Norwalk High School and the Great War

U.S. Declares War

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany, upending the lives of all Americans living at the time. [1] Where were the alumni of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 that momentous day? How were their lives affected by this world-altering event?

robert-venus-commencement-photo-1907On the front page of The Norwalk Reflector Herald that day, just below the article announcing the war, was a small item notifying readers that one alumnus of the Class of 1907, Robert Venus, had spent two years at the Case School of Applied Science and now held “a responsible position with the East Ohio Gas Co.” [2]

Did his country’s entry into war change Robert’s life. Indeed, it did. He enlisted as an officer candidate in the Army and by July was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He would spend the next two years on active duty. I do not have any evidence that he served overseas, but no matter–he did serve. [3]


The “War to End All Wars” disrupted lives all around the world, and ended the lives of millions. Robert Venus was not the only graduate of Norwalk High School whose life was turned upside down. As I often do when writing these posts, I turn to the diaries of Harriott Wickham, my grandmother, to see what she had to say. Here is what she wrote on April 22, 1974.

This evening have been watching a movie about W.W.I. How very long ago that seems now—like a different lifetime! It is really very clear in my memory though. Most of the boys I had known off in France! Bill [4] among them. Making bandages in the courthouse in Buffalo, Wyo. with other women. Getting a letter from my “then fiancé” [5] in France. Eleanor, [6] and I working in Columbus & Cleveland for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And especially remembering the long, long, two deep rows of rough boxes that stretched along the station platform at Columbus. Coffins filled with the bodies of boys who never even got to the front, but died of the flu epidemic at a training camp! One of the saddest sights of my life, I think! – Then, finally a night when we were awakened by the noise of sirens & shouting and chanting, — the “false armistice”! [7] But the real one a few days later, when there would not be any more “casualty lists” in the paper and the boys would be coming home alive!

It was another year before Bill would be home – but we didn’t know that then. And I think he really enjoyed that year – after the fighting had ended. He was quartered in a French home. When he had been crossing the ocean to France, a torpedo from a German submarine had grazed their ship—he heard the scrape of it! then it hit & sank another ship.

A number of our friends were killed in the war—one of them a fraternity brother of Bill’s at Ann Arbor—Lois Brush. I had been his guest at a Beta House party two years earlier. – He had no girl to ask & I was visiting Aunt Sue, [8] who was taking her doctor’s degree at Ann Arbor. A number we knew from Wooster & Norwalk were killed, though most of them came home safe. Damn Wars!! So stupid & unnecessary!

Stupid and Unnecessary! That sums about sums it up, doesn’t it?



[1] “U.S. Declares War Against the Kaiser,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5. The Norwalk Reflector Herald was a successor to both the Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald which had merged in 1913.

[2] “Where They Are,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5.

[3] In the U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918, 1st Lieutenant Robert Edward Venus of 45 Seminary Street in Norwalk, Ohio biography reads: 2 Lieutenant Quartermaster Corps 15 Aug 1917 from CL. 1 Lieutenant 28 July 1918. Fort Benj Harrison Ind 15 May 1917 to 14 Aug 1917. Quartermaster Corps to Discharge Cp Sherman O; Cp Johnson Fla; Baltimore Medical Department Honorable discharge 24 March 1919. Citation: The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18. Columbus, OH, USA: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926.

[4] Harriott’s younger brother, my great uncle Bill Wickham.


William Wickham - WWI

William (Bill) Wickham in World War I


[5] Joe Gill. When my grandmother lived at our home near the end of her life, she told my mother that she received a “Dear Jane” letter from this man while he was in France. She said that it came as a big shock and she had a hard time getting over the rejection. I don’t know much more about him.


Joe Gill

Joe Gill – 1907


[6] Harriott’s sister Eleanor Wickham, my great aunt and godmother.

[7] On November 7, 1918, three days before the actual event, UP mistakenly reported that the German’s had signed an armistice. This sparked wide-spread, if short-lived, celebrations. How wrenching it must have been to learn that it was not true. For a detailed account of this little-known event, visit the New York Sun Blog.

[8] Suzan Rose Benedict. In 1914, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.


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Norwalk Basketball Champions 1907: Who Were They?

On Friday, March 22, 1907, one hundred-ten years ago today, spectators crowded the school hall on the third floor of the “Old” Norwalk High School in Norwalk, Ohio for the school’s annual boys’ and girls’ intramural championship basketball games. In the boys’ match, the juniors defeated the sophomores 15 to 12 in what The Norwalk Daily Reflector described as the most exciting game ever played at the school. The match was hotly contested from the very beginning, and it was not until the final whistle that the Class of 1908 was assured of victory.

Who were the young athletes who won glory for their class and were borne triumphantly on the shoulders of their schoolmates around the hall? Newspaper accounts of the game reported the roster: Clifford Williams, Fred Harkness, Pitt Curtis, Walter Sutter, and Phil Fulstow. But those are just names. Who were they really? What did they look like, these young sporting heroes?

Well, I have good news–and I have bad news. Harriott Wickham, a member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 (and my grandmother), left in her papers a commemorative photo of those young champions. Unfortunately, unlike with every other photo I have from her, she did not record their names.

Anyway, here they are, decked out in their sporting garb.

NHS 1907 Champions

Seven young men posing solemnly for the camera–six in uniform, one in street clothes. Was the latter a player, or the coach. And what’s with the teddy bear perched on the basketball between his knees?

The rosters in the newspapers list five players, but in this photo there are six boys in uniform. I believe the additional boy in this photo is Leonard Delamater. On December 7, 1906, he played for the junior class in another intramural game, but for some reason, he did not play in the championship game.

I’ve searched the internet and genealogical sources for photos of these boys. Nothing there. However, when I looked back through Harriott Wickham’s papers, I found this photo of her and several of her friends. Fortunately, in this instance, she did record their names for posterity.

Friends - Lucy Rule, Me, Sara B. Sophie Harkness, Walter, Leonard Delamater, Fred Harkness

Front row: Lucy Rule, Harriott Wickham, Sarah Barnett, Sophie Harkness. Back row: Walter ? , Leonard Delamater, Fred Harkness

So, now we know how Leonard Delamater and Fred Harkness looked. Comparing their faces with those of the boys on the basketball team, I believe Leonard is sitting on the far left in the team photo, and Fred is standing behind him, second from left.

It’s a puzzle. But I do like a good mystery.

What do you think? Leave a comment below letting me know if you agree with me–or not–about Fred and Leonard. Also, if you have any idea of the identity of the other boys in the team photo, I’d really love to hear about it.


The same evening the junior boys’ team defeated the sophomores, the senior girls representing the Class of 1907 defeated the freshman girls. We’ll get to that game in a couple days, but first, in my next post, we will see how the boy’s regular team fared when they played the Sandusky High School squad on Saturday, March 23, 1907 in the last extramural game of the season.


“Senior Girls and Junior Boys are Champions,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 23, 1907, page 1, column 3.

“Decides Basketball Superiority,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 23, 1907, page 4, column 3.

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Chauquatua at Ruggles Beach

chautauqua-assemblyOn this date in 1907, The Norwalk Daily Reflector reported exciting news: a Chauquatua Assembly was to be established at Ruggles Beach.

What is Chauquatua? And where is Ruggles Beach, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

The first Chauquatua Assembly was established in 1874 at Lake Chauquatua in New York by a Methodist minister. It grew over the years, and by 1907, had assemblies all about the country, and traveling assemblies that visited towns on a circuit. These assemblies featured religious and secular lectures, musical programs, and other wholesome entertainment.

I have not found any records of an assembly being

Oak Bluff c. 1911, 1912 (Susan Orsini)

The cottage on Lake Erie where Harriott Wickham spent her summers while in Norwalk High School

actually established at Ruggles Beach in 1907, but I do know that Chautauqua programs were presented during the summer from a couple 1908 diary entries by Harriott Wickham (my grandmother and member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907). As I discussed in Summer in the Firelands on September 1 last year, Harriott and most of her classmates spent their summers on the shores of Lake Erie. Here is what she wrote about the Chatautauqua program that summer of 1908.

Wednesday, July 29, – We finally got up our nerve and went over to Chautauqua tonight for the first time. It was a sort of recital of “Madame Butterfly” by a woman in Japanese costume, and was very good. After that they had moving pictures which were not only very poor, but were also disgusting.  After the show, we all went over to the hall and danced for awhile.


Dance Pavilion at Ruggles Beach

Thursday, July 30, – Dreadfully hot! We stayed at home and read most all day. When we went in bathing that Jerpe fellow and another had a log out there trying to dive off of it. We joined them, and so I suppose we have got acquainted with him at last. We went over to Chautauqua again in the evening, but didn’t enjoy it much. I don’t care much for lectures anyway and this was a particularly tiresome one. We went over to the hall afterwards, but there wasn’t much doing, so we came on home.

It seems Harriott was more interested in spending her summer at the beach swimming and dancing, instead of listening to lectures and or watching other “wholesome” entertainment.

There are a few Chautauqua Assemblies still operating today: for instance in Boulder, Colorado and at Lake Chautauqua. Another assembly is located at Lakeside, Ohio, and Harriott and some of her friends visited there later in the summer of 1908. In a later post, we’ll see what she had to say about in her diary about that visit to Lakeside.


Source: “Chautauqua Assembly,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 7, 1907, page 1, column 8.

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Homer Beattie – Post # 2 – Nickname?

Class of 1907: Homer Beattie Post # 1

homer-beattie-commencement-photoIn the post on September 18 celebrating the birthday of Homer Beattie, I mentioned that he might be a “Rastus” Beattie who is mentioned in my grandmother’s 1908 diary. A pejorative term today, it was not considered so in that day and age.

But is Rastus Beattie really Homer? Below are the diary entries that mention him. Let’s see how they might match with what the record says about Homer Beattie.

 Sunday, June 7 – . . . Oh! I forgot to say that Rastus Beattie is home. I was talking to him yesterday. I’m glad he’s home, he looks all done up, although he says he’s all right.

 Wednesday, June 10, . . . After dinner, Ed and I went over home to play tennis, but Billy had gotten ornery, and said they couldn’t use his net any more, so we couldn’t play. I had a date with Rastus Beattie to play tennis too, and he called up to see about it, but as we couldn’t very well play without a net, we called it off, and Ed & I went down town. . . .

 Rastus is home, but from where? I would think it was from college. Homer did go to college; at least later on. In 1913, he was a senior at the University of Michigan and a member of the Forestry Club (his career was in Forestry). [1] But if he was a senior, this does not equate with him being in school in 1908, but in the 1909 Norwalk City Directory, Homer Beattie is listed, with occupation student. So it is possible that he started college in 1907, straight out of high school, which would put him home for summer vacation in June of that year.

Saturday, June 27: . . . We got up home in time for supper and afterwards went down to the library. We were sitting on the steps with Rastus and Fred French when the Davidson’s walked the steps. Poor Rastus, he nearly fainted, and Fred almost went into hysterics. Then we all kindly adjourned and left Rastus to make his peace. . .

Friday, July 17 – We have had a terrible storm today: thunder and lightening, and a regular cloud burst. We were glad to see it though, for our cistern gave out a few days ago, and carrying water is no fun. I got a letter from Irene today, saying that they are going to have a progressive dinner party for Meg, as she is going away so soon. She wants me to join her in giving the fourth course. She said they would find a “grand” fellow to take me. I don’t see where they would find him, I’m sure, so that isn’t much of an attraction. Probably Ernest Rudolph or Rastus Beattie, and either one doesn’t come up to my conception of grand. . .

Wednesday, Aug 12 – More arithmetic and grammar, etc., and the hall hotter than ever. We have a pretty good time though, looking at the people. It’s a regular menagerie. This evening Sara and I were going to the band concert, so I met her down at the library and we sat on the steps waiting for it to begin. Something happened however and the concert was called off, so we still sat on the steps. Quite a lot of kids had come down & we had a regular party there. About half past eight we went home and Rastus came along with me. I stayed all night at Grandma’s so we went down there and sat on the side steps. Rastus got very confidential, and we had a real “heart to heart” talk.

More encounters with “Rastus,” but nothing that indicates he is really Homer Beattie. But this is still summer vacation, so if Home were in college . . .

For the next four months, Harriott does not mention “Rastus” at all. Then, after Christmas, he reappears:

Dec. 28 – 1908 – Went shopping all this aft. I guess I am going to the dance with Charley Yanquell. Poor child, he might as well take his grandmother. Met Rastus downtown. He is looking for a partner to the dance. Hope he’ll come around my way. Went down to the Sunday School Christmas tree tonight. They always have it on this date, Holy Innocent’s Day. I got a box of candy and an orange, and had some ice cream and cake. After that we went to the play, a stock company show, – and a fair sample. Lots of Pi Kappa girls haven’t bids, even Milly Monnett. She and Harry are off, so I hear.

Dec. 29, 1908 – I have another bid and it’s about time. Rastus Beattie asked me to go with him, and I accepted. I guess Charlie Y. is going to take Edna now. Irene stayed all night with me and we have been together all day. In the afternoon we went downtown and met Rastus. He joined us and wandered around with us all the aft., even down to Grandma’s.

Dec, 30, 1908 – Well the dance is over, and I had an awfully good time, so much better than I expected that I am quite satisfied. I think almost every one had a good time. There were more boys than girls, so there weren’t a whole lot of wallflowers.

So here we are. “Rastus” Beattie, who does not exist in any source beyond this diary, only appears in the diary when colleges are not in session, then disappears when they are in session. Is this Homer Beattie? What do you think? If you have a clue, post a comment below.


[1] “Forestry Club,” The Michiganensian Yearbook, 1913, p. 298

[2] Norwalk, Ohio Directory: 1909 – 1910, Page #: 8; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company, 1909

Labor Day in Norwalk, Ohio – 1908

Labor Day in 1908, was on September 7, as it is this year. The holiday in those days was nothing like the family barbecue event it is today. Back then, unions were just gaining strength and Labor Day was a collective holiday that appealed to the general public.

For Harriott Benedict Wickham, great-great-great granddaughter of Norwalk, Ohio founders Platt and Sally Benedict, the holiday was the most exciting day of the year. Here’s what she had to say about the day in her diary:

Labor Day, the most exciting day of the year in Norwalk. The Labor Unions always have lots of doin’s on Labor Day, the town is full of people, and it is just like a carnival.

1908 Labor Day Parade in Cincinnati, Ohio

1908 Labor Day Parade in Cincinnati, Ohio

I didn’t go downtown till about 2:30, just too late to see them climb the greased pole. Eddie and Irene and I were together most of the afternoon, taking in the different races, and watermelon & pie eating contests. The streets were jammed, but everybody was good natured, and so nobody minded the crowding & shouting and showers of confetti. About five o’clock we met Lucy, Ellen, and Gladys, and went with them down to the water fight which the fire department men had in front of the High School. That was lots of fun. We stood on the fence where we had a good view, and just yelled ourselves hoarse.

Fireworks Image

After supper, Lucy, Edna, Ellen and myself took in the band concert, and then went down and watched the fireworks from the roof of Fulstone’s barn. They set off the fireworks from the middle of the high bridge and they were very good, and what a mob there was on the streets. You could scarcely get through. After the fireworks, we went up to the Electric Theatre. My hair is so full of dust and confetti I don’t know as I shall ever make it presentable. Walter Hoffman was in town this afternoon, but I didn’t see him. I’m sorry for I would like to see him again.

Happy Labor Day!

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