Thursday, August 30, 2012

“The Pettibone Club”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

While searching the vast reserve of online newspaper archives for stories about Geauga, I encountered an unexpected truism: illegal gambling was once present in our county.

According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, diligent police action in Cleveland forced organized crime bosses to seek refuge in outlying areas around the city. Thus came the Pettibone Club to our region - one of an Ohio network that included the Jungle Inn, Mounds Club and Colony Club.

A bit of hunting in cyberspace uncovered this description of the shady establishment:

History of Bainbridge -

“The Pettibone, or Arrow Club, operated from about 1939 until 1949 on Pettibone Road across the line from Solon. This gambling casino was designed with a large central room surrounded by smaller rooms. The walls between the center room and the outside rooms were 3 to 4 feet thick and hollow, with a catwalk running through them. From the catwalk, any of the rooms could be observed through peepholes in the walls. The club burned down some years later.”

Further investigation delivered old stories about the club:

Youngstown Vindicator, November 10, 1947

“Chardon – By overwhelming votes, Geauga County residents expressed themselves as sure of three things in a newspaper poll conducted over the week-end. They are sure that gambling is conducted at the notorious Pettibone Club, that the club should be shut down, and that grand jury foreman Martin Miller has their hearty approval in conducting his anti-gambling campaign. Farmers, businessmen, crossroads merchants, truck drivers and clerks were covered in the poll, and over the county as a whole there was little doubt in the minds of most of them that gambling went on at the Pettibone. ‘It’s the same old story – the same officials being in office for too long,’ said a Chester Township resident. ‘It is only fair to assume that as long as the club operates, someone is being paid off.’ Said an Auburn businessman. ‘That is only fair logic.’ ‘More power to Miller,’ a Munson man said. ‘I see no reason why Sheriff Stuart Harland and Prosecutor Bostwick shouldn’t be forced to close this place. The notoriety Geauga receives from it is disgraceful to all of us.’ In one of Geauga’s 15 tow(n)ships – Bainbridge, home of the club premises – the people thought the club should be left alone.”

Painesville Telegraph, June 28, 1950

“CHARDON – Nine witnesses were prepared today to present further evidence of gambling at the Pettibone Club as the Geauga County Grand Jury began its second day of its special anti-gambling session. The jury heard four witnesses Tuesday, including two state liquor agents who it is reported, described how they had visited the Pettibone Club during the last six months and played slot machines dice games and other devices at the club which is located in southwestern Geauga County. Two of the nine men who will testify today, Charles McGue and Nick Rogers, were expected to tell the Grand Jury of their frequent visits to the club where they posed as ‘habitual gamblers.’ Four of the witnesses called today include Joseph Harrell, Steve Nemeth, Stanley Cmich, and A. G. Kopan who will tell of the raid at the club Saturday night when efforts were made to resist their entrance. It was understood that the generally well kept secrets of the club operations were revealed Tuesday when State Liquor Enforcement Chief Anthony Rutkowski and three other witnesses testified before the jury. Two of these witnesses were Donald Van Horn and Tom Paonessa, state agents who revealed how they posed as gamblers to gain evidence which classifies the Pettibone Club as one of the state’s biggest gambling casinos. Another witness was Paul Van Dame an Ohio Penitentiary prisoner who is serving a term for embezzlement after losing $20,000 in gambling clubs, including the Pettibone Club. When the jury adjourned at 4 p.m. Tuesday a considerable amount of evidence, including photographs and papers, was turned over to Common Pleas Court Judge William K. Thomas by County Prosecutor H. K. Bostwick… it was learned that the state has many photographs of the Pettibone Club interior. One photo reveals a chair placed in front of an opening which permits the observer to gain a clear view of every person entering through the grilled gates of the club.”

Painesville Telegraph, May 9, 1951

“CHARDON – Reported long distance phone calls made from the sheriff’s office by county jail inmate George Gordon, manager of the defunct Pettibone Club, were being investigated by the Geauga County Grand Jury, it was learned today. The jury is in its third day of investigation of charges that Gordon has been a privileged prisoner at the jail. First witness called before the jury when it reconvened at 10 (o’clock) this morning was Yetter Snyder, manager of the Chardon Telephone Co., who, it is believed, will testify concerning the alleged long distance calls. One such call reportedly was to Las Vegas, Nev., where Cleveland gambling interests operate the plush Desert Inn. Beginning at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the panel which had started sessions Monday afternoon, did not adjourn until 5 p.m. Testifying before the jury during the morning were Leonard M. Hammer and Robert J. Drake, reporters, whose account of the alleged privileges was published in a Cleveland newspaper. Called to the jury room in the afternoon were Mike Farinacci, Chardon auto dealer; Deputy Sheriffs George Spiel and John Brindo; Chief of Police John Bohl, Patrolman Walter Bookman. Just before adjournment, Mr. Hammer was recalled for further questioning. Prosecuting Attorney Harold Bostwick was in the jury room during testimony of all witnesses with the exception of Chief Bohl and Partolman Boobman. Mr. Bostwick was not present when the grand jury went into session this morning nor when Mr. Snyder was recalled. Scheduled to testify today are: Edward Wettstein, bakery owner; Louis Robisky, Chardon policeman; Deputy Sheriff and Mrs. Spiel, who were in charge of the department during Sheriff Stuart Harland’s vacation; Richard A. Linke, radio operator at the sheriff’s department; Deputy Carl Kronk; and George Mischnie, owner of the Green Lantern Restaurant.”

While the thought of underworld gamblers making a home in Geauga County might seem fantastic, once again, truth proves to be stranger than fiction.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

“Geauga Gambling”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Historically, Ohio has been slow to embrace legalized gambling. While many of our citizens enjoyed wagering outside of the state’s borders, somehow, we resisted the push to legitimize such activity here at home.

Now, that trend has reversed.

Local residents can enjoy a full measure of this leisure habit in Cleveland. Or, sample a bit of the experience via Internet Cafes like the one on Water Street, in Chardon.

But in yonder days, the idea of gambling here at home was shocking to many.
The newspaper editorial that follows here provides an example of such ‘old school’ thinking:

Geauga Faces Grave Challenge
The Painesville Telegraph, March 27, 1950

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned, according to legend. A modern analogy can be seen in Geauga County where the people of that fine community are twiddling their thumbs while another destructive agent (named) gambling – threatens the morals and well-being of many persons – adults and youths. If the people of Geauga continue to show apathy toward this menace, they will eventually be confronted with a deplorable situation which, if not of their own making, will largely have grown through their failure to act effectively when the handwriting appeared on the wall. To put it more bluntly, if not enough right-thinking citizens, including church leaders, are interested in eliminating rotten gambling conditions such as exist at the notorious Pettibone Club, many will live to see the day when they will deeply regret their failure to oust the gambling forces. It seems strange that in Geauga County there apparently are no judges, justices of the peace, or law enforcement officials who see some grain of reasonableness in Governor (Frank J.) Lausche’s desire to clean up the gambling situation by whatever means are at hand. One would naturally think that Geaugans would be aroused to fighting pitch by the Pettibone’s defiance of the governor or other state officials who have issued closing orders to the casino. But there has not even been a ripple of protest to the club’s flagrant disregard of the law. Let’s go back to another era and briefly review the case of Al Capone. Not even the most aggressive and conscientious law enforcement officials ever were able to pin him on any of the myriad murders, hold-ups and extortions for which, everyone knew, he and his gang were responsible. Instead, the forces of the law broke up the gang by going through the back door and taking Capone out of circulation by convicting him of income tax evasions. It seems that Governor Lausche would be justified in using the same or similar tactics against gambling interests in Geauga. If the latter are violating minor laws, one procedure at this time could be to pin on them whatever maximum penalties are allowed by law for those infractions insofar as getting local authorities to act on gambling is concerned. Unless Geauga County takes drastic steps, many parents – and this, too, applies to church leaders – may wake up some day to find their youth corrupted beyond all recovery. There is an old German folk story about the Pied Piper of Hamelin which fits into this picture. Is Geauga letting the Pied Piper, in the guise of the gambling promoter, lead its innocents astray? The young folks may not hear the Piper’s luring notes right now, but inevitably large numbers of them will respond to the call. Then the county really will have something about which to lament. Governor Lausche shouldn’t have to fight Geauga’s battle alone. He should receive the strongest kind of support from the residents of the county, who, after all, would be the ones to benefit from a sweeping victory. The people of Geauga County face a grave challenge in the call to rid their community of gambling. They should no longer hesitate to band together and show, as others have done throughout the ages, that the forces of right and decency are greater than the forces of evil.”

In modern times, the appeal of new jobs and tax revenue has proven to be irresistible for many states that face budgetary issues. Additionally, the social climate has changed drastically from bygone years.

Many who consider themselves to be socially conscious or morally correct have decided that engaging in gambling activity of some sort is acceptable. And indeed, profitable.

Still, debate over the topic remains vigorous and persistent.

Whether gambling is embraced in public, or relegated to the dim light of shadowy corners, it remains an enduring part of life in the county.

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“Credit Card Complaint”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

My friend Ezekiel Byler-Gregg of the Burton Daily Bugle endured a period of financial difficulty between 2007-2009, just as the national economy was in dire straits. His mood had brightened a bit as personal discipline and sacrifice put him on solid ground, once again. But a recent offer of credit sent him careening back into citizen protest.

What follows here is a transcript of his latest rant-by-wire:

OPERATOR: “Welcome to Defender Card, where it pays to have a defender in your corner! May I help you?”

EZEKIEL: “This is Ezekiel Byler-Gregg of Burton, Ohio. I would like to register a dang complaint, please.”

OPERATOR: “I’m sorry, did you want to sign up for a Defender Card today?”

EZEKIEL: “No, did you hear me? I want to complain.”

OPERATOR: “Is there a problem with your account, sir?”

EZEKIEL: “I don’t have an account.”

OPERATOR: “Then I don’t understand…”

EZEKIEL: “I want to complain because you recently sent me a credit card application via old-fashioned, postal mail.”

OPERATOR: (After a long pause) “I’m sorry, sir. What was the nature of your complaint if you are not a Defender Card member?”

EZEKIEL: “During the economic meltdown, a few years ago, I had financial problems at my newspaper in Geauga County. Your institution was the first to press legal action against me when I missed a couple of payments. At the time, our federal government was busy rescuing the banking system. I pointed out that the whole bunch of you would have been living under a bridge without this intervention. So it seemed logical that since my taxpayer dollars were literally saving your hide, some sort of bailout for myself was in order.”

OPERATOR: (After another long pause) “Sir, could you repeat that, please?”

EZEKIEL: “In plain language, you got a free ride from the government, and I got mule-kicked in the teeth!”

OPERATOR: “Sir, I still don’t understand your complaint…”

EZEKIEL: “I’ve been a working man since helping out on my Mennonite Grandfather’s farm as a kid. I always took care with money and always paid my bills on time. But when the economy got bad a few years ago, I started to struggle with my newspaper. You showered me with horse dung while I was down on my luck. And now that things are a little better, you start sending me credit card offers. Well, you know what? I don’t want them. That’s my last word. Keep those foolish offers to yourself.”

OPERATOR: “Sir, nearly every banking institution sends out promotional material.”

EZEKIEL: “I don’t care! Keep them out of my mailbox!”

OPERATOR: “This is a for-profit business, sir. We operate to make money for our investors.”

EZEKIEL: “You operate to keep people hooked on credit. Like a pusher roaming the neighborhood for addicts.”

OPERATOR: “That is characterization is completely unfair.”

EZEKIEL: “Unfair? Nope, I say it is accurate.”

OPERATOR: “We offer lines of credit to customers in good standing.”

EZEKIEL: “Miss, I am the same person you tried to sue in 2009. With the same habits and sense of self-discipline. The only thing that changed was I found my way out of the financial meltdown. So, how can you say I am in good standing today, when I was a bum three years ago?”

OPERATOR: “Those determinations are made by people above my pay grade.”

EZEKIEL: “So, you are just a lady who answers the telephones.”

OPERATOR: “That is correct.”

EZEKIEL: “Therefore, you have no knowledge of how our government talks out of both sides of its mouth by claiming to support Main Street over Wall Street, while bailing out a privileged class of bankers.”

OPERATOR: “I don’t work for the government, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “No, but you owe your very existence to them, right?”

OPERATOR: “That is your opinion.”

EZEKIEL: “Dang right it is!”

OPERATOR: “This conversation is going nowhere. Have a good day…”

EZEKIEL: “No, no, no! Don’t hang up!”

OPERATOR: “Did you have another issue to address?”

EZEKIEL: “I want to be taken off your mailing list.”

OPERATOR: “You have stated that desire, already.”

EZEKIEL: “Then do it!”

OPERATOR: “I don’t control our advertising department, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “Fine. Then put me in touch with the turkey who does!”

OPERATOR: “Your terminology is offensive.”

EZEKIEL: “Whaaat, did I hurt your feelings?”

OPERATOR: “Sarcasm is unnecessary, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “I wouldn’t call it unnecessary. I would call it indispensable…”

OPERATOR: “Good day to you, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “Wait, wait, wait! Don’t hang up!”

OPERATOR: “Sir, this call is pointless.”

EZEKIEL: “Not at all. I am trying to get you to understand that the banking system in America is broken. You are exacerbating the problem, not helping to cure it.”
OPERATOR: “Goodbye, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “No dang it, no!!”

OPERATOR: “Most people would be grateful for an offer of credit in these difficult times…”

EZEKIEL: “I would be grateful if you hadn’t kicked me in the tail three years ago!”

OPERATOR: “I don’t set Defender Card policy, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “No, you just get a paycheck from a bunch of hooligans who looted the national treasury without facing any consequences!”

OPERATOR: “That is a baseless accusation.”

EZEKIEL: “I think it’s a statement of fact.”

OPERATOR: “What you think is not relevant to this discussion, sir.”

EZEKIEL: “I think you should remove me from your mailing list!”

OPERATOR: “Your request has been noted.”

EZEKIEL: “In my opinion, your employer should be in a jail cell right now!”

OPERATOR: “I do not deal with opinions, sir. As we discussed before, I answer telephones.”

EZEKIEL: “And apparently, not much else…”

OPERATOR: “Thank you from Defender Card. Have a good day!”

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Friday, August 10, 2012

“Hamglaze – The Erie Connection”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It had been a busy weekend in the Icehouse. Yard work and home improvement projects left little time for creative writing. Then, I had to visit Chardon for more supplies. The evening was close at hand when I passed Get Go on Center Street.

In their parking lot, a red minivan sat with its side door open. Pages of newsprint covered the hood. And roast beef sandwiches were piled on the passenger seat.

My friend Carrie Hamglaze seemed to be having an impromptu campaign rally. She was speaking to a middle-aged couple who intently received every word of political advice. Quietly, I wondered if was she running for office again.

At the stoplight, I turned right, in front of CVS. Then swung left, into the Pittsburgh fuel oasis. It was jammed with customers, so I took a distant space by the Wet Go car wash.

As I approached my friend, her voice echoed, powerfully.

“See here,” she said. “I write for the local paper. Chardon News is my column. I’ve been a teacher, tennis coach, and local public servant. So you can rest assured that I speak with authority when saying that the November election will be perhaps the most important call to duty ever issued in the history of our nation…”

“Hi Carrie,” I interjected. “How have you been?”

She spun around with surprise, still holding an empty Kaiser roll. “Rod Ice! My fellow writer from the Leaf! Would you like a sandwich?”

“No, thank you,” I laughed. “Just wanted to say hello because we haven’t crossed paths all summer. Have you been away?”

She gestured with a Bob Frantz bumper sticker from WTAM. “If you aren’t hungry, then perhaps something for your car would be a suitable gift?”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t use those. I abhor the visual clutter. But thanks.”

Carrie peeled back the top of an aluminum foil pan. “Okay, then it has to be a sandwich. I was just at a buffet dinner. This is good roast beef, I assure you!”

My face went red. “Actually, I was hoping you’d introduce me to your friends.”

The gray-bearded fellow standing before us laughed out loud. “We are from Erie. Just stopped to get gasoline and saw the Romney poster in Carrie’s window. My name is Stan Stefanek, and this is my wife, Dreama. We are in the Northwestern Pennsylvania Tea Party Association.”

I bowed my head with embarrassment. “Oh, I thought you were subscribers to the Geauga County Maple Leaf. Carrie knows everyone around here…”

Dreama smiled patiently with the realism of a new-age grandmother. “We happened to strike up a conversation about the upcoming election, and realized that the three of us are in agreement about a lot of things!”

“The president is a skilled campaigner,” I observed. “He won’t be defeated easily. Even with the struggling economy.”

Stan rubbed his eyes. “Everyone needs to get five friends to the ballot box. That would make the difference.”

“Indeed!” Carrie cheered. She reached inside her minivan for a copy of the Romney poster. “Here you go, Rod. Put this in your window right now!”

I shook my head. “No thanks. You know who we support in the Ice household…”

My friend reacted with a grin. “Yes. Ron Paul is your guy.”

Stan Stefanek shuddered, visibly. “You are wasting your vote. ‘Anybody but Obama’ is my motto this year.”

“Really?” I mused. “Well, I won’t consider my vote wasted. The two-party system is corrupt and broken. Money rules the day. Not people power. Mr. Obama was originally elected out of the growing citizen unrest that has taken hold across America. Your movement reflects that restlessness, as does the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ phenomenon. To cast a ballot for the same paradigm that brought us to this moment in history reflects Einstein’s classic definition of insanity.”

Dreama put a hand over her mouth. “Oh my!”

“Every good citizen needs to vote for Mitt!” Stan declared.

“Well said!” Carrie agreed.

My face reddened once more. “Actually, as a journalist, I find your position to be undeniably fascinating. The Tea Party movement is certainly not inclined to support progressive social policies. So how can you vote for a fellow who authored the Massachusetts template for Obamacare?”

Dreama gasped loudly.

“He will repeal Obama’s healthcare reform,” Stan barked. “On his first day in office.”

“Furthermore, Romney’s legacy as governor was to take many of the same positions as Ted Kennedy,” I reflected. “He came off as an eastern version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fiscally disciplined, but socially permissive. Doesn’t that clash with your philosophical outlook? And hasn’t his march to the nomination brought into question the actual political power of the Tea Party, itself?”

Silence spread across the parking lot.

Finally, Carrie opened her mouth. “Anybody but Obama!”

Stan and Dreama joined in the refrain. “Anybody, anybody, anybody but Obama!”

My face was crimson like a Campbell’s tomato soup can. “I must confess that Marco Rubio sounds interesting. He would be a colorful choice as a running mate. Very Libertarian in outlook…”

Stan shuddered again. “I think Mitt should pick Rick Santorum.”

“A man from my home state of Pennsylvania!” Carrie squealed.

“No, Mitt should pick you, Mrs. Hamglaze!” I said.

Everyone agreed, with enthusiasm.

“Regardless of any of this,” I concluded, “Hillary Clinton will be elected in 2016. Love her or hate her, she isn’t going to give up until the White House is hers. Again.”

Shock and alarm filled the air.

Then, Carrie began to laugh. “Oh, I get it! A joke! Very funny, Rodney!”

Dreama chortled along. “Oh my! Oh my!”

Stan looked at his watch. “Well, it’s a long drive back to Erie. We must be going. So nice to meet you all!”

“We’ll be in touch!” Carrie promised. “Safe travel to you!”

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Friday, August 03, 2012

“Do It Again”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

At my workplace near Lake Erie, the music system offers a variety of channels fed through a satellite dish. Typically, our choice of tuneful sounds is carefully regulated to provide a bland mix that will avoid offending customers. But recently, someone switched the receiver to an 80’s music channel. The result has been that many songs long since surrendered to yesterday have returned to my subconscious mind. I find myself whistling melodies not heard in decades. What follows here is a short list of these classic tracks:

1. “Echo Beach” / Martha and the Muffins (1980) – A haunting wish for yonder days when life was not ruled by boredom. A Canadian tale told by an office clerk.

2. “Just Another Night” / Mick Jagger (1985) – From his solo release “She’s the Boss.” A track that combines acoustic guitar, keyboards and synthesizer trickery. Modernistic for its time. A lost reverberation from the moment in time when Mick and Keith Richards both tried solo projects.

3. “Girl U Want” / Devo (1980) – A quirky, yet catchy tune. Forgotten by comparison to their omnipresent single “Whip It.” But it was the template for many successful tunes that followed.

4. “Do It Again” / The Kinks (1984) – From the album “Word of Mouth.” Stylistically, a nod to their primal sound, with a raw chord structure and grungy guitar tones. The lyrics match, with references to past days of glory.

5. “Delirious” / Prince (1982) – From his smash recording “1999.” In days of yore, Prince was everywhere. His prowess as a funk composer, performer and producer overwhelmed popular music in that period. He was always controversial, but never ignored.

6. “If Dirt Were Dollars” / Don Henley (1989) – Gritty and satirical, in the best tradition of his solo works. A rocking bit of social commentary. More proof that he could soar beyond fame with the Eagles.

7. “Walking on Sunshine” / Katrina and the Waves (1985) – A catchy and upbeat single that proved to be irresistible, then and now. The song has been covered by various artists around the world, including Country Music icon Dolly Parton.

8. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” / Michael Jackson (1982) – From the explosive album “Thriller.” Evidence of Quincy Jones’ talent as a writer and producer. A nod to Jackson at his peak as the “King of Pop.”

9. “Tainted Love” / Soft Cell (1981) – A modernistic re-working of the song first made popular by Gloria Jones in 1965. The single received lots of airplay. Recognized as #2 of VH-1’s “100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 1980’s.”

10. “Livin’ on a Prayer” / Bon Jovi (1986) – Played over and over again. A staple song of the decade, along with “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Wanted, Dead or Alive.”

11. “King for a Day” / Thompson Twins (1985) – Breezy and cheerful, an anthem of the period that endures despite its dated sound and style.

12. “Girls on Film” / Duran Duran (1981) – A controversial video helped attract attention for this song, as MTV debuted. A peek into the world of pop stardom. The group would score numerous hits throughout the decade.

13. “Time After Time” / Cyndi Lauper (1984) – A beautiful ballad, strangely emotive for the squeaky pop queen. Haunting to hear decades later. It hearkens back to simpler times and the energy of youth.

14. “The Metro” / Berlin (1983) – A melodic blend of pop and darker New Wave elements. Urban imagery offered in a direct and minimalist fashion.

15. “I Feel for You” / Chaka Khan (1984) – Big beats and Hip Hop style made this single a favorite on the radio. Danceable and hard to forget.

16. “99 Luftballoons” / Nena (1983) – Though re-recorded as “99 Red Balloons” in English, the earlier version in German received more airplay in the era. An unlikely hit, but oh-so-catchy.

17. “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” / Power Station (1985) – Another single that received heavy airplay during the decade. The group was comprised of vocalist Robert Palmer with members of Chic and Duran Duran.

18. “Rock You Up” / The Romantics (1983) – A rollicking, good-time anthem. This group carried a basic, punchy Rock sound that transcended the decade. Still fresh even after the passage of many years.

19. “She Blinded Me with Science” / Thomas Dolby (1982) – A danceable oddity that puzzled listeners, even in yonder days. Contains the amusing lyrics: “She’s tidied up, and I can’t find anything!”

20. “Channel Z” / The B-52’s (1989) – A rhythmic ode to static on the television. Fred Schneider belts out spoken lyrics with the geeky non-appeal of actor Jonathan Harris. Yet somehow, the group continued their chart success throughout the decade.

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