by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2007, Hudson, Ohio
They say that God works in mysterious ways. Back in 1892, in Hudson, Ohio, one of God’s little mysteries happened early one spring morning. If it weren’t for a certain diary that I found the other day, none of us would ever have known this story that I am about to tell you.
I found Mrs. Lockhart’s diary tucked tightly behind a rafter in the attic of the house on E. Main where she and Alvin lived. I don’t know why it hadn’t been discovered up ‘til now. You’d think someone would have come across it in the past hundred years that it’s been up there. But then, no one must have ever scrounged around that old attic like I did. I’m just like that, nosey I guess, and having just bought the house a few weeks ago, I had reason to look around a bit.
Wednesday, April 27, 1892.
While walking across the green this morning on my way to the bank, a couple of ladies from the “Ohio Women’s Temperance Society” stopped to talk with me, or should I say, lecture me on my husband’s refusal to shut down his saloon. I told them that that is his decision and I will stand by my husband in whatever course he takes. The older of the two ladies then rudely asked how I could possibly tolerate living with such a scoundrel and if it were her, she would have divorced him before he ever opened such an establishment of ill repute! Well, I couldn’t let that one go, so I retorted that I would never consider a divorce from a man who treats me like a queen. I asked them if their husbands help with the children, cook meals, do the wash and tend to the garden? and I may add, give a nightly foot massage? Well, you should have seen those two old bags turn as red as any geranium on a bright spring day! They turned tail and walked off in a huff! Feeling rather proud of myself, I strutted to the bank with a chuckle in my step and a grin on my face. The clerk asked me what I was smiling about and all I could say was that it was a fine day, indeed, wasn’t it?
Thursday, April 28, 1892.
Alvin and I were awakened by a bright light and the church bells ringing in the middle of the night. We jumped out of bed, ran out the front door and could see across the town square that the saloon was in flames! Alvin took off running in his underwear. I quickly ran in the house, threw my coat on, grabbed Alvin’s clothes by the bed and ran as fast as I could. I found Alvin at the back of the saloon. He stood in a daze with his hands on his head as if he was ready to pull his hair out. The harsh heat from the flames fueled by the alcohol, prevented him from getting anywhere near the door. It was clear that we would not by able to salvage a thing.
Suddenly our attention was directed to the Mansion House Hotel next door. Flames were flying out of the rear entrance like bright yellow banners reaching for the sky. We quickly ran around to the front of the hotel ready to dash in and rescue anyone we could. We nearly collided with Albert Hottinger, the hotel’s porter. He was dashing out the front door with Mabel Carrington in his big strong arms. He shouted, “Mabel’s the last one.” We followed Albert as he sprinted across the street to the green where all the other hotel guests were huddled together. Most of them only had their night clothes on, which reminded me that I was still holding Alvin’s clothes!
Herb Buss and Belle Mills soon joined us. Herb’s general store already had flames shooting through the roof. Belle’s hat shop was just a shell with a few stubborn rafters still trying to hold it up. Luckily, she had been able to get all of her merchandise out in time only because she heard the explosion at the saloon from her suite at the hotel.
Neither our fire department nor Akron’s, who arrived by train, stood a chance at fighting the fire. It jumped so fast from roof to roof that there was no way they could have kept up. Thankfully, it didn’t cross over to the northern block of Main St. It might have, though, if it hadn’t been for the hand of God intervening with a strong April shower that stopped the runaway sparks in their tracks.
Friday, April 29, 1892
All the businesses were ruined, Saywell’s Meat Market, R.T. Miller’s bakery, Sebastian Miller’s shoe store and Bentley’s drug store to name only a few. Sadly, our beloved auditorium where Alvin and I had danced many an evening away was destroyed. Mr. Read’s personal library that he had kindly shared with me many times was reduced to ashes. Dr. Rogers lost all his dental equipment along with all of the town’s records he kept in his office.
Monday, May 2, 1892
Needless to say the past few days have been filled with work. None of us fully realized the scope of the disaster until the smoke subsided. It was a severe shock to have Main St. there one day and gone the next. Mr. Buss put up a temporary building even before the smoke had cleared. I don’t know if he got any sleep at all this past weekend, what with all that work and the trip to Akron for goods to stock the store. The town was grateful for his hard work. Lord knows we all needed supplies.
The Post Office opened this morning in our Town Hall. George Miller reopened his meat market in Doncaster’s Funeral Home on Church St. This strange partnership had some of us laughing at what could come of it! Some are actually upset about it and are pressuring George to find another location!
Wednesday, May 3, 1892
This evening we had a town meeting to discuss plans for rebuilding. Albert Hottinger was honored for his great bravery in saving the lives of the Mansion House patrons. If it weren’t for his quick action in ringing the dinner bell in the restaurant and thereby alerting everyone to the fire, our town would be mourning the loss of many good friends.
Soon after, though, the good cheer of the meeting slid into a shouting match between those who wanted to place blame. Some pointed the finger at our fire department saying that they were too slow in getting their equipment to the scene. Others said that Akron’s fire department should have arrived much sooner. Some accused the migrant laborers of starting the fire just so they could have more work! I thought that one was rather far-fetched. But the loudest cry came from the ladies of the Temperance Society. They had their noses in the air, accusing my husband’s saloon as being the culprit because as they said with great aplomb, “God is punishing this town for allowing that saloon to remain here!” Others shouted back that they must have been the ones most likely to set the fire!
Immediately, however, our fine mayor silenced the Temperance Ladies’ self-righteous tirade by saying that if that was the case, then why did God put the fire out with that heavenly downpour? The mayor went on to educate these dear ladies on their Bible knowledge or should I say the lack thereof.
“I think you are forgetting that Jesus not only enjoyed wine but changed water into wine for the guests at a wedding,” the mayor stated, “Oh, and doesn’t it say somewhere in Psalms that God gives wine ‘that makes glad the heart of men’?”
You should have seen their holy mouths drop in speechlessness as they fled the room in humiliation. I made sure to catch the eye of the two old bags that had earlier harassed me about my wicked husband and gave them a look they’ll not forget for awhile! You should have seen how red their faces were!
Well, goodnight, dear diary, tomorrow will be a better day now that our beloved town has resolved a few things. I just know that Alvin will rebuild his saloon bigger and better than any saloon in all of Summit County! And at the grand re-opening, we will raise a toast to our great mayor for restoring the peace.