Reached the height of his profession as an entomologist; •was the last living eye-witness to Bluffton's John Dillinger bank robbery; • and, if that's not enough, he attended the famous OSU-Michigan Snow Bowl game; •Read his account of these events plus his obituary, outlining his professional achievements
Bluffton favorite son Charles Triplehorn died Aug. 25, 2022. His remarkable professional career is noted at the bottom of this column in his obituary.
Aside from his achievements in science, he was witness to two remarkable events during his lifetime.
He is possibly the only person with such an unusual claim to fame. He witnessed Bluffton’s John Dillinger bank robbery in August of 1933. And, he attended the famous Snow Bowl football game in Columbus, played by Ohio State and Michigan.
Several years ago, during a visit to Bluffton, Fred Steiner invited Charles to write down his version of both accounts.
As he modesty states, “All of this left a lasting impression on me, and over the years has been a great conversation piece.”
Seriously understated, Charles was no doubt the life of every party he ever attend.
Both accounts in the book “Bluffton Anthology – A Creek Runs Through It.”
His Dillinger account follows: Our chat with Charles about his John Dillinger experience took place in the doorway of what is today Do It Best Family Hardware, 109 N. Main St., and the Edward Jones office at 111 N. Main St.
At the time of our conversation, in 2007, he was the last-living eyewitness to Bluffton’s Citizens National Bank robbery pulled off by Dillinger and his gang.
John stands in the Main Street doorway where he witnessed the Dillinger robbery
He was in Bluffton attending a Bluffton High School class of 1945 reunion. We stood between the two businesses because that’s where Charles stood at noon on Aug. 14, 1933.
We should point out that Bluffton News editor, Ted Biery, on the other side of the street, also witnessed the event. He wrote an excellent account of what happened.
His opening paragraph sets the scene as only a journalism graduate (he was a 1913 Ohio State journalism graduate) could craft. His writing has accuracy, brevity and clarity:
“Staging a bold daylight robbery, five well-dressed bandits held up the Citizens National Bank at South Main and Church streets at noon Monday and escaped in an auto with loot of $2,100. The loss is covered by insurance.”
Here’s what Charles remembers: I was, indeed, a witness to the John Dillinger robbery. Bear in mind that I was only 6 years old.
Being almost three-fourth of a century ago, so much of what I recall is somewhat hazy and probably modified and embellished by retelling. On that fateful day, my mother sent me to stay with Fred and Zoe Zehrbach, probably to get me out of her hair for a while.
Zehrbachs lived in an upstairs apartment above what was then Barnes’ Grocery, in the next block from the bank. I ambled along Main Street, passed the bank – obviously Dillinger was inside as I walked by – crossed Church Street and was in front of Greding’s Hardware when the shooting began.
Greding’s had a display of cane fishing poles in front of the store right next to the entrance to the Zehrbach apartment. Fred was awaiting my arrival so he was right there, grabbed me and pulled me into the entrance of his place.
From there, we were able to watch what was going on by peeking around the cane poles. The entire episode lasted only a few minutes.
I distinctly remember one of the Dillinger men standing in the intersection brandishing a machine gun as though he were directing traffic. He sprayed a few rounds at random to make certain that there were no interruptions of the activity inside the bank.
All at once two men dashed out of the bank firing pistols, jumped in a car, picked up their lookout, and roared away out of town toward Findlay. All of this left a lasting impression on me, and over the years has been a great conversation piece.
There are several amusing anecdotes associated with the Dillinger robbery. One involved my grandmother’s brother, M.M. (Dode) Murray, who was postmaster on duty at the post office, directly across Main Street from the bank.
Someone yelled, “Dode, they’re robbing the bank.” Dode grabbed a gun, darted out and positioned himself behind a brick pillar in front of the post office. He poked his head around the pillar to assess the situation, and was an easy target with his snow white hair.
The mobster in the street fired a warning shot and Dode remained stolidly behind the pillar until well after the getaway. Another comedy of errors involved the Bluffton volunteer fire department.
An alarm was somehow sounded and the firemen assuming it was a fire, assembled at the town hall in which the fire truck was garaged. The truck pulled out of the garage, started the siren, and turned the corner onto Main Street.
Someone spotted the lookout – who may have fired a warning shot – whereupon they quickly backed the truck back to the garage.
Another interesting sidelight was that Dr. Jesse Steiner had his office directly above the bank. Dr. Steiner was a big game hunter, and had a number of weapons in his office, along with a collection of stuffed animals. He could have easily picked off the robbers from his window.
There you have my recollections for what they are worth. Evan Herr, a classmate, had a bullet from one of the guns used in the robbery. His father, Nelson Herr, worked in the bank and picked up the bullet after things returned to normal.
(Note: Over 40 shots were fired in both directions of Main Street by the gang, using revolvers and a sub-machine gun that sprayed bullets.)
OSU-Michigan Snow Bowl The Bluffton Triplehorn brothers, Charles, John and Don, experienced two never-will-happen-again Ohio events that few brothers anywhere can match.
Charles witnessed the John Dillinger bank robbery in Bluffton. And, all three attended the 1950 Ohio State-Michigan snow bowl. Charles said that his brother, John, was being recruited to play football for the Buckeyes and watched the game from the bench.
When John went to Columbus he brought Don, who was in graduate school at OSU at the time, some frozen rabbits.
Photo of the famous Snow Bowl game
John sat with the rabbits throughout the game. It was so bitterly cold that the rabbits never thawed out.
Here’s a conversation we had with Charles about the snow bowl.
I was 16 and a Bluffton Boy Scout at the time. We went to the game to usher fans to their seats. My memory of the details is weak, but, my brother, John, knew the story very well.
Besides John and Bruce Hauenstein, I don’t remember who else was there. Harry Kettlewell, math teacher at Bluffton High School and maybe our scoutmaster, may have been the driver.
We wore our scout uniforms, somewhat unsuitable for blizzard conditions. Tarps were put on the field before the game, but that became a problem when the snow continued to fall and became deeper and deeper on the field.
Volunteers were recruited to sweep off the snow and roll up the tarps. I don’t remember volunteering, but we were out there with a sizable number of folks. The tarps had to be cut into smaller pieces and some of it was frozen to the ground.
Picture a line of poorly dressed, snow-covered guys shoulder-to-shoulder pushing a tarp full of snow that got several feet high. One person got carried over the top and almost rolled up. The wind was blowing, visibility was down to 10 yards or so, and as a result, it was not easy to stop the momentum once we were rolling.
This person was lucky that his situation was noticed, and he was saved. This may have spawned the later rumor that one of the Boy Scouts was missing, but this turned out to be false.
My personal memory was of a dense snowfall of large wet aggregates of snow that stuck to you. Specifically, when you blink the snow would freeze your eyebrows to your face and suddenly your eyelids were stuck. Easily cured by rubbing your eyes, but somewhat startling: never has this happened to me before or since.
Back up in the stands I remember the wind and the cold. The game itself was hard to follow and not very interesting. It contained lots of clashes of two mobs on the line of scrimmage alternating with punting – lots of punting, because it was the only way to move the ball downfield.
People fell down a lot on the slippery field and passing was absurd; Michigan did not complete any and I don’t know about OSU.
Michigan won on a touchdown scored as a result of a blocked punt that went out of bounds behind the goal line. I don’t remember leaving the stadium, but we headed north in a continuing blizzard. The flat land north of Columbus became so uniform that you couldn’t tell where the road was.
Not too far out of town we pulled into the driveway of a farm house, and were quickly followed by several other cars. I read that 20,000 cars were on Ohio roads.
So, a bunch of us – I don’t know how many – spent the night on the floor, guests of the generous residents.
Next morning came the need to feed all these people. Fortunately a semi-trailer full of baked goods was stalled just in front of the house and the driver opened up the back and provided food for all of us.
The snow and wind stopped during the night and in the morning the sun came out and snowplows opened the roads, so we continued homewards without further delay.
What a day.
His obituary follows:
Charles A. Triplehorn was born in Bluffton on Oct. 27, 1927, to Murray and Alice Triplehorn and died Aug. 25, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio.
He grew up in Bluffton, graduating from Bluffton High School in 1945. He was active in band and orchestra (slide trombone), a member of Thespians, appearing in a number of stage productions. He was on the football team, HiY (service club), Science Club (president), reporter for the school newspaper, and on the production staff of the yearbook.
He was active in Boy Scouts of America, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout with Silver Palm. Later, he served as Cubmaster of a pack in Wooster, Ohio, and as Scoutmaster of a troop in Upper Arlington, Ohio. He served two years as camp naturalist in Shawnee Council Camps in Defiance, Ohio.
He received his B.S. degree (1949) in Zoology and his M.S. degree (1952) in Entomology from The Ohio State University, and his PhD degree (1957) in Systematic Entomology from Cornell University.
He was president of both the Columbus Entomological Society and the Ohio State Herpetological Society and was on both the football and wrestling teams at Ohio State.
At Cornell, he was president of Jugatae (departmental seminar group).
He married Wanda Elaine Neiswander in 1949 and they had two sons: Bradley Alyn (1952) and Bruce Wayne (1957).
Wanda died in 1985. He married Linda Sue Parsons in 1987 and she survives.
During his undergraduate career at Ohio State, he served as Assistant Curator of Natural History at the Ohio State Museum and, after graduation, was the first naturalist for the Columbus Metropolitan Parks.
He served briefly as the first curator of reptiles at the Columbus Zoo. Chuck was among the last of the great general naturalist. As a park naturalist, he knew the scientific names of plants, birds, reptiles, mammals and, of course, insects. It was always a learning experience being in the woods with him.
From 1952 to 1954, he was Assistant Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware. From 1954 to 1957, he was a teaching assistant at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
From 1957 to 1961, he oversaw field crop research at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio. He moved to Columbus in 1962, assuming the role of Curator of Insects, attaining to the rank of full professor in 1967.
From 1964 to 1966, he held the position of Economic Entomologist on the Ohio State team of the Agency for International Development in Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil and briefly worked with Food for Peace in Rio de Janeiro.
During his tenure on the Ohio State faculty, he published almost 120 scientific papers, mostly on the Tenebrionidae family of beetles and was co-author on three editions of the widely acclaimed “An Introduction to the Study of Insects.”
He was elected president of the North Central Branch of the Entomological Society of America in 1984 and of the parent society in 1985.
After retirement in 1992, he maintained an office and laboratory in the Museum of Biological Diversity on the Ohio State campus in the insect collection which is named for him and where he continued researching and publishing on his beetles.
He is survived by his wife, Linda Shelton Parsons Triplehorn, sons Brad (Romie) and Bruce (Lisa), stepson Steve (Steph), grandchildren Ronald (Helen), Justine (Ron), Josiah (Mindy), Daniel (Lorena), Maria (Branden), Jonathan (Lívia), step-grandchildren Chalyse, Ashley, and Haley, great-grandchildren Stone, Alma, Julia, Elliot, and Phillip, siblings John (Janice) and Lora (Jim). He was preceded in death by his brother, Don (Judee).