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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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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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Free Love Cult Leaves Behind Haunting Events On Fulton County Farm

Just when you think you’ve heard all of the ghost stories and mysterious tales of the past, you find another one to add to the long list of haunting tales in the Toledo area. I found this one in a 1928 Toledo News Bee about a house that was being tormented by sort some of  phenomenon that most of the local residents were ascribing to the spirit of a scandalous woman who had once lived on this Fulton County farm. 

Her name was Lucinda Poole and the house and farm in question were near the town of Brailey in Fulton where it was said that this young and beautiful Lucinda was running a “free love” colony. A cult that was not taken kindly to by the neighbors. Not only that, but Lucinda Poole was reputed to have been an atheist and anarchist who brought her “cult” to this farm around 1890.  It was there where the “handsome” Lucinda ardently preached and practiced the gospel of “free love” and according to the News Bee article of 1928,  “scores of persons followed her precepts” and that “homes were broken, lives ruined and respectability thrown to the winds” by the disciples of the persuasive Lucinda. The article did note, however, that Lucinda was not without her virtue, but she was also said to be a selfless woman who dedicated much of her life to providing for the sick, needy and hungry of the area.

As years moved on, Lucinda also passed with them. And with her passing, her cult of free love was left to memory and embellishment.  Her daughter and a man by the name of Lutz would eventually marry and stay on the farm and turned it into a dairy operation. By the late 1920’s, they too had passed on to the ages and the family of Ellis Turpening had taken up residence on the old farmhouse. But in the late fall of 1927 and early winter of 1928, they found themselves being victmized by what many believed to be the spirits of Ms. Poole. These events included a mysterious fire in the farm house, a large chunk of wood that hit a young boy in the back, and strange and unexplained hurling of stones and several cases of dying farm animals.  In one such case, a tenant of the farm lost a flock of sheep. Nearly all of them died without an apparent cause. Horses and cows also reportedly died for no reason, while grain and wool and farm tools would come up missing, but no locks on the granary were ever disturbed.

The News Bee reported in its March 28th edition of 1928 that the Turpenings were now reporting that windows were being hit by stones and they were hearing strange rappings on the floor and windows.The situation was unnerving to many of the neighbors who had been standing guard on the farm with guns to provide sentry against the spirits. It was on one of those occassions when a mysterious fire broke out suddenly on the side of the barn.  The News Bee report of 1928 drew no conclusions about what was happening, but wqith several photos and a front page headline, I am certain there were plenty of readers who had their own opinions as to what might account fo these curious events.  I was unable to locate any subsequent reference to this mystery farm in Fulton County. So I’m just wondering if anyone knows if the this farm still exists today, and if so, where it is exactly and do those who live there still have reason to wonder if the beautiful and mysterious Lucinda Poole lingers among us?

 

 

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STRANGE MIRAGE AT TOLEDO

     In the great river of daily news, there are some stories that float by us that are too hard to ignore and even harder to explain. I found one of those curiosities the other day as I was reading a New York Times article from  December of 1901.(don’t ask me why) The dateline was Toledo, Ohio and the headline was “Saw City In A Mirage”. That hooked my interest and upon further reading, I found a remarkable story.  It was published on December 21st of 1901, and relayed the bizarre tale about a group of Toledo area ice fishermen who claim they saw, on the horizon over the frozen ice of Lake Erie, a startling vision of a large city.  The NY Times article said their claims were being “vouched for” by prominent citizens and names a one “Harry Ashley” of Toledo as the first ice fisherman to spot the apparition. When he alerted his companions,  the others looked up, and they too witnessed the same strange spectacle.  What they described was the mirage of a large city with hundreds of buildings and streets. As the vision grew brighter and stronger, they even saw fire break out in one of the buildings. The Maumee Bay fishermen told reporters they could see flames and smoke and also saw people pouring out of buildings and fire apparatus in the streets. The unfolding scene played out for about a half an hour, according to the “startled” fishermen, before the sight gradually faded away.

Wire services at the time, carried the story, coast-to-coast and it even got some global notice.  What the Times article did not try to do was to explain the phenomenon, but merely reported it in a matter-of-fact style that offered no opinion as to its credulity.  So what was it? A real mirage, or a giant hoax, concocted by a group of whiskey-fueled fishermen who thought they’d also try landing a whopper of a tale to see who would bite.  That’s was my reaction when I first read the story, but I soon changed my mind. After doing some follow-up research, I found that it may well be that these unsuspecting fisherman probably glimpsed a real mirage, a type of rare mirage known as a Fata Morgana.  According to numerous online sources, the Fata Morgana is complex and unusual but has been observed at numerous times over the centuries around the world.  It might even be at the heart of the famous and mythical  “Flying Dutchman” ghost ship.  Like all mirages, it is created by light refraction bent against the layers of the sky and this particular phenomenon occurs when rays of lights are strongly bent as they pass through air layers of different temperatures, especially during times of a thermal inversion.  Seeing such a mirage over a field of ice on Lake Erie would not be surprising according to a Wikipedia entry:

Fata Morgana is most commonly seen in polar regions, especially over large sheets of ice which have a uniform low temperature. It can however be observed in almost any area.

After further research, I found the mystery of such strange events on the Great Lakes is certainly not  that rare. The web is filled with stories of people in Ohio who claim to have seen mirages of lakeside cities in Canada, as if they were only a few miles from the Lake Erie shoreline, instead of a distance more than 50 miles(and beyond the earth’s curvature).  In 1894, it was reported that thousands of people in Buffalo and Rochester New York witnessed a spectacular Fata Morgana that presented a reflection of Toronto, Ontario(over 50 miles away), over the ice of a frozen Lake Ontario. Witness accounts says it was so clear that one could easily count the steeples of Toronto’s churches. The spectacle was reported to have been witnesses by over 20,000 people who lined the shores of Lake Ontario to see it.  A similar story unfolded on cold winter’s day in Cleveland in 1906 as witnesses claim to have seen a “up close” vision of Canadian city on the other side of Lake Erie.  So  perhaps, that “city on the ice” glimpsed by Harry Ashley and his friends on Maumee Bay back in 1901, was neither a hoax nor hallucination, but was  in fact, a lesson in the science of optics and physics. Perhaps it was merely the refracted mirror image of a real city, many miles away,  captured on the lens of the sky and played out on the retina of ice.  Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.

For more information on the Fata Morgana and these other sightings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fata_Morgana_(mirage)

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