Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker was born in 1890 and became quite famous after his service in the military as a pilot in WWI. In fact, Eddie earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service. But what made the man who would become one of the biggest celebrities in the U.S. during the early 1900s?
Eddie grew up on the far east side of Columbus, Ohio. In 1893 his father, William, built the family a house at 1334 E. Livingston Avenue. At the time, this area of Columbus was well outside of the main core of the city, though it rapidly filled in during the early 1900s. There the entire family–mom, dad, and seven children (an eighth child, Louise, died when she was just 2)–lived in their small, two room house with two tiny attic rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls, where the kids slept. Shortly after building the house, a large addition was added to the back, nearly doubling it in size.
For 11 years this house, with its surrounding yard and growing neighborhood, was the crucible that forged Eddie’s young mind and spirit of adventure. In 1904, when Eddie was just 14, his father was killed while at work. To help support the family, Eddie quit school and went to work, essentially ending his childhood.
In partnership with Rickenbacker Woods Inc. Ohio Valley Archaeology recently conducted an archaeological excavation in the back yard of the Rickenbacker House. Below are some pictures of the work. With help from local school students and others from the Columbus area, our excavations found many objects from Eddie’s childhood. They also revealed important features of the Rickenbacker household, like the well and cistern, that have since been covered over and forgotten.
The Rickenbacker House is slated to be restored by Rickenbacker Woods Inc. and eventually opened to the public.
The front and east side of the Rickenbacker House (top ), after the addition was added to the back. Originally, the house was perhaps yellow. At some point, new siding and paint, as well as modifications to the porch, changed the house’s look to how it appears today (right).
The back yard today (left). The archaeological excavations took place just passed the back edge of the house. No features of any kind were visible at the start of the project, except for a small portion of a narrow sidewalk. This area reportedly contained at least a well and a small workshop. The family had a large garden and kept goats, pigs, and chickens in the area behind the house. This was before Columbus was filled with houses, so there was not more open behind the house than exists today.
We began the archaeological work by conducting two geophysical surveys. To the left (above) is a map of the electrical resistance of the soil in the back yard. Red areas denote places of higher resistance (less moisture) and blue areas are lower resistance (more moisture). To the right (above) is a map of the magnetic properties of the back yard. Darker areas are more magnetic and lighter areas are less magnetic. These two maps helped us decide where to start our excavation. The red circular area just behind the house in the resistance data is about 6 feet wide and looked like a good place to find a well or cistern. Click here to learn more about geophysical survey.
Our excavations began with a 1×4 meter trench (image at left) covering the red electrical resistance anomaly we though might be a well or cistern. As it turned out, we had detected a cistern in the resistance survey (below). It has a ceramic pipe that runs to the northeast corner of the house. The pipe brought rain water from the roof to the cistern. The image below is a side view of the top one third of the cistern after we removed some more soil.
About 10 feet away from the cistern we found the Rickenbacker’s well (in the foreground of the picture to the right). There is a rusted iron pipe running into the well from the left at about 2.5 feet below surface. Also shown in the picture is a narrow sidewalk leading out toward the well and cistern from the back of the house.
Archaeologists (Stephen Biehl and Albert Pecora) cleaning sidewalk behind house (right).
Students helping sift the excavated soil for artifacts. Artifacts were found from the surface down to at least 40-50 centimeters below surface in some excavation units.
We also uncovered half of the foundation of a small workshop or shed (left) in which the Rickenbacker’s worked on various projects. Eddie supposedly spent some time in the workshop fiddling with brakes–the Rickenbacker car line was the first to have four-wheel brakes.
Many Hundreds of objects were found during the excavations. Some of these probably date to the time when Eddie was a boy. A sample of some of the more interesting objects are shown below.