Tag Archives: Maumee Bay

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

Whatever Happened to the Mistress of Odeon Island UPDATE WITH NEW INFORMATION

odeonMistress story (  I first published this story a few days ago asking readers of the Toledo Gazette to help me find out whatever happened to Lillian Poupard ,one of Toledo’s last hardy fisherwomen living on tiny Indian or Odeon Island just off the northern most tip of Point Place. A 1934 News Bee article about Lillian prompted me to ask more questions about this interesting woman and her husband Bill Poupard who lived a very quiet and happy life on this small island eeking out a meager living from the fishing trade.  I am pleased to report that Barb Burgess of Wooster, a local history buff and researcher was able to find the information I was looking for. Sadly though, that new information informs us that Lil and Bill Poupard’s life together after the News Bee story appeared was short-lived. Lillian died a few years later, on September 28th of 1937 of cancer, at the age of 42.   As the article states, she was of German descent and had been born Lillian Reusher, to her parents Herman and Sophia (Reichter), both born in Germany. Lillian Poupard is buried at Forest Cemetery in Toledo. And, as I was to disover, Bill’s life also tragically ended a few years after his beloved Lil.  She and Bill apparenty had no children.  Thanks to Barb Burgess and others who worked to find the information help fill in the blanks on this story.  We are still trying to disocver more the couple and more about Bill and Lillian’s early lives in the area.)

A story that caught my attention while I was researching my book, Day by Day in Toledo, was that of Lil Poupard, a woman that the Toledo News Bee dubbed the “Mistress of Odeon Island”.   In an 80 year old article from August of 1934, the News Bee featured Lil and her husband Bill Poupard who were two hardy souls that lived on this little spit of an island just off Point Place and made their living catching and selling fish.  They resided there on the tiny island, not just in the balmy and gentle days of summer, but throughout the year, even in the “bleak” days of winter, living in a small wooden structure, a shanty they called home. They were the sole inhabitants along with Bill Poupard’s brother Fred who is said to also have lived on island.

The story piqued my interest on a number of levels, first I was curious as to the whereabouts of Odeon Island. You won’t see it on a map today, but what you will find are Indian and Gard islands, just off the northern most tip of the Point Place peninsula at the mouth of the Ottawa River.  I am told by area historian Buzz Achinger of the Lost Peninsula that Odeon Island was the first name for what is now Indian Island.

” It is a distinct island of its own. It is less popular than Gard and the other surrounding islands because it can be treacherous around its shores. There are shallows that can trap boaters in the summer and springs & soft spots that cause havoc for snowmobiles and ATVs when the area is ice-covered in Winter. It is a natural island, not man-made like a few other island nearby.”   Buzz also tells me that not much is there these days and that he doubted if the old wooden structures of the Poupard’s remained.

I have placed an historic USGS map to show you the relative placement of the island just off the mouth of the Ottawa River.

USGS Map

The other question raised in this faded old story was about Lil Poupard herself. Described as being an attractive, good natured, blond-haired woman in her early 40’s, she was of German descent and had been living on the island for the past 20 years as a “fisherwoman” with her husband Bill, and was the last of the area women who made their living as “fishwives”.  Virginia Nelson, the author of the News Bee story writes;

” She is the last of a hardy and picturesque line. Years ago when fishing was really good around the Point, there were a number of women who earned their living this way. But fishing has fallen off a great deal in the last two or three years. For one reason or another the women have given it up. But to Lil Poupard, life according to any other design would be unthinkable. She is known in the parlance of the fisherfolk as a fishwife but there is nothing of the screaming harridan about her that is usually associated with the word.”

Nelson goes on to tell us that Lil defies the stereotype, and while she does wear hip boots while working side by side with the “men”, when she is not working, she wears nice dresses and keeps her hair washed and styled as she and Bill live a quiet, simple and contented life on their private island.  Even in the wintertime, Lil Poupard tells Nelson, “ People think the winters out here would be bad but we don’t mind them. We bring out plenty of coal and groceries and we have a radio.  We along fine. There seems to be a lot of trouble in the world but it doesn’t seem to bother us out here.”

Nelson continues to paint that picture of the Poupard’s little paradise on Maumee Bay, by writing of how their humble home is set in a grove of tall trees and Bill often plays long lazy ballads on his mouth organ out in the yard with an assortment of cats and dogs and other animals running around. Says Lil of this spartan lifestyle,

” I wouldn’t trade this life for all the card parties and picture shows there are.”

But eventually something did change for the Poupard’s. Just when and how, I have been unable to discover,  and perhaps you or someone you know can shed some needed light on this story’s dark evolution.  What I have been able to determine from Blade and News Bee articles is that sometime between 1934, when the News Bee feature appeared and the Spring of 1939,  Bill Poupard would find another woman to share his life with on the island, a much younger woman than Lil.  And whatever plans they had for matrimony were cut short But by tragedy. According to a newspaper article, the body of 21-year-old Jean Brown was found in the waters of Maumee Bay near Odeon Island by two duck hunters. the article says she had been missing for several days when her body was found.  The news story  also states that the body of 46-year old William Poupard was found nearby by relatives of his who had been searching for him. Poupard was described as the caretaker of Odeon Island. The story says that the Poupard and Brown were on their way to mainland from Odeon Island when their duckboat overturned.obit on William Poupard

(See new information at beginning of the post)

I suppose, we could leave the story there. But my curiosity always trumps indifference. I really wanted to know what happened to Lillian Poupard, what was her maiden name, her real background and the remaining chapters of her life story?   So far, my efforts have hit the proverbial brick wall.  Lil’s story seems to have left no footprint, at least not a digital footprint, that can be followed.  Searches of obituary indices and ancestory, newspaper databases have offered not a trace.  So far.  I did have  a bit more success in finding some information about William Poupard, including his date of birth, June 11, 1895 and that he was born in Toledo and registered for the World War I draft in 1916. He was listed as a fisherman at that time. Beyond that, not much else except for some listings in the Toledo city directories along with other Poupards, also listed as fishermen living in the 3500 block of North Erie Street.   It must be noted however that the Poupard name was and is not a rare name  in both Lucas County and Monroe County over the years, and there were a number of Poupard men with the first name of William.

Not sure if it is relevant, but some research of census records does indicate that two brother, by the name of William and Fred Poupard, born around 1895 were residents of the Miami Children’s Home about 1903. And both boys listed their parents as having been born in France. Could this be the William and Fred Poupard who once lived on Odeon island, with Lil Poupard in 1934?  Maybe so, maybe not.

If you know, or know someone who knows more about the “Mistress of Odeon Island”, and the Poupards,  I’d like to share that story with the Toledo Gazette readers. For Lillian Poupard, according to the 1934 News Bee story appeared to be good person, a gentle soul,  and someone whose life was probably much larger than an obscure article in a faded newspaper.  Someone worth knowing.

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Filed under Lake Erie, Old Places and Faces, The Forgotten and no so famous, Uncategorized

Area Coast Guardsmen Nabbed In Bootlegger Bribery Case

This story happened 80 years ago this week and took place against the backdrop of rampant rum running on Lake Erie. The Toledo area and the Western end of Lake Erie was the primary corridor for gangsters who were trying to smuggle booze into the United States after prohibition closed off all the legal trade in wine, beer and whiskey sales in the U.S.

(Toledo, OH) — January 18, 1930. Four Coast Guardsmen from the Port Clinton Coast Guard station are charged with allegedly accepting a bribe of $2,500 from a rum runner who was smuggling illegal booze from Canada into the Toledo Harbor. Three of the men were being held in the Erie County jail in Buffalo New York and the fourth suspect was being sought.
The story was reported in numerous newspapers around the nation and it was also reported that three other Coast Guardsmen were implicated in the case, but were only being charged with desertion.

According to an AP article, a rum runner named “Courtney” had given the men $2500 in cash to release his speedboat after they encountered him in Toledo. But then later, he was picked up again and that’s when he told authorities about his earlier bribe payment to the other Coast Guardsmen.

Author’s note. My Uncle, Louis Hebert, who was the commander of the Marblehead Coast Guard station during the era, often stated there was a “treasure” of of illegal whiskey and wine at the bottom of western Lake Erie. Many of the rum runners, while being pursued by Coast Guard boats frequently dumped their payloads overboard and sent large amounts of high priced scotch, whiskey and other spirits to the bottom of the lake. Uncle Louis was even quoted in a wire service article several years later in which he predicted that the lake would become the popular hunting grounds of future treasure seekers. I’m not sure if that ever came to pass but there were stories appearing from time to time about people being caught by authorities trying to recover the submerged contraband.

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Filed under Toledo area crime news