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Thanks to Tom McGrath and his snobbish neighbors, St. Bernard was gifted the Thomas Jefferson statue, which now graces the entrance to Ross Avenue Park. 

The son of an Irishman, Ohio native Thomas C. McGrath was a downtown saloon operator, who made his home with his family at 302 Rockdale Avenue.  Despite his ability to afford a mansion in Avondale, a very exclusive neighborhood in the 1890’s, he was not accepted in the community because of his business.  Even though it was a respectable operation, he was snubbed by his neighbors who frowned on his occupation.  He was not a doctor, lawyer or well-known politician…he was merely a saloon keeper.

Angered by his neighbors’ rejection, McGrath commissioned sculptor August Mundhenk to make a larger than life bust of Thomas Jefferson on a high pedestal. The engraving simply read, “ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.” How appropriate and fitting to schedule the unveiling on Independence Day, 1897.  The ceremony took place on the grounds of his residence, where speeches on democracy and rights of man were given.  The neighbors were so furious that even children of the community began throwing stones at the statue.  To protect himself, his family and the statue, a decision was made to move the statue.  It was gifted to the village of St. Bernard, which offered protection for the statue.  It was placed in a prominent spot next to the newly constructed Town Hall, built in 1890, at the corner of Vine & Baker.  It remained there until 1974, when it was relocated to the entrance of Ross Avenue Park.

Jefferson Statue.jpg
Thomas Jefferson Statue at City Hall.jpg

And here is the rest of the story:  Cincinnati, Ohio City Directories state that Thomas C. McGrath worked as a porter and paver before becoming a saloon keeper.  He clearly did not inherit wealth, which is most likely why he was scorned by his upper class Avondale neighbors.  By 1905, he had moved to Remington Road, Sycamore Township, where he again operated a saloon.  

Kay Heller Phillips

Sources:  The St. Bernard Bugle, 20 Dec. 1974; Article by Cincinnati Post columnist, Si Cornell (no date)…..from the St. Bernard-Ludlow Grove Historical Society files. Photos:  Fifty Years of Progress 1878 St. Bernard, Ohio 1928, p. 46; Kay Heller Phillips

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