8 Offbeat Ohio History Books
Dive into Ohio History
Do you love learning little-known, quirky or colorful bits of Ohio history? If so, then you need to check out Hoopla, one of the library’s free services for ebooks (and audiobooks, music, movies, TV and comics). Each of these Ohio history books can be borrowed on demand from Hoopla. Let’s dive in!
The nineteenth century was the golden age of the circus in Ohio. Before the Ringling brothers became synonymous with the American circus, Cincinnati’s John Robinson and the Sells brothers of Columbus wowed audiences with stunning equestrian feats and aerial exploits. For good measure, the Sells brothers threw in a sharpshooting show with a young Ohio woman by the name of Annie Oakley. The Walter L. Main Circus of Geneva and a number of smaller shows presented their own unique spectacles with exotic animals and daring acrobats. But for all the fun and games, Ohio’s circus industry was serious business. As competition intensified, advertising wars erupted and acquisitions began. Eventually, Ringling Brothers swallowed many of these circuses one by one, and they dropped out of memory.
Ride Ohio’s rails with some of the bravest trainmen and most vicious killers and robbers to ever roll down the tracks. The West may have had Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, but Ohio had its own brand of train robbers. Discover how Alvin Karpis knocked off an Erie Railroad train and escaped with $34,000. Learn about the first peacetime train holdup that took place in North Bend when thieves derailed the Kate Jackson, robbed its passengers and blew the Adam’s Express safe. Make no mistake–railroading was a dangerous job in bygone days.
In nearly a century of heavy rail travel in Ohio, a dozen train accidents stand out as the most horrific. In the bitter cold, just after Christmas 1876, eleven cars plunged seventy-five feet into the frigid water below. The stoves burst into flames, burning to death all who were not killed by the fall. Fires cut short the lives of forty-three people in the head-on Doodlebug collision in Cuyahoga Falls in 1940 and eleven people in a train wreck near Dresden in 1912. Author Jane Ann Turzillo unearths these red-hot stories of ill-fated passengers, heroic trainmen and the wrecking crews who faced death and destruction on Ohio’s rails.
Beautiful and deadly, the Lake Erie islands off the coast of Ohio have seen their fair share of disasters. The Victory Hotel on South Bass Island at Put-in-Bay was once the largest hotel in the nation. But the grand residence was reduced to ashes after a spark quickly became a raging, uncontrollable inferno. Reports of smallpox on Pelee Island resulted in mass hysteria and the quarantine of an entire island. At the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, one light keeper was frozen in for days with his deceased colleague until he could make a desperate escape. Wendy Koile chronicles the fiercest calamities to shatter the tranquility of these solitary shores.
Hula girls, palm trees and Tiki gods beckoned Ohioans of the 1950s and ’60s as tropical hot spots sprang up in suburban neighborhoods and concrete jungles alike. The Kon Tiki restaurants of Cleveland and Cincinnati slung rum cocktails to patrons eager for escape to a South Seas paradise. Visitors to the famed Kahiki Supper Club of Columbus, the Tropics in Dayton and Toledo’s Aku-Aku could spot celebrities swaying to the exotic sounds of steel guitars and native percussion. Venturing a step beyond restaurants and bars, others decked out theaters, bowling alleys and even a McDonald’s in sultry island decor.
As “animal factories” go, the Ohio Penitentiary was one of the worst. For 150 years, it housed some of the most dangerous criminals in the United States, including murderers, madmen and mobsters. Peer in on America’s first vampire, accused of sucking his victims’ blood five years before Bram Stoker’s fictional villain was even born; peek into the cage of the original Prison Demon; and witness the daring escape of John Hunt Morgan’s band of Confederate prisoners. Uncover the full extent of mayhem and madness locked away in one of history’s most notorious maximum-security prisons.
The Buckeye State produced its share of wicked women. Tenacious madam Clara Palmer contended with constant police raids during the 1880s and ’90s. Only her death could shut the doors of her gilded bordello in Cleveland. Failed actress Mildred Gillars left for Europe right before World War II. Because she fell in love with the wrong man, she wound up peddling Nazi propaganda on the radio as “Axis Sally.” Volatile Hester Foster was already doing time at the Ohio State Penitentiary when she bashed in the head of a fellow inmate with a shovel. The sinister Anna Marie Hahn dosed at least five elderly Cincinnati men with arsenic and croton oil and then watched them die in agony while pretending to nurse them back to health. Award-winning crime writer Jane Ann Turzillo recounts the stories of Ohio’s most notorious vixens, viragoes and villainesses.
Just before Christmas 1902, Alfred Knapp strangled his wife in her sleep. He put her body in a box and sent the box floating down the Great Miami River, telling everyone that Hannah had left him. When the truth came out, Knapp confessed to four other murders. Newspapers across the Midwest sent reporters to interview the handsome strangler. Despite spending most of his adulthood in prison, he had a charming, boyish manner that made him an instant celebrity serial killer. True crime historian Richard O. Jones examines the strangler’s alleged crimes, the family drama of covering up Knapp’s atrocities and how a brain-damaged drifter became a media darling.
In addition to these Ohio history books, Hoopla offers hundreds of other regional history ebooks. You’ll find ones stories about various Ohio cities, writings about other states, and over 3,000 books from the popular Images of America series.