By Thomas Palmer
Case in point – more than once I have been asked, “Was Galion on the Underground Railroad?” The location usually cited for that belief is the Hosford House, which apparently had some sort of underground passageway between it and the Hosford Mill which was down the hill and adjacent to the Olentangy River.
The Hosford House itself dates from 1847, so it is of the right vintage. The mill survived well into the 20th century, and there is some corroboration for the tunnel connection. It is also on the “Iberia” side of town, a locale known to be home to at least one Underground Railroad station. All of that shared, I have never seen any real evidence for the Hosford House being used in that manner.
There are two major local history “maybes” that have persisted through the last two or three generations. Both of these were discussed by local historian Dr. Bernard Mansfield. One of these is more likely than the other in his – and my – opinion.
CENTRAL HOTEL. The first, more unlikely story, is that Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell hired local students to run wires from the Central Hotel to the Maccabee Building (which stood on the present site of Park National Bank) to test the telephone.
We do know that Edison was a visitor to Galion on more than one occasion; his second wife was a childhood best friend of Nellie Stewart Gill, who with her husband built the Gill House. Documented visits by Bell, on the other hand, are not known, regardless of the Edison-Bell story.
In Book One of The Olentangy Legacy, Dr. Mansfield refenced a 1875 Mansfield News Journal story that spoke about the purported event. It stated that the softer voices of children were thought to provide proof that the sound was carried by the lines, and not “by volume.”
Mansfield wrote, “I think we should put that legend to rest. There is no evidence at all that I am aware of, that this incident ever took place.”
Years later, I concur with Doc. That said, the story persists in the community and, in theory, it could be based on some element of truth as many myths are.
MARK TWAIN. The second take concerns an alleged visit to Galion by famed author Mark Twain. This tale likely has a bit more to it. For starters, the originator of the story, Elizabeth Bloomer Cox, was alive and relayed the details herself to Dr. Mansfield.
Elizabeth’s father was the local author, cartoonist, and illustrator William Lowe Bloomer, a towering figure turn of the century Galion. In The Olentangy Legacy, Dr. Mansfield wrote:
“When he was seventeen years old, he (Bloomer) left home as his older brother had done and traveled west. He got a job as a cartoonist on a Missouri paper. It happened that Samuel L. Clemens also worked for this newspaper and at that time Clemens was writing about the “Celebrated Jumping Frog.” He became acquainted with young Will Bloomer and “sort of” took him under his wing. This information was relayed to me by Will’s daughter Elizabeth Cox.”
Born in 1904, Elizabeth also told Dr. Mansfield that at in 1907 at the age of three, Clemens stopped by the Bloomer House on South Market Street (the house, the oldest brick residence in Galion until its demolition in the 1970s, was located in the drive through area of Richardson Davis Funeral Home).
Galion historians, myself included, have been attempting to verify this tale for many years. What is definitely known is that Betty Cox was mistaken on several points.
The dates, for instance, do not add up. Bill Bloomer was born in November, 1863, but the story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” was written in 1865, when Bloomer was two years old. Twain did work at a newspaper in Nevada, but had moved to New York and Connecticut before Bloomer became an adult.
At the same time, however, I have discovered through recent research that Bill Bloomer, for a short period and shortly after turning 20 years old, did indeed write at a newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was a cartoonist. I have the name of the publication and its publisher. Bloomer’s reputation for creating political cartoons earned him a national audience before the end of the 19th century, so it is very possible that Twain was a fan and reached out to him and, as the story goes, took him “sort of under his wing.”
Research goes on. I strongly suspect, however, that Twain did in fact make a visit to Galion.
Each Saturday, we post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.