Remembering ‘Hamilton!’: Move recalls 1980s effort to add exclamation point to its name

Then-Hamilton Mayor Greg Jolivette, left, was interviewed by CBS reporter Charlie Rose in 1986 about the city's effort to add an exclamation point to its name, with the punctuation in the background. PROVIDED
Then-Hamilton Mayor Greg Jolivette, left, was interviewed by CBS reporter Charlie Rose in 1986 about the city's effort to add an exclamation point to its name, with the punctuation in the background. PROVIDED

Hamilton City Clerk Nick Garuckas recently made a bold but lighthearted attempt to punctuate life in Hamilton once again — reviving the 1986 effort to rename the city “Hamilton!”

The polite, yet firm, response of the city’s all-volunteer Charter Review Commission, though, was essentially, “No!”

That conversation revived a brief but publicity winning effort by city government to officially add an exclamation point to the city’s name. It fizzled 34 years ago this month when the U.S. Geological Survey’s geographic names board decided it would not use the punctuation mark with the city’s name on maps.

But the effort did produce headlines in publications worldwide, plus radio and television programs, including an appearance by then-Mayor Greg Jolivette on the CBS Morning News with Charlie Rose.

This year’s attempt

Every five years, Hamilton City Council must appoint a Charter Review Commission to examine the city’s 34-page charter, which acts almost as Hamilton’s constitution, dictating how city government is to operate. The charter took effect Jan. 1, 1928.

At the last meeting this summer by the all-volunteer commission of citizens, Garuckas made the suggestion.

“We really did talk about it for just a couple minutes,” Garuckas said. “They actually voted on it. It failed 2-8 I believe. But yeah, it was the last commission meeting, and it was just something I brought up. It was just one of those funny things.”

Here’s why Garuckas made the suggestion: As part of his job, “I read a lot of documents, deeds and such, that have the little exclamation point on it, and every once in a while I still see letterheads and police orders, parking signs that have the exclamation point. And I was just like, ‘Well, this is something we used to do.‘

“I always thought it was kind of a funny little special thing that the city had, and I was like, “I think it’d be fun to have it back on there. And I just said, ‘Well, the charter names the city, so I’m going to bring it up to the Charter Review Commission.‘

“The city administration definitely said, ‘You’re on your own with that one, Nick. We’re not backing that as a thing that we’re going to submit.’ So I brought it up just because I have to go to all those meetings anyway. I brought it up, the commission laughed about it, and then it was voted on 2-8.”

The commission recommended 14 other charter amendments, and city council this week voted to place all 14 before voters in November.

The Journal-News covered attention Hamilton received by attempting to add an exclamation point to the city's name in pages on July 13, 1986.
The Journal-News covered attention Hamilton received by attempting to add an exclamation point to the city's name in pages on July 13, 1986.

The 1986 effort

Jolivette, the mayor at the time and an owner of Jolly’s Drive-In root-beer stands, says he’s glad the city took its shot.

“The whole idea was getting Hamilton recognition, because there’s like 36 other Hamiltons in the country. So we thought we would promote Hamilton this way.”

The exclamation mark was the idea of marketer Stewart Jones of Hamilton, who since has passed away, and he got the idea from the musical, “Oklahoma!”

Hours after CBS called, Jolivette was at a chamber of commerce meeting and told everybody, “We’re going to be interviewed on national TV about the exclamation mark.”

He returned to his office, where there was a note to call CBS back. A producer said they had to cancel. Jolivette let out an exclamation to himself, because, “I just told the chamber we were going to have it, so I said, ’Well, why?’”

A camera crew wasn’t able to visit Hamilton from New York at the time, he was told.

“So I hung up, and I thought a little bit, and I called them back, and I said, ‘How ‘bout if I come to New York?‘” The producer said, “That would be fine, but we’d like to do the interview in front of the sign.”

“And I said, ‘Well, I’ll bring the sign with me,‘” Jolivette said. “And he said OK.”

Some people loved the idea, others hated it. Journal-News readers unofficially voted by a 12-5 margin against it. The newspaper on Sunday, July 13, printed two pages of opinions about the concept — one containing readers’ thoughts, and the other filled with opinions published by newspapers and magazines, including the London Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronice, even The Budget, an Amish Mennonite paper.

In a way, we're living that exclamation now, the way things are going.

- Mayor Pat Moeller

Some said Hamilton must be a pretty boring place to resort to an exclamation mark. The Middletown Journal, which since has merged with the Journal-News, offered this suggestion for a name change: “That town southwest of Middletown.”

The South Bend Tribune warned, “It could end with people referring to the offending city as Hamilton%&$!X&!!!” The New York Times wondered whether another Ohio city might change its name to “Mansfield!!”

Jolivette is glad the city tried.

“We got a number of inquiries about Hamilton, to the chamber and to the city about just checking us out,” he said. “I wish I could point to some huge company that came to Hamilton with a lot of jobs because of it, but I can’t.

“But we received notoriety — both ways. People kind of laughed, but we were also one of the answers on Jeopardy!, too. It was all in fun, and trying to promote Hamilton, and trying to get people to take notice of us. There was no down-side on it, and it certainly didn’t cost a lot of money, because we didn’t spend a lot of money on it.”

Mapmakers Rand McNally & Co. also rejected the idea.

The Journal-News covered attention Hamilton received by attempting to add an exclamation point to the city's name in pages on July 13, 1986.
The Journal-News covered attention Hamilton received by attempting to add an exclamation point to the city's name in pages on July 13, 1986.

Hamilton now

If the charter review panel had recommended the change to City Council, “there would have been a very lively conversation about it,” Mayor Pat Moeller, said. Nowadays, he said, “our brand is ‘Come see us, you’re going to like it.‘”

Moeller at the time of the exclamation point was just starting his law practice in town.

“If the goal was making outside of Hamilton aware of Hamilton, it accomplished that goal,” Moeller said.

“In a way, we’re living that exclamation now, the way things are going,” Moeller said, noting that even amid the economic downturn because of the coronarivus, companies are announcing moves into town, and opening shops.

Buildings in the downtown and elsewhere that were vacated during the Great Recession that started in 2008 have been filling back up, and the under-construction Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill indoor sports complex is scheduled to open in December 2021, attracting 10,000 or more athletes and their families some weekends.

Today, many efforts, led by city staff and volunteers, are bringing new energy to the city, he said.

One volunteer-aided program, the city’s outdoor concert series at the RiversEdge amphitheater, led a Philadelphia-based freelance music writer after attending a Revivalists concert, headed by Hamilton native David Shaw, to call the city “Jamilton.”

ExploreMusic writer picked up Hamilton vibe, coined Jam!lton

“Although we’re not using the exclamation point on any kind of our documents or anything, we’re trying to live that exclamation point,” Moeller said.

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