Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Electric Rabbit: Another Columbus First

Earnest O. Hamilton, a Columbus tailor, stepson of the man whose company decoratively plastered many downtown theatres, invented the electric rabbit. The mechanical rabbit was used as a lure in dog racing.

It was needed by dog track operators to pace the greyhounds and the whippets. Mr. Hamilton’s invention was used extensively at tracks, not only in Columbus, but at Celtic Park in Long Island City, in Atlantic City, and in Florida. Although illegal, dog racing was permitted and openly advertised in Central Ohio in the 1920’s. Tracks were operated in Grove City and West Jefferson. The Columbus Whippet Racing Club ran Rosemore Track on E. Main Street.

In 1928, Melvyn Douglas, Edith King, and other actors of the Hartman Theatre Stock Company were photographed with greyhounds on the State House lawn. It was a double promotion of the dog racing and The Springboard, the opening play of the Hartman’s 1928 summer stock season.

The stepfather of Mr. Hamilton was Caleb W. Melluish, who moved to Columbus and set up his plastering shop at 48 W. Broad Street in 1886. The site of the shop would be razed two decades later to build the AIU Citadel (LeVeque Tower) and the Palace Theatre.

The plastering wasn’t just walls; it was decorative relief objects: cornices, figures, borders, filigreed grilling, paneling, and dome effects . The theatres that Melluish and company plastered were the Southern, the Majestic, the Dreamland, the State, and the James.

By this time the company employed many men and had moved to Vine Street and then to larger quarters on 181-183 W. Broad. Several banks, the Columbus Club, the Athletic Club, Seneca Hotel, Broad St. Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the Ohio Archaeological Society Museum, all received the Melluish ornate touch.

I wonder if there were any scrollwork-plaster hounds and rabbits?

Christine Hayes


  1. The new Columbus Bicentennial Blog co-conspiator Christine Hayes is probably too young recall the November 7th issue of Sports Illustrated in 1955. The "19th Hole" had ten letters from readers responding to the October 24th issue, which featured Hopalong Cassady on the cover and a long story about how Woody Hayes led the Buckeyes to a national championship in his fourth season.

    One letter was from Christine's father; "Ben Hayes, columnist for the Columbus Citizen newspaper and Woody's cousin complimented, 'good reporting -- you were selective and in a kind way.'"

    Respectfully submitted,
    Robert Stevenson, Columbus

  2. What was your source for the story of Ernest Hamilton and his electric hare? I have an interest in the early history of greyhound racing.