Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Children of the Levee

Children of the Levee

Edited by O.W. FROST
Introduction by JOHN BALL
Copyright Date: 1957
Pages: 120
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Children of the Levee
    Book Description:

    Cincinnati in the 1870's was the largest inland city in the nation. Much of its prosperity and growth it owed to the commerce which floated along its Ohio River boundary on the way between Pittsburgh and New Orleans. This traffic also sustained a unique African American culture -- saloonkeepers, boardinghouse operators, entertainers, and women who served the steamboat hands between trips.

    Into this great western metropolis came young Lafcadio Hearn, who after several tentative starts became a newspaper reporter first for theEnquirerand then for theCommercial. Drawn to the Ohio River by his interest in the unusual, Hearn found beneath the rough surface of levee life a kind of cosmopolitan tolerance which emphasized the essential humanity of the community.

    Hearn's twelve sketches -- here reprinted as a unit for the first time -- are perceptive and sympathetic, yet not highly subjective and romanticized. Collectively they form an important comprehensive picture of African American life in a border city just after the Civil War. Among the earliest of his writings, they also foreshadow the course Hearn's life was to take in New Orleans, the West Indies, and finally Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6305-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-vi)
    O. W. Frost
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    John Ball

    Cincinnati in 1869 was a city of manifest destiny. It was the largest inland city in the nation; it had a quarter of a million people and plenty of room to grow. Its expanding trade was fed by rivers, canals, and railroads. Cincinnati was clearly the railroad hub of the West. One editor modestly suggested that the lines east should really be counted as separate railways from the lines north and west, giving the city more railways even than New York.

    Cincinnati was building with pride and care. The broad avenues, noble public buildings and monuments, and gracious suburbs would...

  5. A Child of the Levee
    (pp. 9-12)

    Shortly before daybreak on Saturday morning a drunken negro was pulled out of the river at the foot of Broadway by two watchful patrolmen, who subsequently experienced considerable difficulty in bringing the man to the station-house, as he was actually insane from poisonous whisky, and struggled with maniacal fury. By the time he had been brought, dripping wet and muddy, to the office of the Hammond Street Police Station, the force of his mania had fairly expended itself, and he stood before the desk with an air of frightened bewilderment, like a sleep-walker suddenly aroused from his dangerous dreams.


  6. Dolly
    (pp. 13-22)

    “The Lord only,” once observed Officer Patsy Brazil, “knows what Dolly's real name is.”

    Dolly was a brown, broad-shouldered girl of the levee, with the lithe strength of a pantheress in her compactly-knit figure, and owning one of those peculiar faces which at once attract and puzzle by their very uniqueness—a face that possessed a strange comeliness when viewed at certain angles, especially half-profile, and that would have seemed very soft and youthful but for the shadow of its heavy black brows, perpetually knitted Medusa-wise, as though by everlasting pain, above a pair of great, dark, keen, steady eyes....

  7. Banjo Jim’s Story
    (pp. 23-31)

    Melancholy, indeed, is the river-view when a rainy day dawns in dull gray light upon the levee—the view of a rapid yellow river under an ashen sky; of distant hills looming dimly through pallid mist; of steamboat smoke hanging sluggishly over the sickly-hued current; and, drearier yet, the ancient fronts of weather-stained buildings on the Row, gloomy masses of discolored brick and stone with gaping joints and shattered windows. Yet of rainy nights the voice of wild merriment echoes loudest along the levee,—the shouts of the lithe dancers and the throbbing of bass viols and the thrumming of...

  8. Pariah People
    (pp. 32-48)

    The district lying east of Broadway, between Sixth and Seventh streets, and extending to Culvert or thereabouts, constitutes now but a small portion of what was known some eight or ten years ago as Bucktown, and was once not less celebrated as a haunt of crime than the Five Points of the Metropolis. Lying in the great noisome hollow, then untraversed by a single fill, the congregation of dingy and dilapidated frames, hideous huts, and shapeless dwellings, often rotten with the moisture of a thousand petty inundations, or filthy with the dirt accumulated by vice-begotten laziness, and inhabited only by...

  9. Jot
    (pp. 49-53)

    Occasionally, when the swarthy life of the Row becomes vitalized into unwonted activity by a fierce sun, and swarms along the levee slope, as though imbued with something of a lizard love for light and warmth, a strange-looking being may be observed sauntering leisurely through the many-colored crowd, gazing at all, speaking to few, familiarizing with none. All make way for him; noisy gossip ceases at his approach; the smiles of the Serpent Women upon fascinated strangers suddenly vanish as he passes by; he traverses the picturesque concourse like an iceberg floating over a tropical sea, leaving a wake of...

  10. Ole Man Pickett
    (pp. 54-60)

    When an exhaustive history of the Queen City comes to be· written, among the names of those who labored both for her weal and woe, few will be more conspicuous than that of Henry Pickett, now the hero and chief proprietor of that fashionable boulevard known as Sausage Row. Who has not heard of “ole man” Pickett and his ranches, but who knows what he has done for and against Cincinnati? Who has not often seen Sausage Row in print, but who knows where it is located, and how many human hives exist along its border? Who has not seen...

  11. Levee Life
    (pp. 61-83)

    Along the river-banks on either side of the levee slope, where the brown water year after year climbs up to the ruined sidewalks, and pours into the warehouse cellars, and paints their grimy walls with streaks of water-weed green, may be studied a most curious and interesting phase of life—the life of a community within a community,—a society of wanderers who have haunts but not homes, and who are only connected with the static society surrounding them by the common bond of State and municipal law. It is a very primitive kind of life; its lights and shadows...

  12. Black Varieties
    (pp. 84-90)

    The attractive novelty of theatricals at old Pickett’s tavern, on the levee, by real negro minstrels, with amateur dancing performances by roustabouts and their “girls,” has already created considerable interest in quarters where one would perhaps least expect to find it; and the patrolmen of the Row nightly escort fashionably dressed white strangers to No. 91 Front street. The theater has two entrances, one through the neat, spotlessly clean bar-room on the Front street side, the other from the sidewalk on the river side. The theater is also the ball-room; and when the ancient clock behind the black bar in...

  13. “Butler’s”
    (pp. 91-94)

    On the east side of Broadway, between Sixth and New streets, stands a hideous little frame building about fifteen feet high, some four yards back from the sidewalk. Its grimy ugliness is further enhanced by a deep and dark-some porch, supported by black and battered beams; and the absence of lighted windows of an evening, combined with the ominous quiet of its immediate surroundings, conjures up blood-curdling visions of those lonesome inns in the Hartz Mountains we have all read of, as children, in “Tales of Horror.” The very neighborhood is a most unpleasant one to pass through of a...

  14. Auntie Porter
    (pp. 95-98)

    Sometimes children are born on the levee—children of poor outcast women, to whom maternity is rather a curse than a blessing. It seems somewhat odd, indeed, that children should be born amid such scenes of reckless shame and reeking sin, but many a little one has first opened its great black eyes to the light in some one of those gloomy and dilapidated levee buildings, from whose windows the dark women wave gaily-hued handkerchiefs to departing vessels. Brown, vigorous, bright-eyed pretty waifs these infants often are; unscathed by the sin of their birth, and exhibiting even in earliest babyhood...

  15. The Rising of the Waters
    (pp. 99-103)

    Between the hours of 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. yesterday river rose thirty-five inches. Both of the Rows were under water early in the day, and the steamboat Minnie was about where cargoes had been discharged but a days ago. During the afternoon she was busy moving wharfboats to higher ground.

    The habitants of the Rows had received timely warning of the coming flood, but they managed to escape barely in time, as few anticipated the rapidity of the rise. Pickett prepared early Tuesday afternoon for the inundation, had considerable experience beforehand in the matter of floods and storms. There...

  16. Genius Loci
    (pp. 104-111)

    You may have occasionally noticed on the east side Broadway, near Seventh street, a certain ugly little building, with bulging sides from which warped planks protrude at intervals like the ribs of something starved, a floor prone to utter dying groans when trodden upon. It has a decayed porch, which rises to the eaves of sooty roof, a ruined fence, and a couple of hungry-looking trees, which seem anxious to force their gnarled arms through the bar-room window in a grotesque effort to appease their thirst larceniously. From the open door floats out of nights an odor of dried mackerel...

  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 112-112)