Presidente Hi-Yes

Fremont, Ohio: home of Rutherford B. Hayes, one of the eight American presidents born in the state of Ohio, and the present location of the Hayes Presidential Center. The center contains a library containing Hayes’s own 12,000 volume personal collection, in addition to over 70,000 other titles collected over time with the library’s modest acquisitions budget. The library’s primary emphasis is Guilded Age history, as well material to aid genealogy research. The library also collects archival items related to Hayes’s military and political career.

Adjacent to the columned library and museum is the Hayes family residence, a 31 room mansion named Spiegel Grove, after the 30 acre wood that surrounds it. In his retirement, Hayes had the house expanded to resemble Thomas Jefferson’s design for Monticello.

Hayes is remembered as a domestic leader first and foremost. His only notable activity in matters of state was the peace he brokered in South America after the War of the Triple Alliances, in which he successfully prevented Paraguay from being subsumed into Brazil and Argentina. The war had been initiated by Paraguay in 1864 when it invaded both Brazil and Argentina in an attempt to conquer additional territory up and down La Plata Basin. Despite its minuscule size compared to its neighbors, Paraguay boasted an enormous standing army throughout the 19th century, as was the prerogative of its dictatorial rulers who governed the country as thought it were a vast private estate. Brazil and Argentina conscripted an army of hundreds of thousands to meet Paraguay and push her back across the Paraná River, before finally taking Asunción and killing Francisco Solano López.

After the war, Argentina aimed to split Paraguay between itself and Brazil. Brazil wanted to preserve it to act as a buffer with Argentina. Hayes negotiated a treaty wherein Brazil would agree to recognize a newly formed Paraguayan government and replace the pre-war border under the condition that Brazilian vessels be given rights to navigate the Paraguay River. Peace with Argentina was arbitrated in a second treaty by Hayes that gave significant territory in the Pampas to Buenos Aires, but which preserved much of Paraguay’s northern claims to Gran Chaco. In recognition and gratitude of the favorable terms Hayes was able to secure for them, the Paraguayans named one of its new land departments “Presidente Hayes”, a expansive grassy plain stretching between the Pilcomayo and Paraguay Rivers and which is today only sparsely populated by 81,876 farmers and herders.

The episode constitutes only a minor entry in Hayes’s presidential legacy. He is mostly remembered in the United States for ending reconstruction. This was thanks to the Compromise of 1877, where, in exchange for the presidency which he won narrowly by one elector and without the popular majority, Hayes agreed to remove federal troops from the Southern states, thus ending the Civil War occupation.

Discovery of Caves

Beneath Ohio is a more or less continuous stone aquifer in which there is trapped an ancient flow of water from Ice Age glaciers. The composition of the aquifer varies between limestone in the west and sandstone in the east, splitting the state almost perfectly in half. On the limestone side, Ohioans have discovered significant caves carved into the earth. This is a feature of carbonate stone of the aquifers there: the mild acidity of the ground water dissolves the limestone and causes fissures to form in the bedrock. These fissures expand into pockets, and then into caves, and then sometimes into vast caverns. There are probably several dozen such caves throughout western Ohio. I can report that no fewer than seven of these caves have been made into roadside attractions; and so I feel prompted to say something about them for this series, but honestly, all of these cave sites seem terribly unexceptional to me, and as tourist sites, they appear to be rather neglected and poorly maintained. I could speculate upon the figurative significance of caves generally, how they present an entirely new realm existing separately yet coinciding with the world above. I could ruminate upon the experiential uniqueness of being in caves: the temperature and atmospheric pressure, rock formations, water flow, the smell, the sense of being sealed in a vault and hermetically insulated. After doing some the research, I’ve found little worth reporting. I was, however, intrigued by one thing: the caves’ discovery. Every cave has a discovery story that reads like the uncovering of a mystery. Here I shall briefly recount the finding of each of the attraction caves in Ohio:

Indian Trails Caverns
Not known how it was discovered. Wyandot Indians were dwelling in the caverns when white settlers began entering Ohio. Archeological excavation of the caves has uncovered evidence that the caves have been intermittently used by humans since Paleolithic times.
Crystal Cave
“In 1887 a Mr. Gustav Heineman emigrated from Baden-Baden, Germany to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, where he established a winery. In 1897 he dug a well beneath his winery and discovered a large vug at a depth of 30 feet (10 m). On exploring the cave he found the cave walls covered with extremely large and well-developed tabular crystals identified as celestine, a form of strontium sulfate.
The original cave was much smaller than it is today, as much of the celestite was mined for the manufacturing of fireworks. However, Mr. Heineman decided to stop the mining and turn the property into a tourist attraction. Due to the Crystal Cave, the Heineman winery survived prohibition because of tourist revenues.” (Wikipedia)
Olentangy Caverns
“There is evidence that the Wyandotte Indians used these caverns as a haven from the weather and from their enemies, the Delaware Indians. One of the large rooms contains “Council Rock”, used by the Wyandotte’s for tribal ceremonies. The first white man believed to have entered the caverns was J. M. Adams, a member of a westbound wagon train that camped nearby in 1821. During the night one of his oxen broke loose and wandered off. In the morning the ox was found dead at the bottom of the entrance to the ancient Indian cavern. After exploring the entrance, Adams carved his name and date on the wall.” (olentangyindiancaverns.com)
Zane Caverns
Used by the Shawnee before the arrival of white settlers, and currently owned/operated by the Ohio band of the Shawnee tribe. Modern discovery of the cave occurred in 1892, when John Dunlap rescued a boy and a dog from a sinkhole.
Ohio Caverns
The tunnel system known today as the Ohio Caverns was discovered August 17, 1897 by Robert Noffsinger, a seventeen-year-old farmhand who worked on the land. After a heavy rain, Noffsinger found a sinkhole in the woods and, curious, decided to investigate. Noffsinger dug a few feet of soil until he hit the top of the ground’s limestone layer. After finding a crack in the limestone, Noffsinger broke through this rock as well. Immediately feeling the caverns’ 54 °F (12 °C) air, Noffsinger was even more curious. He returned later with an oil lantern and a rope and lowered himself into the ground, making him the first human in the Ohio Caverns.

Buried Treasure

There is no record of any plunder being confiscated from Morgan’s forces after the surrender, leading many to believe that the Confederates hid the spoils from their raiding somewhere in the vicinity of the surrender site. Nothing has ever been found, but people continue to comb the area fairly regularly with metal detectors in search of treasure. Such discoveries of buried riches are not uncommon in Ohio. A few weeks ago I wrote about the excavation at Ft. Recovery and the disinterment of the remains of the soldiers who died there. Not long after the discovery of the mass graves, a man was hoeing his garden in town when he struck a rotten wood box. The man opened it and found around nine hundred silver coins and Spanish gold doubloons. This was the paymaster’s box from which St. Claire paid his men. While under ambush, the secretary of the regiment must have hastily buried it and then either forgot its location or died in the battle, thus taking the secret of its location to the grave.

Treasure hunting is a popular hobby in Ohio. This is partly because Ohio is old. There are abundance of ghost towns and old settlements where treasure hunters can find rusty old tools and rare coins. But there are older places in America, to be sure. What distinguishes Ohio from, say, New England or the Old South is that the patterns of human settlement and habitation have since the very beginning been meticulously documented and archived. Treasure hunters have the Land Survey to thank for this. In Ohio, ownership of land can be traced back to its original allotment and sale. So if there is a local story about a farmer who buried his savings to hide it from Morgan’s raiders, and then died before he could dig it back up, one can still find his farm and reconstruct the property boundaries from 150 years ago.

Interest in treasure hunting is indeed exceptional in Ohio, as evidenced by the preponderance of Ohioans in treasure hunting forums, the numerous “diggers clubs” around the state, the stores that sell treasure hunting instruments and literature, and the existence of an actual publication(!) devoted exclusively to metal detecting in Ohio. For a lot of people it’s a preoccupation. The serious ones are very object focused: they’re mostly focused on discovering precious metal and historical context is only incidental. There are some, though, that immerse themselves in the historical research and try to chase down stories from the local lore about hidden fortunes and secret Indian treasure. I find I have a real affection the people who post their stories on treasurenet.com. For them there is a component of the past that is still alive and retrievable, but it is not apparent. It is buried and lying dormant beneath the visible surface of this world. The treasure hunter sees that there is richness that is not immediately perceivable but that can be partially recovered with accurate records, a little imagination, and a metal detector.

There is treasure to be found in this forest because this was once a place.

The Surrender Tree

Hidden off the side Hwy 518, just ten miles from the Pennsylvania border, is a stone monument and plaque commemorating the surrender of Confederate Brigadier General John Morgan, who, in the summer of 1863, led a 1,000 mile raid up the Ohio River, deep into Union territory. With a force of about 1,200 riders, Morgan destroyed railroads and telegraph lines, skirmished with local militias, and forced the Union to reallocate a portion of its forces away from the main front to chase him through Ohio. Morgan’s raid was notable for its boldness—he was operating hundreds of miles from the nearest confederate force without any hope of relief or resupply—but in the broader context of the Civil War it is remembered as a only minor action. Speaking just for the monument, it is probably interesting less for the event it memorializes and more for the twisting, winding story of its own strange history.

After rapidly advancing up the Ohio River valley, Morgan was out-maneuvered by Union forces on July 26, 1863 and finally captured. He surrendered his command to Gen. James Shackelford at the edge of a field beneath a cherry tree. This tree became known to locals as the surrender tree. For many years after the war the tree stood as an incidental monument to the surrender and to the raid, and it was apparently viewed as such by residents in the area who were proud of having playing a role in Morgan’s defeat. In the early 1900s the tree was cut down but was then quickly replaced by a stone monument erected by the state to officially memorialize the event and the place. For forty years the monument stood beside the stump of surrender tree. It is unclear how many people would have visited the site since it was located on private property and probably was not serviced by any sort of road access. Later in the century, the property’s owners refused to grant renewal of the state’s rights to maintain the monument on their land and demanded its removal. So the stone was moved in the 1950s to a roadside rest area off state route 518, about 200 yards east of the original site. There it stayed for another 50 years. In 1999, the Ohio Department of Transportation closed the rest area due to lack of an adequate septic system. The monument could no longer be visited and was gradually forgotten.

I’m not sure when, but the state historical society did eventually secure a new location and moved the stone from its place in the abandoned rest stop. Today it stands on a tiny plot of groomed land that appears to situated between a residential property and some sort of aging commercial lot, maybe a dairy or a cannery. There is nothing to announce the monument’s presence, no place to pull one’s car off of the road to visit it and nothing to inform the public about the true location of the surrender, which is now probably lost to memory. Today, the Morgan Surrender monument looks like—and for all practical purposes is—an oversize lawn ornament. It is an orphaned memorial, commemorating an event which lives on only in historical non-fiction and in state archives. I wonder if this in some way diminishes the reality event, the fact that there is no longer any concrete indicator to give testimony in physical space that this event happened, and that it can now only be thought of abstractly as a matter of narrated history. I also wonder about the life of the monument, which is now developing its own illustrious history, completely independent of the thing it is meant to signify. The surrender of Gen. John Morgan remains a static and dead period of time long past, but it’s memorial continues to peregrinate around the earth’s surface, accruing new particulates of meaning and incident.