Mr. Wert Ash’s Legacy, Let’s Make it Right!

Mr. Wert Ash, June, 1960

If you live in a city of 18 million souls the legacy you’re remembered by may not count as heavily as it would in a small town of less than 5000. Mr. Wert Ash lived and died in a small town and for decades his legacy has been stained by what small town’s are good at; accepting rumor and half-truths as fact.

During much of his life, this descendant of a grandfather who had experienced slavery first hand, was known as “Hammerhead” or “Hammer.” Few knew his real name but most in town knew him by those nicknames, didn’t know why he was called them, but knew that shouting those words at Mr. Wert Ash would drive him to a fit of anger, evoking oaths, threats, and at times hot pursuit.

I’ve recently been privy to a discussion about Mr. Wert Ash and no one present knew what his real name was but most knew who he was and what his nicknames were. Just as they didn’t know his real name, they didn’t know how he acquired those nicknames. Some said it was because he had murdered his wife with a hammer. Others said he had killed a person with a hammer. Some that he chased tormentors and threatened them with harm using his hammer. Most remembered him as being someone they feared, or someone their mothers told them to avoid.

I had been one of those of the 1940s and 50s who taunted Mr. Wert Ash when given a chance. Of course I never did it alone, I wasn’t that brave. But in the company of friends and feeling safe in numbers, I would mindlessly become a willing tormentor. I think Saint Peter will forgive children, such as I, these things but I’m just as certain that if there is a heaven and hell, the same “get out of jail” card won’t be given adults at the Pearly Gates.

According to area resident, Connie Ford, Mr. Wert Ash may have originally lived in Bainbridge, OH. He had a sister named Navy Green. A brother, Levi Ash, married into the McCoy family of Greenfield.

He lived alone in an unpainted wood home at the junction of Child Street and SR 753 and was a neighbor of Richard Child. Mr. Wert Ash lived without electricity and running water and would draw water from a well in the back yard of the Child home. On those occasions when he needed electricity he would temporarily run an extension cord from the Child home to his. According to Jane Child Mills, daughter of Richard Child, Mr. Wert Ash died in their back yard while pumping water. And, ironically, the photo that Jane provided shows Mr. Wert Ash posing at that well and you can see that his hands are on the pump’s handles.

For many years Mr. Wert Ash worked at the Hennigan Farm located about two-miles Southwest of Greenfield on SR 138. Current owners of the farm are John and Wendy Royse. Mr. Wert Ash would walk the distance between his home and the farm several times each day which may help account for his longevity. I’ve not discovered his age at death but he was reported to be quite elderly.

I have garnered three different stories about how Mr. Wert Ash acquired his nicknames. All share one thing in common, the theft, or claimed theft, of a hammer. One source says he stole a hammer from his employer, Mr. Hennigan, and was let go. Another that he simply “stole” a hammer, and the third that he found a hammerhead and was falsely accused of having stolen it. The important thing is that nobody with personal knowledge connects him to the slaying of another with a hammer.

In our day it seems incredulous that such a simple act, regardless of which version is true, could garner one a life-long and damning sobriquet. But, Mr. Wert Ash lived in a different time and in a small-town America that may not exist today. The stigmas and social taboos of the 1950s are long gone and rumor and innuendo don’t have the staying power they once did.

I’ve tried in the writing of this piece to, when possible, refer to Mr. Wert Ash as, Mr. Wert Ash. There are two reasons for such. For well over half a century this man lived with, and died with, a legacy that tormented him. And unfortunately, his reactions to the teasing only added to the body of myths that grew to encase him. So, it is time to stop tormenting this man who every person who really knew him called, “A sweet person.”

The other reason is Jane Child Mills told me that her father, Richard, who knew Mr. Wert Ash better than most, once told her that she was to NEVER call that gentleman by any name other than, Mr. Wert Ash. She was to never contribute to his torment. Hopefully we will all take a lesson from this and do our part to restore and protect the legacies of those “characters” we all remember. Common decency requires that we recall them as people who added zest, variety, and substance to our lives. Not as oddities and subjects of demeaning myth.

Mr. Wert Ash pumping water from neighbor Richard Child’s well.
Mr. Wert Ash’s home on the corner of Child’s Street and SR 753 in the Oklahoma district of Greenfield, OH.

NOTE: The Greenfield Community Directory of 1958 list a Levi Ash (wife Susie), of 122 North Street, as being employed by Cowgill’s Grill as a janitor.

19 thoughts on “Mr. Wert Ash’s Legacy, Let’s Make it Right!”

  1. Larry: I remember him. We lived on Fifth St. when I was little and he walked by fairly often. The people in the neighborhood just called him “Old Ash”. I never called him anything; I was far too scared of him to make a peep of sound in his direction since all he ever did was glare at me and look mean. I was four or five. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  2. What a wonderful interest story. I knew very little about Mr. Wert Ash. I know I was
    afraid because of his rages at the nickname. I never called him such but his rages put the fear of God in a 2nd or 3rd grade child.

  3. I enjoyed your article regarding Wert Ash, Larry. The Kerns family were neighbors of Wert Ash when we were growing up. We were also neighbors of Laura Jane Child and played together when we were small.
    My father, Earl C. Kerns, was a plasterer all his life, and was in business with his father when he was younger. Wert Ash worked for them from time to time as a hod carrier.
    I have been working for the past six years on a book about Greenfield and the Greenfield Cemetery, obtaining information and obituaries.
    Wert Ash was born June 1869 in Ohio. He died January 4, 1960 in Highland Co., Ohio.
    He is buried in Sec. 6 in Greenfield Cemetery in an unmarked grave. He was never married.
    His father was Jacob Ash born April 19, 1840 in South Carolina. Jacob Ash married Martha Seward in 1866. Martha Seward was born September 1847 in Virginia.
    Jacob died June 16, 1913 in Concord Twp., Ross Co., Ohio. He is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, Frankfort, Ross Co., Ohio. His parents were Emanuel Ash and Martha (Calley) Ash.
    Martha Seward Ash died January 31, 1930 in Concord Twp., Ross Co., Ohio. She is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, Frankfort, Ross Co., Ohio. I do not know her parent’s names.
    I do not know how many children Joseph & Martha Ash had, but have verified six.
    I can remember Mrs. Child telling that Wert Ash would bake these beautiful biscuits and bring some to her from time to time.
    In those days when someone died, the neighbors would go door-to-door and take up a collection for flowers. This was done for Wert Ash, as he was a good neighbor.

  4. Enjoyed your article. I don’t remember him but like Randy, I remember Pepsi Pete. Kids would taunt him also. He would perform a shuffle with his feet for us. Lived down around 2nd street. Again, nice work.

  5. Great article. I wonder if it is the same man Iwas refering to? Mom worked with a lady at the shoe factory who was supposed to be a relative. I was told he was in the war and shell shocked. I thought he lived on Boyd Ave?
    I’m sure your article is correct and dispells all of the misinformation i have added?
    Bob

  6. I remember Susie that is listed in the 1958 directory. Lived directly across from my Grand Mother Emma who lived at 111 North. She was always very sweet and forth right with me and everytime I saw her she was smiling and waving.
    Loved her!

  7. This article on Mr. Wert Ash brought us both to tears. You haven’t wasted your talent! Mr. Ash may not have been able to read but he always asked to see my grade card and as poor as he was, always gave me (Laura Jane) a nickel or a dime for a good report card. He said, “The only way to get ahead is to be smart.” As difficult as his life may have been his yard was immaculate as was his vegetable garden.

  8. Larry,
    What an excellent article! Makes me sad to think of how difficult it must have been for Mr. Ash to have experienced the taunting. I applaud you for having taken the initiative in writing about him. There is redemption in this story and a tribute , long overdue, for Mr. Ash.

  9. Beautiful piece! What we don’t understand we often ridicule as children children. You have made people pause & think.
    A little more history of this man can be found on Ancestry.com. He was born in Ohio in 1869; his father was born in S. Carolina & his mother in Virginia. The 1900 census has him living with a Lige Payne family in Buckskin Twp, Ross Co, Ohio. He was a farm laborer unable to read or write. The Ohio death index says he was never married, and died on Jan. 4, 1960.

  10. Well done,I remember him walking by our house on 900 block of Mirabeau,I probably hassled him with the nickname too. I also was a small child,don’t know who told me his nickname but it was a cruel thing to do. He deserved better.

    1. I have no memory of Mr. Ash, but I do remember “Pepsi Pete.” It seems like he was always walking the roads to collect soda bottles We would pass him often on the roads. No idea where he lived or if he was married.

  11. I remember calling him Hammerhead only one time. I now regret that I did. I was a mere child. Mr. Wert I am deeply sorry. May you rest in peace.

  12. Very well written, Larry, with a good purpose. I didn’t Know Mr. Ash having grown up in WCH, but I think we all had people around us we as children didn’t understand. Understanding others is key to living well with them. Unfortunately children do not have the life experiences that help them understand and it seems like going through these experiences is how they learn – for better or worse. I hope the new push to stop bullying will help.

  13. Interesting read. Obviously a gentelman from before my time. Had never heard of him before, but I can think of others around town that had similar reactions.

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