This tragedy has captured my imagination and inspired my next writing project. I am researching historic Cincinnati calamities and creating a matching collection of fictional ghost stories, with my first tale based on the 1904 drowning deaths caused by a collapsed floor of a Pleasant Ridge Public School outhouse.
Excavating the Past
I am enjoying researching the historic event as much as I am writing the ghost story. It is almost as good as time travel. Here is what I have learned so far.
The Property's History
There have been five schools at 5945 Montgomery Road.
Currently standing is a 2008 building that houses the Pleasant Ridge Montessori School:
Demolished in 2006 was this 1931 structure:
Also demolished in 2006 was this 1909 high school:
This school, the scene of the precipitating events of my story, replaced the original 1819 “village school”, was built in 1872, expanded in 1892, and later demolished in 1931:
Visiting the Property
Because there had been so many buildings on the property, I consulted a 1904 Cincinnati Sandborn Fire Insurance map to see precisely where the 1872/1892 building had been situated before visiting the site in person.
It turns out that the village of Pleasant Ridge had yet to be annexed into the city of Cincinnati, so was not included in 1904 Cincinnati Sandborn maps. Luckily I found what I needed in the 1917 edition, where I located documentation of the 1872/1892 school and the 1909 high school co-located on the property.
This helped me know where to focus when I visited the modern site. On the map below, you can see Pleasant Ridge Montessori School at the top of the image. The area I was most interested in seems to be currently used for parking and green space.
The September day of my visit to the school was hot, humid, and blindingly sunny. I paused at the eastern edge of the property by the treeline and took in the tranquil day with big cottony cumulus clouds and the lulling song of cicadas.
It was difficult to imagine that on the same location on September 23, 1904, it was rainy, and the temperature was struggling to break 80 degrees by two in the afternoon. Even more out of my grasp was imagining the cacophony of 30 girls 12 feet down a sewage vault screaming for help.
Even so, being there made it more real. I stood in the shade, humbled, and hoped the girls were all at peace. I want to weave their story into my own, but do not wish to be disrespectful to them.
I plan to submit this short story to a contest whose deadline is at the end of September. That said, to keep myself focused, all Novel Narrative blog posts in September will be about the evolution of this tale. I am currently researching children’s fashion and the broader historical context of the early 1900s. I look forward to sharing what I find.
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Would you be interested in reading a ghost story based on these events?
Let's discuss in the comments below.