Franklinton Tragedy

Arson kills baby, 2 others

It strikes me as ironic that Scott and I would be making a journey to Franklinton last week.  Since moving from there in February 2009, I have made very few forays into that area.  It wasn’t avoidance or aversion, just no real need to visit.  And yet, while eating two apple pies and drinking some Diet Coke at the McDonald’s near the OSU campus, I divided my attention between my diary and this morning’s Columbus Dispatch.  The lead headline was the above story.

I wish I could say I was surprised the fire was in Franklinton.  Franklinton (also known as “The Bottoms” by its residents) doesn’t have a monopoly on arson, but when someone deliberately sets a fire there, the motive is usually more personal than a greedy landlord torching his own property because he has his eyes on a big insurance payout.

My thoughts immediately went back to the Wisconsin Ave. fire that took the lives of 19-year-old Mindy Hanners (a student of Steph’s at Gladden Community House) and her three children, who ranged in age from four years to two weeks.  It wasn’t until I went back to my old LiveJournal account to reread this entry that I realized the fire was four years ago this month.  I did not know the family that perished in this week’s blaze, but Deanna Perry, the 61-year-old woman who lived there, known to all as “Maw Maw”, opened her home to anyone who needed assistance.

The baby who died was the daughter of a troubled woman whom “Maw Maw” had hosted.  Mrs. Perry apparently had asked the mother to leave, because their relationship was fraying, but didn’t want the baby, who was ill, to be left without a place to lay her head.  The prevailing theory now is that someone was targeting the mother when they set the fire.

More and more, I am amazed by how people who possess the least are usually the most generous.  The house on N. Yale Ave. could hardly be commodious, and Deanna Perry was already living there with her husband, son, and grandson, yet she found room in her heart and her home for a woman and her baby who had nowhere else to turn.  (The husband and son had left the house for their jobs before the fire started, or else they could quite likely have died as well.)

The streets north of W. Broad are not as familiar to me as the ones to the south.  While we lived on West Park Ave., I made frequent trips to the Family Dollar store that sits at the corner of S. Yale and W. Broad, and the block between Broad and State Sts. featured several dilapidated houses, some of which were intermittently occupied, others which had long been abandoned.  Before I read the story thoroughly, I thought that the fire would have been in one of the S. Yale houses.  One house seemed to be okay structurally, but had a very high turnover of tenants.  I made almost nightly trips past it, especially if I had gotten off the bus on Broad St. and was walking home by way of Family Dollar, and it seemed like every other month there would be a new family there.  I’d see the clutter of Playskool toys in the patch of yard, I would see people sitting on the porch drinking malt liquor and smoking, I’d see the blue-white glow of the TV in the front room.  Then, after a few weeks, the house would be dark, there would be newspaper covering the windows, and the yard would be strewn with trash and debris.

Newspapers in the windows and darkness inside would become the norm for several weeks, but I’d never see a Realtor’s sign or a FOR RENT sign in the yard.  Then, one day I’d head over to Family Dollar to buy blank tapes or a new composition book to continue my diary, and the grass (more yellowed than green) would be cut, the newspapers would be gone, and a family would be in there.  I’d see furniture in the front room, and a jacket draped over a porch chair, or the front door open.  Then the cycle would repeat itself.

Franklinton residents seem to be focused on the proposal to convert the old Cooper Stadium, vacant since the Columbus Clippers moved to Huntington Park, into the Cooper Park Complex.  While passing through on the way to Central Point or Grove City, I see yard signs about it everywhere–even in the yards of the many abandoned properties.  Most of them say FOR Cooper Park Complex, and I guess it’ll be decided next month in the ballot box.  (One of the plans is for an automotive testing center and NASCAR racing, so the opponents cite environmental and noise issues.)  This tragedy will, maybe, divert their attention from the Cooper Park controversy and unite everyone in thinking of the three lives lost so needlessly this week.

I did not read of any funeral plans, but the memory of Mindy Hanners’ and children’s funerals, the standing-room-only show of support at Schoedinger’s Funeral Home’s Hilltop chapel, and the sealed coffin containing all four bodies, is still vivid in my mind.  We did not accompany them to the grave, but it seemed that most of Franklinton had come to pay their respects.  I suspect it’ll be the same for the victims of this disaster.