Category Archives: Strange Happenings

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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Mr. Dixon’s Very Strange Inn and Museum

  Found a story the other day from a 1920’s Toledo News Bee that got my attention. The date was June 12, 1928 and the front page headline read “Weird Dixon Estate Stumps Appraisers”. Turns out that at one time in Toledo, there was a well known inn that served not only food for the hungry, but those who hungered for the bizarre. Seems that a gent by the name of Charles N. Dixon ran the “famous” Dixon Inn at 44-48 St. Clair Street in downtown Toledo for a number of of years. The inn also doubled as a museum which certainly provided the topic of great dinner table conversation. The dusty rooms at the Inn featured a deviant’s delight, such as a stuffed sea serpent, a “greasy” hangman’s rope, a skeleton, a petrified man, tools used for torture, bloodied hand weapons, statues, swords, stuffed animals and a long list of oddities that might make Mr. Ripley green with envy. The gist of this particular story was not about the Dixon Inn, per se,  but rather about the fact that Mr. Dixon had died and his belongings were now up for auction and appraisers just weren’t sure what the market rate might be for a genuine authenticated sea serpent. As a group of local appraisers walked through the museum to get a better look, the News Bee reporter tagged along and recounted the tour this way:
  
      “the mounted animals, the stuffed fish and preserved specimens of rare fowl watched the procedure with glassy and impersonal stares…The Museum, once the gathering place of the demi-monde and the ultra Bohemian, now is a place of oppressive and profound silence, cluttered with all the nightmarish specimens that one eccentric could gather together in a  lifetime.”
  
   The reporter explains that Dixon began collecting these weird artifacts as a child growing up on a ranch in the West and kept collecting them through adulthood. After he moved to Toledo and opened the inn, he started stuffing the rooms of the building with skeletons, Indian hatchets, bloodied bayonets and weapons of all types and sizes that still hadn’t been cleaned from use. They piled up in the dusty and damp old rooms with other items of the weird including pillories, bones of unknown animals and the grinning skulls of prehistoric people.  One of his favorite possessions was a “Great Stone Face” that reportedly had been dug up on Monroe Street during the excavation for a sewer line and was thought to be the work of Mound Builders. As to whatever happened to Mr. Dixon’s den of darkness, I am still trying to find out. I can only surmise that such a collection today might actually fetch an substantial sum were it to go up for auction. As for the Dixon Inn, it would appear that its location would now be in the same block on St. Clair St. where Fifth-Third field is today. Kind of makes me wonder what’s buried under first base. 

This story has lots of unanswered questions and is really a work in progress, posted in the hopes that maybe one of our readers knows something about the Dixon Inn they could share. In the meantime, I am also embarking on a  search for more information about the fate of these strange artifacts and man who was responsible for this most unusual Toledo museum, Mr. Charles N. Dixon.   Updates, to be forthcoming.  By the way if you too are wondering about the word “demi-mond”,  according to one Internet dictionary  it is a  “group whose respectability is dubious or whose success is marginal: the literary demimonde of ghost writers, hacks, and publicists. Also called demiworlds”  FYI-  Lou

 
  

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Free Love Cult Leaves Behind Haunting Events On Fulton County Farm

Just when you think you’ve heard all of the ghost stories and mysterious tales of the past, you find another one to add to the long list of haunting tales in the Toledo area. I found this one in a 1928 Toledo News Bee about a house that was being tormented by sort some of  phenomenon that most of the local residents were ascribing to the spirit of a scandalous woman who had once lived on this Fulton County farm. 

Her name was Lucinda Poole and the house and farm in question were near the town of Brailey in Fulton where it was said that this young and beautiful Lucinda was running a “free love” colony. A cult that was not taken kindly to by the neighbors. Not only that, but Lucinda Poole was reputed to have been an atheist and anarchist who brought her “cult” to this farm around 1890.  It was there where the “handsome” Lucinda ardently preached and practiced the gospel of “free love” and according to the News Bee article of 1928,  “scores of persons followed her precepts” and that “homes were broken, lives ruined and respectability thrown to the winds” by the disciples of the persuasive Lucinda. The article did note, however, that Lucinda was not without her virtue, but she was also said to be a selfless woman who dedicated much of her life to providing for the sick, needy and hungry of the area.

As years moved on, Lucinda also passed with them. And with her passing, her cult of free love was left to memory and embellishment.  Her daughter and a man by the name of Lutz would eventually marry and stay on the farm and turned it into a dairy operation. By the late 1920’s, they too had passed on to the ages and the family of Ellis Turpening had taken up residence on the old farmhouse. But in the late fall of 1927 and early winter of 1928, they found themselves being victmized by what many believed to be the spirits of Ms. Poole. These events included a mysterious fire in the farm house, a large chunk of wood that hit a young boy in the back, and strange and unexplained hurling of stones and several cases of dying farm animals.  In one such case, a tenant of the farm lost a flock of sheep. Nearly all of them died without an apparent cause. Horses and cows also reportedly died for no reason, while grain and wool and farm tools would come up missing, but no locks on the granary were ever disturbed.

The News Bee reported in its March 28th edition of 1928 that the Turpenings were now reporting that windows were being hit by stones and they were hearing strange rappings on the floor and windows.The situation was unnerving to many of the neighbors who had been standing guard on the farm with guns to provide sentry against the spirits. It was on one of those occassions when a mysterious fire broke out suddenly on the side of the barn.  The News Bee report of 1928 drew no conclusions about what was happening, but wqith several photos and a front page headline, I am certain there were plenty of readers who had their own opinions as to what might account fo these curious events.  I was unable to locate any subsequent reference to this mystery farm in Fulton County. So I’m just wondering if anyone knows if the this farm still exists today, and if so, where it is exactly and do those who live there still have reason to wonder if the beautiful and mysterious Lucinda Poole lingers among us?

 

 

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Update on the sad tale of “Owney the Postal Dog”

After a review of the Toledo Blade article regarding this sad episode from  June 11 of 1897, it appears the name of the policeman who shot Owney was not Fred Free (or Freeman), but was a Patrolman Smith(no first name given). It also seems that Owney was not killed immediately after he reportedly bit a mail clerk at the train station, but his execution was delayed until the next day owing to the fact that the first policeman who was ordered to shoot the globe trotting pooch, refused to do so.   As a result, so states the article, that Postmaster Brand had Owney chained to a post until the next day, and then..

“Shortly after 4 o’clock yesterday, Patrolman Smith took the dog to an alley behind the police station and with a shot put an end to the career of the famous pup.”

Sgt. Beth Cooley, at the Toledo Police Museum says she is searching for the records of a Patrolman Smith who might have served on the department at that time. The Chicago Tribune had reported that the officer who shot Owney was Fred Free, but after some research into the records, Sgt. Cooley says there was no Fred Free on the department, but there was a Fred Freeman who was a Toledo policeman during that time. That could have easily been the mix-up, but the Blade said the executioner was a Patrolman Smith.

It’s also noted from this article that it had been decided before Owney was executed to have his remains stuffed and mounted and sent to the Post Museum in Washington D.C. Perhaps this was an atempt to mollify the thousands of postal clerks and others around the globe who loved the dog, as it was noted by the Blade reporter at the time that Owney’s tragic killing would “bring down the wrath of the heavens” upon the heads of those involved in Owney’s death.

Not sure if such wrath was ever visited upon Toledo.

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STRANGE MIRAGE AT TOLEDO

     In the great river of daily news, there are some stories that float by us that are too hard to ignore and even harder to explain. I found one of those curiosities the other day as I was reading a New York Times article from  December of 1901.(don’t ask me why) The dateline was Toledo, Ohio and the headline was “Saw City In A Mirage”. That hooked my interest and upon further reading, I found a remarkable story.  It was published on December 21st of 1901, and relayed the bizarre tale about a group of Toledo area ice fishermen who claim they saw, on the horizon over the frozen ice of Lake Erie, a startling vision of a large city.  The NY Times article said their claims were being “vouched for” by prominent citizens and names a one “Harry Ashley” of Toledo as the first ice fisherman to spot the apparition. When he alerted his companions,  the others looked up, and they too witnessed the same strange spectacle.  What they described was the mirage of a large city with hundreds of buildings and streets. As the vision grew brighter and stronger, they even saw fire break out in one of the buildings. The Maumee Bay fishermen told reporters they could see flames and smoke and also saw people pouring out of buildings and fire apparatus in the streets. The unfolding scene played out for about a half an hour, according to the “startled” fishermen, before the sight gradually faded away.

Wire services at the time, carried the story, coast-to-coast and it even got some global notice.  What the Times article did not try to do was to explain the phenomenon, but merely reported it in a matter-of-fact style that offered no opinion as to its credulity.  So what was it? A real mirage, or a giant hoax, concocted by a group of whiskey-fueled fishermen who thought they’d also try landing a whopper of a tale to see who would bite.  That’s was my reaction when I first read the story, but I soon changed my mind. After doing some follow-up research, I found that it may well be that these unsuspecting fisherman probably glimpsed a real mirage, a type of rare mirage known as a Fata Morgana.  According to numerous online sources, the Fata Morgana is complex and unusual but has been observed at numerous times over the centuries around the world.  It might even be at the heart of the famous and mythical  “Flying Dutchman” ghost ship.  Like all mirages, it is created by light refraction bent against the layers of the sky and this particular phenomenon occurs when rays of lights are strongly bent as they pass through air layers of different temperatures, especially during times of a thermal inversion.  Seeing such a mirage over a field of ice on Lake Erie would not be surprising according to a Wikipedia entry:

Fata Morgana is most commonly seen in polar regions, especially over large sheets of ice which have a uniform low temperature. It can however be observed in almost any area.

After further research, I found the mystery of such strange events on the Great Lakes is certainly not  that rare. The web is filled with stories of people in Ohio who claim to have seen mirages of lakeside cities in Canada, as if they were only a few miles from the Lake Erie shoreline, instead of a distance more than 50 miles(and beyond the earth’s curvature).  In 1894, it was reported that thousands of people in Buffalo and Rochester New York witnessed a spectacular Fata Morgana that presented a reflection of Toronto, Ontario(over 50 miles away), over the ice of a frozen Lake Ontario. Witness accounts says it was so clear that one could easily count the steeples of Toronto’s churches. The spectacle was reported to have been witnesses by over 20,000 people who lined the shores of Lake Ontario to see it.  A similar story unfolded on cold winter’s day in Cleveland in 1906 as witnesses claim to have seen a “up close” vision of Canadian city on the other side of Lake Erie.  So  perhaps, that “city on the ice” glimpsed by Harry Ashley and his friends on Maumee Bay back in 1901, was neither a hoax nor hallucination, but was  in fact, a lesson in the science of optics and physics. Perhaps it was merely the refracted mirror image of a real city, many miles away,  captured on the lens of the sky and played out on the retina of ice.  Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.

For more information on the Fata Morgana and these other sightings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fata_Morgana_(mirage)

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The Toledo Trunk Mystery, A Grave Robbing Tale

 

 

It was known as “Toledo’s Trunk Mystery”  and for a while in 1886, it was probably the most talked about story of the day. Not  just in Toledo, but around the world as it made headlines in many major newspapers. And no doubt it would be just as attention grabbing today, for this story was not only sensational, but  laid bare the grisly truth of grave robbing by medical schools. A story that began in a Toledo train station where the lifeless body of a young woman was found in a large trunk. As the New York Times relates the story on September 11, 1886, the trunk had been put on the Wheeling and Lake Erie train earlier in the day in Bellevue, about 40 miles east of Toledo.

  

“Among the assortment of trunks that arrived this forenoon was one from which there came a terrible odor. It was placed in an isolated spot and the authorities were notified. When the detectives broke open the trunk it appeared to be filled with straw, but on pulling out a quantity, the officers found the body of a young woman. She was of medium height with blue eyes and brown hair. The clothing was of fine quality, indicating that the victim was of a family in good circumstances. In the mouth, a lot of tissue paper had been stuffed.”

Police stayed with the trunk and waited for someone to claim it and and finally a man did. He was promptly arrested and identified as Martin.E. Wilson. He told police he lived near Bellevue, Ohio and didn’t know the contents of the trunk but had been given money by “certain parties” to take the trunk to Toledo where he was to turn it over to a Dr. Hill from the Toledo Medical College on Lagrange Street. Dr. Hill, however, later said he knew nothing about it. A subsequent investigation by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office concluded that the woman had died of consumption a day or two earlier and without any foul play, but for some reason this woman’s body had been spirited away before her burial. The coroner even noted there had been puncture marks under the arms for embalming. By the next day, however, more information was forthcoming and it was revealed that the body was that of Belle Bowen, the 17-year old daughter of a well-known and “prosperous farmer” John.M. Bowen. She had died of consumption(tuberculosis) and had been buried in a small cemetery near Attica, but her grave, still fresh from the Friday burial, was exhumed that same evening. It latercame out at trial that Wilson had worked under the light of a full moon that September night to pull her body from the grave and then put it into a large trunk before loading it on the train to Toledo with a final destination at the Toledo Medical College. When news of what appeared to be a “grave robbing” surfaced, indignation grew rapidly. And it was widely speculated that this might have been part of a regular system of grave robbing that had been taking place to help medical schools obtain cadavers for research and training. The Bowen family doctor, an H.G. Blaine was arrested. It was alleged that the man who took the trunk to Toledo, Martin Wilson was his assistant and the two of them had conspired to steal the body of young Belle. Wilson also faced charges, along with several staff members of the Toledo Medical College. Back in the Attica and Bellevue area, neighbors and townspeople were irate. A number of men threatened to lynch the two medical men if they returned to the area. Meanwhile, farmer John Bowen traveled to Toledo, with the empty coffin of his daguhter to reclaim his beloved Belle.

In the ensuing trial, it was learned that the 35-year old Wilson was a medical student who had been offered free tuition by the Toledo Medical College to bring them cadavers which were rare in those days since there was no lawful way to obtain them. Wilson was eventually convicted and sent to prison, while Dr. Blaine was cleared of charges, claiming that he didn’t know Wilson had stolen the body and had merely helped him buy the large trunk.  Blaine eventually returned to practice and moved to Willard Ohio. The staff members at the college were also cleared of wrong doing.

Today, Belle Bowen’s body lies undisturbed, and otherwise undistinguished in her grave at the tiny Omar cemetery near Attica, alongside her parents and other family members. There is no notation of how famous she was in death in 1886 when much of the world knew her name and her macabre story.

The practice of grave robbing was apparently in vogue for a number of years in the Toledo area, for only ten years later after this case made Toledo famous, another Toledo doctor was arrested for stealing corpses from the Toledo Infirmary cemetery. Dr. F.O. Hunt was charged with stealing the body of Edwin Cartwright from his grave. The New York Times reported that the coroner at the time, said he was believed to be “part of a gang of professional ghouls operating here for several months and reaping a rich harvest”.

  

 

 

 

 

 

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1931: Malinta Meteor Mystery

     When it happened in the early morning hours of June 10th, 1931, the incident made news around the world. And to this day, no one is quite sure what it was.  The initial reports from tiny Malinta in Henry County, stated that a giant meteor had rocked this small rural community breaking many windows, snapping trees and utility poles. Homes and business were shaken as far away as Columbus.  One wire service reported that residents claimed the meteor crater was 10 feet wide and five feet deep, discovered about a quarter of a mile north of town on the Henry Pohlman farm.  The blast knocked out Malinta’s communication which was cut off for several hours afterward. 

But 79 years later, few residents are alive who remember that day that Malinta became front page news. But there are now several other competing theories as to what might have caused this powerful explosion. One of them is that some nervous bank robbers were trying to get rid of some nitro glycerine and detonated it.  And it was also speculate that it could have been an earthquake, while latter reports offer up the theory that the explosion was the result of a comet fragment explosion. Within days after the big blast, several newspaper reported, including the Adrian Telegram, that in the crater. there was no evidence of meteoric rock  nor was there any evidence of impact or  high heat.  One expert said that judging from the size of the crater, it would have been a small meteor and there was too much surrounding damage for it to have been that small.

So the mystery remains. Just what was it that shook the region on that early summer morning in Northwest Ohio?

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