Daytonian of the Week: Meet Curt Dalton, the expert on Dayton history

Curt Dalton is the visual resources manager for Dayton History and the author of dozens of books about the Gem City. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Curt Dalton is the visual resources manager for Dayton History and the author of dozens of books about the Gem City. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Nobody knows Dayton’s past better than Curt Dalton.

For nearly three decades, Dalton has collected thousands of stories and written dozens of books about the history of the Gem City.

Just last year, he put out two new titles: “The Land Across the River: The First 150 Years of the West Side of Dayton,” and “Body Snatching in Ohio: A century of digging up corpses in the Buckeye State.”

ExploreThe first 150 years of West Dayton is subject of new book

For years, Dalton maintained the website and Facebook page for Dayton History Books Online, an invaluable resource for Dayton history buffs.

This week our Daytonian of the Week shares why Dayton and its history are extraordinary.

You are the visual resources manager for Dayton History. What’s a typical day like for you?

I start out by answering my emails and telephone messages, which usually consist of questions about the history of Dayton or orders for one of the 53,000-plus images we have online. Then I scan in photographs or negatives Dayton History has in its collection. At present I am scanning photographs NCR took of businesses from across the United States who bought cash registers from them around 100 years ago. Great advertising for the company at the time!

What’s your favorite photograph from the collection and why?

There is a beautiful image of a large number of people relaxing and playing in and around the Old River swimming pool back in the 1940s. It was shot with Kodachrome film and the colors are amazing!

Dayton historian Curt Dalton's favorite photo from the Dayton History collection was taken at the Old River Park swimming pook in the 1940s. The park was a recreational area built in 1939 by National Cash Register. DAYTON HISTORY
Dayton historian Curt Dalton's favorite photo from the Dayton History collection was taken at the Old River Park swimming pook in the 1940s. The park was a recreational area built in 1939 by National Cash Register. DAYTON HISTORY

Why do you think Dayton’s history seems particularly interesting?

You would be hard-pressed to find an American city of this size that has had so much influence in helping create the modern world. Besides inventing everything from the automobile self-starter to the airplane, the Gem City was home to the first NFL game, Cheez-It snack crackers and the Soapbox Derby. In fact, there are so many things of interest, I think someone should write a book about it! Oh, wait…

You’ve written dozens of books about Dayton’s history. What is your favorite and why?

That’s a hard one! I guess it would be “On This Date in Dayton’s History”, as the 366 stories in the book cover a wide range of interesting subjects over a period of two centuries. Even so, it can’t begin to touch on all of the fantastic history of the Gem City.

ExploreDAYTON MYSTERY: Young woman called ‘The Stranger’ on her tombstone died 170 years ago

What inspires you about Dayton?

It is the way the community stands together, helping each other through the tough times. A century ago the city’s citizens banded together to rebuild Dayton after the 1913 flood and then helped care for those who suffered during the Great Depression. In the past two years, we have had to deal with a tornado, the shooting of nine innocents in the Oregon District and now a pandemic. And yet our citizens have stayed strong and have reached out to comfort and support their neighbors during these difficult times. I am proud to say I live in Dayton!

Curt Dalton is the visual resources manager for Dayton History and the author of dozens of books about the Gem City. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Curt Dalton is the visual resources manager for Dayton History and the author of dozens of books about the Gem City. LISA POWELL / STAFF

If you could time travel, where would you go and what era?

I think that Hollywood in the late 1940s would be a great place to go, especially if I could somehow help make the movies. Heck, I’d even be the guy they sent out for doughnuts just for a chance to work behind the scenes of any film starring Jimmy Stewart or Katharine Hepburn.

We’ve all had time to reflect during the pandemic. What have you found to be positive during this time?

Spending more time at home helped me finish a book about grave-robbing that I had been working on for quite a while. The yard looks better than it has in years, and I have begun reading for pleasure instead of just for research. Who knew that the “Dune” prequels by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert would be so fascinating?

ExploreA story a day: Local history book has a year’s worth of tales

What is your guilty pleasure?

Reading comic books from the early 1950s, like “Tales from the Crypt” and “Strange Suspense Stories.” The plots are usually kind of corny, but you can’t beat the artwork!

What would your perfect Dayton date be?

It would be my wife and I going to Shen’s Szechuan & Sushi and ordering their combination fried rice, and then watching a romantic comedy at The Neon downtown. A bag of their buttered popcorn makes a great dessert!

Dalton’s books can be found at the Carillon Historical Park museum store, 1000 Carillon Blvd. in Dayton and on Amazon.

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