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The Queen City Vindicated

July 2024
1min read

Stephen Z. Starr, director of the Cincinnati Historical Society, has called us down on a blithe assertion we made last summer: The caption of the beautiful cover of your August, 1974, issue reads in part: “‘The Queen City of the West,’ Cincinnati, seems to deserve its proud—and doubtless sell-bestowed —nickname …” (emphasis mine). It is not local pride but a desire for historical accuracy that impels me to take you to task over that “doubtless self-bestowed” phrase. (With some reluctance I overlook the word “seems” in “seems to deserve.”)

The “nickname” was first used by Timothy Flint in 1832 in Volume 1, page 411 of his The History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley (second edition, 1832). It next appears in 1835, in Volume 11, page 130 of Charles Fenno Huffman’s A Winter in the West . The locus classicus of the phrase, however, is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, titled “Catawba Wine,” written in 1854. The occasion for the poem was the receipt by Longfellow of a gift of Catawba wine from Nicholas Longworth of Cincinnati. Longworth made his money by judicious investment in Cincinnati real estate; aside from being a generous patron of the arts (Hiram Powers was one of his protégéés) he also tried with initial success to establish a wine industry on the banks of the Ohio River.

For those classicists in our audience here is the stanza in question from Longfellow’s poem:

And this Song of the Vine, This greeting of mine, The winds and the birds shall deliver To the Queen of the West, In her garlands dressed, On the banks of the Beautiful River.

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