Below the “Dead Line”: Toledo’s Notorious Tenderloin

 

Tenderloin HeadsOnce upon a time in Toledo, there was a place called the “Tenderloin”.  A segregated area of businesses and homes near downtown, where life was lived on the wild side. A place where one could buy most anything to satisfy the cravings of flesh. If you wanted it, it was probably for sale. It was its own city in a way, which operated independently of the laws that governed morals and vice in the city, and it was a magnet for those who sought to live their lives on the tattered hems of society, if only for a few hours a week.  This was the Toledo Tenderloin. It is gone now.  The only remaining evidence of its existence are the stories and what was committed to print.

History researcher, Doug Tracy has spent a considerable amount of time tracking those old stories of the “district”, and what took pace there.  Part of his interest was personal, in that his great grandfather, Toledo Police Detective Lewis B. Tracy, was the police officer in charge of keeping peace in the Tenderloin. Maintaining the fragile balance of what was “allowed” and where to draw the lines of propriety in a neighborhood where little was considered “improper”.

 

The following account of the Tenderloin are excerpts from Doug Tracy’s research:

Toledo in 1918 was a war-weary, fast-growing and extremely busy Great Lakes port city, with a population that was rapidly approaching a quarter of a million people. World War 1 was reaching its apex overseas; horses and ‘machines‘, i.e., cars, still mingled in the streets of the city; Victorian attitudes still lingered from an earlier period, while the passage of the 18th and 19th amendments (prohibition and women’s right to vote) was just around the corner. The newspapers of the day were filled with titillating stories about ‘cops and robbers’, ‘birdmen’ (aviators), ‘yeggs’ (safe-blowers), ‘blind tigers’ (speakeasies), ‘slackers’ (draft-dodgers) and, of course, the war overseas. It was also a time when brothel Madam Nellie Schwinn was conducting business at her ‘resort’ on Lafayette street in the city’s thriving red-light district, also known as the Tenderloin, an area just a few blocks from downtown core, full of rooming houses, saloons, gambling halls and questionable characters. Toledo police, including Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy, routinely patrolled the area, doing their best to maintain some semblance of order, but were simply unable to completely purge the streets of the grifters, pickpockets, thieves, prostitutes and drug users who preyed on the frequenters of the district.

Beneath the Dead Line

The Tenderloin District covered a number of city blocks in the vicinity of Lafayette and Washington streets and Swan Creek – near the area now occupied by Fifth-Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens.  There were an estimated 35 houses of ill-repute, not to mention many more saloons, pool halls, gambling joints, wine rooms and seedy rooming houses.

Newspapers of the day paint a picture of the Tenderloin District as an area “beneath the dead line” where thieves, gamblers, grafters, sporting women, degenerates and drunks ran free. The police department did its best to control things, but could not keep up and often looked the other way. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there had been many efforts by Toledo’s leaders to clean up the area, but none were entirely successful.

L. Tracy in 1900In late 1915, Detective Tracy presented to the citizenry new regulations and rules that were drafted by the police department to improve conditions for “dance hall proprietors and persons engaged in immoral business”.  The new rules included prohibition of dance music from Saturday midnight until Monday morning, outlawing outsiders from bringing liquor for ‘inmates’ into resorts, a three-times-per-year limitation on changes of residency of ‘immoral women’, bi-weekly medical inspections of the inmates, establishment of a registration system that included photographing ‘outcast women’ for a ‘rogues gallery’, and a general war on men profiting from inmates.

Toledo at the time was truly a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, situated at the geographical crossroads that drew Great Lakes sailors and ‘underworld’ figures moving between Detroit and Cleveland.  The criminal subculture in Toledo was a major law enforcement, as well as moral, problem for upstanding Toledoans.  The various clean-up campaigns by city officials to rid the city of immoral behavior throughout the post-Civil War and Victorian eras had been, at best, only marginally successful.
In early 1918, the War Department issued clear directives to America’s cities to take measures to protect draft-age young men from social diseases as well as from crime.  The fervor of patriotism was never higher and Toledo, following the lead of many other cities, was quick to seize upon this opportunity provided by the War Department to draft local laws and organize campaigns to drive the ‘immorals’ from their city as part of their contribution to the war effort.  Toledo’s clean-up campaign picked up steam in the spring of 1918, with near unanimous support of the public.  City Council wasted no time passing the statutes necessary to support the campaign.  The Mayor and Police Chief developed new guidelines for the officers on the street and set May 1, 1918, as the date that all of the perpetrators of immoral activity in the Tenderloin would leave town, or face lengthy jail-time and fines.  With the deadline set, public excitement escalated as city officials worked with civic groups, health professionals and church leaders to devise a plan for an orderly eviction from the Tenderloin.  There was much speculation by the public as to what would be the outcome of this campaign.

The Evoy Saloon at St. Clair and Lafayette

The Evoy Saloon at St. Clair and Lafayette

It was estimated that there would be approximately 1,365 ladies who faced expulsion from the area and there was great concern about what would become of them and their scandalous lifestyles.  Community and religious groups, including the Florence Crittenton Home for Girls, offered to help the affected Tenderloin residents change their evil ways by finding legitimate jobs for those who wished to make an honest living and try to return to a virtuous life.  Reverend T. B. Frizelle of the First Baptist Church said in his Sunday sermon, 3/24/1918, “The Florence Crittenton home is the only organized body fitted to cope with the vice-closing problem in Toledo . . . we must be in a position to save those who will avail themselves of the opportunity to make a new start. “
The April 3, 1918, edition of the Toledo Blade reported that on April 29, 1918, The National Committee of the Florence Crittenton Home for Girls planned to march 200 women residents of the Tenderloin through downtown streets and even “invade the neighborhoods of preachers and reformers who have condemned them.  ‘If you don’t find us a place in which to work and sleep there’s nothing for us but the river,’ the refugees will cry.  ‘Will you be responsible for our souls?’”
Health professionals made plans to open clinics and hospitals in the vice area to test and treat the afflicted.  Venereal disease was the primary concern, but scarlet fever, diphtheria and morphine addiction were also major concerns, as was influenza, which was just beginning to cause epidemic numbers of deaths throughout the country, as well as around the world.  In neighboring cities and villages there was particular concern that eviction of Toledo’s worst meant that the criminal element would simply migrate to other neighborhoods or surrounding towns and set up shop there.

Wurzinger's Saloon at Washington and Superior

Saloon at Washington and Superior

Some of the proprietors of the older established resorts had no intention of leaving Toledo. Instead, they made plans to close their resort businesses and convert them to strictly stag rooming houses, i.e., no women allowed. The Toledo Blade reported that one proprietor of one resort at Superior and Lafayette streets (where the Spaghetti Warehouse is now located) did not want to abandon her house because it was “. . . said to have between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of mahogany and Circassian walnut furniture, Brussels carpets, costly draperies, masterpieces in oil paintings and classic statuary.”  Apparently not all resorts were shabby establishments.

While all of this was going on, Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy diligently policed his beat – the Tenderloin district. More specifically, Detective Tracy’s job was to register, photograph and monitor the ‘inmates’ of the houses of ill-fame. He was so well-known and respected by the ladies of the area that many called him ‘Papa’, a nick-name that did not go over too well with some Toledo citizens who felt it was improper for an officer of the law to be so cozy with the unfortunates in the segregated district. The Toledo Blade editorialized that, “While it is a distinction of which he never boasts and one of which he is not especially proud, Captain of Detectives Lewis Tracy probably knows by face and name more women of To­ledo’s underworld than any man liv­ing.

Nonetheless, as the Tenderloin shutdown date neared, Detective Tracy did his best to help out the ladies whenever he could. In a letter to the editor of a local newspaper citing concerns about unsanitary conditions in the Lagrange Street Station jail, one of the arrested ladies cited Detective Tracy and his efforts to help the ‘unfortunates’

 

Two hundred girls from Toledo’s tenderloin have declared voluntarily that they want to “go straight.”

Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy, in charge of registration of immoral women, said Monday that since Mayor Schreiber’s order to resort keepers that they must close by May 1, on request of the federal government, more than 200 girls have come to him and asked for employment. Tracy says these girls tell him they desire to quit the old life and enter legitimate employment as domestics, clerks – any honorable work to which they may adapt themselves.

Two orphans, 20 and 21, respectively; who have been living immorally one year, came to Capt. Tracy Monday morning from a house on South Erie street. Both are white girls. One said: “I’m tired of this sort of thing, and I’d do anything to get a chance to live right. The Christian people have said in the papers they are willing to help us. Now is their chance.  Her companion’s story was almost identical, and Capt. Tracy promised to do what he can for them.

As the May 1st deadline approached, activity in the vice zone increased dramatically, as much for the residents as for the curious citizenry. The Tenderloin became the center of attention and was visited by hundreds, if not thousands, of curious sight-seers. Disturbances were numerous. The continuous clang of police automobile gongs could be heard from early Saturday night until Sunday morning. Long lines of automobiles filled the streets. Sidewalks were almost impassable, due to density of the curious. So heavy was travel police were forced to station men on corners to act as traffic guides.  The Tenderloin was busier than ever and the Toledo Times headlined its story on the activity as: Slumming Open Doors of Sin:

In the last hours of their existence, the lights in Toledo’s vice grottos shed a malevolent glow. The ghosts of myriad nights of ribaldry were abroad, patrolling for the last time the precincts where in times past they had appeared as living, flaunting things.

Electric bulbs, once radiant, seemed to shimmer with a vixen-like glow, as the tapers of death, casting their last sad shadows over the figure of a corpse.

toledo city journal closing of tenderloin

Click to Enlarge

They were the sepulchers of things which rest in the traditions of the underworld – fortunes won and lost, murders committed and forgotten, tragedies gossiped over and lost in the swirl of events “below the dead line.”  

By midnight of Tuesday, May 1st, 35 resorts were closed and dark.  A Toledo News-Bee writer poignantly and poetically painted a picture of the final night of the vice zone:

.”...Never before was the tenderloin utterly crushed out, although there had been minor restrictions imposed on it from time to time. The women of the underworld accepted the order as a matter of fact. Their exodus began several weeks ago, but not all of the resorts were abandoned before the ban became effective. Many sight-seers collected during the last hours on Tuesday night in such places as were still open. There was a little feverish revelry but the district in general was quiet.No better night could have been chosen for the passing of the tenderloin. Rain swept the streets where the refuse which had accompanied the moving-out of some of the places during the day, was still scattered. Thru the cold mist, the lights of passing autos made yellow halos and the electric globes above the doorways of the houses blinked in a sinister manner. A few men loitered along sheltering walls. Cats, abandoned in the Tuesday exodus of the women, slunk thru the rain. Houses, where a few nights before there had been music and laughter, were silent. By midnight the lights above the doors of the houses had all gone out. Behind drawn blinds even the lamps were darkened. Notorious resorts were deserted and lowered heavily over the dismal streets.

The segregated district had passed.”

In the coming months after the closing, the story of the Toledo Tenderloin took a new twist. Ironically, a couple of the most famous houses of ill repute in the district were leased by the city and were converted into a Toledo Municipal Hospital for the destitute and poor.  The hospital that would accommodate 60 to 100 patients to treat blood disease cases, diphtheria, venereal diseases, influenza and scarlet fever. The neighborhood would change dramatically over the decades, but the people who inhabited the Tenderloin may not have changed so readily. Many of the ladies and men either moved to different parts of the city to ply their trade, or moved out of town.  In July of 1918, Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy snagged 4 women in a raid on Spielbusch avenue and delivered them to the new hospital to be examined. They were the first patients to be examined.  In Maumee, a disorderly house began operating there and a late night raid netted the arrests of over 40 women.  And a few weeks later, Toledo Police raided two roadhouses near  Bay View Park in North Toledo, arresting nearly 100 men and women. The Toledo Blade reported on June 26th of 1918 that, “Toledo’s resort district, abolished May at government instigation, has re-established itself at Point Place, popular suburb.” Not surprisingly, Point Place was outside the jurisdiction of the Toledo Police Department and just across the border from dry Michigan. It was estimated that there were at least 100 former tenderloin resort inmates operating in Point Place, in the lower end of the Ten Mile Creek summer home colony. There the girls disport themselves at night in front of the houses, while electric pianos carry on a discordant serenade. Automobile parties are the principal frequenters of the district. One street in the lower end of the settlement has been practically taken over by resorts, police officials say. Almost every house on both sides of the street is occupied by inmates of the old Toledo tenderloin and, the police say, practically every house is selling liquor.”

It became obvious, very quickly, that closing the Tenderloin had not solved the problems of disease, alcoholism and moral bankruptcy. Those social issues just moved to new neighborhoods and would continue to flourish.  Forced to uproot and relocate when public pressure prompted politicians and police to “crackdown” on the visible evidence of such behavior on the streets. The closing of the “district” also  provided a lesson that is still often ignored today,  that it is much easier to move people,  than to move what is inside of them.

In late May of 1918, the federal government sent a doctor to Toledo to assess our city’s health situation and to speak to assemblies of young women about the dangers of social diseases. In one speech she noted, “From a health viewpoint, nothing much has yet been accomplished by the abolition of Toledo’s vice district. Morally, it was a step in the right direction. The trouble with segregation is that segregation does not segregate. It is the women and children who reap the harvest of the wild oats sowing. The best and ultimate solution of the problem will be an insistence by the women of the country upon a single standard of morals. As long as the women permit a double standard of morals vice will flourish.

 

My hearty  thanks to researcher and writer Doug Tracy, whose passion for exploring Toledo’s past continues to help promote a better understanding of where we have been as a city and where we are today. Doug is also researching the tenderloin’s notorious Madame, Nellie Schwinn. If you have any information about her, or where she fled  after she left Toledo, please contact us here at Toledo Gazette. We’ll be in touch.

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Filed under Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous, Toledo area crime news

The Historian’s Notebook

 

In the course of local history research and the incessant reading of old newspapers, I frequently come across little odds and ends that don’t always lend themselves to stories of greater depth, but are  at least amusing, or interesting or thought-provoking.  I thought it might be best to share some of these little gems with Toledo Gazette readers.

Toledo Alderman Visits The Tenderloin

Here’s one I haven’t verified yet, but a story that made the wire services in 1899 and carried in several newspapers claimed than a Toledo City alderman, who was visiting New York City made a stop in that’s town’s notorious vice-district, the Tenderloin and stopped by the police station to see if the cops would show him around. He said” I thought I’d drop by a see the Tenderloin so I can tell the boys at home all about it.” The cops said he was a small man in a fur cap, wore gold-rimmed spectacles, had brown whiskers and smoked big cigars and even gave the sergeant his card, but the paper didn’t identify him. When they police mentioned they had a murder earlier in the evening, the Toledo alderman said “He would have kinder liked to have seen it”. It is said he spent the rest of the evening at a resort(brothel) in the Tenderloin, passing out badges from Toledo with a picture of a frog on them promoting Toledo as the Ohio Centennial City for 1902.

Bovine Detour

During Christmas season of 1929, the Churchill family from Lima was headed to Toledo during a blizzard. This was long before I-75, so the popular route was Dixie Highway and somewhere near Van Buren, Mr. Churchill heard and felt something hit the front of his car…and the car kept going, but slowed considerably by the weight of something at the front of his car. He couldn’t see it because of the blowing snow….but stopped “a few rods” down the road and discovered a bull impaled by its horns into the radiator of the car.

 

The Human Bicycle

I never have been able to find out what became of two young men, William Robb and Don Taylor, of Toledo, who in 1934 rigged up a “wheelbarrow” like contraption and called themselves the “human bicycle”. It was basically composed of a bicycle wheel…and a saddle like seat into which one man is suspended face down in a stretched out position, while grasping the axle of the front wheel, while the other fellow grabs his ankles and pushes. They set out July 17th in New York City, made it back to Toledo by August 22.    They were to set out again for Los Angeles in the next few days. Always wondered if they made it. I’ve scanned numerous subsequent editions of the News bee but never found a follow-up story about their exploits.

 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The August 7th, 1927 News Bee holds the story of one – Johnny Mack of Toledo. He had just been set free for the Ohio Penitentiary after serving five years for a crime he didn’t commit.   Mack, it seems,  had been charged and convicted of a bread truck payroll robbery in Toledo in 1922. Said he couldn’t believe he was convicted and sent to prison because he was innocent and had nothing to do with it. His pleas to the police and the courts were ignored. Eventually though, after the trial, more evidence did come to light that Mack was telling the truth. Even the judge started having his doubts and ordered investigators to look into it. Finally a confession from the real bandit came forth, and Mack was set free, at the age of 40, in poor health and a prison record. He said he harbors no resentment.

Treasure Hunt at Duby’s Knob

There’s always something seductive about stories of buried treasure and Toledo has a few of them. One of them I found in a 1911 News Bee article about a quest for as much as $37,000 at Duby’s Knob near Point Place. Somewhere in the vicinity of today’s intersection of Summit and Manhattan.  The front page article reveals the tale of a a party of men digging to find an elusive long-lost “treasure” that was reportedly buried not far from the Maumee River banks in 1862. Someone had placed a spike in an elm tree to mark the site and men had been looking for it for many years.  The leader of this new crop of prospectors was Benjamin Heller who had invented a “detector” device and was using it to locate the largess of gold coins in the rear of Duby’s Saloon at 3727 Summit.  At nine feet down into the clay, the men had yet to find anything and had drawn little more than lots of curious and dubious spectators. As written in the News Bee.

There wasn’t a very big crowd at first but the residents of the Bayshore district soon got wind of what was going on and began to edge over back of Duby’s place. Mother Hubbarded women, buxom and happy, left their washboards and clothes and came over to have a peek at the constantly growing hole in the ground. “H’m they’d better be home splitting wood, mused one, they’d be getting a heap more.” And old bay fisherman spat complacently at the spike in the elm tree and observed, “Them pesky critters here agin – last fall they dug this marsh over, didn’t get nothing. Knew they wouldn’t.”

It was reported that George Chase owned the property and gave the men permission to look for the gold coins. Apparently, though, they were never found and who knows..may still be out there.

 

One Day – Three Stories in Toledo

Ever wonder how the city fathers decided on the Erie Street site to build the Safety Building which was not just a police headquarters but was the city hall site for decades. I found an article in an old News Bee explaining that the land was called the “Paine Estate” and was decided in March of 1905 that this block bounded by Erie, Jackson, Beech and Ontario would become the site for the new city hall.  Not sure why it took another 20 years before it was built.

The same March 1905 issue of the News Bee also informed Toledo readers that the city was going to send state pie inspectors out to area restaurants to determine if the pies were safe to eat. A city chemist said he believes that too many Toledo restaurants are using “aniline” dyes to color the fruit in the pies and the compound is poisonous.

This particular issue of the New Bee was filled with numerous little gems, including one that speaks of a city problem that we’d love to have today. In 1905, the city of Toledo had more money on hand than it could legally deposit into the banks. The city coffers were flush with well over 1.5 million dollars and the laws at the time had limits as to how much the city could deposit into a local bank. The city was forced to use “national” banks to store its cash. Nice problem.

 

Married Women Teachers to be Fired

If you ever wonder why teachers have unions, might want to consider this story. In April of 1932, as the area was being squeezed by the grip of the depression, Maumee school board voted to fire all of the married teachers whose husbands had jobs. Only single female teachers or those were married and were the sole support of their family would be offered contracts for the next school year.

 

Where is the Historic Elm at UT

Folks at the University of Toledo may want to look around campus and find a piece of history. Washington Elm. On April 19th, 1932, a descendant of the famous “Washington Elm” was planted on the campus at U.T. To honor the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. The Washington Elm, at Cambridge Massachusetts, was reputed for years is to have been the place where Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775. The story has been debunked, but the Elm stood until 1925, and many limbs and branches were taken from it to make new trees, one of them presumably, if still on the UT campus, would be 82 years old.

 

Early Bulletproof Vest for Toledo Cops

Bullet proof vests have been around for awhile, but Toledo Police may have had some of the first ones. News Bee article from November of 1921 shows Toledo inventor Albert Schwartz wearing a an early vest made of armor-plated steel which is being tested by Toledo Police. It looks like a grocer’s apron, made of canvas and layers of Norwegian steel. The city had purchased some samples and were trying to find volunteers who would allow themselves to be shot with .45 caliber guns. If they couldn’t find any “volunteers”, they planned to use big hunks of beef.

 

Toledo’s Gems Include A Diamond in the Rough

Toledo has given the nation many military heroes through the years who are fondly remembered and honored. One Toledo man, though, who was a national legend as a “fightin” man may not come readily mind with other local heroes.  His name: “Lou Diamond”.  An East Toledo kid who used to hunt rabbits near the Fire Station #13 on Front Street with a sling shot and would later employ that prowess as a hunter to fight in not only the battlefields of World War I, but also those of World War Two.  He was known as the “fightinest Marine on Guadalcanal” and it was his battlefield skills  that are said to have helped win several key struggles in the Pacific against Japanese troops. Born Leland Diamond, he was from French Canadian stock and was described as a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails, hard-as-steel leatherneck. He rose to the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant and was highly decorated from duty in both wars. Diamond was always eager to be in the center of the action and even at 53 years of age, he said he was not ready to retire, but he contracted malaria in the Pacific, and told a Toledo reporter in 1943 while on a visit home, “The“Japs” couldn’t get me,  it took a mosquito to do it.”  He suffered from the malaria for the rest of his life, which was only a matter of years. After World War two he returned to Toledo in 1945 and died in 1951 at the age of 61.  He is buried in Sylvania and, yes, in case you are wondering, the actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays in the TV drama “Longmire” is named for this Toledo war hero.

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High Plains Tragedy Rooted in Ohio’s Black Swamp

The Sad and Strange Story of Elmore’s Clara Harrington Blinn

Clara Harrington Blinn at about age 16

Clara Harrington Blinn at about age 16

During the long journey of my news career, I traveled a portion of life’s road in the colorful American West, working as a reporter covering much of the region. It was a great experience and I found myself easily seduced by the legends, the lore and the history of this much romanticized landscape. It’s big country, with big stories and big characters, and it became quickly apparent to me that most of those early iconic personalities of the West, were not of the West, but instead hailed from east of the Mississippi River. Many were MID-westerners. Our kinfolk, be they gunslingers, gamblers, soldiers, ranchers, farmers, doctors, merchants, and fortune seeks, they shared a common heart and braved the crucible of the broad plains to discover new and promising lives, or some cases, tragic and cruel deaths. Such was the case of an Elmore, Ohio native. A woman by the name of Clara Blinn. Born as Clara Harrington in Ottawa County, she later moved with her family to Perrysburg where her father ran a hotel in the building that our generation would know as Mills Hardware. By the time the petite and pretty Clara was 19 years of age, she married Richard Blinn of Perrysburg who had just returned from his service in the Civil War. Soon after, the young couple struck out on their own with their infant son and headed West to forge a new future in a new land. Instead, they found themselves caught in the middle of one of the most infamous clashes involving the U.S. Cavalry and the Native Americans on the Western Plains.

Clara and Richard Blinn and other family members set out from their Perrysburg home in early 1868 to seek a new life and a better climate for Richard’s health, in the American West. While some of the family opted to make their new home in Ottawa, Kansas, Clara and Richard continued on to the rugged eastern plains of the Colorado territory, to run a stage stop about 30 miles from the Kansas border. Within months they found they were barely able to scratch out an existence on the sparsely populated high desert plains. By the late summer of 1868, Clara and Richard decided to join an Eastward wagon train to return to the gentler life in Ottawa, Kansas where Clara also had other family members. Clara was eager to return, but near the Kansas border, on October 7th, along the Santa Fe Trail, their wagon party was set upon by a band of about 200 Cheyenne. The Indians circled the small wagon train and shot flaming arrows into the covered wagons. The wagons burned and they were all pinned down for days. Some of the 10 men in the wagon train were wounded. Richard Blinn also managed to escape the violence, but watched in horror as his wife Clara and son Willie were captured by some of the Cheyenne who headed south taking Richard’s family with them.

Washita River site in what is now Oklahoma

Washita River site in what is now Oklahoma

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

Clara and her son Willie soon found themselves in the sprawling camp of Chief Black Kettle along the banks of the Washita River in the Indian Territory of what is now Western Oklahoma. It was assumed that Clara, like most white women held captive by Indians at that time, would suffer the so called “fate worse than death”, likely becoming the probable victim of repeated sexual assaults and degradations. Women were commonly expected to kill themselves rather than face the torment of their “savage” captors. Those women who did not commit suicide, but who escaped or were set free by the Indians, frequently became outcasts in their own families. Ostracized and shunned by their “white” communities upon return. It was a different time and different moral code. For the feisty Clara Blinn, survival is what she chose and shortly after being taken hostage, she manged to smuggle a letter out of the Indian camp pleading that she and her son be saved. It said in part,

“Kind Friend,
Whoever you may be, I thank you for your kindness to me and m child….If only you could buy us from the Indians with ponies or anything and let me come and stay with you until I could get word to my friends, they would pay you and I would work and do all that I could for you. If it is not too far from the camp and you are not afraid to come, I pray that you will try….If you can do nothing, write to W.T. Harrington, my father, in Ottawa, Franklin County, Kansas. Tell him we are with the Cheyenne and they say when white men make peace, we can go home. Tell him to to write to the governor of Kansas about it and for them to make peace. ..My name is Mrs. Clara Blinn, my little boy Willie Blinn, he is two years old. Do all you can for me”

The letter was taken to military authorities at nearby Ft. Cobb, and orders were approved that a trader could barter with Black Kettle for their release. But there was little time, for others within the U.S. Military had other ambitions. Namely, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry who had been on a mission to quell the bloody Indians raids against the settlers on the plains throughout 1868 and to remove the Indians from those lands. (Custer is must be noted also has connections to out area, for his adopted hometown was nearby Monroe, Michigan, and his brothers, Tom and Boston Custer, who fought with him in the Indian Campaigns, hailed from the Wood County hamlet of Tontogany-both later died at Little Bighorn with brother George.)

Colonel George Custer led raid in which Perrysburg's Clara Blinn and son were killed

Colonel George Custer
led raid in which Perrysburg’s Clara Blinn and son were killed

On the frigid and snowy morning of November 27th, Custer and troops found the winter camp of Black Kettle along the Washita River. It was the opportunity Custer had been waiting for. Within minutes, as the day’s first light crept over the sleeping encampment of Cheyenne, Custer’s band of musicians struck up his favorite rendition of the Irish drinking song Garry Owen. The horses charged and the firing commenced. The music provided an eerie backdrop to the screams of the Indians, running from their tipis, as the rifles barked in the hands of the soldiers on horseback. In 15 minutes, it was mostly over.

Scattered about the camp, the bodies of Indian men, women and children lay bleeding to death in the crimson-etched snow. Chief Black Kettle and his wife, among them. Soon after, Custer ordered his troops to burn the village and to shoot the 800 Indian ponies of the Cheyenne so they could not be used by other Indians. There is no evidence that Custer knew about, or that he ever tried to find the Perrysburg woman and her young son. In Custer’s hasty retreat he left behind his second-in-command, Major Joe Elliot and a detachment of 18 troops who had pursued some fleeing Indians. Custer was strongly criticized for that action and many of his troops never forgave him. It would be two weeks later that Custer would finally return to the Washita battlefield site, or what some critics contend is a “massacre site” to find Major Elliott. (It should be noted here that Elliot also had NW Ohio connections, as he had been the Toledo, Ohio Superintendent of Schools after the Civil War).

Major Joel Elliot was a former Toledo School Superintendent who joined Custer to fight Indians. He died at Washita River along with 18 soldiers, some from the Toledo area.

Major Joel Elliot was a former Toledo School Superintendent who joined Custer to fight Indians. He died at Washita River along with 18 soldiers, some from the Toledo area.

On December 7th, Elliot and his men were found. They were dead and badly mutilated in a camp just a few miles away from the Washita. It was here that soldiers also found the frozen bodies of the young Clara Blinn and her son Willie. Clara had been shot twice in the head. Her chest mutilated. There are conflicting reports as to whether she had been scalped. Willie had injuries to his head. Some accounts say he had been thrown against a tree. As Perrysburg historian Judith Justus notes from her research, “There have been various scenarios written about their demise. It is a mystery”. There is no definitive or firm consensus among historians as to how they died or who killed them. Some accounts blame the Cheyenne. Others contend it was the Arapahoe. Still, others offer that it was Kiowa leader Santanta himself who killed Clara and Willie. And there are even theories, and some reports, that it was Custer’s soldiers who killed Clara, mistaken for an Indian during the fog of the battle.

We may never know the truth. But the sad demise of this young woman from Wood County and her son, continues to occupy the center of one of the most controversial episodes of the American Indian Campaign and the exploits of George Custer.

As for Clara’s Husband, Richard Blinn. This too is a sad chapter, for he did not know until months later what had actually happened to his wife and child. Following their capture in October of 1868, Blinn roamed the plains areas of Colorado and the Indian territories searching for his family in painful torment. In his personal diary dated, January 3rd ,1869.

“Life looks dark and dreary to me. I wish I was with my wife, dead or alive. The tears will fall in spite of me when I think of the happy days that are gone to return no more. A true wife and a kind mother. I would not want a better partner to travel through this world than my darling Clara. But now she is no more, I hope she is in a better world than this.”

A few days after this diary entry, Richard Blinn would learn for certain that his darling Clara and Willie were found dead at Washita River. He promised to bring them home for burial, but never did. Never could. Their bodies now lie in a numbered grave at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma after being transferred from an original gravesite at Ft. Arbuckle. It was from those first graves, that Dick Blinn in 1869, took two small pebbles and carried them with him for the rest of his life. He would be happy to know that Clara and son Willie are not forgotten. Her story and her courage are now remembered and honored by recent generations.

Richard Blinn's Gravemarket at Ft. Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg. Clara is mentioned, but not buried here.

Richard Blinn’s Grave marker  at Ft. Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg. Clara and Willie are  mentioned, but not buried here.

There is a new memorial to her erected at the Washita River Battlesite in Oklahoma, while a tombstone stands at Hope Cemetery in Ottawa, Kansas near her parents’ graves. And here in Northwest Ohio, at Ft. Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, a memorial grave marker was placed in Clara’s honor next to the grave of Richard Blinn. Her loving husband who died a few years later, in 1873, with the pain still in his heart and two small stones still in his pocket.

Grave at Ft. Gibson Oklahoma of unknown woman is believed to be Clara's resting place.

Grave at Ft. Gibson Oklahoma of unknown woman is believed to be Clara’s resting place.

My special appreciation to historian Judith Justus of Perrysburg who has researched and written extensively on the Blinn story and who brings to its telling, a unique Perrysburg perspective. Also my gratitude to the Historical Records Archive of Franklin County Kansas where many of the records of the story are kept and were made available to me.

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East Toledo’s “Man of Trees”

Louis Hirschy

Louis Hirschy

 

You’ve probably never heard of Louis Hirschy. But if you ever lived in East Toledo or spent any time there, you likely have enjoyed the product of his passion. His works of art, if you will. For Louis Hirschy, was a sculptor, an artist of landscape and his medium was trees. Lots of them. And this mostly forgotten Swiss immigrant who arrived in Toledo in the latter part of the 19th century, is credited with planting a forest of trees in East Toledo. Thousands of trees that helped to create an urban woodland on the east side of the river. These giants of Maple, and Oak and Elm and Sycamore were planted one by one, year and after year with Hirschy’s hand guiding each root stock into the earth with a love of nature that was deep and reverent. Today, more than a century later, many of those trees, or their offspring, still live today and tower above the streets as living legacy to this “Man of Trees.”

 

 

So who was Louis Hirschy and why did he do this? According to the research I’ve been able to pull together, Hirschy came to the United States from Switzerland at an early age in about 1875, and after living  in eastern Indiana, where he worked at various jobs and attended college at Valparaiso University, he and his wife Louise, eventually found their way to Toledo, settling into a wooden two-story home at 503 5th Street near Greenwood in East Toledo. Hirschy, despite his academic training and background, worked a number of years at the Toledo News Bee selling subscriptions and later, worked the rest of his life at the Toledo Shipyards on Front street as a laborer.

It now seems an odd career choice for a man like Louis Hirschy who was as enamored with books and literature as we was with trees and nature. In his 1936 obituary in the Toledo News Bee, he was called a “student of world literature” and was surrounded by a 1000 books in the study of his home where he was found dead by his two sons at the age of 78.

One of those books, was a cherished and rare Zurich Bible, printed in 1531, which he obtained while selling bibles in Indiana during his youth., gladly trading one of his new bibles for the early German language Zurich Bible, which Hirschy recognized as rare. He was correct of course, the Zurich Bible was the first printed Bible in recorded history.  It is a rare and precious example of early printing that is now in the Toledo Public Library’s Rare Books collection and can be viewed upon request. It is the oldest printed book in the

Zurich Bible printed in 1531 given to Toledo Public Library by Hirschy

Zurich Bible printed in 1531 given to Toledo Public Library by Hirschy

collection and may well be one of the oldest Bibles in the United States. There are even some handwritten notes in it, from Hirschy about the bible’s contents and the scores of stunning and rare block wood cut illustrations from artist Hans Holbein.

Ironically, while he was a religious man, Hirschy was also appeared to be a student of evolutionist Charles Darwin. I have found that this East Toledo shipyard worker published several scholarly articles in 1902 in defense of Darwin’s controversial writings and theories.

So perhaps, it is not surprising that Hirschy also embraced a love of trees and nature that went far beyond a casual hobby. An article published in the News Bee in 1923, called Hirschy, East Toledo’s “Man of Trees”, and praised his passions for tree planting like this:

“To Hirschy, trees are a religion. They are his friends and his companions. Almost it seems
they talk to him of their troubles and they answer to his care by growing straight and tall.”

The old sycamore now gone planted by Hirschy in front of his home

The old sycamore now gone planted by Hirschy in front of his home

If you walk the neighborhoods around Hirschy’s old house along Greenwood Street, you can still see many of those old trees, now thick and tall and gnarled with age. Planted as saplings by Hirschy himself. Also still standing, is Hirschy’s home, which also is not much more than a remnant of a distant past. Gone are the flowers and shrubs and the small “Garden of Eden” that he planted on the property. It was in this verdant paradise he created, that Hirschy was said to have frequently relaxed with a good book to read. Today, his sanctuary of nature, is gone. But for a few ancient old vines twisted around a fence, the only other vestige I could find of his private bower of greenery was the stump of an old sycamore that he once planted. and took great pride in. So proud of this towering tree, that he made his complaint heard at Toledo city hall after overhead linemen, cut away large sections of its upper branches in 1923.  To Hirschy, this was nothing less than an act of desecration and sacrilege. The axes of the workers had ruined the symmetry of the giant branches aloft and the normally even-tempered tree man let the Mayor know of his disgust for what the workers had done. That towering sycamore, by the way, survived its maiming and lived into this century. It was still visible in the photo of the house from the county auditor’s office a just a few years ago. Today, however, it is gone. Now, just rotting old stump of a tree between the sidewalk and street, shorn off by the teeth of a chainsaw blade.

Those trees are now just stump along Walden Avenue.

Those trees are now just stump along Walden Avenue.

Sadly, in a few years, most of the trees that this ardent arborist planted in East Toledo will also fall victim to the same fate. These, the last of the big trees that formed a perennial summer canopy of shade for decades over this area of town. There is one thing, however, that he did plant that will likely live longer than the trees. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a flower, but a “seed” harvested from the arbor of literature. That being the name of the street where he lived. For, when Hirschy moved to the neighborhood in 1894, it was still a rural crossroads and Walden Street was called Fifth Street. But, because of his appreciation for the writings of Henry David Thoreau about Walden’s Pond, Louis Hirschy along with other neighbors, went to Toledo City Council in 1905, and requested the name of his street be changed from Fifth Street to “Walden Street”. Council approved the idea. From then on, 503 Walden Street is where Hirschy called home, and lived out the balance of his abundant life. Specifically,  at the corner of Walden and Greenwood, a fitting name and place for Toledo’s “Man of Trees”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Erie Street Market: The seeds of its future are buried in its past

Erie street market    Drove by the Erie Street Market/Civic Auditorium  the other day.  Looked past the grime and saw a gem. Hope others can see it too. And that with some foresight and planning the market,  which has occupied that place along the banks of Swan Creek for over a century, will not become just another a squandered piece of history and future opportunity for Toledo?  We can take some comfort from the good folks at Libbey Glass have opted not to abandon this historic jewel in the Warehouse District, otherwise some of the “all-too-eager-to destroy-old-things” crowd would have already flattened the site with bulldozers.  We are learning, however, that Mayor Collins is negotiating with someone to take over the building.  Good. Good? Maybe. Maybe not so good. Lots of questions linger. Like who?  Like what?  My attempts to get an answer from the mayor’s office has been answered, partially.  PIO Lisa Ward says she is still working on providing answers to my questions  (Lisa Ward’s full response is in the comments section) One of the many questions I have  begs an answer  and that is that if the city does sell or lease the ESM to a private entity, will it relinquish control of the property and any control over how it’s used in the future.

 Will the city try, in some way, to protect the historic and cultural value of the site? Or will we merely furlough the future of the historic marketplace to the fate of financial expediency? I hope not.

 

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Civic Auditorium/ESM after city began using it for storage and offices

 

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Civic Auditorium and Wholesale Market circa 1951

At the very least, whoever takes up residence in bays of that building, one might reasonably assume would be a local grocery or food merchant who can work in tandem with the current Toledo Farmers Market vendors and the concept of local food that is locally grown. And that they understand it’s not just about shopping, but it’s also about the person-person shopping experience.  That’s the central point of my concerns. The Erie Street Market and other public markets are not just about food shopping, they are about a cultural urban experience. Hopefully the city fathers and mothers of Toledo also get that point when they look for some future company  to take over the site.  It’s in their hands that they will do the right thing. And for those of us who think the market needs to perpetuate its tradition as a food market of some type, the choices are lean. Doubt if a Trader Joes or Whole Foods would set up shop there, however, there are few local food retailers who might be a strong complement to that concept. Anything short of that, I fear will not end well.

My first choice however, that Toledo not lease the property at all, but merely returns to its public market roots.

An indoor farmer’s market?

Indoors public market?

Yes, Indoors.

Yes, year around – at least six days a week.

Yes. A real “public market”  that offers the best and widest choices for fresh food anyplace in the city or region! Period.

Just like it used to be many years ago when the bays of the old Toledo vendors market would open and farmers would pull their wagons and trucks inside and sell their food and other healthy, home-grown, hand crafted, and home-made food supplies to a demanding and hungry public. Only this time, we add all kinds of local food vendors to the mix of merchants offering candies, meats, fish, poultry, pastries, pastas, ethnic foods, organic and specialty items.  All in one place. A place that the people of Toledo already own.

Outdoor stalls at Toledo Farmer’s Market. Photo credit-Kay Lynne Schaller

This time, perhaps we make it a real marketplace that enhances and embraces the already popular Farmer’s Market that draws hundreds of faithful food shopper every week to the outdoor stalls along Superior Street.

I know. I know. I can hear the groans and objections already.

We tried it before and it didn’t work!

Why should the city be in the food and entertainment business?

We should just bulldoze it!

My quick responses to those popular complaints.

Yes, we did try a public market before. Or something like it. And contrary to the popular notion of failure, it actually it did work. For awhile. Depends on how you measure success. When the Erie Street Market opened in the mid-1990’s in the large cavernous old auditorium in Bay 4, the first year or so, was promising. It offered dozens of vendors and was often crowded on the weekends with  hundreds of folks, (me included) who found it to be a pretty cool place to buy food and/or meet with friends.  It clearly was not just a place to buy food, but a place to celebrate food. Complete with a cornucopia of exotic and ethnic choices, a rich blend of aromas and tastes, placed in a setting of vibrant energy and excitement. Add to that a pleasant mix of like-minded people and what you got was a unique and welcome gathering place for a sense of Toledo community.farm mark 2

So why did it turn sour?  Management, most likely, (although they will disagree), which included a number of factors.  A study done in 2004 by Marketing Venture of Portland Maine attributed its eventual demise to too many management changes, lack of adequate marketing, poor design, less than desirable infrastructure, and a location too far removed from the outdoor farmer’s market stalls. You can read that study here.

http://uac.utoledo.edu/Publications/Erie-Street-Market.pdf

Please note that the study does conclude that such a marketplace would be feasible with the right design and management of the venue.  In other words…. if you build it, and run it correctly—they will come.

Manage it correctly. That’s key. From my perspective, it seems that when the Erie Street Market began allowing flea market and T-shirt and non-food vendors into the venue, they lost the grand vision of what it was supposed to be. And once that happened, it was just a matter of time before most of the stalls were empty and the padlock crew moved in to do their work.

The second complaint I hear is why should the city be in the food business or the entertainment business? Always think this one is silly. Guess one can make the same argument about libraries, or parks, or golf courses, baseball stadiums, or events center, etc etc.  We should shouldn’t look at a public market as a financial opportunity but as a recreational opportunity in the broader sense of the word. This is where the city needs some leaders with vision and will. It seems far too often good ideas get KO’ed in this town by the pervasive naysayers who can’t see past the blind spot of limited government to recognize the value of anything  beyond street repair.  Or those cynics who think Toledo should just quit trying to build anything positive for the future.

Enough. This city was built on ideas and vision and determination. Ideas that were not often popular at the time, but leaders of the past were stubborn and headstrong. They made things work.  The rainmakers of labor, industry and politics often worked together with a infectious spirit to breathe life into their ideas, inventions and projects,  giving us the roots upon which this city still depends and survives.  We need to do the same. To understand there is economic value in creating opportunities that bring people together in the pursuit of nurturing a stronger sense of place and community.

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The Toledo food market under construction

The other reason that Toledo should be involved in the creation of a real public marketplace is that it’s being done with great success in other communities, large and small, all across the nation.  I’m not just talking about outdoor farmer market stalls for summer and seasonal produce, but indoor venues that sell far more.  In Cleveland, the Westside Market is a treasure island for food lovers of all ethnicity and persuasion.  (Worth a drive to Cleveland to check it out) Same for the Findlay Market in Cincinnati, The North Market in Columbus, the Worthington Public Farmer’s Market. To the north of us in Detroit, the Eastern Market is yet another melting pot of people, culture and foods which features a new and expanded indoor market place where one can spend hours browsing the aisles taking in the sights and sound and smells of a unique experience. The list is long and getting longer of those cities where such indoor public markets are helping to increase the cultural awareness and urban vitality of the community. We need this for Toledo.

Over the years we have steadily abandoned downtown Toledo and with the constant drip of energy drained from the area,  little has been left behind to work with. But things change, and with the recent success of 5/3 rd Field and Huntington Center and Imagination Station and a growing popularity of downtown living venues, the growth potential here is obvious.

Adding to that synergy are the plans of Pro-Medica to breathe some new life in downtown Toledo with a move to the old historic steam plant on Water Street and the purchase of the Key Bank building. With those changes to downtown, plus the building of a new downtown riverfront Metropark, we are getting some much needed traction for downtown growth. Let’s build on that momentum.  Time to return to the future.

What do you think?

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The Strange Story of Marie Lilly Bowers: Kidnapped and Found 14 Years Later in Genoa, Ohio.

Marie Lilly Bowers shortly before she vanished.

Marie Lilly Bowers shortly before she vanished.

Genoa, Ohio is quiet village. Not much noise, and not much big news.  So rarely does it ever make national or world news. It has happened, but not often. Once for the deadly tornado back in 1920, and another time for a sensational bank robbery nearly a century ago when the local druggist was shot to death. But perhaps the biggest local event that ever sent ripples beyond its village borders is one that few people today have ever heard of. It was a story so gripping that if it were to occur today, Genoa would likely have to endure a crush of TV crews and cameras all crowding each other to get the scoop. But there were no TV cameras back in the mid-1800’s, just newspapers and while they did report this story, its notoriety has faded along with the ink of the old news print.  The roots of this curious tale began to unfold in 1867 in Sandusky, Ohio with the kidnapping of a young three-year old girl by the name of Marie Lilly Bowers.

From family records it is written that on October 26, 1867, a neighbor asked Mrs. Martha Bowers if it would be okay of their three-year old daughter, Marie Lilly, could come to their house for a few hours to play. Her mother agreed and so Lilly left with the neighbor woman. She would never return. On her way home that afternoon, she vanished.  An immediate search was conducted by her frantic family members to no avail, and by the next day,  much of the city became involved in the search. It was recounted in family records that every “vault and cistern” was searched and even nearby “Sandusky Bay” was dragged for her body, but not a “single clue” turned up.  Days went by and still no sign of Marie Lilly Bowers.  Most of the major newspapers of the time carried the story of the missing child and the desperate search by her parents James and Martha Bower to find their precious “Lilly”. Many of the stories mention speculation that she had perhaps been abducted by a group of “gypsies” who were camped nearby.  Days passed into weeks and then months. Lilly was gone.

Newsartcle child lostMr. Bowers for years later would buy advertisements in papers around the country in a vain attempt to find his daughter. But to no avail.  Some leads were reported and followed, but in the end, all proved to be false.

Lilly's Parents. James and Martha Bowers

Lilly’s Parents. James and Martha Bowers

The only clues came in rumors and theories. The Bowers family even contacted Levi Stanley, the “King of the Gypsies” living in Dayton, and asked that he become involved, thinking he might be able to find out if any of “his people” had the child. Stanley reportedly became angry with the suggestion, although a child was brought forward as a possible candidate for the missing Lilly, but after Mrs. Bowers saw the girl, she knew it wasn’t her daughter.

The Bowers family, crushed and heart-broken, eventually left Sandusky, and moved back to the town of Hudson Michigan, north of Toledo, to a previous home where many of their children had been born.

What the Bowers’ family didn’t know, was that about 50 miles east of Sandusky, near the small Ottawa County village of Genoa, on the farm of James and Jeanette Calkins, an old “gypsy” man by the name of Jack Patterson began working for them about the time that Lilly had vanished in 1867.  Old Jack, the gypsy, would work during the day for the Calkins while leaving his own “tawny” children in a nearby hovel during the day along with a child of a much lighter complexion. It was Marie Lilly Bowers. As the story is passed down in the Calkins’ family records,

One day Mrs. Calkins hearing screams rushed into the hut and rescued Lilly from the stove where she had been placed by the other children because she had refused to do their bidding. Soon after this, old Jack brought the child to Mrs. Calkins’ home. She was clothed in nothing but an old coffee-sac. The Calkins adopted the child. She was given the name “Ida Bell”.

For the next 15 years, Ida Bell Calkins was raised as their own child, although, her new parents, James and Jennette Calkins always told her they were not her real parents and that perhaps someday she might find her real family, whoever and wherever they might be.

In the years that followed, Ida Bell Calkins grew up in rural Genoa and lived with her new parents, and her five step brothers on their 80 acre farm near the current intersection of State Route 51 and State Rt. 163. Because she was so young, probably about three years old, when she was abducted, she had no recollection of her own family or her name. Because there were no local papers at the time in Genoa, the Calkins family never saw the numerous stories about the missing girl from Sandusky.

By the time the young “Ida Bell” had grown to be a beautiful young woman of about 18 years, she had been schooled and raised to be a proper young church-going lady and traveled in “prominent circles” of friends. But Ida still wondered about her real identity and who her parents really were.  Strangely she always favored the name Lilly and wished that it had been hers. She loved the name so much that she often gave her pets the name of Lilly.

In 1882, as she was about to be married and assume a new married name, she was about to learn her real maiden name. The Gibsonburg Chrsistian Monthly of July 1910….wrote that Lilly’s real mother, Martha Bowers, still living in Hudson Michigan and, “never ceased to have faith that some day, somehow, God only knew when or how, Lilly would be restored to them. “

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Mrs. Bowers received word from friends in Sandusky that they had heard of a young woman in Genoa who might be the long lost Lilly.  Quickly letters were exchanged with the Calkins’ family in Genoa and Mrs. Bowers soon made the trip south to Ohio to test another moment of truth.  It was arranged that  during a picnic at the old GAR hall in Genoa(which still exists), Mrs. Bower was to look at a group of girls and see if she could identify her daughter. When she saw “Ida Bell”, she is said to have immediately picked her out as her daughter Lilly.  There was no reunion that day, however, for Mrs. Bowers was to visit the Calkins home the next day to reveal herself to the girl. When Mrs. Bowers was brought into the room with the girl..recognition was immediate.

“My mother”, repeated Ida. These were the first words Mrs. Bowers had heard her daughter utter since she was a toddler.

News Article from Reading PA, July 27, 1882

News Article from Reading PA, July 27, 1882

Further identification was verified by a birthmark on Lilly’s head and as Jeanette Calkins would later write,… “there was joy and weeping.” It was a miraculous mother and child reunion. After 14 long years, the misery and the mystery was over. Preparations were made at once for Marie Lilly Bowers to return to the family home in Hudson Michigan. Newspapers across the country began picking up the story and Genoa, Ohio was the place where this miracle story had taken place.

Within weeks after the reunion, Ida Bell, or Marie Lilly, headed back to adopted hometown of Genoa and to marry a local man by the name of Daniel Cunningham.  Curiously, within months, her biological baby sister, Edith Clara Bowers would also move from Hudson Michigan to Genoa to marry James Levi Calkins, Lilly’s stepbrother, with whom she had been raised.  Both sisters remained in the vicinity until their deaths many years later. Lilly and Daniel eventually relocated to Gibsonburg where they raised two children, while her husband Daniel worked in the oilfields of Sandusky County.  Lilly would later tell newspaper reporters  that she felt very fortunate having two caring sets of parents. While she was very happy to have reunited with her real parents, the Bowers, she held the “highest and tenderest” regard for the James Calkins family of Genoa and could not ever think of moving away from them and deserting them in their old age.  Marie Lilly “Ida Bell” Calkins-Cunningham lived in nearby Gibsonburg until she passed away at the early age of 45, in 1910 from a mastoid infection. She is buried at Gibsonburg along with her two children and husband.

 

Edith Clara Bowers Calkins, Lilly's sister.

Edith Clara Bowers Calkins, Lilly’s sister.

 

The Calkins family legacy does not end with Lilly’s passing, for Lilly’s sister, Edith Clara, who married James Levi Calkins, lived to be nearly a hundred years of age and died in the 1960’s in the Genoa area. She was well-known and well liked by all who knew her.

James Levi Calkns, Lilly's stepbrother in Genoa

James Levi Calkins, Lilly’s stepbrother in Genoa who would end up being her brother-in-law.

The Calkins family tree still stands tall in the Genoa area and still is growing. It now includes many well known local names such as Navarre, Early, Nagucki, Hesselbart, Schnapp and Bowland.

My Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Schnapp of Elliston for helping to track down this fascinating story of Genoa’s past.

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Toledo’s Street Theatre Rich in Characters

One thing I always loved about roaming Toledo’s downtown streets were the frequent encounters with those who marched to a different drummer. The street folk. The oddballs. The misfits. The strange and the idiosyncratic.  Those characters who provide a sort of social ambiance not often found in your suburban malls or upscale neighborhoods.  Downtown Toledo, like many cities has had its share. Like the Purple Lady. Nostalgia-for-downtown-2Who doesn’t remember the famous Purple Lady of downtown Toledo?  Covered, from head to toe in purple garb and carrying a purple staff, she was probably one the last of the colorful characters who performed daily on the streets of downtown Toledo.  This aging antique of a woman drew the stares of strangers and locals alike who watched the “Prophetess of Purple”, as she called herself, trek the streets, rain or shine, snow and ice, cold or warm, wearing her vestments of  purple that she held sacred.  If only for moment, she provided a distraction from our daily mundane rituals of life, as we wondered who she was, where she came from and why she engaged in this curious behavior?  By the way, to answer those questions: her name was Rachel Presha and she hailed from  Newport News ,Virginia and was a well-known street fixture there for many years before moving to Toledo. As written in a 1996 edition of the Daily Press of Suffolk Virginia…

    “.. until 1989, she lived in a tiny purple shack in the Pughsville area of the city and could be spotted pushing a purple mover’s dolly along Route 17 north of Churchland.   Besides her flamboyant attire, Presha also was known for painting telephone poles along Route 17 as high as her 5-foot-2-inch frame would allow. Legend has it that Presha painted the poles purple so her dead husband would know where she was.”

In 1989 Rachel Amelia Presha found Toledo, Ohio.  A town she said she became interested in because it was called “Holy Toledo” and Rachel considers her self a religious woman who follows the Bible. Described by those who knew her in Toledo and elsewhere as a kind and gentle woman, she is now 88 years old at last report. She lives with family back in Virginia who plan to open a Purple Lady Tea Room is her honor.

Rachel Presha, The Purple Lady, in Virginia with family

Rachel Presha, The Purple Lady, in Virginia with family


 I’ve come to the conclusion after watching so many of these conspicuous characters who populate our streets and the streets of many cities over the years, that their lot in life, may not be without some redeeming value for the rest of us. For the gift they give  — is a raw form of street theatre. Little slices of drama and character studies that may be more powerful than what we could witness in a theater seat. It’s a  chance to witness their unscripted, quirky, and eye-catching behavior that often provides the full arc of personality played out under the proscenium of life, be it humor or anger, sweetness or sorrow, or the foul and the fearful.  And from these poignant performances, we are left to ponder, for long after.   For even after they have exited the sidewalk’s main stage, we still remember them and their indelible roles..  And  what more could  you want as an actor,  but to be ponderous and memorable?

And many have certainly been memorable. The cast list is long and old in this makeshift urban burlesque that has playing nonstop for decades, if not centuries.  How many reading this remember, Toledo’s most famous bag-lady, Elaine Higgins? She was so well-known for her many layers of ragged clothing and her foul odor and scolding tongue that even the Toledo Blade wrote a tribute editorial upon her passing in 1992. As the Blade noted, Mrs. Higgins became a symbol of homelessness and her role was to drive home the point with those who took notice of her, that such life on the streets is neither romantic or heroic.

There were others, who also directed the spotlight of notoriety on themselves. There were of course the countless and ubiquitous street preachers who delivered their fiery sermons to the  legions of shoppers and busy people who marched along Madison Avenue, trying not to make eye contact.  That was back in the day when there was a crowd on  Toledo’s streets to preach to. Today, with so very few people out on the downtown streets at lunchtime, even the street preachers have given up  and have gone elsewhere. One of them went to jail.  Charles “Slim” Lake, who brought his self-styled ministry to the Toledo streets for many years, vacated his street pulpit when he was charged and sent to prison for food stamp fraud and money laundering.

Long before Elaine Higgins, or the Purple Lady, there were other characters who had roles of remembrance on the streets of Toledo. In the once notorious skid row of ‘Suicide Flats” at Summit and Cherry Streets, was a man known simply as “Moses”.  As Blade reporter Al Goldberg recalled in 1968, Moses was always clad in an ankle length overcoat and who took “tin-type” photos of the “willing passers-by” for a dime. And as Al wrote  “he amassed of a small fortune of $40,000 which he willed to his landlady when he died in the 1930’s. She, as the story went, gambled it all away”.

Goldberg also wrote of a another street preacher who was seen daily on St. Clair Street for 40 years and became a favorite sidewalk philosopher of the day.  And “there was also a hat-passing harp player who carried his taller-than-he-was instrument over his left shoulder as he moved from store to store and bar to bar.

Not all of the stories of Toledo’s strange characters are as harmless and innocent.  In 1921, on June the 9th, the “Tinman”, a one time street preacher in downtown Toledo, who was as peculiar looking as he was in action, ended his battle with the demons inside him by taking the lives of two Toledo Policemen.tinman

It was a fierce gun battle that played out at 611 Walnut street near Huron Street that day,  one of the most spectacular eruptions of violence  in Toledo crime history.  John Kelley, the known eccentric who lived at the address was always a “strange” sort of man who walked with an unusual and stiff gait, earning himself the nickname of the “Tinman”, especially from the neighborhood kids who frequently followed and taunted him as he passed by. Kelley was also a self-styled street preacher is said to have been familiar to many in the downtown area and in Bowling Green where he lived before coming to Toledo.  But on this particular day in 1921, when his landlady called police because Kelley refused to pay his rent, no one knew what lay in wait. Kelley, it seems, had been stockpiling guns and ammo for years,  and barricaded himself inside his tiny apartment and opened fire on the police officers who responded.  Patrolmen Harry Dowell and Harold Mossburger were shot to death by Kelley within minutes after arriving at the scene.  The killings touched off  a two and a half hour gun battle between Kelley and an army of Police who even brought out a mounted machine gun to the site and opened fire, as thousands(five thousand according to press reports) of neighbors watched the spectacle unfold. In the end, the two Toledo Police officers lay dead, and John Kelley was found dead in his bed from what police later said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Perhaps that’s what intrigues us about these mystery characters of the street, is that we really know little about them or their personal stories and what baggage or thoughts they carry with them. As with John Kelley, little did people know what monster raged within the heart of this bent and broken man.

News Bee writer, Elmer Williams, a great observer of the city’s odd folk that lived on the streets of Toledo during the 1920’s, introduced readers to one of them in 1928 with his tribute upon the death of “The Socialist Kid”. His column on January 28th, told of how this young soap-box orator often appeared at Superior Street market to raise his voice against the capitalist “greed” of the merchants and money-changers and to extol the virtues of living in a socialist society where everyone was equal. he became a regular voice rising above the din of the Toledo marketplace, only to be hauled off to jail when some of the merchants felt his attacks had become too personal.  It was from Williams’ column that we learn of other street characters of Toledo, like the man he dubbed “The Sleeper”, who he shared a cigarette with one day on the lawn of a park on Spielbusch Avenue and while listening to the raw faced old Mexican with the penetrating and contemptuous eyes and the large scar across his face, he learned that this man was raised in England for most of tis life and had been a horseman when his father moved the family back to Mexico.  As he told, Williams, he joined the army of the Mexican renegade Pancho Villa and became a commander in is band of insurgents. He said he eventually gave up his involvement with that revolution and moved north. And so on that summer day..this man of mystery and Williams shared some time and watched the clouds race across the summer sky.

The newspapers of yesteryear were good repositories of information to find some interesting nuggets regarding those peculiar personalities of the past who colored Toledo’s streets and piqued our curiosities.  A 1925 Toledo NewsBee story..titled “Be Odd If You Wish”, offered the story of the man who was known to stand in the lobby of a downtown building and peer through the window of an adjacent restaurant watching the diners eat at lunchtime. If someone got up and left a newspaper behind, this stranger would run into the restaurant, grab the paper and run off with it and was often seen walking around with an armful of recovered newspapers.  There was also a man who used to watch diners eat and when they left any food on their plate, he’d run into the restaurant, plop down at the table and finish the person’s meal. The writer of this story also tells of the woman, who in 1925, had been wearing the same Gibson girl hat and fur coast in Downtown Toledo since 1907.  He reminds readers that she doesn’t care so why should you?   Or the man in the Ohio building who drinks 5 quarts of milk a day, or the Toledo druggist who can smoke a cigar, eat chocolate and chew tobacco, all at the same time.

There was hardly any era in Toledo when the streets were not filled with such eccentric souls who lived their lives the way they wanted, regardless of how it might be viewed by others.  Before the 1920’s, when Toledo’s notorious  “Tenderloin” district was running rampant with the vices of gambling, prostitution, drinking, drugs and dancing, the streets on what we now call the “Warehouse” district and 5/3rd field, must have been havens for the hordes of hard-bitten who patrolled those seedy streets, trying to get a meager meal, or just get some meager attention any way they might.

In the 1940’s, a Toledo woman by the name of Grayce Milton got some attention – as the “Snake Lady”. Thrust into prominence and jail when she would show up at local downtown stores with a live snake wrapped around her neck like a scarf.  In January of 1946, Grayce, a Cherokee Indian, sent shoppers into hasty retreat at one downtown store when she wanted to find a purse to match the skin of her favorite pet, Nokomis, a six-foot King snake whom she had brought with her as a fashion accessory that day. Grayce was subsequently arrested for creating a panic and disturbing the peace, which she gladly did once again when she brought her snake to court with her in a glass bowl. When the six-foot long snake tried to escape from the confines of the bowl, the courtroom emptied and Grayce and her snake were thrown out of court. Grayce would later leave Toledo and  moved to Detroit with her 39 snakes and was arrested again in that city in 1947 when she took Nokomis on a shopping trip to downtown Detroit.  Mrs. Milton said she used Nokomis to help her get seats on buses and she saw no harm in having a reptile as a traveling companion.  The judge in Detroit agreed and  ruled that Grayce was not violating any laws and could continue taking her snakes with her.

Whether it’s the Snake Lady or the Purple Lady or the Bag Lady, Toledo has never been without its share of colorful and conspicuous characters of the street.  Who arebag-lady those that you remember? I’m sure I’ve only touched on a few and that over the decades, there have been many others who have commanded our curiosity.  Whether motivated by mental, emotional or social challenges, or by harnessing their own free will to live as they choose, they are the players who create a spontaneous street carnival for all to see and absorb, often becoming memorable symbols of the Toledo experience.

I want to hear about those that you remember.

 

 

 

 

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