Ernie Robison found part of William Siegel’s gold pocket watch in the spring of 1933, about 29 years after an explosion in a nitroglycerin magazine smashed windows in nearby Spencerville and rained down pieces of dirt, wood, horsemeat and Siegel, who worked at the magazine. fields.
Robison told the Spencerville Journal-News in March 1933 that he had found the back cover of a watch worn by Siegel, who worked with nitroglycerin as a “shooter” on oil fields when he was killed in July 1904 while burning over a plot of pasture on it. a farm half a mile north of Spencerville on State Highway 66.
“The watch cover was found about 150 feet from the site of the explosion,” the Journal-News reported. “After the explosion, part of Siegel’s body was found in the branches of a tree that once stood exactly where the clock cover was found.”
For Robison, the watch cover was a fascinating, albeit terrifying, connection to the area’s past, and Robison had a constant interest in local history.
“Ernie’s interest in local history began many years ago when, while cleaning upstairs in the Pohlman Hardware Building, he found five negatives of pictures taken in the 1800s,” the Journal-News reported in June 1963, when Robison described him as “Official.” Spencerville’s unofficial historian, ”after more than two decades refused to write a weekly history column. “The negatives pushed Ernie into what turned out to be an endless search for information about the community we live in, and he spent countless hours reviewing ancient documents, old newspapers, talking to veterans and collecting dates of birth. and deaths from tombstones in many extremely old cemeteries in the area. ”
Charles Ernest Robison was the son of John T. and Mary Van Sveringen Robison. His father was from Galatin County, Kentucky, and settled in Van Wert County in 1871 before moving to Spencerville, where Robison was born in a house on West North Street on April 10, 1894. The family moved to a farm north of Spencerville in 1899. Robison has lived most of his life near the Miami and Erie Canals, which runs through many of his stories.
He was a World War I veteran, an experience he wrote about in 1963. Robison described that his unit was advancing to the front in the summer of 1918, fear growing as the sounds of war approached. Finally, the unit was ordered to stop until the lieutenant-lieutenant asked the people if there were any questions before he went ahead to get the final orders.
“Private Long asked, ‘Sir, how close are we to the front?'” Robison wrote. A short pause, and again out of the rain and darkness came the lieutenant’s cold voice: “Are there any important questions?” At that moment, no one could have come up with a more important issue. “
In March 1958, the newspaper Lima News wrote: “After working in various professions, Robison engaged in agriculture in 1924 on 55 acres of property, which he now owns and rents to other farmers. He is also a former employee of Pohlman’s Hardware, a business with which he has been associated periodically for a 32-year period. “
In December 1971, he told the Journal-News: “I did everything little by little… engaged in agriculture, worked in a hardware store, a jewelry store, whatever. If you lived in those days, it was clear that a person should do everything little by little.
He wrote a lot about the history of the area. In 1941, he began collaborating with the Journal of News, leading a column on local lore. He also became a member of the Allen County Historical Society, the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio Canal Society.
“The canal was the center of society’s social life, as it offered opportunities for boating, skating and swimming,” the Journal-News reported in December 1971. “We used to swim naked, and we had to dive every time the gods came by,” Robison told the newspaper.
For Robison, the canal was also a source of stories, such as those related to the Journal-News about a boat that travels the canal at night with a little boy at the helm of the team.
“There was one shrill cry, and his body was found only the next day, under a bush, the victim of one of the last wild cats in the area,” he wrote.
During the 1960s, Robison wrote a series of biographical sketches, which he called “Tombstones,” about some of the most famous people buried in local cemeteries, including people who steered boats across the canal.
“One of the first captains of boats on the Miami and Erie canals sleeps in an unmarked grave in Spencerville,” Robison wrote in his 1963 story of Conrad Norbeck, who may also have been one of the most unfortunate captains on the canal.
Norbeck, Robison wrote, managed to lose his boat on a canal that sank with a load of wheat, his farm that was confiscated to cover those losses, his wife who died, leaving him with five young children, and finally his life when he was hit by a train in 1884 near Kemp as he walked the Erie rails from Lima to Spencerville.
Robison used his childhood memories for a story about the last days of the channel.
“The passage of the boat was a time of great excitement for the fry and even their elders, who were going to watch,” he wrote. “The horses that were far ahead at the end of the long tow rope seemed to have nothing to do with the boat moving so quietly past. The only sound was from the water that flowed under my nose. “
In 1964, he wrote a story for the Ohio Historical Society about the deep part of the Miami-Erie Canal, which was dug by hand through a formidable ridge near Spencerville. Robison also wrote a history of Spencerville’s telephone service for Journal-News in 1962, and in 1965 collected a history of Spencerville’s physicians and surgeons.
Other stories were more limited. Asked in 1963 what he considered the most interesting subject he had discovered in his 22 years of writing for the Journal-News, Robison replied that it was a story about a combination of ottoman and spit made in Spencerville at the turn of the century.
“The barn was designed to be used when people are not spitting at it,” the newspaper said.
Over the years, Robison has donated to the Allen County Historical Society more than 70 items, including many items of clothing from days past, including his jacket and hat in World War I uniform. He also donated several small paper advertising fans who advertise the goods of Spencerville merchants.
In 1970, a bust of Robison sculptor Anne Whitney joined his numerous donations for display at the Allen County Museum.
“She took a lot of pictures of me and made sculptures based on her pictures,” Robison told Journal-News in 1971. “When Mrs. Whitney was almost done, I approached.” All she had to do was dig a little on both sides of my face – and here I was. “
Robison died in Spencerville at the age of 82 on June 21, 1976. The last years of his life he lived at 402 N. Broadway St., in sight of the long-abandoned canals of Miami and Erie.
Ernie Robison appears in the 1971 photo. Robison was a member of the Allen County Historical Society, the Ohio Historical Society, and the Ohio Canal Society. He was also described as Spenceville’s “official unofficial historian.”
Contact Greg Horsten at [email protected]