The Bronze Lantern
History, Mystery, and Intrigue
By David L. Anthony
Mr. Stacy was now in his twilight years. His greatest pleasure in life, telling his grandchildren of his many adventures, a deep appreciation for history, and his interest in the mysteries that came his way. He still enjoyed wearing his fedora and dressing appropriately for men in his line of work. His clothes always looked pressed and clean, with his tie neatly arranged under his tweed vest. One pocket held his vintage pocket watch with a picture of his departed wife in it. The other is held together by a silver watch chain attached to his faithful old knife. He wasn’t afraid to shed his business threads and work with his hands when in time of need. No one could call him a “dandy,” but they would respect the man in the suit for always being ready to learn just a little more about life, as that intrigued him, a smooth talker but a hard worker too. He appealed to the businessman and farmers alike, a trait rarely seen in those days.
The gentle rhythm of the train tracks clacking on his latest journey lulled him into a daydreaming state of mind. How many days he had spent traveling the big cities and small towns of America since the turn of the century. The changes that the American industrial revolutions brought seemed overwhelming at times. Once, the American Patent Office considered closing because they felt that nothing new of any consequence could be invented. Had America met its peak of industrialization? Oh, how wrong they were, as an explosion of sorts spread across the land, and those that wanted to be part of it simply had to grab hold and have the ride of a lifetime.
As a young man, he recalled youth in New England. His father was a cutler by trade. He landed on the shores of the USA in the 1880s after a long journey from England. He escaped the oppression of Sheffield and opted to seek a new life in America. Those skills he acquired as a young apprentice in creating straight razors brought about the biggest demand. The ability to craft the correct angles needed on the razor was the ultimate amongst his peers and commanded the most wages at the time. It took a truly experienced craftsman to make a good razor blade versus the far less intricate standard knife blade. He could find work at nearly any of the numerous cutlery companies that dotted the New England map. He even ventured into New York State and Pennsylvania over the years, and young Douglas got to see a lot of country in a short amount of time. The downside to that type of employment was the curse of “grinders consumption.” The years of metal dust and debris gathered in his father’s lungs, and he died at an early age. Douglas Stacy vowed that he would not venture down the same path. However, his exposure to the inner workings of the cutlery world would provide him with valuable experience later in life.
Although Douglas would work as a runner in the knife factories, he soon realized that this was not the life for him. Carrying blades and handles in trays to the various stations for further assembly in the factory wasn’t his vision for the world around him. Instead, he admired the owners of the companies and the comfortable lifestyle they seemed to live compared to the simple life Douglas’s family was living. A grand house on the hill that looked down on the town with flower gardens and fruit trees was the life he envisioned someday. However, his dream did not mesh well with his New England upbringing, and many adventures led him to Ohio around 1900.
Ironton, Ohio was known for its grand Memorial Day Parade. The oldest, continuously held Memorial Day Parade in the United States. With a name like Ironton, one doesn’t have to ponder long on the main product for this community. Situated on the Ohio River, transportation of goods via the river system set this town for a prosperous future. Douglas Stacy recognized this town’s potential, with Kentucky just across the river and plenty of boat traffic and trains to get him where he wanted to go. This man was now a mid-westerner, poised to travel the county searching for goods to buy and sell. His talents were many, and experience would take him to new highs and lows in the business world, but it was his gift to talk to people in a way that endeared them that would be his best talent. He knew how to use it well, and more than one old curmudgeon was won over, and deals were made.
The train whistle blew to signal that they had arrived at their destination. It startled our traveler as he had been at that point of near sleep but still daydreaming. He grabbed his bag and proceeded to leave the train car. As he stepped out to the smells of the iron business that filled his nostrils. He imagined that Sheffield England must have had a similar stench to it, and perhaps that is why he loved this town so much. It gave him a connection to his father and his English side of the family. His mother was a New Englander born and bred. She lived near Waterbury, Connecticut and Douglas’s father met her at church. During this period, the church was the focal point of most communities, and nearly everyone used the church as the social event of the week.
His mother’s name was Bessie, and she was of German heritage. Her grandfather had brought the family to the area for the same reason, better wages in the cutlery business. The Germans had excellent knife-making skills, but the story was that a German knife was beautiful to look at, but the English-made knives held the best edge. This rivalry of sorts was prevalent throughout the knife factories, and in fact, the company often would segregate the two nationalities to avoid infighting amongst the workers. Name-calling was on a daily basis, and each side pretty much kept to themselves. An Englishman could never be the shop boss over a group of German cutlers and vice versa. Even the company baseball teams were segregated by nationality. So, Douglas was a good mixture of English and German and couldn’t make a knife nearly as good as either. Thus, his desire to be a businessman and not a factory worker. Knives were a part of his life story, but there was far more to him than the walk and talk of a good pocketknife.
A short walk down thru the town leads him to Campbell Avenue. It was right on the waterway and provided him a nice view of the paddlewheels carrying passengers and goods up and down the Ohio. Some might have called it a seedy side of town, but Mr. Stacy found the characters that inhabited the area had tales of their own to share. Some were nothing but a liar’s story, yet others offered curiosity that indeed needed further investigation. Years ago, he determined that this was the perfect spot to set up shop, a growing community, good transportation, and lots of industrialists wanting to part with their money for what he had to offer. He wanted to provide a wide range of products to his customers. However, he didn’t want to be tied down to the daily grind of merchandising, so he cast himself as the owner/buying agent of his “Cutlery Exchange and Oddities Emporium.” Something no one in the area had seen before and unique to maybe all the Ohio River Valley.
Once while traveling from St. Louis to Memphis, Tennessee, he wondered away the hours trying to conceive a name for his dream business. He yearned for something unique, yet it had to capture his adventuresome lifestyle. Then, finally, the midnight bell rang on the steamboat, and a deep sense of quiet enveloped his berth. He had only a little light to write in his daily journal. A journal that in the future would be a treasure trove of stories to tell. The boat lurched to the right for some reason, and the light from the lantern swayed to-and-fro from the waves splashing against it. The lantern was made of bronze, better quality than most, and cast a shining light for him to follow. He pondered the light, and suddenly he realized the significance of a guiding light. His new business would be called the “Bronze Lantern.” It would beckon all that wanted to see the illumination of other worlds, and he would be the lantern master.
Thus began the legend of the Bronze Lantern, an Ironton, Ohio establishment extraordinaire. Those that ventured in were sure to be overcome with interest and questions that only one man could enlighten them on. Douglas Stacy was an adventurist and loved to tell a good story.