OKI Wanna Know: What's With The Gargoyles In Hyde Park?

Sep 30, 2020

OKI Wanna Know is our new feature that tries to get to the bottom of those quirky questions you've always wanted to ask, but didn't know where to start. This week, we head to a Hyde Park street, and its silent stone guardians.

Kelly Dobos wants to know about a couple of decorations at Erie Avenue and Brentwood. "There's two little winged creatures atop pedestals. I do a lot of running and walking, so I see them on my trips. I surmise there was something, maybe an entrance to a development at some point. They're very odd and unique," she says. "I have no idea. I can't seem to find anything on the internet about them."  

They're gargoyles, and they're traditionally meant to scare away evil spirits. They're also not original to the columns they sit atop. And that's where the story begins.

This gargoyle, on the southeast corner, was the first to appear.
Credit Jennifer Merritt / WVXU

Tim Schirmang moved to Hyde Park about 10 years ago and he first noticed pillars at Erie and Anderson with street names as he walked around the neighborhood. Soon he learned there were four more pillars.

"When this part of the neighborhood was built back in the 1910s, the developer, William Harmon, decided to add a luxury addition to the neighborhood by installing (columns) at all of the intersections along Erie," Schirmang says. There were 14 total, and he says they were built before the houses, after the streets and the sidewalks were laid out.

He found ads in the Cincinnati Enquirer of the day. "Come out, pick your lot. Look at how attractive this development is," he says they read. "Look at these brick piers with decorative planters and things on top just as a way to try to make the neighborhood special."

There are pictures of the columns, but they aren't topped by gargoyles. So, where did they come from? Schirmang talked to the owner of the house on the southeast corner of Erie and Brentwood, Doug Brown.

"He got this thing rolling back around the year 2000. His pillar was in a state of disrepair. Once he had refurbished it, he decided it needed some sort of topper." Schirmang says Brown found a gargoyle with a broken wing at a store on Vine Street downtown. He fixed the wing and installed it.

About a year later, Mike Bodey bought the house kitty-corner across the street. "I noticed that Doug had a gargoyle on his pillar. I decided to get my own gargoyle and it was up there for about a year," Bodey says. "He was directly across the street. I figured two gargoyles facing each other: they ward off evil in the neighborhood."

Bodey says the matching gargoyle didn't last long. Someone stole his. "I'm not sure who did it, and they still haven't told me to this day, but I think one of my buddies grabbed it. So like a good soldier, I found another gargoyle and I brought it back home. I actually cemented it into the pillar so nobody could take it out."

Bodey also painted it, so if you notice they don't match, that's why.

There were originally 14 columns along Erie. Only five are left. Photos in the University of Cincinnati's Digital Resource Library show all of them standing as in the 1930s.

"No one that I've been able to find has any recollection of when any of them were torn down," Schirmang says. "We've narrowed it down to somewhere between 1935 and 1990." He and others want to preserve those five and bring the rest back.

"Fortunately the actual locations where the nine used to be, basically all of them are still open. There aren't buildings or other things in the way so we can put these back if we can get our act together and raise a couple of dollars."

Schirmang says it's also a matter of getting city permits and property owners' buy-in. He says there hasn't been a discussion of what will be on top of the replacement pillars, but he suspects gargoyles will be a leading candidate. He's hoping to get a couple of pillars rebuilt this year.

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