PROFILE 2013: The legend of “Ducky” CornPublished 1:07pm Thursday, February 28, 2013
Ironton businessman became iconic figure
Once upon a time there was a little boy who liked to hang out with his older brothers and their buddies near their home on South Third Street, about the same spot as where Cooke’s Farm Center is today.
Sometimes the older boys would jump on a passing train coming into Ironton on the line that ran parallel to the Ohio River to sneak a ride through town. At least as long as there wasn’t a conductor looking their way.
When there was, the little boy would signal his brothers not to hop on. That is, he would try to tell them.
“He was the youngest and couldn’t talk very plain,” his daughter, Mary Ison, recalled. “He would try to say ‘conductor.’ It would come out ‘ducky.’”
And that is the earliest story in the legend that is Dustin “Ducky” Corn, larger than life businessman, entrepreneur, politician and whatever else that is part of the mystique of the man who died more than 40 years ago.
A man who is still talked about today.
There’s the story about the trained bear that loved to guzzle beer, an action captured in time in a photograph now on the wall of a South Third Street restaurant where Corns’ used car lot was. That he sold nothing at the lot but his own used Cadillacs is a tale often heard but can’t be confirmed.
Ison doesn’t recall the bear but remembers a goose with a similar taste for the quasi high life. And after a few sips the inebriated fowl would go pecking at anything and anybody in its way.
Ironton attorney Elliott Meyers represented Corn once, his son, Richard Meyers, also an attorney, remembers.
“We lived on 10th and Pine and Dad was representing him on something or other and I remember Ducky getting out of his car with a bottle of whiskey and went into the conference,” Meyers said.
Then there’s the famous headline in one of the Ironton newspapers Ironton attorney Craig Allen recalls where Ducky argued that something wasn’t illegal.
“Illegal is a sick bird, what it was is il-lawful,” Allen said the newspaper reported.
Whether Corn really grasped the finer points of English grammar, he could speak about the legal system, having found himself on the wrong side of the law when he was charged with not paying $10,000 in cabaret taxes.
That was in the fall of 1957 in federal court in Columbus where Corn took the stand in his own defense, claiming he knew he had to pay the tax but didn’t have the money to do that at the time. Basically he claimed he was broke.
Testifying at the trial as well was Norman Walton, then vice president of Ironton’s First National Bank, who said he had turned down a loan to Corn because he didn’t have sufficient collateral.
That wasn’t the first time Corn had gotten in trouble over taxes. From 1950 to 1956 the IRS had filed tax liens against him totaling a half-million dollars. The case was settled but the terms were never revealed.
Evidence was presented at the federal trial that he had paid the cabaret taxes later, but Corn claimed he didn’t know he could file a return and not have to pay the taxes at the same time.
On Oct. 31, 1957, a federal jury found Corn guilty on 13 counts — five for not filing the tax returns and eight for not paying the tax. The penalty looming was a maximum of 45 years in prison and $130,000 in fines.
The nightclub owner spent a couple of days in jail but was released on the grounds that a stint in prison would endanger the life of the diabetic.
In a career that spanned almost 25 years, Corn started out running a filling station on Third Street where he hawked watermelons during the summer. That initial experience in finding out what the public wants, plus some training at Davidson Business College, led Corn into the realm of owning and
operating bistros and bars.
One of the most well-known started out as the Ritzy Ray, again only about a half-mile from where he grew up, now the location of Spare Time bowling alley. But in 1954 that was transformed into what Corn described as a nightclub bigger than one of the top clubs in Paris.
Ducky talked about it in an interview he gave in the summer of 1954, just before the Ritzy Ray was apotheosized into the Latin Quarter.
“Tell ‘em it’s the biggest club in the nation, the world,” he told the reporter. “Expect ‘em in here from up and down the river.”
There were to be Las Vegas-style
cabaret shows, a roving photographer, a cigarette girl and uniformed powder room attendants, plus a payroll of 52.
“It’s never been tried, but I’m goin’ to do it,” he said. “It’s going to be clean … goin’ to run it the right way.”
In between playing impresario Corn had two terms on Ironton City Council and ran the Village of Hanging Rock as mayor.
But the private man is the one Ison remembers and centers her thoughts on.
“He was wonderful to me,” she said. “In his eyes, I could do no wrong. And I tried not to do anything to disappoint him. When anybody is that good to you, you try not to disappoint them.”
Ison, who goes by the name “Dusty,” was named for her parents, Mary, for her mother and Dustin for her father.
“Back then it wasn’t cool to name a girl a guy’s name,” she said. “So it got cut down to Dusty.”
In the summers she would ride with her father to his office at the Latin Quarter where she would spend the day.
“Sometimes I would get to go out into the bar and they had an automatic glass washer,” she said. “The brush would go into the glass and I would get to clean the glasses.”
The Corns originally set up residence at Gray Gables, a house on the edge of Hanging Rock that was once a hospital and later owned by a member of the Means family. Across the road Ducky built a stable where his wife would ride her Tennessee Walkers and Dusty would ride her pony.
Then, when Ison was old enough to go to school, Corn moved his family to Ironton and the Marting mansion on the corner of Fifth and Adams streets. There he lived until his death in 1969.
Among her memories of her father’s generosity is when the Corns would spend days packing up boxes of food and Ducky would take it around to families he knew needed some help.
“He didn’t advertise it or honk his horn,” Ison said. “He would drop off the boxes of food in town and out in the county. At Christmas we would do the same thing.”
That was the man Ison remembers and wants people to know.
“I know he has a crazy reputation that goes back and forth,” she said. “But he was a good person and he would help anybody.”