark's mother. WCEF was off the air after dusk each day, leaving a rock and roll void. And, most radio network programming was gone by then, having migrated to television. The name of the WPAR evening show was Partown USA. It was hosted by John Potts, whose on-air name was Jim Dandy. Another local radio personality Calvin Daily, Jr. (on-air name "Randy Jay") was listed as General Manager of WPAR in the late 1960s. 

Starting in the early 1970's, the station entered a period of multiple ownership, management, and station format changes, grasping for traction in the fading AM radio market. In the early 1970's, WPAR dropped the CBS network and was playing a Top 40 music format. On September 1, 1975, WPAR joined the NBC network and adopted a middle of the road beautiful music format. The station was sold in 1983 and the call letters changed to WIKS, and three years later, to WLTP. By that time, radio station call letters often changed to reflect new ownership or format. WLTP tried oldies music in early 1990s and later adopted 24 hour country music programming.

By 1996, it had settled on a 24 hour talk and news format, which included talk show heavy hitters like Rush Limbaugh. Sports Byline U.S.A., a national sports call-in show ran through the night from 10 pm to 6 am. There were many local and regional sports broadcasts. Talk radio seemed to be a good formula at the time for the station - and AM radio in general. John Chalfant, Program Director at WLTP said in 1996, "After a slow start, the Parkersburg community is finally tuning into talk radio."

In 2004, the station changed to WHNK ("Hank1450") and was playing classic country. WHNK went off the air on April 28, 2014 when its transmitter lease was not renewed. The transmitter tower, long a landmark in Parkersburg off Emerson Avenue, came down in May, 2014. (see Youtube video: According to, WHNK remains off the air. The current owner is listed as Fellowship Baptist Church in Vienna, WV. The current FCC license expires October 1, 2019.

WPAR/WIKS/WLTP/WHNK, a proud radio pioneer and long time Parkersburg-Marietta community fixture, is now silent -  mute testimony to the decline of AM radio and impact of changing times.

History of WPAR/WIKS/WHNK, Parkersburg, no author given, viewed at

Jones, Adam, "Stand-Up-Sit-Down and the Mop Sink," The Adam Jones Show website,

LePann, Paul, "Parkersburg's Oldest Station Still Going Strong After 60 Years," State Journal, November 6, 1996, viewed at the History of WPAR etc. web site above

United States History for Kids, "1920's Radio," viewed at

Parkersburg, West Virginia, A Vintage Portrait - WPAR, various authors some not named, viewed at

Wikipedia - WHNK, viewed at

"AM 1450 Off the Air," The News Center, reported by Jillian Risberg and Abbie Schrader, April 29, 2014, viewed at

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Tale of Two Country Clubs

I have often heard stories about the original Marietta Country Club ("MCC"). There are still traces of the facility along Chamberlain Drive in Devola where the course was located, along with other reminders, such as the street name "Country Club Drive." I learned in my research that there were two country clubs in Marietta in the late 1920's with fascinating histories.

S. Durward Hoag was original owner of the Lafayette Hotel, local historian, and civic booster (he was a prime mover in the successful effort to have Interstate 77 routed through Marietta). He was a member of the original club and recalled many details. The original MCC was formed in 1900 by local citizens including Col. John H. Mills, A. Dewey Follette, Fidelio Henry, C. Fred Moore, Charles A. Ludey, Frank Penrose, William T. Hastings. These men raised money to build a clubhouse, lease 24 acres from the Devol and Chamberlain farms, and build a 9-hole golf course.

The Marietta Register of March 21, 1901 effusively announced the construction of the clubhouse. News articles in those days about new improvements often sounded like advertising promotions of today. The headline proclaimed "The Marietta Country Club will have Most Delightful Quarters." Some of the narrative is reproduced below:

"The grounds are well ideal spot for the indoor and outdoor sports to be carried on by the Club." The building would be "old Dutch Colonial style of architecture. With its wide verandas extending all 'round the building, mostly covered by a long sweeping shingle roof, the very thought of its shelter creates a pleasant anticipation of comfort to its members, during the warm summer days and evenings....On entering the are ushered into the Great Hall,....which is the general living and reception room of the club." The dining room connected with the Great Hall would have a "commanding view of the beautiful Muskingum River and hills on the opposite side... Back of the Clubhouse will be located tennis courts and other outdoor games of a similar nature...The Golf Links...will occupy a very large area...This game (golf) is one of the most fascinating and is gaining national prominence in this as well other countries."

The author presciently noted that "The Club is in fine financial condition and will start off ...with no indebtedness...This is an important matter with all newly organized clubs." The membership was listed as 160 with more to follow. The article concluded that "the success of the Marietta Country Club is well assured." Can I get an amen?

It seemed counter intuitive that a small rural town in the early 1900's would have enough affluent citizens to support such a club. But Marietta was prosperous then, probably more so than today. There were dozens of major industries thriving at the time. The Century Review Board of Trade edition published in 1900 listed more than two dozen manufacturing firms. Several enjoyed national reputations -such as the Marietta Chair Company, Stevens Organ, stove manufacturer A. T. Nye and Son, and Strecker Brothers leather goods. There were three brick yards. Oil and gas activity was intense. The Century Review reported that "Within fifty miles of Marietta there are 8,000 wells, giving forth above a million barrels per month." 

MCC became the social center of Marietta as members enjoyed the many activities at the club. The clubhouse was enlarged in 1908. Below are photos of that period, including an activity schedule in 1923.

Marietta Country Clubhouse. Photo from S. Durward Hoag Marietta Times article in 1974 shared by Julie Lambert on Marietta Memories Facebook page. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Stag Night 1907
Photo with caption from S. Durward Hoag Marietta Times article in 1974 shared by Julie Lambert on Marietta Memories Facebook page. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Scene at Marietta Country Club. Lew Peddinghaus was a jeweler whose business was purchased in 1918 and became Baker and Baker Jewelers. Photo from S. Durward Hoag Marietta Times article in 1974 shared by Julie Lambert on Marietta Memories Facebook page. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

1923 activities schedule. Note the names of many prominent citizens of  that time.
Copied from a booklet viewed at Washington County Public Library, Genealogy and Local History Library. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

There were lots of anecdotes about the old country club; one such was told by Mr. Hoag. It seems that there was a chicken coop on a neighboring farm located along the fairway of the third hole. One day Hoag caught one of the chickens and gave it to his caddy. Upon finishing the hole, he then carefully placed the chicken on the green laying down with its head folded under its wing. Doing that quieted the bird into hypnotic-like state. Your author researched this phenomenon and discovered that some chickens do sleep like this; and some can be hypnotized in other ways.

Playing behind Hoag were three of his friends, Attorney Tom Summers, Eddie Williams, and Will. V. Hayes. They approached the green and noticed the "lifeless" chicken. Hayes gingerly jostled the chicken with his putter. They were startled as it sprang to life and scampered cackling off the green. Back in the locker room the three could convince no one that they had found a chicken "sleeping" on the green.

By the early 1920's, a separate group within MCC wanted a 18 hole golf course. That group formed the Washington Country Club ("WCC"), purchased land where the current Marietta Country Club is located on Pike Street, and installed an 18 hole golf course. The article below trumpeted the construction of the clubhouse for the new club. 

Image of  Marietta Times front page announcing Washington Country Clubhouse construction, courtesy Local History and Genealogy Department of Washington County Public Library. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

But it seemed unlikely that Marietta could support two country clubs. Both clubs had fewer members to support their respective operations than the former combined group. WCC sold one hundred $1,000 memberships but still needed multiple mortgage and bank loans for the construction. And in the early 1930's the depression put the economy in a tailspin, straining both clubs financially.

On June 11, 1933, the MCC clubhouse burned to the ground. The fire was discovered at 6:15 p.m. on a Sunday in the men's locker room. Golfers had finished in the locker room, so did not notice the fire until it had a full start. Quick action by members, employees, and neighbors saved some furnishings and equipment. Insurance paid out $10,900, likely covering most of the loss. The club continued operating for another year without a club house.

Early in 1934, WCC's heavy debt and declining revenues forced it into bankruptcy. The property was offered for sale by the Union Joint Stock Land Bank of Detroit for $12,500. MCC purchased the WCC property. Once again the two country clubs were together as the Marietta Country Club which survives today. 

The former MCC land leased from the Chamberlain and Devol farms was immediately returned to farming. Soon cabbage, corn, and tomatoes grew where a short time ago Marietta's elite had gathered for golfing and the country club life.

MCC activities calendar for June, 1955. There were lots of activities: bridge, stag night, golf, club party. Photo by author of calendar located at Local History and Genealogy Department of Washington County Public Library. 

Today Marietta Country Club continues but with reduced membership from the peak years of 10-20 years ago. This is in line with national trends of declining club membership and interest in golf, long the staple activity of country clubs. These trends are attributed to changing demographics, lifestyles, and family priorities.

But MCC has persevered and survived for more than a century, through the determination of its members and staff. Clubs like MCC must hustle to attract members with new activities, proactive marketing, and flexible financing options. Who knows, maybe country clubs can help wean our population from their electronic devices by enjoying healthy activities and interacting directly with other human beings. What a concept. It can be fun. Keep on keepin' on, MCC.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ivan Was Here - Flooding in 2004

The recent flooding in North Carolina from Hurricane Matthew was an unpleasant reminder of a similar event that devastated our area in 2004. By Friday, September 17, 2004, the remains of Hurricane Ivan had dumped five inches of rain over two days in Marietta. Seven inches of rain inundated western Pennsylvania in just a single day. The Ohio River was already swollen from heavy rain from Hurricane Frances the week before. Mariettans in flood-prone areas were on edge.

That day the National Weather Service (NWS) posted a flood warning for a crest of 38 feet, 3 feet over flood stage but not serious flooding. Locals were vigilant but hoping that major flooding could be averted. Surprisingly, NWS lifted the flood warning entirely on Friday afternoon, predicting a crest below flood stage. There was relief. Flood preparations stopped. People went home, believing there was no threat.

As torrential rains fell over Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, NWS updated their river forecast models. At 11:00 pm Friday, the issued a new flood warning for a crest of 41.5 feet. That was a double whammy. Flooding would be severe. And the late hour of the warning left many unaware of the impending disaster as they slept.

The Ohio River rose at the fastest rate ever recorded through the night into Saturday morning, September 18. Some said they could literally see the water rising minute by minute in their basements or approaching their buildings. 

Marietta Times front page September 20, 2004.

I drove into work at Peoples Bank Saturday morning around 8:00 am and was shocked to see water on Third Street. Incredible. That meant the river level was already at 40 ft, well over flood stage. Most areas in lower Marietta and Pike Street were under water. I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. This was going to be a tough ordeal for our community.

Stacy Frederick, then a Marietta College student, recalled a campus jolted in action early Saturday morning as flooding became imminent. A 5:45 a.m., water covered Don Drumm Stadium field and would soon flood campus buildings along Fourth Street. Students were marshaled to move items up or into other buildings.

Student Bethany Dykstra recalled the Resident Assistant in her dorm "pounding on my door at 8 am yelling for me to move my car because the Hermann lot was flooding....I got up, threw on some shoes, and moved my car to Fifth Street. As I walked down the mall (back to the dorm), I saw that cars were already under water..." 

Eventually water rose 5 feet in the ATO and other houses on Fourth Street. Fayerweather and Mary Beach Halls suffered flood damage. For perspective, at the crest of 44.97 feet on Saturday, the Ohio River lapped at the cross bars on the goal posts at Don Drumm Stadium. Kin Brewer, owner of the Food for Less grocery store, was rowing past the stadium ferrying a relief security guard to the store. He remembers seeing students in a boat taking turns climbing on to the goal post cross bars to take pictures.

Marietta College dorm water taxi. Photo by Jake Mecklenborg from

In the downtown area, activity was frantic. Water was already in most buildings along Front Street by daybreak Saturday. Desperate merchants and residents waded through flood water to remove what they could. Many helped each other; volunteers appeared out of nowhere.

Becky Pritchett, co-owner of Twisted Sisters Boutique at 197 Front Street, said they moved things out of the basement on Friday. "But then they called the flood warning off, so we went home." She returned Saturday morning. Ominously, she could see that roadways into town were flooded, a clear sign that the waters were rising rapidly. "We had 5 feet of water in the basement but went to help other merchants....Later volunteer firemen from Oak Grove came and helped us move items from the store up into the small apartment upstairs."

Front and Putnam Streets. Photo by Jake Mecklenborg from

Karen Briley with Schafer Leather on Front Street also recalled the rapid rise of the water on Saturday morning. There was 3 feet of water which lapped at the tables holding their displays of boots and leather goods. "We called family, friends, and anyone to help us move everything upstairs," she said. "We formed an assembly line and passed items hand-to-hand."

Schafer Leather was started in 1867 and has been through dozens of floods. A plaque on the front of their building marks the crest of the 2004 flood with arrows and the inscription "Ivan was here." Photo by author.

Business owner Glenn Newman said that "some people who saw my web site that I was about to lose a piano that my mother saved from the 1937 flood came to help lift it above the water. His voice hesitated with emotion. "I didn't even find out their names."

Dozens of vehicles were lost to flooding because of the rapid rise and short warning period. But one vehicle was spared in a creative, unconventional way. Harry and Ilene Barengo lived at the Hart Street condos, and the Barengo Insurance office was nearby. Both locations are in the flood plain. For this reason, sons Jim and Randy Barengo had become vigilant river watchers. They were prescient in not trusting the NWS river forecast and stayed up through the night into Saturday morning. 

One of Harry's vehicles was in the garage but trapped as flooding sealed off road access. Water crept in on the floor. Jim and Randy figured a way to save the vehicle - by moving it up, not out. They asked their wives to purchase 8 concrete blocks from Pioneer Masonry. The wives met the guys, who arrived in a row boat, at Fourth and Butler Streets. Jim and Randy rowed the concrete blocks back to the condo garage, occasionally scraping bottom under the weight of the blocks. They jacked up the car enough to place a concrete block under each wheel, one at a time. They repeated the operation with the 4 other blocks. The "carjacking" worked. They car was saved from a watery grave.

The Harmar area was almost entirely submerged, but residents are used to flooding. The late Jim Badgett had been in floods before and prepared to ride out the flood at his Maple street home. But he did not plan on his ailing father having to be transported by Marietta Fire Department EMTs through the flood water to the hospital. He said,"I wasn't scared until they took Dad out and I drove through the water."

Dave Moyers, a neighbor of Badgett's on Maple Street was observed fishing from his front porch. He didn't catch any fish but did a lot of people and river watching. "It's pretty wet over here...but I'm dry in the house." Former Marietta Mayor Brooks Harper is restoring a home on Maple street. He had recently found river mud in the kitchen ceiling, probably from the 1913 flood, the worst flood to strike the Ohio Valley.

The flooding attracted national news attention as part of the Hurricane Ivan coverage - and because of the severity. Marietta was the epicenter of that coverage. Satellite trucks showed up on second street. Video footage of flood areas and local officials appeared on many regional stations and national outlets.

Governmental officials showed up to view damage and to show support. Governor Robert Taft visited on Monday, the day after the flood crest and vowed support from Ohio resources. Congressman Ted Strickland visited his flooded office in Marietta on September 21, stepping over dead fish and around an upturned refrigerator. "It's a tragic happening for so many. Just seeing my own office, it's heartbreaking."

FEMA director Michael Brown visited Marietta on Sept 22. After meeting with community members, he was impressed, "...they're upset, mad, angry. But at the same time they're pumped up to rebuild. That's the great American spirit. It's wonderful." His view accurately captured the community spirit. This is the same Michael Brown who came under fire for FEMA's bungling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in a year later in 2005. A FEMA office opened at the courthouse on Friday, September 24, for local residents to apply for assistance.

By Friday, September 24, local, state, and National Guard crews were working 16 hour days to remove millions of pounds of flood debris from area streets, roads, and bridges. On Tiber Way at the Brighter Day Natural Foods store, the pavement collapsed on September 21 revealing a 10' wide and 15' deep sink hole. No one was hurt and it was expected to be repaired quickly.

Pumping out flood water on Second Street. Photo by Jake Mecklenborg from

Within a week of the flooding, most major streets, many businesses, Marietta College, and local schools re-opened. Almost all businesses, many of whom suffered major losses, pledged to re-open. Pi Chen, owner of Austyn's Restaurant on Front Street, was open within a week after 3 feet of water flooded the restaurant. "I have employees that can't afford to be out of work, and I can't afford to keep closed. We've been working non-stop...This has been really hard to deal with." East of Chicago Pizza on Pike Street reported losses exceeding $100,000; Apex $300,000. There many others affected similarly.

Ivan moved on from the Ohio Valley, but the impact would linger for some time. Ivan is listed among the top 5 most costly hurricanes:

Hurricane Katrina in 2005: $16.3 billion
Superstorm Sandy in 2012: $8.3 billion
Hurricane Ike in 2008: $2.7 billion
Hurricane Ivan in 2004: $1.6 billion
Hurricane Irene in 2011: $1.3 billion
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency

In an ironic twist, on September 23 the remains of Ivan reformed into a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the Louisiana coast. And, Marietta was struck again by a major flood only four months later in January of 2005. That time, there was ample warning, and it was more of a nuisance than a disaster.

Such is life on the river.