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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First American Air Hijack Attempt Happened in Ohio

According to some “official” sources the first air hijacking attempt on American soil happened on July 31, 1961 when pipeline worker Bruce Britt, Sr., boarded and attempted to commandeer a Pacific Airlines flight at the Chico Municipal Airport, in Chico, California, intending to return to his home in Smackover, Arkansas. The hijacking attempt failed, but Britt did shoot two airline employees.

But this reporter has uncovered an even earlier attempt at an airline hijacking..and it took place in Ohio and ended with tragic results.  The year was 1954, 62 years ago this week on July the 6th when a large framed 15-year-old boy, wearing a leather coast denim jeans boarded an American Airlines plane at Cleveland Hopkins airport, waving a pistol and demanded that the pilot fly the plane to Mexico.  The pilot, however, reached into high flight bag and withdrew a .38 caliber handgun and shot the young teen twice, once in the hip and once in the chest. He died about an hour later at the hospital. There were 53 passengers on board the DC-6, and they were largely unaware of what had happened until the ambulance took the boy’s body out on a stretcher. That young man was identified as Ray Kuchenmeister, a 280 pound, six-foot tall teen  who his mother said was bitter because he was too big to be considered a boy and too young to be considered a man.  His 12-year-old brother, Donald, who was outside the plane when the shooting happened said he and his brother had run away from their run down old home in suburban Parma and  just wanted to go out West and “get work as cowboys”.  The pilot, Captain William Bonnell said later, “What was I supposed to do? I had a maniac on the plane with a gun.”  The gun that the young man brandished however was later revealed to be broken and empty. The boy’s mother said it was an old broken gun that been around the house for years and she thought it had been thrown outFirst HiJack attempt.

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“Whatever Happened to Toledo Satira?” Answers Revealed!!

 

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Patricia Schmidt, “Satira” seen in here publicity photo. Credit BurlyQNell

This is indeed one of my favorite local stories and I have been hopelessly intrigued by the enigmatic tale of this largely neglected and forgotten Toledo native. So for the past few years I’ve been attempting to discover whatever happened to Satira after her 30 minutes of fame in the scandalous spotlight of notoriety some 70 years ago. I can report to you now that I have found some answers. Answers that seem to provoke even more questions.

Previously in the Toledo Gazette, my story, published 4 years ago, “Whatever Happened to Satira?” gives a basic overview of the woman and how she was thrust into the headlines. Her name was Patricia Caroline Schmidt. Born in Toledo in 1925, the daughter of John Schmidt, a Toledo pharmacist and his wife Elsie who lived in West Toledo. She was an only child. Shy, pretty and intelligent young girl who loved dancing and gymnastics.. At a young age, she became a good dancer and joined several local dance troupes both here and in Detroit. During her senior year at Toledo Devilbiss High School in 1943, her mother died after a long illness.

Patricia Schmidt Senior Pic at Devlibiss 1943

Patricia Schmidt senior photo Devilbiss H.S. 1943

It was a devastating blow to Patricia and after graduation she was ready to move on with her life and her desire to be a professional dancer. By 1945, she made her way to Chicago to seek her dreams of fame and fortune. However, as many young aspiring dancers have found, the competition is tough and making it to the stages of the legitimate theater isn’t easy. So Patricia found herself dancing in night clubs, on the “bump and grind” circuit trying to carve out a living with leggy black stockings and lustful stares. It was not the life Patricia Schmidt envisioned for herself. She wanted more respect, so she tried a new routine. Re-inventing herself as “Satira” she, developed an Indian-Asian look, and worked on an “exotic dance routine that was part-ballet and part Balinese strip-tease. It didn’t take long for this petite 20 year old brunette with the exotic looking face(some said slo-eyed), to draw interest with her unique performance and presence.

 

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She had many fans, and one of them was a dry cleaner, Carl Sperry, who was 32 and married. He soon divorced his wife and offered a wedding band to the young alluring Patricia. She accepted. But the quickie post-war romance was shaky at best. Within weeks they were separated and Patricia was back on her own, and being courted by other men also mesmerized by her gyrations and smoky looks. One man, in particular loved what he saw. He was a regular at the Silver Palms night club where Satira was dancing.

Silver Palm Chicago where Satira Danced

The Silver palm Lounge in Chicago

 

 

His name was John Lester Mee, a Chicago attorney, from a very prominent North Shore family. He was smitten and tried several times to arrange a meeting with the lithesome young raven-haired Satira. But to no avail. While she was reluctant at first, Mee persisted and she finally agreed to meet him. They met for dinner and the emotional chemistry was mutual. Mee was a handsome, former U.S. Naval officer from World War Two, who fancied himself to be a poet and lover. He romanced the young Toledo woman with letters, verse and promises. Mee was quite talented at telling women what they wanted to hear. What he didn’t tell them though was that he was already married. To another exotic dancer in Chicago.

Satira, Vintage Burlesque dancer, stripper, murderer

One of his seductive promises he made to Patricia was to get a yacht and take it to the Caribbean where Satira could dance and they could live together in romantic bliss in the tropics. And so, within months Satira left the neon Silver Palms of Chicago joined a dance and show troupe and headed south to dance under the real palm trees of the Caribbean. In December of 1946, she had made her way to Cuba and was performing at a club in Havana John Lester Mee made his way down the Mississippi with his coverted PT boat he called a “yacht” and showed up in Havana harbor. He had named the boat“Satira”. The stage was set for second act of their torrid story.

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The Yacht “Satira” in Havana Harbor 1948

 

 

Contrary what perhaps Patricia Schmidt had assumed about her new lover John Mee, he was not wealthy. Despite the fact that he was attorney and was the son of a wealthy and well-to-do North Shore physician, John Mee was not given a blank check to live his life with an open bank account. He was not a worker. He was a player. His family strongly disapproved of his Bohemian lifestyle and cavalier and romantic notions. A few weeks after Mee’s arrival in Havana aboard the boat “Satira”, Mee was broke. His plans to make money by using the boat to take passengers on exotic trips sounded good but most passengers once on board the malfunctioning old boat, just wanted off. Mee’s dream was sinking quickly. And so too was his hold on Patricia. He didn’t want her dancing anymore. She had been living in one of the expensive hotels in Havana but he demanded that she come live aboard the boat with him and his boat’s co-owner Charles Jackson, an old Navy buddy. To earn money for food, he and Patricia were forced to sell off many of their belongings including some of her favorite hand-made exotic dance costumes which she used to make a living. The idyllic fantasy of living the good life was being eclipsed by stark reality. Patricia would state later that Mee’s sexual demands also began to change. That he became quick to anger and sadomasochistic. He gave her a riding crop and wanted her to hit him with it. If she wouldn’t he would hit her and leave bruises. She said he became mean and abusive, refusing to let her to leave the boat.

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John Lester Mee with his wife Mary Dixon

 

 

In April of 1947, during a particularly violent argument, after she discovered that Mee was still married to another woman, Patricia wanted off the boat. She was ready to go home to Toledo. John Lester Mee would have none of it. She claimed that John shoved her as she tried to leave the boat for her own safety. When he shoved her against a desk in the cabin, she opened the drawer of the desk and found his hand gun. A .22 caliber derringer. She pointed it at him and warned him to leave her alone. When he kept approaching he, she pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through his neck. Mee was rushed to a hospital in Havana where his condition was grave and a few days later he died. Within hours, Patricia Schmidt, a frightened 21 year old woman from Toledo was arrested for murder.

The case became a media sensation. In the United States, and through the Caribbean, and even in Europe the story of love and murder aboard a yacht in Cuba was perfect tabloid material. Beautiful woman, an exotic dancer, kills her lover aboard his yacht that he named for her. She claimed self defense and there were sordid allegations by her that he was a cruel sadomasochist who was a sexual fiend. In 1947, the newspapers loved it. In Toledo, the Blade kept the story alive with regular coverage for those readers in the city who knew her and knew the family.

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Patricia Schmidt behind bars at Havana Prison

 

By Autumn, the trial was underway and coverage in the U.S. and the International press was impressive. In Havana and in the Cuban enclaves of Miami, the saga of Satira was not just another news story but the fuel of fascination as this young Devilbiss High School girl-turned-femme-fatale became a sort of folk hero to many. A Spanish-language Cuban singer, Bobby Capo even recorded a song about “Patricia” which became an instant hit from Havana to Miami. Patricia was quoted in news articles saying she cried the first time she heard it as the song referred to her variously as a “beautiful swallow” or a “ little dancer who would someday dance again”. The chorus says “Your love was sincere and your pardon will come from the heavens”. As you will learn later, it came from somewhere else.

The trial publicity itself was robust. On par or rivaling other celebrity trials that we known through the years. Everyday the testimony brought out new revelations and new scandalous details. Patricia testified that John Mee was obsessed with kinky sex and wanted to force it on her. For the times, such detail was titillating. The prosecution tried to portray Patricia Schmidt as a cold blooded killer who intentionally murdered her lover. He also characterized her as a woman of loose moral values. A young nude nymph temptress who liked to cavort on the deck of the yacht “Satira” in the buff, stating that she used Havana Bay as her own “private swimming pool”. The press couldn’t get enough. The headlines and stories from the trial flourished in papers across the country.

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The crime scene inside the cabin of the Yacht

Despite the intimations by the prosecutor that Patricia was a “loose” woman of low degree who enticed Mr. Mee with her suggestive charms, the defense brought forth a number of character witnesses to attest to Miss Schmidt’s honesty and good character. Some of the witnesses included people from her native Toledo, including a former grade school teacher!

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Schmidt talking with her attorney inside her cell

 

In December the case finally drew to a close. And despite her emotional plea of self defense, a dramatic reenactment of the shooting and her popularity with the Cuban people, the three judge panel that heard the case decided that she was guilty of manslaughter-homicide and sentenced the 22 year old Patricia Schmidt to 15 years in prison. Considering the brutal conditions in the Cuban prisons in 1947, the prospect of such a long sentence for the young Toledo woman was daunting, but Patricia seemed ready to accept her fate. And in a letter told her father, John Schmidt in Toledo that she was preparing to serve her time.

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Patricia Schmidt reenacting the shooting aboard the yacht

 

There was great sadness in many corners of the Cuban community as most felt the verdict and the sentence were unjust, A Cuban singer, Bobby Capo even recorded a song about “Patricia” which became an instant hit from Havana to Miami. Patricia was quoted in news articles saying she cried the first time she heard it as the song referred to her variously as a “beautiful swallow” or a “ little dancer who would someday dance again”. The chorus says “Your love was sincere and your pardon will come from the heavens”. A pardon did come, but not from the heavens.

In a surprise decision 10 months later, in October of 1948, the President of Cuba, Grau San Martin granted a full pardon to Patrica Schmidt and she was released from custody after serving just 18 months of a 15 year sentence. It is still not fully understood just what led to that ruling. It was stated that in some newspaper accounts that because Grau San Martin was leaving office, having been defeated in recent election he was granting pardons while he could do so and had always been interested in the case involving Patricia Schmidt.

However that call of sweet freedom came about, Patricia Caroline Schmidt, 23 years of age, left her cell at Guanabacoa women’s prison and was on her way back to her hometown of Toledo.

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Patricia leaving her cell and greeting cellmates.

 

Never one to shy away from the cameras, Patrica Schmidt arrived home at Toledo’s Municipal Airport in Lake Township to the flash of cameras as she disembarked from the plane, wearing a big smile and a full length fur cape.

 

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Patricia “Satira” Schmidt arriving home at Toledo Municipal Airport Oct 1948.

She said she was ready to reunite with family and friends, but her reunion in Toledo did not last long. After a week in the Glass City, Patricia departed once more. Trying to resume her previous life and perhaps capitalizing on her newfound fame, Patricia sought work on the stage as a dancer, once again using the exotic act of “Satira”. And it didn’t long for her to find work, this time billed as “ The girl who ran into a little trouble down south. Some papers reported that she was being offered as much as $3,000 a week to perform. Rumors were rampant that she and John Lester Mee’s widow, Mary Dixon, also an exotic dancer, might team up for a tandem act. But Mary Dixon would have none of it and it never came to pass. The glare of the footlights and the newfound fame managed to last for a few years, but soon she was back to a regular grind, playing mostly small clubs in the Chicago suburbs and around the Midwest. She did manage to score some big time print as some entertainment reporters sought her out for interviews about her life and her experiences in Cuba. The famous entertainment columnist Earl Wilson even spent some time with Patricia to discuss what the future might hold for this young woman. The Milwaukee Sentinel allowed her to write a first hand account of the drama that defined her young life.

 

But, as with many meteoric careers, by the early 1950’s, the story of Satira was over. It was yesterdays news and she all but fell off the face the show biz planet. She no longer in the headlines and was no longer a headliner. By the early 1950’s, Satira the dancer vanished. It puzzled me and left many questions. Did she die young and obscure? Did she get married and get out the business. Did she come back to Toledo and settle down to a quieter and less conspicuous life in her hometown of Toledo? The answers were not easy to find. And so this is where I left the story of “Satira” four years ago on Toledo Gazette.com, as it appeared that little was known, if anything, of what had become of this young woman from Toledo captured both hearts and imaginations around the world.

Patrica Schmidt: A Life of Mysteries, Movies and Secrets.

Fast forward to 1988, 35 years later and the lost threads of Patrica Schmidt’s life were in full view for everyone to see. She was hiding. In plain sight.

Without going into the weeds as to how I managed to find those loose strands of her life that led me to some answers, suffice it to say, it took many hours of poking around old government records, obituaries, photos, newspaper clippings, a thousand Google searches, the brain picking of other history researchers, and as always, a bit of luck.

Patricia Schmidt had become Patricia Van Ingen and Patricia Van Ingen, towards the end of her life, became a movie actress. Not a major star, or celebrity, but a bit part player most notably in the roles of Native American women. Her list of motion picture and TV credits is lengthy and it is very likely that millions of Americans had seen her in various roles including a couple of stints on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, or in movie roles such as Wind River (2000), or the Road Ends (1997). She was also featured in small roles in numerous TV shows such as the American Playhouse TV Series in the 1989 production of “Land of Little Rain”. Patricia also appeared as a main character in a TV episode of Rosanne in 1995.

Her IMDB(International Movie Data Base) is as follows:

Wind River
Anuba

 1997 Road Ends
Mama

 1997 Promised Land (TV Series)
Theresa

The Outrage (1997) … Theresa

 1995 Roseanne (TV Series)

The Last Thursday in November (1995)

 1995 CBS Schoolbreak Special (TV Series)
Mrs. Kakak

My Indian Summer (1995) … Mrs. Kakak

 1995 Siringo (TV Movie)
Buffalo Woman

 1995 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up
Indian Grandmother (uncredited)

 1994 Cheyenne Warrior (TV Movie)
Crow Woman

 1994 Harts of the West (TV Series)
Elizabeth

Jake and Duke’s Excellent Adventure (1994) … Elizabeth

 1994 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (TV Series)
Elder Grandmother

The Abduction: Part 2 (1994) … Elder Grandmother

The Abduction: Part 1 (1994) … Elder Grandmother

 1990 Sparks: The Price of Passion (TV Movie)
Gloria Aguilar

 1989 American Playhouse (TV Series)

Land of Little Rain (1989)

 1989 Powwow Highway
Pueblo Woman (as Pat Van Ingen)

Was Patricia Native American?

This new Native American identity for Schmidt is at best curious, at worst, fraudulent.

With her high cheek bones and unique facial structure and dark complexion, she was able to pass easily as Native American, and while filming her last movie(Wind River) with American Indian Movement leader Russel Means she spoke to the press about the need for accuracy and authenticity in movies that deal with Native American themes. In another interview she talked about her mother’s Cherokee heritage. After considerable research I have been unable to verify through my genealogy searches that she has any Native American heritage. Her father was second generation German. Her mother, Elsie Petit, was French Canadian. Perhaps there is a link there, but I’ve been unable to ascertain it.

How did she become Patricia Van Ingen?

You may be asking yourself how and when she acquired the surname of Van Ingen? Another mystery. For I can only report that Social Security records indicate that Patrica Caroline Schmidt, born in Toledo, Ohio in 1925 to John and Elsie Schmidt, died in February of 1999 in Hollywood California under the name of Patrica Van Ingen. To this date, I have been unable to determine if Van Ingen was a married name, although it would seem to be the case, and herein lies another secret about her life for there seems to be no public record of such a marriage.

And if she was indeed married to some named Van Ingen during her life time, then she possibly married into one of the most well heeled and powerful families in the nation. And there is reason to believe that may be the case. In my research, I uncovered a passport photo and visa application of Patricia from 1960, which was taken as she was about to embark on a trip to Brazil for a month to work as a sculptor. The visa says that her last name is Van Ingen and gives her address as 1111 5th Avenue in New York at one of the most prestigious addresses in Manhattan, overlooking the lake in Central Park. The address was the home of the Van Ingen family, one of the wealthiest families in the East. This is old-money social-register DNA and by 1960, Patricia is identified as being a member of that well-to-do family, at least according to this particular government document. If so, who was she married to? And if she was in fact married to or connected to one of these socially significant Van Ingens, would not such a union seem unlikely? For the young Toledo girl known as “Satira” would have had a “past” of ill fame. Likely to be scorned by the scions of the Manhattan social elite.

Patricia, the Artist and World Traveler

This is one of the many reasons I have been so intrigued with the story of Patricia Schmidt Van Ingen, for it seems that in every chapter of her life she provoked more questions than answers. Another arresting aspect of her life was her time spent abroad. Paris was one of her early stops and may have been the reason why she abruptly dropped out of sight in the 1950’s. I have spoken with people who knew her who say she told them that she spent much of the 1950’s and 60’s living in Paris as part of the ex-patriate American arts colony. It was in Paris where she also said she worked as a model for the famous Man Ray, an American contemporary visual artist who was also residing in Paris at that time. She was reported to have said that it was Man Ray who saw some of her artwork and suggested that she pursue her passion for art. As was noted on her visa application in 1960, Patricia Schmidt-Van Ingen defined herself at that time as a sculptor. Later she did take up painting, on the Internet I was able to find copies of several watercolor pieces. They seem to be sexually inspired and remain untitled.

Life in Old Santa Fe

These painting were, as best I can determine, were done while she was living in the arts community of Santa Fe New Mexico sometime in the 1980’s. It is where she lived in a modest bungalow and made friends with folks in the art and literary neighborhoods. One of those friends she claimed was Forest Fenn, the eccentric Santa Fe art dealer who in 1988 buried a million dollar treasure of bronze and gold somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and challenged people to find it. So far, no one has. Patricia Van Ingen said she and Fenn were very close friends and it was Fenn who helped her get a bit part in a movie that was being filmed nearby, thus launching her career as an actress. Another art dealer, I spokes with in Santa Fe said she had told him that for a part of the late 1960’s she lived in the town of Almora India at the foot of the Himalayas. At the time, Almora was a gathering place for many celebrities, including the Beatles, who wanted to meditate and find spiritual meaning of their lives.

PVI Almora India 1969

Pat Van Ingen 1969,  Almora India

 

 

 

 

There is a picture of Patricia Van Ingen posted on the Internet, taken in 1969 in Almora India. There is little doubt in my mind that this woman is the one and only “Satira” or Toledo’s Patricia Schmidt. Just how she found herself in Almora India, and how long she lived there, is yet another battery of questions I would like answers to.

Patricia’s Legacy Continues

Another surprising twist to Patricia’s biography was revealed to me within the past few month as I learned that in Albuquerque New Mexico an annual sports festival featured the Patricia Van Ingen 5k Memorial race walk for several years. The story, as told by the Sierra Club Newsletter in New Mexico was that the organization was in dire financial straits in recent year and needed someone to step up and help them pay their bills so they could continue operating. Quietly they received notice from Patricia Van Ingen’s estate that the estate would take care of the bills for the remainder of the fiscal year, thus keeping the Sierra Club in business. As their way of showing thanks to this mysterious benefactor, the Sierra Club featured the Patricia Van Ingen 5k Memorial Race Walk in her honor in 2008 and several years thereafter.

Yes, Patricia Van Ingen does have an active estate or trust fund, and from time to time, it has given awards of money to various animal rights groups around the country in Patricia Van Ingen’s name. Just exactly who administers it is not known. At least I haven’t confirmed the name yet and my attempts to reach this person have produced no replies.

Why Was She Hiding?

Quite frankly that has been one of the biggest frustrations in determining “Whatever happened to Satira”? Answers have not been easy to come by. By accident or design, you ask? I am inclined to think the latter, for Patricia s by the late 1950’s managed to successfully conceal her past identity as Satira, the exotic dancer-turned killer and keep it buried forever. Even in her official IMDB from the film industry, there is no photo and no bio. It is blank. Curious? She also played games with her name. It changed numerous times. In the mid 1950’s she changed it to Patricia Dale for awhile, and using that name had an brief flirt with the glamour of Hollywood, when she appeared in an early TV episode of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Five years later, I found living in the upscale Carnegie Hill area of Manhattan using the surname of Van Ingen. And on her visa application to Brazil in 1960, she identified her father as John Dale of Toledo. His name was not Dale, but John Schmidt. Why did she lie? Was she just trying to put the ugly past behind her and move on with her life, or were there other reasons? Questions that I can’t answer, at least not yet. And it is highly likely that those people who knew her in her later life as Patricia Van Ingen, the actress and artist, may have never known the early dark chapters of her life when she was the infamous “Satira”.

As for her family and friends in the Toledo area, more dead ends. Patricia was an only child so no siblings enter the picture. Her father John Schmidt moved to California by the 1970’s to live near her after he retired from his job as an East Toledo pharmacist. He passed away many years ago. As for the Schmidt family in Toledo, she was close to her uncle Daniel Schmidt who lived in East Toledo, but he has passed and attempts to reach members of that family have also yielded no response. One might think that everyone in the Schmidt family would have been keenly aware of Patricia’s life, both during and after her worldwide notoriety in Cuba. So, it’s surprising to me that no one seems willing 60 years later to discuss it. But maybe these are the bones of the past that some families just don’t like to excavate.

Regardless of the obstacles and barricades to Patricia’s truth, I have managed to uncover at least some of the answers as to what happened to the shy little girl from West Toledo’s Belmar Street, who danced her way to infamy. While there are many other questions to be answered, I wanted to reveal what I could at this time to satisfy the curiosity of those who, like me, remain intrigued with this woman and her amazing life story.

If you have questions, please ask them. If you have answers, please provide them. We will keep this story updated as we get new information. I want to thank everyone who has helped contribute information, ideas, hints and encouragement during this journey.

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The Mysterious Goldfish of the Portage River

goldfishstory from evening independent dec 20 1920Finding fish in a river is usually no big news. Bigger news perhaps if there were no fish in a river.. But sometimes, certain types and species of fish turn up where they shouldn’t be. Such was the case of the mystery goldfish that invaded the Portage River almost a century ago.  I recently found several newspaper articles about such a situation occurring at Port Clinton in 1920.   Now,  I am not referring to a mere isolated incident involving a few fish, but a massive crypto-zoological phenomenon of such magnitude that commercial fishermen descended on this Ottawa County lake port to harvest these invaders as curious culinary delicacies.

According to an Associated Press article, dated December 20th, 1920, the carp-like goldfish were being taken by the ton at the Portage River and many of them were several inches long and weighing up to a half pound. They were “highly colored in yellow and gold” with sprinkles of red, making them “very attractive”.  The local fishermen say they had been catching them in their nets for several years at various times, and would take them in as novelties.  It wasn’t until this particular years, 1920, their numbers were so huge and so abundant that they were being caught and put “live” into railroad tank cars where they were being shipped to retail and wholesale markets in New York City.

From where these exotic golden-carp-like fish had come was a somewhat of a mystery, although there were theories. The most popular one was that because fishermen had begun to notice the fish appearing in the nets for several years, it is believed that may have gotten into Lake Erie during the great floods of 1913 when many backyard ponds and aquariums were flooded over and thousands of the little gold fish were sent into the flood waters.  In particular, it was largely believed that these colorful fish might have been refugees from the Belle Isle Aquarium  near Detroit when the floodwaters of 1913 overtook the aquariums and outdoor ponds. They continued to flourish in the warm waters of Lake Erie and multiplied by the millions and may have inter-bred with carp. In the winter months, they would move from the shallow water of the marshes and into the deeper waters of the Portage River to avoid freezing temperatures.

This logical explanation appears to have been widely accepted by the public at large. True or not? Difficult to determine. There are other theories that these fish might have been Prussian Carp, believed to be a type of feral or wild goldfish which also established themselves in this region many decades ago.  But whatever they were or where-ever they came from,  this copious crop of large golden-colored fish remained in the waters of Western Lake Erie and the Portage River for many years after.  I recall in 1964, fishing in the Portage near Elmore one spring and catching a large gold-colored fish that was almost two feet in length. Was it an ancestor of the famed mystery goldfish of 1920? Could be. As I have recounted this story with Ottawa County locals, familiar with the river, I have been told by numerous folks that they too have had similar encounters over the years through the 1960’s and later years with these large goldfish.

Others may, to this day, still encounter some of these colorful invaders, for state fishery experts say the goldfish has become a common species found throughout much of the Western watershed of Lake Erie. Able to adapt to changing temperature and ecosystems, the goldfish are often found in shallow waters and can reach lengths of up to 16 inches. The fish are not however, welcome visitors to the lakes and rivers for they are true invasive species and may have been the first invasive introduced into North American waters. They can compete for habitat with native species and often carry disease. Wildlife experts say many of today’s population of goldfish in this area can be traced to  people carelessly dumping pet fish into natural waters or allowing them to escape from backyard ponds during floods. It is not just this area that encounters the “wild” goldfish.  Sighting and catches are being reported throughout the U.S. and in some cases, the invasive goldfish grow to sizes that are astonishing and larger than most gold-fish bowls.

Fisherman shows off recent goldfigh trophy from Lake Tahoe Nevada.

Fisherman shows off recent goldfigh trophy from Lake Tahoe Nevada.

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Toledo’s Marina District May Be Toledo’s Greatest Opportunity

 

The Riverfront area has become a a makeshift park as hundreds of people use it every week as such.

The Riverfront area has become a a makeshift park as hundreds of people use it every week as such.

 

The next time you’re on the East Side of Toledo, take a turn off Main Street down Riverside Drive. It’s the street that runs the length of the so-called Marina District along the Maumee River. If you’re there in the daytime, what you’ll likely find are at least a dozen cars with people inside, eating lunch, talking on the cellphone, or contemplating life and enjoying the day. Often people get out of their cars to take a stroll down to the river to visually inhale the great views of the skyline and the waterfront. This happens everyday and I have been taking note of this activity because as talk grows louder about a possible repossession of this taxpayer-improved riverfront site, owned, but ignored by its Chinese investors, we will likely need to get serious very soon about what the city wants to do with this property. And surely opinions and ideas will run the gamut. So here’s mine. Let it be what it is now and what it wants to be. A park. A place where people can come for recreational activity, a leisurely walk, a bike ride, or a picnic lunch. A place to gather. A place to be alone. It’s also a stone’s throw from the new Great Lakes Maritime Museum which keeps drawing an impressive number of new visitors. So, as we keep asking ourselves “what should we do with the large section of reclaimed riverfront?”, the answer may be right in front of us. With a minimal investment, this could become a premiere park venue for Toledo. Perhaps a far better investment long term than just pouring more money and concrete into a “mixed development” project of retail, and housing that may or may not be successful. The last thing Toledo needs is another “failure”. We need positive momentum. A new riverfront city park would give us that. And would be a much greater investment in the city’s future. Our parks, and parks in general, have been, with few exceptions, success stories. Every city has proven this reality over the years, and Toledo is no exception.

The major city parks in Toledo are are still just as popular as they were when they were developed 100 years ago. But even back then, the park promoters and visionaries had to convince the naysayers that this was money well spent and was a necessity – not a luxury. Public places are time tested and durable offering recreational and cultural opportunities for generations of Toledo residents. Cases in point; the Toledo Zoo, the Toledo Museum of Art, and our City of Toledo and Metro Parks systems. They have been around for a century and are still going strong. In 1895, one of the top parks in the city was Walbridge Park along the riverfront, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. It still does. And just across the street from Walbridge, the continuing popularity of the century old Toledo Zoo should provide all the evidence needed to underscore the public’s desire for family venues of amusement and entertainment. In West Toledo, in 1896, when Bancroft Street was still a dirt road, Ottawa Park was in its undeveloped infancy. It was a 280 acre acquisition that was highly controversial at the time when critics claimed that spending public money on such a large rural tract of land, far beyond the heart of the city was a foolhardy waste of money and that no one would ever use the land for recreation. Within a few years, though, after parks and public golf crusader, Sylvanus P. Jermain was able to get a golf course built in the park, followed by the addition of ball fields and a hockey rink, and a shelter house, the park became the most popular in the city, drawing close to a million visitors a years. The voices of the naysayers were silenced and the rest, as they say, is history.

Early image of Ottawa park

Early image of Ottawa park

So let’s make more history. Think about giving Toledoans another park? And not just “another” park, but a “special” park. One that could become the centerpiece of a new commitment to recognize and develop our love for the greatest natural resource in the city: The Maumee River. It could be that one signature venue that defines our city, helping to create a quality of life that makes the city more attractive in the eyes of prospective new companies looking for a new home, or people looking for a great place to live. Or those Toledoans who are looking for reasons to stay here. Let’s face it. Toledo has the best riverfront on the Great Lakes. We need to embrace that. We need say it loudly everyday. And we need to use our riverfront to our best advantage and not give in to those who would give it away to yet another private developer to soil this public treasure with yet another a “flavor-of-the-month” mall concept. Let’s face it, malls and stores, come and a great city should be more than a collection of retail venues. Parks are forever and the precious land along the riverfront and how it is used should belong to the people of the city.

Other cities around the country have not been bashful about using their best assets to create a positive and exciting images in the minds of  visitors and residents. In many communities, these special areas have featured trolleys, Ferris wheels, fountains, walkways,  carousels,  skateboard parks, winter skating rinks, bike paths, museums, gardens, amphitheaters and public art. Cincinnati has several such river and waterfront venues, as does Denver, and Louisville and Chicago. So why not Toledo?

Expensive? Yes? But what that investment generates in the long run is a pride and a sense of place that can’t be replicated at any price. Quality of life attributes that are priceless.

So let’s start with the seeds already planted at the north end of the Marina District property. The new and popular maritime museum, a museum ship and a marina. From those seeds it’s not an impossible stretch to think Toledo could grow and nurture a park-like setting that could easily include other museums, activities and facilities that are centered on celebrating the city’s heritage. Whatever it is, it should be “grand”. We should have no quarter for “little” plans. We need to do something to stir our souls. Toledo needs to make a statement. A bold one. To the rest of the world and to ourselves. This is our chance. This is our challenge. This waiting and vacant piece of our riverfront is our opportunity.

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Filed under Making the Old New Again, Old Places and Faces