Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

Feb 16

The Hanging of Jesse Ransbottom: Part II

Posted on February 16, 2018 at 3:59 PM by Melissa Dalton

Last week, we left off with the conclusion of the trial that convicted Jesse Ransbottom of murder and sentenced him to be executed by hanging. Ransbottom had three months until he met his fate, and continued with his claim of insanity - stating he did not have any recollection as to what happened and rarely, if ever, made any references to his wife. There were many attempts made to have the governor commute his sentence, however, those attempts failed. The week of his execution, there was purportedly an unofficial investigation to determine Ransbottom’s sanity, meaning the investigation was not done by any counsel or law official. It is believed the investigation was merely to demonstrate to the public that the County was not going to execute an insane man. The investigation found that he had “limited mental capacity, but not insane to any great extent.” The newspapers reported that if there was any insanity, it was due to “defective education – a naturally bad and depraved heart – and limited-mental capacity” (Fig 1).

Excerpt of the Xenia Torchlight dated January 31, 1850
Fig 1: Excerpt from Xenia Torchlight, January 31, 1850 (The Greene County Room)


Ransbottom had complete confidence he would be released, until they began constructing the gallows below his jail window. At that time, the jail was on the corner of the courthouse yard. The gallows covered an area of 18 ft by 13 ft and was enclosed by a fence as the sheriff stated the hanging would not become a spectacle.

The day of the execution arrived and thousands of people made their way to Greene County in the hopes of witnessing the execution. The fenced gallows was heavily guarded by General Stewart and his men, and no one was admitted entrance into the gallows. One newspaper article from an eye witness (many years later) claims that folks gathered to see a public hanging and to make sure Ransbottom was executed. There were rumors that the governor was going to commute his sentence at the last minute, and some came to make sure if that happened, they would do the deed themselves. Since no one was granted entrance to physically see him hanged, two residents, Mr. and Mrs. William Rhoades, agreed to watch from their house since they had a view into the gallows from a second story window. Mrs. Rhoades told the crowd she would wave a white cloth when Ransbottom dropped (Fig 2).

Article from Xenia Daily Gazette dated April 9, 1936Article from Xenia Daily Gazette dated April 9, 1936
Fig 2: Xenia Daily Gazette, April 9, 1936 (Newspapers.com)

Ransbottom had only one visitor the day of his execution, his son of about 10 years old, who stayed with him for several hours. At about three in the afternoon on January 25, 1850, Jesse Ransbottom was led to the gallows by the sheriff and a minister. He was reported to walk with “a firm step, cool and apparently indifferent” to what he was to meet at the end of the line. Ransbottom was asked if he had anything to say, to which he responded: “Oh, Lord! Have mercy on me! Oh, my poor mother! My poor wife! My poor children!” The sheriff affixed the rope around Ransbottom’s neck and before placing the black hood asked him if he had any final words. Ransbottom asked to be buried “up yonder”, pointing towards Champaign County. As the sheriff already had the grave dug just outside of Xenia, he responded, “I’ll see that you are buried decently.” The hood was then placed over the prisoner’s head and within seconds, the trap was released. Ransbottom died without a struggle (Fig 3).

Excerpt of the Xenia Torchlight dated January 31, 1850
Fig 3: Excerpt from Xenia Torchlight, January 31, 1850 (The Greene County Room)

Mrs. Rhoades waved the white cloth, and according to the article, the crowd rushed the fence, tearing it to pieces so they could see for themselves that he was, in fact, dead. However, there was nothing more to see, so the crowd dispersed quietly.

This marked the first, and last, legal execution in Greene County. News of his sentence and execution was widespread, with articles popping up in newspapers as far as Buffalo, New York (Fig 4).

Excerpt from the Cambridge Reveille dated October 27, 1849 Excerpt from The Portage Sentinel dated November 05, 1849Excerpt from The Buffalo Daily Republic dated February 16, 1850
Fig 4: Various newspaper articles from across the U.S. reporting the execution of Jesse Ransbottom (Newspapers.com)


However, we feel the story is not complete. There is nothing reported as to what happened to the Ransbottom children after the murder of their mother and execution of their father. We’ve decided to dig a little deeper and we hope you will join us next week to learn what became of the unfortunate children of Jesse and Fanny Ransbottom.

Until Next Time…

Sources:
Broadstone, M. A. (1918). History of Greene County Ohio: Its People, Industries and Institutions. Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen & Company, Inc.
Greene County Archives (various collections)
The Xenia Torchlight, Greene County Room (various dates)
Xenia Daily Gazette, Newspapers.com (various dates)

Feb 15

The Hanging of Jesse Ransbottom: Part I

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 10:23 AM by Melissa Dalton

Greene County has only seen one legal hanging, that of Jesse Ransbottom.  Some of the facts may be a little fuzzy as the event happened over 150 years ago, but it is an intriguing story nonetheless.

Jesse Ransbottom and Fanny Jenkins were born and raised in Virginia , where they were married in 1827 (Fig 1).  According to his family, Jesse was known to have "episodes", abusing his wife and attempting suicide many times.  The claim was that while a worker in a coal bank, he was involved in some sort of accident or attack (the details are not clear) from which he never fully recovered, causing his "crazy spells". 

1830 Census
Fig 1: 1830 U.S. Census showing Jesse Ransbottom and Fanny Jenkins' family in Culpeper County, Virginia (FamilySearch.org)

According to the testimony of family, and the census records the decades prior, Jesse Ransbottom and his family left Virginia sometime between 1830 and 1840, taking up residence in Muskingum County, Ohio (Fig 2).  Only a few months prior to the vicious murder, Jesse Ransbottom moved his family to Fairfield, Ohio in Greene County. 

1840 Census
Fig 2: 1840 U.S. Census showing Ransbottom family in Muskingum County, Ohio (FamilySearch.org)

The story goes that Ransbottom was jailed for stealing a cow, leaving his family without any provisions during his absence.  Several neighbors and townspeople of Fairfield took it upon themselves to help out Fanny Ransbottom and her children during this difficult time, making sure they would not starve.  On June 20, 1849, a few days after his release from jail, Fanny returned from a meeting (some stories claim it was a prayer meeting), and as soon as she entered the home, she knew her husband meant to do her harm.  Fanny went running and screaming, with her youngest child in her arms, towards the back of the property.  Jesse caught her at the fence, pulled her head back, and brutally slashed her throat with a razor.  He then stabbed her in the chest two or three times with a knife.  Jesse left her lifeless body where it lay and walked back to the house.  There he attempted to cut his own throat, but said it "hurt too much" and would wait for "someone else to do it." Although Fanny's screams were heard and neighbors came running to her aid, no one was able to save her from her husband's jealous rage.  When asked why he killed his wife, Jesse stated that it was the fault of neighbors for caring for his wife while he was gone, claiming he was jealous of Fanny and the help she received.  Jesse did not attempt to flee and was arrested without further incident (Fig 3).

1896 Atlas of Fairfield with Ransbottom property outlined in red
Current view of Ransbottom property outlined in red
Fig 3: Map of Ransbottom Property - 1896 Map and Current Map (Greene County Archives / Greene County Auditor, GIS Maps)

The trial for the murder of Fanny Ransbottom began October 18, 1849 and Jesse plead not guilty for reason of insanity.  The trial lasted several days and there was testimony from roughly 25 people, including family and neighbors.  Many of Ransbottom's family members claimed that Jesse was afflicted with illness and was not a person of high mental capacity.  However, others claimed that he was just a "drunk" and discredited their testimony in his defense.  There were several eye-witnesses to the murder and Jesse's fate was sealed.  Upon closing arguments, it only took the jury roughly 40 minutes to come back with the verdict of murder in the first degree, and the judge ruled that Jesse Ransbottom "be hanged by the neck until you are dead" on January 25, 1850 (Fig 4). 

State Record No. 2, pg. 257
State Record No. 2, pg. 258
State Record No. 2, pg. 259
State Record No. 2, pg. 260
Fig 4: State Record No. 2, pg. 257-260 - State of Ohio vs. Jesse Ransbottom (Greene County Archives)

The story doesn't end there, so stay tuned!

Until Next Time...

Sources:
FamilySearch.org
Greene County Archives
Greene County Auditor, GIS Maps

Feb 05

Archives News!

Posted on February 5, 2018 at 10:53 AM by Melissa Dalton

We have been very busy and the Archives has seen many changes over the past several months, and it all started my first week of work!  We thought it might be a good time to update our readers and patrons of our changes!

Shortly before I started in my post, the Archives acquired 812 tax duplicate books, which were going to require some new shelving to house them properly as many of the books are up to six inches thick and weigh close to 50 pounds!  However, first they needed to be cleaned due to being stored in a basement for many years.  When they arrives at the Archives, we had them on pallets in the back of our storage area for processing (Fig 1).

812 Tax Duplicate Books waiting to be cleaned812 Tax Duplicate Books waiting to be cleaned (2)
Fig 1: Tax books stacked in back and on tables in Map Room while awaiting being cleaned

As they were cleaned by one of our volunteers, they were then placed on shelves (Fig 2).  In the meantime, we got approval to purchase new mobile shelving, meaning the tax books would need to be moved again.  While waiting for the new shelving to be installed, we stacked all the tax books in our Map Room (Fig 3).

812 Tax Duplicate Books waiting for new shelving installation812 Tax Duplicate Books waiting for new shelving installation (2)
Figs 2 & 3: Tax books on shelves prior to installation of new shelving, then moved until installation of new shelves (this stack is at least 4 ft high!)

In early January, installation of four mobile shelving units began.  Although it was quite loud for a few days with all the hammering and sound of power tools, the finished product not only fits our needs exactly, but is appealing to the eye (Fig 4).  Now that they are finally in their proper place, please note that we now have tax records dating from 1806 through 2007 for public use!

2018 mobile shelving 2018 mobile shelving_2
Fig 4: Mobile shelving installed and tax books in their new home!

The same week I started, the County Services folks began a renovation project for the Archives.  We were fortunate to acquire a conference room adjacent to our reading room, so the plan was to extend into the conference room, creating a new space for me and our interns.  They knocked out a wall, closed off the old doorway, opening up a nice, new space.  See the progression below (Figs 5-10)!

Early stages of constructionEarly stages of construction (2)
Figs 5 & 6: Early stages of construction - new opening framed and old doorway closed off

New space framed and starting clean-upNew space framed and starting clean-up (2)
Figs 7 & 8: Walls and ceiling finished, beginning cleanup

New space completed and moved inNew space completed and moved in
Figs 9 & 10: Intern work space / My work space

During the construction/renovation, we decided it was time to make a change to our reading room layout.  We made a few moves of our shelving units, but think we've come up with a better, and more user-friendly, space (Fig 11).

New layout in reading room
Fig 11: New layout of our reading room

Although our renovation is complete and we have the new mobile shelving installed, things are rarely quiet in the Archives.  I'm busy with our educational programs, Joan is constantly working with patrons and other county offices with reference/record requests, and our fearless leader, Robin, is consumed with updating retention schedules.  However, we are here to serve you and believe the new space allows us to do that, and we hope you agree!

Until Next Time...