EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
Charles Dickens, the great British novelist, paid a visit to the United States in 1842, and in the course of his travels he visited northwestern Ohio. He stopped overnight at Upper Sandusky in the spring of that year.
A plaque has been erected at the site of the inn at which he stayed with his party. It is on the extreme east edge of Upper Sandusky on the street which is also U.S. 30. The name of the pioneer hostelry was the Overland Inn.
The author went as far west as St. Louis and on his return came through Ohio, which he entered at Cincinnati. They traveled by stagecoach through the southern area of the Buckeye state, first going to the state capital at Columbus. They put up at the Neil House, the hostelry founded by William Neil, one of the group of men who had founded Findlay.
For the journey on northward, Edgar Johnson’s biography of Dickens says “Dickens hired one of the regular four-horse coaches, ‘an extra’ to convey them on the way toward Sandusky.”
“The landlord of the Neil House,” says the Johnson volume, “put up a basket lunch of cold meats, fruit and wine and they all set out in high spirits at being by themselves. The road, however, unlike the macadamized highway they had traveled the day before from Cincinnati, was a track through swamp and forest, a great portion of it ‘corduroy road’ of tree trunks left to settle down in the bog.
” ‘Good heavens,’ Dickens exclaimed, ‘It is like … going up a steep flight of stairs in an omnibus.’
“Dickens tied a handkerchief to the door-post on each side for Kate (Mrs. Dickens) to hang on to and brace herself. Dickens and Putnam (a traveling companion) kept a lookout with their arms would tightly around each other, letting out a warning yell of ‘Corduroy!’ at each yawning hole that they saw. In spite of these precautions the ride was harrowing.”
In his own “American Notes” describing the trip, Dickens said:
“Now the coach flung us in a heap on its floor and now crushed out heads against the roof. Now one side of it was deep in mire and we were holding on to the other side. Still the day was beautiful, the air delicious and we were alone. We really enjoyed it and were quite merry.”
The Johnson biography continues:
“At 2 o’clock, they stopped in the forest to open their hamper and dine. After lunch there was more of the terrific bumping to be endured, but at last they got through the swamp and left the corduroy behind them. Toward 11 o’clock they guard began to sound his horn to arouse the people at the log tavern in … Sandusky where they were to spend the night.
“The doors of their room, opening on opposite sides of the bleak, wild country, had neither locks nor bolts and were constantly blowing open. Kate was alarmed to hear that there had recently been an Indian powwow in a nearby lodge. Dickens was concerned because he had $250 in gold in his dressing case, a sum for a small fraction of which he had been told there were men in the west who would murder their own fathers.
“Putnam went to bed under the rafters, where another man was snoring loudly. He was too tired with the jolting he had endured to mind that, but he found his mattress swarming with bedbugs and the night grew piercingly cold. But all the wraps were in Dickens’ room, so he took refuge at last in the coach. It was not very warm and pigs that were nearby, smelling him, grunted around it so hideously that he was afraid to come out again and lay there shivering, till morning. When Kate emerged to wash in the basin standing upon a stump near the door, she saw Mr. Putnam and exclaimed, ‘Oh, Mr. Putnam, I have been almost devoured by the bugs.’ Putnam then told his experience and Kate called to Dickens to come out immediately and hear about it.”
Putnam was a secretary from New England who helped arrange details of Dickens journey across the states.
The Dickens party continued on from Upper Sandusky to Sandusky on Lake Erie, where they boarded a steamer for Buffalo, stopping en route at Cleveland.