It’s all in the Headdress – Clues to an Old Goetta Recipe


The wedding photo of Harry Kleine and Mary Espel at St. John’s Dry Ridge, and a woman wearing the Kranzmaikes wedding crown of Hanover.

As part of the Big Goetta Project, I’ve been interviewing our local butchers to learn about the origin of their recipes. I had a great phone conversation recently with Dick Stehlin, of Stehlin’s Meats about their goetta. I learned that his grandfather, the founder, was of Alsatian origin. John “Butch” Stehlin started his meat business in 1913 in the area of Bevis, around the German Catholic farming community centered around St. John the Baptist on Dry Ridge Road. The business now is in operation by his great grandsons.
So I asked Dick where his grandfather got the recipe. His reply was similar to what I’d heard from other family butchers. It was just an old German recipe that he got and modified. But I’m a food etymologist! I want to dig deeper to trace it to the village it came from and understand why its an all pork version, or one with a particularly different spice blend and related it to the culture of that village.


A Hanoverian wedding party 1903, with women wearing the traditional headdress.
Alsace Lorraine does have a food legacy of sausages, particularly a blood sausage, called either Boudin Noir or bluetwurscht, but not of gruetzwurst or grain sausages like goetta. And Stehlin’s is the only meat market left in Cincinnati that makes our regional blood sausage – Johnny-in-the-bag. So I wondered, where would an Alsatian have learned to make goetta?


Stehlin’s Goetta.
This highlights one of the facts about Cincinnati and our German heritage. Ours is a melting pot of Germanic ancestries. Unlike smaller communities like say Minster, Ohio, where the German immigrants came from one specific area of villages in Germany, Cincinnati Germans clustered around Germans from many areas of Germany. Alsatians lived next to Bavarians, Saxonians or even Mecklenburgers. And so, it makes it tough to trace origins of German recipes to specific cities.
So, I was thumbing around the history blog of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church to see if I could drum up any more clues on the Stehlin family. And what I found was pretty amazing. The church website has a history blog commemorating their 150th anniversary celebration. One of the blogs was of early church members. A parishioner had posted a few very old wedding photos from his family. I saw one photograph of Harry Kleine and Mary Espel taken around 1900. They were both young and good looking and dressed in their finest wedding clothes.
I remembered that William Espel was the livestock farmer who John Stehlin bought the animals that he drove down to the stockyards in Camp Washington. Through census records I verified that Mary Espel was William’s daughter. Ok so what did his daughter have to do with a goetta recipe.
Well, in the wedding photo, I noticed that Mary’s wedding headdress and high collar looked very much like the traditional Vegas-showgirl wedding headdresses called kranzmaikes, specific to the Hanover and Lower Saxony regions of Germany. Even the non-wedding headware of the women of Hanover is pretty over the top-showgirl. It did one thing for sure- focused Hanoverian men’s glances on the face. Bavarian women and their busty dirndls encouraged their men to focus a bit lower. Both Hanover and Lower Saxony are home to the cradle of goetta – where the majority of our region’s first goetta producers came.
So this clue encouraged me to go back further in census records. I was able to verify that farmer Will Espel had come to Colerain Township from the Kingdom of Hanover. He would have been very familiar with goetta and the native gruetzwursts of Hanover. John Stehlin butchered his first group of livestock in Espel’s barn off Colerain Avenue. So, he probably learned how to make goetta from Herr Espel in that old barn. It would certainly make sense how an Alsatian would learn how to make an Hanoverian dish.
And this type of recipe sharing happened all over Greater Cincinnati with butchers and bakers as Germanic immigrants from different regions blended together in German speaking neighborhoods. And this is the reason why each goetta recipe from the multi-generational butcheries are a bit different. While they all embraced the gruetzwurst tradition of Hanover, they each added their own special flare native to their region.


I wonder if Harry and Mary had goetta at their wedding reception!

What the Bavarian Man Logo Means to Cincinnati


A recent ad for Servatii’s Pretzel Baron products.

Cincinnati companies marketing ties to German products have used the typical Bavarian man logo for decades. The logo features a laughing, usually dancing, older, pot-bellied man with a handlebar moustache, an alpine hat, and lederhosen. Sometimes he’s carrying a stein of beer, and we are to believe we’ve caught him in the middle of dancing a polka, yodling, or brewing beer. It seems, in America, every German is Bavarian.   And this stereotypical logo is laden with the history of anti-German sentiment in this city and others in America.


A 1960s era ad for local Edelman’ sausage.
My Germanic ancestors, as most, didn’t wear lederhosen. They were northern Germans from the Duchy of Mecklenburg. They drank more schnapps than lager beer, and ate more pickled herring than pork sausages. They had probably never seen a soft pretzel or a weisswurst until they came to Cincinnati in 1855. Their tracht or folk costume, was a traditional broad brimmed hat, long, ankle length coats, and embroidered vests, with pantaloons and boots. The women didn’t ‘put the girls out,’ so to speak with the busty Bavarian dirndl, they had high collars, elaborately embroidered corsets, and a variety of huge hats that looked more like Vegas headdresses than bonnets.

Both world wars created huge waves of anti-German sentiment in this country, that we’ve only recently as a city acknowledged and are coming out of. This was responsible for deporting newly arrived immigrants, putting German Americans in detainment camps, and the renaming of many of our streets, businesses, German clubs, and even last names. Many of the deportments and detainments were unfounded and a result of fear mongering, similar to what we’re seeing today with our current administration’s immigrant policies.

Many families during and after the Wars distanced themselves from Germanic origin, especially if they had non Germanic customers. My own Grandfather, an insurance man, displaced our family origins from Northern Germany to Alsace Lorraine, which had more French than German connections.   It took me a lot of geneaology sleuthing to locate our family’s true origins.   No one wanted to identify with the Kaiser in World War I, or der Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler, and his atrocities during World War II.

One interesting pre-World War I logo of a German immigrant-owned company in Cincinnati, is that of the John Mueller Black Licorice company. Their logo featured a young boy in regional tracht, with woolen socks and sandals, pantaloons, and scarf, gorging on black licorice whips. He’s seated on top of a mountain over a traditional village whose architecture looks very similar to the town where the founder’s family came from in Anweiler, Germany . In creating this logo, the company owner was proudly showing his regional Germanic pride. I’d bet if you went through old Cincinnati newspaper ads and German language newspapers prior to World War I, you’d find a lot more German regionalism in logos, ads, and artwork.


A newer mascot for Wassler’s Meats on the West Side is regionally German, without  being stereotypically Bavarian.
After World War II, it took over two decades for Germanic Americans to feel safe to come out of the closet and reclaim their heritage. But, it was easier to identify with the always happy, jovial, beer drinking, polka dancing Bavarians than any other Germans. Although German Day and Oktoberfests started back up around the 1970s and 1980s, they were very different from the pre-War German festivals. Promoters and participants donned lederhosen and dirndls and brought in polka bands to show Americans how fun it was to be German. No one could be offended by partying, happy-go-lucky Bavarians.
So our collective Germanic heritage became very fused into one region, Bavaria, and we lost the incredible breath of diversity of the many Germanic cultures who came to and settled this great country.
I say it’s time we reclaim our authentic Germanic identities, and stop wearing lederhosen and start wearing our historic regional tracht.

Downtown Dayton’ s Art Deco Hamburger Porcelain Palaces


I explored the St. Anne’s Historical District, just east of downtown Dayton over the weekend for their annual neighborhood garage sale. It’s the beautiful Victorian era neighborhood around the Dayton Liederkranz Turner organization’s historic hall. It has wonderful old houses, and a beautiful historic commercial district. On the way out of the area to head back to Route 35, I came upon two wonderful art deco hamburger shops on east Third Street, on the same block.

The Fifth Street 1941 White Tower hamburger diner.
Now I was already familiar with the former White Tower hamburger shop at the foot of the railroad bridge on Fifth Street at the entrance to the Oregon district. That location had been there since 1941, as one of Dayton’s at least six White Tower hamburger locations. It has always been a perfect place to get late night quick eats after a show at the Neon Theatre across the street, or after a long night of carousing the Oregon District bars. Since 2005, it’s housed the Smokin BBQ Restaurant, serving authentic Texas style smoked barbecue and open to 4 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.

What a find – three historic art deco era slider-hamburger joints, all within blocks of each other. They formed a sort of sacred burger triangle. Was this an ancient alien landing spot, with three burger towers so close together? There has always been rumor that there are alien remains in one of the hangars at nearby Wright Patterson Airforce Base. Whatever the case, Dayton has revered its art deco burger joints, keeping these three intact and continually operating as restaurants since their pre and post War era inception. There was even another pre-fab burger diner place on Wayne Avenue, called Tasty Boy – a joint venture between Tastee Freez and Fat Boy Burgers – but the building is no longer standing.

A complete knockoff of White Castle, White Tower was a chain out of Wisconsin. In addition to this location, there was one (White Tower # 6) on Ludlow Street, built in 1949, which closed in 1966 and was moved to Springfield, Ohio. Another one, was wedged between Patterson and Main and is now a restaurant called the Brunch Club. Most of the small porcelain-paneled White Tower hamburger diners were built as prefab buildings by a Wisconsin company called Valentine Diners. This made it easy for construction, as well as removal, if they restaurant was sold or its location needed to be changed.

The inside and outside of Dayton’s 1948 White Tower on East Third Street.
The buildings were small, but designed with big windows to provide a very clean and bright place for factory workers, to contrast with the dark gritty factory work environment. The windows allowed you to see inside, all a part of the marketing concept. Late hours, many even 24 hours were kept for people either starting early shifts or coming off of late ones. And, the area around Third and Fifth streets had large industrial complexes with hundreds of shift workers who frequented all three of these burger diners.

A few blocks north on Patterson and then east on Third from the Fifth Street White Tower, you’ll find the other two standing historic porcelain paneled burger diners. On the north side of East Third, is the historic 1948 White Tower Building, formerly housing Yummy Burger, and since 2006, housing a Thai restaurant called White Lotus.


Nearly across the street is another historic burger joint, a 1938 Wympee Drive in. The inside and outside were pretty much in original condition when it closed in 2009, with the original 25 stools present. That was the last remaining location of the local chain. Its name came from a Wimpy cartoon character in the Popeye Depression era comic strip who was particularly fond of hamburgers, whose famous line was, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” The restaurant had carhops from the 1940s to 1955.
In 2010 the building was sold and it opened as Olive, an Urban Dive restaurant. These new owners unfortunately gutted the National Historic Registered restaurant’s interior, but kept the outside original. It closed in 2015, and new owners Arepas & Company came in 2016. Arepas is a Columbian street food restaurant, with two other locations – one in Kettering and one at the 2nd street market. It’s kind of like a Columbian chipotle, with interesting new ingredients and toppings, as well as the staple of Columbian street food – the arepa. Owners, Columbian native, Jhembert Perdomo and his wife Lisa, have plans to open 7 more in the Dayton area.


I decided I had to stop into the Wympee-Arepas place to say I’d eaten Columbian street food in an original 1938 burger diner. I was persuaded by the friendly counter guy to order the hard-to-pronounce ‘Mazorca Desgranada,’ a combo of shredded pork over steamed corn off the cob, cotija cheese, and three sauces – garlic mayo, hogao (tomato, garlic, and scallions), and creamy cilantro. All of this is topped with crunchy, crushed tortilla chips, making it sort of like an exotic Chipotle burrito bowl. The menu is fairly extensive, making it worth a trip back to sample more Columbian food. There’s no hipper way to eat Columbian food than in an art deco burger diner!

My Day with the Sausage King of Cincinnati


Elmer Hensler, the Sausage King of Cincinnati, and Owner of Queen City Sausage.


There’s nothing discreet about the Queen City Sausage campus on Spring Grove Avenue and Straight Street. A rampant flying pig sculpture from the Cincinnati Big Pig Gig graces the roof of the front 1888 building. It’s a monument really, to this area, the historic meat packing district along Camp Washington’s Spring Grove Avenue, that gave Cincinnati it’s Porkopolis nickname in the 1880s. Big names like Kahns and many others had slaughterhouses and production facilities here. Now, they’re all gone, and Queen City Sausage is the last one standing.

Cincinnati’s spry 88 year old Sausage King, Elmer Hensler, has reigned over his sausage empire here since his founding of the company in 1965. And he has a framed list of 40 Cincinnati meat companies who have folded since he started. Elmer is truly a walking history museum, having worked in the industry since he was 11, and forgetting more about all the local meat packing companies in Cincinnati than most of us will ever know. I came here to meet Elmer and his employees as part of this (my) big goetta project because he’s the largest goetta producer in Cincinnati. If anyone knows about goetta and its origins, its him. This campus has expanded more than 12 times, and is a merging of several facilities, like an old OPW foundry, and several old school sausage makers. He plans to create more refrigeration areas inside and has enough room in the back to expand even further. Investing in new equipment is not something Elmer is afraid to do to make the best quality sausages and goetta Cincinnati has to offer.


Although they’ve always made goetta, it’s only been since they hired Marketing Director Mark Balasa eight years ago that their production of the local delicacy has amped up to the level it is today. Mark is the mastermind behind Goettafest and spent 12 years working for Gliers in Covington. He brings a guerilla marketing approach to goetta and Queen City Sausage’s other brands. For a company over 50 years old, they’re approaches are not outdated. They have a large social media footprint and brand sponsorships.
They’ve been the official sausage of the Cincinnati Reds, In a long tradition of German fussball or soccer clubs, whose stadiums each have a house sausage, Queen City just announced they are the official sausage of our FC Cincinnati Soccer team.

On their website they promote goetta as a great slider, a key component to a good Reuben, and in a goetta grilled cheese.


When it comes to goetta, Mark says the easiest way to describe and market it to anyone not familiar is that its a breakfast meat, made from pinhead oats, beef, pork onions and spices. That way they can identify it with a meal and then start understanding it. Only us Cincinnatians understand the complex history and background of goetta that connects us to our immigrant past.

In addition to goetta, they make a variety of sausages – andouille, Italian, chorizo – including local Cincinnati Brats and metts. Elmer says their metts are basically Hamilton metts without the mustard seed. They make a long list of lunch meats including Leona, Dutch and Pepper loafs, as well as head cheese and souse, known locally by old German-Cincinnatians as schwartenmagen and sutze. They have a bierwurst made with local Hudepohl 14 K, and there’s a potential there might be a Rheingeist beer sausage in the future. They’re about to become neighbors as Rhinegeist is expanding brewing operations to a large complex down the street from Queen City Sausage.

The day of my visit, I pass a two story image of the Sausage Queen logo as I ascend the outside steps up to the second story offices, the brain trust of this remarkable meat factory. INside the lobby I look through a glass window and see Elmer signing checks for his employees, many of whom that I will meet, have worked over thirty years for him. One worker, George helped his son pay for his education to become a Master of Education. That son Ken Blackwell would become Mayor of Cincinnati. Elmer looks up and smiles and buzzes me into the brain trust.


While Elmer finished up, I am led to the conference room, which is where he’ll host a lunch for me of their products, which he graciously does for all visitors. The walls are filled floor to ceiling with old photos, articles, and posters of the history of their company and Cincinnati’s porkopolis past. I even get a peak at some of the promotional materials for their Wicked Sausage line, a family of six hot pepper sausages they are about to release with Jungle Jims and Findlay Market in a few weeks.

Elmer grew up in Cincinnati’s West End, another faded piece of our past. After surviving the 1937 flood at a home on Gest Street and Freeman Avenue, his mother, Nora, found a house on York street owned by the Proctors of P & G, where Elmer grew up. His father, Milton was a swtichman for the railroads, and with eight siblings, Elmer knew any fortune he made would have to be earned. At 11 he started hanging around the stockyards helping out in the early mornings before school at St. Augustin’s. He has a great story about one of the nuns swatting him so hard he fell out a window, as he was saying hello to some girls at the school across the street. Soon he would be working on the slaughtering floors, stirring blood from the meat to make beutelwurst or johnny in the bag blood sausages for one of his first employers. Because Queen City doesn’t slaughter, they’ve never made a blood sausage.

Elmer’s first business partners were a German immigrant from Munich, Alois Stadler, who had worked locally for Karl Frank and Adelmann’s. They later brought in George Nadel, a Yugoslavian immigrant master sausage maker, who had worked for Roland Meats. He bought both of them out in the 90s.

Goetta comes in tubes, bricks for the larger commercial customers, and their new individually vacuum-packed slices. I think that’s a brilliant way to package goetta, and they’re the only ones doing it. Now you can cook individual slices without having to worry about keeping the rest of the tube fresh until the next cooking. Kroger is their largest customer, but he’s proud to supply restaurants, like his friend Johnny Johnson’s Camp Washington Chili – another Cincinnati icon just up the street in Camp Washington.

None of their products are ever frozen, and only good quality meats, and no fillers are added. Certainly there is no mechanically separated chicken present, which most national producers use in their hot dogs and sausages.

After a history of the business from Elmer, we take a plant tour. Our tour starts with the cutting area, where the Cottage Ham is taken out of the cut known as the Boston Butt, which is actually the pork shoulder. They let me take pictures of the plant and are completely transparent about their procedures. They should, they have nothing to hide, as quality is King at Queen City Sausage. I’m amazed at how clean and bright the plant is. It’s like a Willy Wonka factory for meat, highly automated, but still monitored closely by employees. I almost expect the workers, donned in bleached white hoodies to insulate from the refrigeration, to break into an Oompa Loompa song about goetta. Each area has its own wonderful, distinct smell as we progress through the meat grinding, filling, smoking, and packaging rooms. Unlike others who use liquid smoke, Queen City uses real hickory wood to smoke their metts and other products.

We pass the smoking and steaming chambers on the tour. Cincinnati Brats are steamed, not smoked like the metts. You’re tempted to taste one of the cooling sausages off the hanging tree after it comes from the smoker. But I’m not going to do anything to get ejected from this amazing plant tour. No stealing of an everlasting gobstopper like the bad kids in Willy Wonka. I mention to Elmer that I’m more of a brat man than a mett man. So he pulls a brat off of a tree that has just exited the steaming chamber and says, “here taste a brat that has not yet seen human hands.” It’s wonderful. It has a smooth texture, enabled by their $300,000 boss mixer that handles all their fine-grind sausages. You can taste the pork and the fresh parsley and seasonings.


We pass pallets of pinhead oats, or oat groats, as they’re known anywhere outside of Cincinnati, which they get in 50 pound bags from Richardson Mills, that will go into the goetta. This product comes from Canada, and thankfully Trump’s tariffs have not extended to oats.

Elmer takes me into the spice room, where all the spices for their goetta and sausages are mixed and staged. This is the domain of Elmer’s younger brother, Art – who’s 86. Art retired from his first career, and his brother asked if he would join him making sausages. He’s a shorter, slim man with the cheerful disposition of a Keebler elf, and he is the master of flavor for Queen City. Art lets me smell the goetta spices he’s mixed, which are wonderful and I get a peak at the spice book that holds all the secret formulas for their products. I’ll never tell! Art then shows me the small stand mixer he was using to mix spices in the past. He said to Elmer, “You’re killing me with this small mixer!” So, for Art’s 80th birthday, Elmer bought him a horizontal mixer that has about four times the mixing capacity as the original one. If I am as spry and passionate as these two men in my late 80s, I should be so lucky.

Queen City makes about 5000 pounds of goetta per day. Recently they came out with a linked version of goetta which they call the Goetta Dawg.

When asked about where goetta might have been first introduced locally, Elmer says he thinks it might have come from Cincinnati’s West Side. He said butchers from the West side would come to him to buy his pork butts to make their own goetta.

We end the day with lunch in the conference room. It’s skyline coneys with Queen City andoule sausage and a special treat – chip wheelie ice cream sandwiches from Graeters. Elmer says it always helps to make friends with other Cincinnati food companies. We talk about the history of goetta and what’s facing the meat industry today. Then, I thank Elmer, Mark, and the operations guys for my tour and their gentlemanly hospitality, knowing that I just had an amazing rare glimpse into Cincinnati’s Porkopolis legacy.

Elmer has no plans for retirement. And the demand for their goetta doesn’t seem to be peaking or plateauing. We’re very lucky to have a hometown goetta producer who puts so much effort into quality.





Bailer’s Big Momma – An Early Frisch’s Knockoff

This week I presented a program at the Delhi Historical Society called, “The 10 Restaurants that Shaped Cincinnati.” One of the 10 restaurants I chose is Frisch’s Big Boy. They have created probably more iconic dishes than any other Cincinnati restaurant – from their hot fudge cake, their awesome pumpkin pie, to their signature tartar sauce-dressed Big Boy double decker. The original Wian Frisch’s chain out in California, from whom David Frisch bought a four state territory in 1946 for $1 a year, was a Thousand Island-dressed burger, as is the McDonald’s Big Mac. It would be another decade before power house McDonald’s first came to Cincinnati in 1959, with Bob Gruen’s store in Monfort Heights. Gruen was the man who invented the McDonald’s fish sandwich for Cincinnati Catholics, who before 1963’s Vatican Council, had to abstain from meet every Friday.

After the presentation, a man came up to me and told me about his uncle, Raymond Bailer’s restaurant, Big Momma’s Burgers, which was a Frisch’s knockoff. In Cincinnati, you could tell what burger joints were competing against McDonald’s, because they had a Thousand Island like sauce they dressed their double decker with. And, those like Big Momma’s, who were competing against Frisch’s, dressed theirs with tartar sauce.
Raymond Bailer had returned home from World War II, a highly decorated 2nd Lieutenant member of General Patton’s army. He received the Purple Heart, the Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, and the French Medal of Honor. Like many men of that generation, he decided to open his own business. So, with his wife, Ruth in 1951, he opened his first Bailer’s Big Momma drive-in at 222 South Reading Road in Sharonville. At the time Reading Road through Reading, Sharonville, Avondale, and Bond Hill, was filled with restaurants, drive-ins, hotels, and movie theatres.

His restaurant was open 24 hours, and had their tartar sauce dressed double decker cheeseburger, the Big Momma. They also had a fish sandwich called the Poor Papa, to rival Frisch’s famous fish sandwich, that McDonald’s was also competing against when they came to town. Bailer also sold fresh strawberry pie and shrimp and chicken baskets.
He had a store at 622 Walnut Street, downtown, and opened another one in February of 1954, at Vine and Ninth Streets. The next year, in 1955 a New Richmond, Ohio, store opened along SR 52, and another one in Huntington, West Virginia. Bailer also owned the Hangover Lounge in Cincinnati on Central Parkway.
There was no apologies that this was a Frisch’s knockoff. Their logo was a Rubenesque woman in checkered long dress, just like the checkered overalls Big Boy wore. She had dark coiffed hair holding a double decker burger in her hand, with black bulky shoes. She was the female version of Big Boy. Bailer hosted an employee softball team in 1952, and was a member of the Queen City Corvette club.
But he was plagued with finding good help. There was always a want ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer for line cooks, carhops, waitresses, and managers in the 1950s for his restaurants. And there were several incidents at his restaurants. In 1952, a dishwasher, Lloyd Cave, with mental health issues, attacked his night manager, while she was on the phone, and five other employees, with a meat cleaver. He cleared the restaurant of 90 patrons throwing butcher knives at them, wounding one, before being shot down six times in the shins by Evendale and Sharonville police. Another employee in 1953 was arrested for kicking out a window at the Walnut store, assault and battery and resisting arrest.
In 1961, Bailer filed bankruptcy, citing over 107 creditors and $100,000 in debt, which included back Federal and Ohio income taxes. He tried to sell his 1953 Studebaker in 1959 to pay some of his debts, but it didn’t cover everything. The Federal government sold his Sharonville restaurant in 1960, valued at $25,000 for $950 to pay some of his back taxes. He would eventually move to Cosa Mesa, California, to escape. But, for almost a decade Big Mamma’s was one of the brave that went up against our local burger powerhouse.

A Country Confectionery and a Cincinnati Redlegs Connection


The huckster wagon for the Sheering & DeArmond Confectionery of New London/Shandon Ohio.

Today was the 93rd Annual Strawberry Festival in rural Shandon, Ohio, near the Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana border.    It’s a beautiful historic hamlet in Butler County, Ohio, with a legacy of strawberry growing.     It also has  two great museums, the Salty Dog Antique Car Museum, and the 1858 Morgan Township House and Museum.     At the festival you can find nearly every strawberry confection available, cookies, muffins, hand pies, bars, brownies, and ice cream.  An antique tractor parade with nearly 100 locally owned historic tractors paraded through the main street – Cincinnati-Brookville Road – past historic buildings and people filling themselves with strawberry goodness.

The confectionery 1900 (left) and 2018 (right).

One of those historic buildings, at 4766 Cincinnati-Brookville Road,  was the former Sheering and DeArmond Confectionery around 1900.    There’s a great photo of it at that time at the 1858 House Museum that shows their huckster wagon and a great group of people outside.    The confectionery was owned by Samuel Sheering and Clarence DeArmond.   They furnished ice cream (most probably a strawberry flavor), and lemonade as well as other confections to local picnics, festivals, and suppers.

They were surrounded by a supply of fresh farm goods – eggs, cream, and butter to make all their ice cream and candy.    The docent at the Okeana Museum told me that the owners of Schneider’s candy in Bellevue, Kentucky, used to travel all the way out here to  her grandparents farm – Wilson Farm – in the 1950s to get the eggs to make their opera cream candies and ice cream.

Redlegs Third Baseman Charley DeArmond Center with bowtie and right.

Nestled in the 1900 photo is a young man sitting on  the front porch, with flowing brown hair, white shirt, and bow tie.    That is Clarence’s brother, Charley DeArmond, who was just about 23 at that time.   And, he was only three years away from signing the big leagues to be third baseman with the Cincinnati Redlegs.       The Louisville Courier at the beginning of the 1903 Season said of DeArmond, “He has the makings of a good ball player.  He has the necessary speed and handles himself nicely.”    The Topeka Kansas Courier said, ” DeArmond, is a natural batter.  He is still a bit green in the field, not starting as quickly as he should, but he has the speed.”

When his parents James and Amanda or siblings Eliza, Emma, Pearl or Clarence took the train into Cincy to watch him play ball at the Palace of the Fans, they’d be able to drink Hauck’s beer and eat Doscher’s Grandpa Corn Fritters.   During the 1903 season Charley batted .262 and had 7 RBIs, but unfortunately he would only play 11 games with the Reglegs.

The Hamilton Journal reporter of January 1904 reported:

“Charley DeArmond, the brilliant utility infielder for the Reds is rapidly recovering from an attack of rheumatism in his left arm and he doesn’t think that it will be necessary for him to take treatment at any rheumatic springs before he joins the reds on the trip south to training quarters.  The swelling has all left his hand and he has free use of the fingers.”  4a513ab3_davis.jpg

Charley DeArmond from his 1903 Cincinnati Redlegs Team photo.

But Charley did end up having to go to the rheumatic springs for therapy, and it was reported the Reds were thinking of trading him to Detroit for Outfielder Barret.

But that wasn’t the end of the story for poor Charley the next year in July of 1905 it was reported:

“Charley DeArmond of Hamilton, Ohio, whose baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds was cut short by an attack of rheumatism, which almost deprived him of the use of his left arm and who played for the Lima (OHIO) team in the early weeks of this season, has again been signed.   He went from the Lima team to the Terra Haute Central League Team, and after a couple of weeks with that outfit was released.   He is now signed with the Little Rock , Arkansas, team (The Travelers). ”

He was laid off from the Travelers for a lame ankle at the end of the 1906 season, and refused to sign with them again unless his former manager came back, citing offers from Atlanta and Toronto.      Thinking he was a free agent after being laid off, he seems to have been blacklisted.

Charley would return to the area and he lived with his sister Pearl in Morning Sun, Ohio, in Preble County, until his death in 1954.    He is buried in the New London Cemetery around the corner from his brother’s old confectionery, which today, was surrounded by strawberry vendors.   I wonder if Charley ever tasted a Doscher’s strawberry French Chew while playing for the Redlegs?

The Miamisburg Hamburger Wagon – Born of the Flood of 1913

sherman porter.jpg

Sherman “Cocky” Porter serving his hamburgers in the 1913 flood-drenched streets of Miamisburg, Ohio.

In Cincinnati we hear about the devastating Flood of 1937. But for the Miami Valley around Dayton, Ohio, the most devastating was the Great Flood of 1913, which busted the banks of the Great Miami River and caused countless damage to the river towns that flanked its banks. One of those was the thriving community of Miamisburg. As devastating as the flood was to Miamisburg, one great local institution came out of it that’s still in existence today – the Hamburger Wagon.

As most of Miamisburg was under water, the Red Cross set up a tent city for the refugees on high ground at the top of Mound Hill. One enterprising 27-year old Miamisburg resident, Sherman “Cocky” Porter, saw potential, and volunteered to help provide food for the flood victims and relief workers. Porter lived with his wife Nina, and two sons Will and James on Sugar Street. Porter knew that whatever food he made had to be warm to cut through the cold March winds, and available in large quantities to feed the hundreds of displaced victims. Hamburger were just the answer. Using a favorite family recipe, Porter began serving up hot, tasty hamburgers to everyone in the camp for many days. These sandwiches were a huge hit and were extremely popular throughout the community.

As the floods receeded, and the tent city closed, Miamisburg returned to normal life, and Cocky went back to his job as a wheelmaker at the Enterprise Buggy Company on Pearl Street, north of the railroad tracks. But the residents didn’t forget the burger that comforted them through their time of great need. Residents loved the little “Porter Burgers” and requested him to cook them up again. Demand increased and Porter finally agreed to start selling burgers on Saturdays. He made a wagon at the Enterprise Company, based on a milk delivery truck, and began parking it at Market Square at Main and Central Avenues in downtown Miamisburg six days a week.


The Enterprise Carriage Works in Miamisburg, where the Hamburger Wagon was made.
Porter became famous for his booming cat call to potential customers: “Pickle in the middle and onion on top makes your belly go flippity-flop.” The Porter family owned the wagon until 1968 when Porter’s grandson sold it to Claude Jestice, a runaway from the Frigidaire Plant nearby. His twin brother Clyde helped him run the business. Gary and Judy Ladd Jestice were the next owners through the 1980s. It’s been owned by only six people in its 105 year existence. The current owner, Jack Sperry, bought it in 2008, with the intent to preserve and enhance it’s legacy. He coined the slogan, “No stinkin’ cheeses and no sloppy sauces.” The wagon was rebuilt in 1980 by Mike Hunter of Miamisburg’s Woodcraft, on the original design.
The roughly two ounces of meat hold a secret recipe of meat and spices, topped with pickles, onions, salt and pepper. That Porter family recipe is as guarded as the original Coca-Cola formula and KFC’s original blend of herbs and spices. Some say the secret is sausage in the meat. They’re flash fried in an oversized cast iron skillet and have a crispy outer edge. They recycle unused grease from day to day, which certainly adds to the signature flavor.
Only recently has the wagon added chips and drinks.   At one time you could get Miamisburg-made Wagner’s Potato Chips, but that company closed.    And, it was ranked one of the top 100 hamburgers in the United States by the book “Hamburger America.”

The business is so popular – selling an estimated 1000 sliders a day – in 2011, Tim and Lisa Gibbs in neighboring West Carrollton decided to get a piece of the action and opened Gibbs Olde Time Hamburgers in an historic wagon on East Dixie Drive. In addition to sliders with onion and pickle like the Porter Burgers, they serve chili dogs, deep fried southern slaw dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches.
It’s worth a Saturday early afternoon day trip to Miamisburg for a bite of American burger nostalgia

William Howard Taft and His Favorite Foods

I look forward to our annual Fringe Festival, produced by the Know Theater in Over-the-Rhine.   This past Friday night I saw the opening of an interesting piece called Billy: The Haunting of William Howard Taft. The show was a hilarious comedy about President Taft on a visit to Atlanta as President-elect, and being haunted by the ghost of the possum he ate that night. The show reminded me of the odd food tastes of our President, and of Americans of the early last century.
The show was based on a true historical event. President-Elect Taft was the guest of 650 on January 15, 1909, in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Banquet. The menu was composed mainly of famous Southern Delicacies, like Brunswick Stew, and Persimmon Beer. But, at Taft’s request, a dish of “possum and taters” – baked possum on a bed of sweet potatoes, was added to the menu. Taft said of the meal, “Well I certainly like possum… I ate very heartily of it last night, and it did not disturb in the slightest my digestion or my sleep.”      Taft was presented that night with a stuffed possum, with the hopes that it would replace the Teddy Bear, the mascot of his predecessor President Theodore Roosevelt.   Thankfully that did not happen.

At the same time, I’ve been watching a BBC Series, called Lords and Ladles on Netflix. The show hosts 17th and 18th century meals in Irish Castles. The meals are elaborate and showcase dishes with cuts of meat that at the time were considered delicacy or fine cuts, but today would be considered plain disgusting. These are things like sweetbreads – the thymus and pancreas of the animal (although they’re on a comeback in some high end restaurants), beef palates (yes, the roof of a the mouth of a cow), brains, and even pork and beef testicles.     Long before our farm-to-table movement, all parts of the animals were being used, even by the elites.
We, myself included, would scoff being served possum at a banquet. I have always been extremely freaked out by the possum, and associate it as road kill and a nuisance animal. But, it wasn’t so weird as a main dish in the last century, being served alongside wild game at elite banquets and upscale hotels across the country. And, it was a favorite of our 27th President. Only those in the Appalachian regions still extol the value of possum, including it in stews, pot pies, and even chili. Think about that – a possum Cincinnati chili.

In addition to the possum, our own William Howard Taft was also a fan of turtle soup, and ate it regularly at home, and requested it at public dinners. And, this was not the mock turtle soup we Cincinnatians eat today put out by local Worthmore Soups, it was the actual terrapin meat turtle soup. Today, with many turtle species on the endangered list, these real turtle soups are not available, but they were extremely popular in Taft’s time.

Of course, Taft was also a steak and potatoes man, and his eating habits were what got him the event he was more well-known for than his possum-obsession – getting his 300 plus pound body stuck in the bathtub at the White House. But this story does have a happy ending.  Oddly enough, at the urging of his beloved wife, Nellie, Taft was able to lose 70 pounds on a low carb diet, long before Dr. Atkins made it a national trend.   Our current President and his obsession with fried fast food should take heed.


Long before Oprah and Weight Watchers, the before and after pics of President Taft and his low-carb diet.