Chilly weather meets a chilling tale


Yes, coaxed forsythia, brought in perhaps 10 days ago, blooms on the kitchen table, brightening however gray the morning and hinting that hopefully King Winter and his minions are retreating.
But don’t count on it, and don’t believe Punxsutawney Phil, who is surely getting senile. The recent zero spell, shortly after his prediction of an early spring, did nothing to authenticate that forecast, did it?
And yet, across the sun-spangled white landscape outside the window, a cardinal sends his spring song.
Outside the window, goldfinches, still in winter garb, gang up on each other around the thistle sock, creating a fluttering mosaic of yellows and beiges.
Outside the window, a handicapped sparrow – and I am not fond of sparrows – elicits my admiration as it survives with a dragging right wing, managing to eat and to fly into the lower branches of the wisteria.
Outside the window, a tailless chickadee balances on the feeder despite his lack of a rudder, which was probably frozen off against a twig.
Outside the window, rabbits run, creating an illusion that love is at least in the air.
Outside the window, a robin fluffed against the cold relishes the berries on the barberry hedge.
And outside the window, who knows how many creatures have autographed the ice-glazed surface of the yard with their tracks, some decipherable, some not.
Thick ivy growing up the trunk of the maple tree (planted as a skinny little whip there 25 years ago and now huge) has been trimmed by a lame doe who has eaten as high as she can reach.
I watched her one twilight as she satisfied her hunger before limping back into the west jungle where she has surely found safety.
* * *
Timeline, a marvelous publication of the Ohio Historical Society, affords intelligent and educational reading during these cold winter days, and the January/March edition has a historical tale from Columbiana County written by Steve DeGenaro of Poland, who has previously written for this prestigious publication.
A respiratory therapist employed in the consulting area of the homecare medical field, Steve has long had a hobby of collecting historical photographs related to his field.
A picture from December 1872 of two little girls apparently sleeping, but actually deceased, was the inspiration for his story, The Murdered Children.
The children’s hatchet murder by their father, Irwin Porter, a Civil War veteran, and his subsequent trial sent the media – reporters came from Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati – into a frenzy. They called it a “heinous crime” and “the crime of the century.”
(I have permission from Steve to use his carefully researched material of this true, horrifying story. Today we blame our violent society on television and movies and video games and drugs, but history shows us the precedent was set long before our descent into their quagmire.)
And if the DeGenaro name is familiar, it is because Steve’s wife, Mary, is one of the judges on the 7th District Court of Appeals.)
One of 11 children, Porter was a carpenter and farmhand. He served with Company C of the 24th Ohio Infantry Regiment and was wounded at Chickamauga in 1863. He married Minda Flickinger of New Springfield in 1868 and by 1872 they had two daughters, 3-year-old Minda and 1-year-old Adelaide.
They had built a home on South Main Street in Columbiana, but an argument with his brother, Joseph, with whom he had built the house, caused them to move back with Minda’s parents.
But that year, Porter began to show signs of aberrant behavior that today would be attributed to post-traumatic stress or perhaps to a brain tumor. He was moody and depressed and quarreled with everyone, frequently losing his job because of the arguments and even assaults.
On the morning of Dec. 12, he snapped, and even with his wife and relatives in the house at the time, took the little girls into their room and “methodically killed them with the hatchet” from his toolbox.
By noon, he was captured in a Leetonia saloon and his trial at the courthouse in New Lisbon drew packed crowds.
His attorneys included John M. Myers of Canfield and W. Anderson of Canfield, whose defense centered on the likelihood of his insanity as there was a history of mental illness in his family.
Found guilty, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Ohio State Penitentiary where he died at the age of 39 in 1875 and was said to be “raving mad.”
If you’d like to read Steve’s entire article, you can find it at the main library in downtown Youngstown, or order a copy of Timeline from the Ohio Historical Society, 1982 Velma Ave., Columbus, OH 43211-2497.
* * *
It is a curse to have been in school when grammar was taught along with English, and a career in writing emphasized the importance of grammar. Now I cringe at every grammatical error I hear and read and believe me, there is much cringing.
I even wrote one down when Charles Gibson of ABC was reporting on President Ford’s funeral procession. He said: “There is actually two motorcades.” Woe is me …

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A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.