You had to be bold and brave if you dared walk on the seedy side of town in Marietta, Ohio back in the early 1900s. But Lynne Sturtevant recently led a crowd of fifty on an adventure back to early days as the old sections of Marietta were revisited. Along the way, characters in costume greeted the tour and told of dangerous adventures at that time.
Crime was a severe problem all along the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers in Marietta, with bars, bars, and more bars. The Ohio River flowed around a small island, that served as an amusement park during the day, but a whole new crowd arrived in the evening. They enjoyed all the vices of the time – drinking, gambling, prostitution, and murder. Going to the island in the evening had an added enticement of cheap beer. Along the shore beer was twenty-five cents a glass, but on the island, only five cents. The Island, now known as Buckley Island, was a lawless wonderland. If you wanted to do anything illegal, the island was the place!
Despicable characters roamed the streets, drinking and arguing over everything imaginable. One man and his wife were each found with bullets in their head after an argument over a wristwatch. The stories told were all true reports of the Marietta newspaper from that time.
Dance halls and saloons were the main businesses in town. Shadow advertising can still be seen on many buildings with words like WHISKEY worked right into the brick works.
Along the way, the group met a delightful bartender who told of some of the fights he had witnessed at the bars. The job he hated the most was cleaning the spittoons.
A character portraying Oliver Hyde, mayor of Marietta in 1904, spoke to the group in front of the police station. The building also served as the electric company and the mayor had his office on the top floor. He gave the latest police report describing real events in Marietta in 1904.
The historic Harmar Railroad Bridge provided a scenic walkway over the Muskingum River. This is the country’s oldest operating railroad swinging bridge, still using a hand crank to swing it open for passing boats. Where the Harmar Historical Village stands today, Fort Harmar existed in 1785 for the protection of the Indians.
Walking over the bridge, one of the roughest sections of town was on Maple Street. A young man, who lived there, told about his neighborhood. He spoke of Mr. and Mrs. Hayes, who were well known local folks. Mrs. Hayes served as a madam, while her husband usually caused problems. Mr. Hayes was very jealous of his wife and accused her of seeing the local bartender. She begged him, “Don’t kill me!”
The young man said the Marietta Police had never caught the husband and asked the mayor why he wasn’t working on it. The mayor, in typical mayor fashion said, “It’s under investigation.” The young man told the group to get back over the bridge as quickly as possible as the area was not a safe one.
While visiting a housewife in Sin City, she told of a murder that happened next door to her house. She was hanging out the laundry when she heard a husband and wife fighting next door. The husband yelled, “I’ll break your face right in if you do that again.”
Later she smelled a fire burning in their back yard and hurried to get her clothes off the line. About 5:00 the next morning, there was a knock at her door. At the door stood the next door neighbor. “Good morning, the missus has gotten drunk and fell into the fire and burned right up. She’s always getting drunk.”
When the police arrived at the scene, over half of the woman’s body was severely burned, but they could see severe bruises on her neck. Perhaps she didn’t just fall into the fire, but was pushed. You’ll have to visit to find out…the rest of the story.
Rain held off until the very end of the tour, when it came down from the sky in buckets. The wind, rain and lightning made it seem that this place was perhaps still dangerous.
Marietta, Ohio is located at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers in southern Ohio. Take Exit 1 off I -77 in Ohio to experience this delightful town. Characters along the way were provided by Paskawych Entertainment, LLC of Marietta.