Tag Archives: HISTORY

Toledo’s Unforgettable Judge Austin

Judge James Austin

Judge Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge James Austin

Judge Austin

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A Tesla Treasure -Lost In Toledo?

Did WBuhlbook1956ScienceFairTeslaCoiloodward High School in Toledo once have a real scientific treasure, and if so, where is it?   For those of you familiar with the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, you  already know that this Serbian-American genius was considered by many to be one of the greatest inventors and most brilliant minds of 20th century physics.  His legendary innovations include everything from alternating current, the radio, the induction motor, the neon light bulb and many others.  What you may not have known, according to a 1937 Toledo News Bee article, is that Woodward High School in Toledo was reportedly in possession of one of Nikola Tesla’s original Tesla coils that he used in his controversial laboratory in Colorado Springs, Colorado around 1900.  The article from April 20th, of 1937, reports that a Woodward High School electric and radio teacher, Alpheus Bitter, had acquiredtesla coil article one of the ten original Tesla coils from Colorado from a “garageman” who was selling them.  The high elevation city of Colorado Springs, at the foot of Pike’s Peak,  is where Tesla spent a number of years in a laboratory, (now the site of the city’s Memorial Park), developing a system to transmit electricity without the use of wires.  It was Tesla’s quest. His long held belief that electric current at high voltages could be transmitted through the air and distributed without the cost of building wired networks.  It sounds wacky, but Tesla was not to be taken lightly, he was after all,  the man who invented,  and is credited with, the development of alternating current and the hydro-electric station at Niagara Falls, New York.   He was eccentric yes, but whether he had lost touch with reality with some of his ideas, is still up for debate. Historical records, for example, show that it was Nikola Tesla, and not Guglielmo Marconi who actually invented the radio, even though the latter is usually credited with fathering that major communication breakthrough.  

 

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

But it was Tesla’s later efforts to find a sort of “wi-fi” system to transmit electric current through the air that brought skeptical attention to him.  Many thought he had gone off the deep and had become the prototype of mad scientist, working alone in his laboratory using a system curious looking towers, antennae and large coils to shoot out bolts of lighting across the night skies. The heart of those experiments involved his now famous “Tesla Coil”,  which can emit large bolts of artificial lightning by sending current through the air towards a grounding tower at the receiving end.  (Every good sci-fi movie of the 1950’s included at least one Tesla Coil scene.)

The coil became the working symbol of Tesla’s concept and his name has been indelibly coupled with the device. By the 1930’s, however, Tesla’s famed laboratory in Colorado has been taken down and Tesla had long since moved away back to New York to continue his experiments there. 

Tesla working in his Colorado Springs Lab circa:1900

Tesla working in his Colorado Springs Lab
circa:1900

It was in the 1930’s that Toledo, Ohio teacher, Alpheus Bitter, is reported to have purchased one of the last remaining original coils from the Tesla lab that could generate up to a half million volts.  Bitter, according to the article in the News Bee, brought it to Toledo for use in his electricity and radio classes at Woodward High School.  And this particular news clippings says it was being displayed to the public for a special demonstration.

If the Toledo News Bee article is accurate, and Woodward High School did hold in its grasp one of the greatest science artifacts of the 20th century, where is it?  I asked a Toledo Public School spokeswoman who says she was not aware of it, but would look into it and see if she could answer just where the large coil may have ended up.   “It would be a find, indeed,” says Ottawa County antique dealer, and electronic hobbyist, Ernie Scarano, who owns Mantiques, a specialty antique store in Elmore. The centerpiece of his store, which features antiques for more masculine taste, is a working Tesla coil that he built himself. Ernie says that to his knowledge, no one in the world has an actual Tesla-made Tesla coil. There are thousands of Tesla coil winders around the world who are tinkerers and hobbyists, but he is not aware of anyone who actually owns a “real” Tesla coil. He thinks its value would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Lots of people around the world would want this, museums would want it.” But, once again, the question arises. Where is it? Did it get sold or salvaged, or stolen? Or it is gathering cobwebs in a forgotten closet. Woodward_High_School

Sadly, we may never find the answer to this mystery, as the historic Woodward High School building was taken down by wrecking crews a few years ago and the answer may have been buried deep in the rubble and carted off for salvage or junk.

As for the teacher who bought the Tesla Coil in Colorado and took it to Woodward High School, I have learned that Alpheus Bitter was not just a hobbyist-teacher who liked to tinker, but that he too was a brilliant engineer of electronic communication and had the credentials to prove it.  In his 1992 obituary in the Toledo Blade,  It is written that Bitter taught at Woodward High School until 1945 and influenced many young men to enter the field of electrical engineering. And that he was also responsible for helping put many Toledo TV and radio stations on the air, including WOHO, WTOD, WTOL, WSPD and WGTE-TV.   Alpheus Bitter’s resume also included a long time stint as a consultant for Willys Motors in Toledo, in the 1940’s and 50’s, in their attempts to build television equipment, and designed the electronic glass cutting process for Owens-Illinois. In his later years, he lectured on electronics at the University of Toledo.  Alpheus Bitter was 88 years old when he passed away from cancer at the Golden Haven Nursing home in 1992.  he was well known and well respoected, but there was no mention in his obituary of the novel Tesla coil or what may have happened to it.  He surely knew its value and perhaps he sold it to someone else who understood that this was, in the science world, as precious as a piece of art from one of the masters.  Mr. Bitter may have taken the knowledge of its whereabouts to his grave. We can only hope that someone, somewhere is still holding Mr. Tesla’s holy grail in safekeeping, maybe here in Toledo.ntesla2

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Mr. Dixon’s Very Strange Inn and Museum

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

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

 
  

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From the Trenches to Toledo: Letters Tell The Personal Stories of War

By the time the United States entered World War One in the spring of 1917, the  earth had already been shuddering with the thunder of battle for three years through Europe and on the high seas. Many Americans, but not all, were ready to join the fight against the Kaiser and put an end to the long nightmare of German ambition.

Toledo, like the rest of the country, sent her boys to the front to help in the cause. During this time, the news stories of the day reflect an emboldened American spirit of pride and patriotism and a compliant willingness to sacrifice  both blood and treasure to the effort. Toledo did both. Thousands of dollars of were raised to help fund the war through what were called Liberty Loans and Toledo was one of the top leaders in the country for such fund raising, and likewise, Toledoans also offered thousands of young men to fund the need for human lives on the front lines in France, in what would become a brutal trench war of attrition against the hated Germans.   By the time it was over on November 11th, it had been the costliest war in terms of human life, in the history of humanity. Over 8 million dead. For the United States, 116,000 military troops died in battle or from disease or accidents in the short 19 months of deployment.  Over 400 young men from the Toledo area would not return home alive, having died on the battlefield, or of disease or by accident.

The Toledo News Bee newspaper at the time was a great repository of war information, reporting daily on the situation at home and abroad. One of the most poignant features I found in the pages of the newspaper were the letters from Toledo “Yanks” serving in France during those months just before the fall of the Germans in November of 1918. The letters lend a human perspective to the events. A truly American perspective through the eyes of young men, many of whom had never traveled much beyond Lucas County, but whose sensibilities were now transported to a strange new world against the harsh landscape of war that would change their lives forever.

“When we landed in France we were shipped in boxcars, they packed us in like sardines. We had to split up and sleep in shifts during the ride at night.” So writes William Kieswetter to his father J.L. Kieswetter of 828 Michigan St. ” The speed of the French trains would make one seasick. One could walk backward twice as fast as we moved forward. We were five hours in going 20 miles. On the night of October 31st, we saw several bombs dropped on Nancy, killing many people.”

Private Edward Major wrote to his father F. Major at 1806 Ray St. Toledo..” I was wounded in the thigh on the morning of November 1st, just after daylight. We were going over the top. As we went over the top, a gang of German machine guns opened fire on us. We jumped into a shell hole and listened to the bullets buzz over our head. Soon it became quiet, so one of the fellows said “let’s go”, so we started. Started was all. From the minuteswere showed ourselves we drew a hornet’s nest of machine fire. But  this time our fellows kept going. I was one of the lucky ones. I got plugged. But it is not so bad, these hospitals are a great place to get some rest.”

“Wine, women and song are what Paris lives under” so wrote J Frank Coveney to his sister Mrs. Stanley Lanker in Point Place. I never saw the likes of it before in all the cities I’ve been in, both in the United State and over here.” Coveney goes on to write, “We are billeted and set in a small building about 10′ x 12′. It is pretty crowded. This is one of the battlefields and graves are all around us. One grave they say has 10,000 French soldiers in it. A good sized city – isn’t it?” Some of the German prisoners are sure bum looking fellows and gaunty. They seem to be glad to be taken. I guess their stomachs are full of war.”

For some of the Toledo soldiers, the adventure of war also involved other adventures besides those on the battlefield. Louis Gerding of Toledo wrote to his mother Ann Gerding of 119 Maumee Avenue about his new kindled friendship with a “French girl”.

“I’ve got the best little girl over here. She is teaching me French and I am teaching her English. I sent you her picture about a month ago. If you didn’t get it, here’s another one. In another month, your son will be able to speak French. Just think of it! We had a party about two weeks ago. I sure had a good time We had all the beer and eats we wanted. We also had a little show and also the band was here, so you see we never get time to get homesick.”

The sight of an American soldier, a Yank, with the companionship of a French girl was apparently not an unusual occurrence, so penned, Toledoan David Redding of the Chief Surgeon’s office to his father John Redding who worked for the Wabash railroad and the nephew of Rev. Thomas Redding of Maumee. “Everywhere..one can see an American soldier with a girl, while the French soldiers walk alone. The American soldiers are the cakes-of-the-walk in the town. I am learning French rapidly. I don’t mean I can speak fluently but just can make myself understood.

Corporal Bennie Rosencranz of Toledo wrote to his family that it was candy that was in short supply in France. ” We get all of the tobacco and cigarettes we need and at less than they cost in the United States. Candy is very scarce, however, and when the Y.M.C.A. gets a supply, which is not very often, it lasts about a day.”

Other Toledo soldiers wrote of their eagerness to defeat the Germans and come home.

“At last we are here and ready to do our best to lick the Kaiser.” So wrote Toledoan Clinton Hart to Mrs. John Holzer of 1230 Oak Street. “We are all in fine condition, we were on the boat just 17 days.” One cannot judge the beauty of France by these camps, for Army camps in war times are not pleasing to the eye. Only old men and women are to be seen. All of the men who can wear the uniform have gone to war, but the women are making a wonderful showing. They keep the chief industry going, which seems to be the making of wine in this locality. Our long days of drilling are over and now the real show is about to begin. I feel good enough to lick any German that walks and I sure will hand it to him.”

Others were even more  belligerent in their regard for the Germans. “We are over here to lick Germany, all of us in the Army are willing to do that.” wrote Shirley C. Matheny of company C to his mother Mrs. J.W. Matheny of 319 12th Street. “If we can’t make these baby killing, conceited pig-headed Huns crawl and say Kamerad to us then we don’t want to come home. They have stopped calling us the contemptible little Yankee army now, we’ve gone up in the world. They now call us barbarians and they know whenever they are facing Yanks, they had better fight like hell or beat it while the beating is good. It’s very simple, get Fritz on the run and keep him running and the war will soon be over.”

For many of the young Toledo soldiers deployed to Europe, the experience was one of cultural enlightenment. They were getting the chance to see a world they had only heard of, or read about before. Many communicated those experiences to their loved ones back home.  Carl Hoefflin wrote to his mother Mrs. George Hoefflin of 1919 Hurd Street about his life in France The people surely do live strange over here. They wear wooden shoes. The girls drive three or four horses. The buildings are made of stone and are very pretty. The streets are also beautiful.”

“About 25 of us are living in a sawmill at the present time“, said Private Geogre Fulkert of 731 Pinewood, in a letter to his wife and family“Some of the boys are living in hay lofts. There are numerous ancient buildings here. One church is 289 years old. Some of the houses are older than this church. This is one place that indicates what women can do. They go out in the field and pitch hay and they operate street cars and do other things that I thought a woman could not do.”

And Miss Mary Ges of 137 Steele St. read in a letter from her soldier friend Walter Dieffenbach of his observations of this strange and foreign land. “It is rather interesting to note that the movie scenes and descriptions of French rural life depict conditions very accurately.”The farm houses, barns. sheds, etc that are built around a central court are very picturesque, but the romance of sleeping in the second story of a cowshed, as fell to our lot, is nothing to be enlarged upon from the standpoint of comfort.

And while many of the Toledo Yanks reveled in these new experiences, they were also quick to point out that There is “no place like home”. Ferd Gladieux, a Company B machine gunner of Starr Avenue in East Toledo in writing to his father, George, summed it up this way.  “ We boys are all having a good time and all enjoying good health, so there are no kicks coming from any of us. I just got through with my breakfast. It was some breakfast. I had seven eggs. It makes me think of home and it’s the one thing Uncle Sam doesn’t give us.”

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Famous and Forgotten, Toledo’s Laddie Boy, The First Presidential Pet

There have many “first dogs” who’ve wandered the hallways of the White House over the years, but you may not know that the first “First Dog” to garner regular newspaper coverage in the United State was a dog from Toledo.  It was during the administration of  President Warren G. Harding of Ohio.  In the spring of 1921, the Hardings received a seven-month old Airedale from Charles Quetschke, Harding supporter in Toledo. The Harding’s named the dog Laddie Boy and with no child of their own, this loveable Airedale would soon become treated like a member of the family. Both Harding and his wife Florence shared a love of animals and the First Lady, also an advocate for the care of abused and neglected animals, soon began employing this handsome dog as a poster “child” for the national promotion of animal rights issues.

It soon made Laddie Boy the first presidential dog with a national identity. He was a very important dog, allowed to roam the White House grounds, attend meetings with the President and was even given his own custom-made Cabinet chair. President Harding himself would take the time to write letters to children on Laddie’s behalf. Within months, this young dog from Toledo, Ohio became the most celebrated dog in the nation. Children across the country loved Laddies and on July 26th each year, he was given White House birthday parties at which other neighborhood dogs were invited to join.


I guess it would appear that Laddie Boy was the first and only Toledoan ever to reside in the White House. Having been born as the Caswell Kennels in Toledo in 1920,  he was sired by the internationally
known Airedale Champion Tintern Tip Top, owned by Charles Quetschke of Toledo.  Quetschke was a man of some interest in the area, having led a bit of an adventurous lifestyle over the years as a boxer, sports promoter, motorcyle racer and champion dancer. He is credited with being the man who started the Toledo Kennel Club and the Maumee River Yacht Club.

The legend and life of Laddie Boy, however began to change when Warren Harding took ill while visiting San Francisco in August 1923.  As Harding lay on his death bed, it was reported that Laddie Boy, back at the White House, could sense his master’s impending death and howled constantly for three days before Harding passed away.  When Florence Harding eventually left Washington to return home to Marion Ohio, the Smithsonian Institution reports that she gave Laddie Boy to Harry Barker, the Secret Service agent who had been assigned to protect her, and that Laddie Boy soon found a new life and home with the Barker family in Newtonville, Massachusetts. Laddie Boy, however did not vanish into oblivion, but was recognized by thousands of newsboys around the country who each donated a penny for a memorial to Harding and his faithful canine companion. The pennies were melted down and cast into a life-size sculpture of Laddie Boy.  Today, that sculpture resides at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, but we are told it is not on display.  Maybe, (this author’s opinion), it is time to bring the sculpture back to Toledo, the birthplace of this most celebrated Presidential pet.

A side note to that idea, is that in a 1992 Toledo Blade column by Mike Tressler, he wrote that when Laddie was given up by Florence Harding to her favorite Secret Service agent back in 1923, kennel owner Charles Quetschke of Toledo, who gave the dog to the Hardings, “begged” to have Laddie returned to Toledo, but to no avail.

Laddie Boy passed away on January 22, 1929. The New York Times ran a story the next day, describing the terrier as “magnificent,” and reported that the “end came after the dog had been ailing for many months of old age, and died while resting his head on the arms of Mrs. Barker.”  Laddie Boy was buried at an undisclosed location in Newtonville, Massachsetts.

In a stange footnote followup to this story, earlier this summer in Marion at the Harding historic home, the custom made gold collar of Laddie Boy was stolen, it was apparently the only item taken in break-in at the Harding Home and Museum in Marion.  A groundskeeper back in June arrived one morning and found a ladder leaning against the home and a second story window had been pried open. Many of the rooms were in disarray, but nothing else was missing except the treasured collar.  Marion Police distributed photos of the collar that had been made from Alaskan gold nuggets and the name “Laddie Boy” was written in raised letters on the center. So far it has not been found.

 

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THE STORY BENEATH PROMENADE PARK

       In the course of researching and writing about local history, you discover very quickly that you are not alone. There is in fact a growing fraternity of like-minded souls who also spend their days and hours immersed in the pages of time, looking for undiscovered and forgotten truths about our past. For some of those spelunkers of local history, the searches are personal.  Such is the case of  Doug Tracy, of Columbus, who, since retirement a few years ago,  started tracing his roots and found himself being led back to the streets of Toledo where many of his family members led notable lives of public service.   Some of those stories are a part of Toledo’s historical landscape.  It has become part of Doug’s purpose in life to share those stories with others and I am pleased that the Toledo Gazette can offer itself as a venue for that purpose. I know you’ll enjoy them.

The following story is the story of Toledo Fireman James Fraser, written by Doug Tracy, his  great-great grand nephew. 

Beneath Promenade Park

Toledo’s Promenade Park lies quietly along the riverfront where Water Street meets Madison, providing no indication whatsoever of the tragic events that took place at that very site in early January of 1894. Beneath the concrete and sod, unbeknownst to the passers-by who visit the park, lie the remains of the ‘brave and fearless’ Toledo firefighter Captain James Fraser, who valiantly died battling the King-Quale grain elevator fire, the largest fire in Toledo’s history –  a fire that very nearly destroyed all of downtown Toledo that cold winter night.  You will not find a marker or a plaque at the site where the massive grain elevators and other offices once stood, but Captain Fraser is still there somewhere beneath the grassy fields of the park.  Despite an intensive search of the ashes and still-smoldering rubble in the days following the fire, Captain Fraser’s remains were never found.  Only Captain Fraser’s brass suspender buckle, a pair of his glasses and a partially melted brass fire hose nozzle were found, grim testament to the intense heat of the inferno.

At the age of 12, ‘Captain Jim’, as Fraser was known to his firefighting brothers, came to America from Fermoy, Cork County, Ireland, with his 11 siblings, mother and father.  The Fraser’s sailed from Liverpool, England, during the height of the horrific Irish Famine, arriving in New York City in 1849.  Within a year, the entire Fraser family had found their way to Toledo and set up shop as shoemakers, the family trade.  In 1864, young Captain Jim enlisted in the 130th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and found himself guarding Confederate prisoners at Johnson’s Island, followed by duty at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, in support of the siege of Petersburg.

Following his discharge from the Union Army, Captain Jim worked 8 years as a sailor on Great Lakes ships before being hired as a Toledo fireman in 1872.  He rose through the ranks of the Toledo Fire Department and was appointed Captain of Engine House #1 just weeks before the King-Quale Elevator fire erupted the evening of January 3, 1894.

The first fire alarm came just before 6:00 p.m., when a grain elevator worker noticed smoke and flames at the top of one of the tall wooden structures.  Within minutes, a series of 3 massive grain-dust explosions created an immense blaze.  Captain Jim and his crew were among the early responders to a rapidly growing fire that was already out of control by the time they arrived.  Captain Jim and his partner, Alfred Blaine, entered the King Elevator with their dry fire hose, planning to work their way to the top of the building, signal firefighters below to turn on the water and pour a stream of water downward.  They managed to reach the 3rd floor, but were immediately knocked to the floorboards by a fiery explosion that occurred just as they broke through a door.  A stunned Alfred Blaine yelled in the dark to Captain Jim to “follow the hose” to safety, but never heard another word from Captain Jim.  Blaine somehow managed to reach the stairway and stumbled down a flight, landing near a window.  Dazed and badly injured, he lunged toward the light of the window, only able to summon enough strength to partially break  through the glass, severely cutting himself in the process.  His comrades below saw him hanging out of the window, bleeding profusely, and carried him to safety.  Captain Fraser was not so fortunate.  He was never seen again.

Throughout the rest of the night, a wind-driven shower of sparks and embers ignited building after building in its path in a seemingly unstoppable advance from the waterfront toward the heart of the business district.  First the King elevator, then the Quale elevator, followed by the Chamber of Commerce building, Wonderland Amusement Center and scores of smaller storefronts, were all consumed by the conflagration.  The firefighters were powerless to stop the onslaught and late in the night had given up all hope of saving the rest of Toledo’s thriving downtown.  But in the wee hours of the morning, a miraculous 180-degree wind shift took place, allowing the exhausted firefighters to bring the fiery beast to its knees.

Early the next morning, while thousands of curious onlookers silently surveyed the many blocks of devastation, Captain Jim’s comrades painstakingly sifted through still-steaming debris at the northeast corner of Madison and Water streets, the exact location where Captain Jim was last seen entering the King building, searching for any trace of their beloved comrade.  The next day, January 5, 1864, a Toledo Blade headline declared “Fraser Is Dead”, noting that, “Captain Fraser was one of the bravest firemen that ever wore a uniform.  He was absolutely without fear.  Intense heat and suffocating smoke had no terrors for the gallant officer.”

Three days after the fire, while the debris still smoldered, all hope of ever finding Captain Jim was officially abandoned.  Fire Department Chief Chris Wall reflected on the loss of his dear friend:  “Twenty years ago, when, as a boy, I began to work with the Toledo Fire Department, old Jim Fraser taught me how to do it best, and from that time until Wednesday night, he needed no one to point out the work, or tell him how to handle it.  He was not ordered into the King building; he did not need to be.  He saw what was wanted and his own sense of duty took him there without the word of command.  Neither did he order his men there.  He said, ‘Come,’ and led the way himself.  ‘Don’t let go of the line,’ he has told me many a time, ‘you can always find your way out by it,’ and Jim Fraser never feared a fire before him or behind him, so long as he had a stream of water to fight with.” [Toledo Commercial Times, January 6, 1894]

A reporter in that same edition of the Toledo Commercial Times, went on to describe Captain Jim as, “A brave and noble man.  Personally he was a pleasant man to meet, of kindly heart and gentle disposition.  The children of the neighborhood of No. 5 (sic) Engine House will mourn over his death, for he was a dear friend to them.  His gentle, kindly nature found pleasure in the company of the little ones, and hardly a day passed but what they came to him in little knots of five and six to ‘play’ and pass away a happy hour.”

On January 21, 1864, throngs of solemn Toledo citizens congregated at Memorial Hall to pay their last respects to Captain Jim.  At the service, the eulogies were many and heartfelt. Fire Commissioner L. G. Richardson paid tribute to Captain Jim’s devotion to his city and his country, saying, “Born in a foreign country, Ireland, he came to America and soon offered his services and his life for the preservation of the nation of his adoption.”

After his death, Captain Jim’s legacy of service and devotion was carried on by subsequent generations.  One nephew, George W. Fraser, became Chief of the Toledo Fire Department in 1914, and another nephew, Lewis B. Tracy, was a career policeman and Captain of Detectives with the Toledo Police Department during the early 1900’s.

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