Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Letters valued

Musician's bequest sparks request

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — In life, Arthur “Buzzy” Ernst was a solitary figure. The Covington native never married, had no children and spent most of his adult life as a Big Band musician traveling the country.

        Now others will know the story of the frugal man who left nearly $300,000 to Senior Services of Northern Kentucky when he died last fall.

        After reading of Mr. Ernst's bequest in the Enquirer Tuesday, the Cincinnati Museum Center put out a call for some of the hundreds of letters that the late musician wrote during his 71 years.

        Maggie Yax, the museum center's archives manager, wants to put Mr. Ernst's letters to his fellow musicians and others in the Cincinnati Historical Society library of the Cincinnati Museum Center.

        “We're looking for documents from people with unique experiences who have had an effect on other people or the Greater Cincinnati community,” Ms. Yax said. “Buzzy is going to have an effect on Northern Kentucky senior citizens because of his legacy.”

   The Cincinnati Historical Society library of the Cincinnati Museum Center is looking for photos, letters, business records and other documents from individuals and organizations that tell Greater Cincinnati's story.
   The library has the papers of Theodore M. Berry, Cincinnati's first African-American mayor; the Rev. Maurice McCrackin, the late Cincinnati social activist; and Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
   It also includes documents from many ordinary people who had unique experiences that had an impact on them or their community.
   To see if an item has relevance for the library, contact Maggie Yax, archives manager for the Cincinnati Museum Center, at (513) 287-7066, or look on the center's Web site at
        The museum center has 5,000 collections that document the history of Cincinnati and the surrounding region — from the personal papers and records of the area's early settlers, lawyers, artists and businessmen to the records of civic, educational, cultural and financial institutions, Ms. Yax said. Users, who visit or query the museum center's library from all over the country, include genealogists and scholars.

        “What really caught my eye was (Mr. Ernst's) prolific correspondence,” Ms. Yax said. “He apparently wrote some very interesting letters that could fill in the blanks of our region's history.”

        For more than 20 years, Mr. Ernst — who pawned his beloved saxophone and returned to Covington in 1989 to care for his ailing mother — kept up a voluminous correspondance with his fellow musicians.

        In his letters, the unassuming man reflected on such things as the death of jazz great Duke Ellington and the injustice of African-Americans' exclusion from Coney Island — integrated 40 years ago this spring.

        In the last decade of Mr. Ernst's life, however, most locals knew him as the reclusive figure who took a daily bus ride to Fort Mitchell, where he walked a half-mile to lay carnations on his mother's grave.

        “Hopefully, part of Buzzy's legacy will be an increased awareness of those around us,” said Mary Ellis, development director of Senior Services of Northern Kentucky.

        “We need to take the time to remind our children and our grandchildren that little things, like simply making eye contact with someone you pass on the street, can make a big difference in people's lives,” she said. “That would be Buzzy's true legacy.”

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