Category Archives: Toledo area crime news

Toledo’s Unforgettable Judge Austin

Judge James Austin

Judge Austin

Prior to the creation of a Municipal Court system, Toledo, like many cities, had for years used what was called a “Police Court”. In Toledo, that court was synonymous for several decades with one man: Judge James Austin.

Judge Austin was undoubtedly one of the city’s most powerful and colorful characters of the early 1900’s.  According to some accounts, he was the compelling reason that Toledo decided to create a municipal court system of four judges and structured the city’s court system.

It was said that a “certain class of citizens was being favored by Judge Austin.” In one edition of the ‘Police Journal’ of 1922, it was noted that “he withstood the continual howl of the newspapers and the public” for his actions in court.

Despite his critics, Judge Austin remained a popular figure in the city and was reelected to his judicial post many times over, even after the city had gone to a municipal court, Judge Austin was reelected to it and named its chief judge.

Even after assuming his new role as head of the court Judge James Austin continued to create headlines.

The ‘New York Times’ carried one story from 1920, when Austin couldn’t decide the guilt or innocence of a local grocer charged with running a gambling operation and bribery. So he asked the court audience to vote on it. He handed out 34 ballots and the vote came back 27-7 in favor of acquittal.

In another infamous case, a group of southern musicians had been arrested in the city’s notorious tenderloin district for panhandling, Judge Austin decided their best punishment would be to go get their instruments and come back and give the court a make shift concert, which they did.

It was his creativity in sentencing and his reputation for leniency that often sparked the most furor, for Judge Austin was of the mindset that a jail sentence was not always the best form of punishment. He believed it did little good to sentence poor people to the workhouse for crimes that “rich people” got away with.

He was known as the “Golden Rule” judge, believing that to be fair, you had to understand what people were going through and that sometimes the heart was a better measure of punishment than laws.

In 1908, back when Toledo had a workhouse near Swan Creek and City Park known as “Duck Island”, Judge Austin found himself “guilty” of curiosity and sentenced himself to a “day” at the prison, as an inmate, to see what the experience of a prisoner is really like.

On a bitterly cold day in February of that year, Judge Austin reported to “Duck Island” and subjected himself to endure the indignities of  being just another inmate. Citizen Austin was treated no differently than others, ordered to strip and get into prison togs, march to the dining hall and was sent to a pond to cut ice for the ice boxes at the jail.

Upon his release, Austin said, he would have to do some “tall thinking” in the future before sending a man to the workhouse. This was one of the reasons that Judge Austin had earned the nickname of the “Golden Rule” judge.

Another reason for his sobriquet was that the good judge was heavily influenced by the former Toledo Mayor Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, who also believed that poor men deserve “second chances.” Like Judge Austin, Mayor Jones believed the court should not always punish, but serve to reform. He frequently took sides in favor of keeping families together.

In one case in 1909, a young girl appeared before his court to urge the judge to “Let Papa go” after her father had been arrested for “riding the rails.” Judge Austin listened to his heart and released her father from custody.

Austin was eager to listen to children in his court. In another case when a young “newsboy” was brought before his court on an assault charge against another “newsie.” Judge Austin decided to allow the young “newsboys” to serve as the judge and jury to decide verdict and punishment.

Judge Austin’s tenure as the “Police Court Judge” began in 1908 when he took the reigns of the court and lasted on the bench for another 20 years.  Within days after taking over the police court, the Toledo News Bee reported that Austin would not send a man to jail or fine him for drunkeness explaining that the Judge thought it was a disease. And one afflicted with it can no more combat it than he could typhoid fever. It was also noted that a defendant would not be sent to the work house on a first offense, however wife beaters would be shown no mercy. Shortly after assuming the robe, the Judge sentenced a man to 60 days in jail for taking a razor “strop” to his wife for punishment of an unknown transgression.

A native of Rhode Island, and a former Board of Elections member and police court prosecutor, Austin had been in some sort of public employment in Toledo for over 30 years. He was also a Unitarian as he was the son of a Unitarian minister.

Despite his taste for the dramatic while behind the bench, he was said to be a man of modest means, and an even temper. He didn’t drive a car, but took street cars and walked to work each day.

As a writer, he was also was popular on the speaking circuit as he tried to spread his ideas on how the “Golden Rule” should be applied as a tenet of justice. He was, by today’s standards, “liberal” of thought and was friends with many in Toledo’s so called “underworld.”

Judge Austin could be harsh and stern with those who took advantage of the poor and the weak. He was also a robust voice in the anti-gun movement of that era and often opined that guns had no place in a modern society.

It also became Austin’s goal to convince the city to give up its workhouse on Duck Island and start a prison farm.

Within ten years, the prison farm in Whitehouse was built which remained opened for another eight decades before it was eventually shutdown in the 1980’s. It stood vacant for decades and was recently demolished.

Judge James Austin

Judge Austin

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Below the “Dead Line”: Toledo’s Notorious Tenderloin

 

Tenderloin HeadsOnce upon a time in Toledo, there was a place called the “Tenderloin”.  A segregated area of businesses and homes near downtown, where life was lived on the wild side. A place where one could buy most anything to satisfy the cravings of flesh. If you wanted it, it was probably for sale. It was its own city in a way, which operated independently of the laws that governed morals and vice in the city, and it was a magnet for those who sought to live their lives on the tattered hems of society, if only for a few hours a week.  This was the Toledo Tenderloin. It is gone now.  The only remaining evidence of its existence are the stories and what was committed to print.

History researcher, Doug Tracy has spent a considerable amount of time tracking those old stories of the “district”, and what took pace there.  Part of his interest was personal, in that his great grandfather, Toledo Police Detective Lewis B. Tracy, was the police officer in charge of keeping peace in the Tenderloin. Maintaining the fragile balance of what was “allowed” and where to draw the lines of propriety in a neighborhood where little was considered “improper”.

 

The following account of the Tenderloin are excerpts from Doug Tracy’s research:

Toledo in 1918 was a war-weary, fast-growing and extremely busy Great Lakes port city, with a population that was rapidly approaching a quarter of a million people. World War 1 was reaching its apex overseas; horses and ‘machines‘, i.e., cars, still mingled in the streets of the city; Victorian attitudes still lingered from an earlier period, while the passage of the 18th and 19th amendments (prohibition and women’s right to vote) was just around the corner. The newspapers of the day were filled with titillating stories about ‘cops and robbers’, ‘birdmen’ (aviators), ‘yeggs’ (safe-blowers), ‘blind tigers’ (speakeasies), ‘slackers’ (draft-dodgers) and, of course, the war overseas. It was also a time when brothel Madam Nellie Schwinn was conducting business at her ‘resort’ on Lafayette street in the city’s thriving red-light district, also known as the Tenderloin, an area just a few blocks from downtown core, full of rooming houses, saloons, gambling halls and questionable characters. Toledo police, including Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy, routinely patrolled the area, doing their best to maintain some semblance of order, but were simply unable to completely purge the streets of the grifters, pickpockets, thieves, prostitutes and drug users who preyed on the frequenters of the district.

Beneath the Dead Line

The Tenderloin District covered a number of city blocks in the vicinity of Lafayette and Washington streets and Swan Creek – near the area now occupied by Fifth-Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens.  There were an estimated 35 houses of ill-repute, not to mention many more saloons, pool halls, gambling joints, wine rooms and seedy rooming houses.

Newspapers of the day paint a picture of the Tenderloin District as an area “beneath the dead line” where thieves, gamblers, grafters, sporting women, degenerates and drunks ran free. The police department did its best to control things, but could not keep up and often looked the other way. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there had been many efforts by Toledo’s leaders to clean up the area, but none were entirely successful.

L. Tracy in 1900In late 1915, Detective Tracy presented to the citizenry new regulations and rules that were drafted by the police department to improve conditions for “dance hall proprietors and persons engaged in immoral business”.  The new rules included prohibition of dance music from Saturday midnight until Monday morning, outlawing outsiders from bringing liquor for ‘inmates’ into resorts, a three-times-per-year limitation on changes of residency of ‘immoral women’, bi-weekly medical inspections of the inmates, establishment of a registration system that included photographing ‘outcast women’ for a ‘rogues gallery’, and a general war on men profiting from inmates.

Toledo at the time was truly a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, situated at the geographical crossroads that drew Great Lakes sailors and ‘underworld’ figures moving between Detroit and Cleveland.  The criminal subculture in Toledo was a major law enforcement, as well as moral, problem for upstanding Toledoans.  The various clean-up campaigns by city officials to rid the city of immoral behavior throughout the post-Civil War and Victorian eras had been, at best, only marginally successful.
In early 1918, the War Department issued clear directives to America’s cities to take measures to protect draft-age young men from social diseases as well as from crime.  The fervor of patriotism was never higher and Toledo, following the lead of many other cities, was quick to seize upon this opportunity provided by the War Department to draft local laws and organize campaigns to drive the ‘immorals’ from their city as part of their contribution to the war effort.  Toledo’s clean-up campaign picked up steam in the spring of 1918, with near unanimous support of the public.  City Council wasted no time passing the statutes necessary to support the campaign.  The Mayor and Police Chief developed new guidelines for the officers on the street and set May 1, 1918, as the date that all of the perpetrators of immoral activity in the Tenderloin would leave town, or face lengthy jail-time and fines.  With the deadline set, public excitement escalated as city officials worked with civic groups, health professionals and church leaders to devise a plan for an orderly eviction from the Tenderloin.  There was much speculation by the public as to what would be the outcome of this campaign.

The Evoy Saloon at St. Clair and Lafayette

The Evoy Saloon at St. Clair and Lafayette

It was estimated that there would be approximately 1,365 ladies who faced expulsion from the area and there was great concern about what would become of them and their scandalous lifestyles.  Community and religious groups, including the Florence Crittenton Home for Girls, offered to help the affected Tenderloin residents change their evil ways by finding legitimate jobs for those who wished to make an honest living and try to return to a virtuous life.  Reverend T. B. Frizelle of the First Baptist Church said in his Sunday sermon, 3/24/1918, “The Florence Crittenton home is the only organized body fitted to cope with the vice-closing problem in Toledo . . . we must be in a position to save those who will avail themselves of the opportunity to make a new start. ”
The April 3, 1918, edition of the Toledo Blade reported that on April 29, 1918, The National Committee of the Florence Crittenton Home for Girls planned to march 200 women residents of the Tenderloin through downtown streets and even “invade the neighborhoods of preachers and reformers who have condemned them.  ‘If you don’t find us a place in which to work and sleep there’s nothing for us but the river,’ the refugees will cry.  ‘Will you be responsible for our souls?’”
Health professionals made plans to open clinics and hospitals in the vice area to test and treat the afflicted.  Venereal disease was the primary concern, but scarlet fever, diphtheria and morphine addiction were also major concerns, as was influenza, which was just beginning to cause epidemic numbers of deaths throughout the country, as well as around the world.  In neighboring cities and villages there was particular concern that eviction of Toledo’s worst meant that the criminal element would simply migrate to other neighborhoods or surrounding towns and set up shop there.

Wurzinger's Saloon at Washington and Superior

Saloon at Washington and Superior

Some of the proprietors of the older established resorts had no intention of leaving Toledo. Instead, they made plans to close their resort businesses and convert them to strictly stag rooming houses, i.e., no women allowed. The Toledo Blade reported that one proprietor of one resort at Superior and Lafayette streets (where the Spaghetti Warehouse is now located) did not want to abandon her house because it was “. . . said to have between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of mahogany and Circassian walnut furniture, Brussels carpets, costly draperies, masterpieces in oil paintings and classic statuary.”  Apparently not all resorts were shabby establishments.

While all of this was going on, Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy diligently policed his beat – the Tenderloin district. More specifically, Detective Tracy’s job was to register, photograph and monitor the ‘inmates’ of the houses of ill-fame. He was so well-known and respected by the ladies of the area that many called him ‘Papa’, a nick-name that did not go over too well with some Toledo citizens who felt it was improper for an officer of the law to be so cozy with the unfortunates in the segregated district. The Toledo Blade editorialized that, “While it is a distinction of which he never boasts and one of which he is not especially proud, Captain of Detectives Lewis Tracy probably knows by face and name more women of To­ledo’s underworld than any man liv­ing.

Nonetheless, as the Tenderloin shutdown date neared, Detective Tracy did his best to help out the ladies whenever he could. In a letter to the editor of a local newspaper citing concerns about unsanitary conditions in the Lagrange Street Station jail, one of the arrested ladies cited Detective Tracy and his efforts to help the ‘unfortunates’

 

Two hundred girls from Toledo’s tenderloin have declared voluntarily that they want to “go straight.”

Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy, in charge of registration of immoral women, said Monday that since Mayor Schreiber’s order to resort keepers that they must close by May 1, on request of the federal government, more than 200 girls have come to him and asked for employment. Tracy says these girls tell him they desire to quit the old life and enter legitimate employment as domestics, clerks – any honorable work to which they may adapt themselves.

Two orphans, 20 and 21, respectively; who have been living immorally one year, came to Capt. Tracy Monday morning from a house on South Erie street. Both are white girls. One said: “I’m tired of this sort of thing, and I’d do anything to get a chance to live right. The Christian people have said in the papers they are willing to help us. Now is their chance.  Her companion’s story was almost identical, and Capt. Tracy promised to do what he can for them.

As the May 1st deadline approached, activity in the vice zone increased dramatically, as much for the residents as for the curious citizenry. The Tenderloin became the center of attention and was visited by hundreds, if not thousands, of curious sight-seers. Disturbances were numerous. The continuous clang of police automobile gongs could be heard from early Saturday night until Sunday morning. Long lines of automobiles filled the streets. Sidewalks were almost impassable, due to density of the curious. So heavy was travel police were forced to station men on corners to act as traffic guides.  The Tenderloin was busier than ever and the Toledo Times headlined its story on the activity as: Slumming Open Doors of Sin:

In the last hours of their existence, the lights in Toledo’s vice grottos shed a malevolent glow. The ghosts of myriad nights of ribaldry were abroad, patrolling for the last time the precincts where in times past they had appeared as living, flaunting things.

Electric bulbs, once radiant, seemed to shimmer with a vixen-like glow, as the tapers of death, casting their last sad shadows over the figure of a corpse.

toledo city journal closing of tenderloin

Click to Enlarge

They were the sepulchers of things which rest in the traditions of the underworld – fortunes won and lost, murders committed and forgotten, tragedies gossiped over and lost in the swirl of events “below the dead line.”  

By midnight of Tuesday, May 1st, 35 resorts were closed and dark.  A Toledo News-Bee writer poignantly and poetically painted a picture of the final night of the vice zone:

.”...Never before was the tenderloin utterly crushed out, although there had been minor restrictions imposed on it from time to time. The women of the underworld accepted the order as a matter of fact. Their exodus began several weeks ago, but not all of the resorts were abandoned before the ban became effective. Many sight-seers collected during the last hours on Tuesday night in such places as were still open. There was a little feverish revelry but the district in general was quiet.No better night could have been chosen for the passing of the tenderloin. Rain swept the streets where the refuse which had accompanied the moving-out of some of the places during the day, was still scattered. Thru the cold mist, the lights of passing autos made yellow halos and the electric globes above the doorways of the houses blinked in a sinister manner. A few men loitered along sheltering walls. Cats, abandoned in the Tuesday exodus of the women, slunk thru the rain. Houses, where a few nights before there had been music and laughter, were silent. By midnight the lights above the doors of the houses had all gone out. Behind drawn blinds even the lamps were darkened. Notorious resorts were deserted and lowered heavily over the dismal streets.

The segregated district had passed.”

In the coming months after the closing, the story of the Toledo Tenderloin took a new twist. Ironically, a couple of the most famous houses of ill repute in the district were leased by the city and were converted into a Toledo Municipal Hospital for the destitute and poor.  The hospital that would accommodate 60 to 100 patients to treat blood disease cases, diphtheria, venereal diseases, influenza and scarlet fever. The neighborhood would change dramatically over the decades, but the people who inhabited the Tenderloin may not have changed so readily. Many of the ladies and men either moved to different parts of the city to ply their trade, or moved out of town.  In July of 1918, Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy snagged 4 women in a raid on Spielbusch avenue and delivered them to the new hospital to be examined. They were the first patients to be examined.  In Maumee, a disorderly house began operating there and a late night raid netted the arrests of over 40 women.  And a few weeks later, Toledo Police raided two roadhouses near  Bay View Park in North Toledo, arresting nearly 100 men and women. The Toledo Blade reported on June 26th of 1918 that, “Toledo’s resort district, abolished May at government instigation, has re-established itself at Point Place, popular suburb.” Not surprisingly, Point Place was outside the jurisdiction of the Toledo Police Department and just across the border from dry Michigan. It was estimated that there were at least 100 former tenderloin resort inmates operating in Point Place, in the lower end of the Ten Mile Creek summer home colony. There the girls disport themselves at night in front of the houses, while electric pianos carry on a discordant serenade. Automobile parties are the principal frequenters of the district. One street in the lower end of the settlement has been practically taken over by resorts, police officials say. Almost every house on both sides of the street is occupied by inmates of the old Toledo tenderloin and, the police say, practically every house is selling liquor.”

It became obvious, very quickly, that closing the Tenderloin had not solved the problems of disease, alcoholism and moral bankruptcy. Those social issues just moved to new neighborhoods and would continue to flourish.  Forced to uproot and relocate when public pressure prompted politicians and police to “crackdown” on the visible evidence of such behavior on the streets. The closing of the “district” also  provided a lesson that is still often ignored today,  that it is much easier to move people,  than to move what is inside of them.

In late May of 1918, the federal government sent a doctor to Toledo to assess our city’s health situation and to speak to assemblies of young women about the dangers of social diseases. In one speech she noted, “From a health viewpoint, nothing much has yet been accomplished by the abolition of Toledo’s vice district. Morally, it was a step in the right direction. The trouble with segregation is that segregation does not segregate. It is the women and children who reap the harvest of the wild oats sowing. The best and ultimate solution of the problem will be an insistence by the women of the country upon a single standard of morals. As long as the women permit a double standard of morals vice will flourish.

 

My hearty  thanks to researcher and writer Doug Tracy, whose passion for exploring Toledo’s past continues to help promote a better understanding of where we have been as a city and where we are today. Doug is also researching the tenderloin’s notorious Madame, Nellie Schwinn. If you have any information about her, or where she fled  after she left Toledo, please contact us here at Toledo Gazette. We’ll be in touch.

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Filed under Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous, Toledo area crime news

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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Filed under Old Places and Faces, Strange Happenings, The Forgotten and no so famous, Toledo area crime news, Uncategorized

“Guns He Shunned, Finally End Knife King’s Career”

One of the great joys I get from reading old newspapers, is absorbing the colorful writing of newsprint reporters from years past.  It is a true lesson in how to spin a great yarn using the elements of fact, but set down in a narrative the keeps the readers’ attention. Perhaps not always with the most accuracy, and usually spun with some subjective bias, but it’s damn fine storytelling nonetheless.  It was the essence of pulp fiction. Few papers in the country did it better that Toledo’s News Bee.  If you read the News Bee, you were treated to a tabloid view of life on Toledo’s colorful streets that would compel most everybody to grab the daily paper and a cup of coffee and settle down for an hour’s worth of great reading. Still does.

I found an example of this prose, I thought it would be fun to share with you from a 1930 article taken from a Toledo News Bee that tells the story of a guy named “Big Wingle” and how he came to meet his demise in one of Toledo’s most dangerous crime neighborhoods of the era.

Guns He Shunned, Finally End Knife King’s Career”

They never would have got “Big Wingle” that way if he had been facing them.  Every Detective who responded to 518 State Street agreed on that point. But the fact remained, that  “Big Wingle”, Leroy Wagner, Canton Street’s bad boy,  lay dead there with five bullet wounds in his neck.

It seemed funny to those detectives to stand there and look down on “Wingle”. They had picked up, in their time, many of the big boy’s victims who had made the double mistake of speaking out of turn and then stepping in front of the one-armed boy’s razor.

“Wingle’s” shed-home near where his body lay didn’t offer much in the way of what happened. The improvised furniture lay scattered about. There must have been a fight. Neighbors heard the rumpus, but Wingle’s neighbors made it a practice of never interfering in his business.

The big boy’s roommate who was seen intoxicated on Canton Street just before the shooting is sought by police. He’s tough too. 

Since 1917 police have arrested Wingle 30 times, he has been convicted 10 times on charges that led him to be called the fastest thing with a knife on Canton Street. He served a year in Atlanta penitentiary for dealing in narcotics and in 1918 he went down to Ohio penitentiary for a three year term for carrying concealed weapons. After that, Wingle settled most of his disputes with a knife.

“Gun gets a fellow in trouble” Wingle said that often.  And sure enough, a gun got him.

There’s no mention of why Leroy Wagner was called “Big Wingle” but if the current urban dictionary and other online sources are correct, it could be that Wagner not only was known for wielding not just one large weapon, but two,..if you get my drift.

There many tales written in the News Bee during that time frame that employed this cocky type of Mickey Spillane prose as they conjure up a much more vivid picture of the scene and the actors of the times who not only have a name but have a character and a story and jump off the page into your mind’s eye.

My thanks to those writers.

And my thanks to the Toledo Blade who owns the News Bee archive file.

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The Luckey Legend of Benjamin Franklin Stone

The story of  the black man’s entry into the ranks of American law enforcement really didn’t begin to materialize until little over a century ago in about the  late 1800’s and the early 1900’s.  Even then, the numbers of black Americans given the chance to wear a badge were still few and occurring mostly in the larger cities where black populations were large.  In Toledo, for example, Albert King was the first black citizen hired to wear a Toledo Police badge in about 1900.  In the smaller communities of the area, minority police officers were non existant at the time,  and in many rural towns, they still are.

Young Benjamin Stone

 So it was surprising to learn that the first black man in Ohio to become a small town police chief was a man by the name of Ben Stone, in the tinyWood County village of Luckey Ohio – in the 1920’s. He was born in 1874, Benjamin Franklin Stone, of mixed Irish and Black parents, and was considered “mulatto”, at the time.  While history doesn’t record exactly where he was born, we do know that he and his brother, Tom Stone, eventually ended up in an orphanage on Lagrange Street in Toledo,. By the time he was 10 years old, Ben and his brother, Tom were taken from the orphanage by Bill Dunipace, an early farmer near Luckey who needed help on his farm. Dunipace was a bachelor and gave the brothers the promise of a better life in exchange for doing the various chores and jobs around the farm. Apparently, Tom Stone didn’t take to the notion of being a part of the farm life and fled back to Toledo, while Ben stayed on to work with farmer Dunipace and lived out his childhood in this rural setting of the late 1800’s. It is said, that their relationship grew close and became like a father and son. Two decades later when Mr. Dunipace died, he left Ben 80 acres of land and a house on Sugar Ridge Road. For a number of years, Ben tried his hand at farming and living the rural lifestyle, but as a young man, at about 30 years old, he wasn’t content to just settle down and work the land. He had other pursuits on his mind and one of them was guns. Throughout his boyhood, he enjoyed shooting guns and spent much of his time while growing up…honing his skills as a marksman. Locals say he became so good with a revolver, he could shoot the eye out of a crow perched in the highest branch of a tree. And one neighbor says he actually saw Ben shoot at and hit the same nailhead on a wooden door, four times in a row. He also enjoyed other thrills like speed and motorcycles. Not only did he have a motorcycle, but kept it parked at night inside of his modest house on the farm property where he lived. Stories are still told of how Ben would blaze at high speeds down the back country roads of Webster Township on his motorcycle, “plinking” at prearranged roadside targets with great accuracy

 BEN STONE MAKES HIS HIS MOVE INTO TOWN.

Ben Stone’s Cabin

Eventually, in 1916, Ben tired of the farming life and sold off 40 acres of his land to a neighbor, but kept the old cabin and the other forty acres where he lived.  He also took a few odd jobs working for other farmers in the area. His solid reputation for hard work and honesty paid other dividends when he took a full time job as the night watchman for the Schwan Furniture store and funeral home in Luckey, guarding the business from the growing number of depression era criminals who roamed the area looking for things to steal. A few other merchants also paid Ben to watch their stores at night and soon he was officially appointed as the town marshal. With that designation he was allowed to carry and gun and he patrolled Luckey’s streets at night with a flashlight in one hand and a shotgun in the other. He also tucked a .45 caliber handgun into the side of his well worn and shaggy coveralls that was his familiar uniform. It can be stated that Ben was hardly a student of modern fashion. His unshaven and grizzly face and his disheveled appearance, were not helped by his refusal to wear a glass eye after he had lost one in an accident many years before. His reason for not wearing the glass eye, he said, was that “it doesn’t make me see any better”. Ben was clearly a man of modest needs and means. After selling his cabin and the remaining 40 acres in the country, he eventually made his home in the back storeroom of the old Schwan Furniture store and where his bed was fashioned from empty wooden boxes used for burial vaults.

 THE DAY THAT BEN BECAME A LUCKEY LEGEND

Locals say Ben would have made a good character for a movie. And if ever there was a great opening scene, it might have been written about the quiet autumn day in 1933 when this mild mannered and friendly marshal became a real-life action hero. As the tale is told from the 1981 Luckey Centennial history book, the story unfoldedThursday afternoon, September 28 in 1933. John Landwehr who worked at the Schwan furniture store, was washing the front windows when he noticed a man walk toward the Luckey Exchange Bank wearing a hunting coat. Another man was sitting in a parked car, acting nervously, on the street nearby. Sensing something wasn’t right, Landwehr and his sister ran to the backroom of the furniture store to awaken Marshal Stone who had been up all night patrolling the streets. When informed of what might be happening at the bank, Ben promptly rolled out of bed, put a six shooter in each pocket, and picked up a double barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot.

“He went out the back door of Schwans down the alley and through The Williamson’s Garage and when went down the sidewalk past the bank and waited in the stairway beside the barber shop.” Meanwhile the bandit had entered the bank and pointed a pistol at Harvey Helm, the cashier and two others in the bank, and demanded the money in the drawer. As Helm passed $344.98 to the bandit, he touched an alarm button that sounded in the telephone office and several other downtown stores. Then he and others were herded into a back room of the bank by the bandit who fled out the front door. As he exited, he was greeted by the shotgun wielding Marshal Ben Stonewho said “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

 That’s when Ben Stone says he heard “two cracks” from the robber’s gun and then felt something “nip” his legs” and “That’s when I let him have the right barrel and he went down in a heap.” Someone then shouted that the robber was going to fire again, at which point, Ben not only fired the other barrel at the robber, but then pumped three more bullets into him from his pistol. As soon as the gunfire erupted, the other man in the getaway car took off and Ben would recall later” I’m pretty sorry I didnt get him too.” He was later caught and sent to prison.

LOCAL WOMAN STILL RECALLS THE DAY IT HAPPENED 

By this time, the normally quiet downtown main street in Luckey was flooding with people who came to view the aftermath of this violent bank robbery that ended badly for the suspect as he lay mortally wounded bleeding profusely from his wounds, while Marshal Stone dealt with the pain and bleeding from two bullet holes in his legs. One of the people who came to town that day to witness the scene, was LaVeda Graening, who was a teenager at the time. Now in her nineties, and living in Perrysburg, she told me recently, what she remembers of that day as the crowd gathered around the dead bank robber sprawled out on the bloody street.

 ” My cousin called me and told me what was happening and I ran as fast as I could to get there. The streets were filled with people and people gathered around to see someone shot in the street. It was so public…seeing a body there. Just out in front of everybody. I don’t want to be too descriptive, but when they took his short off, you know, you could see the wound in his chest. It was awful”.

 Ben Stone who had suffered two gunshot wounds to the legs was being transported by a local resident to Mercy Hospital in Toledo. Mrs. Graening remembers that townspeople were concerned for Ben and sent get well cards to the wounded Marshal in hopes for his quick recovery. “Everybody liked Ben. He was a friendly man. I can still remember seeing that little smile of his. He used to have little sayings and called some of the girls and women in town his little “Ain-gies”, or Angels. He loved children….he was like a Granpa to me.”

STONE ADOPTS LUCKEY AS HIS HOME AND  LUCKEY ADOPT S HIM AS ONE OF THEIR OWN 

Laveda Graening’s remembrances of the Luckey’s most famous lawman are shared by many. The legacy of this man remains indelibly etched into the historical accounts of the Wood County community as a local hero. An unlikely and unusual embrace of a black man in the lily-white farm country of Wood County made up predominantly German and Swiss ancestry at a time when racial prejudice was still practiced openly in many communities. The open warmth that was shown to Ben during this era says a lot about the people of Luckey and says a lot about character of Ben Stone and the effect he had on the people of the community.Ben%20Stone%20original%202

 “He was my Dad’s best friend”, LaVeda Graening recalls, and she tells of how Ben’s “bunkhouse” or quarters, where he used to sleep at night in the back of the mortuary, often became a social gathering place for the men of the town who would get together on a Saturday morning to tell stories over a pot bellied stove. Ben, who was regarded as “town character” often took his share of good natured ribbing from some of the men in town about his dress, his bib overhauls and and his happy-go-lucky lifestyle, but Ben, it is written, always took it in good stride and laughed with those who make the jokes. After the bank robbery and shooting in 1933, the townspeople of Luckey took Ben a little more seriously. Appreciative of the fact, that he had put himself in harms way to protect the town and residents, the citizens found a new sense of respect for Marshal Stone. In November of 1933, few months after the shooting, Ben Stone was the guest of honor at a testimonial dinner at the Grace Lutheran Church in Luckey where 160 of his fellow townspeople thanked him for his courage and service to the town and presented him with a new gold deputy sheriff’s badge with his name engraved on the back of it. They also presented him with a check for 150 dollars.

 SLAIN BANK ROBBER’S MOTHER THANKS BEN STONE

Another gift Ben received was surprising and offered a strange twist to the bank robbery saga. It was a letter of thanks from the mother of Glenn Saunders, the bank robber that he had shot dead. Mrs. Saunders of Columbus Grove, thanked Ben for killing her son, saying he had always been trouble and she and her husband were relieved that he wouldn’t be causing anymore trouble. She continued her communication with Ben over the years and they often exchanged Christmas gifts.

 Ben continued his duties for the next decade in his adopted home of Luckey, patrolling the streets, with his guns tucked into the bib overhauls and greeting his friends and residents everyday with a familiar smile. After the shooting however, he had to give up riding his bicycle because of the wounds he sustained in the shoot-out. He sold it a young girl in town, Betty Landwehr, who had become one of his “Ain-gies” or Angels. Her mother paid for the bike with10 dozen cookies, delivered over a period of time. Betty rode the bike for many years before heading off to Bowling Green to college. Betty lives now in Florida and has very fond memories of Ben Stone as do most of those fortunate enough to have known him.

Ben Stone’s Marker

 When Ben died on August 27th, 1943, of heart disease, at the age of 69, staying true to his simple desires of life, his remains were cremated, and his ashes spread over the Webster Township Cemetery at Scotch Ridge. Today one can find a grave marker among the those of the other families and settlers of the area. And while the old dirty boots of Ben Stone no longer walk the streets of Luckey protecting its citizens at night, the footsteps of this young orphaned boy who found a home can be heard in the winds of time.

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Cops and Robbers Street Slang Has Been Spoken For Decades

yeggs2As I’ve spent hours surfing the headlines of yesterday’s newspapers, one of the first odd words I happened upon was the word “Yegg”.  It didn’t take long to determine that it was the term our grandparents used to describe burglars or safe robbers or specifically those who blew up the safes in stores and banks to get at the stash of cash on hand. In the early part of the 20th century it was in common use, however its origin remains murky at best.  Crime slang is nothing new, however, as police and criminals have used their own street vernacular for many decades.  In Toledo, the police department and local criminal elements were also fluent in the jargon of the day. And much of that lexicon, like the word Yegg has passed into obscurity.  In a 1927 Toledo News Bee article, I found an interesting glossary of these old terms from a hundred years ago. Colorful indeed and useful when reading and translating old police reports.  Toledo Police Detective William Culver, who gained a national repuation for astute police work,  shared one particular example using the underworld criminalese of the day with the News Bee readers.

“A front office man and a finger dick with a fanatic and filthy smoke got by the announcer and rushed a mob in the joint”.

So what does it mean?

Culver says it meant “a headquarters man and a detective were accompanied by a prohibition agent using gas bombs and managed to elude the “lookout” man and raid a gang of crooks at a “vice resort”, which was a gambling and drinking parlor.

Here are some other crime expressions of the day recorded by Toledo Police officers.

The eye ————- Detective agency

Track 13 and a Washout  —  A  life sentence in a western prison.

The Third Rail —- a pickpocket caught on a railroad train

Toadskins ———- Papermoney

Undershine ——— A fur coat

Vog ——————- A chicken thief

Trolley —————–A wire or string used to pass paper from cell-to-cell.

Vermont Charity — Sympathy

Ludy——————-Someone who passes phony money for a counterfeiter

Lush Toucher —- A crook who robs drunk people

Beak   —————A judge

Yad ——————A porch climber

Wingy ————–A person with one arm

Wisechuck ——–A uniformed back officer

Zenas ————–Man or woman who wears lots of jewelry

Lifeboat ————A pardon

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Toledo’s Dell Hair, First of a Rare Breed of Cop-Poets

Cops who put down their pistols and pick up pens in the gentle pursuit of poetry, may seem like a rare breed, but perhaps not as rare as you might think. Happened to read recently about an undercover cop in Los Angeles who is also a poet and says he is one of a growing number of officers who have something to say in verse. So he is trying to organize these poet-police officers into some type of national cop-poets-society.  If this should come to fruition, I will suggest they make a special place in their ranks for Toledo Policeman Dell Hair, the nation’s first cop-poet, at least the first one who was nationally recognized for his verse. While not considered a great poet, he was popular and was published numerous times in the course of a career that included walking the dark streets of downtown Toledo, fighting crime while composing rhyme.

 He was born Adalbert Hair on a farm near the small western Michigan town of Morrice back in 1871. Always the romantic, he left that community behind as a young man to join the U.S. Army Cavalry Regiment in the American West where it is said that he helped put down down the last of Geronimo’s Apache uprisings. From there, Hair eventually made his way to Toledo where in 1906, he joined the ranks of the Toledo Police Department. This of course was long before squad cars, so Hair spent much of his time on foot as a patrolman. While he was on duty, it is reported that he not only worked out poems in his head, but, often gave those suspects he arrested, on-the-spot renditions of his verse, as he hauled them back to the police station.  From those many days and nights on the streets, in 1908, he published a collection of poems that he wrote entitled “Echoes from the Beat”.

 About a year later, Hair left the Toledo Police Department, under controversial circumstances, and formed his own downtown private security company, which was really a poetic way of saying he hired out as a night watchman to check on downtown stores. But he did it well, and did it for many years until he died. All the while, writing and publishing his poems and even becoming involved in city politics.  A Toledo New Bee article in 1909 reports that Dell Hair spoke to a political rally in a campaign against Toledo Mayor Brand Whitlock, in which Hair claimed he was fired by the police department because Whitlock, also a writer, was “jealous of his literary accomplishments”. Hair was not shy about voicing his opinions and was outspoken on many issues of the times, often putting those concerns about city problems into iambic pentameter. He was also popular with many in the city, especially the downtown merchants whose stores he protected at night.  Hair even tried running for mayor in Toledo in 1915, but returned to his police work and his poetry.  Dell Hair, lived at 1005 Salem Street in Toledo and was married to his wife Charlotte, had several children and continued writing poetry and staying on the downtown beat, until his death from the flu in 1932.

 During his lifetime, he wrote and published many books of poetry. Many of which ares still available on E-bay and other used book sites. Some of the titles to look for are “Roses and Thorns”, published while he was in the Army, also “Songs of Darkness, Light and Death” from 1895, “Nature Beautiful”, published in 1929, “Violets and Thorns” and “Echoes from a Dell” in 1922.  Dell Hair was described by those who knew him, as a large man in stature, a big and burly guy who, despite his love of poetry, always put his respect and admiration first for his fellow officers and firemen. In dedicating “Echoes from the Beat”, he wrote : “In honor of the great love I bear for the police and firemen who, ​​without hesitancy, risk their lives for the welfare of others, I dedicate the third volume of my ​​poems”.​

 Just what motivated Dell Hair to be a cop and writer of poetry, we’ll probably never know for sure, maybe he didn’t know either. But Jessee Fourmy, the cop in Los Angeles who I mentioned at the start of this story believes it has to do with a cop’s natural instinct to study and understand human nature. He says they are seekers of truth, which also the goal of the poet.

 Fourmy says there are so many cops now writing poetry on the West Coast, they have started their own journal called “Rattle”, in which former Portland police officer-turned-poet James Fleming writes that”Cops and poets are intruders into other people’s lives. They both probe for character, motive, history. They both want to know what people are up to. A person of interest can end up in a poem or in jail.”

 And a police poem can end up in an editorial. In fact, the Toledo Blade used one of Dell Hair’s old poems in 1964 when controversy arose over the old Spielbush Fountain at the Civic Center at Spielbusch and Cherry Streets. The decaying old stone structure was destined to be torn down, despite the cries of those who wanted to save it. The Blade proposed that a marker be erected near the site of the fountain with a poem from Dell Hair, in which he waxed profoundly about how the fountain not only quenched his physical thirst, but satisfied his muse of inspiration. This from the “Echoes from the Beat”

 Old beautiful fountain so holy and good,adorning the place where the old market stood.

Where mammoth iron bars were bolted in rows, Where horses fought flies now a green carpet grows.

Thy dome is not lofty, thy cups are not gold,The people here flock like sheep to the fold.

Mothers to children, for pitchers will call, There is plenty to spare and enough for us all

On every morn between three and four, I quench my thirst from thy bountiful store

As in the tin cup, I thy purity view, A short little verse is whispered for you

Oh beautiful fountain this is my song of the memory erected to one that is gone

All thanks to the son who lowered the rod, that brought to the people one blessing of god.

To this writer’s knowledge that marker was never placed at the site and the Spielbusch fountain is long gone. But the words of poet-policeman Dell Hair live on. Likely will outlive all of us as his verse is passed from generation to generation, perhaps a little dusty with time, but still there, to drink in, like a fountain that just keeps flowing.

 

 

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