Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pot Roast


The roast on our stove, with an hour to go. Yes, we covered it after taking this picture.

It could be a brisk fall day when you were out playing touch football with your friends or a cold winter afternoon after you had delivered your papers. You come into a house pervaded by the savory smell of a pot roast simmering on the stove. You can’t wait to sit down to the dinner, and mom tells you it still has an hour to go.

That’s the smell driving me wild as I write this post, that has been filling our house all afternoon. Just before writing, I took the picture above, having helped my wife chop potatoes, carrots, and onions to cook for the last hour or so–only an hour more to endure of having my mouth water before we get to sit down and enjoy melt in your mouth meat with all the fixings. Maybe writing this will distract me.

This is another one of those perfect working class meals–hearty, filling, and inexpensive. The pot roast was an inexpensive cut of meat, a chuck roast or shoulder roast, tenderized by those hours of slow cooking. Potatoes, carrots, onions, flour, salt and pepper, garlic and other seasonings like thyme (we use a spice mix that includes marjoram and cinnamon as well). We use a half and half mix of water and beef broth, which brings out the meat flavor.

We start by dredging the meat in a mix of flour, salt and pepper, and then browning it in a pan. Then we put it into our cook pot covering the meat with our mix of water and beef broth and seasonings to simmer for three to three and a half hours on our stove top. (Some bake in their ovens.) Then we add the potatoes, carrots, and onions, and some additional seasoning and cook for another hour. We don’t like to add these at the start because we want them tender, not mushy. We split the servings and have dinner ready for the next day as well.

The basic test of doneness is the meat is fork tender–you can cut it with your fork. What’s Cooking America recommends that the internal temperature of your pot roast should be 180° F.

It is amazing how smells bring back memories as well as make your mouth water and your stomach growl. I think of all those times I came home to those savory smells, and remember my mom who had to think up dinner every day.

Well, the roast is about ready so I better stop. Have I made your mouth water yet?

I suspect there are as many ways to do a roast as there are readers of this post. Would love to hear your special tips!


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Forts


Provincial Archives of Alberta [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Staring at the snow piles around my driveway after shoveling snow yesterday, I was reminded of the snow forts we used to build as kids in Youngstown during those winters when we would get all those snows off of Lake Erie.

The best snows for snow forts were the heavier ones because the snow would pack easier. Sometimes we would just mound up and pack the snow into walls. Or we would get a sturdy box–a wooden box was best–and make snow bricks by packing the snow in the box, then turning it over and adding it to our wall. This allowed us to make curves, or even igloos. Sometimes we would create tunnels to crawl through. If it didn’t snow more than a few inches, you’d end up using all the snow in your yard for your snow fort!

Of course, the reason for a snow fort was to have epic snow ball fights. When you had a snow fort, you didn’t have to make your snow balls one at a time during the fight. You could stockpile them, even let them get hard overnight. Then the unsuspecting neighbor kid who walked by would get clobbered.

Or you could do staged battles–a capture the fort sort of thing. I suspect forts got captured fairly often, unless you had more defenders than attackers. Snow balls really aren’t that good at stopping people!

The strangest thing is that we would often be out there for hours at a time. I don’t remember all the warnings about wind chill. I’m convinced that our nerve endings didn’t fully mature until we were adults. We’d be digging and building and battling in the snow and think nothing of the cold. Sure mom bundled us up in snow pants and coat, scarves, hats, gloves and boots (remember the boots you would pull on over your shoes?). Now, I’m out there snow shoveling for a half-hour, and I’m ready to come in for a hot shower and some coffee.

In my neighborhood, there weren’t many of us who went to ski resorts in the winter. But we found plenty of things to keep us busy–ice skating, sledding, or building snow forts and having snow battles. For a good snow fort, all you needed was snow, a shovel, a sturdy box, and your hands. What could be simpler or more fun?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Blizzard of 1978

blizzard of '78

Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

As I write, most of Ohio is bracing for a significant snowfall. Recently I wrote about one of the historic snowstorms that hit Youngstown, the great Thanksgiving storm of 1950. Many of us may have heard about that one from our parents, or were young children at the time. Many of us, however, lived through the Blizzard of ’78 that struck the morning of January 26 and continued through the 27th.

Three different low pressure systems collided over western Ohio in a phenomenon known as bombagenesis (what a cool word!), creating an intense low pressure system with record low barometric pressures, 28.34 inches at the Youngstown airport. Wind gusts in some places reached 100 mph. When the storm hit, I had been living away from Youngstown for a couple years, and ended up stranded in Bowling Green, Ohio for five days until I-75 was opened in northwest Ohio. Drifting there was so bad some trucks were covered with snow, and that area of Ohio was perhaps the hardest hit.

The storm hit Youngstown hard as well. I went back and read the Vindicator accounts of what happened locally and thought I would trace this from January 26-28.

youngstown vindicator google news archive search (1)

Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 26, 1978 via Google New Archives

Thursday, January 26, 1978

The storm hits in the early morning hours. At 4:30 am, temperatures were 43 degrees. By 7:00 am, they had dropped to 16 with wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour and driving snow and white out conditions. Power lines arced, light poles fell, one traffic light at Market and Myrtle ended up hanging a few feet off the ground. Power outages were reported along Mahoning Avenue, in the Wickliffe area and parts of the east side. Outages set off 25-30 burglar alarms, keeping police busy. Windows were blown out of homes and businesses including the Hills store in the Lincoln Knolls plaza and Gray Drugs windows in the Boardman Plaza. WHOT had to operate on auxiliary power and WBBW lost power at various points during the day. The postal service cancelled mail deliveries and all schools including Youngstown State were closed that day.

youngstown vindicator google news archive search (2)

Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 27, 1978 via Google News Archives

Friday, January 27, 1978

The Vindicator reported that at least 200 area residents had been evacuated to shelters, many in the Newton Falls area. Others slept at their place of work, unable to return home. Ohio Edison reported 2335 local residents without power and had over 200 linemen at work in the bitterly cold conditions. Statewide, roughly 150,000 to 175,000 were without power. Temperatures were around zero with wind chills at -30 to -40 degrees. Interstates in the western part of the state were closed as well as the Ohio Turnpike. Governor James A. Rhodes, emotionally moved at times spoke about people who were displaced:

“They are helpless victims of something they have no control over…They are going through something tonight that none of us would want to go through.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 28, 1978 via Google News Archive

Saturday, January 28, 1978

Ohio Edison reported that all but 125 homes had power and said the remaining outages would be restored that day. Roads were slowly getting opened up. In many cases a single lane was opened on some stretches. The Ohio Turnpike was still closed west of the Lorain-Elyria exit, west of Cleveland. Edwin Powell, Vindicator circulation manager claimed that most people still received Thursday and Friday’s papers, in some case, both being delivered on Friday. He said it was a no-win situation, some being upset that papers weren’t delivered, others that the kids were out delivering in that weather–this was when youth still delivered newspapers. Carriers reported that the worst problems were the wind blowing snow in their face and holding onto their papers and getting them into their sacks. As conditions improved and roads got dug out, authorities got a better idea of the storm’s toll. At this point, the Vindicator reported that 18 people statewide had died, including a Lordstown resident who lost power and was found dead in his home of a heart attack. (Later on, the death toll in Ohio was revised to 51, and 70 total in the path of the storm).

Because of the wind and cold, this storm is ranked the worst storm in weather history in Ohio. In some place, wind chills were -70 degrees. In Youngstown, over a foot of snow fell. Statewide, 5000 National Guardsmen were mobilized to rescue stranded residents and drivers (one truck driver whose truck was covered with snow survived a week in his cab before being found). Damage estimates from the storm were $210 million.

One of the interesting debates is whether there was a spike in childbirths nine months later — “blizzard babies.” The evidence is mixed, but I think most of us like the idea of couples finding this particular way to stay warm! However you do it, stay warm and safe this weekend!

I’d love to hear your blizzard memories! Let us know if you were a “blizzard baby!”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Lake Cohasset


Lake Cohasset in Autumn, Photo by Bob Trube

“Cohasset” was significant to me in two respects. My grandparents, on my father’s side, lived on Cohasset Drive, at that time a beautiful tree-lined street, that on the west side of Glenwood Avenue dead ends on Mill Creek Park above Lake Cohasset, which I have always regarded as the most scenic of Mill Creek Park’s lakes.

There are a number of different definitions of the word “Cohasset,” all of which fit Lake Cohasset. Wikipedia states that it was an Algonquian name, a contraction of “Conahasset,” meaning “long rocky place.” Britannica’s definition is similar, saying the word derives from the Algonquian names “Quonohassit (Conohasset)” and meaning “rocky promontory” or “high place.” Carol Potter and Rick Shale, in Historic Mill Creek Park, state that the word means ” ‘place of the hemlocks or pines’ in the language of the Delaware Indians” (who are one of the Algonquian peoples). Similarly, the 20th Century History of Youngstown and Mahoning County says the word means “place of pines.” There are rocky bluffs on both sides of  this long, narrow lake, which is lined by hemlocks and other pines. However you define it, the name fits! And like many place names in Ohio (itself a Seneca name), it comes from the native peoples who were here before us.

Lake Cohasset, covering 28 acres, was the first artificial lake in the park, created by a dam at its north end in 1897, shortly after Volney Rogers helped create Mill Creek Park. The dam is 23 feet high, and the spillway 147 feet in length. Volney Rogers described the dam construction as follows:

“The foundation is a hard, fine grained sandstone rock, and this was excavated by pick only to a depth of from eighteen inches to four feet across the gorge, the width and length of walls and abutments. This excavation was filled with masonry of sandstone and cement. The walls are of cut stone, rock face, both beds and joints of every stone being broken. The result is a simple, strong, durable and appropriate structure, whose waterfall and accompanying scenery will delight visitors for long, long ages.”

More than 120 years later, visitors still delight in both the structure and accompanying scenery!

In the early days the park purchased a naphtha boat offering round trip excursions for 10 cents, in 1898. The boat was called the Narama. People would hold moonlight parties on the Lake. In 1924, a bathing pool and bath house were opened up on the south end of Lake Cohasset. Howard C. Aley writes in A Heritage to Share:

“A new bathing pool at the head of Lake Cohasset was opened to the public, with bathing suits in all sizes and colors available for rent at 20 cents an hour, plus 10 cents for dressing room and towel. Sunday bathing was available for those who could not swim during the week.”

Boating, swimming and fishing in Lake Cohasset have long been banned, as they are currently. One of the things that contributes to the serenity of the place is the lack of activity on the lake. Hiking on the trails that run along either side of the lake allows one to view the Lake in all its beauty throughout the year. The old East Drive above the lake is now converted to a hiking and biking trail, while the West Drive remains open for automobiles. In recent years 42 bird species have been observed around the lake.

The lake was dredged in 1949 and as far as I know, has not been since. One of the recommendations following high E. coli levels in the Mill Creek watershed that led to closure of all three lakes in 2015 was the dredging of Lake Cohasset due to sediment buildup. At this time, no further action has been taken.

Volney Rogers wrote of Lake Cohasset in A Partial Description of Mill Creek Park, Youngstown, Ohio:

“The vistas from both drives, and from the foot-paths present some of the most charming park scenes in America….

The cliffs and bluffs around the lake, and in view from its waters are clothed with lichens, mosses, ferns, wild flowers, and shrubs, as well as trees, and as a whole present one of Nature’s very best lake borders.”

This is one of the treasures of Youngstown that I hope the Mill Creek Metroparks leadership will exercise good stewardship to preserve. The views and the natural beauty of this setting that Rogers are those I remember from my youth and have treasured on visits back home. I hope they will be there for the “long, long ages” of which Rogers wrote.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Butler Institute of American Art


Lorinda Dixon [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

The Butler is 100 years old this year! In 1919, the Butler Institute of American Art was dedicated, named after industrialist, author and philanthropist Joseph G. Butler, Jr., who contributed the funds to establish the museum. The original museum building, designed by architects McKim, Mead, and White, is an architectural gem and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Butler always felt that American artists had been overshadowed by those from Europe. As an art lover, he assembled a significant collection at his Wick Avenue home, that he intended would form the beginning of the collection of the museum he envisioned. Much of this was lost in a fire in 1917, but by then, plans for the museum were already underway. In 1919, Butler helped dedicate the first museum in the country devoted to American art.

One of the conditions that Butler set when he established the museum is that it would operate on a pro bono basis, on which it has operated to this day. This sets it apart from many museums (the Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo museums are also free, except for special shows). The Columbus Museum of Art, where I live is free only for members and young children. Adults under 60 pay $14, students and seniors $8 (Sundays are free for all, however). When Butler died in 1927, most of his estate of $1.5 million was bequeathed to the museum, and fittingly, his memorial service was held at the museum.

I first visited the museum as a child, enjoying the collection of Remington works depicting Native Americans and western life. Later, as a college student at adjacent Youngstown State, I loved going over to the museum on class breaks. I discovered that there was such a thing as a “Hudson River School” due to the museum’s collection of these paintings. I’d seen prints of “Snap the Whip” by Winslow Homer on the walls of Washington Elementary. At the Butler, I could sit and study the original. But my favorite, then and now, is Robert Vonnoh “In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow.” I grew up in the Vietnam war era, and the painting symbolized to me both the futility of war and the longing that peace and flourishing would prevail.


Robert Vonnoh, “In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow” [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

We’ve visited the museum several times since and witnessed its growth including the new south wing, The Beecher Center. There is also a new Andrews Pavilion with a gift shop, cafe’, and sculpture atrium. In 2006, the museum also acquired the adjacent property formerly belonging to the First Christian Church, using it as an education and performing arts space. The museum collection now exceeds 20,000 works, which now include works in new digital and holographic media. One of the museum’s major acquisitions in 2007 was Norman Rockwell’s, Lincoln The Railsplitter, previously owned by Ross Perot. They also operate a satellite museum in Trumbull County with its own schedule of shows.

Concurrent with its one hundredth birthday, the Butler is hosting a show titled “100 Years of Printmaking II” that surveys printmaking in America over the last 100 years. The museum offers ongoing educational programs for parents with young children, youth and seniors. Dr. Louis Zona, executive director and chief curator of the museum, offers periodic Sunday afternoon lectures, the current schedule of which may be found on the museum website.

The Butler Institute of American Art is not only a Youngstown treasure. It is an American treasure, displaying the creativity of American artists from every period of our history. Happy one hundredth birthday, and may you see many more!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Warner Brothers

Warner Brothers

The Warner Brothers: Harry, Sam, Albert, and Jack in 1919.

One of Youngstown’s claims to fame is as an early home of the Warner brothers, who established one of the most famous film and entertainment companies in Hollywood. It all began in the Youngstown area.

The Warner family emigrated from Krasnosieic, Poland to escape Cossack persecution of Jews. They changed their name from Wonsal or Wonskolaser upon arrival in the U.S. in 1888, living first in Baltimore. Only the oldest of the four brothers, Harry, was born in Poland, in 1881. Albert and Sam were born in Baltimore, after which the family moved to London, Ontario in the early 1890’s, where Jack was born in 1896. The family moved to Youngstown in 1896, living in Smoky Hollow. Harry opened a shoe repair shop in downtown Youngstown

It was a rough neighborhood, perhaps shaping the driving and competitive nature of Jack Warner, who said of his growing up years, “There was a murder or two almost every Saturday night in our neighborhood, and knives and brass knuckles were standard equipment for the young hotheads on the prowl” (Source: Wikipedia). Jack was briefly in a street gang based at Westlake Crossing.

Sam was the first of the brothers to get into film, working as a projectionist at Idora Park. He then purchased a film projector for $1000, Jack contributing $150. Sam and Albert bought a copy of The Great Train Robbery and showed it at various locations around the area. By 1905, Harry joined them, setting up in nearby New Castle,PA, where they eventually opened two movie houses, the Bijou and the Cascade. Meanwhile, Jack was pursuing a career in vaudeville in the Youngstown area. The other three brothers set up a film distribution company in Pittsburgh, The Duquesne Amusement Company. In 1909, Jack joined the enterprise to set up a second distribution exchange in Norfolk, Virginia. Threatened by the exorbitant fees charged by the Edison Trust (eventually ended in 1915), they sold the business in 1910 for $52,000 and decided to launch their own film production company. Harry and Albert set up offices in New York while Sam went to Los Angeles and Jack to San Francisco.

Their first major film followed their purchase of the rights to My Four Years in Germany on war-time atrocities in Germany. Profits from the film allowed them to set up a studio in Hollywood and they formally incorporated as Warner Brothers Pictures in 1923. During this period of silent film their biggest star was a dog, Rin Tin Tin, hero of a series of movies. In 1925, Sam urged the licensing of Western Electric’s Vitaphone technology, to provide synchronized sound. Sadly, just before the release in 1927 of The Jazz Singer, the first major “talkie,” Sam died of pneumonia.

The profits fueled the success and growth of the Warner Brothers over the next three decades releasing scores of blockbuster films with actors and actresses like James Cagney, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Joan Blondell. Ronald Reagan got his start as an actor with Warner Brothers. As World War 2 approached they released films critical of the rising Nazi threat.

The company also continued to acquire and build theatres and perhaps made their most significant mark on Youngstown with the construction of the Warner Theatre in 1931. The theatre was built in memory of the deceased brother Sam, in a lavish art deco style. After it closed in 1968, it was renovated and re-opened as Powers Auditorium, the home of the Youngstown Symphony. It is now part of the DeYor Performing Arts Center.

Sadly, in later life, the three brothers had a falling out over control of the studios. They agreed to sell the company in 1956, only for Jack to put together a syndicate that secured a controlling interest, appointing himself president. Harry and Jack were estranged and Jack did not attend Harry’s funeral when he died in 1958. Albert, likewise, never spoke to his brother again, dying in 1967. Jack outlived them all, passing in 1978. By this time, the company had expanded into television and the recording industry. In more recent years, they’ve continued to expand into various entertainment media while maintaining a strong position in the film position, including producing the Harry Potter films.

The Warner name and empire traces back to these four brothers who got their start in entertainment and film in Youngstown and gave our city a fabulous performance space that enriches Youngstown cultural life to this day.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top Ten of 2018

Salt springs

Salt Springs, from a painting by Joseph N. Higley, from a photograph taken in 1903, just prior to the springs being covered by railroad fill.

I always find it interesting what other people find interesting. For those who follow my Youngstown posts, three of the top four posts in terms of views were about places and place names around Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Two were about catastrophic weather events in Youngstown history and three about people. While I thought a number of you would be interested in some of these posts, the top post, in terms of number of views was a total surprise to me. Rather than keep you in suspense, the top ten Youngstown posts of this year were:

  1. Salt Springs. Most of us think of the road running from the West side up to just south of Warren. But these are real springs that played an important part in the early history of the area.
  2. Brownlee Woods. I trace the history of this neighborhood, where my wife grew up and the farmer and livestock owner after whom it is named.
  3. Great Flood of 1913. Four days of rain left much of downtown and the mills flooded. I describe the damage, and the changes to which this led.
  4. Brier Hill. Before it was a pizza, it was a place, rich in steel-making and ethnic history.
  5. Sandra Lee Scheuer. I remember the young woman from Boardman who was walking to class at Kent State when a National Guardsman’s bullet ended a promising life.
  6. Boots Bell. The iconic voice of rock ‘n roll in the Mahoning Valley died twenty-five years ago but his memory lives on. This was posted just a week ago and probably would have placed higher were it earlier in the year.
  7. Forty Years Ago. You joined my wife and me in celebrating our fortieth anniversary this past June.
  8. N. H. Chaney. My high school bears his name. He was the superintendent of Youngstown schools during booming enrollments and laid the plans for the expansion of the city’s school system.
  9. Where We Came From. This was another “personal” post in which I shared some of the things our family has been learning about how we ended up in Youngstown.
  10. The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950. We’re talking about 29 inches of snow! Learn about the storm, and the impact it had in Youngstown and all over the region.

It’s hard to believe we have been having this conversation for over four years and approximately 225 posts on nearly every aspect of Youngstown life. While these were the top ten posts written in the past year, a number of the top posts in terms of views on the blog were actually Youngstown posts from prior years (by the way, the all time top post was an early one on “Cookie Tables“–no surprise!). Thanks for stopping by each week, and adding your own memories and insights. I have loved learning not only through my own research, but through all you share.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Boots Bell

Boots Bell in studio

Boots Bell at WNIO studio. Photo by and courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

“Yes, indeed, doody-daddy. 

Have yourself a happy!”

Probably everyone who grew up in Youngstown in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s instantly recognizes these words as the trademark phrase of radio personality Boots Bell. You would hear that rich, buoyant baritone voice and you could feel your spirits rising as you looked forward to him playing your favorite tunes or counting down the top 40.

Boots Bell uniform

Boots Bell in the army. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

Boots Bell was born in Cleveland as Ralph R. Bellito on January 22, 1933. He was a Korean War veteran. According to a tribute given by Jim Traficant in the U.S. House of Representatives on October 7, 1993, Boots was wounded several times during that war receiving five bronze stars and a Purple Heart. Boots’ trademark cane came from his service, when he suffered a bayonet wound to the knee.

Boots Bell broke into radio in Fredonia, New York at WBUZ, under the same ownership as WHOT. He came to WHOT in 1959 and became part of a group of disc jockeys known as “The Good Guys” during some of the Golden Years of rock ‘n roll. In fact he was so popular throughout the region that he introduced the Beatles at their concert in Pittsburgh in 1964, broadcast live on WHOT. I remember him on the radio during the afternoons, welcoming us to the “Booter Scooter,” as he called the show. But his on-air persona was only a small part of the memories many of us had of Boots Bell.

Record hop

Boots Bell at a record hop. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

If you were at one of the many record hops, or WHOT Days at Idora Park, or one of the fundraisers he emcee’d, you will remember his goatee, his pipe, his cane, big grin, booming voice, and above all, his flashy suits. Leslie Bell Redman, who, with her brother Chris, hosts a Facebook page full of old photographs of Boots Bell, shared this memory about those days:

“My Dad was not only a radio deejay; he was hosting record hops at Idora Park, local high schools or benefit events many nights a week. In those days, he carried two 45 RPM record boxes with him to all of these events, which contained all of the current Top 40 hits of the day. Of course, since the list of songs changed weekly, he had to stay on top of this so he had all of the songs the kids might request. After making a trip to Record Rendezvous each week, he sat at our kitchen table and updated his records in the box against the weekly Tunedex that WHOT circulated. In order to quickly identify the right side of the record, he would use a black Magic Marker and put his initials “BB” on the label. As records were discarded from the box, I would be standing by, hoping to get a couple of new 45’s for my collection. So every time I smell one of those black markers with the stripes on the shaft, it takes me right back to those simpler times. Thanks for those memories, Dad”

Boots Bell was also a communications instructor at Youngstown State, beginning in 1968. Many of us saw him walking around campus, always nattily attired. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, he was also on TV, hosting Dance Party on WYTV, and in the 1970’s a show called What Generation Gap? He continued to work on the air until his death, working at WNIO, WCFT, WNRB, and CD106.  He died on July 15, 1993 of a heart attack.

Many in Youngstown believe Boots Bell ought to be in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. For a period, there was a petition drive (now closed) with over 1300 signatures. So far, the folks in Cleveland haven’t seen fit to induct him. Cleveland may be the heart of Rock ‘n Roll, but Boots Bell was its voice, at least in the Mahoning Valley, and I would suggest, one of the most distinctive voices anywhere. Ed O’Neill paid tribute to Bell on the February 8, 2012 episode of Modern Family where he talked of a DJ, “Booker Bell,” who he listened to on drives between Youngstown and Sugarcreek. He even uses one of Boots catchphrases,  “I just rang your bell.”

By the way, you might be curious about the origins of the nickname “Boots.” I asked Leslie Bell Redman who wrote back: “We believe it was from him wearing copper-toed boots as a kid during the depression. It kind of stuck.”

Bell Family

Boots Bell with his children, Chris and Leslie. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

Boots Bell really was one of the “Good Guys”–Purple Heart veteran, legendary radio personality, instructor, an inspiration to young people all over the Valley, and a supporter of many charitable causes. Perhaps the greatest measure of someone’s life is how he is remembered by his children. This story from Leslie Bell Redman, apropos of the holiday, says it all.

“My parents split when I was 13, so after that Dad was only in our house through the radio waves. However, he made sure Christmas was special, even if he wasn’t physically there to enjoy it with us.  When my brother and I got up on Christmas morning, we went to the back door and opened it, to find a cassette tape that had Dad’s handwriting on the label. When we popped it into the cassette player, there he was, that booming voice larger than life. He went on to tell us where the first clue was for our annual scavenger hunt. The clues were then spread all over the neighborhood, strung together like holiday lights…. maybe in the crook of a tree or on the neighbor’s fence. Finally, the last clue would take us back to the house, where our big gift was always awaiting us. I still have a little vanity chair that was my big gift one year, and I use it each and every day. The coolest part about this story is that no matter whether it had snowed the night before or not, Dad NEVER left any evidence of footsteps as he spread the string from clue to clue. It is still a mystery to this day how he did that.”

As I wrote this post, I listened to this YouTube clip of Boots on the air on January 1, 1973. It is amazing how something like this can take you back 45 years in a flash. We lost Boots Bell 25 years ago, but to tell his story is to keep the memory alive of one of the most distinctive personalities of the Mahoning Valley. Perhaps it is best to “sign off” as he would.

“Yes, indeed, doody-daddy. 

Have yourself a happy!”


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Great Flood of 1913


Flooding of Republic Steel Mills along the Mahoning River, Photo from Mahoning Valley Historical Society Archive

The Great Flood of 1913 is an event probably no one reading this remembers. But my grandparents, and those of their generation, talked about it. It rained for four days and nights between March 23 and March 26, 1913. Similar to the Thanksgiving snowstorm of 1950, three different weather systems came together and stalled over the Ohio Valley, blocked by a high pressure system to the east. Flooding occurred throughout Ohio with some of the worst flooding in southwest Ohio and in Columbus. But Youngstown suffered severely as well.

Estimates range between 4.26 inches and 7 to 9 inches of rainfall over the four day period in the Mahoning Valley. Back then there were no reservoirs or flood control measures and so all the water from the tributaries to the Mahoning River caused it to crest at 26.5 feet, 10 feet above the flood stage of 16.5 feet, and 7 feet higher than any previous storm. The peak discharge of the Mahoning River was estimated at 44,400 cubic feet per second.


Youngstown Daily Vindicator map of flooded areas, March 27, 1913

Youngstown is a hilly city, through which the Mahoning River runs. Therefore many areas of the city were spared flooding, but not the low lying areas along the Mahoning River and Crab Creek. Unfortunately, Youngstown’s steel mills were built in the flood plain as well as the railroads that served them. Parts of downtown adjacent to the river were also flooded, including The Vindicator. Flooding destroyed the West Avenue and Division Street bridges, took out the water pumping station and the power station on North Avenue. Ironically, Youngstown was without drinking water in the middle of a flood!


Flooding at the B & O Station, Photo from Mahoning Valley Historical Society Archive

Damage estimates at the time were estimated at $2.5 million in the Youngstown area and over $100 million statewide. Governor Cox mobilized National Guard troops to provide disaster assistance and prevent looting. Youngstown Fire Department personnel played a key role in helping pump water out of the North Avenue power station, enabling power to be restored, and out of the press pit of The Vindicator, allowing the newspaper to resume regular publication. All told, about 25,000 people were temporarily out of work.

Flooding had been a regular occurrence along the Mahoning River. Joseph G. Butler, in his history of Youngstown describes floods as a yearly event, though none as bad as this. Sarah Gartland, of the Mahoning Valley Planning Commission states that there were six major floods between 1880 and 1913. This flood led to major changes. The flooding of the water pumping station ultimately led to moving Youngstown’s water supply to Meander Reservoir. Bridges were designed with higher spans so debris wouldn’t build up and then sweep the bridge away.

Most important was the development of flood control measures along the tributaries to the Mahoning River. In 1973, a flood protection project was completed on Crab Creek. Eventually five dams were built creating reservoirs that helped control the flow of water into the Mahoning–the Milton Dam in 1917, Berlin Reservoir (1941-43), Mosquito Reservoir (1943-1944), Shenango Reservoir (1963-1967), and West Branch (Kirwan) Reservoir (1963-1966). A map showing the locations of these reservoirs can be found in an article by Stan Boney, showing how Youngstown is better prepared to withstand rainfall totals like those experienced in the 1913 flood. The Milton and Berlin Reservoirs work together and reduce flooding on the Mahoning River 3-5 feet.

So when you boat on Milton or one of the other reservoirs, thank the Great Flood of 1913  and hope those engineers are taking good care of those dams. The flood of 1959 (I’ll write about that someday, perhaps) is a once in 43 year event, the flood of 1913 a once in 200 year event. Given some of the extreme weather of recent years, a major rain event is only a matter of time.

While there are no longer the same industries along the Mahoning there once were, anything close to the river, in its flood plain is at risk. Given that the 1913 flood was ten feet over flood stage, and the dams may halve that, it does appear flooding could still occur. The master plan for the Youngstown Riverfront Park and Amphitheater indicates that much of the site is within the 100- and 500-year flood plains of the Mahoning River (the Covelli Center is just outside the 500-year boundaries). Let’s hope planners are taking that into account.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950


My father-in-law after the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950. 

The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950 is one I don’t remember. I was not yet on the scene. The storm I remember was the Blizzard of 1978, probably because I was stranded in a dorm in Bowling Green for five days. I remember my parents talking about the 1950 storm and my wife shared this picture of her father in the aftermath of that snowfall.

The snowstorm was the biggest in Ohio history, and one of the most unusual weather events to ever occur in the United States. It snowed in the Youngstown area from late on Thanksgiving evening, November 23 through the 27th, dropping a total of 29 inches of snow on the Youngstown area. The 24 hour snowfall record in Youngstown of 20.7 inches was set over November 24-25 during that storm. Some areas got it worse. Steubenville received a total of 44 inches, the record snowfall for Ohio.


Snowfall totals through the Ohio Valley, National Centers for Environmental Information

Two low pressure systems, one from the Great Lakes and one from the south concentrated just west of the Appalachians over western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where the heaviest snowfalls occurred. For this reason it is also known as the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. There were some weird occurrences. For example, at 2:30 pm on November 25, Pittsburgh had blizzard conditions and temperatures of 9º F while in Buffalo 150 miles north it was 54ºF with the hurricane force winds that prevailed over the east coast and New England. Perhaps weirdest was that this low pressure system slowly tracked west over the next several days before dissipating, blocked by an intense high pressure system over New England. That contributed to the massive accumulations.

According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, Thanksgiving afternoon and evening was almost spring-like. Weather forecasts for Friday were for “snow flurries.” Snow began overnight but wasn’t overly heavy Friday morning. It snowed steadily all day and by Saturday morning the Valley was buried in blizzard conditions. A state of emergency was declared in the city. The National Guard was called in and it was a priority to rescue those whose homes were facing roof collapses, and pregnant women due to deliver. All businesses were closed and estimated losses from lost wages, production, and snow removal totaled over $20 million. Regionally, over one million people lost power, 22 states were affected, and 353 people lost their lives.

Not everything ground to a halt. In Columbus, the annual rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan was played at Ohio Stadium in what became known as the “Blizzard Bowl.” I found this video clip of game highlights. Michigan won 9-3, gaining only 27 yards and not getting a single first down. Temperatures Saturday morning were 5ºF with 40 mile per hour winds. I don’t know how they played that game!

Bulldozers were used to clear the roads. Ohio’s governor declared Monday a legal holiday. Schools remained closed on Tuesday and many remained closed on Wednesday. The Vindicator did not publish for three days, getting a paper out on Tuesday. By Tuesday the 28th some of the main streets of Youngstown were dug out. As you can see from the picture above of my father-in-law, in residential neighborhoods often all they could do was clear a narrow path, just enough to allow emergency services in, or to get key personnel like doctors out.

All over Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, there are people who remember that storm. Youngstown was just about in the epicenter where the two lows merged. It was a Category Five storm on the Regional Snowfall Index, the highest category (the Blizzard of ’78 was also a Category Five, the only one with a higher max RSI, though less snow). I kind of hope these two storms remain exceptional, having lived through the latter and from all I’ve read of the former.

If you remember the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950, I would love it if you could share your memories!