Excursion 16, Part 4 (The Hanging House)

In which our intrepid hero encounters some bad noose…

This year I “celebrate” my 20th year of studying extremists in the United States, something that began as a completely unplanned and odd little outgrowth of my dissertation (which had nothing to do with extremism or, for that matter, the 20th century).  By January 1995, I was spending a lot of time looking at domestic extremists and the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing essentially changed my life forever, causing me to focus on extremism and terrorism, first voluntarily and soon professionally.  I’ve done that ever since.  But my very first encounter with extremism occurred decades earlier, when I was a child.

[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image]

When I was a child in El Paso in the 1970s, around the age of 8 or 9, I stood on a street corner waiting to cross the street and happened to notice a ragged handbill glued to a streetlamp post.  The flyer was printed but still hand-written, consisting of nothing but lines of rambling text filling the entire page, full of racial epithets and other elements of bigotry.  It turned out to be a Ku Klux Klan flyer, which I know now is rather remarkable, as Klan groups only rarely and briefly show up in the city (the Klan historically is very weak in the southwest).

When I started these excursions, I wondered whether I would find signs of extremism in Ohio, and if so, how many.  Over the course of the past year, I certainly have seen a few, from crude white power graffiti to “birther” conspiracy theories.  Last weekend, I actually found a militia training ground (picture to come, some day).  But overall, and happily, I have seen fewer such things than I feared I might find.  It reinforces the fact that extremists are still a distinct minority in a population that consists primarily of people of good will.  Still, you occasionally come across a disturbing scene (as we will see, or you can skip to the very end, if you are impatient).

At this point in my 16th excursion, I was heading southwest from northeastern Ohio (north of East Liverpool), still in the woods and hills of northeastern Appalachian Ohio.  Appalachian Ohio, in both its northeast and southeast varieties, are my favorite parts of Ohio to drive through.


There are a lot of interesting things to see in eastern Ohio, including this charming little mural on the front of a dairy in Minerva, Ohio (population 3,720), south of Canton and Akron.  Sadly, Minerva, like many towns and villages in the region, has a declining population (from a high of 4,359 in 1970).  Note that this dairy has been in business since 1935; let’s hope it will be around many years from now.  It is rather progressive, not using anti-biotics (the use of antibiotics in livestock is causing the development of resistant bacteria) and offering Kosher and Halal cheeses.


It’s pretty safe to say that these train cars haven’t been anywhere in a while.


As I drove through the countryside, I came across a very odd stretch of road: a  brick cobblestone road.  At one point, many or even most of the paved roads in Ohio’s cities and towns were made of brick; one can often still see the brick underneath modern pavement and some cities and towns have preserved some of their brick roads (for example, Columbus’s famous German Village).  However, in the thousands of miles I have driven across and around rural Ohio, this was the first time I’ve come across a stretch of brick road.  And it really is just a short stretch, in the middle of nowhere.  I have no idea why it exists this way, but it was certainly interesting to come across.


An overcast Ohio countryside, with a touch of sprinkles and mist.


The view ahead.  I initially thought the house up the road was abandoned, but upon close inspections of the photos I took (not included here), I finally decided that it was probably still occupied.


Here’s an Amish house (I was in “Amish country” by this time.  It is easy to tell when you are getting into Amish country, because you start seeing horse manure on the roads (I actually took a picture of that, but decided not to share; I also decided not to share photos of a nearby sewage treatment plant; you’re welcome).  So many Amish houses fit a “type”:  massive, sturdy construction; painted white; grey cinder block lower level/basement; vegetable garden; clothesline, birdhouses.  And, of course, no electric lines.  This is missing a few, but has the rest.


Here’s another Amish house.  I don’t know why so many Amish houses are white.


Ohio has a lot of small lakes and some of them are very swampy.  Here’s one such.  Most of the top of the lake was covered with some sort of algae or other scum.


Another look at the swamp.  I’ve mentioned before that I am fascinated with swamps and marshes, because you just don’t have them in the Chihuahua Desert.


Shreve, Ohio, is a small village (population 1,514, salute!) with some picturesque old buildings.  The one here on the right has a wonderful old-fashioned fire escape (old-fashioned even relative to other fire escapes).  Notice that the building on the left dates from the Civil War era; both probably do.


Across an intersection is “Des Dutch Essenhouse,” designed to appeal to the Amish Country tourist crowd (they even have some Amish buggies inside that they’ve turned into booths).


A National Guard armory building in Shreve.  State records state that the money for this building ($51,400) was appropriated in 1922, so the building was probably constructed not long after.


A pastoral countryside scene.


This is one of those photos that I confess has appeal only to me.  As I have mentioned in earlier blog entries, I have become rather enamored of the various bridges and bridge-like structures that people in rural Ohio construct to get across a stream or creek that comes between them and their mailbox on the side of the road.  This is perhaps the simplest and plainest I’ve seen; some are amazingly long, high and elaborate.


But that takes us to the final photograph of this journey, taken in some of the last moments of daylight.   As I drove past this residence, I paid little attention to the garage-like structure out in front, until something caught my eye:  a noose hanging in the window (over the “Danger: Authorized Personnel Only Sign”).  This caused me to stop, back up and look at this structure some more.  After close examination, I found there were at least four different hangman’s nooses dangling from different parts of this building, among other odds and ends.  Seeing a building festooned with nooses like that certainly sent a chill up and down my spine.  I obviously don’t know who these people are or whether they might be extremists or dangerous in some other way, but those nooses certainly send a message.  I noticed too a closed-circuit camera mounted to the building, so I decided not to linger.  I had already been chased for a goodly number of miles earlier in the day by an angry man; these people definitely did not seem like the sort of folks you’d want to have chasing you.  So I was very quickly on my way, and back to home base.

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