Category Archives: Lake Erie

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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The Toledo to Chicago Canal. A Dream Never Dug.

Toledo's past and future could have changed dramatically.

Toledo’s past and future could have changed dramatically.

Once upon a time in America, some dreamers and visionaries had a plan. A plan that would have dramatically changed Toledo’s destiny.   Be it for the better or for the worse may be a tough call in hindsight, but certainly our history of our city would have been profoundly rewritten had this ever become a reality.

The plan was pretty simple.  To build a major shipping canal from Toledo to Chicago.  Unlike the Miami-Erie-Wabash canal system that was created in the 1840’s than ran parallel to the Maumee River, and laced itself through the Midwest, this one would have actually used much of the river itself as the canal channel and would have run across the landscape of Northern Indiana or southern Michigan.  It would have been large enough to have allowed the passage of larger ships, hauling massive cargoes to back and forth between Toledo and Chicago. To those who advocated this dream, it was a no-brainer. The prevailing school of of thought was to eliminate the long journey for the thousands of Great Lakes cargo ships that had to travel around the state of Michigan, via the Detroit River, Lake Huron, the tricky Straights of Mackinaw, and southward down Lake Michigan to if they wanted to reach Chicago. With a navigable shortcut across Ohio and Indiana, more than 400 miles and a three to five days could be cut from the travel time, thus a savings of of time and money. Toledo, geographically, would have become the gateway to the West..and the busiest port on the Great Lakes.

It should be noted that this canal plan was not just some idle talk from wild-eyed dreamers without resource or reason. It had been a topic of serious merit for decades in the 19th Century, and by 1908, the plan had the eyes and ears of Congress and the Congressional Committee on Rail and Waterways was strongly recommending that the shipping canal become a reality. In that committee’s report to congress in 1908, it said that such a Toledo to Chicago Canal, would..

“…open a waterway, which is certain to control freight rates between Chicago and Buffalo. It would occupy a territory that is populated by one fourth of the people of the United States and would be a connecting link by shortening the waterway from Toledo to Chicago by 400 miles.”

The committee also believed that such a major shipping channel would open the door for revival of the canal system through the Midwest and more and larger shipping channels could be built between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. It was also the aim of many promoters to use these canals to compete with the railroad roads and keep their rates competitive.

Had this canal actually come to fruition, it would not stretch anyone imagination to think that Toledo could have easily rivaled Chicago, or Detroit, for size and economic power on the Great Lakes and the Midwest. Other towns along the route, may have actually had their futures changed, as they became “seaport” communities in the middle of a largely agricultural region. The 1908 committee also predicted.

“ ……would give the impetus for the erection of large factories and a great diversity of enterprises, making it possible to get the raw materials along the waterway, making is possible for the purpose of manufacture at lowest possible costs”

The report goes on to estimate the cost  of construction at about 100 million dollars, and that water generating stations could be built along its path capable of  generating as much a 16 million dollars a year in power. More than enough to pay down the debt and the interest.

Scene from early canal in Toledo.

Scene from early canal days in Toledo.

As mentioned before, this idea of the Lake Erie to Lake Michigan canal was hardly new in 1908. The Erie Canal through New York State many decades before had ignited the fires of imagination around the country as others wonder if they too could pull off such an engineering feat.  In 1837, some ambitious Michiganders got the canal fever and even started digging a big ditch from Clinton township north of Detroit that was to extend Westward to Lake Michigan. By 1840, however, with only 16 miles complete and deeply in debt, the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal became a footnote in history.  But hope springs eternal and in 1857, the New York legislature voted to grant a charter to company to explore and pursue the concept again. The newspapers in both Buffalo and Detroit were especially warm to the idea, as these new plans would have placed the Eastern portal of the canal between Monroe and Toledo, routing most of the channel through southern Michigan. The Buffalo Advertiser even speculated on the dimensions of such a ditch, allowing that it could be 100 feet wide, 12 feet deep and 160 miles long. They also addressed the elevation change between the lakes, by proposing at least “two locks” that could lift the boats. The Buffalo newspaper estimated the cost of construction at $65,000 a mile, or about $12 million for construction overall in 1857. But while Buffalo, Detroit and Toledo talked in glowing terms of such a project, in Chicago, not so much. The editors at the Chicago Tribune were not impressed.  Clearly not in favor of such a plan, they railed against it, and called the idea “impractical” while challenging the estimates of construction costs, the potential savings to shipping companies, and also questioned whether there was ample water supply to fill such a canal.

Six decades later, in 1917, as the U.S. was distracted with the war in Europe, the Army Corps of Engineers also did another study and they would would essentially come to the same conclusion as the Chicago Tribune did in 1857. Given the costs and time required to build it, they said, and because such a canal would not be able to accommodate large ships, but only smaller packet barges, they wrote:     ”It is not advisable to undertake the construction of an artificial waterway between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan.”  The Corps even recommended that the government not waste any more money and put a halt to more studies.

Dead in the water?

Not quite.

The Toledo to Chicago canal idea rose again from dormancy the in the 1920’s. Some of the proponents once more began to talk optimistically about a Toledo to Chicago shipping highway. One of those voices was that of former Iowa Governor, William Harding, (not to be confused with Ohio Governor Warren Harding). When Iowa’s Harding was President of the Great Lakes -Seaway Waterway Initiative in 1923, he visited Defiance Ohio on the Maumee. There he told a gathered audience that he believed the Maumee River to Chicago water link would someday become a reality. It was his belief that such a project would come about only after the St. Lawrence Seaway project was complete and the shipping industry would demand it within a few years. He even predicated that Toledo would be the greatest shipping port in the nation and a docking facility along the Maumee might well extend “all the way to Defiance”. Well, Mr. Harding’s hyperbole was perhaps as hyper as his crystal ball was cracked. The Seaway linkage to the Great Lakes did not open for another 35 years, not until 1958. Five decades later, still no canal.   Albeit, over the years, plenty of talk about one. During the WW Two era,  it crept back into the headlines again  as the Army Corps re-considered it with “national defense” as a justification.  This plan did gain some traction and even won the approval of President Roosevelt just weeks before his death. But in the summer of 1945, as hearings were held and the war drew to a close, the grand canal plan was again ditched as unfeasible and too expensive. But big dreams don’t die quickly. They always linger of the deathbed of possibility for a long time. As late as 1968, hearings were underway to consider, a new network of canals and locks that would have linked Toledo and Chicago with other cities in Indiana and the Ohio River. A 450 mile system, requiring dozens of locks, and costing over a billion dollars that was primarily designed to improve the economies of rural Indiana. By then, however, the concept of the “big ditch” was viewed by many corners of the community as a big “folly”. Opposition from conservation groups, an early environmentalists was loud and hard to ignore. No one seemed to be in favor of the proposal and so this too, like the first big canal dig in Michigan of 1838, was to be filled in and forgotten. Forever?  Who know where and when future dreams arise?

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Whatever Happened to the Mistress of Odeon Island UPDATE WITH NEW INFORMATION

odeonMistress story (  I first published this story a few days ago asking readers of the Toledo Gazette to help me find out whatever happened to Lillian Poupard ,one of Toledo’s last hardy fisherwomen living on tiny Indian or Odeon Island just off the northern most tip of Point Place. A 1934 News Bee article about Lillian prompted me to ask more questions about this interesting woman and her husband Bill Poupard who lived a very quiet and happy life on this small island eeking out a meager living from the fishing trade.  I am pleased to report that Barb Burgess of Wooster, a local history buff and researcher was able to find the information I was looking for. Sadly though, that new information informs us that Lil and Bill Poupard’s life together after the News Bee story appeared was short-lived. Lillian died a few years later, on September 28th of 1937 of cancer, at the age of 42.   As the article states, she was of German descent and had been born Lillian Reusher, to her parents Herman and Sophia (Reichter), both born in Germany. Lillian Poupard is buried at Forest Cemetery in Toledo. And, as I was to disover, Bill’s life also tragically ended a few years after his beloved Lil.  She and Bill apparenty had no children.  Thanks to Barb Burgess and others who worked to find the information help fill in the blanks on this story.  We are still trying to disocver more the couple and more about Bill and Lillian’s early lives in the area.)

A story that caught my attention while I was researching my book, Day by Day in Toledo, was that of Lil Poupard, a woman that the Toledo News Bee dubbed the “Mistress of Odeon Island”.   In an 80 year old article from August of 1934, the News Bee featured Lil and her husband Bill Poupard who were two hardy souls that lived on this little spit of an island just off Point Place and made their living catching and selling fish.  They resided there on the tiny island, not just in the balmy and gentle days of summer, but throughout the year, even in the “bleak” days of winter, living in a small wooden structure, a shanty they called home. They were the sole inhabitants along with Bill Poupard’s brother Fred who is said to also have lived on island.

The story piqued my interest on a number of levels, first I was curious as to the whereabouts of Odeon Island. You won’t see it on a map today, but what you will find are Indian and Gard islands, just off the northern most tip of the Point Place peninsula at the mouth of the Ottawa River.  I am told by area historian Buzz Achinger of the Lost Peninsula that Odeon Island was the first name for what is now Indian Island.

” It is a distinct island of its own. It is less popular than Gard and the other surrounding islands because it can be treacherous around its shores. There are shallows that can trap boaters in the summer and springs & soft spots that cause havoc for snowmobiles and ATVs when the area is ice-covered in Winter. It is a natural island, not man-made like a few other island nearby.”   Buzz also tells me that not much is there these days and that he doubted if the old wooden structures of the Poupard’s remained.

I have placed an historic USGS map to show you the relative placement of the island just off the mouth of the Ottawa River.

USGS Map

The other question raised in this faded old story was about Lil Poupard herself. Described as being an attractive, good natured, blond-haired woman in her early 40’s, she was of German descent and had been living on the island for the past 20 years as a “fisherwoman” with her husband Bill, and was the last of the area women who made their living as “fishwives”.  Virginia Nelson, the author of the News Bee story writes;

” She is the last of a hardy and picturesque line. Years ago when fishing was really good around the Point, there were a number of women who earned their living this way. But fishing has fallen off a great deal in the last two or three years. For one reason or another the women have given it up. But to Lil Poupard, life according to any other design would be unthinkable. She is known in the parlance of the fisherfolk as a fishwife but there is nothing of the screaming harridan about her that is usually associated with the word.”

Nelson goes on to tell us that Lil defies the stereotype, and while she does wear hip boots while working side by side with the “men”, when she is not working, she wears nice dresses and keeps her hair washed and styled as she and Bill live a quiet, simple and contented life on their private island.  Even in the wintertime, Lil Poupard tells Nelson, “ People think the winters out here would be bad but we don’t mind them. We bring out plenty of coal and groceries and we have a radio.  We along fine. There seems to be a lot of trouble in the world but it doesn’t seem to bother us out here.”

Nelson continues to paint that picture of the Poupard’s little paradise on Maumee Bay, by writing of how their humble home is set in a grove of tall trees and Bill often plays long lazy ballads on his mouth organ out in the yard with an assortment of cats and dogs and other animals running around. Says Lil of this spartan lifestyle,

” I wouldn’t trade this life for all the card parties and picture shows there are.”

But eventually something did change for the Poupard’s. Just when and how, I have been unable to discover,  and perhaps you or someone you know can shed some needed light on this story’s dark evolution.  What I have been able to determine from Blade and News Bee articles is that sometime between 1934, when the News Bee feature appeared and the Spring of 1939,  Bill Poupard would find another woman to share his life with on the island, a much younger woman than Lil.  And whatever plans they had for matrimony were cut short But by tragedy. According to a newspaper article, the body of 21-year-old Jean Brown was found in the waters of Maumee Bay near Odeon Island by two duck hunters. the article says she had been missing for several days when her body was found.  The news story  also states that the body of 46-year old William Poupard was found nearby by relatives of his who had been searching for him. Poupard was described as the caretaker of Odeon Island. The story says that the Poupard and Brown were on their way to mainland from Odeon Island when their duckboat overturned.obit on William Poupard

(See new information at beginning of the post)

I suppose, we could leave the story there. But my curiosity always trumps indifference. I really wanted to know what happened to Lillian Poupard, what was her maiden name, her real background and the remaining chapters of her life story?   So far, my efforts have hit the proverbial brick wall.  Lil’s story seems to have left no footprint, at least not a digital footprint, that can be followed.  Searches of obituary indices and ancestory, newspaper databases have offered not a trace.  So far.  I did have  a bit more success in finding some information about William Poupard, including his date of birth, June 11, 1895 and that he was born in Toledo and registered for the World War I draft in 1916. He was listed as a fisherman at that time. Beyond that, not much else except for some listings in the Toledo city directories along with other Poupards, also listed as fishermen living in the 3500 block of North Erie Street.   It must be noted however that the Poupard name was and is not a rare name  in both Lucas County and Monroe County over the years, and there were a number of Poupard men with the first name of William.

Not sure if it is relevant, but some research of census records does indicate that two brother, by the name of William and Fred Poupard, born around 1895 were residents of the Miami Children’s Home about 1903. And both boys listed their parents as having been born in France. Could this be the William and Fred Poupard who once lived on Odeon island, with Lil Poupard in 1934?  Maybe so, maybe not.

If you know, or know someone who knows more about the “Mistress of Odeon Island”, and the Poupards,  I’d like to share that story with the Toledo Gazette readers. For Lillian Poupard, according to the 1934 News Bee story appeared to be good person, a gentle soul,  and someone whose life was probably much larger than an obscure article in a faded newspaper.  Someone worth knowing.

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Remembering a Toledo Hero

It was 41 years ago this month that Toledo fireman Ralph Arthur and his family ventured out onto the ice of Maumee Bay at Cullen Park near Point Place for an afternoon of fun on their snowmobiles. Arthur, a 19 year veteran of the Toledo Fire Department had just gotten a new snowmobile and was trying it out.  According to his daughter Pamela, her father and mother were on the shore while his two teenage children, Patricia and Buck, were out on the snowmobile. All was going well on that cold snowy Saturday afternoon until the children’s snowmobile suddenly vanished, breaking through the ice and slipping into the frigid waters of Maumee Bay near an earthen dike.  The 43 year old Arthur, rushed to the breach in the ice and selflessly dove in to save his kids. He was able to pull his 16-year old daughter Patricia out of the water and get her up onto the ice. He then submerged again and found his 19-year old son Buck and was holding him up when other firemen and bystanders arrived and pulled him to safety.  The children were taken to Riverside hospital for treatment of exposure.  It was estimated they and their father were in the icy water 15-20 minutes before they were rescued. While the children recovered from the exposure, their father, fireman Arthur did not. He died of a heart attack at Riverside Hospital a short time later after being taken there suffering from the intense exposure.

It was a tragic story of selfless heroism that merited front page coverage in the Toledo Blade the next day.  A Toledo Fireman who gave his life to save the lives of his two children in what could have easily been a far deeper tragedy.  One of the reasons, I wanted to remind readers of this story is due to the strange fact that it really got so little notice at the time at happened. While it did garner a front page story the next day on January 10th, 1971, in my research I could find no follow up story. Not even a simple paragraph about his funeral, or plans to recognize his heroism. A short obituary was all I could find in the days following.  Perhaps the lack of coverage speaks to a different time in 1971, or a different sensibility we had about life and how we measured what was or wasn’t newsworthy.  A time when it appears the tragic loss of a public servant in the line of duty, did not command the public attention and headlines that it does today.

It is also noted that even Fireman Arthur’s heroics were overlooked by the Toledo Fire Department for over 20 years. Because he was off-duty at the time of the rescue, his name was never included on the official Toledo Fireman’s memorial in downtown Toledo.  It wasn’t until 1992, when his 10-year old grandson, Dustin(Buck’s son) asked Toledo officials why his grandfather’s name wasn’t on the memorial.  That question prompted other firemen to also ask why and by June 11 of 1992, at the annual memorial service to honor those Toledo firefighters who died in the line of duty, Ralph Arthur’s name was finally added.   A gesture that brought comfort to the Arthur family and public validation of Arthur’s selfless act of courage.  We are so lucky to have people like Ralph Arthur who walk among us.

 

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Eight Prominent Toledo Men Swallowed By Lake Erie

One of the great benefits of living in the Toledo area is our proximity to Lake Erie and all that it offers.  It’s a recreational oasis known to every generation that’s been able to enjoy her waters. But the lake has also brought tragedy to many lives, and the story of the lake is littered with the tales of shipwrecks and drownings and mysteries.  In Toledo, one of those sad tales shook the city for weeks after eight Toledo businessmen and public servants ventured out in Erie’s dark waters for a night of fun and never returned. To this day, it is not known exactly how they met their fate.

It was a Saturday night, June 14th of 1930, when eight men, most of them prominent citizens, boarded a fast party boat and set their heading for Pelee Island where they were to meet others for an Elks Club picnic.  Since it was prohibition and Pelee was in Canada, where drinking was not banned,  it can only be assumed these men were not anticipating a night of quiet sobriety, but neither were they anticipating the tragedy that befell them.  They never made it to the party.  Their boat was lost en route.  For  days after,  a massive search effort was launched to find the boat and the bodies.  On June 16th one of them was found near West Sister Island. It was that of the boat’s mechanic, 25-year-old John Hipcock.  According an account from United Press International, his body was encased in a life-preserver and he was wearing only a light shirt and socks, leading investigators to believe the men had shed their clothes in a desperate struggle to save themselves. The coroner said he died of exposure and not drowning.

The other victims were identified as Internal Revenue Service Collector, Charles Nauts; Herbert Nauts, attorney and brother to Charles Nauts; Franklin B. Jones, former member of the Lucas County Board of Elections; Arthur Kruse, president of the Kruse-Berman Mortuary; Frank Miller, former city water commissioner; Henry Heinbush, assistant county engineer; and John Myers, the pilot of the boat.

The boat was discovered on Sunday the 15th, the morning after the crash and investigators said it was found in an upright position and the tow line was severed as if it had been cut by a knife.  It was also reported that there was some tar on the prop and the engine was still in gear.  Those clues lead to quick speculation that the boat was running at high speed, when it hit something in the water, flipping the craft and spilling the men out into the choppy waters of the lake.   There was of course,  some speculation that perhaps it was not an accident and the men may have run afoul of some murderous rum runners.  At that particular time on Lake Erie there was considerable bootleg rum running between the U.S. and Canada.  The area of the lake between Pelee Island and Ottawa County was especially thick with regular cargoes of the contraband.  Confrontations between armed rum runners and coast guard patrols were not uncommon and sometimes gunfire was exchanged.

This is one of those stories that seems to have been lost to the dust of time. A piece of Toledo’s history that happened 80 years this June and while there are no plaques or memorials to these men or this moment in time, one can still hear the lapping waves of a lake that can be as merciless and it is seductive.

(I was able to locate the records of the Naut family and tax collector Charles Naut in the Center for Archival Collections at BGSU. The boating tragedy is recounted.)

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Killer Wave Slams Cleveland

(1942) 
Freak Tidal Wave Sweeps Lake Erie Shoreline; Eight Believed Drowned

(CLEVELAND, Ohio) May 31st – UPI –Coastguardsmen dragged the waters of Lake Erie tonight for victims of a freak tidal wave that
swept the lake shoreline east and west of Cleveland today and
drowned at least seven persons. Described by witnesses as an
“enormous black wall of water,” the wave struck like a giant hammer
against scores of small vessels and pleasure craft. The United States weather bureau in Cleveland said that unofficial reports listed eight dead and 12 injured. The Weather Bureau blamed a sudden shifting of the wind from a southerly to a northerly direction, which ‘pushed the water violently back after a short period of calmness”.

Both coastguardsmen and other witnesses said the death toll would have mounted into scores had it not been for a bright moon which
dimly outlined the on-rushing wave in time for fishermen and
bathers to flee to safety

THIS IS FROM AN ARTICLE I FOUND FROM 1942, THERE ARE OTHER REPORTS OF SIMILAR OCCURENCES ON LAKE ERIE OVER THE YEARS. THE LAST REPORT OF A LAKE ERIE ‘TIDAL WAVE” I WAS ABLE TO FIND WAS IN THE 1960’S. MOST SEEMED TO BE CONFINED TO THE EASTERN SIDE OF THE LAKE. I WONDER WHY THEY HAVE STOPPED AND WHY THEY OCCUR – AND OF COURSE –CAN THEY HAPPEN AGAIN?

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