A Brief Oral History of Marlow, Ohio
In which we learn a few things about the founding of the town, and the feud that lives on to this day.
(N.B.: if you are unfamiliar with Marlow, start with this article.)
“The history?” she asks. “Of Marlow?” MUR-leh. Naturally.
“Yes. I was curious.” I state, settling in at the bar.
I am at The Reckoning, the tavern/restaurant on the main drag in Marlow. It is a Monday night, and the place is dead. I am one of four patrons, and the only chatty one, so the barkeep has no problem spending a little extra time on me.
She tells me her name is Nettie Anderson. She’s related to one of the folks that founded the town lo these many years ago. “Coming up on the bicentennial,” she reflects absently, wiping down the bar. If I had to guess, and I do…because I’m not going to ask, I’d put Nettie in her late twenties. Out of school but not yet sure what to do with her life. At that stage when a young person can be a bartender as a stop gap, not as a life choice.
“My great-grandfather was John Marlowe. He was the older brother that founded the town. His younger brother, Benjamin, started the university a few years after they settled here with their families. They bought the land from Elijah Boardman and within a few years, they were selling off plots to other farmers and merchants as they moved into town.”
“Marlowe with an E?” I ask.
“The family name is always Marlowe with an E. The town, well, there’s a story behind that. One sec,” she says, and heads down to check on the other patrons at the bar.
I sip my beer and make some notes. She’s back in about ninety seconds. “The feud,” she says, “is about the University.”
“Well…Ben got greedy. Ben is B.F. Marlowe, the face on the seal of the college. John’s little brother. He started the University and built the first building on John’s property. If you talk to the other side of the family, they’ll say that it was Ben’s, but they’re wrong.” She says it with a tone of finality that tells me this is well-trodden ground.
“Ok. So the brothers fought over that?”
“Sure. This started a few years in. While John was filing the paperwork to incorporate as a village. When he sent in the paperwork, everything seemed fine, but when the charter came back, the name of the town was missing the final E.”
“I bet that was unpopular.”
“Both families were mighty pissed. At first.”
“At first?” I prompt.
“At first. Ben, it turns out, was apoplectic about it. Batshit. Frothing at the mouth. Thinks it’s going to hurt the University. Well…John starts thinking about that. And he quietly allows the deadline for corrections to pass. And thus, we live in the city of Marlow.”
“The next year, Ben had that big marble block that sits in front of the Big Hall shipped in. “MARLOWE UNIVERSITY” big as life. The joke on campus is that the call that Ben’s Final Word. But it wasn’t.”
“No idea. Not my side of the family.” She refills my glass.
“So…how does this play out now? Are there many family members from either side in town?”
“Many left. Some of Ben’s side are still involved with the college. They still bear the name. John had two sons and five daughters, so there’s family around but the names have changed.
“It’s not bad, really. We don’t do a big family reunion if that’s what you think. Not since granddad tried to stage one in the seventies. That was a goddamn mess. The only time a shot was fired in this whole thing.”
I fight to stop a spit-take. “A shot?”
“It was a BB gun. My uncle, who was in his teens, lost control of it and accidentally shot a member of the other side in the ass. It was little more than a scratch, or so I was told, but the other side made a big fuss. There hasn’t been a lot of speaking since.”
“Ok,” I recapped. “So I get the spelling difference now. But what about the weird pronunciation?”
“Oh,” she said. “Ohio, man. Ohio. The people who moved here started mispronouncing it not long after the town was founded. The family on both sides gave up on that in 1900.”
We chit-chat a bit more before my glass is empty and I need to start the trek back home. The time I spend in this place, the more interesting I find it.
“Why are you asking about all this?” she finally asks.
I shrug. “Curious. You have a nice town here. Reminds me of where I live now, but the history is new to me. Seems like you have some good stories.”
“Where’s that? Where you live?”
She chuckles. “Ohio, man. You know you’re saying it wrong.”
“Not for living in Ohio, I’m not. You live in MUR-leh. I Live in Meh-DIE-na. It’s a strange old world.” I close out my tab and leave a tip on the bar. “See you next time.”
“Not if I see you first.”
I chuckle and head out into the Midwestern night.