By: Hillary Delaney
Most small towns have at least one “character:” the person who is just a little different in their view of the world, and becomes a fixture in the community. Back in the 1890s, there was one such man who was well known enough to make the newspapers regularly. He called himself “Rabbit Hash, b’gosh Bill.”
“Rabbit Hash Bill” Norris was known to walk for miles, usually with his dog and a walking stick, along the Ohio River. He is described as an “old gent” in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1899, but it is unclear of his exact age. Many residents in the area shared his given name, so it’s unknown where he hailed from. What is clear, however, is his notoriety in our area.
Mr. Norris appears in the news accounts in the late 1890s several times, and his behavior and appearance is always described with great amusement. This being said, the stories are told with a friendly tone; it seems the local press had some affection for the old fellow and his antics.
One of “Rabbit Hash Bill’s” exploits occurred in a Covington bar in 1897. He arrived on the premises of Dick Edwards’ saloon, carrying a large sack, and wearing a large willow branch on his head, in lieu of an umbrella. About twenty of the local men began to make sport of old Bill, teasing and asking him to sing a song, which he happily did. The locals were getting a good chuckle, but “Rabbit Hash Bill” was to have the last laugh.
After entertaining the boys, Bill told the bartender he had something for sale in his sack. Bill proceeded to empty the contents on the saloon floor. The sack was filled with snakes, of all sizes and varieties. The bar was sent into chaos, with all the “kidders” running for the door; one even went through a closed window! Soon after, the local law was summoned and the reptiles were gathered up.
The arresting officer, “Pluck” Hughes, was determined to punish the old man, but first wanted to do away with the snakes. While he was busy with his animal control work, “Rabbit Hash Bill” took the opportunity to slip away from the frustrated lawman, who swore revenge.
Bill was reportedly dying of exposure in July of 1900, according to the Enquirer. He was remembered as “one of the most picturesque characters” of the area, and was known far and wide. Despite his newsworthy antics, which ranged from interrupting council meetings to offering to build a dam on the Licking River, it is clear that Bill was a beloved character to remember.