how did tall betsy get her name?
by Allan Jones
My grandmother who grew up where Arnold school is today told me the story. The house at Arnold was built by my great, great grandfather J.R. Taylor. JR was a prominent builder and owned lots of real-estate including the entire city block of Arnold and was a major shareholder of Merchants Bank. He died in 1909 and his daughter Annie who was married to Dr. William Herman Schultz , my great grandparents, inherited the block. Dr. Schultz would have owned Mr. Lanes house. Dr. Schultz sold the house and land to the city for Arnold. My grandmother Marie Schultz Slaughter married J.D. slaughter who was a Blue-collared guy, and they lived in one of the many houses the family owned which was across the street from Arnold school on 8th street. When I was growing up JD worked in oak ridge nuclear and came home on weekends. Marie was quite the storyteller and loved the neighborhood kids, entertaining them with stories, so my mother’s house was kind of the center of the neighborhood. They didn’t own a car, but they owned a horse and monkey, which was better than a trampoline.
Marie or Nenaw told me about “black Betsy”, the tall lady who roamed Cleveland streets at night , dressed in all black, and her dad, Dr Schultz actually saw her. Schultz was 6’2 and met black Betsy walking home from his office to 8th street home. Betsy stepped off the curb to let him pass and still towered over him. My grandmother thought it was probably a policeman dressing up to scare people home at night. She also surmised it was just a very odd tall lady who people made fun of who waited until late to walk so no one would gawk.
Then when I was about Eli’s age, I got the idea I wanted to be Black Betsy on Halloween and stand in my parent’s yard scaring trick or treaters. In 1970, I finally did it. I cut two sapling trees down and built feet holders. Laid the new stilts in the back yard to dry in the sun for the week. Rode my bike to Stuart park grocery and bought some black RIT dye, charged it to dad. Took our horse watering bucket and built a big fire under it to boil water. Poured dye in. Got two of my mother’s white sheets and dropped them in. In two minutes, they were solid black. Halloween morning Oct 31, 1970, I was up early to prepare. It was a Saturday! I went to our back yard to retrieve the Dried stilts that I had totality failed to check on! The sun and “bowed” them! I worked in our driveway (concrete) learning to walk on stilts. I decided I looked like a bow-legged cowboy who had just ridden a horse 1,000 miles, plus the bow made it very difficult to walk on them. I gave up and I was pretty mad at myself! My mother never missed the sheets and I hope I cleaned the horses water bucket, I don’t remember. I never mentioned playing Black Betsy that Halloween. In fact, that Saturday night you may have had a date with Tom, while I was headstrong doing juvenile stuff, but to me it was very important.
How she got the name.
July 1st 1973 I had quit MTSU and moved by to Cleveland to help stabilized dads business. He had emphysema I was in poor health which caused him to lack interest. Courtney was born Nov 1973 and I wanted mothers help. It already wasn’t going well with my current wife.
In 1974 we had a morning paper called the Cleveland Press and around Halloween of 74 I read I saw an article about Black Betsy written by the publisher sheeny white. I was totally amazed. It called her Black Betsy, Tall Betsy, or the Lady in Black. I ran out the credit bureau door and ran to Central Avenue to the Cleveland Press (paper lasted 1970 to 1975). The owner punisher Sheeny White was there alone. Told him I came to see him about his Black Betsy article. I had no idea anyone knew that story but my grandmother. He told me he had graduated Bradley with my mother, and he grew up on Highland Avenue two blocks from my grandmother’s house hearing her stories about Black Betsy from Marie. He says folks called her all 3 names. My grandmother never mentioned the other names. I was so amazed that someone besides me knew the story. I called Randy Fox, he’s about 5 years older than me, and he had to hear black Betsy story’s from my grandmother.
In Oct 1980, the old Central Cites Action association wanted to create an official spook for downtown for Halloween. I saw it as my Opportunity. By 1980 “black Betsy” wouldn’t work so at that meeting I adopted Tall Betsy as her name. There was much debate about what goblins to choose, I won by agreeing if they’ll pick Tall Betsy who was a real person, I’d pay to have the uniform made, including the stilts and I’d play the part myself… Tall Betsy won out.
Gerald Burns, Burns ornamental Iron, made my stilts and some lady in Charleston my dress. It the first and only dress designed by me. October 31, 1980, Tall Betsy appeared at Johnston Park on behalf of the Central City is Action Association. At 5 PM I asked Lou Patten to drive me and his pick up truck to centenary. I was able to lay in the back of his truck with my stilts. Mother was hosting a Halloween party for Courtney at my house on centenary, which I made an impromptu appearance. Courtney‘s group was in the first grade, they paid little attention running past me to trick or treat.
In 1982, Tall Betsy got so poplar the Cleveland Banner called for a story. I made up the story impromptu. I was the Arnold school pta president and discovered Dr. Schultz old well concreted over in the school yards front yard planting trees. I had crawled into the Shield’s tomb when I was 16 at Fort Hill Cemetery. Mother made me be home by 10 on Halloween night but that was before day light savings time, which would be 9 today! I tied it all together, for the banner reporter in just a few minutes time, and then got Joyce Jones and older lady who was my secretary put it all into a poem I could recite. I simply grunted up until then .
Today those Wood stilts from 1970 are in the barn hay loft at mothers house. I think the old steel stilts there too. Take Nov 3, 2022