Wednesday, December 29, 2004

High on the Hog: Jesse Stuart's Ohio


“I have never seen a city as original and friendly as my beautiful Portsmouth.” Jesse Stuart (1906-1984)

Jesse Stuart’s feelings about Portsmouth, Ohio, and about his native Kentucky, were much more ambivalent than the Chamber-of-Commerce sounding quotation on the Floodwall mural would ever begin to suggest. He was too passionately honest a writer to ignore or gloss over what he considered to be the hoggishness of human nature, even among those he felt a kinship to, such as the people of eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

It is true that when he was writing about the landscape of Kentucky, Jesse Stuart could be reverent and even rapturous, which is what he is mainly remembered for now, but when he wrote about the people who lived on that land, he could be very critical. Some of his novels and stories about Kentuckians focus on hoggishness. Taps for Private Tussie, for example, is a masterful satirical novel about a hoggish, mooching Kentucky clan, the Tussies, which is all the more unusual because it was published in 1943, during the Second World War, when young Americans from every ethnic group and region, including Appalachia, were being depicted in the media as willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. What Jesse Stuart writes about in Taps, by contrast, is the heavy-drinking, wife-beating Private Kim Tussie and his lazy relatives who squander the money his wife was awarded by the government, which had mistakenly reported he had been killed in action and shipped somebody else’s body home for burial. Only after most of the money is gone does Private Tussie show up, in the flesh, proving that the corpse in the casket, as at least one of his conniving kin probably well knew, was not his.

Not surprisingly, on the basis of books like Taps for Private Tussie, some Kentuckians looked down on Jesse Stuart as “the man who ruined Kentucky.” From what an Ohioan old enough to remember has told me, Jesse Stuart himself was once looked down upon in southern Ohio as the man who had dissed the Buckeye State. As a transplanted Kentuckian points out in the novel The Land Beyond the River (1973), a sequel to Taps for Private Tussie, the buckeye is a completely worthless tree that produces only a “pizenous nut.” The transplanted Kentuckian is not just talking about trees, he is also talking about people; he is not just talking about poisonous buckeyes but some hoggish Buckeyes as well.

In The Land Beyond the River, Stuart did for Ohio what he had done for Kentucky in Taps. Unlike the disreputable Tussies, the Perkinses start out as a poor but proud and resourceful Appalachian family. But three years on a government free-food program in Kentucky had drained them of a lot of their initiative and independence. After listening to his relatives praise Ohio as the Promised Land, “Poppie” Perkins decided it was time for a change, a change not to less government dependency but to more. “I want Social Security or welfare and old-age pensions which are all better in that wonderful state [Ohio],” he says at the beginning of the novel.

The political message of The Land Beyond the River is that as corrupting as government assistance programs were in Kentucky, they were even more so in Ohio, as the pious Free Will Baptist and staunchly Republican Poppie gradually realizes after he moves his family to the river city of Agrilla, the seat of Landsdowne County, in southern Ohio. (Agrilla is Stuart’s fictionalized Portsmouth; Landsdowne is his fictionalized Scioto County.) The Land Beyond the River, published thirty years ago, may help us understand the situation we are in today in Portsmouth, where public monies and governmental assistance are like a drug on which not just the poor and the unemployed but the well-to-do and over-privileged are hooked.

The trail north from Kentucky had been blazed by Poppie’s relatives, like Uncle Dick, who had worked hard and succeeded in Ohio but then had become bitter because the government, in his opinion, overtaxed him to pay for welfare and food stamps for the undeserving poor. “It pays to be poor, especially in Ohio,” is a critical refrain in the novel. “It’s our Government’s fault – making cheats, liars, and lazy people out of good working people,” says Joshua Herbert, the self-made millionaire businessman who had migrated from Kentucky to Ohio. His son Jim tells Poppie’s teen-aged sons, “You’ll understand some day what a joke this welfare is! It’s made liars and cheats of nearly a fourth of this country.” In what strikes me as a foolish and cynical strategy, Uncle Dick and the Herberts decide the only way Uncle Sam can be made to stop robbing the rich to pay for the poor is to bankrupt the government by encouraging everyone to tap into welfare system. If Uncle Sam is so eager to provide handouts, then even the well-to-do should hold out their hand.

That is the advice of the hoggish businessmen in the novel, advice that some businessmen in Portsmouth appear to have been following for at least the last thirty years. If it pays to be poor in southern Ohio, it pays more, much more per capita, to be rich. God helps those few who help themselves, but for everyone else in Portsmouth, especially the rich, there is the federal, state, county, and city government, and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, the Marting Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce. Forget the traditional Republican goals of competition and profit; the Portsmouth economy is based heavily on collusion and pork.

It would not be unusual if a conservative Republican writer, which is what Jesse Stuart was, thought that the chief casualties of President Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s were the poor themselves, because they became trapped in the welfare cycle, growing more dependent on the government from one generation to the next. What is unusual about The Land Beyond the River is that it points out that good Republicans, traditionally associated with rugged individualism and strive-and-succeed, were also being turned into cheats, liars, and lazy people, and not by food stamps and welfare checks but by other forms of assistance from federal, state, county, and city government. The over-privileged of Portsmouth have been subsidized, granted, abated, bailed out, and “porked” in the last thirty years to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Jesse Stuart suggests in The Land Beyond the River that rich Republicans of southern Ohio are no better, and in some respects are worse, than poor Democrats. For one thing, rich Republicans are becoming barren. Unlike the poor, who reproduce like rabbits, rich Republicans bear few children. Instead of character being the measure by which they judge a person, they come to believe fashionable clothes make the man and the woman. They also become decadent. The over-privileged rich stray far from their fiercely independent teetotaling Kentucky Free Will Baptist roots and into the arms not of only of the welfare state but also into the genteel denomination Stuart hints is best suited to hypocritical, scotch-drinking Republicans – namely Presbyterianism.

The decadent trend among well-heeled Republicans in The Land Beyond the River is most evident in the childless rich businessman-turned-gentleman-farmer Mr. Koniker, who devotes himself to his fashionably old-fashioned unprofitable farm, the losses on which he is able to write off on his income taxes. Koniker is a character who, in real life, with his effete antiquarianism and carnal knowledge of tax write-offs, would not be out of place on the board of the Marting Foundation. His unprofitable and obsolete farm is the Marting building of its day – yes, the Marting building, a remnant of Portsmouth’s good old downtown days, hanging on as a window-dressed basket-case that the City Council is determined to put on the publicly funded life-support system the sponging Marting Foundation has devised for it. Transfusions of municipal money and municipal employees will keep the Marting building breathing, if only in a comatose state, for as long as there are public funds to pay for it.

The Land Beyond the River offers insights into the behavior of Portsmouth’s over-privileged and perhaps into human nature itself. In one scene on the Ohio farm on which they are living rent free, Poppie’s family watches a half dozen pigs feeding on the corn that has just been thrown in the pen. Poppie’s oldest son, the narrator of the novel, says, “We stood a minute watching them pushing and shoving over the corn when there was plenty on the ground for them. ‘You see how some people are hoggish and want it all,’ Mommie said. ‘Right in this pen is the example.’”

The name Jesse Stuart gave to the Ohio river city Poppie’s family lived near was Agrilla, but he might more appropriately have called it “Porksmouth.” As Poppie’s family throws corn to the pigs, the federal, state, county and city governments throw pork to the over-privileged of Portsmouth, further accentuating the political divisions in the city, and exacerbating the long-standing bitterness between classes. If, along with everything else, the hoggish did not pose as philanthropists, perhaps they wouldn’t be quite so hard to take. Stuart expressed his revulsion with such selfish businessmen in lines in the next to the last sonnet in “Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow,” lines that the Chamber of Commerce would not allow on the Floodwall in a million years:

. . . I found some merchant men
Like hogs for corn, lived for profit and gain.
They were like white maggots in a rotted hen
And tramp them in the mud they’d rise again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Portsmouth's Red Light District

Law offices of Clayton Johnson, downtown Portsmouth

“And the Marting Foundation said, ‘Let there be lights downtown,’ and there were lights downtown, red lights.”

     According to lawyers for the Richard D. Marting Foundation, who read a prepared statement to the Portsmouth City Council, on December 13, 2004, the Foundation was established for the most Biblical sounding of reasons, “to keep the lights on in the heart of downtown Portsmouth.” If you believe these lawyers, the current name of the Foundation does not begin to suggest the enormous amount of good it is bound and determined to do for the people of Portsmouth. If you believe these lawyers, the Foundation should be renamed the Richard D. Magnanimous Foundation.

I disagree with these lawyers. I say that the Foundation’s sale of the Marting building to the city was not to keep the lights on but to keep the public in the dark. I say the sale was not an act of benevolence, “A Measure of Grace,” to cite the title of a Daily Times editorial, but a scheme to cut the losses of yet another failed downtown business and unload its virtually worthless property off on the public. I say downtown Portsmouth is the city’s red light district, where lawyers, real estate developers, politicians, and kept newspapers practice the world’s second oldest profession – screwing the public. The lawyers representing the Marting Foundation called for an end to the “fighting” and the spreading of “rumors and partial truths” about the sale of the Marting building. I say this “fighting” is really “struggling” for honesty in government. I say partial truths are better than lies. I say these lawyers are geese fronting for a fox and a weasel.

Marting’s lawyers appeared before the Council to promote the idea that the Marting Foundation was established in the spirit of Mother Teresa and Santa Claus. Marting’s lawyers appeared before the Council to promote the idea that in keeping with the charitable spirit of the Christmas season, the Foundation is offering to donate to the city “both the Marting’s properties and the balance of the net sale proceeds,” whatever that balance might end up being, with strings attached. I say this is more Marting Foundation flim-flam and that the Marting building, the outrageous $2,000,000 sale of which Clayton Johnson, Mayor Bauer and the City Council arranged out of the light of the Sunshine law, was worth just what the Foundation is now asking for it – nothing. The city should not accept the Marting building, certainly not with the strings the Foundation is seeking to attach to it. The city should demand all of its money back and not under terms dictated by the Foundation.

Marting Building. "It ain't worth anything." Marty Mohr, June 2004.

I say the last thing the Foundation wanted was to have this white elephant back on its hands. I say what the Marting Foundation is trying to do is get the city to accept the Marting building as a gift, so the Foundation will then at least be able to reduce its losses through a tax shenanigan. I pointed out in an earlier blog that several years ago Clayton Johnson was able to show Frank Waller and Michael Warsaw of Travel World how donating “the assets” of their defunct travel agency to the Ironton branch of Ohio University could be turned into a tax write-off. If Johnson can get the city to accept his white elephant, will he then be able to arrange a much bigger tax write-off for his Foundation?

At the December 13th Council meeting, the Marting lawyers were not the only ones who praised the philanthropy of Clayton Johnson and the Marting Foundation. Councilman Marty Mohr praised Johnson and the Foundation to the skies. He called the Foundation’s offer “A lifetime’s opportunity that we cannot let us pass by.” This is not too surprising, for Mohr was first for, and then against, and is now again for the Marting building, just as he was first against and then for the recall of Mayor Bauer. He told a Columbus Dispatch reporter last June, “At first, I didn’t think (the recall election) was a good idea. Now after several months of continuing lies and deceit, yeah, it needs to be done. It needs to be done in the worst way.” About the Marting building, Mohr told that same reporter, “It ain’t worth anything.” Why is he enthusiastic about the Marting building again? After sessions with attorney Clayton Johnson in the last several weeks, Mohr declared he has seen “the light at the end of the tunnel,” to quote the phrase he used at the Council meeting to describe what he said was an “extremely generous,” a “monumental” offer by the Marting Foundation. Is Mohr like a leaf in the wind, who goes in whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing, or is that too flattering a characterization? Mohr’s meetings with Johnson represents an egregious misunderstanding, if not a flagrant betrayal, of a council member’s ethical responsibility during this period of legal confrontation between the city and the Foundation. The light Mohr sees at the end of the tunnel may be another legal train heading toward the Council in the form of an injunction to stop them from conducting the same kind of out-of-the Sunshine meetings that led Judge Marshall to invalidate the Marting’s deal.

Milking a Dead Cow

To listen to the Marting lawyers at the December 13th Council meeting, the philanthropy of the Marting Foundation knows no bounds, for the Foundation is recommending that some of the city’s money it is so generously offering to return to the city be used to renovate the former Adelphia building so that it can become the new Portsmouth police station. The contagiousness of the philanthropy practiced by the Marting Foundation is infecting everybody. The current owner of the Adelphia building, Herbert Singer, of Los Angeles, acting through real estate developer Neal Hatcher and shyster lawyer Mike Mearan, has offered to donate that building to the city, provided the city accepts it very soon, presumably so he can claim the tax write-off his gift would qualify him for. Even a dead cow can be milked one last time, but Singer still owes back taxes on the dead cow. He failed to pay some $18,425 in taxes this past year. That tax matter, I was told, is now in the hands of a bankruptcy court.

The Foundation’s lawyers said the “revitalization of the Marting properties” and the “redevelopment of the Adelphia Building” is “in the best interest of everyone.” I say using public funds to take empty buildings off the hands of their owners, and off the tax rolls of the city, may be in the best interest of those owners, but it is not in the best interest of the public, which has to pick up the tab for the City Council’s complicity. If businesses were being brought into the downtown, calling it “revitalization,” to use the lawyers’ term, might be justified. But moving government agencies around like checkers, from square to square, or from empty old building to empty old building, is not revitalization. I have not seen such economic stagnation since 1971-1972, when I taught in communist Poland for the State Department, under the Fulbright exchange program. Not since communist Poland have I seen people so lacking in entrepreneurial spirit and so dependent upon the government for handouts. In Poland, “ministries” doled out government money; in Porksmouth it is not only federal and state agencies that dole out the funds – it is also “foundations” and “growth partnerships.” What we have in Portsmouth is a pervasive culture of dependency where even over-privileged people with empty buildings can count on an obliging city government to take those buildings off their hands and fill them with city employees. Yes, the lights would be on in downtown Portsmouth, but the public would be paying the light bills.

If the money is available, it should be used to build new structures designed to meet the present and future needs of the public agencies that will use them, not hand-me-down buildings with no architectural or historical value, buildings that will require extensive alterations and still not be well-suited. A former department store for a city hall? A former cable office for a police station? I am sorry to tell you, Virginia, that Santa Claus and Mother Theresa are not on the board of the Marting Foundation. To characterize the Marting proposal with the word “Grace,” as the Portsmouth Times did editorially, should be viewed as profanation by those who view this as a holy season. We are not blessed with enlightened and philanthropic civic leaders. We are cursed with sly lawyers, greedy real estate developers, a corrupt City Council, and two newspapers that try to outdo each other in prostituting themselves to the Chamber of Commerce. If any lights should be kept on in downtown Portsmouth they should be red lights because there are more prostitutes in downtown Portsmouth than there ever are up on John Street.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Unsinkable Molly Williams: A River Tale

Scioto County Courthouse

Some years ago, in the Fall following her summer stint as an intern for the Judge, the young woman who would later be known as the Unsinkable Molly Williams was back teaching social science at the high school. She was afraid she was pregnant, but she couldn’t be sure because her menstrual cycle had often been irregular. A doctor had even warned her she might not be able to have children. So she waited two months, and by then she was fairly certain she was pregnant, but she waited a third month before she finally told the Judge. Too embarrassed to face him in person, she called him at his office on the phone

“Are you sure?” he asked guardedly when she told him.

“Yes,” she replied in a troubled voice.

“How can you be sure?” he asked. “Have you been to a doctor?”

“No,” she said.

“I’ll make an appointment for you to see my brother.” The Judge’s brother was a prominent doctor in the city and the favorite gynecologist of women on the Hill.

“What will I tell him?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” the Judge said. “He won’t ask embarrassing questions.”
Molly wondered how much the Judge’s brother or anyone else in his family would know about what had happened. She had heard her preacher father say more than once there was a streak of deviltry in the people on the Hill, and especially in the Judge’s influential and quirky family. “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and who feel secure on the mountain,” Molly’s father would say, quoting Amos, the prophet he was named after. But Molly’s father, nicknamed “Amos Hollerer,” had been an old-fashioned, fire-and-brimstone preacher. Growing up, she had been embarrassed by him and hadn’t put much stock in anything he said.

The Judge's brother confirmed to Molly that she was pregnant. “I foresee no complications,” he told her. He was speaking medically, of course, because in every other way Molly could see nothing but complications.

On the following chilly weekend she took a walk on the river embankment. Stopping for a minute, she stared across the river at the leafless hills on the other side. Her back was turned on the river city where she had grown up, with its church spires and the courthouse rising above the old commercial warehouses and stores, a number of which were empty and becoming dilapidated. She knew what some women would do in her situation, but she refused to consider that option. She wanted a baby, just not this way.

When she returned to her apartment, not far from the courthouse, she sat in a chair by the window and cried, something she had done often in the past few months. Her father used to tell her to turn to the good book for guidance in time of trouble, which she had never done before, partly because she didn’t believe in it and partly because she had never been in serious trouble. As a teenager, she had smoked for several years, wore her hair like a boy, and lost her virginity at sixteen, and occasionally cussed like a sailor, but she got through those experiences without feeling any need to turn to the good book. Now things were different. Picking up her father’s old Bible, she was not sure where to start, so she turned to the Book of Amos. Instead of pacifying her, the prophet's anger revived her own. “But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood . . .”

The following Thursday, she got a call from the Judge, who told her to come over to the courthouse the following evening at five thirty. Molly understood everyone would be gone by then. She didn’t want to be alone with him, especially in his office, after hours, because that had been her downfall, but she felt she had no choice. She was three months pregnant and had to do something.

At five-thirty Friday, the lights were off in the probate offices, where many thousands of records were deposited in row after row of green metal file cabinets — the births, the marriages the deaths — the most important events in everyone’s life. She could make out the shadow of the tall thin figure inside, who had been waiting for her in the darkness, like an impatient spider, between the rows of file cabinets. He quietly opened the glass door. Nervously, she followed him into his office, where he sat down at his large desk. It was cleared, except for a big black book. She sat in the same chair in which she had sat in June, when he had interviewed her for a summer internship.

“Miss Hollister,” he addressed her matter-of-factly, as he had in the June interview, “I need some information.”

“Information?” she asked.

“For a marriage license.”

“A what?”

“You’ll need one – and a husband. I think a soldier makes the most sense. That way I can waive the three-day waiting period and you can get married tomorrow, up in the capital, and he could leave for overseas on Monday and be killed in action somewhere in a month or two.”

She sat silently, trying to take in what he had just so matter-of-factly said. She was finding it hard to believe any of it was real – the courthouse, the summer internship, the sex in his office, the pregnancy, and now the “marriage.”

“Yes, I’ll put down ‘soldier’ as his occupation, and I’ll list his place of birth as New York City,” the Judge said. “He’ll be one of six million.” He paused, tilting his head, studying his penmanship. “Now, we’ve got to choose a last name.” He put his hand on the thick black book, as if about to swear on the Bible. “It’s all in here, however unreliable it may be. Data from the last census, including the most common names.” He put down the pen and opened the book. “We should give him a common name, to make it harder for anyone trying to track him down.”

“Who would track down somebody who doesn’t exist?” she asked, not sure she wasn’t just imagining it all, not sure she wasn’t losing her mind, like her mother had.

“You never know. Someday somebody might be snooping around,” the Judge said. He thumbed his way into the book. “Smith’s the most common name. Trouble is it’s too common, too suspicious sounding, under the circumstances. The same thing with the next one, Johnson. I suggest we use the third—Williams . . .” He paused, waiting for her to say something, but when she didn’t, he picked up the pen. “Yes, let’s name him Williams. There are probably a thousand Williamses in the state, and even more in New York City . . . What do you say?”

“I . . . I don’t know,” she stammered, confused. Brides don’t usually get to choose the name of their husbands.

He wrote down the name Williams on the license. “Now, what would you like for his first name? Let’s see . . .” He ran his finger down another list in the black book. “James is the most common first name. Yes, let’s call him James. If it’s a boy, you can name him James Williams, Jr., after his father.”

She protested, “But you’re the father!”

“I know, I know,” he acknowledged. “but we can’t name the baby after me, can we.”

The first name she thought of was her father's. “Amos?” she suggested.

Frowning, the Judge ran his finger down a list. “Amos. It’s pretty rare,” he explained, tapping the name on the list with his index finger. “It’s the 496th most common name. I don’t think we want to go with that.”

She summoned up what little resolution she had. “If I have a husband, I want him to be named Amos. And if I have a son, I’ll name him Amos.”

“Amos?” The Judge repeated the name, unhappily. “Amos. It will look peculiar on the license, your husband and father both having such an unusual name.”

“Amos was a prophet,” she reminded him. “It wouldn’t be an unusual name in a religious family.”

“Is your husband also a Preacher’s Kid?” the Judge quipped sardonically. She found nothing amusing in his remark, and he saw he was not going to change her mind. “’Amos’ will have to do,” he said. He glanced at his watch. Molly imagined his wife waiting for him at home. She was developing a resentment as deep as the Grand Canyon for his wife, and everyone else on the Hill.

“Now,” he continued, “let’s come up with names for your in-laws.” The Judge consulted the book, and, while she looked on incredulously, he created in-laws for her and even a fictitious minister who would perform the imaginary ceremony the next day up in the capital.

“And the Judge begat James and James’s father John and James’s mother Mary, and the Judge begat the minister, the Reverend Michael,” she mumbled as he wrote.

“What? he asked, looking up from the license.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Would you sign for the minister, here,” he said, pushing the license across the desk. “Try to change your handwriting,” he said, “as I did for your husband’s signature.” Within fifteen minutes, the last “t” was crossed and the last “i” dotted, and her imaginary marriage was documented.

“In ten days I’ll deposit this in one of the file cabinets and nobody will be the wiser.”

“I can’t believe it,” Molly said.


“Is this how people on the Hill deal with problems?” she asked.

“If you look at the history of any family, you wouldn’t believe how much alteration of the official record there is from one generation to the next. People wouldn’t believe how much false information is out there in those files. If you could know everything about your own family for a couple of generations back, you might be very surprised.”

“The past is all lies?”

“Not all of it. Only what needs to be, which is much more than people would like to think,” he said.

She took the license from him and stared at the forged document. At that moment it occurred to her that he had not only made her pregnant, he was making her an accomplice in a crime, thus guaranteeing her cooperation. Holding the license in her hand, she could have quickly torn it up, which is what she wanted to do, but then what would she do, being three months pregnant? She handed it back to him.

“Drive up to the capital tomorrow,” he said, taking money out of his billfold. “Just as if you’re going to get married. Take in a movie or museum.” She kept her fists clenched. Taking money from him was even harder than giving him back the license.

“I’m going to help you and the child in any way I can,” he promised.

“Can you forge me a court order to that effect?” she asked bitterly.

The Judge winced. “Molly, you’ve got to accept some responsibility for the situation we’re in.”

Half his age and with none of his influence and authority, she was infuriated by what she saw as his attempt to make her a co-conspirator. “What you and the other hypocrites on the Hill are doing is screwing people like me. That’s how you get to be on the Hill and that’s how you stay on the Hill. Screwing people like me.”

“Please, Molly. Don’t indulge in this self-righteousness. You’ve got to consider what’s best for the child,” he added. He waited for her to regain her composure before offering her the money again. Under the circumstances, seeing no way out, she took it, crumpling it in her hand. Then he told her, “It would be better if you left first.”

Though it was cold and dark as she walked away from the courthouse, she felt that she could see clearly for the first time. She agreed with the Judge about one thing. She had been na├»ve, but tears had washed away her blindness. In spite of the difficulties she saw looming ahead, she was determined not to give up her job or flee from the city. She would bear the child and the shame, under the documented cover story the Judge had concocted. But having seen what she had seen, and learned what she had learned, she was no longer the person she had been. She felt reborn, and she resolved she would not let them get away with it. She walked away from the courthouse with her father’s favorite passage from the Book of Amos echoing in her head. In the future, it would become her mantra. Surprising an old woman waiting for a bus under a streetlamp, Molly stopped and shouted it aloud, as if she wanted to be heard all the way up on the Hill. “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and who feel secure on the mountain . . .” The old woman looked around uneasily. Molly nodded, to reassure her she was not crazy, and marched resolutely homeward.

From that day onward, Molly became the hair shirt and the self-appointed conscience, the Amos and the Jeremiah, of the community. Because she believed the local Daily Bugle was nothing but a publishing prostitute for the people on the Hill, she founded an alternative weekly, The Clarion, for which she and her daughter dug up all the news that the Bugle would not have printed even if its reporters had been capable of digging it up. “The records in the Probate court are the Gospel compared to the stories printed in the Bugle,” Molly would say, but she would say no more than that. The over-privileged people on the Hill said she was a crazy, slanderous witch, and a cocaine-sniffing lesbian to boot, but she stuck to her guns and brought down a number of crooked politicians and public officials. She never said a word about the Judge, and he went to his death, years later, without more than a couple of people knowing what role he had played in the career of the woman the underprivileged, underemployed, barely literate, but very grateful people of the city nicknamed the Unsinkable Molly Williams.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Thomas Gainsborough, "Girl with Pigs"

In a poem he wrote in 1854, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dubbed Cincinnati the “Queen City,” and the nickname stuck. But because of the importance of pigs in Cincinnati’s economy, the "Queen City" city in the 1800s was also sometimes derogatorily called "Porkopolis."

There is another kind of pork. On an interesting Cincinnati website,, this other kind of “pork” is defined as “a government project, appropriation or appointment that yields jobs or other benefits to a specific locale and patronage opportunities to its political representative.” The process of funneling government money into local pockets is called “porkbarreling.”

The most notorious example of porkbarreling in Portsmouth’s recent history is the City Council’s expenditure of $2,000,000 of public funds to purchase the Marting’s empty white-elephant department store. But $2,000,000 is no big deal by Portsmouth's standards. The City Council and former mayors have granted over $27,000,000 in property abatements, which is a considerable perk.

The most recent instance of “porkbarreling” was when Republican Representative Rob Portman traveled from Cincinnati to Portsmouth, just before November’s election, bringing a check for $300,000 made out to Portsmouth Murals, Inc. Portman’s delivery of pork was timely because Portsmouth Murals, Inc. had previously spent $350,000 to purchase another empty department store from retired portly Portsmouth businessman George Clayton. Should Clayton thank Rob Portman or Rob Porkman?

The biggest dispenser of pork in Portsmouth is the S.O.G.P., the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, alias Southern Ohio Great Porkroll. The Sentinel claims the SOGP was supplied with nearly $300,000,000 of pork, and the Sentinel further contends that under the government formula that guides these disbursements, the worse conditions got in Portsmouth, the more pork the SOGP received. So it was in the interest of Portsmouth's overprivileged to run the city down. A real estate developer, Neal Hatcher, makes millions out of trashing neighborhoods. To help him run down the city, the city of Portsmouth has given him over $3,700,000 in pork-abatements.

Considering the importance of “pork” in Portsmouth’s economy, shouldn't its nickname be Porksmouth?