Johnny and his dog

This bit of Dayton history is a reblog from a post on our sister site, Raising a Super Dog, that I published a while back. And by a while back, it’s possible I may mean about ten years ago or so.

I’ll publish the story as it happened back then, complete with photos. At the end of the article, I’ve added new information that I’ve uncovered since the original post went live in 2010.

Imagine this. You’re exploring an old city cemetery during the early evening hours. You like this time of day because of the softly muted light. You’re taking photos of an interesting monument and thinking intellectually deep thoughts about macro shots, f-stops and ISO settings.

You’re in the zone. If you lean at this angle, is the depth of field too shallow or should you maybe bump it up to . . . and suddenly from behind you comes a deep bass “EXCUSE ME.”

What do you do? Turn around smoothly with an air of cool authority that says clearly, you wouldn’t DARE accost me? Or instead make a weird little strangling sob sound that is shorthand for “my purse is on the front seat of the car”?

What did I do? Oh, as if. Option B, naturally. Just about dropped my stupid camera, I did. To my relief, the interruption to my artsy musings was merely a young college student from the adjacent University of Dayton who was taking his evening constitutional through Woodland Cemetery. Although I did make clear that I HAVE MY DOG IN THE CAR.  Perhaps a little too loudly. Thinking this may thwart any untoward thoughts against my chubby, middle-aged person.

The young man was merely curious; he’d heard stories about a haunting at Woodland. Something about a boy and his dog. He couldn’t help but notice that I was taking photos of a monument of the same. Taking photos is right. I was trying to get a macro shot of the stone dog’s nostrils (f-stop, depth of field…) when he caused me to jump out of my skin. But more on dog nostrils in a minute.

Hey fella, she left the keys in the ignition.

So, what’s the story on the boy and his dog; did I know? Are you kidding me?  Heck yes, I know.  Just give me a sec here to swallow first so I can get my heart dislodged from my tonsils, though.

In waning summer of 1860, 5-year-old Johnny Morehouse was playing with his dog near his father’s cobbler shop in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Dayton was still enjoying her youth during these pre-Civil War times and relied on the nearby river, along with the Miami & Erie Canal system, for commerce with other Ohio cities. This was long before the Great Flood of 1913 when folk still had a tentative trust in the Great Miami River and its tributaries. 

Johnny ignored his mother’s warnings and was playing at the edge of the canal, tossing a ball into the water for his dog to retrieve. When he put all his weight into a hard throw, Johnny lost his balance and fell into the dark water. When Johnny didn’t come back up, his dog jumped in to pull his boy back to safety.

But it was not to be.

Little Johnny Morehouse drowned on that warm summer day of August 14, 1860.

Johnny was laid to rest later that week in beautiful Woodland Cemetery, which was also in its youth, having been established less than twenty years prior. Legend has it that his dog stayed at his graveside, refusing to leave. For a time, kind families would come by to bring food and water to the dog.

Then one day, the dog was gone and never seen again.

It’s said that in late summer, at the last light of the day after the cemetery gates have been locked, you can hear a boy in the distance, laughing and playing with his happily barking dog.

But really, people

Johnny’s father, John, was a cobbler, making shoes and boots for his Dayton neighbors. Making an honest living, but certainly not a rich man by anyone’s standards. The family could only afford a modest grave marker for their youngest son. But a local businessman, Daniel La Dow, was inspired by the story of Johnny’s valorous dog. La Dow himself was a skilled stonecutter and owner of a prosperous marble works in the city. His team designed and created the remarkable monument that is at Johnny’s gravesite. ‘Tis truly a work of art that is not duplicated anywhere else within our fair city.

The monument has no dates on it – no date of birth nor death. The only inscriptions are Johnny’s name and the words Slumber Sweet. We see that after these past 150 years, the dog remains vigilant with a protective paw over the young boy as he sleeps. Forever to be alert and watchful in stone.

At their feet rests Johnny’s cap and the toys found in his pocket that horrible day; his ball, a top, and mouth harp (harmonica).

Woodland Cemetery states this is their most visited gravesite – and the most decorated. The site changes daily as families come by to pay their respects to this lost boy by leaving toys, trinkets and clothing. These items are later collected and donated to charitable organizations.

Now, about those nostrils

To avoid cracks in the stone due to temperature changes, La Dow included an air vent inside the monument. This rather clever design allows barometric pressure changes to be released through the dog’s nose. It is true that if you hold your hand near the dog’s nostrils, you can feel it “breathe.”  In the coldest of temps you can see steam coming from the nose.

What’s really surprising to me though, is that in spite of the various legends of this boy and his dog (I’ve only shared one story), we don’t know the dog’s name. This is lost to history as well as the dog’s breed. I don’t know, it seems disrespectful to me to even nickname this boy’s dog. But what kind of dog is it?

Take a break, Hero Dog. I got this.

But isn’t it obvious? Love, responsibility and a never-ending devotion? It’s got to be a golden retriever, don’t you think?

Ok, so what is it that I’ve learned about the legend of Johnny Morehouse and his dog over the last ten years?

Johnny’s father, John Morehouse, was born in 1828 in Newark, New Jersey. John later came to Dayton with his parents, John and Nancy, where he helped his father re-establish their family’s craft of boot and shoemaking. Eventually the two set up a wholesale shop on Third Street in Dayton’s “Miami City” neighborhood, not far from where the Wright Brothers’ would soon start their printing business (and later their famous bicycle shop). The Miami City blocks were located west of downtown Dayton, separated from the city by the Great Miami River.

John Morehouse married Mary Browning in 1851, when John was only twenty three years old. Four years later Mary gave John a son, a namesake who they called Johnny. They might have imagined Johnny to be a third generation shoemaker, but first there was a childhood to be had.

In the days before municipal playgrounds and little league teams, the river banks served as the Victorian Era child’s amusement park. And the Great Miami River was a mere three blocks from both John’s wholesale Boot & Shoe business on West Third Street and the Morehouse home located on Williams Street.

The Miami-Erie canal was across the Third Street bridge, far into the downtown milling and manufacturing areas. It was unlikely that five-year-old Johnny was near the canal on August 14, but he was certainly not a stranger to the Great Miami River or the adjoining Wolf Creek that meets the river just before the bridge.

Although prone to flooding during the spring, the Great Miami’s waters would be down during the hot, dry days of late summer. We can imagine a cobbler’s young son neatly placing his shoes under his bed, then stuffing his pockets with beloved toys before running down to the river’s edge. With the August sun on his shoulders, it would be hard to deny the temptation to walk barefoot into the lapping water; to cool his toes in the silty mud. His dog, a water lover himself, is splashing along at his side, entertaining the thoughts of playing fetch with his favorite boy.

John continued his boot and shoemaking business after Johnny’s death. Then after Mary passed, John remarried the widow Barbara Shook and they relocated their home to the other side of the Great Miami to live on Baxter Street. Barbara died at the age of 51 in 1878, leaving John twice widowed.

Later in life John closed his shoemaking business for good and made a living as an insurance salesman. John died on August 7, 1903, almost 43 years to the day after Johnny’s early death. He’s buried in the Morehouse family plot at Woodland, with the Boy and Dog within sight.

Daniel La Dow, the designer behind the Boy and Dog, owned La Dow & Hamilton Marbleworks (later La Dow & Winder) located downtown on Third Street, between Jefferson and St. Clair Streets. He is buried at Woodland Cemetery as well. His monument is an impressive obelisk to honor the life of this generous man. I wonder if he designed this himself and feel that he very likely did.

Another bit of history with the Boy & Dog monument happened in April, 2008, when the head of the dog was displaced from its perch. I was visiting the cemetery and was dismayed to see this demarcation of our city’s beloved monument. While taking a photo, a Woodland security guard drove past and yelled something from his car.

“What?” I said.

“We got the head!” he repeated.

Ok, good to know. I was worried. The damage wasn’t vandalism as first rumored, but something more in the line of natural causes. One story blamed a falling tree branch, while another suggested it wasn’t unusual to expect some wear and tear over the hundred plus years of Ohio weather patterns. Restoration was done promptly by Woodland and all is as it should be today.

Do you have your own stories with the Boy & Dog monument at Woodland? What legends have you heard about Johnny and his dog? Share your experiences in the comments!

Sure, it’s been ten years. But I can still fit into the same collar. You should know that.

Clara and the Language of Stamps

Clara was missing her friend, Elizabeth, who might as well have been a thousand miles away. Though Elizabeth was living in nearby Piqua, a stretch of about thirty miles from Dayton, the trip by Western Ohio’s interurban trolley would be an all day affair in 1907. Besides there were so many chores at hand and Mama expected her to keep a watchful eye on Beatrice, Eddie, and Mary. The life of a fifteen-year old girl in Dayton’s Victorian Era was not where one could afford a frivolous day trip.

But the two found another way to stay in touch.

With the price of a penny postage stamp, postcards were becoming the new trend of communication in 1907 and collecting these colorful cards was a favorite hobby for many young girls.

From Smithsonian Institute Archives

On February 27, 1861, the US Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or under, to be sent in the mail. That same year John P. Charlton (other places seen as Carlton) copyrighted the first postcard in America.

The first commercially printed postcards were introduced in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, issued as souvenirs of the historical event. In 1901, the United States Postmaster General granted private printers the right to use the term “Post Card” instead of “Private Mailing Card” on their stock. Until 1907, the back of the postcard was for the mailing address only. There was no space for a written message.

On October 1, 1907, printers were permitted to change the design of postcards to a “divided back.” Now a vertical line is added so the mailing address is on the right and a personal message can be written on the left. This seemingly simple change brought the postcard into the Golden Age of Postcards (1907-1915).

From the New York State Library

The decade between 1905-1915 – the Golden Age of Postcards – saw postcard collecting reach a zenith of staggering proportion. Literally millions of postcards were printed, imported, sold and mailed. Official U.S. Post Office figures for the year ending June 30, 1908 revealed that approximately seven hundred million postcards had been mailed in this country. By 1913 the total number mailed had increased to over nine hundred million, and, by this date, the craze was reportedly on the decline!

In the days long before heart-eyed emoticons represented how you felt, another trend found a renewal along with the colorful postcards in these early days of the twentieth century.

The not-so-secret Language of Stamps had already been a thing with young lovers sending letters as a matter of courtship. This is one interpretation, which makes me wonder if it differed by region and if the occasional misunderstanding took place.

The Buffalo Enquirer, Sep 15 1906, Page 2

Courtship by correspondence sounds rather romantic and innocent, doesn’t it? Like those notes you’d be passed during Social Studies in middle school written with “Do you like me?” and had two check boxes for “Yes” or “No.” Kinda sweet and awkward.

“With all good wishes and sweetest kisses from Elizabeth.” Postcard postmarked April 10, 1909, Piqua, Ohio.

As good friends, I suspect Elizabeth’s stamp language to Clara (see image above) was more of a “Hey, girl! Miss you!” than following any other postage protocol of the time.

Clara’s Post Cards Book holds 61 postcards from friends and family.

Clara’s postcard collection ranges from early 1907 (her mother died unexpectedly later that year) to 1909. By 1911, she was married to George Washington Sword, a industrious young man who’d arrived from his Maryland farm to start a new life. But that’s a story that needs its own page.

In honor of today’s holiday, I want to share with you the Easter cards that Clara kept in her collection. A brief look at the designs of the time period of 1907-1909 and what appeals to a Catholic teenager of that era. I hope you enjoy this gallery of flowers, chicks, and maidens of long ago.

And a special call out to those fine, fine legs on Mr. Easter Bunny in the second card.

And I leave you with a postage stamp joke from 1910. I don’t know, does make you feel vaguely uncomfortable? No, it’s just me? Different times …

The Dayton Herald, Sep 10 1910, Page 4

Clara Cecelia Boga (1891 – 1974) is my husband’s grandmother, Grandma Sword. She was the second child of first generation French-Italian American, Anthony (Tony) Boga, Jr. (1865-1944), and first generation German American, Thiekla Cecelia Gertner (1867-1907).

She married the boy who moved in across the street, George Washington Sword (1886-1961) in 1911 at the age of nineteen. They had three sons, George Washington Sword (1916-2003), James Monroe Sword (1917-2008), and Merrill Martin Sword (1923-1971). Clara lived to the age of 82.

The Boga home at 128 Ashley Street is gone today, although a few houses of that era remain in the neighborhood. Ashley Street is off Brown Street, near the strip of restaurants that feed the students of the University of Dayton. If we could overlay maps of the two time periods of 1909 and today, the Boga home would be in the shadow of Miami Valley Hospital.

The Grass Widow Scandal

I know, I know. This is a bit of a downer story. But take a moment to read through this article, won’t you? Because I wanna talk about it.

The Dayton Herald, May 19 1885

Ok, first of all. OMG.

A horrific tale of a child possibly murdered by his own mother. But you know, this also is sensational journalism at its worst. To be honest here, this is heresay.

We are ready to believe this woman’s story, yet the only name identified is Coroner (W. P.) Treon. The informant, the accused, and even child are unnamed. I wonder if the correspondent came across this story by stopping in at the coroner’s office to ask “So hey, Bill, what’s new?”

Of course, the undercurrent of it all reflects the difficult life of an unmarried woman in 1885. The only thing we know about the anonymous informant is that she’s traveled ten miles to reach downtown Dayton from Taylorsburg, which at the time was a small community located in what is now the City of Trotwood. The township mentioned in the text below is Randolph.

History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio, Volume 1, Page 921, Augustus Waldo Drury. S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1909 – Dayton (Ohio)

We don’t know if she traveled alone, but it’s obvious she was at least uncomfortable, if not actually afraid, to connect her name to the story. She came to the coroner to request somebody of authority to check into the suspicious death of a child. And with a wave of a hand, was dismissed as a gossip monger.

And what are we to believe about the the grass widow who wanted to marry a man who had no interest in raising a child that wasn’t his. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this story in our modern times as well, haven’t we? We’ve all read too many news stories about women who make that nefarious choice.

It’s not really fair to make the assumption about our grass widow, though. Of course, an unmarried woman in 1885 would have it hard, especially with raising a child. She wouldn’t own the land she was living on, so likely had to make a living as a seamstress, laundress, or have a low paying factory job. Getting married would be a quality of life improvement, even if the guy was a straight up ratbag. But still, that’s quite a leap to say she murdered her child.

Perhaps instead, the community could have chosen to be sympathetic to a woman who lost her only child and rally around her with casseroles, good wishes, and maybe a dollar or two. But as a grass widow, respect was hard to come by.

When I first saw this story, which was shared by the Randolph Township Historical Society’s Facebook page, I was confused by the term Grass Widow. You too? I did some reading on this and found that the meaning has changed over the years, from respectful to naughty and eventually to an accepted term.

It seems the original meaning began as an English term for women whose husbands were away at length, whether at war, conducting business in another country, or have otherwise made a temporary “widow” of their wives. As the the usage became more common in the United States, the meaning began to change.

National Banner and Nashville Whig, Jan 10 1829, Page 1

Consider this article from 1829 written by a gentleman from Woodville, Mississippi who just wanted to share information on his fine community with anyone interested. This is from his letter to the editor of a Nashville newspaper.

A grass widow in 1829’s Mississippi may have shared the same connotation as the British usage. But we might have started to shift over to referring to women who are married, but are separated from their husbands with no expectations of living together again. The term is also attached to women who’ve had a child outside of marriage.

This little snippet of info from 1858 reflects when Grass Widow started to be used for a divorced woman. Apparently, Wabash, Indiana was the place to go to make this happen. A woman merely needs to board there for ten days, then can lawyer up. You may be as surprised as I was to see the term bewitching vixens in a Victorian era newspaper story. Because obviously, if you’re a single woman with experience, let’s turn it into something rather naughty.

By the way, this story was written by a Dayton reporter and was shared in newspapers across our great nation. Of course it was.

The Advocate, Buffalo, New York, Jul 8 1858, Page 3

But not so fast there, Wabash.

South Bend, Indiana, says hold my tar and feathers and watch this.

Brooklyn Evening Star, Aug 16 1859, Page 2

Speaking of lack of respect, there’s always been this. I give you 1890. And props to Boston for their use of creative adjectives. We’re just missing vixen here.

The Boston Globe, Apr 6 1890, Page 11

Not really surprising is how Congress made a mess of things when they enacted the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 outlawing polygamy as practiced by the followers of the Church of Latter Day Saints. By declaring plural marriages illegal, our government created their very own version of grass widows. Splitting these Mormon families resulted in countless women pushed out from their homes. They can no longer live with their husbands, who in the meantime are having their own problems with persecution. For lack of a better idea of what to do with these surplus wives, those in political power had a large hotel built in Salt Lake City to house them together.

“Look, single ladies,” they said. “Stay here so we can keep an eye on you, ok?” With only one registrant upon opening the hotel, the building was eventually sold for other purposes. In the meantime, tales were being shared in the Midwest that if a man were desperate to find a wife, go to Salt Lake City and you can pick one out.

As we move out of the Victorian Era and into the twentieth century, we do see Grass Widow still in use and still with the watch-your-husbands mistrust of these woman with life experience.

Photo by Lukáš Dlutko from Pexels

By the time we reach the 1960’s, Grass Widow is nearly always referring to a divorced woman. And by the 80’s, the term is considered well out of date and is treated as a curiosity.

Today we given this old-fashioned term a new life as a name for a lovely purple flower, the Grass Widow (Olsynium douglasii).

I’m curious though, who was already familiar with Grass Widows? Share your story in the comments!

Daisy and the Mustard Jar

There are solid ways of identifying the time period of vintage photographs and good lawdy I wish I knew about them when I started on this genealogical journey.

It’s easy enough, though, to find plenty of websites to help with dating those images of yesteryear. The Photo Detective’s blog is full of info you didn’t even know you wanted and Ancestral Findings offers a descriptive example of the different types of photos you may have in your family’s collection. (And if you have a good resource you like, be so kind as to share this in the comment section below, won’t you?)

So you have the straight up things to review such as the type of photo, clothing design, suit buttons, and hairstyles. And then the not-so-obvious in the way of hidden clues require a closer look, sometimes even with a magnifying glass. Got it. Check.

But I want to share another step that doesn’t always show up on the usual Tips & Tricks lists. What can we find out about the photographer? Who are they and where did they set up shop? What are the years that the studio was in business? Was it a single location or did they branch out with several studios in the region?

This is part of the history we’re looking for, right? And besides, if I skipped this step, I would have never known about Daisy Marble.

Ok, so the photo above of the handsome uniform and its mustache is one you may have seen before at House BlackSword, and a heads up that you’ll see it again later when we share how we solved the story behind that mystery image. But before that, let’s talk about this other fine fellow I’ve been creeping on. This is the photographer’s imprint on the bottom frame of the photo above.

H. Howard Littrell & Co.
314 Wayne Ave., Dayton Ohio

The background on Mr. H. Howard Littrell and his Co. didn’t come easy. I scanned through the Williams’ Dayton Directories between the years of 1895 and 1903, which was my estimate for the photo, and I didn’t get a hit until 1901 when this finally shows up.

Now we have some names to work with. The “and Co.” is Mr. Littrell’s wife, Daisy. Just a bit unusual to see the wife’s name included as a co-owner, but the new century was progressing. After all, just another a couple of decades to go and women can vote. The couple purchased the existing photography business from Alfred Downham and changed the name.

A little more research and we get an intriguing hit on Ms. Daisy from an incident that occurred in 1899.

Dayton Daily News, Aug 14 1899, Page 5

And this follow-up printed the next day.

Dayton Daily News, Aug 15 1899, Page 8

I’m not going to take you down the rabbit hole to find out what a mustard jar looked like in 1899, other than it was made of heavy glass and probably hurt like heck to be beaned with one by a “plucky little woman.” Anyhow, there is some justice in that it sounds like Mr. Smith had it coming.

Daisy Marble was twenty-four years old when she married Howard Herbert Littrell, which was just eighteen months before the mustard jar incident likely rocked the marriage boat. Daisy’s marketability in finding future employment was now tainted with an assault and battery charge hanging over her plucky little head. It’s not a stretch to imagine this as the push for the two Littrell’s to take over the photography business.

Unfortunately, this business venture only lasted two more years. In 1903 Howard was working as a bookkeeper and the two moved to a new residence on East Third Street.

And by 1909 they’ve moved again, this time for a new start in Asheville, North Carolina.

And sadly, this is where Daisy’s story ends. In 1909, Daisy dies at the too-young age of thirty-five in Asheville and her body is returned to her family in Rising Sun, Indiana, to be interred in the local cemetery. Daisy’s marker reflects her maiden name and notes her as the wife of Howard Littrell.

Howard remains in North Carolina. A year after Daisy’s early death, he marries a young schoolteacher named Harriet and they have three children together. He makes a living as an insurance salesman and later retires from that occupation. H. Howard Littrell, Sr. dies in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1957 at the age of 84. Harriet survives him by another thirteen years.

There’s more to the story of Daisy. There must be. I have so many questions about this passionate young woman and the way she took the challenges of life head on, so to speak.

In the absence of answers, I leave you this limerick. Which doesn’t connect to anything other than it has a Daisy in it.

A certain young man named Carlisle
Had a face that would reset a fisle.
He loved a young daisy,
But alas! she went craisy
When upon her one day he did smisle!
  - printed in The Dayton Herald, May 21 1887, Pinks of Verse, Page 6

Otto and his German Language Newspaper: Part Two

[Continued from Otto and his German Language Newspaper: Part 1]

It was time for a new plan.

Otto canvassed the German neighborhoods. Promising a quality newspaper, he collected several hundred subscriptions before even publishing the first issue. Otto partnered with Charles Schenk, an old friend from Frankfort that arrived in Dayton a couple of years earlier. They set up shop at the Christian Publishing building at Sixth & Main in downtown Dayton. And with a used printing press and German fortitude, in Otto’s words, “on the first of September 1876, at five o’clock in the morning, Dayton saw its first Daily German Newspaper, and it really made a favorable impression on our German neighbors.” He named the newspaper the Dayton Anzeiger (“Advertiser”).

A. Otto Moosbrugger
(photo credit: Moosbrugger Family Archives)

Historical records show that there were actually daily German language newspapers founded before Otto’s Dayton Anzeiger, but these were disorganized attempts; all were short-lived and most not lasting even a month in publication. Still, I feel confident Otto believed his claim to be the first, as the other newspapers failed long before and were likely no longer in anyone’s recent memory.

According to Gottfried Paasche in his paper America, Germany, and the Daytoner Volkszeitung, the size of the German language press correlated roughly with the size of German immigration. German language newspapers served a transitional function for the men and women beginning a new life and generally, it was only the first-generation immigrants that read it. A newspaper’s success depended on two things – how well it could keep German Americans informed and interested in German culture and how well it could inform them about life in the United States.

A typical German language newspaper of that time consisted of only four printed pages. The front page held news and advertisements. The reverse side had editorials of international, national, and local news. The third page shared characteristics with European newspapers, with poems, an installment of a novel, some articles giving background information on famous men, or descriptions of faraway places. The fourth page had more local news in the form of legal and social notices.

Dayton Volks-Zeitung Newspaper Office at 308 Fourth St., Dayton OH
L-R: Angelo Moosbrugger, George Neder, Kuno Moosbrugger, Unknown, Ed Neder, Otto Moosbrugger, Unknown
(photo credit: Moosbrugger Family Archives)

Later when the long running Daytoner Volks-Zeitung (“People’s Newspaper”), changed to a daily publishing schedule, it was apparent that the Dayton German-American community couldn’t support both newspapers. In 1882, Otto partnered with editor George Neder to combine the two publications. They form The German Newspaper Company with George Neder as President and Otto as Secretary/Treasurer. Two of Otto’s brothers, Angelo and Kuno, took on roles, as well as George Neder’s son, Max. They moved their operations from 308 Fourth Street and headquartered at the Osceola Mill Building at 310 East Fifth Street. Today the Osceola Mills Block is the parking lot for Thai 9 and Jay’s Seafood in the Oregon District.

Red arrow points to 310 E. Fifth Street located in the Osceola Mills Block. This is now the east facing entrance to the Oregon District.

While Otto was working to make his name in media, he and Wilhelmina bought a cottage for two thousand dollars at 15 Buckeye Street, across the street where they were renting. It was here they raised their eight children. This home is now gone as well, with that northern side of the street replaced by US 35.

Adolph Otto Moosbrugger and Wilhelmina Föhrenbach are my husband’s great grandparents on his maternal side. We’re honored that they are part of our history and we can share their story.

And we think that “Smoky Love in the Mahlberg Cigar Factory” would make a great romance novel.    


  • Moosbrugger, Adoph Otto. Personal Life History of Adoph Otto Moosbrugger. Handwritten Journal, 1909
  • Orear, Linn. Survey of the Germans of Dayton 1830 – 1900; their cultural and economic role. Thesis. Miami University, 1961
  • Paasche, Gottfried. America, Germany, and the Daytoner Volkszeitung 1880-1900. Thesis. Miami University, 1961
  • Rattermann, H. A., and Elfe Vallaster-Dona. German Pioneers of Montgomery County, Ohio: Early Pioneer Life in Dayton, Miamisburg, Germantown. Published for Clearfield Company by Genealogical Publishing Company, 2014
  • Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, et al. German Immigration to America: the First Wave. Heritage Books, 2007
  • Wittke, Carl Frederick. The German-Language Press in America. Literary Licensing, 2000

Otto and his German Language Newspaper: Part One

The City of Dayton, Ohio in 1867 was at the edge of the second industrial revolution and maturing from her agricultural beginnings. Factories were competing for prime real estate along the new railroad lines to transport their goods faster and cheaper than ever before. And as one of the largest Ohio cities, immigrants arrived by the hundreds in search of employment and with romantic hopes of achieving the American Dream they’ve heard so much about.

Meanwhile in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Adolph Otto Moosbrugger was struggling to rise above the poverty of his youth. The first-born son of a country doctor and a French refugee, Otto referred to his early childhood as “happy and gay, although always hungry.” His earliest memories were of scarcity and rationed food. He later tells of respect for his mother, Josephine, in how she would split a small loaf of bread among six hungry mouths without giving a preference to any one person.

In 1860 Otto turned 21 and joined the military when the Kingdom of Austria, an ally of Germany at the time, went to war against Italy. After the war, he left the military as rank promotions were slow during peacetime and he then moved through several clerical jobs, but never making much money. It was when working as a bookkeeper at a cigar factory in Mahlberg that his life began to take focus. Otto began courting 18-year-old Wilhelmina Föhrenbach, who also worked at the factory. Surrounded by the aromatics of tobacco and sweat, the two fell in love. They wanted to marry, but Otto knew his clerical career wouldn’t provide the income need to start a family.

A good friend of Otto’s, Gustas Dreher, was a brewer in Mahlberg and had spent several years in the United States. He would tell Otto glorious stories about this Promised Land, “portraying it in the rosiest hues.” With a plan in mind, a 28-year-old Otto bought passage on the steamer, “New York,” and made a promise to send for Wilhelmina when as soon as he could.

Twelve days after leaving Germany behind, the ship arrived at Ellis Island on a cool fall day to deliver her passengers to this new world. With his next step fully decided, Otto continued his travels to the renowned city of industry, Dayton, Ohio.

Otto Moosbrugger on New York’s passenger list. Mistakenly transcribed as “Maasburger.”

Otto was bilingual, being fluent in German and French. However, he couldn’t speak a word of English. He was challenged by this language barrier, especially when trying to find work. He began with labor jobs, such as painting railroad cars for the Barney & Smith Company. He enjoyed the physical work, which he felt held more respect than clerking. But he was frustrated in the low wages that kept him from his goal of bringing Wilhelmina from Germany.  In Otto’s words, he was “unable to earn even the salt for his soup.”

As the labor force grew in Dayton, so did the trade union movement. Many unions had a strong discrimination against immigrants, making higher paying labor jobs outside of their reach. Otto eventually found a better paying job with a German-owned music store as a clerk. After two years, he finally had enough money to send for Wilhelmina. They married in 1869, and moved into the second story of a home at 24 Buckeye Street that was owned by an elderly couple, the Wiedman’s, who lived on the first floor with their adult son.

The German American population in Dayton during this time was nearing its peak. According to Linn Orear’s Survey of the Germans of Dayton 1830 – 1900; their cultural and economic role, by the year 1890, eleven percent of the city’s citizens were of German heritage, with many other Germans living in the surrounding areas. By 1900, the German-born living in Dayton far outnumbered natives in the occupations of bakers, butchers, and brewers.

Because of this large immigrant population growth, nativism supporters were very active in cities across the United States. Nativism was supported by followers of the “Know Nothing Party,” who were political activists rebelling against those who were bringing foreign ideas into the communities. The Know Nothings were against the Irish for practicing Catholicism and they didn’t like the Germans, accusing them of cultural isolation, and their implied superiority and aloofness. Nativism methods ranged from petitions and legislation, but eventually escalated to violence. City riots in large cities were common, sometimes triggered by something like when the German community insisted on celebrating Sunday with parades, picnics, and songfests, when the Know Nothings felt Sundays were to be treated as a solemn day of peace and rest.

The Dayton Herald, March 8 1886

Otto was engaged with the political activities in Dayton and was compelled to protect the German community he lived in. By 1875 he had reached a self-taught fluency in the English language. He took a job as a treasurer with a tri-weekly German language newspaper, intending to support the German American citizens in that role. The paper was so poorly managed by its editors, however, that many times they couldn’t even make payroll.

It was time for a new plan.

[continued at Otto and his German Language Newspaper: Part Two]


  • Moosbrugger, Adoph Otto. Personal Life History of Adoph Otto Moosbrugger. Handwritten Journal, 1909
  • Orear, Linn. Survey of the Germans of Dayton 1830 – 1900; their cultural and economic role. Thesis. Miami University, 1961
  • Paasche, Gottfried. America, Germany, and the Daytoner Volkszeitung 1880-1900. Thesis. Miami University, 1961
  • Rattermann, H. A., and Elfe Vallaster-Dona. German Pioneers of Montgomery County, Ohio: Early Pioneer Life in Dayton, Miamisburg, Germantown. Published for Clearfield Company by Genealogical Publishing Company, 2014
  • Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, et al. German Immigration to America: the First Wave. Heritage Books, 2007
  • Wittke, Carl Frederick. The German-Language Press in America. Literary Licensing, 2000