The Suburbanite
  • Postcard from Massillon: An alley of importance

  • In all, 42 of Massillon’s favorite sons and daughters are recognized in the Gallery in the Alley.

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  • Where the men and women are recognized doesn’t seem like a Hall of Distinction. It’s more like an Alley of Notable Citizens — the most distinguished residents Massillon has had to offer through its history.
    Still, there is honor in being recognized on a humble wall. It’s an alley of importance.
    That building surface where the plaques are placed is parallel to Diamond Court SE, a short street that connects First Street SE to Erie Street SE, a block south of Lincoln Way. More than three dozen plaques on the wall share the space with dumping bins and entrances to a handful of businesses.
    Margy Vogt, the Massillon historian who was involved in the mid-1990s Massillon Main Street Project, calls the collection the “Gallery in the Alley.”
    Appropriately, during this sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War, the plaques begin by recognizing Mary Owens Jenkins, who became a Civil War messenger to follow her true love, William Evans, into the Pennsylvania Cavalry.
    “She disguised herself as his brother, ‘Johnny Evans,’ and enlisted,” her plaque explains. “When William Evans was killed in battle, Mary Owens took vengeance by joining combat rather than skirting around it. A severe saber gash across the forehead sent her to the field hospital, where the secret of her gender was discovered.”
    James Duncan, the founder of Massillon, is attached to the wall next to Owens. Nearby are women’s rights advocates Caroline McCullough Everhard and Betsy Mix Cowles, Civil War Medal of Honor recipients Robert A. Pinn and George V. Kelley, early settlers Thomas and Charity Rotch, actors Lillian Gish and David Canary, photographers Nell Becker Dorr and Abel Fletcher, and athletic figures Paul Brown and Tommy Henrich.
    Some of Massillon’s civic and political leaders — first mayor Samuel Pease and Massillon Urban League founder Essie Wooten — share the wall with such colorful figures as Mayhew Folger, the sea captain who discovered the surviving mutineers of The Bounty on Pitcairn Island, and Victorian Woodhull, who ran for president of the United States on a platform of “free love.”
    This is no staid group of distinguished citizens. True, Ben Fairless, who grew up in Justus, southwest of Massillon, rose with intelligence and determination to become president of U.S. Steel. But the more colorful “General” Jacob Sechler Coxey — who commanded Coxey’s Army on its protest March to Washington seeking jobs — has a plaque posted adjacent to that of the industrial leader.
    The contributions of Mary Bowman, an educator late in the 1800s, are well-documented on her plaque.
    “In post-Civil War America, when the illiteracy rate among freed slaves was staggering, Mary Bowman became a teacher, spending most of her career on the move, urging blacks to educate themselves to improve their lives.”
    Page 2 of 2 - In all, 42 of Massillon’s favorite sons and daughters are recognized in the Gallery in the Alley.
    Except, there are only 41 plaques on the wall at the present.
    The plaque for one distinguished citizen — Metropolitan Opera star Rose Bampton — was ripped off a few months ago.
    “I had a new one made, I’ve just got to get it put up,” said Don Harwig, president of Massillon Main Street and a constant guardian of the outdoor exhibit.
    “We’ve had other ones torn off, but we usually find them in the alley,” he said. “If I see one missing I start looking right away.”

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