Passing gypsies once common here

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

In June of 1950 an article in the Wilmington News-Journal stated, “Gypsies Are Escorted Out of City.” The article continued, “Approximately 100 gypsies were ordered out of the county Tuesday, Sheriff Howard C. Botts said Wednesday.”

Reportedly some 15 house trailers were parked along Rt. 68 eight miles south of Wilmington. For three days they had been in the vicinity calling on people wanting to repair their stoves – and charging enormous prices!

Sheriff Botts and Deputy Foote “escorted the gypsies to Ft. Ancient where they were met by the Warren County sheriff, who in turn escorted them to the Butler County line. When last heard of the gypsies were in Indiana where they were being escorted on through the state by state-troopers.”

A similar story appeared in the WNJ back in 1937. In this case, the three cars were escorted to Highland County by Sheriff Hodson. “The cars were from New Mexico, Arizona and Washington states.”

How rare was it that gypsies — the word “Roma” is a more acceptable term — were known to visit our fair county and city? Well, Mack Fife, a lifetime resident of the county, says “not rare at all!” As he remembers, a common spot for caravans to park was just north of the Rt. 68 entrance to Wilmington in an open field on the west side of the road.

In looking under the term “gypsies” On newspapers. com for Clinton County I find many references to them, mostly simply notices that they had stopped in a certain neighborhood.

For instance, in August 1887, “A band of gypsies are camped near Sligo. The women are telling the fortunes of some of the young ladies, and some that are not so young.”

In August of 1888 from Sharon, “A small band of gypsies passed through this place on Saturday. Quite a number of our people know what’s in the future … They furnished some good music at the Dover meeting. One old lady was heard to say she did wish that band would play so that she could understand the words better.” (I doubt if they were singing in English!)

In 1896, “A band of gypsies camped near this place (Bloomington) a part of last week.” In February of 1896, “A band of destitute and distressed gypsies have been ‘enjoying’ a cool outing on the banks of Todd’s Fork the past few days.” (No location mentioned.) In April, 1896 in New Burlington, “The band of gypsies who have been in camp near here have moved on.”

Again, an example from North Fairview in June of 1897, “A band of gypsies camped here a part of last week.” Finally, in April of 1931, “Gypsies were in Clarksville Saturday afternoon. They stayed only long enough to buy some pots and pans and again took to the road.”

Most of these latter examples indicate no animosity between the villagers and the gypsies, and even some friendliness. There are also references to these visitors showing up at local fairs and other types of gatherings to sell their wares.

However, above examples of gypsies being taken out of the county indicate little tolerance for their presence. Justified or not, they do have a bad reputation.

One correspondent to a local newspaper in a 20th century English publication dubbed them as, “shiftless, worthless people… The morals are not bounded by ordinary rules, and nearly all of them are thieves.”

A blurb under “A Gypsy Visit’ in the July 1917 WNJ states, “According to reports reaching this paper, a band of gypsies moved into the northwestern part of the county Monday, but meeting with anything but a warm reception by the people they responded to the insistent demand of the citizens and moved on.”

I also ran across a September 1884 reference to a six-year-old child passing through Circleville on a train headed for West Virginia and she had been “stolen by a band of gypsies about two year since; her mother has given her up for dead the past year.”

What can we believe? In this era of tall tales and conspiracy stories, we must be very certain of our sources!

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist