Many thanks to Mike Hughes, son of long-serving mayor of Yellow Springs Leo Hughes, for permitting the Historical Society to share his recollections.
The Forces at 132 North Walnut Street
One of my “most unforgettable characters” who influenced my childhood in Yellow Springs was born in 1862. She had a reputed checkered past which included entertaining wayward gentlemen, to becoming a derelict in her 80’s. On May 2, 1946, my father, Leo, rescued her from a certain demise. After six months of exhaustive rehabilitation, she again became a “respected” member of the community. This is her story seen through my eyes from my birth until I departed for college.
I knew but one home for my first 18 years. It was the place where I would learn to walk, to read, to drop bricks on my older brother John’s head and to play solitary 9-inning games of whiffle ball pitting the lineups of the Cincinnati Redlegs against their rival St. Louis Cardinals. Since I was a somewhat reclusive young lad, I spent more time at home with my imaginary friend, Chiefy Cocoa, than my kindergarten mates. When my brother left for Dartmouth College when I was 14, I became an “only child” even though I had already functioned as one for nearly a decade. However, thanks to a vivid imagination, our Federal-style brick house and small backyard which surrounded me, I was never lonely.
As I became interested in sports, in an effort to tag along with my older brother, I used all of the resources of our relatively diminutive backyard to hone my athletic skills as a solo participant. Our back yard became, during various sporting seasons: a high jump and long jump arena, a football field, a golf course with two closely mown greens and a pint-sized Crosley Field (Cincinnati’s famous baseball park). Most important of all was the basketball hoop mounted on our garage at the end of the driveway. From October to March, the incessant sound of a dribbled basketball could be heard up and down North Walnut Street.
Our front porch and foyer had quite a history as well. On nights long after I had climbed the stairs to my bedroom, there would be occasional visits from Chief of Police, Jimmy McKee. He would usually be accompanied by a citizen who had been involved in a domestic squabble or who had “disturbed the peace”. Rather than take the wayward parties to Court on Monday night, the Chief brought them to receive “counseling” from my father, the Mayor. From the top of the stairs, I listened to the low tones emanating from the porch or foyer which usually lasted about 30 minutes. Usually, I would find out the next morning at breakfast that another “case” had been settled without any need for sentencing or the payment of fines.
But it was the upstairs of the house that generated the most provocative stories. There were four upstairs corner bedrooms as is customary for a Federal architectural design. My bedroom was in the northwest corner. It had a view of the backyard and a clear view of the sky to the west. There were often Air Force planes from Wright Patterson AFB which were visible from my bedroom window. The recurring dream which always resulted in me awakening in a nervous sweat was probably inspired by Sunday night viewings of “The Twentieth Century” which was a weekly documentary of battle scenes from World War II, narrated by venerable Walter Cronkite. The footage that seemed to infiltrate my subconscious was the bombing of London and the retaliation of squadrons of Allied planes dropping bombs on German targets. My dream consisted of me looking out my window to see dozens of German bombers flying overhead about to drop bombs on Yellow Springs, a strategic target due to its proximity to Wright Patterson.
One of the mysteries which was part of the house’s lore were the numbers 1 thru 4 carved into each of the bedroom doors. My mother explained that the house had been used as a hotel when it was built during the Civil War. It was not until I was visiting our neighbor, Bobbi Marshall, after I was released from active U. S. Navy duty, that she showed me a recently published booklet about the storied houses of Yellow Springs which provided an alternate explanation for the rooms to be numbered. According to the story, the house had been a well-known brothel during the Civil War era and one of the mistreated women of ill-repute stayed on after her premature demise to torment male visitors with her ghostly presence. Apparently, my childhood innocence may have been dangerously close to sinister influences. I give thanks to my playmate Chiefy Cocoa’s strong Native American presence which may have been just the protective spirit I needed to keep me safe and sound at notorious 132 North Walnut Street.