Jack Raper knew how to influence his audience

Editor’s note: This is part two of the Jack Raper story. The first episode aired in the January 9 edition.

Monday, December 13, 2021 was less than two weeks before Christmas and the only thing that could have made the day any better would have been if Jack Raper was by my side. Dozens and dozens of elves rushed in, appearing around the corners as if by magic. The moment the little elves recognized the cheerful man walking by my side, their faces lit up with wide smiles.

“Salvation!” Each of the smiling elves greeted the man impatiently, one after another in an endless parade. Incredibly, the beloved man knew the names of each elf and greeted them just as happily. The gentleman walking beside me was not Santa but Principal Josh Tripp. It was elf day at Chillicothe Middle School, and the costumed elves were Chillicothe’s third through sixth year students.

Almost 100 years ago, on January 9, 1922, Chillicothe native Jack Raper, famed columnist and popular after-dinner speaker, addressed more than 100 Rotary and Chamber of Commerce members in a packed dining room from the Warner Hotel on Paint Street. The title of his speech, “What I Would Do If I Were City Emperor”, was a comment on what he thought Chillicothe needed to be a better city.

Read more: Retrospective: A local Rotarian meets the King of England

The well-known Cleveland Press reporter, sometimes called the “dean of American columnists,” regularly gave more than 200 of these after-dinner speeches each year. He began his 1922 speech at Warner’s with a plea for the town to change the name of Main Street to something uniquely Chillicothe. He would probably have been delighted with Massie Street, named after Nathaniel Massie, the town’s founder. In fact, Raper told the men present that if he were emperor, he would immediately erect a monument in the center of town for Massie.

Likewise, Raper felt the city wasn’t doing enough to promote its most famous “natural landmark.” “If I were emperor,” he says proudly, “I’d put up a 20-foot tall fingerboard on Columbus Pike, pointing to Mount Logan, the pride of the city.”

For readers unaware, Mount Logan appears in the background of Ohio’s official seal, as does the Scioto River. “Talk about the mountains,” Raper sneered, “why some people in California who’ve heard the Chillicothians rave about Mount Logan, have an idea that it’s about 15,000 feet high. Let them think so. The Rotarians burst out laughing.

“If I were emperor,” Raper continued in rapid-fire fashion, “I would create a historical booklet about the city’s history, teach it in public schools, and supplement it by taking students on trips. in all our historic places. Residents, and especially children, he argued, should know the history of Chillicothe from an early age. “It would help create real hometown pride,” he insisted.

One of the men seated around the tables that evening was JH Mason, superintendent of the school. As Raper issued edicts, the wheels spun in the superintendent’s head and the next morning he began work on a questionnaire to gather feedback on important local history that Chillicothians felt should be included in the public school curriculum. . “Jack Raper’s suggestion that the city’s history be introduced into our school curriculum is too good to ignore,” Mason told the Gazette.

A historical marker honoring Nathaniel Massie.

“If I were Emperor,” the energetic Raper continued, “I would name all of the city’s many historic sites, for the benefit not only of visitors, but also of the many locals who now ignore them.” To show how seriously Rotarians respected and took what Raper had to say, the Rotary Board met immediately after dinner and discussed Raper’s suggestion. The next morning, the committee launched an investigation into the cost of bronze tablets to be used as historical markers.

Jack Raper was also mad about architecture, especially when it came to its historical significance. “If I were emperor, I would hire a city architect to develop a more colonial style of architecture here, in keeping with the ancient spirit of Virginia that animated and inspired our pioneers.”

He also weighed in on a topic very much on the minds of residents, the War Department’s recent decision to close Camp Sherman as an Army training camp.

“Make the city not bigger, but better,” Raper advised. One way he believed to improve the city was to build a YMCA. After all, Washington Court House and Circleville had one. “If I were emperor,” he promised, “I would have a YMCA here…and a big swimming pool.”

Before there was a public swimming pool in Chillicothe, the Gazette was filled with tragic headlines about drownings in Paint Creek and the Scioto River.

Eventually, the children of Chillicothe took matters into their own hands, and 12-year-old John Wackerham went straight to the best: the President of the United States!

“Mr. President, we want a swimming pool like you would if you were a boy,” Wackerham wrote to President Harding in pencil. boys go without a pool…” The 12-year-old was pressuring the president to buy a ticket and attend a fundraising dance in Chillicothe. “If you come, everyone will come,” flattered Wackerman the president, “and we can have our pool, so please come.”

Imagine the excitement after a letter written on White House letterhead landed in Wackerham’s mailbox. “You tell the boys that if some of you come to the White House with tickets, I will buy some whether I can attend or not,” the president wrote. And in what must have been particularly exciting, the general manager concluded with: “Yours for the pool, Warren G. Harding.

The main reason Raper insisted on the town having a YMCA was that he loved children. And in his speech at Warner, he made no secret of how he felt. Any adult who has not shown the children of Chillicothe the utmost respect and consideration, he said, should “be kicked out to – well to Circleville or Waverly”.

So one of the reasons it would have been perfect if Jack Raper was with me on my visit to the newly built Chillicothe Middle School, elves or not, is because it has two of the things it liked most: history and children.

A headline from a previous edition of the Chillicothe Gazette.

Looking at the rotunda floor inside the school, there is a representation of Ohio, including a star where Chillicothe is located. Look above the ceiling, and there are beautiful rays of sunlight, just like on the Great Seal of Ohio. The historical markers that Raper itched are scattered throughout the building, including tributes to Edward Tiffin, Lucy Webb Hayes, Tecumseh, Camp Sherman, Nathaniel Massie and others.

On Sunday, January 6, 2019, 1,500 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the new school. Justice Benson thanked the many people who helped make the dream of a wonderful school for the children of Chillicothe a reality, including many former superintendents. After former Superintendent Jon Saxton’s name was mentioned, the applause rang out. I like to think one of those cheers was Jack Raper.