The squared circle wasn’t the only fascinating story hiding in Circleville, Ohio. The town survived and grew in spite of its early experiment with urban renewal.
I’d wondered how a town so named could have escaped my attention for the last several years. In the meantime I’d felt a weird sense of déjà vu that perhaps I’d crossed paths with it before. A quick search of the 12MC archives revealed two minor references to Circleville. Previously it garnered a mention in Chillicothe, an article about the leadership villages of the Chalahgawtha group of Native Americans, the political band of the Shawnee. It referenced a place "on the Scioto River south of Circleville at, or near, modern-day Westfall." The town also made a brief appearance way back in 2009 in Weird Ohio Explorations because of its water tower shaped like a pumpkin.
I’ve explored the Native American aspects. Let’s take a closer look at this pumpkin thing.
Circleville Pumpkin Show
Circleville Pumpkin Show by elstudio, on Flickr (cc)
Pumpkins, a type of squash, were native to North America. It made sense that a number of festivals devoted to their cultivation and harvest existed in various locations across the continent. There were even events focused on their destruction such as the World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ in Delaware that got so big it has to move to the Dover International Speedway (map) in 2015. Circleville was no exception and it got in on the action early, more than a century ago with the Circleville Pumpkin Show.
This far famed and unique agricultural exhibit and street fair had its humble origin in October, 1903, when George R. Haswell, then Mayor of Circleville, and superintendent of the water works, conceived the idea of holding a small exhibit in front of his place on West Main Street. Corn fodder and pumpkins (many of them cut into Jack-O-Lanterns) formed the principal decorations, and were responsible for it being dubbed "the pumpkin show". On the following year Mr. Haswell was joined by some enterprising neighborhood merchants and the exhibition grew steadily in its scope, interest and attendance.
This event continued to grow in popularity over the years, now attracting several hundred thousand people over multiple days beginning on the third Wednesday each October, just in time for Halloween. Its signature element might be the pumpkin weighing contest. A local optometrist and his wife, Bob and Jo Liggett, became the most prolific winners in the modern era. Their current winner and world-record pumpkin hit the scales at 1,964 lbs. (891 kg.) in the 2014 competition. That’s a pumpkin weighing nearly a ton! The photo above showed them in an earlier year with smaller pumpkins.
Circleville Ohio downtown Mural by excelglen, on Flickr (cc)
Circleville commissioned a mural along the entire side of the Johnson Building (Street View) to spotlight its Pumpkin Show and its agrarian past. It was painted by Eric Henn Murals: "Working off high lifts, he has created murals up to 150′ high, covering 49,000 sq. ft." I enjoyed visiting his website and checking out his portfolio. He crafts his murals in a trompe-l’œil manner that can make it difficult to distinguish painting from reality especially in photographs. Unfortunately a couple of miscreants decided to vandalize the mural with graffiti in 2014, causing $5,500 damage.
I noticed the Circleville mural commemorated the 100th Anniversary of its Pumpkin Show, 1903-2006. It seemed unusual for the dates to reflect more than a hundred years. The people of Circleville weren’t math deficient, however. They canceled the show for brief periods during the World Wars.
The strangest Circleville artifact I stumbled upon had nothing to do with circles or pumpkins and everything to do with abundant Hitler references. One could take a Hitler roadtrip on Hitler Roads 1 and 2 to Huber-Hitler Road, then stop at Hitler-Ludwig Cemetery and visit the eighteen Hitlers buried there. One could also take a slight detour to Hitler Pond (map) or to Martha Hitler Park (map).
Of course the Führer hadn’t been transported secretly from Nazi Germany into the middle of Ohio, nor was it a hotbed for neo-Nazi sympathizers. Original references near Circleville all predated Adolph by more than a century. In fact, the Hitlers were early pioneers in Ohio:
Our Pickaway Hitlers were fine, upstanding citizens, the first of whom arrived in Pickaway Township in 1799. George Hitler was born May 15, 1763, in Maryland. He married Susannah Gay in Pennsylvania and they came to Pickaway with four of their children, John, Catharine, Jacob and George… Dr. Gay Hitler, son of George Washington Hitler, was a local dentist, serving our community from 1922 through 1946 from his office on West Main Street… These families were established here long before Adolf Hitler was born. They settled and served our county well.
Circleville citizens took the bold approach. Their Hitlers came first, they were pillars of the community, and they weren’t going to let the atrocities of that other Hitler far, far away destroy their legacy. Nonetheless, references to George Washington Hitler and Gay Hitler seemed a bit surprising to the untrained eye.