Just because a small town is virtually unknown outside the region in which it resides doesn’t meant it lacks a rich history filled with interesting events and people. The small town of Clyde, which the State of Ohio considers a city because it has more than 5,000 people, is just such a place. The first person of European descent to settle here was Jesse Benton, although he had no legal right to the land he took and was considered by the U.S. government a squatter. The parcel claimed by him belonged to Samuel Pogue, a veteran of the War of 1812 on which he, his stepson, Lyman Miller, and brothers-in-law, Amos Fenn and Dewey, settled, no doubt along with more extended family whose names were not on the information sign from which I gathered that tidbit of information. Andrew Jackson later issued a land grant in the area to Henry Burdick in 1834, though virtually nothing is known about him.
In the days before decent highways, Clyde had far more attractions on offer than it does today, including a theater. During Prohibition it became known as “Little Chicago” because it was a major waypoint for the transportation of illegal liquor. At one point this activity was centered in an area of town called Camp Grand, which was comprised of thirty cottages, a restaurant and gas station that were open all night long. Liquor made at a still in Wellington was transported weekly here in a purple hearse that parked behind the gas station to keep out of sight. Here other vehicles appeared, grabbed a portion of the wares on offer, then went to other destinations.
The hearse’s weekly visit didn’t go unnoticed by a local policeman named Hush. One night he pulled it over and asked to peek inside. As expected, he saw a casket. He commented to the hearse’s driver that he’d not seen one in that style for a while and wanted a closer look. He also asked if it carried a man or woman to which the driver answered that it was a man. Hush wanted to see him, but the driver balked. He might get in trouble with his boss. Hush insisted, so the driver opened it. Within was no corpse. Instead there were pints of bottled liquor wrapped up in paper. This was duly confiscated. With the hearse ruse exposed, other means of clandestine transportation would have to be used.
During the first years of the Great Depression and before Prohibition ended in December 1933, Alfred “Alf” A. Geiger ran a soft drink factory on Terry Drive that his children sold on the street during the summer. Each jug went for around $1, twenty-five cents of which the children kept for themselves. But this was just a front. Alf was busy making whiskey. Some stories say he distilled it on the top floor of his factory and moved it out via an underground tunnel, while others say he made it in the basement. His was just one of the places either making or selling illegal booze in Clyde and its surrounding area. The end of Prohibition killed the profitability of such activities, and soon after Clyde settled back into its more lawful self.
Like any community, Clyde takes pride in its nationally known sons and daughters, the most famous being the writer Sherwood Anderson, although one of his brother’s, Karl, was a successful all be it lesser known illustrator and muralist. A charcoal portrait of Ina Adare by Karl can be seen in the museum. Karl was taught art by John Tichenor, a native of Clyde whose portrait of Maud Ramsay is also in the museum. In fact, the museum has a ton of art on display, some of it really good—especially works by local high school art teacher George White—and some of it is so awful it has to be seen to be believed.
The museum has quite a few photos of Sherwood Anderson as well as a copy of his book Winesburg, Ohio in a display case. Clyde loves this book because Winesburg was a stand in for the city, although its characters were based on people Anderson knew in Chicago, where he lived much of his life. Winesburg, Ohio was no commercial success, probably because it’s filled with plotless stories, an Anderson specialty. It is for this reason people in the world of literature love this guy and the average American reader doesn’t.
I found it odd that the museum had virtually no biographical details about him on any of its information signs, so I read up on him