Thursday, March 09, 2017

James W. Ellsworth and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

Recently, I gave a talk at the Hudson Antiques Club about WRA's benefactor James W. Ellsworth and Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

I will be giving a similar presentation to the Hudson Heritage Association on Thursday, April 13, 2017, at the Barlow Community Center at 7:30 p.m. The presentation will also include references to The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson and will be taped to show later on Hudson Community Television. This program is open to the public.

The following pictures will be included in my upcoming presentation. The captions depict an interesting time in history, tying together WRA's James W. Ellsworth and one of the most significant events in Chicago's history - the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
James W. Ellsworth at age 40, about the time he became a Director of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
Bird's eye view of the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago, 1893
The Agriculture Hall at the World's Columbian Exposition, part of the complex of buildings that gave it the nickname "the White City"
WRA student Ralph F. Portmann '33 with the eagle from the statue of The Republic by Daniel Chester French that stood in the main basin at the World's Columbian Exposition. James W. Ellsworth brought back this eagle and the globe it stood on to his barn at Evamere Farm in Hudson after the Exposition ended. It was used as a decoration for a WRA dance in April 1933.
James W. Ellsworth's Exposition pass. He kept many such souvenirs of the Chicago Exposition of 1893

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Homer Oscar Sluss Named Head of WRA, 1917

Senior year WRA graduation
photo in 1891
No stranger to Western Reserve Academy, Homer O. Sluss had come to our campus from Louisville in Stark County to complete his undergraduate education, and graduated with the class of 1891. He went on to Western Reserve University in Cleveland where he earned a bachelor’s degree, played football for three years, was on the editorial board for student publications, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and served as class president for his senior year. He then returned to Hudson as a member of the small faculty of Western Reserve Academy, then in its “hardscrabble” days. Sluss was a teacher of Latin and Greek, was coach for both baseball and football, and was a dorm master. As one of the WRA publications stated, “In the classroom, on the athletic field, and in the prayer room the influence and enthusiasm of Mr. Sluss have been equally felt”. In Lucien Price’s classic booklet, Hardscrabble Hellas, Sluss is the “heroic schoolmaster” who made those years golden despite the shopworn condition of the campus and its buildings.

The WRA football team of fall, 1895, when Mr. Sluss was coach and manager.
When the school closed in the summer of 1903, Mr. Sluss found his services were sought by Governor Dummer Academy in Massachusetts, reputedly the oldest boarding school in the country. He taught German and the classics at this school for a year, then returned to Ohio where he taught in Cincinnati. Eventually he became Superintendent of Schools for Covington, Kentucky, with authority over three high schools. When his old alma mater reopened in 1916, he was contacted about returning to Hudson, but remained in Covington until the crisis over a Principal at WRA persuaded him to take the position. He arrived in Hudson in the spring of 1917 and served as Head of the school until he was dismissed in 1924.

Homer O. Sluss as
Principal of WRA in 1917
Homer O. Sluss was just as popular among the students and faculty as he had been when he was a teacher some years ago. Even the yearbook, The Academic, was dedicated to him in 1924 citing his “understanding, justice, and cheerfulness”. But these were difficult years of transition, and the Board of Trustees decided they were looking for a leader with fresh ideas when they told Mr. Sluss that he was to be replaced by Ralph E. Boothby. Sluss was a married man with two young children when he found himself without a job in the late spring of 1924. James W. Ellsworth, the school’s great benefactor, was reluctant to see Sluss leave, and made sure that the Board provided him with a year’s salary and an opportunity to earn a master’s degree at Columbia University. After completing his degree, Mr. Sluss took a teaching job in Cincinnati where he had met his wife, Rose, but died suddenly in 1928 at the age of 57. The WRA trustees eventually extended a scholarship to the son of Homer O. Sluss, William Blackstone Sluss, who graduated with the class of 1934 and began college at Haverford. While he may not be ranked among the most effective Heads of Western Reserve Academy, Homer Oscar Sluss attained an air of immortality through Lucien Price’s little book, Hardscrabble Hellas, where he will always be the Olympian intellect and athlete and the “hero schoolmaster” to many WRA alumni.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

First Chinese student at Western Reserve Academy

As Hudson, Ohio, is such a small town with far-reaching arms, so to is Western Reserve Academy. Family visitors to WRA are always pleased to hear historical information surrounding our beautiful school. Recently, this was realized again, as a prospective student and his family were quite appreciative of our historical story surrounding WRA's first Chinese student.

Tien Wei Yang at the time of his graduation from WRA, June 1941
We welcomed Tien Wei Yang (1921-2012) to Western Reserve Academy in 1938, who had come from Tientsin, China, to escape the Japanese invasion which had destroyed his school. Both of Tien Wei's parents had been educated in Indiana, but they did not know about this school. They sent Tien Wei to a friend in western Pennsylvania who knew about our school and made arrangements for young Tien Wei to attend. He was warmly welcomed to our campus, and even though a bout with tubercolosis put him back one class because of his illness (he was treated at a special hospital, then returned to campus), Tien Wei graduated with the Class of 1941. At WRA he was a top scholar, an outstanding soccer player, and a winner of the Bicknell Prize as a senior. He went on to Oberlin College where he completed a degree in biology.

Biology teacher Tien Wei Yang with student Jim Kaufman '62, taken in the classroom in 1959
Tien Wei Yang eventually earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of Arizona and spent a long and successful career as a teacher and research scientist. He returned to Western Reserve Academy in 1952 as a teacher of biology and soccer coach, and was here for 14 years, leaving in 1966 to teach in Arizona. He was a winning coach in soccer and continued a great interest in the WRA soccer teams for the rest of his life. In 1991, in time for his 50th class reunion, he was awarded The Waring Prize, a top award for an alumnus of our school. He came back to address the student body at that time. Tien Wei Yang died at age 90 in 2012.
Tien Wei Yang as part of the 1939 wrestling team at WRA. He is fourth from left in the back row.
Tien Wei Wang at Western Reserve Academy in June, 1991, after being award The Waring Prize

Monday, October 31, 2016

Community Events

The past month, as well as this upcoming month, I have been busy with many community events.

I will be the featured speaker at Hudson Rotary on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.

The HCTV network featured two of my programs the week of Oct. 23, 2016. One was WRA's Brick Row Tour and the other was Women's Education in Hudson, taped at Ellsworth Hall in Sept.

Additionally, I served as the master of ceremonies on Oct. 29, 2016, for the celebration of Cuyahoga Fall's Oakwood Cemetery's Civil War monument and men who served from the "Village of Cuyahoga Falls" during the Civil War. Visit this page to read more about this celebration.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

School Reopened in September 1916

The Carroll Cutler House from the 1916 Catalog.
It was then used as a dormitory.
It was 100 years ago on September 12, 1916 that Western Reserve Academy reopened as a coed boarding school. The school had closed down in June, 1903 because of bankruptcy, and alumnus James W. Ellsworth rescued the campus in 1912 by lifting the mortgage, buying the entire campus, launching a restoration effort for the historic buildings, and constructing Seymour Hall as the new “recitation center” for the school. Students have been learning in the classrooms of Seymour Hall for a century. The building itself is scheduled for a major renovation that will begin in the spring of 2017.
Harlan N. Wood at his desk in Seymour Hall.
Faculty member, 1893-1903; 1916-1945
When Western Reserve Academy reopened in the fall of 1916, there was a small faculty that served the student body which numbered just over 50. William Sands Morley of Idaho was the new Principal, but did not last the entire year, and Harlan N. Wood, a member of the class of 1888 and a faculty member before the 1903 closing, took over the school until another WRA alumnus, Homer Oscar Sluss, could come from Covington to take over the headship of the school in 1917. He would remain through 1924. Mr. Wood would remain on the faculty until his unexpected death in early 1945.
The Nutting House on Hudson Street from the 1916 Catalog.
It would be the school dining hall until 1922.
The catalog for 1916 tells the story of renewal and hopes for the future. It notes that the school boasts a “splendid new main building”, a new athletic field, the restoration of all the historic buildings, and an endowment of $200,000, provided by the benefactor, James W. Ellsworth. New trees had been added to the “fine old elms already standing” to make the entire campus beautiful once again. The school had a Board of Trustees that included William M. Fincke of New York, stepson of Ellsworth, and local entrepreneurs and community activists Frank A. Seiberling of Akron, Warren Bicknell and John L. Severance of Cleveland. The catalog concludes that with such strong backing and in such a setting, “a high and fine educational purpose will be accomplished.” Estimated total costs for a boarding student in 1916 was placed at $255 per year.

Morley Cottage on Hudson Street from the 1916 Catalog.
It was a faculty residence.
The photos that accompany this article, except for the one of Harlan N. Wood, are from the 1916 catalog of Western Reserve Academy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Louis Bromfield, The Chamay Brothers and WRA

Patric Chamay '56, senior photo
Sometime around 2008, Bob Carabell of the Class of 1956 asked what had become of Patric Chamay ’56 and whether he had a connection with Louis Bromfield.That sent me to the files to learn more about the two Chamay brothers, both of whom attended WRA in the 1950’s. I learned that they were indeed sent here by their guardian, notable Ohio author and conservationist, Louis Bromfield (1896-1956). It seemed that it would make a good story for our WRA Magazine or a blog post, but instead we are making a short documentary that should appear on Hudson Community Television (HCTV) sometime this fall.
Inside the big House in Louis Bromfield's library.
To the left of the desk is the framed certificate that he received in 1925
for winning the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Early Autumn.
This summer we went down to Malabar Farm State Park in Richland County where the Chamay brothers grew up, and the place they called home, until the untimely death of Louis Bromfield early in 1956. Patric, who was supposed to graduate that June, was denied a place at graduation because of a discipline problem. He may have been under some stress caused by the death of his guardian. In any case, he went to on to attend Carnegie Tech, then pursued a career as a mountaineer, dying in 1968 while trying to scale Mount Rainier. The other brother, Anthony, who never graduated from WRA, is probably still alive. Ellen Bromfield Geld, the last surviving daughter of Louis Bromfield, has a section on the Chamay brothers and their socialite mother in her book, The Heritage. We hope to interview her this fall.
Nick Zlantanovich of Hudson Community Television taping my
commentary atop Mount Jeez, the popular overlook of Malabar Farm
(seen behind me).
We did extensive video taping at Malabar Farm in July, both outside and inside the Big House that Bromfield built in 1939. We have contacted researchers at the Malabar Farm Foundation who have made some rare photos available to us and are interested in the Hudson Cable production. We also taped at “The Mount”, the home of novelist Edith Wharton, who corresponded with Bromfield during the 1930’s when both had elaborate gardens at their respective chateaus in France.
In Edith Wharton's formal garden at "The Mount" in
Lenox, MA, where I taped video in mid-July
It is hoped that this program, which will run about 30 or 40 minutes, will be on Hudson Community Television (HCTV) late this fall. We plan to do another taping at Malabar Farm in late September to get some autumn color, and perhaps meet Ellen Bromfield Geld, who is coming from her home in Brazil for a program there. This is a story that has waited some 60 years to be told, and we hope to do it justice.