Tag Archives: Toledo

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.

ConeyIsland_1936

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

“Guns He Shunned, Finally End Knife King’s Career”

One of the great joys I get from reading old newspapers, is absorbing the colorful writing of newsprint reporters from years past.  It is a true lesson in how to spin a great yarn using the elements of fact, but set down in a narrative the keeps the readers’ attention. Perhaps not always with the most accuracy, and usually spun with some subjective bias, but it’s damn fine storytelling nonetheless.  It was the essence of pulp fiction. Few papers in the country did it better that Toledo’s News Bee.  If you read the News Bee, you were treated to a tabloid view of life on Toledo’s colorful streets that would compel most everybody to grab the daily paper and a cup of coffee and settle down for an hour’s worth of great reading. Still does.

I found an example of this prose, I thought it would be fun to share with you from a 1930 article taken from a Toledo News Bee that tells the story of a guy named “Big Wingle” and how he came to meet his demise in one of Toledo’s most dangerous crime neighborhoods of the era.

Guns He Shunned, Finally End Knife King’s Career”

They never would have got “Big Wingle” that way if he had been facing them.  Every Detective who responded to 518 State Street agreed on that point. But the fact remained, that  “Big Wingle”, Leroy Wagner, Canton Street’s bad boy,  lay dead there with five bullet wounds in his neck.

It seemed funny to those detectives to stand there and look down on “Wingle”. They had picked up, in their time, many of the big boy’s victims who had made the double mistake of speaking out of turn and then stepping in front of the one-armed boy’s razor.

“Wingle’s” shed-home near where his body lay didn’t offer much in the way of what happened. The improvised furniture lay scattered about. There must have been a fight. Neighbors heard the rumpus, but Wingle’s neighbors made it a practice of never interfering in his business.

The big boy’s roommate who was seen intoxicated on Canton Street just before the shooting is sought by police. He’s tough too. 

Since 1917 police have arrested Wingle 30 times, he has been convicted 10 times on charges that led him to be called the fastest thing with a knife on Canton Street. He served a year in Atlanta penitentiary for dealing in narcotics and in 1918 he went down to Ohio penitentiary for a three year term for carrying concealed weapons. After that, Wingle settled most of his disputes with a knife.

“Gun gets a fellow in trouble” Wingle said that often.  And sure enough, a gun got him.

There’s no mention of why Leroy Wagner was called “Big Wingle” but if the current urban dictionary and other online sources are correct, it could be that Wagner not only was known for wielding not just one large weapon, but two,..if you get my drift.

There many tales written in the News Bee during that time frame that employed this cocky type of Mickey Spillane prose as they conjure up a much more vivid picture of the scene and the actors of the times who not only have a name but have a character and a story and jump off the page into your mind’s eye.

My thanks to those writers.

And my thanks to the Toledo Blade who owns the News Bee archive file.

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Cops and Robbers Street Slang Has Been Spoken For Decades

yeggs2As I’ve spent hours surfing the headlines of yesterday’s newspapers, one of the first odd words I happened upon was the word “Yegg”.  It didn’t take long to determine that it was the term our grandparents used to describe burglars or safe robbers or specifically those who blew up the safes in stores and banks to get at the stash of cash on hand. In the early part of the 20th century it was in common use, however its origin remains murky at best.  Crime slang is nothing new, however, as police and criminals have used their own street vernacular for many decades.  In Toledo, the police department and local criminal elements were also fluent in the jargon of the day. And much of that lexicon, like the word Yegg has passed into obscurity.  In a 1927 Toledo News Bee article, I found an interesting glossary of these old terms from a hundred years ago. Colorful indeed and useful when reading and translating old police reports.  Toledo Police Detective William Culver, who gained a national repuation for astute police work,  shared one particular example using the underworld criminalese of the day with the News Bee readers.

“A front office man and a finger dick with a fanatic and filthy smoke got by the announcer and rushed a mob in the joint”.

So what does it mean?

Culver says it meant “a headquarters man and a detective were accompanied by a prohibition agent using gas bombs and managed to elude the “lookout” man and raid a gang of crooks at a “vice resort”, which was a gambling and drinking parlor.

Here are some other crime expressions of the day recorded by Toledo Police officers.

The eye ————- Detective agency

Track 13 and a Washout  —  A  life sentence in a western prison.

The Third Rail —- a pickpocket caught on a railroad train

Toadskins ———- Papermoney

Undershine ——— A fur coat

Vog ——————- A chicken thief

Trolley —————–A wire or string used to pass paper from cell-to-cell.

Vermont Charity — Sympathy

Ludy——————-Someone who passes phony money for a counterfeiter

Lush Toucher —- A crook who robs drunk people

Beak   —————A judge

Yad ——————A porch climber

Wingy ————–A person with one arm

Wisechuck ——–A uniformed back officer

Zenas ————–Man or woman who wears lots of jewelry

Lifeboat ————A pardon

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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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The Summer In Toledo That Changed The World

Maybe it’s my undying love for radio broadcasting that inspires my interest in its history and early beginnings, and after spending over 40 years in broadcasting, I was recently surprised to learn that the first radio station broadcast in America, maybe the world, happened in downtown Toledo in the year 1907, many years prior to those early days of radio broadcasting in the 1920’s when stations in Detroit and Pittsburgh were going “on the air” and claiming they were radio’s first on the air. Not really. The real “first” in wireless radio, or telephony as it was called then, occurred in Toledo. Here’s the story, as I have pieced together from numerous news articles written over the years.

This particular chapter in both the history of Toledo and radio, unfolded during the heat of a rabid race by many inventors to explore this new technology called “wireless”. Most of those inventors of the day were still testing how “wireless” could be used as a way to communicate using telegraph as the primary communications vehicle. The notion of actually transmitting a human voice and receiving it “through the air”, without wires, was beyond the boundaries of even the most fertile imaginations. But great innovations require great dreams and many of those early dreams were pursued in downtown Toledo. In a news article written by the NEA news service in 1925, Lee DeForest, considered the “father” of wireless broadcast radio, found himself in Toledo in the summer of 1907 and it was here that he made his first real breakthroughs in his quest to find a way to send voices through the air. A task he probably couldn’t have done without the help of a Northwest Ohio man and fellow believer, Frank E. Butler. Butler, had been a train dispatcher and telegrapher for the New York Central railroad in Toledo. But Frank Butler also had a passionate interest in the possibilities of this new technology of “wireless communication” and conducted his own experiments to see where they might lead. He wanted to do more than just tinker and wanted to leave his job and go to work with the renowned “wireless” pioneer Lee DeForest. He would write in later years that everyone thought it was mistake for him to leave his good paying job with the railroad to pursue these electrical dreams with DeForest, but his passion couldn’t be ignored.

The railroad position carried a large salary with abundant opportunity for advancement, while my new “job” paid only a meager amount and offered no apparent assurance of a future. The idea of communicating through space without wires was at that time considered fantastic, an idle dream, an impossibility, a game for fools. Many thought it was a fake”

Butler join DeForest at the St. Louis World’s fair in 1904…where DeForest had set up a popular exhibit demonstrating to people and potential investors just how telegraph signals could be broadcast without wires. This was new abstract territory for most minds to comprehend and many who saw the DeForest wireless telegraph machines work, were still skeptical and thought it was fake. Butler, however knew better, he not only understood the technology, but also grasped the enormous potential of this new “science” and what it could mean to the world. Butler struck up a friendship with DeForest and began working as his chief assistant. Shortly thereafter, he traveled with DeForest to Florida and Cuba to set up wireless telegraph stations for the U.S. Navy between Florida and Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

After the Navy contract was completed, Lee DeForest,however, found himself in a legal tangle with his investors and was kicked out of his own company, American DeForest. He was left on his own to chase new horizons for this technology. Undaunted by this turn of events and a lack of funding, DeForest and Butler were determined to pursue the idea of electrically sending the human voice through air without wires. To achieve that end, DeForest had developed the so called “Audion Bulb”, a crude two element vacuum tube of sorts, which allowed him to detect or amplify a radio signal. Butler and DeForest then built two crudely designed sending and receiving units and in July of 1907 took them to Put-in-Bay at South Bass Island on Lake Erie to an annual yacht race. This race would become their first real test. DeForest placed the transmitter on the 75-foot yacht, “Thelma”, renamed the “Electra” for the race, and set up the receiving unit on shore near what is now the Jet Express dock. Frank Butler later recalled that because the yacht had a mahogany hull, he and DeForest , snuck onto the boat and nailed two sheets of copper to its sides to help give it a better ground system when the copper was submerged in water. It worked. As the race progressed, DeForest was able to send to Butler, who was back on shore, voice accounts of the race as it was taking place, thus making the first “ship to shore” radio voice transmission in the world. News of this broadcast “first” was greeted with much skepticism and indifference by the media and the rest of the world, who perhaps thought this was just exaggeration and fakery. Butler and DeForest, however, were convinced that success of wireless voice communication was now at hand. Without any income, however, the two men needed a place to do their experiments. Butler convinced the inventor DeForest that they should go to Toledo where Butler’s in-law’s would give them a roof over their heads and give them a place to live and eat. Butler had already rented space from the Spitzer family, securing the roof of the Nicholas building in downtown Toledo, so they would have a place to experiment and continue their work. The race to radio’s future was running at full speed high above Toledo’s downtown streets as DeForest and Butler designed and built even more radio sets in that summer of 1907. They set up laboratories in both the Nicholas and Ohio Buildings downtown, often broadcasting music from an old phonograph when they weren’t talking between the two buildings in downtown Toledo. In one innovation milestone, noted in the Toledo News Bee in August of 1907, the two men also achieved the first “phone patch” communication with their system, as DeForest talked with Butler’s mother-in-law Julia Manning from their home at 818 Collingwood. In a phone call between the Old West End home to the Ohio building.. Butler held up the phone receiver to the microphone so she could talk with Lee DeForest, at the Nicholas Building via the radio signal. A small achievement, with big significance.

As DeForest and Butler continued showing the world what they could do, success and recognition would follow. In a 1925 interview with Butler, who was then working as a sporting goods and radio manager for a store in Toledo, he said that after the Toledo experiments, Lee DeForest got a large order for 40 wireless radio sets for the U.S. Navy to be used in the fleet of Admiral Bob Evans for a round the world cruise of naval vessels, so they could be connected with voice communications. There would be many more orders and new breakthrough and even more recognition for DeForest. The rest, as they say, is history. DeForest would go on to become known as the “Father of Radio”, while Butler would eventually live out his life in Toledo in relative obscurity. He did form the American Wireless Institute and did write numerous articles about his years with DeForest which he treasured for the rest of his life.

“Surely, the most enthusiastic radio fan cannot realize the exceptional thrill which is now mine as I listen-in on my radio receiver and compare its wondrous achievements to those of the struggling, experimental days when I assisted Dr. De Forest in his elementary pioneer work; in the building of his first few “Audion bulbs”, and shared with him the marvel of listening-in for the first time to a wireless telephone. “

Radio, would of course, have a profound effect on the world. It still does. It was the “Internet” of our grandparents age and a miracle of communication that would change every facet of life and how we perceive it. It brought the voice of the world to our living rooms and to our minds.

Today, 105 years after the summer of 1907, when radio history was made in Toledo, the Nicholas building, still stands, Lee DeForest remains a giant in radio history, a special sign commemorates the first “ship to shore broadcast” at Put-in Bay, and Frank E.Butler, who died in January of 1948 at the age of 71, is remembered only by a few, as the young man, who dared to live a dream that changed the world.

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