A treasure with Toledo’s name on it has been missing for awhile. A treasure worth tens of thousands of dollars and forged with historical significance, but strangely nobody really knew it was missing. A footnote of our history, forgotten in the fog of our memories. But now, fifty years after it left Toledo, it has surfaced and here is its story.
In 1946 when the United State Navy was about the launch the USS Toledo,a brand new heavy cruiser, the citizens of Toledo wanted to do something special for this new ship that would be christened in name of our fair city. So, in this strongly patriotic post-Word War Two period, the Navy League of Toledo quickly raised the treasure needed, with the help of community kindness, to have a custom 18 place engraved silver service dinner set made for the USS Toledo and its officers’ ward room which has been a long standing Navy tradition. The silver collection was commissioned through the Gorham Silver Company of Rhode island, one of the most famous makers of silverware in the world. It was an artfully crafted collection of over 200 pieces, with many of the trays and plates featuring the engravings of Toledo landmarks on them. The collection was impressive and beautiful, created at a cost of about $12,500. Ironically, the silver collection did not make it aboard the USS Toledo for two more years. Broer Freeman, the local Toledo jeweler who was handling the purchase and details with Gorham Silver company found the entire collection in 1948, in a back storeroom, crated up and ready for delivery, but somehow, no one ever delivered the silver to the USS Toledo. Depsite some local embrassment for this oversight, the set was officially delivered to the USS Toledo and took its place aboard this new warship that would go on to see plenty of heroic action during the years of the Korean War.
WHEN USS TOLEDO IS RETIRED, SILVER IS RETURNED TO TOLEDO
was returned to Toledo and locked in a vault at the former Naval Armory at Bayview Park with the idea that it might eventually be displayed to the Toledo public at the Toledo Museum of Art. There is no record of that ever happening. Less than a year later, the set was loaned again to the Navy. This time going aboard the USS Spiegel Grove for a voyage on a goodwill tour of Africa’s coastal cities. The Spiegel Grove, a Navy landing craft had been named to honor President’s Rutherford B. Hayes’s beloved home at Spiegel Grove in Fremont, so it was only natural that the Toledo inspired silver dinner set would grace its wardroom.
But the loan of the USS Toledo silver to this landing craft was short lived, when the Navy requested that the set be placed aboard the soon-to-be commissioned super aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk. Once again, with the Ohio connection of the Wright Brothers and their historic relationship to Kitty Hawk North Carolina, Toledo’s city fathers felt this was an appropriate move to allow the set to be placed aboard the new super aircraft carrier.
In 1963, Toledo City Council passed a resolution to make that official and soon the silver dinnerware was on its way to San Diego to become apart of this huge US Navy super carrier. That was the last time the silver was ever seen in Toledo, it has never been back since. When The USS Kitty Hawk was taken out of service and decommissioned several years ago, it sort of vanished into the byzantine bureacracy of government limbo. So what happened to it? Curious minds like mine always want to know.
Thanks to the Internet these days, finding long lost treasure or elusive information is not as hard as it once was. So, within the last week, photos of the USS Toledo silver service appeared on a Facebook posting for the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.
Photos from the Midway Museum Facebook Page
The images portrayed workers preparing the set for display aboard the historic aircraft carrier that is now a museum ship in San Diego harbor. The museum opened for business in 2004 and is a popular tourist spot on the San Diego oceanfront harbor. But the discovery of this treasured Toledo artwork has prompted even more questions. At least on the part of this reporter. I am curious to know why the set was never brought back to Toledo for display in one of our museums or venues. It was after all, originated here in Toledo and paid for by the people of Toledo and placed in the custody of the US Navy as a goodwill gesture to honor the USS Toledo, and then later the USS Kitty Hawk. From what I read in the original news stories from both 1946 and 1963, it was never intended to be given away to the US Navy without some conditions attached, and certainly did not appear to give the Navy’s carte blanche authority to exercise sole discretion as to the artwork’s eventual disposal. In an effort to find out just what the expectations of the city might have been in 1963, or in 1946, I have submitted questions regarding its historical chain of custody to the U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command.
US NAVY SAYS THE USS TOLEDO SILVER COLLECTION IS NOW OWNED BY THE NAVY
In a late development in the last few days, I have received some answers from the US Navy, specifically from Lt. Commander Heidi Lenzini of the US Navy’s History and Heritage Command who says that after checking their records and files, it appears that when the silver service was returned by Mayor (John) Potter of Toledo to be placed onboard the USS Kitty Hawk in 1963, that it did not come with any stipulations that it be returned to Toledo or that it was being loaned to the Navy, …”therefore the collection is considered to be the property of the Navy. The Navy decided the Silver would be best suited to be placed in a museum on a loan basis instead of in storage.” She goes to write that the Navy felt the placement of the 204 pieces of the collection, valued at over 61,000 dollars today could be seen by millions of people a year at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. The loan agreement with that museum is for an unspecified period of time, or until such time that another ship bearing the name the USS Toledo goes into service. As for the USS Toledo submarine, launched almost 20 years ago, Lt. Commander Lenzini says that new USS Toledo does have two of the original silver platters from the collection.
In the Navy’s reply to me, they did include a number of the original letters between the City of Toledo and the US Navy from 50 years ago, regarding the placement of the silver. After studying some of those early missives, I think they leave some questions as to the original intent and ownership of the collection. I suppose it’s all a matter of some interpretation. From what I have read, the letter from Mayor John Potter and the Toledo City Council does not explicitly, no implicitly give the US Navy ownership of the collection. And it clearly does give the City some control as to where it will be placed. (these letters will be posted later)
NAVY SAYS TOLEDO MIGHT BE ABLE TO GET SILVER COLLECTION RETURNED
In this most recent e-mail from the US Navy History and Heritage Command, it is suggested that if the current Mayor of Toledo wants the silver returned to the city, then a request should be made to the US Navy Secretary and, if approved, it will be returned. The Navy spokesperson goes to write……“The Navy has many collections currently in storage and is continuously looking for ways to keep the silver out of storage and placed where it can be treasured by many.”
THE SILVER SERVICE MAY NO LONGER BE INTACT ..PIECES ARE MISSING
In the course of finding this “missing” silver service from Toledo, it came to my attention that the town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina may be in possession of one or more pieces of the set. As that small town has been assembling a museum to honor the aircraft carrier that bore its name, they posted online, a photo of a large silver platter from the USS Kitty Hawk, that was part of the missing Toledo set. The platter has an engraving of the Toledo Museum of Art with “USS Toledo” etched on it. With the platter is a poster that explains the origins of the historic silver service from Toledo. I spoke with Lynn Morris, the town clerk in Kitty Hawk who says she thought the platter came into their museum packed in a large wooden crate with other items sent from the mothballed USS Kitty Hawk. The Navy”s Heritage Command, however, says it has no record of any of the Toledo silver collection being sent to Kitty Hawk North Carolina for display there.
It should be noted, that when the set was created it contained more than 225 pieces including the engraved trays, platters, plates, candelabras, pitchers, and many other pieces that one would expect as part of a formal table service. However, the USS Midway Museum was given only 204 pieces and the USS Toledo Submarine has two platters, suggesting that about 18 pieces may be unaccounted for. What pieces or items are missing, we don’t know yet, but will try to get an accounting of the Toledo silver that is now on loan to the Midway Museum. I am also trying to determine what type of silver this collection is made of. Was it sterling silver or silver plate? That could make a big difference in its valuation.
Questions linger and perhaps they all have a reasonable answers that will be satisfactory to all. As to whether the City of Toledo will take any further action to recover this historic treasure, that will be determined in the future. We will ask and I know one Toledo City Councilman at this point who is interested in seeing the colleciton returned to Toledo. But for now, this forgotten collection of silver, made possible by the gratitude of Toledoans some 67 years ago, is safe and will be viewed by the thousands of visitors and tourists in a city thousands of miles away.
We’ll keep you up to date on any new developments.