History comes to life through individual stories. This two-part guest post by retired Dayton police sergeant Stephen C. Grismer gives a wonderful view of how one family’s business changed and adapted in the course of more than a century, reflecting life in the community around it. Steve serves as secretary-treasurer of the Dayton Police History Foundation and has been a wonderful source of information for the Maggie Sullivan mysteries.
Part 2 will run next week. Thanks, Steve!
by Stephen C. Grismer
With my family ancestry rooted in Dayton, Ohio, as far back as 1851, I enjoy a deeply personal connection to our local history. It began when my great-grandfather, Gustav M. Stomps, emigrated to the U.S. in 1848 and, upon settling in Dayton, opened a factory on East First Street where he manufactured chairs of all types.
His son, Gustav H. Stomps, wasn’t interested in crafting chairs. His interest was transportation. He first owned a livery business downtown, but after losing 292 horses during the 1913 flood, he realized his future was best suited to automobiles.
Gus first opened a Lexington Motor Company car dealership at 50 South Main Street, across from the Kuhns building, but in 1916 switched to Chevrolets. This was the automobile he and my family would sell in Dayton over the next five decades – through the Great Depression and World War II – until 1968.
Given my ties, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of author Curt Dalton and his many books on local history. One of my favorites is Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II in which he recounts air raid warnings and “black outs.” My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles experienced these from their Dayton homes, while other family members more dangerously served abroad.
This is the period setting for the Maggie Sullivan murder mystery series, each installment of which I eagerly await. The books strike a resonant chord with me, given my own police background, because private eye Maggie is closely linked with Dayton law enforcement of her day. More than the police connection, though, I love the author’s accurate descriptions of Dayton streets, businesses, districts, buildings, et al. from the bygone days of the 1930s and 1940s. In reading her series, I am drawn to my family legacy.
When Gus Stomps needed a larger building to sell, maintain and customize automobiles, he opened Stomps Chevrolet at 225 South Main Street (near the corner of West Sixth Street). The building was constructed in 1928 and still exists today across from the Convention Center.
My grandfather, John Henry “Hank” Grismer, was general manager. My dad and uncles all worked there. I would have as well had the doors not closed during my freshman year at Chaminade High School. At the time, “Stomps” was said to be the second oldest car dealership in Dayton, and definitely Dayton’s oldest Chevrolet dealership.
During WWII, Stomps, as well as the city’s oldest car dealer Borchers Ford , (further south on Main at Franklin Street) were located in the area known as the “Motor Car District.” This was a tightly compacted area which included the Dayton Buick Company at 349 South Main Street and the Citizens Motorcar Company (selling Packards) at Franklin and Ludlow. Today the latter location is the Packard Museum.
Of course, with the swelling local population, other dealerships had begun to open in other parts of the city. But how would they survive World War II when there were no new cars to sell?
Next week: A recap tire monopoly
If you haven’t tried the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, you can read the first book in the series FREE.
Imagine how hard it must have been for American families and communities to maintain any semblance of Christmas spirit in 1941. The Dec. 6 attack on Pearl Harbor had just thrust the previously divided country into World War II. Yet in Dayton, Ohio, two civic events lifted spirits as the city push determinedly on in that devastating holiday season.
Inland Children’s Chorus
Just two weeks after Pearl Harbor members of the Inland Children’s Chorus gave its annual Christmas concert. Chorus members were children ages 8-16 whose parents worked at the Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors Corporation.
The group was still fairly new. Inland hatched the idea and started sponsoring the chorus in 1936. According to www.inlandchorus.com which preserves the history of the chorus, the goal was to give children of employees “a musical education and training which they otherwise might not be able to obtain and to make a contribution to the cultural life of Inland employees and the community.” To that end, they presented two concerts each year, one in spring and one at Christmas. A Broadway theatrical designer was brought in to stage the performances.
“The photos and materials we have for 1941 are fairly thin, probably because of the dramatic events of that year,” says Jerry Alred, the retired professor who co-ordinates the site. You can, however, see the program from that year’s concert.
Want to touch the past? You can listen to those young chorus members actually singing one of the selections on that program, Silent Night. Recordings were usually made of each program, but because of the reasons cited by Prof. Alred, none was made of the 1941 Christmas concert. You’ll be hearing the one from the previous year. Most of the voices singing are those of children who also sang in 1941, since members of the chorus usually remained in it until they aged out.
On Christmas Eve of 1941, Dayton residents got an unexpected gift of Christmas cheer. For the first time they heard music ring from the bells of a soaring new carillon built just south of downtown. The gift of Colonel and Mrs. Edward Deeds, the carillon and its 151-foot tower wouldn’t be completed until 1942. (The first official concert there took place on Easter Sunday of 1942.)
But on Dec. 24, 1941, when families knew sons and husbands and other loved ones would soon be leaving to fight on foreign shores, those bells of the new carillon lent what sweetness they could. The impromptu concert was even broadcast on one of the local radio stations, WHIO.
When originally built, the carillon had 23 bells, each inscribed with the name of a Deeds family member, living or dead. Today it has 57 bells and is the centerpiece of Carillon Historical Park, a large and constantly growing enterprise whose displays, buildings and vehicles showcase the entire sweep of Dayton history.
Readers of Maximum Moxie, the latest Maggie Sullivan mystery, can now imagine some of the sounds that cheered Maggie and the other residents of Mrs. Z’s after the story ended.
Thanks to the Inland Chorus alumni for permission to use photographs and music from their website. You’ll enjoy a visit there.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!
by M. Ruth Myers
Most accounts of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged America into World War II focus on actions at the distant naval base itself, or give passing mention to the fact that those on the home front heard the news on their radios on a Sunday afternoon.
The home front part in particular has always struck me as distressingly incomplete.
In Maximum Moxie, the latest book in my Maggie Sullivan mystery series, I wanted to give a more detailed, close-up view of what occurred in one city (Dayton, Ohio) in the hours immediately following initial word of the attack. It was, after all, the Christmas season. Children were stringing popcorn and making paper chains to decorate the tree for Santa’s visit. Women were baking. It was the last ordinary day in what would be a very long time.
To appreciate how news of the Pearl Harbor attack shattered that day, imagine the sudden horror and uncertainty of 9/11 — but without modern communications.
- Teletype was the swiftest way to send information.
- Home radios were becoming more common, but were still a bit of a luxury in middle class homes.
- Only two radio networks broadcast nationally, and only one of those broadcast news on Sundays.
- Images of breaking news in distant places would, if you were lucky, appear in your local paper half a day later.
- Telephoning relatives in another city, let alone another state, required waiting while operators connected one exchange to another (and another, and another) when there was room on the line.
For some, the effect of the first, brief radio bulletin about the attack was immediate and tragic. In Berkeley, California, Sidney Arthur Higgins, who had worked on construction of the Panama Canal and served as an Army captain in World War I, was listening. When he heard the news, he shouted to his wife to come listen. By the time she got there, he was having a heart attack. He died less than a month later on Jan. 2, 1942.
But how people reacted, and the speed and variations in how the news reached them, varied considerably.
At the time, the United States had just two national broadcast networks. One, NBC, split its programming into two feeds but had no Sunday newscasts. The other, CBS, had a regularly scheduled news program, “The World Today”, that was about to begin when news of the attack started arriving on wire service teletype shortly before 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. CBS was therefore able to shift from scheduled news to that of the attack, and to provide steady coverage as fresh details came in.
Dayton, where the Maggie Sullivan mysteries are set, was like many other cities. It didn’t have a CBS station. It got only a branch of NBC. There a program featuring Sammy Kaye’s orchestra was just ending, and a scholarly discussion, “The Chicago Roundtable” about to begin, when wire-service machines clattered out news of the Pearl Harbor attack. NBC was able to cut the start of the Roundtable program to provide news bulletins – but then it returned to regular programming. Interrupting programs with commercial sponsors required permission from the sponsor executives, so the network was largely limited to providing updates during breaks.
That’s how it was for the rest of the day. Distant horror, with occasional details trickling in.
Only the following day, when Dayton papers carried photographs of the attack, could residents picture the scope of what had befallen them. Only through maps printed there did many readers begin to understand where the distant U.S. base that had been the target of the attack was located.
In contrast to the era’s slow communication, however, Dayton’s emergency preparedness, even by today’s standards, was amazing. Activation of a plan to move the city to a wartime footing began within hours of receiving news about the attack.
(Next week – Part II: Immediate Response)
— Here’s the Deal —
It’s practically a return to the dime novels of the 1940s! This new Crime Cafe box set gets you nine full-length mystery and crime novels by nine different for just 99c. (Okay, technically that’s 11 cents each, but consider inflation.) Authors include Austin Camacho, Donna Fletcher Crow and others, including yours truly. Editor is New York Times best-selling novelist Debbi Mack, host of Crime Cafe.
by M. Ruth Myers
Maximum Moxie, shiny new addition to the mystery series featuring the 1940s detective with great legs, Maggie Sullivan, has just landed in digital bookstores. This fifth book in the series opens when the private eye takes on a new case days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provides an unusual portrait of a mainland city left dazed but resolute.
Days before the Pearl Harbor attack plunges the U.S. into World War II, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find a missing engineer in Dayton, Ohio. Has Gil Tremain been kidnaped, or has he turned traitor — to his employer and maybe his country?
As Maggie pieces together his last movements, she finds there are secrets the man’s ex-wife and his employers don’t want uncovered. Maggie herself is attacked and an innocent witness is murdered. The ruthlessness of her opponent — or opponents — becomes even clearer when there’s an attempt to abduct Tremain’s young daughter. Still more chilling, Maggie’s investigation suddenly attracts the attention of a local crime kingpin.
The attack on Pearl Harbor presses every cop in the city into service protecting manufacturing and research facilities. Stunned by the knowledge their nation will soon be at war, even fearful the mainland itself will be bombed, people cling to family and friends. Schedules and routines shatter. Amid the disruption, alone and aware she can’t count on help from the police, Maggie races to save a man who has now become a liability to his captors.
Maximum Moxie, fifth book in the author’s popular Maggie Sullivan mysteries series, gives readers fast-paced twists and turns along with a rare and vividly painted closeup view of a watershed event in 20th century American history.
Occasionally – perhaps once in 150 reviews – a reader expresses doubt that a woman PI like Maggie Sullivan could have existed in the late 1930s or 40s. Admittedly they were a rare breed, but women private detectives and policewomen were around in that era and well before.
The best known among them is without doubt Kate Warne. She is widely listed as the first woman private eye, having been hired by the famous Pinkerton agency in 1856. Described in their records as slender and of medium height, she presented herself as a widow, age 23, when she applied to work there. She went on to become one of Pinkerton’s most valued agents. Among her accomplishments was helping to foil an assassination attempt on the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, in 1861.
Read more about Kate Warne on the Library of Congress blog.
Cora M. Strayer operated her own private detective agency on the South Side of Chicago in the early 20th century. She first ran an ad for her services in 1902 and used her four-room apartment over a tavern as her office. (The tavern downstairs was home to illegal gambling and bookmaking operations.) In 1905 she ran an ad for her agency in Chicago’s city directory. It included her photo – and what a nice Victorian lady she appears. With some ups and downs and colorful detours, she continued to advertise her services as a private detective until 1930.
See what Cora looked like, as well as her ads, in a rollicking 2012 blog post by Paul Reda.
Dayton, Ohio, where my Maggie Sullivan series is set, established its “women’s police force,” in 1914. Officially titled the Bureau of Policewomen, it reported directly to the Director of Public Safety. Previously the city had employed jail matrons to interact with female prisoners. When policewomen came on the scene, they were another breed entirely. They handled probation cases, conducted some forms of surveillance and gave talks to community organizations. With time their duties expanded to checking dance halls, investigating juvenile crime and more. They wore badges like their male counterparts, except that the women’s badges were two-thirds the size.
In 1914 Annie R. McCully, who already was working as a matron, became Dayton’s first full-fledged policewoman. She was put in charge of organizing the new Bureau. That same year, Lulu Sollers pinned on her badge as well. Four years later she became supervisor of the Policewomen’s Bureau, a position she held until 1944. In 1929 the city hired its first African American policewoman, Dora Burton Rice.
Photos are courtesy of the Dayton Police History Foundation.
Down the road in Vinton County, Ohio, voters in 1926 elected the state’s first female sheriff. Her name was Maude Collins, and she was elected “in a landslide”. She filled the vacancy left when her husband, Sheriff Fletcher Collins, was shot and killed at close range. A mother of five, she carried a gun and had impressive detective skills. Her solving of a double homicide got her a write-up in the national Master Detective magazine.
See a photo of this attractive young sheriff and read a fuller account of her accomplishments at the Vinton County Convention &Visitors’ Bureau website.
Good historical fiction often is inspired by real-life women such as these, women who though few in number actually existed. One thoroughly fun example is the new Laurel Private Eye series just launched by Shannon D. Wells about a woman Pinkerton detective in Texas in the 1930s. It came into being because a several-generations-removed relative of the author was — you guessed it — a woman Pinkerton in Texas in the 1930s.
— HERE’S THE DEAL —
Now through Dec. 6 A Touch of Magic is discounted to 99c on Amazon, B&N, iTunes and Kobo. It’s not a Maggie Sullivan mystery, but it’s a fast-paced thriller of romantic-suspense originally published by Dell.
A dazzling sleight-of-hand artist is recruited by the State Department to pit her skills – and wits – against a master terrorist.
From now through Aug. 10, you can win one of four signed copies of TOUGH COOKIE on this Goodreads giveaway.
Don’t mistake this for a culinary cozy. Maggie Sullivan, the 1930s gal P.I. hired to unravel a high-stakes swindle, will use her Smith & Wesson or break a thug’s fingers to get the information she needs.
If you haven’t met Maggie yet, get acquainted before the fourth book in the series comes out at summer’s end.
M. Ruth Myers writes the Maggie Sullivan mystery series set in Dayton, OH, 1938-47.
My Maggie Sullivan mysteries feature many policeman, all of them except Chief Wurstner fictitious. Since this is National Police Memorial Day, I’d like to recognize these real Dayton, OH, policemen who fell in the line of duty.
The most recent of them was a woman — a mother with children. The earliest was in 1880. If you visit Dayton Police History, you’ll find a link with information on each of them.
Thanks to Dayton Police History Foundation for sharing this information. And thanks to all Dayton police, present and past.