Category Archives: Old Places and Faces

High Plains Tragedy Rooted in Ohio’s Black Swamp

The Sad and Strange Story of Elmore’s Clara Harrington Blinn

Clara Harrington Blinn at about age 16

Clara Harrington Blinn at about age 16

During the long journey of my news career, I traveled a portion of life’s road in the colorful American West, working as a reporter covering much of the region. It was a great experience and I found myself easily seduced by the legends, the lore and the history of this much romanticized landscape. It’s big country, with big stories and big characters, and it became quickly apparent to me that most of those early iconic personalities of the West, were not of the West, but instead hailed from east of the Mississippi River. Many were MID-westerners. Our kinfolk, be they gunslingers, gamblers, soldiers, ranchers, farmers, doctors, merchants, and fortune seeks, they shared a common heart and braved the crucible of the broad plains to discover new and promising lives, or some cases, tragic and cruel deaths. Such was the case of an Elmore, Ohio native. A woman by the name of Clara Blinn. Born as Clara Harrington in Ottawa County, she later moved with her family to Perrysburg where her father ran a hotel in the building that our generation would know as Mills Hardware. By the time the petite and pretty Clara was 19 years of age, she married Richard Blinn of Perrysburg who had just returned from his service in the Civil War. Soon after, the young couple struck out on their own with their infant son and headed West to forge a new future in a new land. Instead, they found themselves caught in the middle of one of the most infamous clashes involving the U.S. Cavalry and the Native Americans on the Western Plains.

Clara and Richard Blinn and other family members set out from their Perrysburg home in early 1868 to seek a new life and a better climate for Richard’s health, in the American West. While some of the family opted to make their new home in Ottawa, Kansas, Clara and Richard continued on to the rugged eastern plains of the Colorado territory, to run a stage stop about 30 miles from the Kansas border. Within months they found they were barely able to scratch out an existence on the sparsely populated high desert plains. By the late summer of 1868, Clara and Richard decided to join an Eastward wagon train to return to the gentler life in Ottawa, Kansas where Clara also had other family members. Clara was eager to return, but near the Kansas border, on October 7th, along the Santa Fe Trail, their wagon party was set upon by a band of about 200 Cheyenne. The Indians circled the small wagon train and shot flaming arrows into the covered wagons. The wagons burned and they were all pinned down for days. Some of the 10 men in the wagon train were wounded. Richard Blinn also managed to escape the violence, but watched in horror as his wife Clara and son Willie were captured by some of the Cheyenne who headed south taking Richard’s family with them.

Washita River site in what is now Oklahoma

Washita River site in what is now Oklahoma

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

Clara and her son Willie soon found themselves in the sprawling camp of Chief Black Kettle along the banks of the Washita River in the Indian Territory of what is now Western Oklahoma. It was assumed that Clara, like most white women held captive by Indians at that time, would suffer the so called “fate worse than death”, likely becoming the probable victim of repeated sexual assaults and degradations. Women were commonly expected to kill themselves rather than face the torment of their “savage” captors. Those women who did not commit suicide, but who escaped or were set free by the Indians, frequently became outcasts in their own families. Ostracized and shunned by their “white” communities upon return. It was a different time and different moral code. For the feisty Clara Blinn, survival is what she chose and shortly after being taken hostage, she manged to smuggle a letter out of the Indian camp pleading that she and her son be saved. It said in part,

“Kind Friend,
Whoever you may be, I thank you for your kindness to me and m child….If only you could buy us from the Indians with ponies or anything and let me come and stay with you until I could get word to my friends, they would pay you and I would work and do all that I could for you. If it is not too far from the camp and you are not afraid to come, I pray that you will try….If you can do nothing, write to W.T. Harrington, my father, in Ottawa, Franklin County, Kansas. Tell him we are with the Cheyenne and they say when white men make peace, we can go home. Tell him to to write to the governor of Kansas about it and for them to make peace. ..My name is Mrs. Clara Blinn, my little boy Willie Blinn, he is two years old. Do all you can for me”

The letter was taken to military authorities at nearby Ft. Cobb, and orders were approved that a trader could barter with Black Kettle for their release. But there was little time, for others within the U.S. Military had other ambitions. Namely, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry who had been on a mission to quell the bloody Indians raids against the settlers on the plains throughout 1868 and to remove the Indians from those lands. (Custer is must be noted also has connections to out area, for his adopted hometown was nearby Monroe, Michigan, and his brothers, Tom and Boston Custer, who fought with him in the Indian Campaigns, hailed from the Wood County hamlet of Tontogany-both later died at Little Bighorn with brother George.)

Colonel George Custer led raid in which Perrysburg's Clara Blinn and son were killed

Colonel George Custer
led raid in which Perrysburg’s Clara Blinn and son were killed

On the frigid and snowy morning of November 27th, Custer and troops found the winter camp of Black Kettle along the Washita River. It was the opportunity Custer had been waiting for. Within minutes, as the day’s first light crept over the sleeping encampment of Cheyenne, Custer’s band of musicians struck up his favorite rendition of the Irish drinking song Garry Owen. The horses charged and the firing commenced. The music provided an eerie backdrop to the screams of the Indians, running from their tipis, as the rifles barked in the hands of the soldiers on horseback. In 15 minutes, it was mostly over.

Scattered about the camp, the bodies of Indian men, women and children lay bleeding to death in the crimson-etched snow. Chief Black Kettle and his wife, among them. Soon after, Custer ordered his troops to burn the village and to shoot the 800 Indian ponies of the Cheyenne so they could not be used by other Indians. There is no evidence that Custer knew about, or that he ever tried to find the Perrysburg woman and her young son. In Custer’s hasty retreat he left behind his second-in-command, Major Joe Elliot and a detachment of 18 troops who had pursued some fleeing Indians. Custer was strongly criticized for that action and many of his troops never forgave him. It would be two weeks later that Custer would finally return to the Washita battlefield site, or what some critics contend is a “massacre site” to find Major Elliott. (It should be noted here that Elliot also had NW Ohio connections, as he had been the Toledo, Ohio Superintendent of Schools after the Civil War).

Major Joel Elliot was a former Toledo School Superintendent who joined Custer to fight Indians. He died at Washita River along with 18 soldiers, some from the Toledo area.

Major Joel Elliot was a former Toledo School Superintendent who joined Custer to fight Indians. He died at Washita River along with 18 soldiers, some from the Toledo area.

On December 7th, Elliot and his men were found. They were dead and badly mutilated in a camp just a few miles away from the Washita. It was here that soldiers also found the frozen bodies of the young Clara Blinn and her son Willie. Clara had been shot twice in the head. Her chest mutilated. There are conflicting reports as to whether she had been scalped. Willie had injuries to his head. Some accounts say he had been thrown against a tree. As Perrysburg historian Judith Justus notes from her research, “There have been various scenarios written about their demise. It is a mystery”. There is no definitive or firm consensus among historians as to how they died or who killed them. Some accounts blame the Cheyenne. Others contend it was the Arapahoe. Still, others offer that it was Kiowa leader Santanta himself who killed Clara and Willie. And there are even theories, and some reports, that it was Custer’s soldiers who killed Clara, mistaken for an Indian during the fog of the battle.

We may never know the truth. But the sad demise of this young woman from Wood County and her son, continues to occupy the center of one of the most controversial episodes of the American Indian Campaign and the exploits of George Custer.

As for Clara’s Husband, Richard Blinn. This too is a sad chapter, for he did not know until months later what had actually happened to his wife and child. Following their capture in October of 1868, Blinn roamed the plains areas of Colorado and the Indian territories searching for his family in painful torment. In his personal diary dated, January 3rd ,1869.

“Life looks dark and dreary to me. I wish I was with my wife, dead or alive. The tears will fall in spite of me when I think of the happy days that are gone to return no more. A true wife and a kind mother. I would not want a better partner to travel through this world than my darling Clara. But now she is no more, I hope she is in a better world than this.”

A few days after this diary entry, Richard Blinn would learn for certain that his darling Clara and Willie were found dead at Washita River. He promised to bring them home for burial, but never did. Never could. Their bodies now lie in a numbered grave at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma after being transferred from an original gravesite at Ft. Arbuckle. It was from those first graves, that Dick Blinn in 1869, took two small pebbles and carried them with him for the rest of his life. He would be happy to know that Clara and son Willie are not forgotten. Her story and her courage are now remembered and honored by recent generations.

Richard Blinn's Gravemarket at Ft. Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg. Clara is mentioned, but not buried here.

Richard Blinn’s Grave marker  at Ft. Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg. Clara and Willie are  mentioned, but not buried here.

There is a new memorial to her erected at the Washita River Battlesite in Oklahoma, while a tombstone stands at Hope Cemetery in Ottawa, Kansas near her parents’ graves. And here in Northwest Ohio, at Ft. Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, a memorial grave marker was placed in Clara’s honor next to the grave of Richard Blinn. Her loving husband who died a few years later, in 1873, with the pain still in his heart and two small stones still in his pocket.

Grave at Ft. Gibson Oklahoma of unknown woman is believed to be Clara's resting place.

Grave at Ft. Gibson Oklahoma of unknown woman is believed to be Clara’s resting place.

My special appreciation to historian Judith Justus of Perrysburg who has researched and written extensively on the Blinn story and who brings to its telling, a unique Perrysburg perspective. Also my gratitude to the Historical Records Archive of Franklin County Kansas where many of the records of the story are kept and were made available to me.


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Filed under Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous

Erie Street Market: The seeds of its future are buried in its past

Erie street market    Drove by the Erie Street Market/Civic Auditorium  the other day.  Looked past the grime and saw a gem. Hope others can see it too. And that with some foresight and planning the market,  which has occupied that place along the banks of Swan Creek for over a century, will not become just another a squandered piece of history and future opportunity for Toledo?  We can take some comfort from the good folks at Libbey Glass have opted not to abandon this historic jewel in the Warehouse District, otherwise some of the “all-too-eager-to destroy-old-things” crowd would have already flattened the site with bulldozers.  We are learning, however, that Mayor Collins is negotiating with someone to take over the building.  Good. Good? Maybe. Maybe not so good. Lots of questions linger. Like who?  Like what?  My attempts to get an answer from the mayor’s office has been answered, partially.  PIO Lisa Ward says she is still working on providing answers to my questions  (Lisa Ward’s full response is in the comments section) One of the many questions I have  begs an answer  and that is that if the city does sell or lease the ESM to a private entity, will it relinquish control of the property and any control over how it’s used in the future.

 Will the city try, in some way, to protect the historic and cultural value of the site? Or will we merely furlough the future of the historic marketplace to the fate of financial expediency? I hope not.



Civic Auditorium/ESM after city began using it for storage and offices



Civic Auditorium and Wholesale Market circa 1951

At the very least, whoever takes up residence in bays of that building, one might reasonably assume would be a local grocery or food merchant who can work in tandem with the current Toledo Farmers Market vendors and the concept of local food that is locally grown. And that they understand it’s not just about shopping, but it’s also about the person-person shopping experience.  That’s the central point of my concerns. The Erie Street Market and other public markets are not just about food shopping, they are about a cultural urban experience. Hopefully the city fathers and mothers of Toledo also get that point when they look for some future company  to take over the site.  It’s in their hands that they will do the right thing. And for those of us who think the market needs to perpetuate its tradition as a food market of some type, the choices are lean. Doubt if a Trader Joes or Whole Foods would set up shop there, however, there are few local food retailers who might be a strong complement to that concept. Anything short of that, I fear will not end well.

My first choice however, that Toledo not lease the property at all, but merely returns to its public market roots.

An indoor farmer’s market?

Indoors public market?

Yes, Indoors.

Yes, year around – at least six days a week.

Yes. A real “public market”  that offers the best and widest choices for fresh food anyplace in the city or region! Period.

Just like it used to be many years ago when the bays of the old Toledo vendors market would open and farmers would pull their wagons and trucks inside and sell their food and other healthy, home-grown, hand crafted, and home-made food supplies to a demanding and hungry public. Only this time, we add all kinds of local food vendors to the mix of merchants offering candies, meats, fish, poultry, pastries, pastas, ethnic foods, organic and specialty items.  All in one place. A place that the people of Toledo already own.

Outdoor stalls at Toledo Farmer’s Market. Photo credit-Kay Lynne Schaller

This time, perhaps we make it a real marketplace that enhances and embraces the already popular Farmer’s Market that draws hundreds of faithful food shopper every week to the outdoor stalls along Superior Street.

I know. I know. I can hear the groans and objections already.

We tried it before and it didn’t work!

Why should the city be in the food and entertainment business?

We should just bulldoze it!

My quick responses to those popular complaints.

Yes, we did try a public market before. Or something like it. And contrary to the popular notion of failure, it actually it did work. For awhile. Depends on how you measure success. When the Erie Street Market opened in the mid-1990’s in the large cavernous old auditorium in Bay 4, the first year or so, was promising. It offered dozens of vendors and was often crowded on the weekends with  hundreds of folks, (me included) who found it to be a pretty cool place to buy food and/or meet with friends.  It clearly was not just a place to buy food, but a place to celebrate food. Complete with a cornucopia of exotic and ethnic choices, a rich blend of aromas and tastes, placed in a setting of vibrant energy and excitement. Add to that a pleasant mix of like-minded people and what you got was a unique and welcome gathering place for a sense of Toledo mark 2

So why did it turn sour?  Management, most likely, (although they will disagree), which included a number of factors.  A study done in 2004 by Marketing Venture of Portland Maine attributed its eventual demise to too many management changes, lack of adequate marketing, poor design, less than desirable infrastructure, and a location too far removed from the outdoor farmer’s market stalls. You can read that study here.

Please note that the study does conclude that such a marketplace would be feasible with the right design and management of the venue.  In other words…. if you build it, and run it correctly—they will come.

Manage it correctly. That’s key. From my perspective, it seems that when the Erie Street Market began allowing flea market and T-shirt and non-food vendors into the venue, they lost the grand vision of what it was supposed to be. And once that happened, it was just a matter of time before most of the stalls were empty and the padlock crew moved in to do their work.

The second complaint I hear is why should the city be in the food business or the entertainment business? Always think this one is silly. Guess one can make the same argument about libraries, or parks, or golf courses, baseball stadiums, or events center, etc etc.  We should shouldn’t look at a public market as a financial opportunity but as a recreational opportunity in the broader sense of the word. This is where the city needs some leaders with vision and will. It seems far too often good ideas get KO’ed in this town by the pervasive naysayers who can’t see past the blind spot of limited government to recognize the value of anything  beyond street repair.  Or those cynics who think Toledo should just quit trying to build anything positive for the future.

Enough. This city was built on ideas and vision and determination. Ideas that were not often popular at the time, but leaders of the past were stubborn and headstrong. They made things work.  The rainmakers of labor, industry and politics often worked together with a infectious spirit to breathe life into their ideas, inventions and projects,  giving us the roots upon which this city still depends and survives.  We need to do the same. To understand there is economic value in creating opportunities that bring people together in the pursuit of nurturing a stronger sense of place and community.


The Toledo food market under construction

The other reason that Toledo should be involved in the creation of a real public marketplace is that it’s being done with great success in other communities, large and small, all across the nation.  I’m not just talking about outdoor farmer market stalls for summer and seasonal produce, but indoor venues that sell far more.  In Cleveland, the Westside Market is a treasure island for food lovers of all ethnicity and persuasion.  (Worth a drive to Cleveland to check it out) Same for the Findlay Market in Cincinnati, The North Market in Columbus, the Worthington Public Farmer’s Market. To the north of us in Detroit, the Eastern Market is yet another melting pot of people, culture and foods which features a new and expanded indoor market place where one can spend hours browsing the aisles taking in the sights and sound and smells of a unique experience. The list is long and getting longer of those cities where such indoor public markets are helping to increase the cultural awareness and urban vitality of the community. We need this for Toledo.

Over the years we have steadily abandoned downtown Toledo and with the constant drip of energy drained from the area,  little has been left behind to work with. But things change, and with the recent success of 5/3 rd Field and Huntington Center and Imagination Station and a growing popularity of downtown living venues, the growth potential here is obvious.

Adding to that synergy are the plans of Pro-Medica to breathe some new life in downtown Toledo with a move to the old historic steam plant on Water Street and the purchase of the Key Bank building. With those changes to downtown, plus the building of a new downtown riverfront Metropark, we are getting some much needed traction for downtown growth. Let’s build on that momentum.  Time to return to the future.

What do you think?



Filed under Old Places and Faces, Uncategorized

The Strange Story of Marie Lilly Bowers: Kidnapped and Found 14 Years Later in Genoa, Ohio.

Marie Lilly Bowers shortly before she vanished.

Marie Lilly Bowers shortly before she vanished.

Genoa, Ohio is quiet village. Not much noise, and not much big news.  So rarely does it ever make national or world news. It has happened, but not often. Once for the deadly tornado back in 1920, and another time for a sensational bank robbery nearly a century ago when the local druggist was shot to death. But perhaps the biggest local event that ever sent ripples beyond its village borders is one that few people today have ever heard of. It was a story so gripping that if it were to occur today, Genoa would likely have to endure a crush of TV crews and cameras all crowding each other to get the scoop. But there were no TV cameras back in the mid-1800’s, just newspapers and while they did report this story, its notoriety has faded along with the ink of the old news print.  The roots of this curious tale began to unfold in 1867 in Sandusky, Ohio with the kidnapping of a young three-year old girl by the name of Marie Lilly Bowers.

From family records it is written that on October 26, 1867, a neighbor asked Mrs. Martha Bowers if it would be okay of their three-year old daughter, Marie Lilly, could come to their house for a few hours to play. Her mother agreed and so Lilly left with the neighbor woman. She would never return. On her way home that afternoon, she vanished.  An immediate search was conducted by her frantic family members to no avail, and by the next day,  much of the city became involved in the search. It was recounted in family records that every “vault and cistern” was searched and even nearby “Sandusky Bay” was dragged for her body, but not a “single clue” turned up.  Days went by and still no sign of Marie Lilly Bowers.  Most of the major newspapers of the time carried the story of the missing child and the desperate search by her parents James and Martha Bower to find their precious “Lilly”. Many of the stories mention speculation that she had perhaps been abducted by a group of “gypsies” who were camped nearby.  Days passed into weeks and then months. Lilly was gone.

Newsartcle child lostMr. Bowers for years later would buy advertisements in papers around the country in a vain attempt to find his daughter. But to no avail.  Some leads were reported and followed, but in the end, all proved to be false.

Lilly's Parents. James and Martha Bowers

Lilly’s Parents. James and Martha Bowers

The only clues came in rumors and theories. The Bowers family even contacted Levi Stanley, the “King of the Gypsies” living in Dayton, and asked that he become involved, thinking he might be able to find out if any of “his people” had the child. Stanley reportedly became angry with the suggestion, although a child was brought forward as a possible candidate for the missing Lilly, but after Mrs. Bowers saw the girl, she knew it wasn’t her daughter.

The Bowers family, crushed and heart-broken, eventually left Sandusky, and moved back to the town of Hudson Michigan, north of Toledo, to a previous home where many of their children had been born.

What the Bowers’ family didn’t know, was that about 50 miles east of Sandusky, near the small Ottawa County village of Genoa, on the farm of James and Jeanette Calkins, an old “gypsy” man by the name of Jack Patterson began working for them about the time that Lilly had vanished in 1867.  Old Jack, the gypsy, would work during the day for the Calkins while leaving his own “tawny” children in a nearby hovel during the day along with a child of a much lighter complexion. It was Marie Lilly Bowers. As the story is passed down in the Calkins’ family records,

One day Mrs. Calkins hearing screams rushed into the hut and rescued Lilly from the stove where she had been placed by the other children because she had refused to do their bidding. Soon after this, old Jack brought the child to Mrs. Calkins’ home. She was clothed in nothing but an old coffee-sac. The Calkins adopted the child. She was given the name “Ida Bell”.

For the next 15 years, Ida Bell Calkins was raised as their own child, although, her new parents, James and Jennette Calkins always told her they were not her real parents and that perhaps someday she might find her real family, whoever and wherever they might be.

In the years that followed, Ida Bell Calkins grew up in rural Genoa and lived with her new parents, and her five step brothers on their 80 acre farm near the current intersection of State Route 51 and State Rt. 163. Because she was so young, probably about three years old, when she was abducted, she had no recollection of her own family or her name. Because there were no local papers at the time in Genoa, the Calkins family never saw the numerous stories about the missing girl from Sandusky.

By the time the young “Ida Bell” had grown to be a beautiful young woman of about 18 years, she had been schooled and raised to be a proper young church-going lady and traveled in “prominent circles” of friends. But Ida still wondered about her real identity and who her parents really were.  Strangely she always favored the name Lilly and wished that it had been hers. She loved the name so much that she often gave her pets the name of Lilly.

In 1882, as she was about to be married and assume a new married name, she was about to learn her real maiden name. The Gibsonburg Chrsistian Monthly of July 1910….wrote that Lilly’s real mother, Martha Bowers, still living in Hudson Michigan and, “never ceased to have faith that some day, somehow, God only knew when or how, Lilly would be restored to them. “

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Mrs. Bowers received word from friends in Sandusky that they had heard of a young woman in Genoa who might be the long lost Lilly.  Quickly letters were exchanged with the Calkins’ family in Genoa and Mrs. Bowers soon made the trip south to Ohio to test another moment of truth.  It was arranged that  during a picnic at the old GAR hall in Genoa(which still exists), Mrs. Bower was to look at a group of girls and see if she could identify her daughter. When she saw “Ida Bell”, she is said to have immediately picked her out as her daughter Lilly.  There was no reunion that day, however, for Mrs. Bowers was to visit the Calkins home the next day to reveal herself to the girl. When Mrs. Bowers was brought into the room with the girl..recognition was immediate.

“My mother”, repeated Ida. These were the first words Mrs. Bowers had heard her daughter utter since she was a toddler.

News Article from Reading PA, July 27, 1882

News Article from Reading PA, July 27, 1882

Further identification was verified by a birthmark on Lilly’s head and as Jeanette Calkins would later write,… “there was joy and weeping.” It was a miraculous mother and child reunion. After 14 long years, the misery and the mystery was over. Preparations were made at once for Marie Lilly Bowers to return to the family home in Hudson Michigan. Newspapers across the country began picking up the story and Genoa, Ohio was the place where this miracle story had taken place.

Within weeks after the reunion, Ida Bell, or Marie Lilly, headed back to adopted hometown of Genoa and to marry a local man by the name of Daniel Cunningham.  Curiously, within months, her biological baby sister, Edith Clara Bowers would also move from Hudson Michigan to Genoa to marry James Levi Calkins, Lilly’s stepbrother, with whom she had been raised.  Both sisters remained in the vicinity until their deaths many years later. Lilly and Daniel eventually relocated to Gibsonburg where they raised two children, while her husband Daniel worked in the oilfields of Sandusky County.  Lilly would later tell newspaper reporters  that she felt very fortunate having two caring sets of parents. While she was very happy to have reunited with her real parents, the Bowers, she held the “highest and tenderest” regard for the James Calkins family of Genoa and could not ever think of moving away from them and deserting them in their old age.  Marie Lilly “Ida Bell” Calkins-Cunningham lived in nearby Gibsonburg until she passed away at the early age of 45, in 1910 from a mastoid infection. She is buried at Gibsonburg along with her two children and husband.


Edith Clara Bowers Calkins, Lilly's sister.

Edith Clara Bowers Calkins, Lilly’s sister.


The Calkins family legacy does not end with Lilly’s passing, for Lilly’s sister, Edith Clara, who married James Levi Calkins, lived to be nearly a hundred years of age and died in the 1960’s in the Genoa area. She was well-known and well liked by all who knew her.

James Levi Calkns, Lilly's stepbrother in Genoa

James Levi Calkins, Lilly’s stepbrother in Genoa who would end up being her brother-in-law.

The Calkins family tree still stands tall in the Genoa area and still is growing. It now includes many well known local names such as Navarre, Early, Nagucki, Hesselbart, Schnapp and Bowland.

My Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Schnapp of Elliston for helping to track down this fascinating story of Genoa’s past.


Filed under Old Places and Faces, Strange Happenings, The Forgotten and no so famous

A Tesla Treasure -Lost In Toledo?

Did WBuhlbook1956ScienceFairTeslaCoiloodward High School in Toledo once have a real scientific treasure, and if so, where is it?   For those of you familiar with the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, you  already know that this Serbian-American genius was considered by many to be one of the greatest inventors and most brilliant minds of 20th century physics.  His legendary innovations include everything from alternating current, the radio, the induction motor, the neon light bulb and many others.  What you may not have known, according to a 1937 Toledo News Bee article, is that Woodward High School in Toledo was reportedly in possession of one of Nikola Tesla’s original Tesla coils that he used in his controversial laboratory in Colorado Springs, Colorado around 1900.  The article from April 20th, of 1937, reports that a Woodward High School electric and radio teacher, Alpheus Bitter, had acquiredtesla coil article one of the ten original Tesla coils from Colorado from a “garageman” who was selling them.  The high elevation city of Colorado Springs, at the foot of Pike’s Peak,  is where Tesla spent a number of years in a laboratory, (now the site of the city’s Memorial Park), developing a system to transmit electricity without the use of wires.  It was Tesla’s quest. His long held belief that electric current at high voltages could be transmitted through the air and distributed without the cost of building wired networks.  It sounds wacky, but Tesla was not to be taken lightly, he was after all,  the man who invented,  and is credited with, the development of alternating current and the hydro-electric station at Niagara Falls, New York.   He was eccentric yes, but whether he had lost touch with reality with some of his ideas, is still up for debate. Historical records, for example, show that it was Nikola Tesla, and not Guglielmo Marconi who actually invented the radio, even though the latter is usually credited with fathering that major communication breakthrough.  


Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

But it was Tesla’s later efforts to find a sort of “wi-fi” system to transmit electric current through the air that brought skeptical attention to him.  Many thought he had gone off the deep and had become the prototype of mad scientist, working alone in his laboratory using a system curious looking towers, antennae and large coils to shoot out bolts of lighting across the night skies. The heart of those experiments involved his now famous “Tesla Coil”,  which can emit large bolts of artificial lightning by sending current through the air towards a grounding tower at the receiving end.  (Every good sci-fi movie of the 1950’s included at least one Tesla Coil scene.)

The coil became the working symbol of Tesla’s concept and his name has been indelibly coupled with the device. By the 1930’s, however, Tesla’s famed laboratory in Colorado has been taken down and Tesla had long since moved away back to New York to continue his experiments there. 

Tesla working in his Colorado Springs Lab circa:1900

Tesla working in his Colorado Springs Lab

It was in the 1930’s that Toledo, Ohio teacher, Alpheus Bitter, is reported to have purchased one of the last remaining original coils from the Tesla lab that could generate up to a half million volts.  Bitter, according to the article in the News Bee, brought it to Toledo for use in his electricity and radio classes at Woodward High School.  And this particular news clippings says it was being displayed to the public for a special demonstration.

If the Toledo News Bee article is accurate, and Woodward High School did hold in its grasp one of the greatest science artifacts of the 20th century, where is it?  I asked a Toledo Public School spokeswoman who says she was not aware of it, but would look into it and see if she could answer just where the large coil may have ended up.   “It would be a find, indeed,” says Ottawa County antique dealer, and electronic hobbyist, Ernie Scarano, who owns Mantiques, a specialty antique store in Elmore. The centerpiece of his store, which features antiques for more masculine taste, is a working Tesla coil that he built himself. Ernie says that to his knowledge, no one in the world has an actual Tesla-made Tesla coil. There are thousands of Tesla coil winders around the world who are tinkerers and hobbyists, but he is not aware of anyone who actually owns a “real” Tesla coil. He thinks its value would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Lots of people around the world would want this, museums would want it.” But, once again, the question arises. Where is it? Did it get sold or salvaged, or stolen? Or it is gathering cobwebs in a forgotten closet. Woodward_High_School

Sadly, we may never find the answer to this mystery, as the historic Woodward High School building was taken down by wrecking crews a few years ago and the answer may have been buried deep in the rubble and carted off for salvage or junk.

As for the teacher who bought the Tesla Coil in Colorado and took it to Woodward High School, I have learned that Alpheus Bitter was not just a hobbyist-teacher who liked to tinker, but that he too was a brilliant engineer of electronic communication and had the credentials to prove it.  In his 1992 obituary in the Toledo Blade,  It is written that Bitter taught at Woodward High School until 1945 and influenced many young men to enter the field of electrical engineering. And that he was also responsible for helping put many Toledo TV and radio stations on the air, including WOHO, WTOD, WTOL, WSPD and WGTE-TV.   Alpheus Bitter’s resume also included a long time stint as a consultant for Willys Motors in Toledo, in the 1940’s and 50’s, in their attempts to build television equipment, and designed the electronic glass cutting process for Owens-Illinois. In his later years, he lectured on electronics at the University of Toledo.  Alpheus Bitter was 88 years old when he passed away from cancer at the Golden Haven Nursing home in 1992.  he was well known and well respoected, but there was no mention in his obituary of the novel Tesla coil or what may have happened to it.  He surely knew its value and perhaps he sold it to someone else who understood that this was, in the science world, as precious as a piece of art from one of the masters.  Mr. Bitter may have taken the knowledge of its whereabouts to his grave. We can only hope that someone, somewhere is still holding Mr. Tesla’s holy grail in safekeeping, maybe here in Toledo.ntesla2





Filed under Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous, Uncategorized

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.


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.


Filed under Lake Erie, Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous, Uncategorized

Tragedy No Stranger to Toledo’s Fire Fighters

Memor1bThe news that two Toledo Firemen have died in an apartment blaze has struck the city hard.  It’s a body blow. Takes the breath out of us when we hear the news. Stops us in our tracks and makes us think and makes us feel. Sometimes makes us cry.  It also makes us wish there is something we could do to help ease the pain of the families and friends and co-workers of these brave firefighters who have answered the last alarm.  Yes, it’s an inherent danger of the job, but one we often forget about until we are  reminded when the Mayday call echoes too close to ignore.  And so it was Sunday, January 26th, for Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman, members of Engine 3’s crew who did what firemen are paid to do, run into the face of danger and not away from it. On this day they paid for that expectation of duty with their lives. Our gratitude should be indelible and so too our remembrance.


As we remember and honor them…it may be a proper time to reflect on the other Toledo fire men who have lost their lives in the line of duty over the past 142 years of service to our community.

From Toledo Fire Museum’s website, here is an honor roll of those for whom the bells must toll.

James Welch (Pipeman) – December 15, 1872
Fell from a ladder at a fire at Ottawa and Lafayette.

John Viebrook (Pipeman) – July 31, 1883
Fell from the top of a hose drying tower.

CAPATIN JAMES FRASERCapt. James Fraser – January 3, 1894
Burned to death at King Elevator fire, on current site of Promenade Park. His body was never found.

WillsCapt. Oscar S. Wills May 22, 1898
Killed by falling walls at Down & Snell Wholesale Grocery at Superior and Jefferson Streets.

JohnGallagherCapt. John M. Gallagher – September 19, 1900
Died while fighting fire at a Junkyard warehouse at the
Corner of Vance and 13th.

David D. Young (Pipeman) – October 24, 1901
Died from injuries sustained when he fell through the
pole hole at #13’s Engine House

JohnWardCapt. John B. Ward – December 24, 1901
Killed while responding to a false alarm when his Hook and Ladder collided with Oak Street car at Collingwood and Dorr Streets.


Ralph H. Westfall (Pipeman) – January 30, 1902
Died of injuries received at Henry Rosen Junk Warehouse fire that occured on September 19th.

Thomas J. Smith (Pipeman) – December 9, 1902
Killed by falling walls at Keifer Bros. Furniture Store, on Dorr St.

Richard Donnelly (Pipeman) – December 11, 1902
Killed in blaze at Keifer Bros. Furniture on Dorr Street.

William Croke (Fireman) – April 11, 1908
Died of injuries received in an accident at #8 engine house.

JohnKaintzJohn B. Kaintz (Fireman) – February 24, 1915
Died of complication of a broken leg while slidin down pole to answer an alarm to the Walbash Railroad Roundhouse

JohnTimmersJohn C. Timmers (Fireman) -April 20, 1916
Died when run over by an engine at the corner of Erie and Adams.

AlbertUrieAlbert T. Urie (Fireman) – December 11, 1916
Killed at the Paddock Merchandise Company fire, 114 St. Clair St.

EdwardWelchCapt. Edward J. Welch – December 11, 1916
Killed at the Paddock Merchandise Company fire, 114 St. Clair St.

 PaulQuigleyPaul J. Quigley (Fireman) – February 14, 1931
Killed at #18 station house when he fell during a ladder drill.

CaptFlynnCapt. Andrew J. Flynn – January 31, 1932
Died of injuries received when his ladder truck was involved in crash with a Community Traction Bus.

BernaBernardOrzechowskird A. Orzechowski – January 31, 1932
Died of injuries received when #16’s ladder was involved in an accident with Community Traction Bus.


Edward Radunz (Fireman) – June 21, 1932
Died after fall at Willys Parkway and Berdan.

VannerWendtDistrict Chief Vanner E. Wendt – December 25, 1933
Died when he was hit in the neck by a nozzle fighting a fire on Suder Ave.

Steven Fekete (Fireman) – September 15, 1936
Collapsed and died of of a heart attack in the seat of No 6’s ladder truck after returning from a house fire.

EhmannDistrict Chief George J. Ehmann – October 29, 1937
Killed in a traffic collision at Lincoln and Lawrence Streets while responding to fire at Libbey High School.

Clemons P. Willacker (Fireman) – September 23, 1939
Died of heart attack fighting a warehouse blaze at Lagrange and Water St along the riverfront.

HowardRippelHoward C. Rippel (Fireman) – February 17, 1943
Burned to death at fire in 1000 block of West Woodruff Ave.

FitzgeraldRobertRobert L. Fitzgerald (Fireman) – October 13, 1943
Heart attack while conducting Civil Defense Drill

blade colony fireJames P. Fakehany (Fireman) – January 12, 1944
Killed when he fell through the floor while fighting major fire at Colony Shopping Center.

TimothyMorrisseyTimothy J. Morrissey (Fireman) –  February 15, 1945
Died of heart attack fighting house fire at 1128 Dorr St.

Emil M. Steck, Jr. (Fireman) – November 16, 1947
Died of injuries received in accident on November 13, 1947 involving #1’s pumper.

JoePietkowskiJoseph Pietkowski (Fireman) – June 6, 1950
Died of heart attack while fighting fire at 310 Bronson St.

ChiefScheidlerDepartment Chief Karl B. Scheidler – November 2, 1952
Died of heart attack fighting a large marsh fire on November 1, 1952.

EdStapletonEdward Stapleton Jan 1st, 1953  Died of heart attack while in duty.

DonTimmineyDonald W. Timiney – February 20, 1953
Died from effects of a fire on Mayo Street. The same fire, the day before had claimed the lives of two children.

John M. Jacoby (Fireman) – March 18, 1955
Died of heart attack suffered at fire February 7, 1955

KenWilliamsKenneth Williams (Fireman) – September 20, 1958
Killed at fire at S&S Distributors, 1100 W. Central Ave.

The Anthony Wayne Trail Fire Tragedy in June of 1961

TRail fire1235342_564541283583089_206480289_n

RobertHarrisonRobert G. Harrison (Fireman) – June 15, 1961
Died as a result of burns received at explosion of gasoline truck at Anthony Wayne Trail and Vinton St.
on June 10, 1961.

GlennCarterGlenn E. Carter (Fireman) – June 23, 1961
Died as a result of burns received at explosion of gasoline truck at Anthony Wayne Trail and Vinton St.
on June 10, 1961.

WilliamGensonWilliam G. Genson (Fireman) – July 10, 1961
Died as a result of burns received at explosion of gasoline truck at Anthony Wayne Trail and Vinton St.

EwaldBodeDeputy Chief Ewald Bode – July 28, 1961
Died as a result of burns received at explosion of gasoline truck at Anthony Wayne Trail and Vinton St.


ChesterRybarczykLieutenant Chester A. Rybarczyk -September 2, 1967
Killed in fire at PeeWee’s Bar, on Suder Ave.

LouisFuhrLouis W. Fuhr (Fireman) – March 22, 1969
Killed responding to a false alarm when his pumper truck was struck by a car at Jackman and Laskey Rd.

ClaudeWilloughbyDeputy Chief Claude E. Willoughby – May 7, 1969
Died of heart attack while fighting multiple alarm fire at 916 Lagrange st.

 RobertPietrasCapt. Robert J. Pietras – June 21, 1969
Died as a result of injuries received fighting a fire on Lawton Street on June 10, 1969.

RalphArthurRalph Arthur (Fireman) – January 9, 1971
Died from heart attack resulting from exposure trying to rescue his two children from Maumee Bay after
they broke through the ice in a snowmobile accident.

DonnieCathcartDonnie Cathcart (Fireman) – May 19, 1981
Died as result of fighting a fire at Bell and Fernwood on May 18, 1981

MikeDarringtonMichael J. Darrington – February 27, 2009
Died as the result of a heart attack while on duty at Station #14.

May we remember and respect


Filed under Old Places and Faces, Uncategorized

Bullets, Badges and Batons..the Story of Police Inspector Charles Roth

Inspector Charles Roth

Inspector Charles Roth

      The Toledo Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 70th birthday this past year and  what many Toledoans probably don’t know is that the seeds of the symphony were sown by a a man who grew up a farmer and then later became a Toledo Policeman. That officer was  Inspector Charles Roth who grew up in Defiance County in the early 1900’s the son of a farmer, but the young man was not content with the idea of following in his father’s footsteps to cultivate corn, Roth, instead, wanted to cultivate and grow the music in his heart.  At a young age, Roth had already taken up the piano and trumpet and numerous other instruments. He was a natural, and he was passionate about playing the instruments with enough talent to relocate someday to Toledo where he might play in the popular Toledo Police Band.

Early Toledo Police band

Early Toledo Police band

By 1917, he achieved that goal. He moved to the big city upstream on the Maumee where he joined the Toledo Police Department as a rookie on street patrol.   When he wasn’t pounding the beat, young Roth was keeping the beat, while playing in the popular Toledo Police Band.  By 1923, however, Roth’s ambitions as a musician were ready to expand and so he formed the Toledo Police Civic Symphony, recruiting musicians from all walks of life throughout the Toledo area who shared his appreciation and talents for good music.  Roth led this new orchestra as its conductor and musical director, while at the same time, continuing his career on the streets as a Toledo Police officer.  The Toledo Civic               Symphony proved to be a hit with local citizens during the 1930’s, appearing often in concert at numerous venues around the city.  Roth as the conductor, reached for new horizons as a writer and composer.  By 1937, he wrote the official Centennial March for Toledo’s 100th birthday. The orchestra debuted this original composition at the newly built Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre. It would not be his last composition.  Over the course of his life, Roth wrote more than 70 symphonies and other pieces.

Charles Roth and Toledo Civic Symphony

Charles Roth and Toledo Civic Symphony

Lt. Roth did not go away in rancor.  While the love of music played the melody of his life, it was always in harmony with his career, for Roth was also considered an outstanding law enforcement officer in a number of areas.  Among them, his renowned abilities and skills as a marksman.  Instrumental in the building of Toledo’s police shooting range at Bay View Park, Roth exhibited his skills as a champion marksman in numerous matches held at the range. His reputation was unrivaled in Toledo and most of the nation.  In 1927 he won the U.S. national revolver championship held at Camp Perry.

Roth Teaching at TPD Academy

Roth Teaching at TPD Academy

Roth was also one of the driving forces behind the development of the Toledo Police Academy.  With a strong belief that police officers needed more training, discipline and professionalism, Roth helped guided the academy’s growth for many years and literally wrote some of the earliest books and manuals that the rookies absorbed during their training. Adding to his long resume as a true renaissance man, Roth had a love for horses and wrote several books about them and their owners. he was often invited to be the announcer for local rodeos held in the Toledo area.  In his spare time on Sundays, he taught Sunday school for a Methodist church.  To say he was a stern man, might be an understatement, Roth to this day is remembered as a strict disciplinarian, who could be sharply candid in his remarks and commentary.  Many young officers learned to fear Mr. Roth’s reputation as a tough taskmaster and his no-nonsense style.  Those who knew him well, however, also knew that he could be as compassionate as he was strict, often giving musicians and officers personal loans if they didn’t have enough money to make it to payday.

Captain Roth at Police Range

Captain Roth at Police Range

Major Charles Roth by the end of his career, had helped the Toledo Police Department grow as a professional law enforcement organization over five decades and when he left this life in 1967, he left behind not just a police department,  but a wonderful symphony orchestra that to this day can ascribe a part of its legacy to this most unique and dedicated Toledo Police officer.

My thanks to the Toledo Police Museum for their photos and information about Charles Roth. If you would like  to visit the Museum it is on Kenwood Blvd. at Ottawa Park.

Here is a video from the Toledo Police Museum about this most talented policeman.


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Filed under Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous