Category Archives: Famous Animals of Northwest Ohio

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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Filed under Famous Animals of Northwest Ohio, Lake Erie, Strange Happenings, Uncategorized

Owney the famous postal dog met his tragic demise in Toledo

Some historical events Toledo can lay claim to and be proud of,  others,… not so much.  The Owney the postal dog story is one of the latter. This week, the U.S. Postal Service will pay tribute to the famous little postal pooch by honoring him with his own postage stamp which will officially celebrate Owney as one of America’s great animal heroes, if not the first.  If you don’t know the story of Owney, it all started by in 1888 when this scruffy Irish-Scottish Terrier  mongrel took up residence in the Albany, New York post office.  It is recounted that Owney loved the scent of the mail bags and began riding the mail wagons and then one day hopped onto a rail car and started riding the trains. It was here where Owney’s legacy was carved.  Within a few years, Owney managed to travel on these cars quite extensively and quite independently, and as he appeared at various postal stations along his routes, postal employees would affix a postal tag to his harness and collar.   He soon became laden with hundreds of tags as he routinely criss-crossed the United States on the rail cars. He even ventured in 1895 on an international journey and showed up in Japan, parts of Asia, and Europe until he safely returned to the U.S. and his home in Albany.  In short Owney was a star , perhaps the first “dog-star” in the United States long before Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin.  He was beloved by postal employees and members of the general public alike who wanted to get a glimpse of this famous world traveling mutt.

But not everyone loved Owney. In April of 1897, the Chicago Postmaster was disgusted by Owney’s presence on the rail cars and postal stations, calling him a mongrel cur who was nothing more a nuisance to employees and that he should be banned from the rails. His remarks were widely reported at the time, and who knows if his sentiments were shared by others.  A few months later, on June 11th, 1897, Owney had made his way to Toledo and it would be his last. There are several varying accounts of what took place, but according to the Chicago Tribune, when Owney got to Toledo’s Union Station, a postal clerk called a newspaper reporter and photographer to get some pictures and a story. The clerk had chained Owney up to a post to keep him there while awaiting the arrival of the photographer. One account says that Owney detested being tied up or restrained and starting protesting loudly and when the clerk tried to get him to quiet down, Owney bit him on the hand. That action prompted the Toledo Postmaster, Rudolph Brand, to call for a policeman to come to the scene and that an officer named Fred Free, shot and killed Owney while he was still chained to the post.  The Chicago Tribune called it an “execution”.  While other newspaper accounts(perhaps engaging some damage control), said Owney had been running loose and “had gone mad” when he was shot.   We may never know exactly what happened in Toledo, or why Owney met his fate that day, but Owney’s legacy was hardly forgotten. When word surfaced around the nation that the famous mail-pooch’s stamp had been cancelled,  mail clerks throughout the country raised funds to have the cinnamon colored terrier  stuffed and preserved. His mounted body was eventually given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in Washington.   It remained there, on display, until 1911, when it was transferred to the Smithsonian in Washington where Owney has been on display in a glass case, ever since.   Now 114 years after his death in Toledo, Owney is not only getting his own postage stamp, but his mounted remains have been restored and his exhibit, which includes hundreds of his postal tags will be displayed prominently at the museum.

If you know more about Owney’s travels and experiences in Toledo, including his death, please share. I will post any additional material here.

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Filed under Famous Animals of Northwest Ohio, Uncategorized