Category Archives: World War two Era

Special Report: Toledo’s Missing Navy Silver — Found, But Tarnished With Questions

USS_Toledo_(CA-133)USS Toledo heavy cruiser launched in 1946

A treasure with Toledo’s name on it has been missing for awhile. A treasure worth tens of thousands of dollars and forged with historical  significance, but strangely nobody really knew it was missing. A footnote of our history, forgotten in the fog of our memories. But now, fifty years after it left Toledo, it has surfaced and here is its story.

Silver Service 5Silver service 2USS Toledo Plate

In 1946 when the United State Navy was about the launch the USS Toledo,a brand new heavy cruiser, the citizens of Toledo wanted to do something special for this new ship that would be christened in name of our fair city.  So, in this strongly patriotic post-Word War Two period, the Navy League of Toledo  quickly raised the treasure needed, with the help of community kindness, to have a custom 18 place engraved silver service dinner set made for the USS Toledo and its officers’ ward room which has been a long standing Navy tradition. The silver collection was commissioned through the Gorham Silver Company of Rhode island, one of the most famous makers of silverware in the world. It was an artfully crafted collection of over 200 pieces,  with many of the trays and plates featuring the engravings of Toledo landmarks on them.  The collection was impressive and beautiful, created at a cost of about $12,500.  Ironically, the silver collection did not make it aboard the USS Toledo for two more years. Broer Freeman, the local  Toledo jeweler who was handling the purchase and details with Gorham Silver company found the entire collection in 1948, in a back storeroom, crated up and ready for delivery, but somehow, no one ever delivered the silver to the USS Toledo. Depsite some local embrassment for this oversight, the set was officially delivered to the USS Toledo and took its place aboard this new warship that would go on to see plenty of heroic action during the years of the Korean War.

 

WHEN USS TOLEDO IS RETIRED, SILVER IS RETURNED TO TOLEDO 

By 1960, however, when the USS Toledo was retired from active duty and decommissioned, the coveted silver service set, at the request of Toledo Mayor Mike Damas, Michael DamasMayor Michael Damas

was returned to Toledo and locked in a vault at the former Naval Armory at Bayview Park with the idea that it might eventually be displayed to the Toledo public at the Toledo Museum of Art. There is no record of that ever happening.  Less than a year later, the set was loaned again to the Navy. This time going aboard the  USS Spiegel Grove for a voyage on a goodwill tour of Africa’s coastal cities.  The Spiegel Grove, a Navy landing craft had been named to honor President’s Rutherford B. Hayes’s beloved home at Spiegel Grove in Fremont, so it was only natural that the Toledo inspired silver dinner set would grace its wardroom.

But the loan of the USS Toledo silver to this landing craft was short lived, when the Navy requested that the set be placed aboard the soon-to-be commissioned super aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk. Once again, with the Ohio connection of the Wright Brothers and their historic relationship to Kitty Hawk North Carolina, Toledo’s city fathers felt this was an appropriate move to allow the set to be placed aboard the new super aircraft carrier.

USS_Kitty_Hawk_CV-63USS Kitty Hawk

In 1963, Toledo City Council passed a resolution to make that official and soon the silver dinnerware was on its way to San Diego to become apart of this huge US Navy super carrier.  That was the last time the silver was ever seen in Toledo, it has never been back since.    When The USS Kitty Hawk was taken out of service and decommissioned several years ago, it sort of vanished into the byzantine bureacracy of government limbo.  So what happened to it?  Curious minds like mine always want to know.

Thanks to the Internet these days, finding long lost treasure or elusive information is not as hard as it once was. So, within the last week, photos of the USS Toledo silver service appeared on a Facebook posting for the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.

USS Toledo Silver is hereSilver Service 6Silver Service4Silver Service3

Photos from the Midway Museum Facebook Page

The images portrayed workers preparing the set for display aboard the historic aircraft carrier that is now a museum ship in San Diego harbor.  The museum opened for business in 2004 and is a popular tourist spot on the San Diego oceanfront harbor. But the discovery of this treasured Toledo artwork has prompted even more questions. At least on the part of this reporter. I am curious to know why the set was never brought back to Toledo for display in one of our museums or venues. It was after all, originated here in Toledo and paid for by the people of Toledo and placed in the custody of the US Navy as a goodwill gesture to honor the USS Toledo, and then later the USS Kitty Hawk.  From what I read in the original news stories from both 1946 and 1963,  it was never intended to be given away to the US Navy without some conditions attached, and certainly did not appear to give the Navy’s carte blanche  authority to exercise sole discretion as to the artwork’s eventual disposal.  In an effort to find out just what the expectations of the city might have been in 1963, or in 1946,  I have submitted questions regarding its historical chain of custody to the U.S. Navy History and Heritage  Command.

 US NAVY SAYS THE USS TOLEDO SILVER COLLECTION IS NOW OWNED BY THE NAVY

In a late development in the last few days, I have received some answers from the US Navy, specifically from Lt. Commander Heidi Lenzini of the US Navy’s History and Heritage Command who says that after checking their records and files, it appears that when the silver service was returned by Mayor (John) Potter of Toledo to be placed onboard the USS Kitty Hawk in 1963, that it did not come with any stipulations that it be returned to Toledo or that it was being loaned to the Navy, …”therefore the collection is considered to be the property of the Navy. The Navy decided the Silver would be best suited to be placed in a museum on a loan basis instead of in storage.” She goes to write that the Navy felt the placement of the 204 pieces of the collection, valued at over 61,000 dollars today could be seen by millions of people a year at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. The loan agreement with that museum is for an unspecified period of time, or until such time that another ship bearing the name the USS Toledo goes into service. As for the USS Toledo submarine, launched almost 20 years ago, Lt. Commander Lenzini says that new USS Toledo does have two of the original silver platters from the collection.

In the Navy’s reply to me, they did include a number of the original letters between the City of Toledo and the US Navy from 50 years ago, regarding the placement of the silver.  After studying some of those early missives, I think they leave some questions as to the original intent and ownership of the collection. I suppose it’s all a matter of  some interpretation. From what I have read, the letter from Mayor John Potter and the Toledo City Council does not explicitly, no implicitly give the US Navy ownership of the collection. And it clearly does give the City some control as to where it will be placed. (these letters will be posted later)

NAVY SAYS TOLEDO MIGHT BE ABLE TO GET SILVER COLLECTION RETURNED

In this most recent e-mail from the US Navy History and Heritage Command, it is suggested that if the current Mayor of Toledo wants the silver returned to the city, then a request should be made to the US Navy Secretary and, if approved, it will be returned.  The Navy spokesperson goes to write……“The Navy has many collections currently in storage and is continuously looking for ways to keep the silver out of storage and placed where it can be treasured by many.”

THE SILVER SERVICE MAY NO LONGER BE INTACT ..PIECES ARE MISSING

USS Toledo PlateSilver service cardsOn the Kittyhawk Museum website

In the course of finding this “missing” silver service from Toledo, it came to my attention that the town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina may be in possession of one or more pieces of the set.  As that small town has been assembling a museum to honor the aircraft carrier that bore its name, they posted online, a photo of a large silver platter from the USS Kitty Hawk, that was part of the missing Toledo set. The platter has an engraving of the Toledo Museum of Art with  “USS Toledo” etched on it. With the platter is a poster that explains the origins of the historic silver service from Toledo. I spoke with Lynn Morris, the town clerk in Kitty Hawk who says she thought the platter came into their museum packed in a large wooden crate with other items sent from the mothballed USS Kitty Hawk. The Navy”s Heritage Command, however, says it has no record of any of the Toledo silver collection being sent to Kitty Hawk North Carolina for display there.

It should be noted, that when the set was created it contained more than 225 pieces including the engraved trays, platters, plates, candelabras, pitchers, and many other pieces that one would expect as part of a formal table service.  However, the USS Midway Museum was given only 204 pieces and the USS Toledo Submarine has two platters, suggesting that about 18 pieces may be unaccounted for. What pieces or items are missing, we don’t know yet, but will try to get an accounting of the Toledo silver that is now on loan to the Midway Museum. I am also trying to determine what type of silver this collection is made of. Was it sterling silver or silver plate? That could make a big difference in its valuation.

Questions linger and perhaps they all have a reasonable answers that will be satisfactory to all.  As to whether the City of Toledo will take any further action to recover this historic treasure, that will be determined in the future. We will ask and I know one Toledo City Councilman at this point who is interested in seeing the  colleciton returned to Toledo. But for now, this forgotten collection of silver, made possible by the gratitude of Toledoans some 67 years ago, is safe and will be viewed by the thousands of visitors and tourists in a city thousands of miles away.

We’ll keep you up to date on any new developments.

 

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Filed under The Forgotten and no so famous, World War two Era

THE VALENTINE HEARD ROUND THE WORLD STOPPED IN TOLEDO

It’s Valentine’s day, and one of the largest and most enduring valentines ever received in the United States happened this week, some 63 year ago, in 1949. And you may not know it, but a piece of that once famous valentine resides in Northwest Ohio.  It was called the “Gratitude Train”, or the Merci Train.  A 49 box car train of thank you’s extended to the citizens of the United States from the citizens of France.   Each of the cars filled with hundreds of gifts, artifacts and treasures, large and small, from the French people, as a heartfelt expression of gratitude for the American’s outpouring of love in the form of the famous “Friendship Train” of 1947.

This was the train that Americans sent to help French families get back on their feet after enduring the ravages of World War Two.  The Friendship Train, first proposed by columnist Drew Pearson inspired some 20 million Americans to donate enough items of food, clothing, medicine, money, toys and books to fill 700 boxcars that traveled the nation’s breadth on its way to New York where it was shipped to France.

Overwhelmed by the generosity of the Americans, the French citizens in February of 1949 reciprocated, sending their own Merci Train to the Americans.   It arrived in New York Harbor by ship on February 2nd, 1949 and each state was designated to receive one of the boxcars. The gifts in the 49th car were to be divided between Washington D.C. and the territory of Hawaii.

The Merci Train Arrives in the U.S.

In Ohio, the small four wheeled World War I era boxcar, known as a Voiture, or a 40 and 8 car because it could either carry 40 men or eight horses , arrived in Cleveland on the 10th of February.   Thousands of residents of that city, along with a host of public officials flocked to visit the special wooden boxcar and to view the gifts packed inside. From Cleveland, the car would  make several stops in other cities around the state, including Toledo, where Mayor Michael V. Disalle (who would later become Governor),  and a welcoming committee turned out on a cold February day at Union Station to feel the warmth of the grateful French nation.  Inside the Ohio boxcar was a collection of items that included art, wine, cheeses, toys, books, clothing, needlework , French family heirlooms, war medals, and letters from individuals who personally offered their thanks for all the Americans had done.

Merci Boxcar Now Displayed at Camp Perry

So whatever happened to that boxcar?  Well, it’s right here in Northwest Ohio,  proudly displayed at Camp Perry near Port Clinton.  In fact,  it has been at the Camp since 1950, where it was taken after the Ohio tour in 1949. The gray wooden boxcar was parked on the grounds of the military post in Ottawa County and then largely forgotten over the years.  But  in 1986, a group of local volunteers and historians,  brought the car and its meaning back to life with a restoration effort.  In November of that year, the freshly renewed piece of history was dedicated and opened to visitors at Camp Perry.   And over the past 25 years it has been restored two more times.  In 1998, after suffering tornado damage  and again in 2006, when it got a new coat of paint and a display of plaques from the various French Provinces where the train had first traveled in France.   The “voiture” is currently parked under a partial canopy, amid a larger display of other military artifacts of tanks, guns, and aircraft and is available to visitors to behold,  however, only the exterior of the boxcar.  The interior of the car is empty.  Removed of its precious payload some 60 years ago, the whereabouts of those items are mostly lost.  The Ohio State Historical Society has about a half- dozen of the items, and even they are no longer on display, but in “storage” in Columbus.  The photos of the items, however, can be viewed  on their website. They include a bust of General Lafayette, a wedding dress, a copper kettle and an antique French doll.

Value of Train Measured In Meaning, Not In Treasure

So while the proud old “voiture” boxcar that rests at Camp Perry may now be empty, its significance is not.  For those who can appreciate what this meant to the American and French alike, it is filled with memories of how the citizens themselves  of two nations can indeed forge common bonds of friendship and can reach across the ocean to make a real difference.  Drew Pearson, the newspaper columnist, would observe later that the exchanges between the two countries had prompted millions of American and French children to begin pen pal relationships, predicting that many of these young Trans-Atlantic friendships might endure for decades in the future. I wonder if they have?  But also wonder why this Valentine’s Day story is so seldom told or taught in history books of World War Two.  The  story of not how war is waged, but how peace is waged.

Other links on this story you may enjoy.

http://www.mercitrain.org/

http://www.ameshistoricalsociety.org/exhibits/events/friendship_train.htm

http://www.thefriendshiptrain1947.org/

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What Ever Happened To Satira?

Patricia Schmidt, "Satira" seen in here publicity photo. Credit BurlyQNell

Patricia Schmidt, “Satira” seen in here publicity photo. Credit BurlyQNell

It seems that for whatever reason, Toledo has had many strange connections to Cuba. (I’ll cover some of those in a future posting). But one of those Cuban connections involves a young woman from Toledo by the name of Patricia Schmidt. It appears that she moved to Cuba, in the 1940’s as an exotic dancer(stripper), who took the stage name of “Satira”. She was only 21 at the time and became a sensation – not just as a dancer, but as a defendant in a  high-profile murder trial.  The young Toledo native was accused of cold-blooded murder  in the shooting death of Chicago lawyer and playboy, John Lester Mee aboard his yacht “Satira” in Cuba.

The story of Patricia Schmidt began in Toledo where she was raised as the daughter of a well-known druggist, John Schmodt who worked for many years in east Toledo.  The family however lived in West Toledo on Belmar Street and Patricia attended Devilbiss High School in graduated in 1943.   She had reportedly  been an honors student in her junior and senior years. Shotrly after her mother passed away, she decided to take a new track in life. She moved to Chicago and began dancing as an exotic dancer is this is where she met John Mee, a lawyer, poet and former commander of a Navy PT boat.  Her agent in Chicago at the time, convinced her to move to the Caribbean and to take her dancing act to that region the world.  At 21, she departed the cold climate of the Midwest for the warmer climes of Cuba and Jack Mee soon followed.  Soon they were living together on Mee’s makeshift yacht and she would tell the Cuban court during the trial that she became intimate with Mee and they became lovers. Then in January of 1947, she testified that a few weeks after she move din with him,  she learned that Mee was a married man and it wasn’t long after that their relationship would begin to sour.   She also alleged that she wanted to leave the yacht, but that Mee held her as a captive aboard the yacht for another six weeks until April of 1947 when she says they had a violent argument one night which ended when she shot Mee in the neck  with his .22 caliber handgun.  He died eight days later.  During the trial, she re-enacted the shooting in emotional and dramatic detail for the three-judge panel, pleading self-defense, and the all-too-eager photographers who helped spread this Toledo woman’s story and face around the world.   Evidence was also shown during the trial of scratches and bruises on her body that she claims were inflicted by Mee whom she alleged to have sado-masochistic sexual fetishes.   Some court observers predicted that the young Toledo woman might be acquitted, but she was not.  Instead she was convicted and given a 15 year prison sentence.

Toledo's "Satira" in Cuban Prison

Toledo’s “Satira” in Cuban Prison

According to Time Magazine…“In sentencing Cootch-Dancer Schmidt to 15 years for manslaughter (TIME, Feb. 2), the judges had chided her for “appearing nude on the deck of [Mee’s] yacht like a nymph,” and for “swimming naked in [Havana] Bay.” Said Toledo-born Satira: “They just don’t understand our customs.”

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,887908,00.html#ixzz0btfUftI0

But Satira would not serve anything close to that term. Instead, after considerable legal intervention and personal pleas from friends in Toledo and elsewhere, Patricia Schmidt got a pardon from the Cuban President. She ended up  serving only about 17 months of that 15-year term in a women’s prison in Cuba until October of 1948. Within hours, after the pardon, she returned to the United States and did fly back to Toledo to see her family.

Schmidt, arriving home after being released from prison.

Schmidt, arriving home after being released from prison.

One of the side notes to the story is that, according to an article in the Toledo Blade,  her fourth grade teacher from Hamilton School Toledo, Mrs. Irene(Tilly) Wasserman, made a personal plea to the court for Schmidt’s release. Her parents also went to Cuba several times before and during the much publicized trial.

The case of this young Toledo woman seemed to have the right “sex-appeal” for yesterday’s news editors. It became a nearly international incident at the time and Toledo’s petite “Satira” was the “star”.   A Google search shows that the story was carried in great detail in papers in Chicago and Miami and Los Angeles. The Toledo Blade covered it, but not with front page bold headlines, but mostly in respectable three graph stories buried deep within its pages. One can only wonder how the story would be covered today.

Little is known about Patricia Schmidt’s life after her brief bout with fame, but some newspaper accounts indicate that she began dancing again in the U.S. under name of Satira and was, for a few years, able to exploit her fame in the Cuban murder affair, but apparently not for long. I have been unable to find anything printed about Patricia “Satira” Schmidt much beyond the early 1950’s.   So I am only left to  wonder what ever happened to this Toledo “star” and just  how and when she fell from the sky.

If you know anything about this story and what ever happened to Patricia Schmidt, I’d love to know the follow-up.

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