Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Lance Corporal Charles F. Azara, Jr.

Lance Corporal Charles F. Azara, Jr. (USMC)

I grew up in Youngstown watching the Vietnam War on the evening news. Meanwhile, young men from Youngstown were serving, fighting and dying in Vietnam. The war was unpopular, and sadly, we took it out on the returning soldiers, who, living or dead, did not always receive the honor they deserve. Each year, on Memorial Day, I remember one of those who died, representing the sixty-four from Youngstown who made the ultimate sacrifice.

This year I focus on Lance Corporal Charles F. Azara, Jr. He served with H(otel) Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine
Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.

Charles F. Azara, Jr. was born to Charles F. Azara and Rose Adams Azara Ranno on September 8, 1942. He graduated from North High School in 1960, where he played football and was a member of the school band. After graduation, he worked for Strouss-Hirshberg, Simco Shoe, and then the Edward J. Debartolo Construction Company.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps in November of 1965 at the Cleveland recruiting office. After bootcamp, he was deployed in Vietnam at the end of May 1966. On August 24, 1966, he was on combat patrol in the mountains approximately 14 km north northwest of the An Hoa Airfield, a Marine Corps Combat Base in Quang Nam Province. At about 1100 hours local time, his patrol came under small arms fire and he received a gunshot wound to the neck from which he died before medevac could arrive, approximately at 1200 hours. He died less than a month before his 24th birthday.

Funeral services were held on Saturday September 3 at the Immaculate Conception Church followed by interment at Calvary Cemetery, where he lies at rest.

He was awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, and Vietnam Campaign medals. He served with honor, dying in action. His name appears on the Vietnam War Memorial on Panel 10E, Line 32. I honor and remember him, and all who died in service to our country.


Other servicemen remembered in this series:

SP4 Robert Thomas Callan

SP4 Patrick Michael Hagerty

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Shields Family

James H. Shields

I biked all over Youngstown during my teen years, often through Mill Creek Park, where I sometimes came out on Shields Road, running east and west through Boardman Township. I never gave a thought to where the name came from. Since then, I’ve learned that many of those streets are named after early families from the area. It turns out that this was true of Shields Road.

Thomas Shields, originally from Staunton, Virginia moved to Ohio in 1798. As early as 1800, he operated a mill known as Baird’s Mill on the site of what is now Lanterman’s Mill. His son, Andrew Shields was born October 18, 1808. At the time, Thomas, who first lived in Boardman Township, had a farm in Canfield Township, where Andrew was born. Later the family moved to the farm in Boardman Township, located astride Canfield Road and the westernmost part of Shields Road.

An early map of Mahoning County showing the property of Andrew Shields in northwest Boardman Township, between two properties owned by Elizabeth Lanterman

Andrew married Jane Price, daughter of an early West side family, in 1826. They had three children of whom James Howard was the eldest. Andrew was an industrious farmer and stockman who drove his own stock to Pittsburgh. Andrew lived on the farm until 1880. Jane lived until 1901.

James Howard was born November 12, 1840 on the farm, as many children of the day were. He followed in his father’s footsteps, driving cattle as far as Little Valley, New York from the time he was twelve. At thirteen, he went to Illinois to buy cattle, carrying $7,000 on his person, driving them all the way to Hudson, New York, an 87 1/2 day journey! At age 19, he settled down as a farmer and stockman in the Youngstown area, owning five farms altogether, with the Boardman Township farm his home, consolidating two other farms into his holdings.

He tried to enlist in the first company raised from Youngstown during the Civil War. He was rejected because he’d broken both arms at some point caring for animals, two of a number of accidents he had. His injuries didn’t prevent him from marrying Lois Starr, with whom he had three children, one of whom, Mary (Mate) drowned in Mill Creek at age eight. In 1883, he moved into Youngstown, living for a time on Glenwood, then at 1040 Mahoning Avenue. He set up a meat business in downtown Youngstown, at two locations before finally setting up at 129 E. Federal. He closed up the business in 1897 and returned to farming and shipping cattle. He was known as a cattleman throughout Ohio.

He was also politically active as chairman of the Democratic Party and elected Mahoning County Sheriff in 1898, serving a term ending in 1900. After this time he moved back to the farm. He also served on the Canfield Fair Board for many years. He lived on the farm until the death of Lois in 1914, moving in with his daughter, eventually relocating to Akron, where he passed after a stroke, on June 1, 1919. He is buried in Canfield Village Cemetery, in an unmarked grave. His obituary says “he was of genial disposition and made friends readily.”

The farm passed to his son Allora who only lived until 1926. I’ve not been able to determine what happened to the farm after Allora’s passing. He had three sons, Russell who died in 1930, James Howard, who worked at Isaly’s and died in 1987, and John Allen, who lived until 1992. A daughter Norma J. Shields Smith died in 2007.

The Shields family were among the early families to settle in the Boardman area and well known in farming and livestock circles in the Youngstown area. Today they are remembered by the road that bears their name.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Joe Flynn

Joe Flynn,” By ABC Network –, front of photo, back of photo, Public Domain.

For most of us, we remember actor Joe Flynn as the stuffed-shirt, bumbling Captain Wallace Burton Binghamton (or “Old Leadbottom”) whose characteristic response was “What is it, What, WHAT, WHAT!?” I grew up watching McHale’s Navy from 1962 to 1966 and I delighted in seeing how McHale (Ernest Borgnine) would find ways to work around or outfox Captain Binghamton in each episode.

Even though we laughed at Captain Binghamton, Joe Flynn was a source of pride for all of us who grew up in Youngstown. He was one of our own, and even though he had a successful career, often as the comic foil, he never forgot the place where he grew up. He was born in Youngstown, November 8, 1924, the son of Dr. Joseph A. and Gracie McGraw Flynn. He grew up on the North side and graduated from the Rayen School. He went on to spend a year at Notre Dame (according to The Vindicator obituary of July 20, 1974–Wikipedia says Northwestern) before three years in the Army Medical Corps during the war. He then went to the University of Southern California, majoring in political science.

His TV career goes back to the early days where he was in a sitcom, Yer Old Buddy, in 1948. He also appeared in a number of stage plays. He came back to Youngstown in 1950 and put his political science degree to work, making an unsuccessful run for the Ohio Senate, to represent Youngstown. In 1951, he was chosen to be the director of the Canfield Players, mounting successful productions of “Harvey,” “Antigone,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” and “Petticoat Fever.”

He starred in some horror productions, including The Indestructible Man with Lon Chaney, Jr. and some Alfred Hitchcock productions, but quickly realized that his best roles were comedic ones, often as the stuffy, bumbling figure. In all, he acted in over thirty Disney films including The Son of Flubber, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and The Love Bug and many others.

One of his early credits was in an episode of The Life of Riley in 1953. He was on a number of episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and 34 episodes of the Joey Bishop Show. He worked every year between 1953 and 1974 according to TMDB. Over his lifetime he played over 500 roles. None, however, was as recognized as his role as the self-important and incompetent Captain Binghamton. He played this role in 138 episodes (all but one) and in two McHale movies. Later, he co-starred with Tim Conway on the Tim Conway Show, playing the boss of a small airline

He returned often to Youngstown, visiting his family’s home on Elm Street. He helped with United Appeal community fund-raising efforts. His work in broadcasting earned him an Ohio Association of Broadcasting award. He was a regular at the Kenley Players in the early 1970’s. He was scheduled to perform there the week after he died.

Joe Flynn died on July 19, 1974. He went for an early morning swim in the pool at his home and was found dead, submerged in the water. He died of a heart attack at age 49. Yet his work outlasted him. He appeared in 1975 as Dean Higgins in The Strongest Man in the World and in voiceovers for the Disney animated film The Rescuers in 1977, as the voice of Mr. Snoops. I remember this being one of my son’s favorite videos.

He was not a sex symbol. He was a character actor who figured out what he could do well. He could make people laugh, often at him. Contrary to his often stuck-up characters, it seems that he was anything but in real life–humble enough to know what he was good at and never forgetting where he came from. He was married to the same woman, Shirley, at the time of his death, who he married in 1955.

We may have laughed at the characters Joe Flynn played but we were always proud of him. And he gave us the chance to enjoy his talents at the Kenley Players, where we could enjoy and applaud him in person. He understood the special bond between actor and audience. He never forgot us and perhaps this is a small way of doing the same for him, We remember, Joe Flynn.

*I’d like to thank Boardman native David Rickert for the suggestion of this post.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Japanese Footbridge by Lake Glacier

Japanese Footbridge across Calvary Run by Lake Glacier, Photo by Robert C. Trube, 2019. All rights reserved.

The Mill Creek MetroParks have numerous footbridges across creeks, ponds, and marshy areas, many constructed during the WPA years of the Depression, as well as a number more recently. One of my favorites is the little footbridge by the Lake Glacier Boat House spanning Calvary Run just short of where it flows into Lake Glacier. It is called “Japanese” in John Melnick’s The Green Cathedral (p. 105) and it is in the style of Japanese footbridges such as this one:

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on

I seem to recall that the Japanese footbridge by Lake Glacier was built when I was a small boy but I’ve not been able to track down the construction date. Growing up on the West side, my dad and I would often go for walks down to Lake Glacier, sometimes to go for a boat ride, or we would just stop and get some pop to drink. We would then cross the boat ramp walk across the bridge and up to West Glacier Drive.

I don’t know whether it is still the case but it was a popular place to take photos of wedding parties. At least it was in the late 1960’s when my brother got married (I’m in those pictures!). By the time we got married ten years later, Fellows Gardens, especially at the Glacier Overlook, was the popular place for wedding photos. In later years, we were at a wedding there and it seemed wedding parties were lined up for photos there, at the Gazebo, and other locations.

As I recall, the blue sky was reflecting on the lake on that late April day with all the greenery of spring just bursting forth. I can imagine what a gorgeous scene it would be in the fall when the trees across the lake are in full color. I also love this photo by Reva Evans Foy capturing the bridge and the Lake Glacier Boat House in winter:

Lake Glacier and Boat House in Winter, photo courtesy of Reva Evans Foy, used with permission.

This is just one of the many footbridges in the park. I love this one for its memories, and the exquisite simplicity of its construction that so fits in with and complements the natural beauty of the park. I think Volney Rogers would have liked it…

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Hugh A. Frost

Image Credit: Delta Heritage Project Exhibits|Hugh A. Frost

Hugh Frost was a prominent Black leader in Youngstown during the years I grew up there. He was a member, and eventually vice president of the Youngstown Board of Education during the years I was going through Youngstown Schools. At the time I was a student at Youngstown State, he was an assistant to the president at Youngstown State. Three times he ran for mayor of the City of Youngstown. He made history during his first run in 1967 as the first Black Republican candidate for mayor of a U.S. City. He also served in leadership roles in a number of community organizations.

He was born in Youngstown, September 29, 1926, the son of Anthony L. and Celie Jones Frost. He graduated from The Rayen School. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War Two and then attended Bluffton College, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in social sciences, lettering in football, basketball, and baseball, being invited to try out for several professional teams (Rams, Browns, Eagles, and Colts). He went on to earn a Masters Degree in Education and Psychology and pursued additional coursework at Western Reserve University, University of Dayton, and Youngstown State.

After a short stint in 1955 as membership secretary of the YMCA in Indianapolis, he returned to Youngstown in 1956 to serve as the Executive Director of the McGuffey Centre on Youngstown’s East Side, where he served until 1969, presiding over the construction of and move to its current facilities. He led a team of 17 staff and 200 volunteers engaged in a variety of community programs.

In 1963, he was the first Black member elected to the Youngstown Schools Board of Education, eventually serving as vice president. He took his position as assistant to the President of Youngstown State in 1969, serving under several presidents until 1984 to serve as an employment consultant. In 1987 Governor Richard Celeste appointed him to the regional Workers Compensation Review Board.

He served on a long list of local and national boards including the YMCA, the McGuffey Centre, and the Associated Neighborhood Centers. He was on the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He also served on a variety of community boards including the Red Cross, Youngstown Society for the Blind, Youngstown Playhouse, Mahoning County Drug Programs, Inc, and advisory boards of the Youngstown Speech and Hearing Center and the Salvation Army.

He received an equally long list of awards from the Youngstown Junior Chamber of Commerce (1961-1962), Rotary Club (1969) Bluffton College Outstand Alumnus (1970) and Hall of Fame (1975), Urban Family of the Year (1971), Buckeye Elks Lodge outstanding civic award (1973). He also received commendations from the Ohio Senate, Youngstown City Council, Youngstown City Schools, and Youngstown Area Urban League.

He married D. Lillian Benson on September 30, 1950. They had three sons and a daughter. Lillian was a school teacher at Lincoln Elementary, Madison Elementary and served as guidance counselor at East High School, South High School and Choffin Career Center. She was active as a member of the Mother’s Club at the McGuffey Centre, a Cub Scout Den Mother, the Northeast Ohio Homeowners Association and AKA Sorority. They were active members of Rising Star Baptist Church.

Hugh Frost died on July 23, 1998 in a one car accident on Route 616 in Coitsville Township. The reason for the accident was unknown, the car going off the road, hitting two trees. He was buried in the Tod Homestead Cemetery, where Lillian joined him in 2016.

He served as a community organizer, an educational leader, and political leader. He was widely sought out to serve on various boards, a recognition of his status in the community. Even though never elected as mayor, he made history in his 1967 candidacy. He chose community service over a possible sports career. His family life was recognized by the community. He not only served the Black community but all of Youngstown, including this Youngstown Schools and Youngstown State student. Thank you, Mr. Frost.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Wick Building

Screen capture of artist’s drawing of the proposed Wick Building, The Youngstown Daily Vindicator, November 19, 1908.

I’m sure I walked by the Wick Building (now Wick Tower) numerous times when I was working downtown. It was the building you passed just before Strouss’. I don’t think I gave it much thought. I’m not sure I ever looked up and realized what a tall (for Youngstown) structure it was. Some posts by Charles Curry in the Western Reserve History Group on Facebook called my attention to the beginnings of this building including the Vindicator article from which the graphic above was found.

Aside from a brief mention in an article on the Erie Terminal, I’ve never written on this structure which deserves far more attention than at least I have given it. When it was built, it was the tallest structure in Youngstown at 184 feet and thirteen (not twelve) stories, to be surpassed in 1929 by Central (later Metropolitan and most recently First National) Tower on the Square. It was designed in the style of the Chicago School by one of the most distinguished architects of the time, Daniel Burnham of D. H. Burnham and Company of Chicago. He not only designed buildings all over the country including Marshall Fields in Chicago and the Pennsylvania Station in Pittsburgh, but he was a city planner who developed a plan for Chicago as well as other major cities including San Francisco, Cleveland, and Baltimore. The structure was built with Cambria Steel from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, faced with red brick, and decorated with terra cotta. One of its distinctives is the row of arches above the windows at the crown of the building. The building is registered as of 1980 in the National Registry of Historic Places.

The building was on the site of W. Federal and Phelps, replacing the old building formerly occupied by the Wick National Bank which had been consolidated with the Dollar Savings and Trust, just down the street. The building was purchased by Myron Wick for the Wick Brothers Trust Company, whose money was behind the construction of the new building, including funds from industrialist George Dennick Wick, who perished on the Titanic. The building was the same width as the old but extended 110 feet deep on Phelps. The article announcing the building said no expense would be spared on marble, mahogany woodwork, and ironwork. It would have modern, high-speed elevators and movable partitions on each floor allowing for various office configurations. It was ready for occupancy on April 1, 1910.

The Wick Brothers Trust and other Wick businesses occupied the building for many years. Later on, Wick Brothers became City Trust and Savings Bank, renting out the upper floors to other tenants. The building was sold to Burdman Brothers for $230,000 in 1969. They invested over $1 million in mechanical and interior renovations between 1988 and 1993 anticipating selling the building to Phar-Mor for a headquarters building. Sadly, as Phar-Mor fell into scandal, Burdman Brothers were not able to capitalize on their investment and in the end donated the building as well as a parking lot to the City of Youngstown.

The City of Youngstown managed the property until 2005 despite repeated offers by attorney Percy Squires to purchase the building. Repairs piled up but tenancy rose to 72 percent, helped by several city departments. The city finally sold the building in 2005 to Lou Frangos, a Cleveland developer for $125,000. He had plans to renovate the building at a cost of $13 million for student housing but was unable to secure the needed financing.

In 2012 Dominic Marchionda, representing the NYO Property Group, purchased the building for $150,000 with plans to convert it into 33 apartments and four extended stay suites along with a first floor restaurant. The renovations were completed and the building, re-christened The Wick Tower, was opened in 2015. The building is managed by LY Properties and a visit to the website can give you some sense of the facilities. Sadly, the developer, Dominic Marchionda, has faced numerous legal problems and owes money to the state on various projects including The Wick Tower.

Distinctive architecture. Youngstown’s second tallest building. A connection with one of Youngstown’s leading families. A part of Youngstown’s downtown renaissance. One hopes this 113 year old building, obviously one with good “bones,” will continue to be well-cared for and grace the downtown landscape.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — When WHOT Became 1330 AM

On April 15, 1963, sixty years ago, the four ads appearing above, were scattered through the pages of the Youngstown Vindicator. Most of us grew up associating WHOT with 1330 on the AM dial. For most of us, our radios were permanently set to 1330, as we listened to the rock ‘n’ roll hits of the day. George Barry, Dick Thompson, Johnny Kay, and Boots Bell, and the other “Good Guys” who later joined them were DJ personalities not only on the radio but at dances throughout the Valley.

These ads actually represented a big change for WHOT. Myron Jones acquired the station in 1955, broadcasting at 1570 AM from a low power station. Located at the far end of the radio dial, at that time, meant you could only broadcast during the daytime. So how would we listen to rock ‘n’ roll on the earphone that came with our transistor radio at night? The only alternatives were stations in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, if we could get them. In 1959, its sister FM station, then WRED, and later WHOT-FM, still broadcasting under this call sign at 101.1 FM.

In 1963, the 1330 radio frequency became available and WHOT snapped it up, moving to a 24 hour format. Remember “Big Al Knight”? He wouldn’t have been possible without this change. WHOT firmly established itself as one of the top TOP 40 stations in the country.

Photo by cottonbro studio on

The “twist” in the ad is a clever play on words. Most radios at the time had a “dial” with a needle or pointer that you moved by twisting a nob. Most of us just turned the knob until we found 1330 on the dial and left it there. Our car radios also had buttons you could use to set the radio to tune to your favorite stations and we’d set one to 1330.

But “twist” was also a popular dance in the early 1960’s, popularized by Chubby Checker, who you could hear on WHOT. Here’s a fun video to bring back memories:

The Twist – Chubby Checker

WHOT continued to broadcast on the AM dial until 1990, when it moved to the former WFMJ’s 1390 frequency. There is no longer a WHOT on the AM dial but WHOT-FM carries on the top 40 tradition. One other tidbit I discovered is that Johnny Kay and Dick Thompson worked together until 2007. After retiring from WHOT, both of them went to Salem’s WSOM where they worked until their “second” retirement in 2007. The two had been together since 1961, when Johnny Kay joined Dick Thompson at WHOT. Johnny Kay died in 2014 and Dick Thompson in 2017. Boots Bell, another of the good guys came to WHOT in 1959. He passed away of a heart attack in 1993. I’ve not heard what happened to George Barry.

But sixty years ago marked a big change for these guys who were joined by people like Jerry Starr and Smoochie Causey who helped fill the broadcast schedule when they moved to a 24/7 format.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Ralph Ellis

Lanterman’s Mill by Ralph Ellis. Photo courtesy of Ted Barnhart (modified from original)

Many of us who grew up in Youngstown at one time or another have been enthralled by the view of Lanterman’s Mill and Falls, viewed from the north looking south up the Mill Creek gorge. Perhaps no one was more enthralled with this view than Ralph Ellis, who painted over 800 copies of the Mill during his lifetime, including the one above, owned by Ted Barnhart of Byesville, Ohio. It was originally owned by Frederic Theodore O’Connor who lived on North Maryland Avenue in Youngstown. He was the instructor of a Masonic Class at the Argus Lodge 545 in Canfield, of which Ralph Ellis was a member in 1945. The painting was presented to Mr. O’Connor at the conclusion of the class, passed on to his daughter, the mother of Ted Barnhart, upon his death. The painting is 18″ x 24″ on a wood panel.

Ralph Ellis was born in Elmira, New York on May 22, 1885, son of Victor and Rachel Crook Ellis. He moved to Youngstown in 1909 and was employed as a sign painter and painted murals for many commercial establishments in the city. He formed the Ellis Art Club for other painters, that met in the studio behind his home. He was also an accompanist, playing at the Opera House on the Square. Among the stars with whom he performed was Sarah Bernhardt. He also accompanied silent movies and loved playing the “chase” scenes!

He was active in Masonry Work, as a member of the Western Star Lodge 21, F & AM. This lodge was originally in Canfield and moved to Youngstown, the Argus Lodge taking its place. His largest Lanterman’s Mill painting was a 28 foot by 16 foot mural for the Masonic Temple. He also painted murals on the four walls of a large meeting room on the third floor of the WPA Memorial, built in 1937. The building housed a branch of the Reuben McMillan Library on the first floor along with a theatre where movies were shown, also used for community activities. The second floor housed the American Legion and Ladies Auxiliary. The Argus Lodge used the third floor, and hence the commission to fellow Masonic Brother Ellis. Here is a description of the mural from The History of the Argus Lodge:

The mural in the East depicted the Trial of the Iron Monger before King Solomon. Many of the characters in the mural bore the resemblance of members of the lodge who had given their time and talents to the craft. The other walls depicted the Tyler’s Gate, the Sun in the South, the Sword, the Pot of Incense, the Naked Heart, and King Solomon’s Temple with a path that, because of the optical illusion, seemed to lead to the Temple, no matter from which angle it was viewed.

The work took Ellis two years to complete with his wife keeping him company many weekends.

Sadly, the murals have been covered with dry wall with several businesses currently using the building.

Ralph Ellis went on to paint every nook and cranny of his beloved Mill Creek Park for many years. He passed away at the age of 80 of pneumonia on September 27, 1965. Beyond his obituary in the Vindicator on September 28, 1965 and the Argus Lodge History, there is little information that I could find on him. If others have paintings by him, it would be wonderful to see images. The Masonic Temple closed in 2016 (although it was used for a film in 2022). It would be interesting to know if Ellis’s mural has survived and if there are any efforts to preserve it.

[I would like to acknowledge my appreciation to Ted Barnhart, who suggested the article and provided the picture of the Ellis painting as well as a copy of Ellis’s obituary.]

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – The Passing Fad of Coueism

Émile Coué

“Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”

If you were a fan of the Pink Panther movies, you will remember this line. In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Commissioner Dreyfus is in an mental health hospital, having been driven crazy by his Inspector Clouseau. His “therapy” is to repeat the phrase on a regular basis, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Of course, it only works until Clouseau shows up.

Fifty-odd years earlier, people around Youngstown were repeating this very sentence as a result of a series of excerpts from the work of French psychologist Émile Coué. Beginning December 7, 1922, the Vindicator printed portions from his book, Self Mastery Through Auto-Suggestion. Each day in the Vindicator, short excerpts from his work would appear on the front page, like this one from December 9:

The basic idea was that positive thoughts could overcome whatever may ail you. People were encouraged to repeat to themselves “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” twenty times or more. Coué believed that two selves existed in every person and that positive thoughts could overcome bad thoughts and that by auto-suggestion, a form of hypnosis, these positive thoughts could result in the healing of both physical and psychological maladies. Underlying this idea was the belief that ideas occupying the mind can become reality. He didn’t preach against medical treatments but believed his auto-suggestions could enhance other healing measures.

Title Page of Self Mastery from Internet Archive

It may be that the publication of these excerpts were timed to go along with Coué’s visit to the United States from France in early 1923. As far as I know, he never visited Youngstown. But for a time, his ideas took Youngstown and other parts of the nation by storm–and like a fast-moving storm front, they passed. A Boston Herald investigation six months after found that while most “healed” by the Coué method felt better initially, they relapsed into their previous ailments soon after. In addition, much of the medical established shunned him, if the could not openly oppose him.

While have heard of Coué today, his signature phrase has passed passed into the culture. The Wikipedia article on Coué lists twenty-one instances in literature and film where it is used between 1922 and 2012. One wouldn’t dream of seeing similar material in what is left of today’s paper, but little articles of “positive thought” were not uncommon on the editorial and other pages of the Vindicator in the 1920’s. It was a different time.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Devil Strips

© Robert C Trube, 2023

Not long after we moved into our current home in central Ohio, I asked a neighbor a question about putting trash onto our devil strip. When I received a quizzical look, I realized he was trying to figure out what I was talking about. So I said, “You know, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. The devil strip.” He responded, “Oh, you mean the tree lawn.”

In that moment I realized two things. One was, “We’re not in Youngstown anymore.” The other was that what I assumed was a universal term for that strip of grass might be unique to the part of Ohio I grew up in.

A Harvard University blog devoted to regional English cites usages exclusively in northeast Ohio from Youngstown to Cleveland to Akron, stating that “[The term] is known throughout the Youngstown, Ohio, area.” The Urban Dictionary states that the devil strip refers to “The grassy area between the street and the sidewalk. This term is unique to the Akron, Ohio area.”

It’s not quite that simple, actually. References to the term have been found as early as 1883 in Cleveland, Ohio referring to the construction of a strip of land between street car lines going in the opposite direction, “known by the significant rather than elegant name of the devil’s strip.” The next earliest reference was in 1887 occurring in Toronto, Canada, describing the construction of devil’s strips:

The sub-grade is carefully prepared, levelled, and rolled, if found necessary, for solidification.  The kerbs are placed in position, either being set in concrete or gravel.  The subsoil is drained by four-inch tile drains running parallel with the kerb in three rows, one under each kerb, and one under the devil’s strip, or centre of the roadway, the former making connections with the catch-water basins.

If electric car tracks are to be laid, the sub-grade must be excavated to twelve inches extra in the track allowance, this being then filled in with six inches of ballast and compacted.

Even the Akron Beacon Journal acknowledges an 1890 article in its own paper referring to Cleveland:

“Mayor Gardner ordered Supt. Schmitt to stop all traffic on Woodland avenue street railroad from Wilson to East Madison for failure to obey State law which gave Cleveland [the] right to compel street railroads to pave a strip 16 feet wide. This meant all space between the tracks, the devil strip and two feet on the outside.”

The same article notes that at one time the term was widely used throughout Canada and in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa. But northeast Ohio seems to be the only place where it stuck.

So, how did the term go from referring to the strip between street car lines and the strip between street and sidewalk? The Beacon Journal article cites an Athens Daily Messenger from 1912 with this editorial comment:

“There are no double track street car lines in Athens — yet. But the proverbial ‘Devil’s strip’ is here just the same. Did you ever note how often, between a well-kept lawn and its adjacent sidewalk and a well-paved street, you see a strip of unkempt stony and weed-grown ground? It mars the otherwise beautiful street, especially when a dead tree or two helps to add to the neglect of this ‘devil’s strip.’

This suggests why it was called a “devil’s strip.” The WordSense Dictionary definition of “devil strip” adds this insight:

devil + strip, from the area’s status as a no man’s land between private and public property, devil or devil’s in place names meaning “barren, unproductive and unused”.
Compare devil’s lane (“narrow area between two parallel fences”), devil’s footstep (“barren spot of land”).

Others have suggested that it is a strip of land that a property owner must maintain and pay taxes on but that the city can dig up or plant trees on. The “devil” in this case is the city or the tax collector. I can see how this explanation would appeal to a lot of Youngstowners.

So what else is the “devil strip” called? A Wikipedia article on “Road Verge” lists 46 terms and where they are used. Others used in Ohio include: berm, boulevard, curb lawn, park strip, street lawn, and the one we use where I now live, tree lawn.

Devil strips play an important role in separating pedestrians from vehicles. Curbs and trees provide at least some protection from vehicles straying from the road, and more separation of foot traffic from road traffic. It also puts one a bit further away from getting splashed by vehicles going through puddles in the rain. We have some areas lacking sidewalks and tree lawns and, sadly, I know of pedestrian-vehicle accidents along these areas.

As for bragging rights, I’d like to think that, like cookie tables, Youngstown was first. It just sounds like a term Youngstowners would think up. I’ve found no evidence for that, but I still like to think that it is a name that just fits Youngstown.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!