Category Archives: Strange Happenings

In The Heat of History: 1936, A Summer of Discontent

1936 Heat wave

Thousands of people slept on their lawns at night to keep cool

Okay. I know it’s been hot and sticky for a few days this week and so far this month we’ve seen our share of 90 or near 90 degrees days(seven, to be exact). And there is probably more on the way. Before we start to complain too loudly, we should know that “this heat ain’t nothin’”.   Not compared to 1936, when 80 years ago this month, the Toledo area, and most of the Midwest was under siege by the sizzling and deadly sun. Temperatures soared for 8 days straight well past the 100 degree mark. Toledo recorded its all-time high of 104.7 degrees.  At the old Muni airport in Lake Township, the recorded high one day was 107 degrees, while Bowling Green was burning at 110 degrees. And remember, there were few, if any air conditioners. Just electric fans. Stores couldn’t keep them in stock.

 

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Office workers in St. Paul Minnesota enjoying the fan

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEATH TOLL CLIMBS

The resulting oven like temps were blamed for over 70 deaths in Toledo, including 17 patients at the Toledo State Hospital for the Insane. More victims, by the hundreds were rushed to hospitals with heat stroke and collapse. Local towns around Toledo also reported heavy casualty tolls from the broiling sun. Day after day, the toll climbed. The oppressive heat was not just dangerous for humans, but all life withered under its heavy hand. Animals and livestock by the hundreds succumbed from the assault of heat and dehydration. As a result, tallow and rendering companies found themselves working non-stop to clear the dead carcasses from the farms and fields.

STREETS AND ROADWAYS EXPLODED

The mercury rose to levels that the heat triggered numerous spontaneous combustion fires. Barns, grasses and hay blossomed with flame throughout the area. Most startling perhaps was the constant buckling many  sidewalks, streets and roadways as the asphalt boiled and the pavement ruptured.4e3bc75f70a24.preview-300 Toledo’s downtown streets were not immune to the ravages, as street level temps were recorded in excess of 110 degrees for a week of afternoons. At the Jamra’s Tobacco Company in the 500 block of Monroe Street, the thermometer recorded 119 degrees on the afternoon of July 8th. Further out Monroe Street at the railroad viaduct near Auburn, the retaining walls buckled and heaved in the heat. Even the Toledo city bridges were affected as drawbridges were unable to close properly because of heat expansion in the closing latches. In Ottawa County, brick-paved streets were reported to be bursting in Oak Harbor on State Rt. 19 as the blistering temps caused the pavers to expand and explode. After 7 days of sweltering conditions, state highway officials said more than 550 roadways in Ohio had exploded.

LABOR AND NORMAL ACTIVITIES AFFECTED

Throughout the region many stores and numerous factories were forced to close with the mercury surpassing 100 degrees by mid afternoon. In several incidents, factory workers were reported to be overcome by heatstroke and rushed to hospitals for treatment. Construction workers were especially vulnerable and many had to put down their tools and get out of the blazing sun to seek shelter from the broiling conditions. It was reported that even the hens at local egg farms were so hot, they too stopped work and wouldn’t lay eggs.

WATERY ESCAPES PROVED DEADLY

Another consequence of the scramble to keep cool as thousands Toledo area resident turned to the relief of water. To escape the sweltering misery, they went swimming and many did not return. During this eight day period, dozens of people died from drowning as they crowded the rivers, beaches, lakes, ponds, pools and quarries. Newspapers everyday carried numerous articles about those folks, young and old swallowed forvever by the very thing they had hoped would bring them some temporary comfort.

ConeyIsland_1936

Coney Island Beach 1936

 

Local health officials became very concerned at one point because thousands of people were so desperate they began venturing into the murky Maumee River. A river that even in 1936 was already considered a public health hazard for its stew of sewage and pollutants. Some health experts warned that long term exposure to the toxins and bacteria in the water could claim more lives than the drownings. The huge number of Toledoans that crowded the public pools was also a problem for it was feared that the filters couldn’t handle the pollution from the high number of bathers and that could also be a public health danger. Walbridge Park pool was recommended for closure, while city chemists worked to ascertain bacteria levels in the pools throughout the city.

WATER SUPPLY GREW SHORT

It wasn’t just the purity of the city’s water supply that came into question during this pressing heat wave of the 1930’s, but the supply and water pressure began dwindling. In downtown office buildings and hotels, many rooms on the upper floors of those buildings did not have water for days. Water restrictions were put in place and residents were warned not to use their lawn sprinklers or to use water needlessly. In the meantime, many residents had few options but just to do their best to move slowly and stay cool. Some began peeling off clothes, or sitting in front of fans, while others found that ice cream was an effective coolant. Ice cream parlors and beer joints in the city racked up record business. A few of the movie theaters in downtown Toledo, the Princess, the Valentine and the Rivoli all had air conditioning and were kept at a cool 70 degrees. Theater goers by the thousands flocked to what the NewsBee called the “Coolies” at these downtown venues.

TOLEDO JUST ONE SLICE OF THE SEARED LANDSCAPE

As the drought conditions began to take a firm grip on Toledo that summer of ’36, other areas of the Great Plains and the Upper Midwest were already reeling from the solar blight, dealing with crop failures and livestock starvation. From South Dakota to Texas, to the Eastern Seaboard, millions of acres of wheat and corn had been parched and lost, forest fires scorched the earth and hundreds of thousands of rural residents were left destitute and struggling. The Works Progress Administration, the WPA , reported at least 25,000 people were facing a lack of food and they were cutting red tape to get money to those affected.

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Many farms suffered catastrophic damage

 

The newspaper stories of the heatwave also reminded us that heat can make strangers of us all. “Crazy from the Heat” was not just the title of a David Lee Roth Album. In nearby Sandusky, a man reportedly went berserk from the stress of the heat and went “out of his mind”.   Police there say C.C. Lanley, 60 years old, was pushed beyond his limits of sanity. He shot his wife to death as she lie in bed, and then turned the gun on himself.crazed by heat

In Erie, Pennsylvania, a 40 year old man on July 18th 1936, a few days after he had suffered heatstroke conducted a prayer service at his church and then went home and hammered to death his wife and two sons. Sam Weed then ran screaming outside and threw himself in front of a moving semi.

In Prophetstown, Illinois, about 80 miles west of Chicago, a man tried to extort the entire village of about 1000 people. Merchants of the parched community say they were ready to pay a man about $1000 cash to keep him from bombing and setting fire to their community. “We intend to pay him” said the bespectacled mayor from his grocery store, “It’s mighty dry around here and we can’t take a chance on a fire.”

The national death toll from the fierce heatwave of 1936 was about 5,000 when all was said and done, with over a billion dollars in crop losses to farmers, and hundreds of thousands taken ill during this extrordinary summer of discontent. It is was and is still considered the worst heatwave on record in U.S. history. And surprisingly it followed one of the coldest winters on record.  While Toledo saw the mercury eclipse the 104 degree mark, other cities and regions coped with even hotter conditions. Okalhoma City experienced temperatures in excess of 120 degrees, as did parts of the Dakotas. Indiana’s high temp was 116 degrees and the residents of the little burg of Mio, Michigan dealt with 112 degrees on July 13th. Seventeen states broke or equaled their all time highest heat record that July. screenhunter_986-may-07-01-49

LIFE STILL SOMEWHAT NORMAL

But…perhaps more interesting in hindsight, as we look back at the newspaper reports of the day was how our grand parents tried to keep life in the normal zone, despite dealing with the outrageous assault and nature’s attempt to kill everything and everyone.

Many people, as it would appear, continued working, shopping, taking in events and picnics, or attending ball games. Generally going about their lives with a minimum of complaint, albiet with fewer layers of clothing, and a heavier layer of sweat. The Willow Beach Dance contest was won by a Mr. and Mrs. Howard Marvin of Defiance, hundreds of people turned out for the funeral and internment of former Toledo Congressman Warren Duffey and a crowd of city officials and businessmen turned out in 102 degree heat to inspect and tour the all-new modern New York Central “Mercury” locomotive on display at the Middlegrounds. The Lion Store had a sale on cotton frocks, a shopper’s luncheon at Petro’s in downtown Toledo was just 20 cents, and thousands of Toledoans were eagerly heading to the Stickney Avenue Showground where the Ringling Brothers Circus was featuring two shows a day. Life was hot. But life was still being lived.4f7a8b55e5701bea35239793df350bab

Maybe it says something about our grandparents who had not yet been spoiled by the cool comfort of air conditioning and the desire to live life at a constant 72 degrees. They seemed to roll with the punches and the hard times. Yeah, it was painfully hot, but life was always hard. Don’t expect anything less.

Wonder how we, in this part of the country would deal with 110 degree temps today. Can’t help but think that life, as we know it, would stop. If our roads started blowing up, and the water supply dwindled to a trickle, and we suddenly lost our precious air conditioning? Would we have as much grit as Grandma and Grandpa who somehow seemed able and willing to forge a life and a future in the heat of hardship.

I ponder that as I sit in my comfortable air conditioned office on this 90 degree day that is too hot for me to mow the lawn.

 

Respectfully;

Lou Hebert

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Filed under Old Places and Faces, Strange Happenings, Uncategorized, weather history

First American Air Hijack Attempt Happened in Ohio

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

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

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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

The Historian’s Notebook

 

In the course of local history research and the incessant reading of old newspapers, I frequently come across little odds and ends that don’t always lend themselves to stories of greater depth, but are  at least amusing, or interesting or thought-provoking.  I thought it might be best to share some of these little gems with Toledo Gazette readers.

Toledo Alderman Visits The Tenderloin

Here’s one I haven’t verified yet, but a story that made the wire services in 1899 and carried in several newspapers claimed than a Toledo City alderman, who was visiting New York City made a stop in that’s town’s notorious vice-district, the Tenderloin and stopped by the police station to see if the cops would show him around. He said” I thought I’d drop by a see the Tenderloin so I can tell the boys at home all about it.” The cops said he was a small man in a fur cap, wore gold-rimmed spectacles, had brown whiskers and smoked big cigars and even gave the sergeant his card, but the paper didn’t identify him. When they police mentioned they had a murder earlier in the evening, the Toledo alderman said “He would have kinder liked to have seen it”. It is said he spent the rest of the evening at a resort(brothel) in the Tenderloin, passing out badges from Toledo with a picture of a frog on them promoting Toledo as the Ohio Centennial City for 1902.

Bovine Detour

During Christmas season of 1929, the Churchill family from Lima was headed to Toledo during a blizzard. This was long before I-75, so the popular route was Dixie Highway and somewhere near Van Buren, Mr. Churchill heard and felt something hit the front of his car…and the car kept going, but slowed considerably by the weight of something at the front of his car. He couldn’t see it because of the blowing snow….but stopped “a few rods” down the road and discovered a bull impaled by its horns into the radiator of the car.

 

The Human Bicycle

I never have been able to find out what became of two young men, William Robb and Don Taylor, of Toledo, who in 1934 rigged up a “wheelbarrow” like contraption and called themselves the “human bicycle”. It was basically composed of a bicycle wheel…and a saddle like seat into which one man is suspended face down in a stretched out position, while grasping the axle of the front wheel, while the other fellow grabs his ankles and pushes. They set out July 17th in New York City, made it back to Toledo by August 22.    They were to set out again for Los Angeles in the next few days. Always wondered if they made it. I’ve scanned numerous subsequent editions of the News bee but never found a follow-up story about their exploits.

 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The August 7th, 1927 News Bee holds the story of one – Johnny Mack of Toledo. He had just been set free for the Ohio Penitentiary after serving five years for a crime he didn’t commit.   Mack, it seems,  had been charged and convicted of a bread truck payroll robbery in Toledo in 1922. Said he couldn’t believe he was convicted and sent to prison because he was innocent and had nothing to do with it. His pleas to the police and the courts were ignored. Eventually though, after the trial, more evidence did come to light that Mack was telling the truth. Even the judge started having his doubts and ordered investigators to look into it. Finally a confession from the real bandit came forth, and Mack was set free, at the age of 40, in poor health and a prison record. He said he harbors no resentment.

Treasure Hunt at Duby’s Knob

There’s always something seductive about stories of buried treasure and Toledo has a few of them. One of them I found in a 1911 News Bee article about a quest for as much as $37,000 at Duby’s Knob near Point Place. Somewhere in the vicinity of today’s intersection of Summit and Manhattan.  The front page article reveals the tale of a a party of men digging to find an elusive long-lost “treasure” that was reportedly buried not far from the Maumee River banks in 1862. Someone had placed a spike in an elm tree to mark the site and men had been looking for it for many years.  The leader of this new crop of prospectors was Benjamin Heller who had invented a “detector” device and was using it to locate the largess of gold coins in the rear of Duby’s Saloon at 3727 Summit.  At nine feet down into the clay, the men had yet to find anything and had drawn little more than lots of curious and dubious spectators. As written in the News Bee.

There wasn’t a very big crowd at first but the residents of the Bayshore district soon got wind of what was going on and began to edge over back of Duby’s place. Mother Hubbarded women, buxom and happy, left their washboards and clothes and came over to have a peek at the constantly growing hole in the ground. “H’m they’d better be home splitting wood, mused one, they’d be getting a heap more.” And old bay fisherman spat complacently at the spike in the elm tree and observed, “Them pesky critters here agin – last fall they dug this marsh over, didn’t get nothing. Knew they wouldn’t.”

It was reported that George Chase owned the property and gave the men permission to look for the gold coins. Apparently, though, they were never found and who knows..may still be out there.

 

One Day – Three Stories in Toledo

Ever wonder how the city fathers decided on the Erie Street site to build the Safety Building which was not just a police headquarters but was the city hall site for decades. I found an article in an old News Bee explaining that the land was called the “Paine Estate” and was decided in March of 1905 that this block bounded by Erie, Jackson, Beech and Ontario would become the site for the new city hall.  Not sure why it took another 20 years before it was built.

The same March 1905 issue of the News Bee also informed Toledo readers that the city was going to send state pie inspectors out to area restaurants to determine if the pies were safe to eat. A city chemist said he believes that too many Toledo restaurants are using “aniline” dyes to color the fruit in the pies and the compound is poisonous.

This particular issue of the New Bee was filled with numerous little gems, including one that speaks of a city problem that we’d love to have today. In 1905, the city of Toledo had more money on hand than it could legally deposit into the banks. The city coffers were flush with well over 1.5 million dollars and the laws at the time had limits as to how much the city could deposit into a local bank. The city was forced to use “national” banks to store its cash. Nice problem.

 

Married Women Teachers to be Fired

If you ever wonder why teachers have unions, might want to consider this story. In April of 1932, as the area was being squeezed by the grip of the depression, Maumee school board voted to fire all of the married teachers whose husbands had jobs. Only single female teachers or those were married and were the sole support of their family would be offered contracts for the next school year.

 

Where is the Historic Elm at UT

Folks at the University of Toledo may want to look around campus and find a piece of history. Washington Elm. On April 19th, 1932, a descendant of the famous “Washington Elm” was planted on the campus at U.T. To honor the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. The Washington Elm, at Cambridge Massachusetts, was reputed for years is to have been the place where Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775. The story has been debunked, but the Elm stood until 1925, and many limbs and branches were taken from it to make new trees, one of them presumably, if still on the UT campus, would be 82 years old.

 

Early Bulletproof Vest for Toledo Cops

Bullet proof vests have been around for awhile, but Toledo Police may have had some of the first ones. News Bee article from November of 1921 shows Toledo inventor Albert Schwartz wearing a an early vest made of armor-plated steel which is being tested by Toledo Police. It looks like a grocer’s apron, made of canvas and layers of Norwegian steel. The city had purchased some samples and were trying to find volunteers who would allow themselves to be shot with .45 caliber guns. If they couldn’t find any “volunteers”, they planned to use big hunks of beef.

 

Toledo’s Gems Include A Diamond in the Rough

Toledo has given the nation many military heroes through the years who are fondly remembered and honored. One Toledo man, though, who was a national legend as a “fightin” man may not come readily mind with other local heroes.  His name: “Lou Diamond”.  An East Toledo kid who used to hunt rabbits near the Fire Station #13 on Front Street with a sling shot and would later employ that prowess as a hunter to fight in not only the battlefields of World War I, but also those of World War Two.  He was known as the “fightinest Marine on Guadalcanal” and it was his battlefield skills  that are said to have helped win several key struggles in the Pacific against Japanese troops. Born Leland Diamond, he was from French Canadian stock and was described as a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails, hard-as-steel leatherneck. He rose to the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant and was highly decorated from duty in both wars. Diamond was always eager to be in the center of the action and even at 53 years of age, he said he was not ready to retire, but he contracted malaria in the Pacific, and told a Toledo reporter in 1943 while on a visit home, “The“Japs” couldn’t get me,  it took a mosquito to do it.”  He suffered from the malaria for the rest of his life, which was only a matter of years. After World War two he returned to Toledo in 1945 and died in 1951 at the age of 61.  He is buried in Sylvania and, yes, in case you are wondering, the actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays in the TV drama “Longmire” is named for this Toledo war hero.

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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.

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The Curse of Bairdstown….truth or trifle?

curse newsbee

My kinfolk, the Santmires, were from Bairdstown, Ohio.  Grandma Ethel grew up there and that’s how I know about the town.  But if you have never heard of it or been there, you’re  not alone.  Bairdstown is not much more than a fly speck on the map,  a tiny forgotten cluster of humanity, about six miles due east of North Baltimore that has seen its better days.  But at one time, a hundred years ago or so, back in the oil-field era, Bairdstown was a boom town.  A much bigger burg, once brimming with promise and prosperity.  Two hotels, plenty of saloons, stores, a barrel factory, and a reputation as a wild brawling village in the center of a prosperous oil patch.  As a result there were plenty of oil and refinery workers who made the small southern Wood County hamlet their home, along with the many farmers who also toiled in the fields of “corn and crude” in this oil-rich region of Southern Wood County.  So rich it was, during that era, it was considered the oil capital of America. Hard to believe, but true.

But it also turns out that many of these once thriving villages in this rural countryside  were also rich in legend and lore. One of those legends is the “Curse of Bairdstown”.  As the legend has it, Bairdstown’s fortunes, or lack thereof, may have been determined by one old resident who lived there long before the advent of oil. His name was Jim Slater, and he and his wife, had settled in the area sometime in the 1840’s.  Slater bought a quarter section of land(a quarter square mile) to farm and worked hard, to make it go, but the hardships were too much to overcome. He seemed cursed.  His corn died, his cattle wouldn’t give milk, and fortune was fickle.  Slater not only struggled and remained poor, but his wife died in childbirth from the cruel realities of a primitive pioneer environment.  Adding to Slater’s bad luck, were the rumors that not only was he a nervous and irritable man, but that he was mentally unstable and given to a quick and violent temper. As a result, he was not well liked among his neighbors and had few or no friends.

One farming season, according to an article from a 1937 Toledo News Bee, Slater persuaded his farm neighbor, William McMurray, to plant wheat in his field on shares. At harvest time, however, the friendly agreement as to how to to dispose of the wheat and split the profits became a point of argument between the men as Slater objected to McMurray taking the wheat off the land to be threshed. The argument sharpened and became a war of wills and McMurray decided to take it to the courts to decide. The courts agreed with McMurray and he won the legal case against Slater who became livid with anger and declared after the verdict,  that the “wheat would do McMurray no good”.   A few weeks later, the stacks of wheat in field were set ablaze and destroyed. There were also harnesses and other equipment stolen from McMurray’s barn. Slater quickly became the chief and convenient suspect in the arson and robbery as he was promptly arrested and taken to Perrysburg and thrown in jail. The evidence was weak at best and when his case finally did come to trial, Slater was acquitted.  But what should have been reason to rejoice was not, for Slater had spent all of his money defending himself in court, and while he was in jail, he couldn’t tend to his farm and pay his creditors who wanted their loans paid off. Despite attempts to keep them at bay, a foreclosure was filed and the land that had been his farm was sold at a Sheriff’s sale to a prosperous farmer in the area by the name of Josiah(John) Baird. It was Baird who when took the land to plat out the plans for a small town.  In 1874, he built a hotel, a flour mill, a saw mill, and when the B&O railroad tracks were laid through this new village called Bairdstown, Baird’s future looked bright.  Jim Slater, however, now penniless and embittered, angrily declared of the new town,  If there is a just God, he will curse this place till the end of eternity. The curse of the place goes with the wronged man and all who have had a hand in robbing me.”

It is not written as to how the townspeople reacted upon hearing Slater’s curse, but it wasn’t long until the bright promise of the little community began to dim. Josiah Baird, who built the town was also facing problems with his creditors. They were relentless in pursuing his debts and took him to court. Then his sons, it was said, began to develop bad habits and did not tend well to their father’s business.  Baird’s flour mill was burned down, by persons unknown and his cattle in the fields became ill and died.  Baird saw his hopes dwindle and his good fortune whither, and wondered in Slater’s curse was something to take seriously.  Believing that he might be jinxed, he left the town that bore his name and moved his family to Arkansas. He took up hotel keeping, but within a short while,  both his wife and daughter took ill and died. Baird returned to Ohio, but far away from Bairdstown and lived out his years in the southern part of the state.

Meanwhile, George Strain, the man who was the prosecuting attorney in the criminal case against Jim Slater developed a serious mental disorder and was put in an insane asylum where he died.  And David Hayes, Slater’s defense attorney, also met with the ill winds of misfortune as he too went broke and his wife and daughter died.  Slater, himself, not long after, died in the infirmary, the poor house, at Bowling Green where he is buried in a Potter’s field.

From those years forward, Bairdstown has never been able to get past the curse of Jim Slater. Misfortunes and fires have bedeviled the community over the years. In 1890, a train derailed on the B&O tracks in Bairdstown in February, resulting in several deaths. Then in July of that year, a series of mysterious fires, over a three-week period destroyed much of the Bairdstown business district. In 1894, a hold up occurred on the B&O Railroad between Deshler and Bairdstown, ending with the murders of two men aboard the train.  Even during the boom years of the oil-field wealth, Bairdstown never quite blossomed, as did other towns nearby, but always found itself doomed by some tragedy.  Today, it  is not much more than an aging curiosity along Route 18 between North Baltimore and Bloomdale.   A collection of older homes, a cemetery, a set of railroad tracks and a public park named for my great uncle, Merle Santmire.  Who I might add, never believed in Jim Slater’s curse.  Said he didn’t have the time to ponder what he regarded as a trifle.  But some people around Bairstown at least consider the notion that Slater’s angry oath may have in fact been more than just the crabby words of a  ranting old man.  And I confess that I too have given it a thought or too, for despite Uncle Merle’s cynicism, his father, my great-grandfather,  Amos Santmire, in 1898, at the age of 46, the father of ten children, including my grandmother, was struck and killed by a freight train on the edge of  this little troubled town…..Bairdstown.

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In Search of an Ending: The Mystery of Toledo’s Warren Sisters

I always love a good mystery, and there are just enough eccentric and curious people on this planet to satisfy that fascination.

Take the case of the Warren sisters of Toledo, for example, an odd case if ever there was one. Mary and Nanette (Nattie, according to the 1910 census) lived most of their adult lives at the family’s estate near downtown Toledo during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.   It is said they lived alone, as spinsters, after their father, Samuel Warren, a successful horse breeder and buggy manufacturer vanished one day in 1878 and was never heard from again.  Police even dragged the cistern behind the house on 14th Street, but the body of Mr. Warren was never found. His disappearance was noted as an early Toledo mystery. The two young sisters were shaken by the unexplained loss of their father, but continued living with their mother in the years after.  But then another tragic turn, as the girls’ mother, Mary Van Gorton Warren, died suddenly of a stroke. It now left the Warren girls on their own. The deaths of their parents, however, made these 20-something daughters rather wealthy as they became  the heirs of a significant estate. Not only did they receive the family home at 335 14th Street in Toledo, but several parcels of farm property on River Road,  plantations in the south, and some type of sugar beet interests in California.  Life should have been promising, but according to news stories of the time, the disappearance of the father and subsequent death of their mother also left the Warren girls with emotional issues. The youngest sister Mary developed serious mental health problems, becoming so serious that Mary eventually turned violent and lost the power of speech. In the meantime, the older sister Nanette, was not only left to care for her fragile sister in the Toledo family home, but was left in charge of running the entire family businesses.

Life and Death in California

Thier lives took an even stranger turn when, in about 1912, they moved from Toledo to Los Angeles. For reasons not entirely clear, but supposedly because of Mary’s state of health and state of mind.   They would move to an apartment in the City of Angels and it was there that the lives of these reclusive sisters would make national headlines.  In January of 1914, the landlady of the apartments where they lived had been trying to deliver a message to them from a woman named Mildred Cline of Toledo, but the sisters wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer the door.  Fearing for their welfare, the landlady had the police break into the apartment to check on them and that’s where in one of the bedrooms, they found a starving Nanette lying in bed. Next to her was her sister Mary. Very dead and decomposing. Physicians said Mary had probably been dead for as many as three weeks prior. The news wire reports at the time said Nanette, who hadn’t eaten for about a week, was taken to a ward for the insane as investigators tried to unravel what might have happened inside the apartment and just how her younger sister had died.  Adding to the mystery and intrigue was the discovery of half a bottle of chloroform poison near the body of Mary. Police also found valuable heirloom jewels in the room, dispelling rumors among their neighbors that the women had become impoverished because of bad business investments.

Nurses caring for Nanette say the Toledo woman had no recollection of the events leading up to her sister’s death. Nor could she explain why every crack in the bedroom had been stuffed with rags.  Fueling the suspicions even more was the fact that sister Nanette, would now stand to inherit the entire Warren estate worth about a half million dollars. That was an enviable fortune in 1914.  It prompted many questions and suspicions as newspaper readers from across the nation were treated to the story of the sisters’ secretive lives in Toledo and why they opted to remain unmarried, spurning the interest of many young suitors. The implied question was of course that Nanette had caused her sister’s death for the family fortune.  It seemed a reasonable motive and police asked many questions, but in the end, Nanette was never charged, despite the many questions left unanswered.  Within a week after the body of Mary was found, the coroner in Los Angeles said there would be no further investigation and the remains of Mary could be released for burial.

Loved the scent of violets

A few days after the initial reports of the story, newspapers were writing that Nanette had received a gift of some violets from a woman who took pity on her situation, and it was the scent of the violets that helped clear her mind to begin talking with authorities about what happened. “I do like violets,” she said, although, after a few minutes, after talking about her childhood and life in Toledo,  she then stopped and would not speak further. It was also reported that a man by the name of B.F. Mace contacted the coroner in Los Angeles and said he was living in the Warren homestead in Toledo and had power of attorney for the affairs of the estate and would come to California to help settle matters. Another man also claiming to be the next of kin of the sisters came froward from Toledo, George J. Waldvogel, and informed investigators the reason that Nanette protected and tried to hide the body of her sister was because she was afraid that authorities might bury her sister and she was abhorrent to the idea of her sister, or anyone, being buried in the “cold earth”. Waldvogel who had been married to the Warren’s sister aunt was attempting to have the body of Mary released to him to have it returned to Toledo to be interred in a mausoleum.

And that is unfortunately where the story ends…at least for now. Did her remains ever make it back to Toledo, and did Nanette ever get released from the insanity ward to return to live out the remaining years of her life? If so, where? Who was B.F. Mace and did George Waldvogel ever get custody of Mary’s body?  Questions for which there are no convenient answers. The public trail of the Warren sisters journey onto the stage of notoriety stops abruptly after the first sensational stories of Mary’s mysterious death and Nanette’s vigil over her.  After many checks of obit files, and cemetery indexes, census records, and newspaper accounts, the story grows cold and seems to vanish into oblivion. I will continue looking.

If you have any information on how the final chapter of this story is to be written, I invite you to share it with our readers. Until then, perhaps it is only fitting that the tormented tale of Warren sisters remains cloaked in the same mantle of mystery that seems to have surrounded their lives.

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