River Horror: A Maumee Tragedy

The first week of May in 1902 brought a breath of springtime to Toledo. After another long and cold winter, the sun’s warmth cast its spell over the city, in a perennial promise of life renewed. The trees and flowering shrubs were clothed in a bouquet of color, the Maumee River was freckled with a variety of boats and ships, while along the riverbanks, hopeful anglers stood vigil waiting not just for a the pull of a fish or the meal it provides, but for the sheer joy of catching one.

Toledo Maumee Riverfront circa 1900

At Armory Park in downtown Toledo, the seasonal rites of baseball were well underway and the Toledo fans had reason to smile. Toledo had beaten Kansas City 7-5. In East Toledo, at Navarre Park, the trails and walkways on the gentle green slopes were filled with the sounds and scents of the season. The heady fragrance of the lilacs hung like a mist, inviting all to breathe deeper from the well of spring. The sweetness matched only by the chatter of children.

But as always with springtime, the weather can be unruly and restless. So too the ephemeral mood of gaiety and gladness. Sometimes a false peace, easily shattered by a sudden spasm of nature that breaks apart a city’s habitat of homes, or shattered by a foolish blunder of man that triggers a tragedy so great, it can break a city’s heart.

And so it was on the night of May 7th, 1902.

A group of Sunday School students, most of them teenagers, from First Baptist Church on Cherry Street in Toledo, climbed aboard a steam powered naphtha launch called the “Frolic on the Maumee River. It was to be a day of pleasure and play. A perfect day for a picnic on one of the nearby islands just beyond the bay in Lake Erie. It was to be a late afternoon-into-evening cruise with the bonus of a wonderful crimson sunset over the water. There were 11 people on board the Frolic, including the Captain and owner of the launch Joseph Hepburn. A man experienced at the helm of the craft who often took people on these excursions to Maumee Bay and the lake. His young passengers numbered ten. Seven young women and girls, all in their teens, several still in high school. And three young men, of similar ages. Two of the girls, Grace and Edna Lowe were sisters. And a brother and sister, Art and Clara Marx, was family with whom Captain Hepburn lived on Locust Street.

One couple, William Pfanner and Eulalie Ricard of Toledo, were engaged to be wed. They sat close to each other, staring into each other eyes as young lovers do. Clasped in each other’s embrace as day ebbed to night and a darkness set in over the waters. The young passengers, by all accounts, had enjoyed their excursion and by 10:00 o’clock that Wednesday evening, Captain Joseph Hepburn was on a heading back to Toledo, steering the Frolic inbound near the mouth of the Maumee River.

Further upstream, a well known tugboat, the Arthur Woods, of the Great Lakes Towing Company fleet, was making its way outbound, or downstream. It was not a huge tug, 55 feet in length and 35 feet at the beam. But it had been working the area of the Toledo docks for about three years pulling and guiding the larger vessels in and out of the docks and slips on the busy shipping channel. At the helm of the Woods was Captain Robert Fitts. Seasoned and well respected. His crew of three, the same. They were headed that spring evening for the slip at Ironville on the east side of the river where they were to dock and drop off a passenger. A woman who had asked Captain Fitts for a ride up to Ironville. It was not a customary practice to carry passengers for transport,aboard the tug, but for some reason, Fitts agreed and she climbed aboard. Little did he know that her presence on the Woods would become an embarrassing scandal for himself and the crew. .

As the Woods progressed downriver and drew closer to the Ironville area near the mouth of the river, Captain Fitts ordered the helmsman to make a starboard turn to the right towards the slip and docks at Ironville. As the tug cut across the channel, Fitts says he saw nothing, nor did he have any indication that any thing or any boat might be in his heading.

The position of the boats as described by Captain Joe Hepburn of the Frolic Launch

As the Frolic entered the harbor, the girls on the boat were still in a jovial mood from their long day on the water. They broke into song. A marching song, but before their voices could reach the next verse of the song, their voices cracked with horror. Bearing down on them was the bow of the tugboat, and not more than a second or two later, the front end of the Arthur Woods hammered into the side of the Frolic like a giant iron fist. Amidships it was hit, and turned the smaller boat up on its side, as if lifted by a hand, sending everyone on the Frolic into the cold inky water of the Maumee. As written the Toledo Bee on May the 8th, The black Maumee opened its arms wide and took them deep down”.

The shattered Frolic rolled quickly into the water and within a minute it had vanished beneath the surface, “nothing remained on the ruffled surface of the river except the swaying tug that caused the devastation”. In the first moments of agony, the only things that surfaced were splinters from the Frolic and a few items from , but then, Captain Joe Hepburn, an experienced swimmer, made it to the surface, and Grace Lowe, a passenger also broke the water’s face and she grasped onto Captain Hepburn’s leg in her desperate bid at life itself. Hepburn grabbed Grace Lowe and pulled her close to him. Also a swimmer, 22-year old Art Marx, struggled to rise to the top and counted himself among those who would live, as a would his sister Clara Marx, who somehow found a floating seat cushion on the dark water and clung to it until she, like the other three, were plucked from the water’s grip by the crew of the tugboat. There was no sign of the other seven passengers. Five girls and two boys.. Later reports indicated that most of the girls did not know how to swim and there were no life preservers. It was estimated by some that the water in the river was about 20-25 feet deep at that location.

Arthur Woods tugboat in center with other tugs in Toledo
Example of a typical naphtha launch of that era

Captain Charles Fitts told news reporters that as the tug was cutting across the channel the first alert he got was the sound of a scream. At that point he ordered the tug into reverse and then heard a crash and more screams from woman and groans from men. Fitts says he’ll never forget those “bloodcurdling screams”.

No Running Lights on the Launch

He contended that the Frolic launch had no running lamps. No lights at all on a night when any hints of sunlight had long faded away and the sky and water were as dark as black glass. So dark that night, all the light was swallowed up and you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. After the collision, they tried to shine lamps on the area where the launch went down, but said the lights on the tug were of little value.

Did the launch have a lamp or lantern? The Frolic Captain Joe Hepburn clung to his statement that he did have a light in the aft of the boat. Fitts, the tug Captain, held fast to his claim that there were no lights on any kind on the Frolic.

The search for those answers would have to come later.

Of immediate priority was the search for those who were lost. Survivors or bodies? By midnight, the hope for survival had ebbed to sorrow. The search was not renewed until daybreak the following morning. The search for seven bodies. As news began to circulate through Toledo of the events of the previous night, hundreds of curious onlookers assembled. They knit themselves together along the Ironville docks to bear witness and see for themselves the grim task of reclaiming the victims from their watery crypt. Some of the spectators were from nearby Shantytown along the river bank who gathered as soon as the morbid drama of recovery was underway. Nearby, clumps distraught family members stood and stared out across the water. Holding each other in the chilly morning sun, they studied the movements of the rowboats on the river for any sign that somebody they loved had been found at the bottom.

The reporters from Toledo’s newspapers also joined the curious and family members on the riverbank. Their search was for stories and they found them. They would write that the pastor of the First Baptist Church W.E. Loucks was first informed of the tragedy at six o’clock the next morning by a fellow pastor from another congregation. The Reverend Loucks spent the morning visiting the bereaved family members. He said “it came as a shock to me” and says he has known the families for five years and will do all for them that he can. The scribes from the Toledo Bee made it their mission to find out as much as they could about each victim, so that could attach more than just a name and age to the unfortunate.

A picture of the Lowe sisters was featured the first day in the Toledo Bee, as the two siblings would no longer have each other to confide in or share their future lives. Grace Lowe, by the grace of good fortune was able to survive the ordeal, but not without severe injury to her lungs and her heart. She was said to be hysterical with grief the following morning in knowing that her beloved sister, Edna Lowe, 19, was never to surface alive after she fell into the water’s unmerciful grip.

News Bee Photo of the Grace and Edna Lowe

Irwin Swain was just 17, a freshman in high school. Well liked and admired by many. His desire was to be an artist as he loved to sketch. He left many of his drawings lying about the house and his forlorn mother will have them to remember him by.

Bessie Bystrom was 18, an active Sunday school member and a clerk at a local grocery store. Her father an engineer at the Nasby Building.

Beth Ann Seesee, only 17, was described as a tall slim girl with beautiful brown hair and black eyes. She was loved by all who knew her.

Grace Haskin, 17, also a student at the high school was well liked and an active participant in her church. Ironically, her father had drowned in a launch accident on the river, just two years prior.

And then there was the poignantly sorrowful story of William Pfanner, 20 and Eulalie Ricard, 19. They were engaged to be married. He was working as a teller for Ohio Savings while his fiance Miss Ricard had graduated high school and Ursuline Convent and was active in Sunday school. Witnesses said they ran to each other as they saw the approaching tug and went to their death wrapped in each others arms. Miss Ricard was the cousin of victim Bessie Bystrom.

In the course of the next few days, there was no shortage of stories and remembrances about this river tragedy to feed the appetites of inquiring minds. There were of course the many questions that still lingered about what happened that night. How could the tug not have seen launch? Both captains, Fitts and Hepburn clashed publicly about whether the launch was displaying a running light. Tug captain, Charles Fitts was adamant that the launch had no such lamp or light. Captain Joe Hepburn was equally as adamant that they did. And he also accused the tug captain of taking a hard starboard turn that put the heavy tug on a collision course with their much lighter and vulnerable launch. An inquest into the vexing questions about the reasons for the tragedy would provoke even more questions. The identity of the woman said to be on board the tug was not known. The tug captain, Charles Fitts at first denied there was a woman on board. But other witnesses claimed to have seen her and she was reported to be drunk and amorous with the tug’s fireman. And during inquest testimony it was revealed by the tug’s fireman that he tried to make love to the mystery woman that night, but she rebuffed his advances. These sordid details may have had little to do with the cause of the accident, but in the black of white of newsprint, they helped sell newspapers. Not everyone was impressed with the sensational reporting in Toledo’s daily papers. A federal officer brought in to survey the damage and investigate the accident labeled the reporters as “newspaper leeches” and advised the people involved not to talk with them.

But that didn’t deter the reporters’ efforts to search for new revelations. Each new day seemed to bring new narrative of the human pathos that had played out on the river’s stage. Clara Marks, one of the four who managed to endure the torture of near drowning, did not survive easily. Her personal account in the Toledo Bee two days later was vivid.

“When the tug struck the boat, the side away from me went up in the air, and then I jumped off. I went down, down , down. I thought I would never stop going down. It was so black and cold. Then all of a sudden I seemed to stop. My lungs were bursting. I waved my arms, but they moved so slowly, as if a great weight was tied to them.”

The reporter who took her narration noted that Clara talked in a monotone and her skin was still white, and that water from the river was still in her lungs.

I never swam before, but I kicked my legs and waved arms.” “I went to the surface, my throat and lung filled with cold water.” Within seconds she went down again. “I went down three times,” she said quietly. “I know that when I went down for the third time, that it was all over. And that I would not have to struggle any longer. It was a blessed relief.”

On her third time resurfacing she found a seat cushion, filled with cork, floating in the water and clutched it. It kept her afloat until she was finally rescued by her cousin Art Marks who swam to her in the darkness and was able to guide her through the water to be pulled aboard the Arthur Woods tugboat. Once aboard the tug Marks helped turn the victims, face down, to force them to expel the water in their lungs. A hero for the moment. The The Toledo Bee,said surely he should be ascribed that status.

And as every tale needs a hero, such heart rending horrors are sure to bring those forward who say they were “almost” victims. Such was the case of Pearl Miller, an 18 year old from the First Baptist church whose father strongly suggested he not go on the the Frolic excursion because it might be dangerous and he could die in there was an accident. Was it a premonition? Whatever the genesis of his father’s fear, young Pearl did not climb aboard the Frolic that day. He says that if he had, he probably would have drowned, for he can not swim.

Ironically, as if one tragedy to unfold in the headlines that week of 1902 was not enough to absorb, the day after Toledo’s terrible river tragedy, came word of catastrophic volcanic eruptions in the West Indies on the islands of Martinique and St. Vincent. Not one but two volcanoes erupted within hours of each other. Both were deadly, but the eruption of Mt. Pelee at Martinique was mind numbing with over 25,000 dead at St Pierre, essentially the entire city caught in the mountain of molten lava that mushroomed down the slope burying everything in the path. The earth’s convulsions spared few from he wrath of fire and rock. The stories did not need any florid embellishments, for the reality was sensational and horrid as the mind’s eye could envision. Toledo’s river horror would share ink and front page headline space with this seismic event of human calamity for the next week. The astonishing events in the Caribbean did little to impede or diminish the coverage of the the Frolic accident on the Maumee River and the full spectrum of the community response to it.

The coroner’s inquest, the mystery of the unidentified woman reported to be aboard the tugboat, and descriptions of how the victim’s families were coping all kept Toledo readers flipping the pages and drying their eyes. The story of the funerals was especially mournful. On Saturday May 10th, inside the sanctuary of the First Baptist lay seven caskets , side-by-side. The first time such a scene of this type and size had ever been witnessed in the city. The church itself was awash in clouds of floral beauty and fragrance as greenhouses in the city emptied their storage rooms of flowers and banked them in layers around the caskets. Hundreds of friends and family crowded the pews and stood near the coffins, as family members were given a chance for last last look and a chance to say goodbye. There were also hundreds of others who were strangers, affected curious who came to pay their respects and to be a part of this most solemn event. Extra rooms and the church vestibule were opened up to help accommodate the sea of people, many of whom wept openly, as others talked quietly about the investigation and who was to blame. The voices of a special quartet floated over the pews with song and hymns, keeping the mood somber. Outside, the skies had turned gray and cloudy. Cool and gloomy, fitting the mood of the afternoon.

Each coffin had its own set of pallbearers. Most were family or school friends. A poignant moment was observed as it was noted that all six of Beth Ann Seesee’s pallbearers were girls. Classmates. After the services, the caskets were taken that Saturday to Woodlawn and Forest cemeteries. Will Pfanner’s body was the only one to be interred at Woodlawn. The other six were taken by carriage to the Forest Cemetery.

The Burials at Forest Cemetery Turned Into a Mob Scene

It was at Forest where the mood of the mourners began to shift. Hundreds of other people joined those arriving caravan and according to news accounts, the scene devolved into one of chaos and disrespect. As news accounts described it, “Not less than 2,000 people gathered at Forest Cemetery to witness the internment of six of the young people who drowned Wednesday night…” The Sunday morning Toledo Bee called most of them “sensation seekers filled with morbid curiosity.” who laughed and joked as the six hearses slowly rolled into the cemetery. They were so unruly, they pushed and shoved and nearly caused some mourners standing on the edge of the graves to be “pushed into the cavity”. As the narrative of the burials continued, it noted the gray skies that brooded overhead and a sharp chill in the air as rude behavior of the curious continued. Miscreants who trampled fresh graves and tombstones as they rushed from one grave to another of the Frolic victims, stealing flowers and relics. A spectacle that disgraced the saddest funeral the city has ever known.

The next day, a similar scene played out once again at Forest as more of the irreverent made a pilgrimage into the graveyard. A Bee headline opined with chiding indignation, that all that was needed to make it a circus were “peanuts and popcorn”.

Mystery Woman Aboard the Tug Identified

With the victims at rest for eternity, the questions and controversy of the wreck were not close to being put to rest. The inquest was still underway and with each new day, new revelations broke the surface. One of the revelations came that Monday following the accident as the mystery woman was finally identified, In fact she freely admitted to it. Nellie Armstrong who lived at the Suburban Hotel on Water St. said she was the woman who got aboard the tugboat that night and was aboard when the accident happened. She was also identified by a man who says he was drinking with her in an Ironville saloon after the accident happened and she got off the tug. Nellie proved to be at ease on the witness stand and was described as glib and talkative. She said she had hitched a ride with the tug boat from the Jefferson Street docks so she could apply for a job as cook with one of the boats docked at Ironville. She asked tug captain Charles Fitts for a ride and he said, “Sure, hop on board.” One of the girls who survived the ordeal said after getting on board the tugboat, she saw Nellie Armstrong and asked her to help her out of her wet clothes, but the woman swore at her and refused to help.

The tug’s crew had lots of questions to answer about the events that happened just after the collision. One allegation made at the inquest was the Captain Hepburn of the Frolic, an experienced and excellent swimmer, wanted to jump back into the Maumee River waters to see if he could rescue any other passengers. But, he says the crew of the tug would not allow him to do it. Why they didn’t let him was a point of contention with tug captain Fitts stating that Hepburn said was going to jump into the water again with the intention to commit suicide. The tug fireman, William Smith agreed with the captain, but the tugs engineer, Charles Williams said he only heard Hepburn say he wanted to get back in the water to “save the girls”.

Captains of Both Vessels Held to Account

Captain of Frolic Launch: Joe Hepburn

Why more of an effort was not made by Charles Fitts, the Captain of the Arthur Woods, to rescue the victims of the Frolic, or at least make an effort to that end, is not clear. For many it was a haunting question mark for Fitts had a reputation for heroics in water rescues. Charles A. Fitts, was one of the most reliable pilots of the Maumee. Born in Toledo in 1872, he was the son of Captain Albert S. Fitts and had been around the lakes all of his life. As a younger man, he was a man of magnificent physique and strength. Athletic and aa little above the average height, he was regarded as a pleasant speaker and companion. His muscles according the friends and shipmates were like iron, and he was a strong swimmer. He aspired to be a pilot of Great Lakes steamers, like his father, and after leaving high school, he did so. Either working as a wheelsman or pilot on a variety of steamers including the Pastime which his father had sailed out of Toledo for a number of years. While on the hurricane deck of the Pastime,one day on the Maumee, he saw a boy fall off the dock. Fitts jumped overboard and swam to the boy who was near his last breath, and pulled him ashore, where he was resuscitated. His next rescue was at the foot of Jefferson street in Toledo. Three young men were on a small yacht when one them was swept off when he was hit by the main sail boom. He struggled helplessly in the water until Fitts swam out and succeeded in landing him on the deck of the Pastime where the young man recovered. Just why Fitts himself did not leap at the opportunity to help these struggling souls on that night in May of 1902 is silent to history. A question that would later become a part of the official ruling from investigators.

The inquest did not end quickly, the coroner conducting the proceeding was deliberate and methodical about gathering the evidence to determine where the blame might lie. A question that once determined could result in a wave of litigation against either the tug or the launch. A week after the accident, the coroner was taken to the scene of the collision on the river at Ironville. He wanted to see and judge for himself the supposed location of the vessels and who should have yielded to whom. Measurements and river depths were recorded and there was disagreement between the two captains as to where exactly each vessel was at the moment of impact. The coroner eventually said he has enough information and would make a ruling in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the news and immediate excitement about the tragedy began to wane. The story was dropped from the front page and the city residents turned their attention to other and newer stories of interest.

A labor strike at Rossford’s Ford glass plant and at least five other factories idles thousands, the death of “Mary Ann the Gun” a once notorious pickpocket in Toledo, the Toledo arrest on “general principles” of a white man and black woman for their relationship, and the efforts by developers to build a new housing project near the zoo called Harvard Terrace.

This tragedy did keep some people focused on boat and water safety. There was an short story on how the river tragedy triggered a sudden demand for lights for boats and some shopkeepers said they were already sold out of the lamps. There was also a public demonstration at Walbridge Park of a new type of life preserver that promised better personal safety. It used inflated inner tube devices to keep people afloat in the water should they fall out of a boat. But sadly in the weeks that followed the accident there would be several more drownings on the river. Either from fishing boats that capsized in the currents, or children lured by the call of the cool water. Another summer when the river’s witch becomes a cruel temptress.

But the river is never blamed for its cruelty. The boat captain involved were left to fret as to which one of them might shoulder that burden of blame. The anxiety and the stress of the accident and the pending ruling began to take its toll on launch Captain Joe Hepburn, within two weeks after the disaster he resigned as head of the Toledo Yachting Association’s regatta committee, saying that he was no longer physical able to withstand the duties of the job. He is in such a state that he is in “no condition to participate in anything resembling festivities”

On May 27th, Coroner Storz finally ruled that neither skipper was to blame for the tragedy that took seven lives. Storz essentially sidestepped a final judgment as who was at fault, and relinquished that obligation to the Federal government, letting “Uncle Sam fix the blame”. In his Storz’s ruling he said he did not find either captain “to be liable for criminal negligence.” He also ruled that he couldn’t determine if the presence of woman passenger on board the tug was a contributing factor. He did write that he was surprised that more of the victims could not have been rescued, although he explained that might have been attributable to the “excited state of the tug crew” at the time.

In the end he implored other watercraft operators to be more careful, to be ready for emergencies and said he would leave it to the jurisdiction of the United States government to make a ruling.

Within a day, that ruling from the Customs office came and contradicted the coroner’s results. Colonel Bonner of U.S. Customs found both captains guilty and each should bear some blame for the deadly tragedy. The tug captain Charles Fitts was fined $500 for violating the rules by allowing a woman passenger on board the tug that night, and for operating with one crew member short, and without an adequate lookout for any impending hazard on the river. Colonel Bonner also ruled that Captain Joe Hepburn was not without fault, and was fined $200 for not having running lights on his naphtha launch, the Frolic, and that his craft also should had someone keeping watch for possible hazards in the darkness.

Epilogue

The rulings came the same week in 1902 as Toledoans were ready to observe Decoration Day, what we now call “Memorial Day”. Dutifully tens of thousands of people took carriages or walked or took a trolley to area cemeteries to pay their respects to those who died or served their country in the Civil War, and other wars in the nations history. Flags flapped in the breeze, bugles played, preachers prayed and everyone stopped if only for moment to absorb and reflect. School children, at the urging of teachers and veterans, gathered flowers to scatter over the graves of those who had fought their last battles. Forest Cemetery hosted the largest numbers of pilgrims who came to give their solemn thanks. Many of whom no doubt saw the fresh mounds of earth piled atop the new graves of six young people who perished when the Frolic launch flipped and discarded them to the bottom the river. Likely pausing to ponder the young lives who futures were robbed by the whim of circumstance. In time, however, the mounds of loose clay would subside and grass would grow over them and headstones would appear with etched names, so the living would not forget who they were. But, as always, memories do wither with the seasons. Perhaps not for the families and close friends, but those others who knew them only by their notoriety of death. Time and memory move on. There would be other tragedies, large and small, sensational and similar to ensnare the attention span of the public.

Maumee River A Lethal Seductress

Ironically, nine years later in 1911, on September 2nd, seven people, six of them Toledo city officials and employees, were also sent to the murky depths of the Maumee when their 35 foot fishing boat “The Nemo” was rammed by the bow of a freighter, the “Philip Minch”. This calamity too rendered weeks of journalistic and public fascination. But it too eventually faded to a footnote in Toledo’s past.

In, a similar tragedy would play out again when in 1930, eight prominent Toledo men mysteriously went to their deaths when they were flung from their high speed Dart boat into Lake Erie. The victims were on a night run from Toledo to Pelee Island in Canada for an Elks party. As the sped across the dark waters of the lake, something caused the sleek wooden speed boat to flip and pitch them into the black water of eternity. The story was charged with mystery and high intrigue for weeks and then the story’s sharp focus slowly faded into the mist.

Mystery of Why This Tragedy Still Unsolved

More than 100 summers have passed since the night in late spring of 1902 when what should have been a routine non newsworthy pleasure cruise turned into a horrible episode in the city’s history. However, much has changed since then. Steam launches are no longer seen on the river, replaced by gas powered pleasure craft. The community of Ironville is gone and so are the docks, at least as that generation knew them. First Baptist Church on Cherry Street later became a homeless mission and during urban renewal, torn down. And most of the city’s newspapers of that day, including the News Bee are gone too. The ink and its pages though, preserved in digital form, are able to reveal to readers volumes of history and this Toledo tragedy. The only tangible physical evidence enduring is found in the city’s cemeterys, Woodlawn and Forest. Here one can still find the graves of the seven victims and even the latter graves of some survivors. At Forest, the markers of those lost were joined by the tombs of the two boat captains , Joe Hepburn and Charles Fitts. Two men of water, joined for eternity in a sea of earth. Nearby one can find also the final homes of the victims’ family members, and friends who bore the sorrow and memories. Buried with them, no doubt, their burden of tears and torment.

Yes, much has changed. And much has not.

Now on a sunny spring day, as it was May 7th, 1902, the leaves in the green canopy at Forest still rustle overhead in the soft breezes that curl among the weathered headstones, whispering to all who hear them, the stories that time won’t forget.

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The Fostoria Company That Made History Come Alive.

It hardly seems likely, but there was once a modest little red brick building on Center Street  in Fostoria Ohio that put more people under the lights of the stage and theater than probably any other drama producers this side of Broadway. From coast-to-coast, for most of the 1900’s, thousands of communities, large and small, would become seduced by the bright lights and the scriptwriters from this Fostoria company who helped those regular folks put on the grease paint and costumes so they could “put on a play”. Not just any typical community theater production, but grand outdoor pageants designed to highlight the histories of those communities that were celebrating centennials, or other significant milestones of their heritage.

The company was the John B. Rogers Company, started in 1903, by Mr. John Rogers, an attorney from Fostoria who used the various talents of local actors and musicians to stage his own local dramas and musicals. Enjoying early success, Rogers soon expanded the concept and began employing the talents and eagerness of other amateurs in other communities to celebrate the anniversaries and centennials.  Many of the early productions were performed on indoor stages as operas, or minstrel shows. As the years progressed the company began selling community leaders on the idea of staging elaborate Centennial anniversaries, or commemorations of notable events of history from their area.  

The shows would often utilize a cast of hundreds of people, a truckload of period costumes, various animals, a large rolling stock of wagon and cars, plus a wealth of music scores, and about a dozen choreographed dance routines. In later years, the Rogers’ directors included early forms of multi media complete with slide shows, sound effects and pyrotechnics. Most of these elaborate shows were performed on a hand-crafted grand stage, made of platforms, scaffolding and curtains about 200 feet in length. It was built strategically on a football field where thousands of people attended the spectaculars from the stands.

These pageants were usually the culmination of a year-long celebration of the centennial or the sesqui-centennial at a 150 years. After World War Two, company officials estimated the Rogers’ Company produced over 5,000 of these shows before they finally closed down operations in 1977 in Fostoria, however another company bought the Rogers inventory and moved it to the Pittsburgh area where it continued until the 1980’s. 
The Rogers company, on average, would produce about 70 shows a summer. Most of operations focused on small town America where local communities would pay a fee for the Rogers company to design a celebration plan for them, that included not just an outdoor historical pageant, but would also give them an organization “plan of action” with which the townspeople could use to stage the entire year-long celebration. Those festivities always included beard contests, vintage clothing sales, commemorative dinner plates, historical programs and photos, wooden nickels, and other souvenirs of the community’s celebration. In the final six weeks of the event, the company would assign a director-business manager to the town to direct the pageant and generally oversee the celebration to ensure that company procedures and fiscal policies were being followed.

 

This writer became very familiar with the Rogers Company when I went to work for them in the summer of 1969, as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old freshly minted “director”. Yes, I was unusually young for this type of heady assignment, but not one to shrink from adventure. One spring morning, I flew to points south to begin my director’s training in the small southern community of Clayton North Carolina, a few miles south of Raleigh.

(My first association with Rogers came the summer before when I took part in their production of Genoa Ohio’s centennial pageant in 1968. I was a theater major at the time, and the chance to work for Rogers the next summer was an experience of a lifetime)

Because this story was intended to be about the Rogers’ Company, and not about me, I’ll try to refrain from too much self-indulgence, but I will attempt to provide a unique perspective of the company and the effect in had on the communities they worked with.

The Clayton show was special and somewhat atypical because it was being directed by the Vice President of the company, George S. Elias. A man as unforgettable as he was skilled at his craft. With hundreds of Rogers shows on his long lists of credits, George also brought to his mini-school of new directors, an unflinching passion for the world of show business and showmanship. His stocky build,his soft blue eyes, and a face framed by a shock of graying blond hair, combined with a friendly smile and quick wit, had little trouble getting the attention of those around him. Be they young directors, novice actors or the most influential community’s leaders. I was fortunate to have had George Elias as a mentor in those early years.

 

George’s proudest accomplishment as a Rogers’ director was no doubt his annual reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand at the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. It was a brilliant idea designed to raise money every year for the reservation and to tell the story of this great American story from the perspective of the Indians who crushed Custer’s 7th Calvary unit.
Elias for a number of years wrote and directed the spectacular battle scene, in classic Cecil B. DeMille’s style with bull-horn in hand, directing the hundreds of actors on horses with guns and arrows to be brutal and violent, while at the same time imploring them not to hurt anyone. Elias became so loved by the Crow Nation, he was made an honorary tribe member. By 1969, Elias was on set with director Arthur Penn, offering technical advice in the production of the movie “Little Big Man” with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway. Elias called me in June of 1969 to ask if I wanted to come out for the weekend to see the battle scenes being shot and to meet with Penn and the crew. I declined. A decision I have always regretted.

George Elias was not the only Rogers’ director whose roots were buried deep in the loam of Hollywood and Broadway. There were many others, including screen writers, dancers, actors, and behind the scenes technicians, who joined this Fostoria company during the summer months to earn some extra money and to experience a rich slice of pure Americana. One of the most popular directors for the company during its last years in operation was Carl Hawley, a Hollywood scriptwriter and showman who delighted in lending his experience and talents to these small town productions.

 

In 1968, Hawley and his wife LaFaye, produced a show for Brookfield, Illinois’s 75th anniversary, called the Diamond Jubilee. The local paper wrote of Hawley.

Everything was coming together. In late June “congenial” Carl Hawley, of Hollywood, Calif., arrived in Brookfield to produce and direct the pageant. Apparently no local person could come up to the standards needed for this job, so Hawley was sent for by the Rogers Company.
Hawley was a true showman, in the best “S.E. Gross” style, brimming over with good nature, optimism and a fine sense of flamboyance. And he had 20 years’ worth of experience in promoting such spectaculars as this.
The July 3rd Enterprise reported that   “he has worked with a number of movie stars before joining the Rogers Company. He has assisted in producing and directing James Arness in ‘Gunsmoke,’ Red Skelton and others. He has also traveled with Bing Crosby and appeared in movies under the name Carlos Fernando.”
On his pinky finger, Hawley wore an outrageously large ring, with a gigantic diamond in it that would’ve made Eva Gabor jealous, if it were real. He wore it, he said, as a symbol of Brookfield’s Diamond Jubilee. In early July, his wife, LaFaye, arrived to help co-produce and direct.

There were many directors in the history of the Rogers company and they essentially became the public face of this mostly obscure Northwest Ohio company that provided a wealth of memories to hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. One of their long time directors, Phillys Shelflow, left her Hollywood home each year along with her husband to direct and choreograph the pageants. She said in a 1968 interview that she loved the work because it was all about “bringing America to Americans”.
And speaking from my own experience as a Roger’s director, this seemed to be the essence of each celebration and each production. Every celebration would not only feature the pageant, but a “queen’s contest” which allowed local women in the town to sell tickets to the big show and the woman who sold the most won the crown and a truckload full of prizes from local merchants. Each celebration also featured beard growing contests for the men any man who grew some facial hair was encouraged to join the “Brothers of the Brush” which involved buying a button, an old-fashioned bow tie, and maybe a top hat or some other type of historic fashion.

The ladies, as well could pick through the racks of beautiful recreation of historic period dresses of many type which were at the Centennial store.

This store was also the headquarters for the event and was the place where everything was coordinated, meetings were and a variety of commemorative items were up for sale. Items that were mostly produced or brokered by the Rogers’ company. In fact the Rogers company also owned another firm called the Ohm Company which specialized in various trinkets, badges, hats and ties that most folks, who got into the celebratory spirit were eager to buy. It was a win-win-win situation. The town, the Rogers company and the director all shared a cut of the profits.

While money and the American “profit motive” were certainly in play for the Rogers Company, I always sensed that the owners and directors were motivated by more than just the almighty dollar, and that the greatest reward was in the sense of community these productions created.  In the smaller towns across the country who got caught up in the spirit of the celebration, the people who took part often found themselves making new friends, sharing new experiences and generally painting some indelible memories they carried for many years.

 

One case in point, was my first show I directed on my own which was in Newell, Iowa. A small farming hamlet of 700 citizens in Northwest Iowa, not far from Storm Lake, and about 60 miles east of Sioux City. It was essentially in the middle of nowhere and I thought I’d be dealing with some pretty dusty folks who had corn silk in their ears. How wrong I was. This little town was as prosperus and progressive as any town I had ever known, and  . the townspeople of this bucolic village were as energetic and friendly and competent as any I have ever encountered throughout the rest of my life. These folks knew how to have fun. A small town with a big heart. I learned a lot from them and never forgot their hospitality and zest for life. The show and the celebration of the town’s 100th birthday was a grand success. I was proud to be a part of it.  In 2004, 35 years after the 1969 Newell Iowa Centennial. I decided to visit that small town again while on a trip out West. The intervening years had taken their toll.  Much of Newell had physically changed, with closed up store fronts, and fewer downtown businesses. But more importantly, the people had not changed. Many of the same folks instrumental in putting the celebration together were still there, 35 years older, but just as eager as ever to have a good time. They held a party for me and my family. I was humbled. We reminisced, we laughed, we drank, we traded stories, and we paid tribute to those who had passed on, and by the night’s end, we made the past come alive again.  I also realized that the Centennial they observed in 1969 was more than just a one week event. It had stayed with them for decades. Several told me that it was the biggest thing that had ever happened in their little town and it was a very important time in their lives. One they would never forget. Nor shall I.

The work of the Rogers Company may be over, but still quietly lives on in thousands of towns across America.

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Mystery “Death Ray” Inventor Lived in Toledo

One of the motivations I had for starting this blog ten years ago in 2010 was my passion for discovering people and events of the past that had been largely ignored, forgotten or assigned to the junk drawer of history.

Every now and then I spend some time sorting through that old junk drawer and without fail, I tend to find a few gems. Such was the case this week when I came upon the story of Maurice J. Francill. Born in Marion Ohio just before the start of the 20th century, Maurice, whose given name at birth, was Francis Marion Cowgill,(he changed his name later in life) would spend most of life exploring the mystery and magic of radio. In fact, he was known as the Radio Wizard, and by the early 1920’s he was stunning audiences around the country with his ability to use radio waves to control mechanical devices. From toys to cars to trains, Maurice Francill had figured out the technology of “remote control”. Recall that in the 1920’s, most people were still wrapping their head around the remarkable new concept of listening to people speak from far off cities on a crystal radio in their living rooms.

This was big magic to most people at the time. It was a technology in its infancy and radio stations were just at the early stages of development. Toledo would not have a radio station until 1925. But here was Maurice Francill, already showing people how radio waves could not only travel through the invisible “ether” of air, but how those waves could make things move.

Local Audiences Awed By Francill’s Shows

In the February 10th , 1923 Edition of the Coshocton Tribune, Francill was demonstrating a remote controlled automobile on the city streets of Coshocton as part of a radio exhibition that was touring the country.

The paper wrote: The machine he will demonstrate tonight is valued at ten thousand dollars and required a year to build. The machine is equipped with a radio selector which makes it possible to perform an operation request from any member of the audience, much in the same manner as if it had “mechanical brains”.

From that description it may be safe to conclude that Maurice Francill, who would later move his operations to Toledo, was the inventor, not just of remote control, but the first autonomous car. That was almost 100 years ago.

Francill would continue his demonstrations for curious eyes in a broad swath of cities and towns across the nation. In New Castle Pennsylvania in 1926 Radio Wizard Francill gave demonstrations at a car dealership of his invention showing the crowd how he could start the automobile, flash its lights, honk its horn or turn its wheel “without the touch of a human hand”. The newspaper writer reflected on what this “remote control” technology might mean for future. Francill even allowed people in the showroom to thoroughly inspect the car to make sure it wasn’t rigged with a hidden driver or wires. It wasn’t. The article also said Francill demonstrated how to fry an egg on a block of ice using this technology, but didn’t elaborate.

His amazing feats before thousands of people would be repeated maimes over from Newark Ohio to Reno Nevada with many stops in between. In Waterloo Iowa in 1927, thousands of onlookers jammed various points of the city to watch in awe as he drove a Hudson Essex down a city street, turned on a washing machine at a city laundry, and started up an ice factory with the press of a button on his 15 pound radio transmitter from a remote location. He was theRadio Wizard. His creativity for finding new applications was impressive. In 1929, In Newark,Ohio he was demonstrating at a local dairy, how his radio device could operate a mechanical milking machine for cows. He repeated the same stunt on stage at a theater in Lima in 1929, and the newspaper reported that the cow, “Duchess” was calmly brought onto the stage and Francill, was able to extract 40 pounds of milk which cascaded into the bucket like “Niagara Falls”. On that same trip to Lima he also showed how radio could be used to operate a street car, and he did it for all to see.

It is not apparent if Francill had succeeded in finding commercial uses for his new radio technology. However, because Francill was seen by many as an entertainer and not a scientist, his credentials and credibility may have been questioned as a serious inventor. Especially when considering that many of his shows also included spiritualism and Seance features. But it was hard to deny that he did have something tangible to provide audiences who marveled at his ability to drive a car, or a play a violin or milk a cow without the aid of a human hand.

It was the stuff of the future and in the 1920’s and 30’s, the science of radio was the new frontier of possibility and Francill brought some of that “wonder” to hometown America.

As far back at 1926 in an interview with a Reno Nevada reporter, Francill said he had built a death ray machine that could stop a beating heart and wanted to try it our on a convicted murderer who was condemned to die. He said he was asking some state governors to let him try it. He was convinced that the death ray technology would be the technology of future wars when armies would be able to use them to “annihilate people by the hundreds”. He also predicted it would become a popular crime fighting tool, for it not only could kill people, but kill the engines of speeding getaway vehicles and could start distant fires. His discovery of the“death ray”, he said, was found by accident while doing other experiments. He held its technology as a closely guarded secret lest it fall into the wrong hands of amateurs.

He also would later demonstrate the use of “light rays” which he touted as a new method to broadcast voice transmission on a,beam of light. He felt this was in many ways more effective and useful than radio waves. He was prescient on that thought, but light ray technology was not new. Hardly.

It had been invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880. In fact the use of light ray photo-phones did become an effective stealth communication during World War Two. Today’s fiber optic technology is built on the foundation of light ray technology.

Francill’s one questionable claim was his public insistence that he had a “death ray” device. In 1940 he demonstrated it to reporters and witnesses in Toledo. In February of that year he assembled a group of reporters and witnesses to his home in North Toledo. Nine men, according to the article in the Toledo Blade, watched as Francill used a “queer machine” with port holes and coils, to deliver a death ray of sorts to a rat that rose up on its “shaky haunches, ran in a few agonized circles and died.”

The reporter, Arthur Peterson, contended that the rat was a large brown alley rat and appeared to be in good health before it was taken out of a wire cage and put into a glass case. From 15 feet away Francill’s projector was trained on the rat inther glass case and caused its sudden death. How and why did it die? What exotic technology had this Toledo inventor uncovered? Francill told the reporter he didn’t know, but he theorized that the “ray” may have deteriorated the tissue of blood and flesh and nerves.

He also demonstrated another experiment with the strange projector by projecting a ray unto a pair of beakers in which were two unidentified chemicals. When hit by the “ray” the chemicals turned from a milky white color to blue color. Francill showed the witnesses assembled at his home other examples of his shadowy science including the projection of a ray from the secret box to a shaft of steel which became very hot. He also showed a “military” invention thathe says was a thermal compound that can be ignited by water and get so hot it can eat through the side of a battle ship.

Just how long Francill lived in Toledo I have not yet determined(still working on it). I do know that he was here in the 1930’s and through part of the 50’s before he returned to his hometown of Marion where he passed away in 1974 at the age of 77.

Was he a crackpot? A conman? Or was he the real deal? Maybe a little of all three. Not sure really, but what I can ascertain by what I’ve read in the limited research I’ve done, is that he made some of his money by selling sponsors to his shows. When he demonstrated his “remote control” automobiles, it was usually underwritten and marketed by a car dealership. Or a dairy if he was milking cows, or a street car company if he was “automating” the local street cars. His draft card and selective service application in 1943 shows he was living at 1702 N. 12th Street in Toledo, was employed by the Massachusetts Protective Association(insurance company) and was married to his wife Josephine.

I am very curious as to what Francill’s “death ray” was. If it was not a hoax, I suspect that perhaps he had stumbled into some rudimentary microwave wave technology. The use of very high frequency radio waves to heat objects, which had been discovered in the 1930’s and even featured at the 1939 World’s fair in Chicago.

Regardless, even if Maurice Francill was just a clever huckster who could harness electronics to make a quick buck, he gave Americans of all ages and walks of life a sense of wonder of the world around them, a sense of the future wonders that would eventually come to fruition. Heat the very least a futurist, and a teacher who helped spark the imagination of the country.

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The Strange and Elusive Mr. MacFarland: Genoa’s Infamous “Blue Beard” Bigamist and “Hymeneal Champ”.

 

This is a story that’s been taking up space in my files for several years and I’ve been promising to fill in some blanks and share it with others. So here goes. It’s a largely forgotten but sparkling little gem of a story about a strange man who lived briefly in the Toledo area, then set out to become one of the more notorious characters of American matrimony. His name and exploits are still talked about in parts of California to this day.

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Around 1911, newspapers around the nation began following the saga of Mr. Andrew Franklin MacFarland who was said to have been a resident of Genoa, Ohio at one time in the 1880’s and was in the insurance business. But it seems Andrew liked to move about the country and liked ladies and money. For MacFarland, it proved a dangerous combination of pursuits. I will begin this tale somewhere in the middle, when in September of 1911, while Andrew MacFarland was living with his wife Ella MacFarland in a Colorado Springs Colorado hotel, he was arrested and charged with embezzlement from a a woman by the name of Ethel Groom in San Francisco. Ethel was a lady whom MacFarland had married earlier that year promising her a life of wedded bliss, but she claimed in a warrant that soon after the wedding, he left her, and emptied her safety deposit box of some $10,000 in cash, then absconded with the funds and vanished. He was missing for months, only to be found in Colorado Springs Colorado by detectives who had been in hot pursuit. When captured that September day of 1911, it was reported that he was preparing to leave for a long trop with his third wife Ella, on a trip to Puerto Rico.

 

MacFarland Arrest

San Francisco Call September 20, 1911

A scandalous article in the San Francisco Call newspaper and other papers around the nation referred to Andrew F. MacFarland as a wealthy businessman who had started an insurance company in that city. The articles took delight in providing the sordid details of his “hymeneal venturism” as they called it. For at this point in his life, MacFarland had exchanged vows with four women over the course of his 44 years. Some of the wives, however, he had not bothered to divorce or annul the nuptials before moving on to the next one. And his first marriage took place in the 1880’s near Toledo where he wed a lady by the name of Leona Maville. After the wedding, they made their home in the little village of Genoa, not far from Toledo.

Just why he was in Genoa, or what he did there is still yet to be determined, but he and Leona didn’t stay too long. They stayed long enough to have one son and left Genoa a few years later and moved to Indiana where they had more children and as best can be determined, they moved back to Toledo, where MacFarland was working as a “clerk”, per census records.

Then in about 1895, MarFarland, for whatever his reasons, deserted his wife Leona and three sons and moved to Kansas. This is where in Wyandotte Kansas in 1896, forgetting his first wife, he met and married wife number 2, Minnie Gerard. This marriage occurs despite MacFarland never having legally ended or divorced poor Leona whom he had left high and dry and destitute.

MacFarland’s second wife, Minnie, however, also turned out to be as indifferent to the laws of matrimony as was he. For MacFarland soon discovered that Minnie was married to someone else. Taking umbrage, he left her and trekked south to Oklahoma where he met future wife number three, Ella Clem. The story is told that he was able to convince her that he really wasn’t married to wife number two(Minnie Gerard of Kansas) and never bothered to mention his first marriange or family he had in Genoa from many years before. It was a tangled web indeed and MacFarland didn’t seem too vexed by it all. In a few years he moved on to California with his wife Ella. They settled in the San Diego area of Pacific Beach where they became respected citizens of the community. MacFarland, having built an insurance company as massing a tidy sum of cash built a grand home near the Hotel Balboa in 1907. The story of their lives in Pacific Beach can be found here.

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MacFarland Home in Pacfic Beach

 

 

http://thewebsters.us/2014/10/31/the-macfarland-legacy/

A few years later, however, they left their home in Pacific Beach and relocated to San Francisco and carried on a life of prosperity in that region with his Pacific Life Insurance Company. Then in 1911, in a burst of sudden epiphany, MacFarland announced to Ella that he wanted to straighten everything out with his matrimonial entanglements of the past. To make it happen he asked for annulment from his wife Ella so he could be free to get an annulment from wife #2(Minnie of Kansas) and to be finally cleared from that former marriage. Ella consented but only if MacFarland would agree to remarry her immediately after the annulment from (Minnie) wife#2. (if you’re confused, I was too. Best bet read it again. We’re just getting started)

And as you might have guessed, once a lothario, always a lothario, MacFarland got his annulment from Minnie,and an annulment from Ella. But he had no intention of remarrying Ella as promised, instead he promptly traveled to Ogden Utah and married a fourth woman, Ethel Groom, one of his young stenographers.  After the wedding, they took an extended honeymoon to the East Coast and didn’t return for a month. Upon returning to California though, he was to learn that his strange behavior was now the talk of the town. The story of Andrew MacFarland’s sudden new marriage and all of his matrimonial adventures had made the front page of the newspapers and third wife Ella, now a woman scorned, was not a happy camper. She went back to court and had the annulment to Andrew rescinded, thus MacFarland was now officially a bigamist.

The case became a front page butt of jokes and comedy. The San Francisco Call newspaper published one article in March of 1911 entitled “Now Just Who Is MacFarland’s Wife?”

MacFarland news

The article laid bare his life and his “matrimonial career”, but interestingly it left out the fact that he had been married and was still married to Leona Mavall of Toledo. MacFarland had held this secret very close to his vest over the years and it was not common knowledge.MacFarland6

Seemingly unrepentant, MacFarland’s folly persisted as he was able to convince wife #4(Ethel) to get an annulment so he could officially divorce wife #3(Ella) and then he and Ethel could settle down in matrimonial bliss. (What’s the saying “Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice…)

So who got fooled again?

Well once Ethel’s annulment was granted and the ink still wet on the court order, our Mr. MacFarland had a sudden and miraculous memory recovery. He rememebered he still had a legal marriage with Leona Maville with whom he had played house in Genoa Ohio back in the 1880’s. With sudden clarity of purpose, MacFarland reveals the truth to the world and grabs the first train to Toledo to reaquint himself with his old friends there, but then after a few weeks, he vanishes.

Back in San Francisco, Ethel the former wife #4, now also a scorned woman, checked her safety deposit box and found that MacFarland had appropriated the cash from it before heading for Ohio. Not only was a known liar and bigamist, he was now being called a thief.

The weeks turned to months and MacFarland was a wanted man. Just where he traveled or hid is not known, but in September of 1911 he was found by private detectives living in a hotel in Colorado Springs Colorado with his third wife Ella. To whom he was still legally wed.

MacFarland, a wealthy man believed to have a cash fortune into the six figures, voluntarily returned to San Francisco after his arrest in Colorado. He fought the embezzlement charges and a year later his case was still tied up in the courts. The furious and former fourth wide Ethel wanted what she said was her money, a wedding gift of 10,000 dollars. MacFarland claimed it was not her money, and he never gave it to her. He also claimed she was blackmailing him for another $30,000 for her to drop the charges against him. Despite this rancor, and MacFarland’s reputation, Ethel told the court she still loved him and wanted to be with him. (Wow did he have some of male magic or what? Money magic maybe?)

Finally in September of 1912, after his second trial concluded, the jury acquited MacFarland for embezzlement. The headlines and the publicity faded and it is written that MacFarland apparently gave up his wedlock wanderlust and settled down, for awhile, with wife #3 Ella.

He and Ella would eventually move back to San Diego to their luxurious home in Pacific Beach. Considered one of the grand homes of the town and stands to this day and as a landmark of Pacific Beach. But for the MacFarlands, life behind the beautiful facade of that home was a stormy one.

In August of 1918 Andrew MacFarland filed for divorce from Ella and accused her of being “cold and of an unaffectionate manner”, often denouncing him as untrue to her and wasting his money in “riotous living” when he was away from home. He denied the allegations.

Ella MacFarland’s also denied his allegations and claimed he had deserted and abandoned her. In September of 1918 a judge ruled in favor of Ella and granted her a divorce. A week later, MacFarland, now 51 years old married a 25-year-old court stenographer Carmen Kertson, and they apparently went on to lead a what was said to be a quiet life in Los Angeles.

MacFarland Marriage record

Marriage License to Carmen Kertson, Wife #5

But even that wedded bliss did not end well. They divorced sometime in the 1930. By the 1940 census it showed him living alone in Los Angeles. He died in 1942 at the age of 75 and is buried at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. Carmen went on to live a much longer life passing away in 1974. Census records show they may have had as many as two children together.

We do not know if he ever reconciled or acknowledged his first wife in Toledo, Leona Maville. A record search shows that he married her in Monroe County Michigan in 1884. It was appear that he was a mere 17 at the time, being born in December of 1866. According to the records I’ve reviewed they took up residence lin Genoa,had three children together before he deserted them in the 1890’s.

At that time he was using the name Frank MacFarland, not Andrew F. MacFarland. Their three sons were named Harrison, Ransalier, and Alonzo. The oldest son Harrison, born in 1884 in Genoa. Evenutally Harrison moved west, had several marriages himself over the course of his life and appears to have moved to the San Francisco area where his father was residing. Harrison also got tangled up in some unsavory behavior and ended up in San Quentin prison for passing bad checks in the early 1900’s. He died in San Francisco in 1961.

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Son Harrison, born in Genoa. Prison Photo

The second son of Leona and Andrew Macfarland was Ransalier and he was born near Elkhart Indiana, later moved to California and died in Santa Barbara in 1962.

Ransalier MacFarland (son)

Ransalier MacFarland. Andrew on right?

The 3rd son, Alonzo was born in 1888. The 1900 census shows that he was 12 years old and living with his mother Leona and his brother Ransalier in the 300 block of Buffalo Street in North Toledo. She is listed in the census as a “washerwoman” and Ransalier was listed as a “day laborer”. Alonzo was still in school.

And one final footnote is that keeping to Andrew MacFarland’s crazy quilt world of wedlock, marriages, remarriages, and annulments. While he and Leona were on record as having been married in Whiteford Twp Michigan in 1884, they were apparently remarried in Ohio in 1892. Lucas County probate court records show they were wed again on January 2nd, 1892 in Toledo.

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Toledo’s Good Old Days? Were they really?

I just came across a Toledo Newsbee article from January 1st of 1931 which provided the statistics for how Toledo fared in 1930 when it came to violent deaths, such as murders, accidents, drownings and other untimely and nasty means of death. For those who like to harbor the notion that we currently live in the “worst of times”, these numbers may be eye opening, for it seems apparent that in our grandparents era of the 1920’s and 30’s, life was fraught with danger, maybe more than today.

Perhaps the most startling numbers were of those folks who died from car accidents in the city of Toledo. In one year, 1930, 120 people died as a result of car accidents. And the article points out that it was an improvement over 1929 when the toll was 121. That’s more than 2 deaths per week.  If that seems high, it is. While Toledo does record a tragic number of auto related highway deaths these days, it comes no where close to that disturbing toll. The latest stats from the Ohio State High Patrol show that in all of 2018, 33 people died from vehicle related crashes in Lucas County. About a fourth of the death toll compared to 1930.

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Toledo Police Motorcyle Squad 1929

Maybe seat belts, air bags, drunk driving restrictions, training and better enforcement, and of course modern medical care, have something to so with the reduction in mortality. Consider if you will that we actually have far more cars on the street, faster speeds, and more miles driven in the city than 90 years ago.

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From June of 1930, the heartbreaking story of 5 year old killed in Toledo.

It should be noted that by 1937, the auto traffic death toll in Toledo was still high at over 100, with over 1700 injured. The Toledo News Bee and the city began to recognize there were too many drunk drivers and “madmen” behind the wheel. They began efforts to raise traffic safety awareness and campaigns.

Death story pic1

Car crashes were all too common in 1930’s.

 

The other number that jumped out at me from 1930, were the number of drownings. Forty-one(41) people died from drowning in Lucas County in 1930, and it was noted that the 1930 number doubled the 1929 number at 22 deaths by drowning. Our current numbers are always too high, but far less than 20.

The 1930 statistic on water deaths also includes the mysterious sinking of a speedboat in Lake Erie in June of that year that claimed the lives of 7 prominent Toledo men who were on their way to a picnic at Pelee Island Canada. The boat and the men were found, but the answers as to what and why happened only the water knows for sure.

And when it comes to murder, the streets seemed to be as dangerous in 1930, as they are today, 40 homicides recorded back then.  Compare that to 2018 in Toledo, when we had 41 murders recorded. About the same. Although, without the life saving emergency medical protocols and advances of the modern era, one could easily surmise the death toll would probably be much higher today than it is.

As for suicides. Depression was no stranger to our fore-bearers. 51 people in Toledo took their own lives in 1930, mostly by gunshot.

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Mayhem and Domestic Violence were not rare headlines in 1930

Also of note in the autopsy of violent death were the number of people who died from burns, which was 26. And railroad accident(not auto-train collisions) sent 26 people to their graves. This was during the era when trains and trolleys laced the area and accidents were not uncommon.

In addition to these dangers of the era, 87 others in Toledo in 1930 died by industrial accidents, accidental shootings, sports injuries, falls, food poisoning, and other lurking menaces.

One of those was the new danger that had emerged during the prohibition era for people with severe alcohol addictions. With booze outlawed and not as easy to access, the desperate often met their need for alcohol by drinking whatever they could, such as highly toxic ethanol-based alcohols, or what was known as “canned heat”. Toledo recorded 12 deaths in 1930 from men and women who succumbed to that grim poison.

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“The Perils of Poison” Canned Heat was

These days of course, while “canned heat” is no longer the scourge it once was, our grim statistic is the growing number of opioid deaths in Lucas County..which will easily surpass 100 this year. Hopefully some day in the not too distant future, it too be be a footnote in our long history.

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The Great Stone Face of Toledo

great stone face

Photo of Great Stone Face taken at Dixon Inn in Toledo circa 1920

Okay, here’s a mystery that needs an answer. Or maybe a couple. It seems that back in the 1800’s when Toledo city workers were doing some excavating along Monroe Street in the downtown area, they came across  an ancient stone carving. It was the carving of face and it appeared to those who saw it to be the face of an early Native American, or a person with “thick lips and round face”who was deemed to be one of the “ancient” pre-historic people, known as mound builders.

This little gem has come my way from a book given to me by a friend who found the 1922 book it in a garage sale near Dayton.  The book is entitled “Memories” by Dr. Cyrus Noble of Toledo who practiced medicine in the early part of the 20th century in Toledo and Wood County.

cyrus noble

Dr. Cyrus Noble

Dr. Noble was also a poet and observer of life in the area and his poems reflect on a number of local stories that piqued his curiosity and interest.  In “Memories” he writes fondly of the famed “Indian Elm” in Maumee.  A giant among trees where Indians reportedly perched to take aim at soldiers across the Maumee River at Ft. Meigs.  Dr. Noble also waxes lyrically about a variety of topics, but the one that snared my curiosity was the story of the “Great Stone Face”. There wasn’t much of a narrative about it, but there was a photo of it, presumably where it was exhibited for years inside of the now-forgotten Dixon Inn in Toledo’s old Tenderloin District.   The Dixon Inn had been a brothel at one time, amid the clutter of  the “sin zone” but after the Tenderloin was closed down in 1918, the Dixon Inn stayed open as a hotel, inn and boarding house, and more importantly – a very strange museum.  I have written about the Dixon Inn before in the Gazette, and its odd collection of bizarre artifacts, from shrunken heads to ancient battle weapons. But the “Great Stone Face” is the stand out among the collection, for if it is truly an artifact of ancient heritage, it conjures a list of questions, the first being how it came rest 20 feet below the surface of earth in the area of downtown Toledo?  One might wonder what else is still down there to be discovered?  If there are any folks who can offer some educated speculation as to the origin of this “face” or any other information about it,  please share them with us.  My search efforts to excavate more about information regarding the “face” have turned up nothing specific, but other stories regarding carvings found in other areas of the country.

In fact, the discovery of human effigy artifacts from the “mounds” in Ohio and other Midwest sites in Illinois and the Mississippi Valley are well established, but Toledo was not known for an abundance of such mound building activity, although, there were, as I have read, some small “mounds” discovered in the downtown area near the river upon arrival of the first pioneers to the area. So how did this carving get to Toledo. It was offered by some that it could have been transported here centuries ago from another area and left with those ancients living on the Maumee River.

When looking at the photo of this particular “stone face” at the Dixon Inn, it does not resemble the others I have seen, but looks more “finished” or finely sculpted. Thus, some shades of skepticism darken my door of belief. What do you think?  Where would it have come from? How did it get to Toledo, and what ever happened to it?  I have found from a newspaper reference that it was part of the Dixon collection that was auctioned at the Dixon Inn around 1925 after the owner died.

The Great Stone Face of Toledo seems to have disappeared in the past century, leaving me to wonder whether the carving was really the product of someone perpetrating a hoax and merely had been the handiwork of a con artist or someone with a sense of history and humor.  That is certainly possible and let’s face it, the Dixon Inn was not exactly the Smithsonian.  Despite the questions and the doubts, Dr. Noble seemed convinced of its historic gravity and message  when he penned his poem in 1920, about Toledo’s Great Stone Face.

If the veil of mystery,

were rent so I could see,

I could talk to the Great Stone Face,

and it could talk to me.

To tell me of the ages past,

of all the great unknown–

and about the Master Hand

that made it in the stone,

And of the mighty ruler,

in whose image it was made,

How it t’was worshiped as a god,

through many a decade.

How before some temple door,

t’was strewn with flowers and kisses

It saw the strife of human life,

And heard its howls and Hisses;

Then watched earth drink up the blood,

of men of might and brains

It saw the traitors slay their kings

To grasp the ruler’s reins

 

For centuries this face held sway,

above some sacred mound,

until a conquering army came,

and dragged it to the ground.

Its friends, by night, had stole away

And brought it over land,

with stealth and pride,

they buried it beneath the Maumee’s sand.

Then all the history of its past

Was plunged into the dark,

No doubt t’was safely hidden there

when Noah built his ark.

 

A modern city rose Above its resting place;

Men who delved into the ground

Came to this wondrous face.

They brought it once more to light,

where the curious could gaze,

and ponder over its handiwork of men of other days.

Perhaps a thousand years from now,

when this fair city’s gone,

Art and Science once more lost,

as time keeps marching on,

and as other cities rise again,

this stone face will be found,

To prove that the greatest of all men

Now sleep beneath the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Were Wild Parrot Once Native to Ohio?

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Once native to Ohio, with some sightings in Northwest Ohio

The answer might surprise you. Because the answer, according to some accounts, is -yes. The bird in question was the Carolina Parrot or parakeet(Conuropsis carolinensis), a -tropical looking bird, about the size of a robin with colorful green, yellow and orange plumage and a long sweeping tail that once flourished throughout eastern North America. Sadly, this grand bird is now extinct. The very last survivor in captivity was named Incas and died in an aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo, one hundred years ago in February of 1918, just months after his mate, Lady Jane, had passed away. It was said that Incas died of loneliness. Ironically, he died in the very same aviary cage that also housed the last Passenger pigeon, Martha, which died in 1914.  Prior to the demise of the Carolina Parrot, this brightly feathered creature populated the skies of the Southern U.S. and parts of the Midwest and Northeast in numbers that were startling and loathsome to the early settlers who viewed the bird largely as a gregarious pest. The parrots were known to decimate farmers’ crops and strip orchards of fruit. The range of this parrot was wide, with sightings from Florida and Georgia, north to New England and New York, and west to Colorado and Texas. The first sightings were in the early 1600’s in the southern states where they were most dominant. The last official sightings though took place in the 1920’s, although, unconfirmed sightings also were reported in the 1930’s.

What caused these beautiful birds to die off? Kevin Burgio, a professor of Ecology with the University of Connecticut has studied the Carolina Parakeet for years. He writes that it’s a mystery. “Scientists don’t know what really drove these parakeets to extinction. Some thought it was habitat loss. Some thought it was hunting and trapping. Some thought disease. A few even thought it was competition with non-native honey bees for tree cavities, where the parakeets would roost and nest.”

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Museum Specimen Carolina Parakeet

All we know is they are gone, although we do know where they lived or were spotted over the years. And sometimes when they showed up in flocks of more than several hundreds, their presence was unsettling. In 1780, in upstate New York, a story is told that when a large flock of these aggressive, colorful and noisy birds swooped into one rural Dutch village, the townspeople reacted with fear. They had never witnessed anything like it, and thought it was a sign that the end of the world was nigh. The fear of the birds stayed with the town for years.

In Ohio, they also made people uncomfortable. In a story from a 1924 Toledo News Bee, it was conveyed as to how a flock flew over the state capital n Columbus in 1862. At least 25 of the birds swooped out of the sky across the treetops, noisy and screaming, with the brilliant colors flashing in the morning sun, they provided a rare spectacle, but also startled a group of students who took fright at the menacing flock. That Columbus sighting in July of 1862 was, according the article, the last sighting of the birds in Ohio.

The most common region where the parrots were seen in Ohio was reportedly in the thick forests around Cincinnati. Early pioneers wrote that, at times, the trees were filled with the shrieking hordes. Sycamore trees were their favorite habitat as they were fond of sycamore seeds and cockle-burr seeds as a regular diet staple. Ornithologists have speculated that the birds might have been poisonous, referencing some reports that squirrels that ate their flesh would die. There is really little known about these iconic birds. Research was limited during the time they were abundant in the United States, and it was only after they became extinct that scientist have begun a more focused investigation as to the origins, habitat, breeding, and historical accounts of what was probably the most exotic bird in our history.

So were any of these Carolina parakeets a part of Toledo’s natural history? Perhaps. James Audubon wrote of a sighting in 1806, of a flock of the parrots at the mouth of the Maumee River and Lake Erie. The source of that sighting though has not been confirmed and some scientists are unconvinced that Audubon got it right. Another sighting was reported in 1903, a few miles south of Sandusky as a resident said a parrot would come to feed in his orchard. Again, this report remains as anecdotal evidence only. There were other reports that were more convincing of the birds being seen in areas north of Cincinnati. And its speculated by some researchers that the Carolina Parakeet was probably a rare sight near Cincinnati by the 1840’s. Without more empirical data, however, the haze of time obscures the past and leaves little more than speculation. We may never know for sure if this beautiful parrot found its way to Northwest Ohio. But considering the verdant and rich landscape of heavily timbered swamps and marshes that existed here in this fertile womb of life, it is probably not wild speculation to at least imagine that those green and yellow wings once danced against the sunlight in the skies and the screaming voices of the Carolina Parakeet once echoed in the deep woods of the Great Black Swamp.

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Toledo’s Unforgettable Judge Austin

Judge James Austin

Judge Austin

Prior to the creation of a Municipal Court system, Toledo, like many cities, had for years used what was called a “Police Court”. In Toledo, that court was synonymous for several decades with one man: Judge James Austin.

Judge Austin was undoubtedly one of the city’s most powerful and colorful characters of the early 1900’s.  According to some accounts, he was the compelling reason that Toledo decided to create a municipal court system of four judges and structured the city’s court system.

It was said that a “certain class of citizens was being favored by Judge Austin.” In one edition of the ‘Police Journal’ of 1922, it was noted that “he withstood the continual howl of the newspapers and the public” for his actions in court.

Despite his critics, Judge Austin remained a popular figure in the city and was reelected to his judicial post many times over, even after the city had gone to a municipal court, Judge Austin was reelected to it and named its chief judge.

Even after assuming his new role as head of the court Judge James Austin continued to create headlines.

The ‘New York Times’ carried one story from 1920, when Austin couldn’t decide the guilt or innocence of a local grocer charged with running a gambling operation and bribery. So he asked the court audience to vote on it. He handed out 34 ballots and the vote came back 27-7 in favor of acquittal.

In another infamous case, a group of southern musicians had been arrested in the city’s notorious tenderloin district for panhandling, Judge Austin decided their best punishment would be to go get their instruments and come back and give the court a make shift concert, which they did.

It was his creativity in sentencing and his reputation for leniency that often sparked the most furor, for Judge Austin was of the mindset that a jail sentence was not always the best form of punishment. He believed it did little good to sentence poor people to the workhouse for crimes that “rich people” got away with.

He was known as the “Golden Rule” judge, believing that to be fair, you had to understand what people were going through and that sometimes the heart was a better measure of punishment than laws.

In 1908, back when Toledo had a workhouse near Swan Creek and City Park known as “Duck Island”, Judge Austin found himself “guilty” of curiosity and sentenced himself to a “day” at the prison, as an inmate, to see what the experience of a prisoner is really like.

On a bitterly cold day in February of that year, Judge Austin reported to “Duck Island” and subjected himself to endure the indignities of  being just another inmate. Citizen Austin was treated no differently than others, ordered to strip and get into prison togs, march to the dining hall and was sent to a pond to cut ice for the ice boxes at the jail.

Upon his release, Austin said, he would have to do some “tall thinking” in the future before sending a man to the workhouse. This was one of the reasons that Judge Austin had earned the nickname of the “Golden Rule” judge.

Another reason for his sobriquet was that the good judge was heavily influenced by the former Toledo Mayor Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, who also believed that poor men deserve “second chances.” Like Judge Austin, Mayor Jones believed the court should not always punish, but serve to reform. He frequently took sides in favor of keeping families together.

In one case in 1909, a young girl appeared before his court to urge the judge to “Let Papa go” after her father had been arrested for “riding the rails.” Judge Austin listened to his heart and released her father from custody.

Austin was eager to listen to children in his court. In another case when a young “newsboy” was brought before his court on an assault charge against another “newsie.” Judge Austin decided to allow the young “newsboys” to serve as the judge and jury to decide verdict and punishment.

Judge Austin’s tenure as the “Police Court Judge” began in 1908 when he took the reigns of the court and lasted on the bench for another 20 years.  Within days after taking over the police court, the Toledo News Bee reported that Austin would not send a man to jail or fine him for drunkeness explaining that the Judge thought it was a disease. And one afflicted with it can no more combat it than he could typhoid fever. It was also noted that a defendant would not be sent to the work house on a first offense, however wife beaters would be shown no mercy. Shortly after assuming the robe, the Judge sentenced a man to 60 days in jail for taking a razor “strop” to his wife for punishment of an unknown transgression.

A native of Rhode Island, and a former Board of Elections member and police court prosecutor, Austin had been in some sort of public employment in Toledo for over 30 years. He was also a Unitarian as he was the son of a Unitarian minister.

Despite his taste for the dramatic while behind the bench, he was said to be a man of modest means, and an even temper. He didn’t drive a car, but took street cars and walked to work each day.

As a writer, he was also was popular on the speaking circuit as he tried to spread his ideas on how the “Golden Rule” should be applied as a tenet of justice. He was, by today’s standards, “liberal” of thought and was friends with many in Toledo’s so called “underworld.”

Judge Austin could be harsh and stern with those who took advantage of the poor and the weak. He was also a robust voice in the anti-gun movement of that era and often opined that guns had no place in a modern society.

It also became Austin’s goal to convince the city to give up its workhouse on Duck Island and start a prison farm.

Within ten years, the prison farm in Whitehouse was built which remained opened for another eight decades before it was eventually shutdown in the 1980’s. It stood vacant for decades and was recently demolished.

Judge James Austin

Judge Austin

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Toledo Police Fleet Started with Junkers

 

Police cars have taken many shapes, sizes and body styles over the decades. I think that’s one of the reasons I am so fascinated with the old ones. The new ones quite frankly don’t do much for me. With the newer Euro body types and multi-color paint schemes, I am not sure they convey the sense of authoritarian importance that the old ones had. When I was growing up, one of the first ones that I recall  in our small town was a an early 1950’s Ford, with a red gumball light on the roof and a movable hand spotlight mounted on the driver’s side. I’m not sure if the old Ford even had a police radio in it.  A black sedan with few markings and probably a flat-head V-8 under the hood.  Not many bells and whistles, but it was pretty cool. At least that’s the way I  saw it, although it was  mostly used by the night watchman to cruise the alleys and streets and keep a vigilant eye on the good order of the town while the residents slept.

I’m willing to bet there are lots of folks like me who love the old police cars.  At the Toledo Police Museum one of the big attractions has always been the 1948 Ford Paddy Wagon. Black in color, the ubiquitous “police-car black”, compete with the gumball on top, the hand controlled spotlight and a police radio. The iconic paddy wagon was a popular site for many years on the streets of Toledo used not only to patrol the streets, but a way to carry suspects back to the station or the jail, or even used for a number of years as a makeshift ambulance, to transport crime and accident victims to area hospitals.

What got me to musing about police cars today is that I noted that this week in history, in 1921, the city of Toledo was about to enter the brave new era of police cars. Real cars. Fast cars. New cars. That’s right, until January of 1921, Toledo Police officers only had a few police cars on the beat, and they were mostly discarded junk. Seven cars and four motorcycles that had been picked up over the years, as surplus, or resurrected wrecks. That’s all Toledo’s Police Department had to offer its officers and detectives who in this new century of the modern era were in a life and death struggle with bootleggers, bandits and crooks who were using the latest new muscle cars of the era.  Many were heavier and faster and could easily beat Toledo’s embarrassing “fleet”of ragged old police cars.  So on January 25th, in an effort to prove to Toledo City Council members that money was urgently needed to buy some decent cars for the “good guys”, Police Chief Herbert lined up for display all of the “tin cans”(as he called them) that were being used as the city’s crime fighting fleet. Council was so shocked by what they saw, they approved the money, about 30,000 dollars to buy 6 new high-powered “speed cars” for the department and 15 new motorcycles. Within weeks, the vehicles arrived and Toledo’s finest proudly took to the streets with the “wheels” that not only gave them some equity with the criminals on the street, but a renewed sense of pride in what they were driving.

With thanks to the Toledo Police Museum, I offer a gallery of some of Toledo’s early Police cars over the years. If you have some you would like to add, email me at Lou@Voicefornews.com.

 

 

 

 

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In The Heat of History: 1936, A Summer of Discontent

1936 Heat wave

Thousands of people slept on their lawns at night to keep cool

Okay. I know it’s been hot and sticky for a few days this week and so far this month we’ve seen our share of 90 or near 90 degrees days(seven, to be exact). And there is probably more on the way. Before we start to complain too loudly, we should know that “this heat ain’t nothin’”.   Not compared to 1936, when 80 years ago this month, the Toledo area, and most of the Midwest was under siege by the sizzling and deadly sun. Temperatures soared for 8 days straight well past the 100 degree mark. Toledo recorded its all-time high of 104.7 degrees.  At the old Muni airport in Lake Township, the recorded high one day was 107 degrees, while Bowling Green was burning at 110 degrees. And remember, there were few, if any air conditioners. Just electric fans. Stores couldn’t keep them in stock.

 

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Office workers in St. Paul Minnesota enjoying the fan

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEATH TOLL CLIMBS

The resulting oven like temps were blamed for over 70 deaths in Toledo, including 17 patients at the Toledo State Hospital for the Insane. More victims, by the hundreds were rushed to hospitals with heat stroke and collapse. Local towns around Toledo also reported heavy casualty tolls from the broiling sun. Day after day, the toll climbed. The oppressive heat was not just dangerous for humans, but all life withered under its heavy hand. Animals and livestock by the hundreds succumbed from the assault of heat and dehydration. As a result, tallow and rendering companies found themselves working non-stop to clear the dead carcasses from the farms and fields.

STREETS AND ROADWAYS EXPLODED

The mercury rose to levels that the heat triggered numerous spontaneous combustion fires. Barns, grasses and hay blossomed with flame throughout the area. Most startling perhaps was the constant buckling many  sidewalks, streets and roadways as the asphalt boiled and the pavement ruptured.4e3bc75f70a24.preview-300 Toledo’s downtown streets were not immune to the ravages, as street level temps were recorded in excess of 110 degrees for a week of afternoons. At the Jamra’s Tobacco Company in the 500 block of Monroe Street, the thermometer recorded 119 degrees on the afternoon of July 8th. Further out Monroe Street at the railroad viaduct near Auburn, the retaining walls buckled and heaved in the heat. Even the Toledo city bridges were affected as drawbridges were unable to close properly because of heat expansion in the closing latches. In Ottawa County, brick-paved streets were reported to be bursting in Oak Harbor on State Rt. 19 as the blistering temps caused the pavers to expand and explode. After 7 days of sweltering conditions, state highway officials said more than 550 roadways in Ohio had exploded.

LABOR AND NORMAL ACTIVITIES AFFECTED

Throughout the region many stores and numerous factories were forced to close with the mercury surpassing 100 degrees by mid afternoon. In several incidents, factory workers were reported to be overcome by heatstroke and rushed to hospitals for treatment. Construction workers were especially vulnerable and many had to put down their tools and get out of the blazing sun to seek shelter from the broiling conditions. It was reported that even the hens at local egg farms were so hot, they too stopped work and wouldn’t lay eggs.

WATERY ESCAPES PROVED DEADLY

Another consequence of the scramble to keep cool as thousands Toledo area resident turned to the relief of water. To escape the sweltering misery, they went swimming and many did not return. During this eight day period, dozens of people died from drowning as they crowded the rivers, beaches, lakes, ponds, pools and quarries. Newspapers everyday carried numerous articles about those folks, young and old swallowed forvever by the very thing they had hoped would bring them some temporary comfort.

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Coney Island Beach 1936

 

Local health officials became very concerned at one point because thousands of people were so desperate they began venturing into the murky Maumee River. A river that even in 1936 was already considered a public health hazard for its stew of sewage and pollutants. Some health experts warned that long term exposure to the toxins and bacteria in the water could claim more lives than the drownings. The huge number of Toledoans that crowded the public pools was also a problem for it was feared that the filters couldn’t handle the pollution from the high number of bathers and that could also be a public health danger. Walbridge Park pool was recommended for closure, while city chemists worked to ascertain bacteria levels in the pools throughout the city.

WATER SUPPLY GREW SHORT

It wasn’t just the purity of the city’s water supply that came into question during this pressing heat wave of the 1930’s, but the supply and water pressure began dwindling. In downtown office buildings and hotels, many rooms on the upper floors of those buildings did not have water for days. Water restrictions were put in place and residents were warned not to use their lawn sprinklers or to use water needlessly. In the meantime, many residents had few options but just to do their best to move slowly and stay cool. Some began peeling off clothes, or sitting in front of fans, while others found that ice cream was an effective coolant. Ice cream parlors and beer joints in the city racked up record business. A few of the movie theaters in downtown Toledo, the Princess, the Valentine and the Rivoli all had air conditioning and were kept at a cool 70 degrees. Theater goers by the thousands flocked to what the NewsBee called the “Coolies” at these downtown venues.

TOLEDO JUST ONE SLICE OF THE SEARED LANDSCAPE

As the drought conditions began to take a firm grip on Toledo that summer of ’36, other areas of the Great Plains and the Upper Midwest were already reeling from the solar blight, dealing with crop failures and livestock starvation. From South Dakota to Texas, to the Eastern Seaboard, millions of acres of wheat and corn had been parched and lost, forest fires scorched the earth and hundreds of thousands of rural residents were left destitute and struggling. The Works Progress Administration, the WPA , reported at least 25,000 people were facing a lack of food and they were cutting red tape to get money to those affected.

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Many farms suffered catastrophic damage

 

The newspaper stories of the heatwave also reminded us that heat can make strangers of us all. “Crazy from the Heat” was not just the title of a David Lee Roth Album. In nearby Sandusky, a man reportedly went berserk from the stress of the heat and went “out of his mind”.   Police there say C.C. Lanley, 60 years old, was pushed beyond his limits of sanity. He shot his wife to death as she lie in bed, and then turned the gun on himself.crazed by heat

In Erie, Pennsylvania, a 40 year old man on July 18th 1936, a few days after he had suffered heatstroke conducted a prayer service at his church and then went home and hammered to death his wife and two sons. Sam Weed then ran screaming outside and threw himself in front of a moving semi.

In Prophetstown, Illinois, about 80 miles west of Chicago, a man tried to extort the entire village of about 1000 people. Merchants of the parched community say they were ready to pay a man about $1000 cash to keep him from bombing and setting fire to their community. “We intend to pay him” said the bespectacled mayor from his grocery store, “It’s mighty dry around here and we can’t take a chance on a fire.”

The national death toll from the fierce heatwave of 1936 was about 5,000 when all was said and done, with over a billion dollars in crop losses to farmers, and hundreds of thousands taken ill during this extrordinary summer of discontent. It is was and is still considered the worst heatwave on record in U.S. history. And surprisingly it followed one of the coldest winters on record.  While Toledo saw the mercury eclipse the 104 degree mark, other cities and regions coped with even hotter conditions. Okalhoma City experienced temperatures in excess of 120 degrees, as did parts of the Dakotas. Indiana’s high temp was 116 degrees and the residents of the little burg of Mio, Michigan dealt with 112 degrees on July 13th. Seventeen states broke or equaled their all time highest heat record that July. screenhunter_986-may-07-01-49

LIFE STILL SOMEWHAT NORMAL

But…perhaps more interesting in hindsight, as we look back at the newspaper reports of the day was how our grand parents tried to keep life in the normal zone, despite dealing with the outrageous assault and nature’s attempt to kill everything and everyone.

Many people, as it would appear, continued working, shopping, taking in events and picnics, or attending ball games. Generally going about their lives with a minimum of complaint, albiet with fewer layers of clothing, and a heavier layer of sweat. The Willow Beach Dance contest was won by a Mr. and Mrs. Howard Marvin of Defiance, hundreds of people turned out for the funeral and internment of former Toledo Congressman Warren Duffey and a crowd of city officials and businessmen turned out in 102 degree heat to inspect and tour the all-new modern New York Central “Mercury” locomotive on display at the Middlegrounds. The Lion Store had a sale on cotton frocks, a shopper’s luncheon at Petro’s in downtown Toledo was just 20 cents, and thousands of Toledoans were eagerly heading to the Stickney Avenue Showground where the Ringling Brothers Circus was featuring two shows a day. Life was hot. But life was still being lived.4f7a8b55e5701bea35239793df350bab

Maybe it says something about our grandparents who had not yet been spoiled by the cool comfort of air conditioning and the desire to live life at a constant 72 degrees. They seemed to roll with the punches and the hard times. Yeah, it was painfully hot, but life was always hard. Don’t expect anything less.

Wonder how we, in this part of the country would deal with 110 degree temps today. Can’t help but think that life, as we know it, would stop. If our roads started blowing up, and the water supply dwindled to a trickle, and we suddenly lost our precious air conditioning? Would we have as much grit as Grandma and Grandpa who somehow seemed able and willing to forge a life and a future in the heat of hardship.

I ponder that as I sit in my comfortable air conditioned office on this 90 degree day that is too hot for me to mow the lawn.

 

Respectfully;

Lou Hebert

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Filed under Old Places and Faces, Strange Happenings, Uncategorized, weather history