Dr. Blattenberg: Lima’s veterinarian

First Posted: 8/25/2014

LIMA — On the Fourth of July 1899 when Hugh Cameron’s “famous” bird dog Nibbs suddenly launched himself after “one of the larger sized firecrackers,” which Nibbs had very nearly retrieved before it detonated, Lima veterinary surgeon Dr. John H. Blattenberg was summoned.

Blattenberg pronounced the dog profoundly and permanently deaf, wrote the Lima Times Democrat on July 15, 1899. Nibbs, the newspaper speculated, “will hereafter be used to catch mice or rabbits.”

Likewise, when Judge, one of the Lima Fire Department’s oldest horses, fell ill in March 1902, Blattenberg hauled the horse to treatment in his “new veterinary ambulance.” And in April 1908, when a team of draft horses standing on scales at Fidelity Coal Co. was spooked by a passing train, thundered out of control up East High Street and ran over a horse and buggy, the trampled horse was treated by Dr. Blattenberg.

In horse-drawn Lima of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Blattenberg often was summoned — to Spencerville, to Elida, to Warren, Ind., to almost anywhere — to treat sick animals, usually horses. Local newspapers referred to him as Lima’s “well-known veterinarian.”

Blattenberg not only treated horses, he owned them and raced them, and often watched them run at the Lima Driving Park on Bellefontaine Avenue or Ottawa or Cridersville. He also invented a device to simplify an operation designed to correct equine breathing problems. He performed demonstration operations and presented papers at veterinary meetings in Chicago, Indianapolis and elsewhere. He was elected president of the Ohio State Veterinary Medical Association in 1903.

But Blattenberg was no one-trick pony. He dabbled in real estate and owned downtown buildings, one of which, across North Elizabeth Street from the downtown Kewpee restaurant, stands today. Among many organizations, he was an avid member of the Masons, the Rotary Club and the Knights of Pythias. At a Knights of Pythias field day at McBeth Park on April 27, 1914, according to the Lima Daily News, “a special platform” was erected for Blattenberg to give lessons on tango dancing. He also appeared in minstrel shows.

On Jan. 25, 1911, while on a train bound for Cincinnati, Blattenberg “through his abnormal strength of arms, saved an Italian from a horrible death” by hanging on to him for 20 minutes as he dangled from the train. Friends, the Lima Daily News reported, considered nominating Blattenberg for a Carnegie medal.

Then, in 1917, he went off to World War I, first as a correspondent for the Chicago-based American Journal of Veterinary Medicine and later as a major with the veterinary corps of the American Expeditionary Force.

Blattenberg was born May 2, 1869, in the Wayne County village of Smithville. He graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in Toronto and initially set up shop in Toledo. In December 1892, Blattenberg opened an office in “the old street car barn” on East Spring Street near South Union Street, according to the Times Democrat of Dec. 23, 1892.

The old street car barn, unfortunately, was near an old livery barn, which, the Allen County Republican-Gazette, reported Sept. 29, 1893, “furnished splendid material for a fierce fire, and as usual it is surrounded by a lot of frame structures, which feed the flames and cause onlookers to tremble as they consider the possibilities.” Blattenberg relocated to the 100 block of North Union Street.

He would relocate again when that property became part of the Ohio Electric interurban station in 1909. On Feb. 19, 1909, the Daily News reported Blattenberg’s purchase of a lot on South Union Street between Market and Spring streets “upon which he will erect a modern veterinary hospital.”

On Nov. 28, 1893, the Times Democrat wrote, Blattenberg’s buggy was hit by an electric streetcar. “The buggy was badly smashed and the doctor was thrown out. … It is a miracle that the doctor was not killed.”

The following spring, Blattenberg received a scratch on his hand “while performing an operation,” the Times Democrat reported April 25, 1894, “and is now suffering from blood poisoning.” On Oct. 3 of that year, the Times Democrat noted, Blattenberg was “still carrying his arm in a sling but is getting along nicely.”

Despite these setbacks, Blattenberg was indeed “getting along nicely” and becoming a preferred veterinarian when the patient was a horse as this Times Democrat article from Dec. 23, 1893, demonstrates: “Dr. Blattenberg today received a call east about one hundred miles to perform an operation on a horse.”

Blattenberg kept busy closer to home as well.

In 1902, he was elected to the Lima board of education and was on the board as plans were made for the new Lima high school. As a member of the Fort Amanda Memorial commission in 1915, Blattenberg helped lobby for better roads to the monument. And when plans were announced for a log cabin to be erected in the Public Square in 1917 to celebrate the county’s centennial, “Dr. J.H. Blattenberg promised to have a team of oxen on ground to take part in the ceremony,” the Times Democrat noted Jan. 10, 1917.

In 1903, another of Blattenberg’s interests surfaced. “Dr. Blattenberg has a fad, as most people have, but all are not permitted to let their tastes run into quite such expensive channels,” the Time Democrat wrote July 9, 1903. “For several years, the doctor has been nosing around among the antiques, in search of old-fashioned mahogany furniture, and his room in the home formerly occupied by Col. Boone on West Market Street, contains a dozen or more elegant pieces.” On May 13, 1917, the Republican-Gazette reported Blattenberg’s $2,000 purchase of a colonial poster bed “said once to have been occupied by George Washington.”

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 found Blattenberg in Europe. In October 1914, Blattenberg was home in Lima where, the Daily News wrote Oct. 7, 1914, he “made an interesting talk on conditions as he left them in Europe…” Blattenberg opined that Europeans “know even less of the true conditions there than we do in America.”

In March 1916, the Times Democrat reported Blattenberg would “leave in the near future for the battle front in Europe” as a correspondent for the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine.” After the United States entered World War I, Blattenberg was commissioned a major in the veterinary corps. In March 1918, Blattenberg sailed toward the war but the war reached out to Blattenberg long before the ship reached Europe. According to the Standard History of Allen County published in 1921, a torpedo from a German U-boat missed the vessel carrying Blattenberg by mere feet.

In a letter to his veterinary partner in Lima published in the Lima News on Aug. 11, 1918, Blattenberg described his life on the front. “I have an automobile and a driver to take me around to look after my veterinarians and their work,” Blattenberg wrote. “We are never without our helmets and gas masks, for a second’s delay in donning either one might spell the difference between life and death.” On Oct. 27, 1918, as the war wound down, the News reported Blattenberg had been put in charge of the largest U.S. veterinary hospital in France.

In a letter to the Lima Rotary Club published in the News on Dec. 15, 1918, a little more than a month after the armistice, Blattenberg wrote: “I saw this terrible conflict begin in 1914 on the continent and have seen the finish very near the place I saw the start. Now Ohio for me as soon as my ship comes in.”

Before his ship came in, however, Blattenberg sent artifacts from the war to Lima. “A piece of cloth from the coat of the first German officer killed by the Americans in the war, in the Toul sector, has been sent to Lima by Major John H. Blattenberg, veterinary surgeon, together with numerous other captured articles,” the News reported Jan. 12, 1919. The Blattenberg collection eventually was donated to the Allen County Historical Society.

In November 1920, lifelong bachelor Blattenberg married widow Helen Painter at her father’s home in Mansfield. The couple would have one child, a daughter born in June 1922.

Blattenberg was chosen marshal of Lima’s Armistice Day parade on Nov. 11, 1924. The following day, “while on a professional visit to the Lima Driving Park,” Blattenberg died of a cerebral hemorrhage, according to the Nov. 13, 1924, News.

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