Men in black: The hearse, the union and the con that built Parkview School

Parkview High School is pictured shortly after it was built in 1922. The building was replaced by Bay Middle School in 2003.

I found a story in papers at the Osborn Learning Center that piqued my interest. I spoke with Mary Belle Culp Arnold on the telephone to verify the story is true. Mary Belle is 94 years old.

Here is the story. Lois Irwin Dougherty, Class of 1940, relayed an interesting story about a problem that was thrust upon the Board of Education when they were trying to get the Parkview School constructed. Lois refers to Mary Belle Culp Arnold, Class of 1940, who filled in needed information. She was quite knowledgeable, as her father, Dr. W. E. Culp, was a member of the school board in 1921-22 during the planning and the construction of the school.

To better understand and appreciate the story, let’s set the stage!

In 1921, the Village was in dire need of a school. That year the Board of Education rented the Bay Town Hall (City Hall) to house the fifth grade. Further, they were paying Rocky River High School tuition totaling $807.50 for one term so students living in the village could attend high school in Rocky River. Enrollment was increasing and the Red Brick School House at Stop #30 was overcrowded. More classrooms were needed.

The Board acted, and a special election, in April 1921, passed a 5-mill levy to support the $225,000 in bonds needed for the construction of Parkview. The board knew that the 5 mills would strain the budgets of families as the average yearly income per household in 1922 was about $2,300. They cut every possible expense, worked with the bare minimum and planned to use non-union labor.

Construction had barely started when the unions, with their strong-arm tactics, appeared at the site and ran off all the non-union labor. They set up on the site and stopped all construction. That’s when Dr. Culp and his co-conspirators went into action, developing a plan, and the big con was on.

As told by Mary Belle, they rented a big black limousine or hearse from the funeral home, the kind where the whole family could ride. The car had black window curtains for shades and truly looked like a gangster’s ride. Dr. Culp and a few others (Mary Belle thinks that maybe one of them was former Mayor Jessie Saddler) dressed as gangsters and drove up to the union men and told them, in no uncertain terms, that they better move on and not interfere.

The curtains were opened so everyone could see a person in the back of the car and the barrel of a gun. (Mary Belle states it was a machine gun.) They were told to get out, stay out, and not to bother the people of Bay. Then they pulled away quickly and didn’t look back. The next day the union vacated the construction site and Parkview was built. The ruse had worked and Bay had no other problems with the union.

Those involved tried to keep the story a secret and were quite successful for a few years but slowly it came out. Mary Belle and Lois say that during lunches and get-togethers with old school chums, the story was told. It is difficult for Mary Belle to believe that her father, a very mild mannered dentist, would be involved in a stunt like that. What a gutsy performance. That Board of Education really got the job done and proved they were truly for education.

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Volume 8, Issue 7, Posted 10:13 AM, 04.05.2016