Woody Internship – Taft Museum of Art – Blog 4

Did you know Nicholas Longworth and David Sinton both had steamships named after them? I didn’t either. At least, I didn’t know that until half the results of my database search turned out to be about boats instead of people. That’s just one mystery of my research this summer: figuring out which source is about a person and which is about a steamship. That is one of the many reasons I’ve come to characterize this project as a treasure hunt. Sometimes you strike gold with in-depth articles about your subjects; sometimes you find a dozen steamship timetables.

Cover page of "Memorial of the Golden Wedding," an 1857 poem published to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Nicholas and Susan Longworth. It's quite long, and definitely what I would consider "striking gold" in my research project.

Cover page of “Memorial of the Golden Wedding,” an 1857 poem published to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Nicholas and Susan Longworth. It’s quite long, and definitely what I would consider “striking gold” in my research project.

The primary database I’ve been using — America’s Historical Newspapers — presents search results in chronological order (as opposed to relevancy or some other metric). The effect of that on my research is that I am following the lives of my subjects as they happened. For my first subject, Martin Baum, the search was pretty sparse. There aren’t many digitized newspapers from early nineteenth century Cincinnati, and the details of Baum’s life are only a few mentions of his business interests and public service.

For Nicholas Longworth, our favorite winemaker/strawberry king/weird old man, his later life was widely covered. I read newspapers from the period of his business expansion, watching his reputation grow nationwide. I also got to read his feud with another strawberry farmer as it progressed, letter by letter, a bloody duel in the public square of horticultural publications.

However, the “treasure hunt” of historical research has been most fully realized in my work on David Sinton. Sinton was often in the Cincinnati papers for some reason or another (public service; philanthropy; being sued; etc.), and I’ve followed the events of his life as they unfolded in the news. Right now, the biggest mystery is the “Fifth Street market space improvements.” In the 1870s, Sinton offered the City of Cincinnati $50,000 for additions to the Fifth Street market space, now known as Fountain Square. However, the projects proposed by Sinton (which evolved over time, from a 180-foot clock/watch-tower to a Roman-style forum) didn’t come to fruition; Fountain Square contains none of the things he suggested. I have yet to find the reason why. As it turns out, this mystery is a great motivator. I’m reading and annotating sources as quickly as I can to find the answers to my questions, much like racing through a good book to figure out how it ends.

Presently, that search is halted. The newspapers in the era I’m focusing on are covering Sinton’s other philanthropic ventures, but I’m waiting for the Fountain Square issue to pop up again. I’ll update you once (if?) I figure it out. Until next time: know that I am neck-deep in historical periodicals, enjoying Cincinnati and the Taft, and stunned that my time here is already halfway over.