Jack the Bum Jan 14, 2008 20:41:36 GMT -5
Post by Deleted on Jan 14, 2008 20:41:36 GMT -5
Jack the Bum
Story by Harry McCawley in 1988
Although he had the trappings of a hobo. Jack Miller had the character of a gentleman.
Today, more than 65 years after his death, the mention of his name brings fond smiles to the lined faces of old men and women.
They were the children who sat at his feet on the river bank behind what is now Noblitt Park. They listened to his stories suspecting that many were made up but not caring anyway.
They splashed in the waters of the Flat Rock, mindful that Jack was probably watching no matter where he was or how many other kids were in the water.
And they obeyed when he caught them smoking behind a bridge abutment or picking on other children smaller than they were .
IN His LATER YEARS he had become such a respected fixture that the parents of the children he watched over at the river demanded that he be addressed as Uncle Jack instead of Jack the Bum. The children listened and obeyed but it was tough.
He was, after all, Jack the Bum.
No one was really sure when he first showed up in Columbus. Some accounts placed him here in the summer of 1892. An article in a 1922 issue of the Indianapolis News reported that "his first visit to Columbus was made nearly 30 years ago, and he has been here nearly every succeeding summer." -
But few of his former swimmers have recollections earlier than 1916. That was when 12-year-old Bob Lindsay. who was to become a newspaper reporter and tailor in Columbus, first met him.
LINDSAY, WHO LIVES in a retirement home in Fort Myers, Fla., still recalls that first summer, "He had bedded down by a railroad bridge close to a favonte swimming hole. Some boys showed up the next day and Jack watched them swim for a while, then made friends. He talked swimming and showed them vartous strokes. I can still picture him gliding smoothly through the water. He didn't swim. he glided. When his hand would come down in the water the palm would make a tiny splash." '
Coke Coons, a retired Arvin executive, remembered tales of heroism from Jack's first appearance in Columbus. 'The story was that he and his friend Jack Bush were walking across the railroad bridge one day when he saw a little boy drowning. He took off his clothes, jumped in the water and pulled the boy out. After that he became a fixture:
Ab Schumaker saw Jack as a "sort of self-appointed lifeguard" who raised concerns among some Columbus parents. "I think a lot of the parents were a little gun-shy about letting their children get around him but their trust grew and eventually that became the only place for us to go. Our parents grew to trust him so much that they just took us down there and left us in his care."
His draw extended beyond the neighborhood children. Roy Carmer, who now works part-time at Green Barn on Center Street, lived on the east side of town and was able to go to the swimming hole only on weekends, but his memones of Jack are still fresh.
'They just don't make them like Jack anymore. He's the kind of fellow you'd want around your children. I remember how he would let the older kids swim and gather the younger ones around him for stories."
Schumaker remembers those scenes, "I don't recall any of the details and I suspect most of them were made up, but that was all right. They were good stories.
Around the children he talked little about himself but stories about his life and how he came to be a bum or "traveling man" worked their way into Columbus lore.
MARY BOTTORFF, who only had a few blocks to walk to the swimming hole from the Franklin Street home where she still lives, recalls that it was a woman who was responsible for his travels. 'The story was that he was to be married and the bride stood him up at the altar. After that he took to the rails."
"You could set your clock by Jack," Mary Bottorff recalled. "I remember every Sunday morning he would come to our front door at 8 o'clock. He'd pick the newspaper off the front porch. go around to the back porch, sit down and read it while we finished our breakfast. After we were done my mother would fix breakfast for him and give him some food to take with him for the rest of the day. He had this big overcoat and I still see him walking away with those packages of food sticking out of the pockets.
Jack had that routine at several houses each day but it wasn't chartty, "It was the families' way of thanking him for what he did for the children."
IF JACK TALKED to anyone about his "other" life it was probably with his hobo friend, Jack Bush, a man he was seen with every time he came to Columbus.
They shared the shack which some of the town's leading businessmen, and parents. had built for them in 1929. Prior to that they had slept in the Barnaby's greenhouse.
The two men moved into the shack in 1929. One year later Jack Bush was dead, killed when hit by a car. Jack Bush (His real name was Henry Lockwood) was buried in Garland Brook in a plot purchased by Joe Schwartzkopf and Dean M. Bottorff, two of the swimming hole parents. It was a two-person plot with the second half reserved for Jack the Bum, or Uncle Jack as he was finally being called.
IT WOULDN'T WAIT long. On Sept. 20, 1932, Jack passed away in his sleep at the shack by the swimming hole. His friends had wanted him to go to the hospital, but Jack wanted to die in his home. He was 85.
Picture courtesy of Richard Bray