By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
NORTH BALTIMORE — What do John Philip Sousa, Clark Gable and Harry Houdini have in common?
They all have visited North Baltimore.
Margaret Bobb and Larry Slaughterbeck can tell you stories. They are both volunteers and serve on the board of the North Baltimore Area Historical Center.
Not only have famous people visited, they say, the village has also been home to some notable natives.
“You come from a small town and there’s never anybody famous or who has done anything. And we’re finding all kinds of people,” said Bobb.
Slaughterbeck said John Philip Sousa, famous for composing “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” and his band performed at North Baltimore’s Henry Opera House in 1903. He believes the band probably stayed at the Columbia Hotel which stood at the site of the Virginia Theater on North Main Street.
Famous actor Clark Gable visited North Baltimore and Findlay every November between 1937 and 1946 to hunt pheasants, said Slaughterbeck. It’s even rumored that Carole Lombard and John Wayne accompanied Gable on one of those hunting trips, he said.
Houdini also brought his magic act to town, said Slaughterbeck, adding that North Baltimore Mayor Janet Goldner’s father, Howard, was called on stage and helped the famed magician demonstrate a trick.
Although Holgate takes credit for Joe E. Brown, the movie star and vaudeville entertainer has a local connection, said Slaughterbeck: “Doc Archer of North Baltimore delivered him and he lived here briefly.”
Actresses Lauren Hutton, Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint have also visited, having spent time at the South Main Street home of Ralph Wolfe.
“Lauren Hutton went to the drugstore and nobody recognized her,” said Bobb. “And she was so impressed that she could walk around in North Baltimore and not be hounded.”
Meanwhile, North Baltimore was home to Daisy Perkins, the first female African American lawyer in Ohio, according to Slaughterbeck. Perkins graduated from North Baltimore High School in 1896 and attended Findlay College and Wilberforce University, then studied under Judge M.B. Earnhart in Columbus. Her father, John Perkins, was a runaway slave who opened a barber shop after settling in North Baltimore, he said.
“They had five children. They were well known in North Baltimore, really loved,” said Slaughterbeck.
Daisy was admitted to the bar in 1919. She practiced law and served as a prosecutor in Columbus. But in 1928 she was indicted for perjury, disbarred and jailed. Slaughterbeck said Daisy was granted parole in 1932, but refused to leave unless she received a full pardon. She was released from prison in 1937, but “she never got the full pardon,” he said.
The historical society is trying to change that. Slaughterbeck said he has written State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) seeking her help.
Bobb and Slaughterbeck have also joined forces to write a book on George Pilcher, an adventurer, inventor, journalist, poet, artist, trader, trapper, miner, engineer and steamboat captain who lived in North Baltimore.
“He’s one of the most remarkable people you’ve ever heard of,” said Bobb. “It’s just unbelievable the stuff he did.”
Born in southern Ohio, Pilcher and his brothers came to North Baltimore during the oil boom days of the 1880s. The men were bricklayers, said Bobb, and may have helped build the first school, they said, as well as the First National Bank and city hall.
Bobb said she first came across Pilcher in a newspaper article from 1897 that told of him having been shot in a saloon in Portage.
“The bartender was in a bad mood, and George apparently did something that set him off and he pulled out a gun and shot him, just missed his heart by a few inches,” she said.
“At the bottom of the story it says something about he’s a good man and well thought of. Everybody in North Baltimore thought so much of him and loved him so much. And if he could just stay away from the spirits he would be a fine person,” she laughed.
Not long after, Pilcher left behind his wife and two young daughters and headed for Alaska and the Gold Rush. The periodic letters he sent back home were published in North Baltimore’s Weekly Beacon newspaper.
Bobb said the gold was about panned out by the time Pilcher made it to Alaska. Instead, he made a living as a woodcutter and trader.
Pilcher returned to Ohio in 1940 to visit his daughters who were then living in Oberlin. He became sick while there and died. It was his wish to be buried in Alaska, said Bobb, “but they didn’t take him back.”
Pilcher made his mark on Alaska, though, and there are a mountain and lake named for him there. Pilcher also kept 21 diaries of his adventures, which he donated to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Bobb and Slaughterbeck’s book, available at the historical center, is titled “The Adventures of George Monroe Pilcher: From Oil Boom to Gold Rush.”
The center also has displays on Gene Sharp, an American political scientist and five-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize who was born in North Baltimore; and Carl Stoner, a 1938 North Baltimore High School graduate who was involved in the Manhattan Project and a champion hydroplane driver.
The North Baltimore Area Historical Society was organized in 1998. It is located at 229 N. Main St. in a large Queen Anne-style house directly across the street from the North Baltimore Public Library.
“The library had a small room that was dedicated to basically one person’s collection. And that outgrew the space there,” Bobb said.
When the house came up for sale, the library board bought it and moved the historical collection there.
The house was built in 1879 by Jacob Dirk, one of the prominent founders of the town. It remains pretty much in its original state, said Bobb.
Summer is a busy time for the historical society, with many people returning for the town’s Good Ole Summertime Day Festival in July. Each spring, North Baltimore’s third-grade students visit.
“And we’ve gotten to the point where we’re getting the kids who came here in the third grade are now juniors or seniors, and some of them are doing Eagle Scout projects with us,” said Bobb.
The museum’s collection has over 3,000 items including a Civil War flag made by the women of North Baltimore in 1861, an engraved 1892 Knights of Pythias Sword owned by 19th-century entrepreneur Dr. A.G. Henry, and a Champagne bottle used by resident Carrie Swartz to launch a Liberty Ship on July 4, 1942.
Outside in the garage annex, visitors can view several large interior panels that were once used in North Baltimore’s early post offices, along with a circa 1916 printing press.
The center is open from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, and other times by appointment. A yearly membership is available for $10, and donations of North Baltimore-related memorabilia are accepted.