Tag Archives: Toledo

Mystery “Death Ray” Inventor Lived in Toledo

One of the motivations I had for starting this blog ten years ago in 2010 was my passion for discovering people and events of the past that had been largely ignored, forgotten or assigned to the junk drawer of history.

Every now and then I spend some time sorting through that old junk drawer and without fail, I tend to find a few gems. Such was the case this week when I came upon the story of Maurice J. Francill. Born in Marion Ohio just before the start of the 20th century, Maurice, whose given name at birth, was Francis Marion Cowgill,(he changed his name later in life) would spend most of life exploring the mystery and magic of radio. In fact, he was known as the Radio Wizard, and by the early 1920’s he was stunning audiences around the country with his ability to use radio waves to control mechanical devices. From toys to cars to trains, Maurice Francill had figured out the technology of “remote control”. Recall that in the 1920’s, most people were still wrapping their head around the remarkable new concept of listening to people speak from far off cities on a crystal radio in their living rooms.

This was big magic to most people at the time. It was a technology in its infancy and radio stations were just at the early stages of development. Toledo would not have a radio station until 1925. But here was Maurice Francill, already showing people how radio waves could not only travel through the invisible “ether” of air, but how those waves could make things move.

Local Audiences Awed By Francill’s Shows

In the February 10th , 1923 Edition of the Coshocton Tribune, Francill was demonstrating a remote controlled automobile on the city streets of Coshocton as part of a radio exhibition that was touring the country.

The paper wrote: The machine he will demonstrate tonight is valued at ten thousand dollars and required a year to build. The machine is equipped with a radio selector which makes it possible to perform an operation request from any member of the audience, much in the same manner as if it had “mechanical brains”.

From that description it may be safe to conclude that Maurice Francill, who would later move his operations to Toledo, was the inventor, not just of remote control, but the first autonomous car. That was almost 100 years ago.

Francill would continue his demonstrations for curious eyes in a broad swath of cities and towns across the nation. In New Castle Pennsylvania in 1926 Radio Wizard Francill gave demonstrations at a car dealership of his invention showing the crowd how he could start the automobile, flash its lights, honk its horn or turn its wheel “without the touch of a human hand”. The newspaper writer reflected on what this “remote control” technology might mean for future. Francill even allowed people in the showroom to thoroughly inspect the car to make sure it wasn’t rigged with a hidden driver or wires. It wasn’t. The article also said Francill demonstrated how to fry an egg on a block of ice using this technology, but didn’t elaborate.

His amazing feats before thousands of people would be repeated maimes over from Newark Ohio to Reno Nevada with many stops in between. In Waterloo Iowa in 1927, thousands of onlookers jammed various points of the city to watch in awe as he drove a Hudson Essex down a city street, turned on a washing machine at a city laundry, and started up an ice factory with the press of a button on his 15 pound radio transmitter from a remote location. He was theRadio Wizard. His creativity for finding new applications was impressive. In 1929, In Newark,Ohio he was demonstrating at a local dairy, how his radio device could operate a mechanical milking machine for cows. He repeated the same stunt on stage at a theater in Lima in 1929, and the newspaper reported that the cow, “Duchess” was calmly brought onto the stage and Francill, was able to extract 40 pounds of milk which cascaded into the bucket like “Niagara Falls”. On that same trip to Lima he also showed how radio could be used to operate a street car, and he did it for all to see.

It is not apparent if Francill had succeeded in finding commercial uses for his new radio technology. However, because Francill was seen by many as an entertainer and not a scientist, his credentials and credibility may have been questioned as a serious inventor. Especially when considering that many of his shows also included spiritualism and Seance features. But it was hard to deny that he did have something tangible to provide audiences who marveled at his ability to drive a car, or a play a violin or milk a cow without the aid of a human hand.

It was the stuff of the future and in the 1920’s and 30’s, the science of radio was the new frontier of possibility and Francill brought some of that “wonder” to hometown America.

As far back at 1926 in an interview with a Reno Nevada reporter, Francill said he had built a death ray machine that could stop a beating heart and wanted to try it our on a convicted murderer who was condemned to die. He said he was asking some state governors to let him try it. He was convinced that the death ray technology would be the technology of future wars when armies would be able to use them to “annihilate people by the hundreds”. He also predicted it would become a popular crime fighting tool, for it not only could kill people, but kill the engines of speeding getaway vehicles and could start distant fires. His discovery of the“death ray”, he said, was found by accident while doing other experiments. He held its technology as a closely guarded secret lest it fall into the wrong hands of amateurs.

He also would later demonstrate the use of “light rays” which he touted as a new method to broadcast voice transmission on a,beam of light. He felt this was in many ways more effective and useful than radio waves. He was prescient on that thought, but light ray technology was not new. Hardly.

It had been invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880. In fact the use of light ray photo-phones did become an effective stealth communication during World War Two. Today’s fiber optic technology is built on the foundation of light ray technology.

Francill’s one questionable claim was his public insistence that he had a “death ray” device. In 1940 he demonstrated it to reporters and witnesses in Toledo. In February of that year he assembled a group of reporters and witnesses to his home in North Toledo. Nine men, according to the article in the Toledo Blade, watched as Francill used a “queer machine” with port holes and coils, to deliver a death ray of sorts to a rat that rose up on its “shaky haunches, ran in a few agonized circles and died.”

The reporter, Arthur Peterson, contended that the rat was a large brown alley rat and appeared to be in good health before it was taken out of a wire cage and put into a glass case. From 15 feet away Francill’s projector was trained on the rat inther glass case and caused its sudden death. How and why did it die? What exotic technology had this Toledo inventor uncovered? Francill told the reporter he didn’t know, but he theorized that the “ray” may have deteriorated the tissue of blood and flesh and nerves.

He also demonstrated another experiment with the strange projector by projecting a ray unto a pair of beakers in which were two unidentified chemicals. When hit by the “ray” the chemicals turned from a milky white color to blue color. Francill showed the witnesses assembled at his home other examples of his shadowy science including the projection of a ray from the secret box to a shaft of steel which became very hot. He also showed a “military” invention thathe says was a thermal compound that can be ignited by water and get so hot it can eat through the side of a battle ship.

Just how long Francill lived in Toledo I have not yet determined(still working on it). I do know that he was here in the 1930’s and through part of the 50’s before he returned to his hometown of Marion where he passed away in 1974 at the age of 77.

Was he a crackpot? A conman? Or was he the real deal? Maybe a little of all three. Not sure really, but what I can ascertain by what I’ve read in the limited research I’ve done, is that he made some of his money by selling sponsors to his shows. When he demonstrated his “remote control” automobiles, it was usually underwritten and marketed by a car dealership. Or a dairy if he was milking cows, or a street car company if he was “automating” the local street cars. His draft card and selective service application in 1943 shows he was living at 1702 N. 12th Street in Toledo, was employed by the Massachusetts Protective Association(insurance company) and was married to his wife Josephine.

I am very curious as to what Francill’s “death ray” was. If it was not a hoax, I suspect that perhaps he had stumbled into some rudimentary microwave wave technology. The use of very high frequency radio waves to heat objects, which had been discovered in the 1930’s and even featured at the 1939 World’s fair in Chicago.

Regardless, even if Maurice Francill was just a clever huckster who could harness electronics to make a quick buck, he gave Americans of all ages and walks of life a sense of wonder of the world around them, a sense of the future wonders that would eventually come to fruition. Heat the very least a futurist, and a teacher who helped spark the imagination of the country.

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The Great Stone Face of Toledo

great stone face

Photo of Great Stone Face taken at Dixon Inn in Toledo circa 1920

Okay, here’s a mystery that needs an answer. Or maybe a couple. It seems that back in the 1800’s when Toledo city workers were doing some excavating along Monroe Street in the downtown area, they came across  an ancient stone carving. It was the carving of face and it appeared to those who saw it to be the face of an early Native American, or a person with “thick lips and round face”who was deemed to be one of the “ancient” pre-historic people, known as mound builders.

This little gem has come my way from a book given to me by a friend who found the 1922 book it in a garage sale near Dayton.  The book is entitled “Memories” by Dr. Cyrus Noble of Toledo who practiced medicine in the early part of the 20th century in Toledo and Wood County.

cyrus noble

Dr. Cyrus Noble

Dr. Noble was also a poet and observer of life in the area and his poems reflect on a number of local stories that piqued his curiosity and interest.  In “Memories” he writes fondly of the famed “Indian Elm” in Maumee.  A giant among trees where Indians reportedly perched to take aim at soldiers across the Maumee River at Ft. Meigs.  Dr. Noble also waxes lyrically about a variety of topics, but the one that snared my curiosity was the story of the “Great Stone Face”. There wasn’t much of a narrative about it, but there was a photo of it, presumably where it was exhibited for years inside of the now-forgotten Dixon Inn in Toledo’s old Tenderloin District.   The Dixon Inn had been a brothel at one time, amid the clutter of  the “sin zone” but after the Tenderloin was closed down in 1918, the Dixon Inn stayed open as a hotel, inn and boarding house, and more importantly – a very strange museum.  I have written about the Dixon Inn before in the Gazette, and its odd collection of bizarre artifacts, from shrunken heads to ancient battle weapons. But the “Great Stone Face” is the stand out among the collection, for if it is truly an artifact of ancient heritage, it conjures a list of questions, the first being how it came rest 20 feet below the surface of earth in the area of downtown Toledo?  One might wonder what else is still down there to be discovered?  If there are any folks who can offer some educated speculation as to the origin of this “face” or any other information about it,  please share them with us.  My search efforts to excavate more about information regarding the “face” have turned up nothing specific, but other stories regarding carvings found in other areas of the country.

In fact, the discovery of human effigy artifacts from the “mounds” in Ohio and other Midwest sites in Illinois and the Mississippi Valley are well established, but Toledo was not known for an abundance of such mound building activity, although, there were, as I have read, some small “mounds” discovered in the downtown area near the river upon arrival of the first pioneers to the area. So how did this carving get to Toledo. It was offered by some that it could have been transported here centuries ago from another area and left with those ancients living on the Maumee River.

When looking at the photo of this particular “stone face” at the Dixon Inn, it does not resemble the others I have seen, but looks more “finished” or finely sculpted. Thus, some shades of skepticism darken my door of belief. What do you think?  Where would it have come from? How did it get to Toledo, and what ever happened to it?  I have found from a newspaper reference that it was part of the Dixon collection that was auctioned at the Dixon Inn around 1925 after the owner died.

The Great Stone Face of Toledo seems to have disappeared in the past century, leaving me to wonder whether the carving was really the product of someone perpetrating a hoax and merely had been the handiwork of a con artist or someone with a sense of history and humor.  That is certainly possible and let’s face it, the Dixon Inn was not exactly the Smithsonian.  Despite the questions and the doubts, Dr. Noble seemed convinced of its historic gravity and message  when he penned his poem in 1920, about Toledo’s Great Stone Face.

If the veil of mystery,

were rent so I could see,

I could talk to the Great Stone Face,

and it could talk to me.

To tell me of the ages past,

of all the great unknown–

and about the Master Hand

that made it in the stone,

And of the mighty ruler,

in whose image it was made,

How it t’was worshiped as a god,

through many a decade.

How before some temple door,

t’was strewn with flowers and kisses

It saw the strife of human life,

And heard its howls and Hisses;

Then watched earth drink up the blood,

of men of might and brains

It saw the traitors slay their kings

To grasp the ruler’s reins

 

For centuries this face held sway,

above some sacred mound,

until a conquering army came,

and dragged it to the ground.

Its friends, by night, had stole away

And brought it over land,

with stealth and pride,

they buried it beneath the Maumee’s sand.

Then all the history of its past

Was plunged into the dark,

No doubt t’was safely hidden there

when Noah built his ark.

 

A modern city rose Above its resting place;

Men who delved into the ground

Came to this wondrous face.

They brought it once more to light,

where the curious could gaze,

and ponder over its handiwork of men of other days.

Perhaps a thousand years from now,

when this fair city’s gone,

Art and Science once more lost,

as time keeps marching on,

and as other cities rise again,

this stone face will be found,

To prove that the greatest of all men

Now sleep beneath the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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Filed under The Forgotten and no so famous, Toledo area crime news

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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