19th Century Ohio – Fragility and Fortitude

Lucas Sullivant(Photo: atalou)
Lucas Sullivant(Photo: atalou)

Perhaps the older I get – and a little more slow at the edges than I once was – I am reminded more frequently both how extraordinarily fragile and how extraordinarily resilient people are.

Over the course past several thousand years human beings have traveled from their relatively pleasant early homes near the equator to virtually every corner of the globe. We have survived incredible heat and mind-numbing cold as well as fire, floods and famines and attacks by a wide assortment of creatures – including the most deadly – people a lot like us.

For all of that, every year more people are killed by falls in the home and in auto accidents than all of the people killed in our more recent wars. When sometimes reading of all of the new diseases assailing us and the fewer wonder drugs we have to fight them, of all of the different ways one can die on the way to the store, and of what might happen when one gets there – it’s enough to make us consider staying at home and never go out.

Yet we do go out. Every day, we either muster our courage or simply refuse to think about threats that are not a clear and present danger – and go about our business. And remarkably enough, in a world of varied perils, most of us of make it through the day just fine.

Cities in general and Columbus in particular are a lot like people.

This should not be all that surprising since cities are built by people and are reflections of them – who we are, who we have been and who we would like to be.

Over its long almost two hundred year history, Columbus has had its share of difficulties.

They started even before Columbus was here. Intrepid frontiersman and surveyor Lucas Sullivant laid out the town of Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers in the fall of 1797. Leaving a few hardy souls to brave the winter he returned to Kentucky. In March of 1798, the whole village was inundated with a flood. Undeterred, Sullivant moved the entire town to the west to higher ground and started over.

In 1812, The Ohio General Assembly created the new capital city of Columbus. Making its way through the War of 1812 quite nicely, many of the people in the new town succumbed to various forms of the “ague” – read malarial fevers – in the 1820’s. And just when the malarial fevers stopped, central Ohio like much of the Midwest was hit with recurring yearly attacks of cholera.

Today we know what carries cholera and what to do to prevent it. In the years between 1833 and 1850, the people of Columbus had no idea how to stop a disease that could kill perfectly healthy people in less than a day. And death by cholera is not a pretty way to die.

Having survived all of the epidemics attacking the city, Columbus then had to suffer through the American Civil War – still the deadliest conflict in our history – and then – just when everyone thought it was finally safe – the area was assaulted with fires, floods and occasionally deadly windstorms.

And I have only described life in the “good old days” prior to 1900. The Twentieth Century had its moments as well.

But through all of these difficulties, the people of Columbus have not only survived – they have recovered and gone on to ever greater prosperity.

How have the “fragile” people of central Ohio done all of this over the years?

In a few words – there is something to be said for the Human Spirit.

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