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

1936 Heat wave

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

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

 

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Office workers in St. Paul Minnesota enjoying the fan

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEATH TOLL CLIMBS

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

STREETS AND ROADWAYS EXPLODED

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

LABOR AND NORMAL ACTIVITIES AFFECTED

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

WATERY ESCAPES PROVED DEADLY

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

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Coney Island Beach 1936

 

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

WATER SUPPLY GREW SHORT

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

TOLEDO JUST ONE SLICE OF THE SEARED LANDSCAPE

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

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Many farms suffered catastrophic damage

 

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

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

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

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

LIFE STILL SOMEWHAT NORMAL

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

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

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

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

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

 

Respectfully;

Lou Hebert

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

First American Air Hijack Attempt Happened in Ohio

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

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

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Filed under Strange Happenings, The Forgotten and no so famous, Uncategorized

“Whatever Happened to Toledo Satira?” Answers Revealed!!

 

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

This is indeed one of my favorite local stories and I have been hopelessly intrigued by the enigmatic tale of this largely neglected and forgotten Toledo native. So for the past few years I’ve been attempting to discover whatever happened to Satira after her 30 minutes of fame in the scandalous spotlight of notoriety some 70 years ago. I can report to you now that I have found some answers. Answers that seem to provoke even more questions.

Previously in the Toledo Gazette, my story, published 4 years ago, “Whatever Happened to Satira?” gives a basic overview of the woman and how she was thrust into the headlines. Her name was Patricia Caroline Schmidt. Born in Toledo in 1925, the daughter of John Schmidt, a Toledo pharmacist and his wife Elsie who lived in West Toledo. She was an only child. Shy, pretty and intelligent young girl who loved dancing and gymnastics.. At a young age, she became a good dancer and joined several local dance troupes both here and in Detroit. During her senior year at Toledo Devilbiss High School in 1943, her mother died after a long illness.

Patricia Schmidt Senior Pic at Devlibiss 1943

Patricia Schmidt senior photo Devilbiss H.S. 1943

It was a devastating blow to Patricia and after graduation she was ready to move on with her life and her desire to be a professional dancer. By 1945, she made her way to Chicago to seek her dreams of fame and fortune. However, as many young aspiring dancers have found, the competition is tough and making it to the stages of the legitimate theater isn’t easy. So Patricia found herself dancing in night clubs, on the “bump and grind” circuit trying to carve out a living with leggy black stockings and lustful stares. It was not the life Patricia Schmidt envisioned for herself. She wanted more respect, so she tried a new routine. Re-inventing herself as “Satira” she, developed an Indian-Asian look, and worked on an “exotic dance routine that was part-ballet and part Balinese strip-tease. It didn’t take long for this petite 20 year old brunette with the exotic looking face(some said slo-eyed), to draw interest with her unique performance and presence.

 

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She had many fans, and one of them was a dry cleaner, Carl Sperry, who was 32 and married. He soon divorced his wife and offered a wedding band to the young alluring Patricia. She accepted. But the quickie post-war romance was shaky at best. Within weeks they were separated and Patricia was back on her own, and being courted by other men also mesmerized by her gyrations and smoky looks. One man, in particular loved what he saw. He was a regular at the Silver Palms night club where Satira was dancing.

Silver Palm Chicago where Satira Danced

The Silver palm Lounge in Chicago

 

 

His name was John Lester Mee, a Chicago attorney, from a very prominent North Shore family. He was smitten and tried several times to arrange a meeting with the lithesome young raven-haired Satira. But to no avail. While she was reluctant at first, Mee persisted and she finally agreed to meet him. They met for dinner and the emotional chemistry was mutual. Mee was a handsome, former U.S. Naval officer from World War Two, who fancied himself to be a poet and lover. He romanced the young Toledo woman with letters, verse and promises. Mee was quite talented at telling women what they wanted to hear. What he didn’t tell them though was that he was already married. To another exotic dancer in Chicago.

Satira, Vintage Burlesque dancer, stripper, murderer

One of his seductive promises he made to Patricia was to get a yacht and take it to the Caribbean where Satira could dance and they could live together in romantic bliss in the tropics. And so, within months Satira left the neon Silver Palms of Chicago joined a dance and show troupe and headed south to dance under the real palm trees of the Caribbean. In December of 1946, she had made her way to Cuba and was performing at a club in Havana John Lester Mee made his way down the Mississippi with his coverted PT boat he called a “yacht” and showed up in Havana harbor. He had named the boat“Satira”. The stage was set for second act of their torrid story.

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The Yacht “Satira” in Havana Harbor 1948

 

 

Contrary what perhaps Patricia Schmidt had assumed about her new lover John Mee, he was not wealthy. Despite the fact that he was attorney and was the son of a wealthy and well-to-do North Shore physician, John Mee was not given a blank check to live his life with an open bank account. He was not a worker. He was a player. His family strongly disapproved of his Bohemian lifestyle and cavalier and romantic notions. A few weeks after Mee’s arrival in Havana aboard the boat “Satira”, Mee was broke. His plans to make money by using the boat to take passengers on exotic trips sounded good but most passengers once on board the malfunctioning old boat, just wanted off. Mee’s dream was sinking quickly. And so too was his hold on Patricia. He didn’t want her dancing anymore. She had been living in one of the expensive hotels in Havana but he demanded that she come live aboard the boat with him and his boat’s co-owner Charles Jackson, an old Navy buddy. To earn money for food, he and Patricia were forced to sell off many of their belongings including some of her favorite hand-made exotic dance costumes which she used to make a living. The idyllic fantasy of living the good life was being eclipsed by stark reality. Patricia would state later that Mee’s sexual demands also began to change. That he became quick to anger and sadomasochistic. He gave her a riding crop and wanted her to hit him with it. If she wouldn’t he would hit her and leave bruises. She said he became mean and abusive, refusing to let her to leave the boat.

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John Lester Mee with his wife Mary Dixon

 

 

In April of 1947, during a particularly violent argument, after she discovered that Mee was still married to another woman, Patricia wanted off the boat. She was ready to go home to Toledo. John Lester Mee would have none of it. She claimed that John shoved her as she tried to leave the boat for her own safety. When he shoved her against a desk in the cabin, she opened the drawer of the desk and found his hand gun. A .22 caliber derringer. She pointed it at him and warned him to leave her alone. When he kept approaching he, she pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through his neck. Mee was rushed to a hospital in Havana where his condition was grave and a few days later he died. Within hours, Patricia Schmidt, a frightened 21 year old woman from Toledo was arrested for murder.

The case became a media sensation. In the United States, and through the Caribbean, and even in Europe the story of love and murder aboard a yacht in Cuba was perfect tabloid material. Beautiful woman, an exotic dancer, kills her lover aboard his yacht that he named for her. She claimed self defense and there were sordid allegations by her that he was a cruel sadomasochist who was a sexual fiend. In 1947, the newspapers loved it. In Toledo, the Blade kept the story alive with regular coverage for those readers in the city who knew her and knew the family.

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Patricia Schmidt behind bars at Havana Prison

 

By Autumn, the trial was underway and coverage in the U.S. and the International press was impressive. In Havana and in the Cuban enclaves of Miami, the saga of Satira was not just another news story but the fuel of fascination as this young Devilbiss High School girl-turned-femme-fatale became a sort of folk hero to many. A Spanish-language Cuban singer, Bobby Capo even recorded a song about “Patricia” which became an instant hit from Havana to Miami. Patricia was quoted in news articles saying she cried the first time she heard it as the song referred to her variously as a “beautiful swallow” or a “ little dancer who would someday dance again”. The chorus says “Your love was sincere and your pardon will come from the heavens”. As you will learn later, it came from somewhere else.

The trial publicity itself was robust. On par or rivaling other celebrity trials that we known through the years. Everyday the testimony brought out new revelations and new scandalous details. Patricia testified that John Mee was obsessed with kinky sex and wanted to force it on her. For the times, such detail was titillating. The prosecution tried to portray Patricia Schmidt as a cold blooded killer who intentionally murdered her lover. He also characterized her as a woman of loose moral values. A young nude nymph temptress who liked to cavort on the deck of the yacht “Satira” in the buff, stating that she used Havana Bay as her own “private swimming pool”. The press couldn’t get enough. The headlines and stories from the trial flourished in papers across the country.

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The crime scene inside the cabin of the Yacht

Despite the intimations by the prosecutor that Patricia was a “loose” woman of low degree who enticed Mr. Mee with her suggestive charms, the defense brought forth a number of character witnesses to attest to Miss Schmidt’s honesty and good character. Some of the witnesses included people from her native Toledo, including a former grade school teacher!

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Schmidt talking with her attorney inside her cell

 

In December the case finally drew to a close. And despite her emotional plea of self defense, a dramatic reenactment of the shooting and her popularity with the Cuban people, the three judge panel that heard the case decided that she was guilty of manslaughter-homicide and sentenced the 22 year old Patricia Schmidt to 15 years in prison. Considering the brutal conditions in the Cuban prisons in 1947, the prospect of such a long sentence for the young Toledo woman was daunting, but Patricia seemed ready to accept her fate. And in a letter told her father, John Schmidt in Toledo that she was preparing to serve her time.

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Patricia Schmidt reenacting the shooting aboard the yacht

 

There was great sadness in many corners of the Cuban community as most felt the verdict and the sentence were unjust, A Cuban singer, Bobby Capo even recorded a song about “Patricia” which became an instant hit from Havana to Miami. Patricia was quoted in news articles saying she cried the first time she heard it as the song referred to her variously as a “beautiful swallow” or a “ little dancer who would someday dance again”. The chorus says “Your love was sincere and your pardon will come from the heavens”. A pardon did come, but not from the heavens.

In a surprise decision 10 months later, in October of 1948, the President of Cuba, Grau San Martin granted a full pardon to Patrica Schmidt and she was released from custody after serving just 18 months of a 15 year sentence. It is still not fully understood just what led to that ruling. It was stated that in some newspaper accounts that because Grau San Martin was leaving office, having been defeated in recent election he was granting pardons while he could do so and had always been interested in the case involving Patricia Schmidt.

However that call of sweet freedom came about, Patricia Caroline Schmidt, 23 years of age, left her cell at Guanabacoa women’s prison and was on her way back to her hometown of Toledo.

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Patricia leaving her cell and greeting cellmates.

 

Never one to shy away from the cameras, Patrica Schmidt arrived home at Toledo’s Municipal Airport in Lake Township to the flash of cameras as she disembarked from the plane, wearing a big smile and a full length fur cape.

 

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Patricia “Satira” Schmidt arriving home at Toledo Municipal Airport Oct 1948.

She said she was ready to reunite with family and friends, but her reunion in Toledo did not last long. After a week in the Glass City, Patricia departed once more. Trying to resume her previous life and perhaps capitalizing on her newfound fame, Patricia sought work on the stage as a dancer, once again using the exotic act of “Satira”. And it didn’t long for her to find work, this time billed as “ The girl who ran into a little trouble down south. Some papers reported that she was being offered as much as $3,000 a week to perform. Rumors were rampant that she and John Lester Mee’s widow, Mary Dixon, also an exotic dancer, might team up for a tandem act. But Mary Dixon would have none of it and it never came to pass. The glare of the footlights and the newfound fame managed to last for a few years, but soon she was back to a regular grind, playing mostly small clubs in the Chicago suburbs and around the Midwest. She did manage to score some big time print as some entertainment reporters sought her out for interviews about her life and her experiences in Cuba. The famous entertainment columnist Earl Wilson even spent some time with Patricia to discuss what the future might hold for this young woman. The Milwaukee Sentinel allowed her to write a first hand account of the drama that defined her young life.

 

But, as with many meteoric careers, by the early 1950’s, the story of Satira was over. It was yesterdays news and she all but fell off the face the show biz planet. She no longer in the headlines and was no longer a headliner. By the early 1950’s, Satira the dancer vanished. It puzzled me and left many questions. Did she die young and obscure? Did she get married and get out the business. Did she come back to Toledo and settle down to a quieter and less conspicuous life in her hometown of Toledo? The answers were not easy to find. And so this is where I left the story of “Satira” four years ago on Toledo Gazette.com, as it appeared that little was known, if anything, of what had become of this young woman from Toledo captured both hearts and imaginations around the world.

Patrica Schmidt: A Life of Mysteries, Movies and Secrets.

Fast forward to 1988, 35 years later and the lost threads of Patrica Schmidt’s life were in full view for everyone to see. She was hiding. In plain sight.

Without going into the weeds as to how I managed to find those loose strands of her life that led me to some answers, suffice it to say, it took many hours of poking around old government records, obituaries, photos, newspaper clippings, a thousand Google searches, the brain picking of other history researchers, and as always, a bit of luck.

Patricia Schmidt had become Patricia Van Ingen and Patricia Van Ingen, towards the end of her life, became a movie actress. Not a major star, or celebrity, but a bit part player most notably in the roles of Native American women. Her list of motion picture and TV credits is lengthy and it is very likely that millions of Americans had seen her in various roles including a couple of stints on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, or in movie roles such as Wind River (2000), or the Road Ends (1997). She was also featured in small roles in numerous TV shows such as the American Playhouse TV Series in the 1989 production of “Land of Little Rain”. Patricia also appeared as a main character in a TV episode of Rosanne in 1995.

Her IMDB(International Movie Data Base) is as follows:

Wind River
Anuba

 1997 Road Ends
Mama

 1997 Promised Land (TV Series)
Theresa

The Outrage (1997) … Theresa

 1995 Roseanne (TV Series)

The Last Thursday in November (1995)

 1995 CBS Schoolbreak Special (TV Series)
Mrs. Kakak

My Indian Summer (1995) … Mrs. Kakak

 1995 Siringo (TV Movie)
Buffalo Woman

 1995 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up
Indian Grandmother (uncredited)

 1994 Cheyenne Warrior (TV Movie)
Crow Woman

 1994 Harts of the West (TV Series)
Elizabeth

Jake and Duke’s Excellent Adventure (1994) … Elizabeth

 1994 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (TV Series)
Elder Grandmother

The Abduction: Part 2 (1994) … Elder Grandmother

The Abduction: Part 1 (1994) … Elder Grandmother

 1990 Sparks: The Price of Passion (TV Movie)
Gloria Aguilar

 1989 American Playhouse (TV Series)

Land of Little Rain (1989)

 1989 Powwow Highway
Pueblo Woman (as Pat Van Ingen)

Was Patricia Native American?

This new Native American identity for Schmidt is at best curious, at worst, fraudulent.

With her high cheek bones and unique facial structure and dark complexion, she was able to pass easily as Native American, and while filming her last movie(Wind River) with American Indian Movement leader Russel Means she spoke to the press about the need for accuracy and authenticity in movies that deal with Native American themes. In another interview she talked about her mother’s Cherokee heritage. After considerable research I have been unable to verify through my genealogy searches that she has any Native American heritage. Her father was second generation German. Her mother, Elsie Petit, was French Canadian. Perhaps there is a link there, but I’ve been unable to ascertain it.

How did she become Patricia Van Ingen?

You may be asking yourself how and when she acquired the surname of Van Ingen? Another mystery. For I can only report that Social Security records indicate that Patrica Caroline Schmidt, born in Toledo, Ohio in 1925 to John and Elsie Schmidt, died in February of 1999 in Hollywood California under the name of Patrica Van Ingen. To this date, I have been unable to determine if Van Ingen was a married name, although it would seem to be the case, and herein lies another secret about her life for there seems to be no public record of such a marriage.

And if she was indeed married to some named Van Ingen during her life time, then she possibly married into one of the most well heeled and powerful families in the nation. And there is reason to believe that may be the case. In my research, I uncovered a passport photo and visa application of Patricia from 1960, which was taken as she was about to embark on a trip to Brazil for a month to work as a sculptor. The visa says that her last name is Van Ingen and gives her address as 1111 5th Avenue in New York at one of the most prestigious addresses in Manhattan, overlooking the lake in Central Park. The address was the home of the Van Ingen family, one of the wealthiest families in the East. This is old-money social-register DNA and by 1960, Patricia is identified as being a member of that well-to-do family, at least according to this particular government document. If so, who was she married to? And if she was in fact married to or connected to one of these socially significant Van Ingens, would not such a union seem unlikely? For the young Toledo girl known as “Satira” would have had a “past” of ill fame. Likely to be scorned by the scions of the Manhattan social elite.

Patricia, the Artist and World Traveler

This is one of the many reasons I have been so intrigued with the story of Patricia Schmidt Van Ingen, for it seems that in every chapter of her life she provoked more questions than answers. Another arresting aspect of her life was her time spent abroad. Paris was one of her early stops and may have been the reason why she abruptly dropped out of sight in the 1950’s. I have spoken with people who knew her who say she told them that she spent much of the 1950’s and 60’s living in Paris as part of the ex-patriate American arts colony. It was in Paris where she also said she worked as a model for the famous Man Ray, an American contemporary visual artist who was also residing in Paris at that time. She was reported to have said that it was Man Ray who saw some of her artwork and suggested that she pursue her passion for art. As was noted on her visa application in 1960, Patricia Schmidt-Van Ingen defined herself at that time as a sculptor. Later she did take up painting, on the Internet I was able to find copies of several watercolor pieces. They seem to be sexually inspired and remain untitled.

Life in Old Santa Fe

These painting were, as best I can determine, were done while she was living in the arts community of Santa Fe New Mexico sometime in the 1980’s. It is where she lived in a modest bungalow and made friends with folks in the art and literary neighborhoods. One of those friends she claimed was Forest Fenn, the eccentric Santa Fe art dealer who in 1988 buried a million dollar treasure of bronze and gold somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and challenged people to find it. So far, no one has. Patricia Van Ingen said she and Fenn were very close friends and it was Fenn who helped her get a bit part in a movie that was being filmed nearby, thus launching her career as an actress. Another art dealer, I spokes with in Santa Fe said she had told him that for a part of the late 1960’s she lived in the town of Almora India at the foot of the Himalayas. At the time, Almora was a gathering place for many celebrities, including the Beatles, who wanted to meditate and find spiritual meaning of their lives.

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Pat Van Ingen 1969,  Almora India

 

 

 

 

There is a picture of Patricia Van Ingen posted on the Internet, taken in 1969 in Almora India. There is little doubt in my mind that this woman is the one and only “Satira” or Toledo’s Patricia Schmidt. Just how she found herself in Almora India, and how long she lived there, is yet another battery of questions I would like answers to.

Patricia’s Legacy Continues

Another surprising twist to Patricia’s biography was revealed to me within the past few month as I learned that in Albuquerque New Mexico an annual sports festival featured the Patricia Van Ingen 5k Memorial race walk for several years. The story, as told by the Sierra Club Newsletter in New Mexico was that the organization was in dire financial straits in recent year and needed someone to step up and help them pay their bills so they could continue operating. Quietly they received notice from Patricia Van Ingen’s estate that the estate would take care of the bills for the remainder of the fiscal year, thus keeping the Sierra Club in business. As their way of showing thanks to this mysterious benefactor, the Sierra Club featured the Patricia Van Ingen 5k Memorial Race Walk in her honor in 2008 and several years thereafter.

Yes, Patricia Van Ingen does have an active estate or trust fund, and from time to time, it has given awards of money to various animal rights groups around the country in Patricia Van Ingen’s name. Just exactly who administers it is not known. At least I haven’t confirmed the name yet and my attempts to reach this person have produced no replies.

Why Was She Hiding?

Quite frankly that has been one of the biggest frustrations in determining “Whatever happened to Satira”? Answers have not been easy to come by. By accident or design, you ask? I am inclined to think the latter, for Patricia s by the late 1950’s managed to successfully conceal her past identity as Satira, the exotic dancer-turned killer and keep it buried forever. Even in her official IMDB from the film industry, there is no photo and no bio. It is blank. Curious? She also played games with her name. It changed numerous times. In the mid 1950’s she changed it to Patricia Dale for awhile, and using that name had an brief flirt with the glamour of Hollywood, when she appeared in an early TV episode of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Five years later, I found living in the upscale Carnegie Hill area of Manhattan using the surname of Van Ingen. And on her visa application to Brazil in 1960, she identified her father as John Dale of Toledo. His name was not Dale, but John Schmidt. Why did she lie? Was she just trying to put the ugly past behind her and move on with her life, or were there other reasons? Questions that I can’t answer, at least not yet. And it is highly likely that those people who knew her in her later life as Patricia Van Ingen, the actress and artist, may have never known the early dark chapters of her life when she was the infamous “Satira”.

As for her family and friends in the Toledo area, more dead ends. Patricia was an only child so no siblings enter the picture. Her father John Schmidt moved to California by the 1970’s to live near her after he retired from his job as an East Toledo pharmacist. He passed away many years ago. As for the Schmidt family in Toledo, she was close to her uncle Daniel Schmidt who lived in East Toledo, but he has passed and attempts to reach members of that family have also yielded no response. One might think that everyone in the Schmidt family would have been keenly aware of Patricia’s life, both during and after her worldwide notoriety in Cuba. So, it’s surprising to me that no one seems willing 60 years later to discuss it. But maybe these are the bones of the past that some families just don’t like to excavate.

Regardless of the obstacles and barricades to Patricia’s truth, I have managed to uncover at least some of the answers as to what happened to the shy little girl from West Toledo’s Belmar Street, who danced her way to infamy. While there are many other questions to be answered, I wanted to reveal what I could at this time to satisfy the curiosity of those who, like me, remain intrigued with this woman and her amazing life story.

If you have questions, please ask them. If you have answers, please provide them. We will keep this story updated as we get new information. I want to thank everyone who has helped contribute information, ideas, hints and encouragement during this journey.

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The Mysterious Goldfish of the Portage River

goldfishstory from evening independent dec 20 1920Finding fish in a river is usually no big news. Bigger news perhaps if there were no fish in a river.. But sometimes, certain types and species of fish turn up where they shouldn’t be. Such was the case of the mystery goldfish that invaded the Portage River almost a century ago.  I recently found several newspaper articles about such a situation occurring at Port Clinton in 1920.   Now,  I am not referring to a mere isolated incident involving a few fish, but a massive crypto-zoological phenomenon of such magnitude that commercial fishermen descended on this Ottawa County lake port to harvest these invaders as curious culinary delicacies.

According to an Associated Press article, dated December 20th, 1920, the carp-like goldfish were being taken by the ton at the Portage River and many of them were several inches long and weighing up to a half pound. They were “highly colored in yellow and gold” with sprinkles of red, making them “very attractive”.  The local fishermen say they had been catching them in their nets for several years at various times, and would take them in as novelties.  It wasn’t until this particular years, 1920, their numbers were so huge and so abundant that they were being caught and put “live” into railroad tank cars where they were being shipped to retail and wholesale markets in New York City.

From where these exotic golden-carp-like fish had come was a somewhat of a mystery, although there were theories. The most popular one was that because fishermen had begun to notice the fish appearing in the nets for several years, it is believed that may have gotten into Lake Erie during the great floods of 1913 when many backyard ponds and aquariums were flooded over and thousands of the little gold fish were sent into the flood waters.  In particular, it was largely believed that these colorful fish might have been refugees from the Belle Isle Aquarium  near Detroit when the floodwaters of 1913 overtook the aquariums and outdoor ponds. They continued to flourish in the warm waters of Lake Erie and multiplied by the millions and may have inter-bred with carp. In the winter months, they would move from the shallow water of the marshes and into the deeper waters of the Portage River to avoid freezing temperatures.

This logical explanation appears to have been widely accepted by the public at large. True or not? Difficult to determine. There are other theories that these fish might have been Prussian Carp, believed to be a type of feral or wild goldfish which also established themselves in this region many decades ago.  But whatever they were or where-ever they came from,  this copious crop of large golden-colored fish remained in the waters of Western Lake Erie and the Portage River for many years after.  I recall in 1964, fishing in the Portage near Elmore one spring and catching a large gold-colored fish that was almost two feet in length. Was it an ancestor of the famed mystery goldfish of 1920? Could be. As I have recounted this story with Ottawa County locals, familiar with the river, I have been told by numerous folks that they too have had similar encounters over the years through the 1960’s and later years with these large goldfish.

Others may, to this day, still encounter some of these colorful invaders, for state fishery experts say the goldfish has become a common species found throughout much of the Western watershed of Lake Erie. Able to adapt to changing temperature and ecosystems, the goldfish are often found in shallow waters and can reach lengths of up to 16 inches. The fish are not however, welcome visitors to the lakes and rivers for they are true invasive species and may have been the first invasive introduced into North American waters. They can compete for habitat with native species and often carry disease. Wildlife experts say many of today’s population of goldfish in this area can be traced to  people carelessly dumping pet fish into natural waters or allowing them to escape from backyard ponds during floods. It is not just this area that encounters the “wild” goldfish.  Sighting and catches are being reported throughout the U.S. and in some cases, the invasive goldfish grow to sizes that are astonishing and larger than most gold-fish bowls.

Fisherman shows off recent goldfigh trophy from Lake Tahoe Nevada.

Fisherman shows off recent goldfigh trophy from Lake Tahoe Nevada.

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Toledo’s Marina District May Be Toledo’s Greatest Opportunity

 

The Riverfront area has become a a makeshift park as hundreds of people use it every week as such.

The Riverfront area has become a a makeshift park as hundreds of people use it every week as such.

 

The next time you’re on the East Side of Toledo, take a turn off Main Street down Riverside Drive. It’s the street that runs the length of the so-called Marina District along the Maumee River. If you’re there in the daytime, what you’ll likely find are at least a dozen cars with people inside, eating lunch, talking on the cellphone, or contemplating life and enjoying the day. Often people get out of their cars to take a stroll down to the river to visually inhale the great views of the skyline and the waterfront. This happens everyday and I have been taking note of this activity because as talk grows louder about a possible repossession of this taxpayer-improved riverfront site, owned, but ignored by its Chinese investors, we will likely need to get serious very soon about what the city wants to do with this property. And surely opinions and ideas will run the gamut. So here’s mine. Let it be what it is now and what it wants to be. A park. A place where people can come for recreational activity, a leisurely walk, a bike ride, or a picnic lunch. A place to gather. A place to be alone. It’s also a stone’s throw from the new Great Lakes Maritime Museum which keeps drawing an impressive number of new visitors. So, as we keep asking ourselves “what should we do with the large section of reclaimed riverfront?”, the answer may be right in front of us. With a minimal investment, this could become a premiere park venue for Toledo. Perhaps a far better investment long term than just pouring more money and concrete into a “mixed development” project of retail, and housing that may or may not be successful. The last thing Toledo needs is another “failure”. We need positive momentum. A new riverfront city park would give us that. And would be a much greater investment in the city’s future. Our parks, and parks in general, have been, with few exceptions, success stories. Every city has proven this reality over the years, and Toledo is no exception.

The major city parks in Toledo are are still just as popular as they were when they were developed 100 years ago. But even back then, the park promoters and visionaries had to convince the naysayers that this was money well spent and was a necessity – not a luxury. Public places are time tested and durable offering recreational and cultural opportunities for generations of Toledo residents. Cases in point; the Toledo Zoo, the Toledo Museum of Art, and our City of Toledo and Metro Parks systems. They have been around for a century and are still going strong. In 1895, one of the top parks in the city was Walbridge Park along the riverfront, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. It still does. And just across the street from Walbridge, the continuing popularity of the century old Toledo Zoo should provide all the evidence needed to underscore the public’s desire for family venues of amusement and entertainment. In West Toledo, in 1896, when Bancroft Street was still a dirt road, Ottawa Park was in its undeveloped infancy. It was a 280 acre acquisition that was highly controversial at the time when critics claimed that spending public money on such a large rural tract of land, far beyond the heart of the city was a foolhardy waste of money and that no one would ever use the land for recreation. Within a few years, though, after parks and public golf crusader, Sylvanus P. Jermain was able to get a golf course built in the park, followed by the addition of ball fields and a hockey rink, and a shelter house, the park became the most popular in the city, drawing close to a million visitors a years. The voices of the naysayers were silenced and the rest, as they say, is history.

Early image of Ottawa park

Early image of Ottawa park

So let’s make more history. Think about giving Toledoans another park? And not just “another” park, but a “special” park. One that could become the centerpiece of a new commitment to recognize and develop our love for the greatest natural resource in the city: The Maumee River. It could be that one signature venue that defines our city, helping to create a quality of life that makes the city more attractive in the eyes of prospective new companies looking for a new home, or people looking for a great place to live. Or those Toledoans who are looking for reasons to stay here. Let’s face it. Toledo has the best riverfront on the Great Lakes. We need to embrace that. We need say it loudly everyday. And we need to use our riverfront to our best advantage and not give in to those who would give it away to yet another private developer to soil this public treasure with yet another a “flavor-of-the-month” mall concept. Let’s face it, malls and stores, come and a great city should be more than a collection of retail venues. Parks are forever and the precious land along the riverfront and how it is used should belong to the people of the city.

Other cities around the country have not been bashful about using their best assets to create a positive and exciting images in the minds of  visitors and residents. In many communities, these special areas have featured trolleys, Ferris wheels, fountains, walkways,  carousels,  skateboard parks, winter skating rinks, bike paths, museums, gardens, amphitheaters and public art. Cincinnati has several such river and waterfront venues, as does Denver, and Louisville and Chicago. So why not Toledo?

Expensive? Yes? But what that investment generates in the long run is a pride and a sense of place that can’t be replicated at any price. Quality of life attributes that are priceless.

So let’s start with the seeds already planted at the north end of the Marina District property. The new and popular maritime museum, a museum ship and a marina. From those seeds it’s not an impossible stretch to think Toledo could grow and nurture a park-like setting that could easily include other museums, activities and facilities that are centered on celebrating the city’s heritage. Whatever it is, it should be “grand”. We should have no quarter for “little” plans. We need to do something to stir our souls. Toledo needs to make a statement. A bold one. To the rest of the world and to ourselves. This is our chance. This is our challenge. This waiting and vacant piece of our riverfront is our opportunity.

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The Toledo to Chicago Canal. A Dream Never Dug.

Toledo's past and future could have changed dramatically.

Toledo’s past and future could have changed dramatically.

Once upon a time in America, some dreamers and visionaries had a plan. A plan that would have dramatically changed Toledo’s destiny.   Be it for the better or for the worse may be a tough call in hindsight, but certainly our history of our city would have been profoundly rewritten had this ever become a reality.

The plan was pretty simple.  To build a major shipping canal from Toledo to Chicago.  Unlike the Miami-Erie-Wabash canal system that was created in the 1840’s than ran parallel to the Maumee River, and laced itself through the Midwest, this one would have actually used much of the river itself as the canal channel and would have run across the landscape of Northern Indiana or southern Michigan.  It would have been large enough to have allowed the passage of larger ships, hauling massive cargoes to back and forth between Toledo and Chicago. To those who advocated this dream, it was a no-brainer. The prevailing school of of thought was to eliminate the long journey for the thousands of Great Lakes cargo ships that had to travel around the state of Michigan, via the Detroit River, Lake Huron, the tricky Straights of Mackinaw, and southward down Lake Michigan to if they wanted to reach Chicago. With a navigable shortcut across Ohio and Indiana, more than 400 miles and a three to five days could be cut from the travel time, thus a savings of of time and money. Toledo, geographically, would have become the gateway to the West..and the busiest port on the Great Lakes.

It should be noted that this canal plan was not just some idle talk from wild-eyed dreamers without resource or reason. It had been a topic of serious merit for decades in the 19th Century, and by 1908, the plan had the eyes and ears of Congress and the Congressional Committee on Rail and Waterways was strongly recommending that the shipping canal become a reality. In that committee’s report to congress in 1908, it said that such a Toledo to Chicago Canal, would..

“…open a waterway, which is certain to control freight rates between Chicago and Buffalo. It would occupy a territory that is populated by one fourth of the people of the United States and would be a connecting link by shortening the waterway from Toledo to Chicago by 400 miles.”

The committee also believed that such a major shipping channel would open the door for revival of the canal system through the Midwest and more and larger shipping channels could be built between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. It was also the aim of many promoters to use these canals to compete with the railroad roads and keep their rates competitive.

Had this canal actually come to fruition, it would not stretch anyone imagination to think that Toledo could have easily rivaled Chicago, or Detroit, for size and economic power on the Great Lakes and the Midwest. Other towns along the route, may have actually had their futures changed, as they became “seaport” communities in the middle of a largely agricultural region. The 1908 committee also predicted.

“ ……would give the impetus for the erection of large factories and a great diversity of enterprises, making it possible to get the raw materials along the waterway, making is possible for the purpose of manufacture at lowest possible costs”

The report goes on to estimate the cost  of construction at about 100 million dollars, and that water generating stations could be built along its path capable of  generating as much a 16 million dollars a year in power. More than enough to pay down the debt and the interest.

Scene from early canal in Toledo.

Scene from early canal days in Toledo.

As mentioned before, this idea of the Lake Erie to Lake Michigan canal was hardly new in 1908. The Erie Canal through New York State many decades before had ignited the fires of imagination around the country as others wonder if they too could pull off such an engineering feat.  In 1837, some ambitious Michiganders got the canal fever and even started digging a big ditch from Clinton township north of Detroit that was to extend Westward to Lake Michigan. By 1840, however, with only 16 miles complete and deeply in debt, the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal became a footnote in history.  But hope springs eternal and in 1857, the New York legislature voted to grant a charter to company to explore and pursue the concept again. The newspapers in both Buffalo and Detroit were especially warm to the idea, as these new plans would have placed the Eastern portal of the canal between Monroe and Toledo, routing most of the channel through southern Michigan. The Buffalo Advertiser even speculated on the dimensions of such a ditch, allowing that it could be 100 feet wide, 12 feet deep and 160 miles long. They also addressed the elevation change between the lakes, by proposing at least “two locks” that could lift the boats. The Buffalo newspaper estimated the cost of construction at $65,000 a mile, or about $12 million for construction overall in 1857. But while Buffalo, Detroit and Toledo talked in glowing terms of such a project, in Chicago, not so much. The editors at the Chicago Tribune were not impressed.  Clearly not in favor of such a plan, they railed against it, and called the idea “impractical” while challenging the estimates of construction costs, the potential savings to shipping companies, and also questioned whether there was ample water supply to fill such a canal.

Six decades later, in 1917, as the U.S. was distracted with the war in Europe, the Army Corps of Engineers also did another study and they would would essentially come to the same conclusion as the Chicago Tribune did in 1857. Given the costs and time required to build it, they said, and because such a canal would not be able to accommodate large ships, but only smaller packet barges, they wrote:     ”It is not advisable to undertake the construction of an artificial waterway between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan.”  The Corps even recommended that the government not waste any more money and put a halt to more studies.

Dead in the water?

Not quite.

The Toledo to Chicago canal idea rose again from dormancy the in the 1920’s. Some of the proponents once more began to talk optimistically about a Toledo to Chicago shipping highway. One of those voices was that of former Iowa Governor, William Harding, (not to be confused with Ohio Governor Warren Harding). When Iowa’s Harding was President of the Great Lakes -Seaway Waterway Initiative in 1923, he visited Defiance Ohio on the Maumee. There he told a gathered audience that he believed the Maumee River to Chicago water link would someday become a reality. It was his belief that such a project would come about only after the St. Lawrence Seaway project was complete and the shipping industry would demand it within a few years. He even predicated that Toledo would be the greatest shipping port in the nation and a docking facility along the Maumee might well extend “all the way to Defiance”. Well, Mr. Harding’s hyperbole was perhaps as hyper as his crystal ball was cracked. The Seaway linkage to the Great Lakes did not open for another 35 years, not until 1958. Five decades later, still no canal.   Albeit, over the years, plenty of talk about one. During the WW Two era,  it crept back into the headlines again  as the Army Corps re-considered it with “national defense” as a justification.  This plan did gain some traction and even won the approval of President Roosevelt just weeks before his death. But in the summer of 1945, as hearings were held and the war drew to a close, the grand canal plan was again ditched as unfeasible and too expensive. But big dreams don’t die quickly. They always linger of the deathbed of possibility for a long time. As late as 1968, hearings were underway to consider, a new network of canals and locks that would have linked Toledo and Chicago with other cities in Indiana and the Ohio River. A 450 mile system, requiring dozens of locks, and costing over a billion dollars that was primarily designed to improve the economies of rural Indiana. By then, however, the concept of the “big ditch” was viewed by many corners of the community as a big “folly”. Opposition from conservation groups, an early environmentalists was loud and hard to ignore. No one seemed to be in favor of the proposal and so this too, like the first big canal dig in Michigan of 1838, was to be filled in and forgotten. Forever?  Who know where and when future dreams arise?

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The Remembrance of a Toledo October Chill

News Bee Oct 6th 1930

News Bee Oct 6th 1930

As the furnace kicked on this chilly Sunday morning for the first time this fall, I am grateful for these creature comforts we take for granted. Not always so in the past, especially during the great depression era when in Toledo and elsewhere, the survival against the brutal realities of cold and hunger were all too common. This I found evidenced recently by a another poignant piece from Toledo News Bee writer Elmer Williams, who on this day October 6th of 1930, offered readers a glimpse of how some unfortunates were coping with their struggle to survive in a tent colony at Bay View Park. The story could have been torn from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but was penned long before the famous novelist brought home to readers around the world the tragic American journey of the Joad family.

Williams shared those same sensibilities as he told the story of the Toledo families who took refuge at Bay View Park.

Hunger closed in Monday upon the forlorn tent colony in the Bay View campgrounds where 100 human souls are fighting for a chance to live. After a silent siege of many weeks of want and starvation have brought this crisis. A score of children in the thinnest of clothes, cried for food. Mothers determined not to let down the bars of pride sought to comfort them with crusts of bread. Workingmen, in the last struggles of desperation, combed the nearby thickets for firewood to warm their thin and unprotected tents.

This camp is composed not of tourists or transients but of families who in some cases have lived for years in Toledo and who lost their homes here because of extended periods of unemployment.

I don’t want to give you my name, or to have anyone else know about it.” said the mother of two children who was trying in vain to coax warmth of of an improvised stove. “We have friends in Toledo and my husband is too proud to go to them. He is sure he will find work.”

..Williams goes on to write.. that one mother had confessed that her child hadn’t eaten for several days, and none of the families had made appeals for charity. If the family does have an automobile, it is parked beside the tent with an empty gas tank and no money to buy any. Family possessions are covered with canvas to protect against the elements.

In the article, Williams noted a gesture of charity from the Toledo Police ranks. Just across the road from the camp the Toledo Police Shooting range was located and the officer stationed there, Sergeant Buck Dear, took two of the young girls from the camp into his family home to be cared for and they are being sent to school.

Meanwhile, reporter Williams closes the article as he pens: “ One little girl of school age sat in a tent beside her mother, but the mother would not let her go hungry. The father had left without anything to eat. A few attempts have been made to wall the tents up for the winter. It is the last futile gesture in a battle already lost.”

News Bee Oct 6th 1930

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October 5, 2014 · 5:16 pm

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

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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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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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High Plains Tragedy Rooted in Ohio’s Black Swamp

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

Clara Harrington Blinn at about age 16

Clara Harrington Blinn at about age 16

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

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

Washita River site in what is now Oklahoma

Washita River site in what is now Oklahoma

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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