Do you remember Ray Higgins?

By Joan Baxter

The Xenia Gazette will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in just a few weeks.

The paper has the distinction of never having missed a day of publication including the day after the April 3, 1974 tornado. At that time the paper was published and printed in Xenia, but due to the lack of power, etc. the paper was printed out of town. This edition became a collector’s prize and some families still have a copy of that day’s paper.

Over the years, there have been many editors and reporters. One editor who served the paper well for a number of years was Raymond Aloysius Higgins, born in Xenia, Oct. 16, 1897.

He began his career as a cub reporter when he and his sister Rose, were the only two reporters on the staff. He progressed to editor and business manager, celebrating his 50th anniversary with the paper in October, 1966.

During the time he was the editor a column appeared titled “The Man Who Noses About.” Though it was never signed by the author, it is assumed that Ray was the one who wrote those interesting tidbits about what was happening in the town.

After he retired from his full-time position, he continued to write a regular column, this one was called “Cracker Barrel”. It was made up of stories which might have been told by a group of citizens sitting around the cracker barrel in a general store, exchanging stories.

In the city of Xenia, when he was a young man, nearly every boy was given a nick-name. Most of those names were carried into adulthood. Such was the case with Ray. As an adult, he was often known as “Mr. Higgins,” but those who had grown up with him always called him “Piggy”.

The first edition of the “Cracker Barrel” is dated Aug. 24, 1957. When he began to write his twice-weekly column, newspapers had not been microfilmed, but were bound in large volumes and kept in the newspaper office, giving him ample opportunity to look for interesting items from previous years.

He had a keen interest in history and often spent many hours researching his columns. From time to time, he would invite a guest columnist to share a story.

Sometimes “Cracker Barrel” became a forum for those who remembered details of a particular event or for those seeing information on a half-remembered happening.

‘Piggy” was always active in the community and was honored as the second recipient of the prestigious Torrence Award, given annually to one individual who has exhibited extensive community service. He also served as Grand Marshal for the Old Fashioned Days Parade.

With his straw hat and jaunty walk, he was a well-known sight around town, greeting old friends and making new ones. He was many things to many people. For 18 years, he wrote the “Cracker Barrel” column, which earned recognition for him throughout the county.

Over the years, he told stories about local residents, sporting events, schools, businesses and more.

The column dated July 3, 1959 is told here in part: “The summer came swiftly, quietly, and almost unexpectedly. One day there was a drift of soot-soiled snow alongside of the Fetz Bros. Grocery. The next there was a peeping crocus, a hint of color in the lilac bushed, violets purpling the hillsides.”

“The sidewalk display at Schmidt’s grocery bloomed with color as the first strawberries, leaf lettuce, radishes and onions took their places in silent allure. Steve Hamilton swiped off the counter at Haney’s beneath the new Moxie sign.”

“Park Wilson saw the seasonal approach from the window at Homer Thrall’s and prepared to make the first lemon phosphate. Tom Vlahos put up the screen door in the confectionary that had succeeded Grice’s restaurant.”

“J. C. Conwell put out a lawn swing on the sidewalk in front of his hardware store. Kids disgorged coins from sweaty palms for penny cones dispensed by Italian vendors with push cards. For a penny there was a miniature cone and a miniature ball of pink ice cream. Albert Jones hitched a horse to his fantastically contrived ice cream wagon and hauled it to a Main St. stall in front of the Court House. Donning immaculate canvas gloves he poured batter on his gasoline-heated griddle used a wooden cone mold to shape the baked cake before it crisped, filled this tempting cup with ice cream for a nickel.”

“Mikesell the potato chip man came over on the electric cars from Dayton and peddled chips on the street.”

“A horse-drawn sprinkling wagon settled the dust in the wake of Billie Balls omnibus.”

“In the evening the adults came home to shed neckties and tight shoes, roll up sleeves and prop skippered feet on porch rails. The gossip flew from porch to porch punctuated by the squeak of slowly-moving swings. In a fit of ambition they deserted the porches before dark to bring out the garden hose and soak lawns. Side-walks were flushed to temper the heat aborted from the day’s sun.”

What a wonderful description of a summer long ago and the businesses recalled.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.