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The Good Hitlers of Circleville

The city of Circleville, situated thirty miles to the south of Ohio’s largest city, Columbus, has a few things to boast. The Circleville Pumpkin Show, which the city has been hosting for more than a century, is the biggest festival in the United States dedicated to the fruit, attracting several hundred thousand visitors over multiple days, as well as unusually large-sized pumpkins. Pumpkins weighing in excess of 1,000 pounds frequently turn up at the pumpkin weighing contest, with the current record standing at 1,964 pounds (891 kg).

Circleville is also one of the first American cities to undergo a major urban restructuring. When the city was originally founded, in the beginning of the 19th century, it had a circular layout to correspond to the circular ancient Native American earthwork over which the city was built. This is how the city got its name—Circleville. It had an octagonal courthouse at the center surrounded by concentric rings of streets intersected by more streets radiating out of the courthouse like spokes of a wheel. But many residents were not happy with the layout, so starting 1837, the city demolished its old buildings and streets and rebuilt the entire city in the more conventional square grid. The city boasts this rebuilding process as the earliest example of urban redevelopment in the United States.

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Hitler Road#2 in Circleville, Ohio. Photo credit: Scott/Flickr

The other thing Circleville boasts about is the abundance of Hitler references. There are two Hitler roads—numbered 1 and 2—as well as a Huber-Hitler Road, a Hitler Pond, a Hitler Park, and a Hitler-Ludwig Cemetery, among other things. None of them pays tribute to the maniacal, genocidal, Nazi dictator, fortunately. These were the good Hitlers we are talking about, the original ones, the ones who founded Circleville.

The Hitlers were one of the pioneer families who migrated to Ohio’s Pickaway County in 1799 and settled in an area that is now Circleville. As Circleville Herald attests, they were “fine, upstanding citizens”. The Hitler family consisted of George Hitler, his wife Susannah Gay, and their eleven children, seven of which were born after they resettled in Circleville. These children married into other Pickaway families, had their own children and the Hitler family grew.

Two of George Hitler’s children became successful wheat farmers shipping flour down the river to New Orleans. One of his grandson, Nelson Hitler, owned 2,000 acres in Pickaway, Circleville and Washington Townships, part of which he donated to the Pickaway Township Board of Education to be invested for the purchase of books and upkeep of the school library. He also helped build the Hitler Ludwig Cemetery. Eighteen Hitlers now remain buried there.

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Nelson Hitler

The site for the Martha Hitler Park in Washington Township was donated by Martha Hitler. There was also a Hitler School, but it was sold in 1920. Many fine homes in Pickaway County originally belonged to the Hitlers or their descendants.

Then there was Dr. Gay Hitler, son of George Washington Hitler, who was a local dentist who served the community for more than twenty years in the early 20th century.

All was well, until Adolf Hitler ruined it for everyone. Now the many surviving Hitlers of Circleville have to endure the strange looks and questions wherever they went. But after more than seventy years, they are getting used to it.

Tom Ebenhack, the local veterinarian whose mother was a Hitler, believes that his generation and that before him probably had to bear some jokes but were never ridiculed. But the same cannot be said for those who left Circleville for other cities. One family, who moved to North Carolina, had to change their telephone number to escape the harassment. One was asked to change his name by the president of the company where he worked. But he refused.

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The Hitler-Ludwig Cemetery. Photo credit: Douglas Siple/Flickr

Many Circleville residents are, in fact, proud of their legacy. They argue that their Hitler came first, and theirs is the only family of true Hitlers in the world, and that Adolf wasn't even an actual Hitler—which is true.

Adolf Hitler’s father, Alois Hitler Sr., was born out of wedlock as Alois Schicklgruber. His mother, Maria Schicklgruber, later married Johann Georg Hiedler, after whose name Alois Hitler changed his surname from “Schicklgruber” to “Hitler”. It is not known why Alois Hitler chose that particular spelling, although Johann Georg Hiedler’s brother, on whose farm young Alois spent three years, was sometimes known by the surname Hüttler.

As a matter of fact, there are far more “genuine” Hitlers in this world than we would like to believe. A couple of years ago, filmmaker Matt Ogens, hunted down all the Hitlers he could find and interviewed them for a documentary named “Meet the Hitlers”, where he explores how their lives have been affected by one of the most notorious names in history. Some people are cool about it—it’s their family name and it has been around before Adolf Hitler, so they are going to keep it. Others are not. One high-school girl ran for class president but got heckled off stage and didn't win.

Some Circleville residents wishes they could change the names of their roads and parks, but the Hitlers stand firm on their stance. They aren’t going to let one man's infamy force them to change their name.

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Grave of George Hitler, son of George Hitler Sr., the original Hitler of Circleville. Photo credit: Douglas Siple/Flickr

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