EDITOR’S NOTE: The following 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
Many interesting matters have developed through the years in connection with the operations of the sheriff’s office in Hancock County. Were they all be collected together, they would form an exceedingly fascinating chapter in the county’s history.
An interesting incident occurred during the incumbency of Col. James Neibling as sheriff, who served from 1856 to 1861. It was Col. Neibling who later commanded the famous 21st Ohio Regiment in the Civil War in which many Hancock County men served. His son, the late Dr. W.C. Neibling, was a prominent Findlay physician in later years.
It so happened that the district court of common pleas was is session at the old court house at the time a circus came to town. At that time there were three judges on the bench, whose territory included several counties. They traveled from county seat to county seat to hear cases.
The story is told in an interesting manner by Florence Blackford in her historical articles in the old Morning Republican around the turn of the century, as follows:
“The three judges were sedately listening to the contentions of aggressive counsel in a case of importance at the particular period when the circus band opened up a musical treat for the assembled multitude on the street, the band having stationed itself on the balcony of the old Reed House (now Phoenix) just opposite the court house.
“When the band struck up their tunes they made such a noise and racket that nothing could be heard in the court room across the street. The presiding judge immediately ordered Sheriff Neibling to “Stop that noise.” The sheriff hastily crossed the street and ascended the stairs to the balcony and told the leader of the band, between puffs, that he must stop the music. The answer was not heard by anyone but the sheriff until it was reported to the presiding judge in open court from the sheriff’s desk when he exclaimed excitedly, ‘The band leader said ‘Go to h—.’
“The court immediately ordered Sheriff Neibling to bring every man of them into court. He hastened out as if on a labor of love, hurried through the crowd on the street, touching man after man with his hand and summoning them as members of a sheriff’s posse to aid in the arrest of the dozen or so men making up the band.
“The musicians were just completing their number as the ‘power’ of the county arrived at the head of the stairs and intercepted them, capturing every man without the loss of a single one. Each man with his instrument in his hand, bass drum and all, was marched across the street to the court house and into the common pleas court room between two sturdy members of the posse and into the jury box, which was just large enough to hold them, having been constructed somewhat after the style of a prisoner’s dock, offering no very good chance of escape.
“This all happened about 10 o’clock in the morning. The band members were told to remain seated to await the pleasure of the court. No one said a word to them until long about the middle of the afternoon the managers of the circus sent in a messenger of peace, making due apology and begging that the men might be released to attend to their duties at the circus. The men were allowed to go with a word of caution not to be impolite again to the sheriff.”
Another Hancock county sheriff, E. Lincoln Groves, had an interesting experience during his four years in the office, in the 1904-08 period.
A firm of Findlay lawyers thought the Standard Oil Co. was in violation of the state’s Valentine anti-trust law. This was at the time the elder John D. Rockefeller was at the helm of the huge oil company, and before the famous break-up court order of Judge Landis at Chicago.
So the local attorneys instituted proceedings in the Hancock County common pleas court against the Standard. It was necessary to serve the legal papers upon Mr. Rockefeller in person. This duty fell to Sheriff Groves. It wasn’t a very easy task. Mr. Rockefeller, who was in the East much of the time, wasn’t very easy to find when he was in Cleveland. But the Hancock County sheriff finally obtained service.
The court action failed, but while it lasted, Findlay was “much in the news” because of the case, which attracted widespread attention and interest, preceding, as it did, the federal government move against the Standard which resulted in the requirement that the various subsidiaries become individual concerns in their own right.