A Wasted Life

In my last post, “Young in Years – Old in Crime”, I am afraid I may have left you, dear readers, with the impression that J.W. Johnson’s life of crime was the result of an inadequate upbringing and hellish treatment in his teens at the Boys’ Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio. I can’t comment on his upbringing, but after researching the school, I no longer lay the fault for his incorrigible behavior on them.

The school began as the Ohio Reform School in 1858 a reformatory for boys between eight and eighteen years old. In 1884, the name was changed to the Boys’ Industrial School.

Administration Building Lancaster Boys Industrial School

Administration Building, 1907

I confess that my image of reformatory schools in the late 19th century was Dickensian: miserable inmates enduring harsh treatment inflicted by cruel guards and matrons. However, according to the sources I cite at the bottom of this post, the Boys’ Industrial School at Lancaster was nothing like that.

The school used an “open system” where the boys lived in cottages and moved freely about the grounds. They spent their mornings in class, and afternoons working on the school’s farm, or learning a trade.

Although it probably was not a bed of roses,

Bob Hope

Bob Hope as a boy in England

the school was not a hell hole, either. Bob Hope spent time there as a boy, and from what I understand, he turned out okay. Later in life, he donated a substantial amount of money to the school, so apparently he had fond memories of the place.

Long story short, in my humble opinion, J.W. Johnson’s life of crime cannot be laid at the door of the Boys’ Industrial School. Whether it was the result of his early upbringing, I cannot say. I have no idea what who his parents were or what kind of life they gave him, no more than I know if he reformed his ways in later years. Perhaps some day, I will look into his heritage, and his life post 1907. If you know anything about him, dear readers, please let us know in the comments below.

That’s it for the saga of J.W. Johnson–for now. Here are links to the previous two posts in this series, if you’d like to catch up.


More Basketball – Class of 1907: Which Side of the Tracks.

Young in Years – Old in Crime.



“Boys’ Industrial School,” Ohio History Connection.

State of Ohio boys industrial school inmate case records, 1858-1918. Family Search

Boys’ Industrial School at Lancaster, Asylum Project:

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More Basketball – Class of 1907: Which Side of the Tracks?

Basketball Exciting ContestIn “Ending the Season with a Loss” on March 1st, I posted that the boys and girls basketball teams at Norwalk High School had played their last extramural games of the season with losses to Fremont and Clyde teams. It turns out I was wrong–at least about the Norwalk boys team. They had at least one more loss to go–this time an away game against an Elyria squad they had defeated the month before.

According to The Norwalk Daily Reflector, the match on this day, one-hundred ten years ago, was hotly contested, Norwalk led through most of the second half. But Elyria rallied, and when the whistle blew at the end of the game, they had won, 20 to 16.

As in the previous game against Elyria, the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 was represented by Arthur Young and Sheldon Laning. Look at the images of these young men that I cropped from their class commencement photo. Well-dressed and intelligent looking boys, were they not? But were these young men, and their classmates, representative of all of Norwalk’s youth?

The population of Norwalk in 1907 was around 9,000. [1] Twenty-eight students were in the class of 1907, fewer than I would have expected from a city that size, and almost all of them came from the “upper class” of the city. Sheldon Laning’s father had a successful

Norwalk Street Scene

Main Street, Norwalk, Ohio

publishing company, and had recently been elected to be a U.S. Congressman. Arthur Young’s father was also a leader in the community, and Harriott Wickham, who is often featured in these posts, was a descendant of the founder of the town, and her father was editor of The Norwalk Daily Reflector.

Surely, not all young people in Norwalk had such fortunate backgrounds. By this time, the town had become a modest manufacturing center, employing hundreds of workers in factories around the city. What kind of education did the children of those men and women receive? From my research so far, I’ve found that in 1907 few, if any, sons and daughters of factory workers were in the public high school. Did they mix at all with those who were fortunate enough to attend? We’ll look further into those questions in later posts.


The same issue of The Norwalk Daily Reflector that reported about the basketball game, also carried an article that told of another young man, not much older than the students in the Class of 1907, who was in a very different place: a state penitentiary. More about him in my next post: Young in Years – Old in Crime.


“Exciting Contest,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 9, 1907, page 1, column 7.

“High School Stung Again,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 9, 1907, page 4, column 4.

[1] 14th U.S. Census: Summary for the United States by Divisions and States, page 18. (https://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/06229686v32-37ch3.pdf).

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

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