Saturday, May 12, 2018

Emperor’s Ambassador Visits Toledo – Briefly

Minister Wu at meeting a group of Americans. This picture was not taken in Toledo, but if probably very similar to the view that day.

The story begins like a film noir. A dank morning at the dingy old Union Station in downtown Toledo, which smelled of coal smoke and cigars. The weather on November 1 is typically chilly, and 1901 was probably no exception. The nation was still in mourning for President William McKinley, dead by assassination six weeks before. A couple of newsboys listlessly hawked the Blade and the News Bee. Then there was a commotion, as a “special” train slowed to a stop, belching and wheezing. A moment’s pause, and then two foreign gentlemen emerged to wait for a connecting train to Michigan.

As a few loiterers gawked, the men brushed themselves off. The older man was dressed in black silk, and introduced himself, in perfect British English, as Wu Tingfang, envoy and minister plenipotentiary to the United States from the Chinese Imperial government. The younger man was his secretary, Mun Chewchung. They were on their way from Washington to Ann Arbor, where Minister Wu was to address a student group. A one hour layover was to be spent in Toledo, while the two Imperial servants waited for their Michigan-bound train.

It was a busy hour, however. Some big names had come to meet, however briefly, the Chinese diplomats. Congressman Emmet Tompkins of Ohio was one of the first to shake hands with Mr. Wu. Then “forty or fifty” dignitaries were introduced by Congressman James Southard of Toledo, each of whom shook hands politely with the visitor. But the star of that hour was Mark Hanna, the powerful senator from Ohio and right-hand-man of the deceased President McKinley.

At that point, the scene became a little less serious. Hanna and Wu were well acquainted from previous visits. The story goes that Hanna had once thrown the ambassador into a snow bank when the pair was driving toward Hanna’s Cleveland home. During the brief Toledo stopover, the senator from Ohio greeted the Imperial visitor with a most undiplomatic cry of “Hello, Wu.” The minister smiled and replied, “Why, how do you do, Hanna?” as the two shook hands.

Minister Wu was known for his talkativeness. After he talked politics with the senator, Minister Wu was invited to spend the day, or even better to stay overnight at Hanna’s home. Perhaps remembering the snow bank incident, the ambassador replied, “No, no, no, no, I must go to Ann Arbor.” The two parted amicably and continued their respective journeys.

Mark Hanna did not have long to live after Toledo meeting with the Chinese ambassador. He made an occasionally shaky truce with the new president, Theodore Roosevelt, and died in 1904. Wu Tingfang has a more complicated backstory. Born in 1842, Wu was educated in England, and was the first Chinese to pass the bar and become an English barrister. He served as Minister to the United States, Spain, and Peru from 1896 to 1902 and 1907 to 1909. He worked on reforming the imperial law code, and published several books. When the Emperor was overthrown in 1911, Wu cast his lot with Sun Yatsen and joined the revolutionaries. In 1912, Sun appointed him Minister of Justice, and in 1917, Wu Tingfang served as acting president of the Republic of China. Wu died in 1922.

At one time, the Emperor of China was regarded as supreme. He ruled over a huge, populous nation who regarded him as all-powerful, even godlike. The Chinese people called him the “Son of Heaven,” and his will was law. He could have anything he wanted; he was rich beyond the dreams of avarice; his commands were obeyed without question. But even the Emperor needed help exerting that power. Not surprisingly, he employed thousands of subordinates, including the intelligent and hardworking Wu Tingfang, who for one day in 1901, exercised the Emperor’s will in a Toledo train station.

[News of Minister Wu’s visit to Toledo appeared in the Toledo Blade, November 1, 1901.]

William Bolles and the Shopping List

William Bolles and the Shopping List by Alan Borer

During the fourth year of the Civil War, specifically September 5, 1864, a man named J. C. Lockwood ordered some merchandise from a downtown Toledo mercantile house. The Toledo concern was owned by one William Bolles. Mr. Bolles sold merchandise to Mr. Lockwood, a merchant whose home was Milan, Ohio, just south of Sandusky in Erie County. The merchandise in question was mostly linens. In this essay we will examine Mr. Bolles, Mr. Lockwood, and one of Mr. Lockwood’s shopping lists, and see what it can tell us about wartime Toledo.

William Bolles was the first in a line of three Toledoans with that name, father, son, and grandson. The son was a dry goods merchant like his father, the grandson an inventor and manufacturer of fountain pens. But the first William Bolles was a merchant. He was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1807 or 1808, the son of Ebenezer Bolles, a saddle and leather maker. Possibly to his embarrassment, he attended the Litchfield Female Academy, the only local school that offered higher education. Mr. Bolles arrived in Toledo after a sojourn in Delphi, Indiana. He was the owner and proprietor of Wm. Bolles & Co, “Wholesale Dealers in Foreign and Domestic Dry Goods, Clothing, Yankee Notions, etc, etc.” Bolles also speculated in real estate in what is now the Old West End. Married three times, he was father of ten children. When he died in 1889, he was a wealthy man.

Switch scenes to the village of Milan. Milan was a canal town, and the canal created opportunities for business. And while Milan’s prominence was slowly giving way to railroad towns, in the 1860s there was still money to be made. One such businessman was J. C. (James C.) Lockwood. Lockwood (1815-1890) dabbled in several different ventures. “J. C. Lockwood and Lucius Stoddard, who were associated in the Milan Banking Company, were also largely interested in the shipping interests. Mr. Lockwood was also engaged for many years in the general mercantile trade. . . “ At the time he did business with Mr. Bolles, he lived with his, wife, daughter, and was rich enough to employ seven clerks, at least some of whom shared the dwelling of Mr. Lockwood.

What did Mr. Lockwood order from Mr. Bolles? Quite a bit, if we study the receipt. Buttons, braid, “frills,” thread, brushes, denim, five dozen spools of thread, and shirting. Lockwood ordered several different kinds of shirting, the finely woven cloth from which shirts are made. Some of the shirting came from the great textile factory at Lyman, Massachusetts. Others came from a company called Great Falls Manufacturing in Somersworth New Hampshire. But many of the purchases are not named. Five dozen spools of thread? Clearly noted, but unidentified as to maker or source. Only one thing on the list, a “box of cartridges,” hinted at the wartime status of 1864.

William Bolles receipt listed one of his mercantile specialties as “Yankee notions.” Yankee notions were small items offered for sale by peddlers, usually from New England. These might include scissors, thimbles, pocket knives, candy, and other odds and ends. Bolles and Lockwood, both Connecticut born, undoubtedly bought and sold Yankee notions. The shopping list carried no military supplies, but does remind us that the Civil War created a booming economy, and merchants large and small took advantage.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Christmas at the Kin Wa Low, 1947

by Alan Borer

Toledo once had such an active night life that a small magazine was published to keep track of it. Toledo Nite Life helped keep patrons of dining, dancing, and drinks aware of what each club and joint was offering. I’m not sure how long Toledo Nite Life existed – I have only seen one issue from 1947 and one from 1948. If the December 25, 1947 issue that I studied in depth was any indicator, Toledo had a many faceted social scene in those postwar years.

In that Christmas issue, the Top Hat Nite Club on St. Clair featured music by “The Famed Klingensmith Family” and had no cover charge. At Brady’s Bar on Sylvania Avenue, Joe Brady was offering a “Gala New Year’s Eve Party” with noisemakers and favors for all. Hats and noisemakers could also be had at the Stardust Inn on Phillips, where nightly dancing could be had to music by Skippy Emline’s Star Dusters. Ka-See’s Night Club featured Jimmy Harry’s Orchestra “for your pleasure.” The 1103 Bar (at 1103 Detroit Avenue) invited dancers to “Swing and Sway to American and Polish Music and Jive.” Further out, The Tivoli at Monroe near Secor offered “Toledo’s Only Smorgasboard,” coupled with Royal Miller on a Hammond Organ. The list goes on and on.

Of special note was the party at the Kin Wa Low. The name means “lovely flowering place” in Cantonese, and the restaurant had a four decade run. “Ha Sun Loo opened the restaurant in a single storefront in 1913. It became so popular it eventually expanded to three full dining rooms seating as many as 200 people, plus a bandstand and a dance floor that could be raised a few feet to serve as a stage.” Serving American and Chinese food, many Toledoans got their first taste of Chinese culture at the Kin Wa Low. The supper club was a venue for singing stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Patti Page, and Johnny Maddox. Keeping late hours, the Kin Wa Low offered floor shows at 7:30 & 10:00 pm, plus 1 am. On weeknights, there was no cover charge, just 50c on Saturday nights, and a $1.50 if there was a nationally prominent act was showing.

On Christmas Day, the Kin Wa Low featured Don Smith and his Orchestra, as seen in the advertisement reproduced here. It also offered “a Great All-Star Fun Revue!” The Kin Wa Low was not just singers; comedy acts, jugglers, even a contortionist were featured. In the Christmas week “fun revue,” Bernie Green, “Toledo’s favorite M. C. Mirthmaker” introduced the acts. They included Ann Craig, a “singing comedienne,” Yvonne & Victor, singers, and The Pauline Parks Dancers, “five dancing darlings.”

The Kin Wa Low must have been a very festive place for “dinner and a show” on that long ago Christmas. All good things come to an end, however, and the restaurant closed in 1962, a victim of television and a change in the way the facility was taxed. The son of founder Ha Sun Loo, Howard Loo, died in January 2017. Mr. Loo had begun his working life at the Kin Wa Low, and later ran his own restaurant, H’Loo’s Steakhouse. According to his son, he remembered the Kin Wa Low as a great place to work and a great place to visit. And for all of us, whether with personal memories or just to have read about it, to remember when downtown Toledo was full of bars, restaurants, stage shows, and supper clubs.
[Quote from Toledo Blade, April 23, 2010. See also David Yonke, Lost Toledo, pp. 80-81.]

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Priest With a Bad Temper

Maumee Valley’s First Priest Couldn’t Get along with Anybody by Alan Borer

Imagine the scene. General Anthony Wayne, the scourge of the Native Americans of the Old Northwest. During the delicate negotiations following the American victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers and which brought about the Treaty of Greenville, Wayne made a speech to a group of Indians. After lambasting a pro-British chief, he stated:

“I hate very much that priest who is at the River Raisins [Monroe, Michigan]. I will go and take him…as I pass by and hang them [the priest and the chief] on two trees.”

Wayne, who was called “Mad” by contemporaries, may have just taken a dislike to the priest. But he had his reasons. Why was the hero of Fallen Timbers taking a verbal shot at a Catholic priest?

The object of his dislike was one Father Edmund Burke (1753-1820), the first English-speaking missionary to work in what is now northwest Ohio. Edmund Burke was born in Ireland. He emigrated to Canada in 1787, where he worked as a parish priest and a teacher at the Quebec Seminary. In August of 1794, the Governor of Canada asked the Bishop of Quebec for a priest who could work with Indians and settlers in Michigan. Father Burke was given the job.

In October of 1794, Burke arrived at the River Raisin. He immediately incurred the dislike of the men who were involved in the Indian trade, who were pro-American and had requested a priest of American leanings, Thomas LeDru, who Burke described as a “vagabond.”

Father Burke apparently did not understand that after the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the future of Michigan lay in American hands. In a tirade, he described the traders as

“the most profligate and contemptible characters on earth, wretches destitute of every principle of common honesty or even humanity, equal to any crime, fearing nothing but a halter…”

At other times, Father Burke called his opponents “peasants,” “a horde of banditti,” and other choice phrases.

Father Burke’s main problem was his own loyalty to the British crown in an area rapidly changing sides to the Americans. In January of 1795, a letter that he had written to some Catholic Wyandots fell into the hands of General Wayne. Wayne also had a colorful vocabulary:

“This caitiff renegade Irish Priest…was sent from Quebec, late last fall…to try the effect, or Trick of priest craft, in poisoning the minds of the Indians…to dissuade them from treating with the United States…”

Father Burke wandered throughout the Great Lakes country, always looking for converts to his faith and his British loyalty. In 1795 or 96 he spent some time in a cabin near Fort Miamis in the Maumee Valley in what is now downtown Maumee, just upriver from Toledo. There he carried on the work of a priest, distributing food and parlaying with Ottawa, Chippewa, and Pottawatomie tribesmen. He appreciated Ohio’s fine climate, but called the valley “the last and most distant parish inhabited by Catholics on this earth,” a place where “You never meet a man, either Indian or Canadian, without his gun in his hand and his knife at his breast.” Burke thought about extending his travels to Michilimackinac, but never made it that far. Meanwhile, his fellow priests were taking a dislike to him. One wrote:

“He is causing trouble everywhere…He follows no ecclesiastical rule or regulation, hardly ever wearing his habit. There are many other things that I don’t want to mention that lead to much public slander.
Nearly all the people I meet speak ill of him…

Father Burke’s temper continued to get him in trouble. He argued about church pews with a priest in Detroit. The French Canadians mistrusted him, and his British superiors were wary of him. In 1796, when Michigan finally became American territory, he left for Windsor. In 1818 he became bishop of Halifax, Nova Scotia. True to form, he got into a controversy with the Protestant clergy of Halifax.

American Bishop John Carroll summarized Father Burke’s problem. Carroll wrote of Burke’s troubles with Anthony Wayne:

“The general and all his officers detest Father Burke for the alarm that he caused among the Indians…It’s a good thing he has gone away…”

It is interesting to speculate on what an even-tempered priest might have accomplished. But Father Burke’s bad temper and antagonistic ways make him worthy of remembering, if only as a cautionary tale.

[Notes: Edmund Burke’s life is recounted most completely in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. IV (Toronto, 1979). His activity in the Maumee Valley is discussed in George Houck, A History of Catholicity in Northern Ohio (Cleveland, 1903).
Other sources used are Thomas Hanley, ed., The John Carroll Papers (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1976), Richard C. Knopf, ed., Campaign Into the Wilderness: The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence (Columbus, 1955), and Ernest J. Lajeunesse, ed., The Windsor Border Region: Canada’s Southernmost Frontier (Toronto, 1960).]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Caleb Atwater: Pansophic Postmaster

Caleb Atwater: Pansophic Postmaster

“Circleville had mail facilities at a very early day. . . . The first mails were carried between Columbus and Chillicothe, which provided the city with a regular mail service. Caleb Atwater, one of the earliest postmasters, was succeeded in January 1822 by George Wolfley. . . . “ [Aaron R. Van Cleaf, History of Pickaway County, Ohio and Representative Citizens (1906), p. 52.

To call Caleb Atwater [Figure 1] “pansophic” would be to pronounce him scholarly, erudite, and with many interests. In various stages of his life he was an attorney, state legislator, archaeologist, teacher, explorer, diplomat, anthropologist, publisher, reformer, and author. And postmaster. The role of postmaster was important to understanding Atwater. By his generous use of the postmaster’s “free frank,” or the ability to waive postal charges by signing his name [Figure 2], he was able to carry on a large correspondence with scholars and scholarly societies on the East Coast. At a time of relatively high postage fees, Atwater was able to do what many were not: carry on an extensive correspondence about topics that interested him.

Much of the scholarship on Atwater states or implied that Caleb Atwater was postmaster for a good long time. “He also was the postmaster of Circleville for many years….: But was it? A contact from the USPS throws doubt on the phrase “many years:”:

“Thanks for contacting the USPS Historian’s office.

The information we have about Caleb Atwater as Postmaster is quite limited.
He was appointed Postmaster on December 19, 1818.
He served for nearly three years, when he was succeed by George Wolfley on November 5, 1821.. . . .

The Official Register of the United States was published biennially in odd-numbered years and listed Atwater’s compensation:
1819 $135.42
1821 $ 94.50
It also listed Massachusetts as his state of birth.

I am afraid that is all I can provide about him.
[Email - Stephen A. Kochersperger, United States Postal Service, November 21, 2016]

So not quite three years But they were three crucial years for Atwater’s best known scholarly interest, the study of the prehistoric earthworks, or “mounds,” that littered the state.

Atwater (1778-1867) was a native of Massachusetts. He studied for the law, and moved from the East Coast to Circleville, Ohio, in 1815. There he set up a law practice. He added U. S. postmaster to his resume in 1818. The job of postmaster was not particularly time-consuming. The incoming and outgoing mails had to be sorted, and payments collected from recipients. Atwater had to prepare a monthly “List of Letters” to be published in Circleville newspapers. Since all mail was sent “collect,” or paid for by the recipient, Postmaster Atwater used this common tactic to track down deadbeats, the uninformed, and the impoverished who would not or could not afford their letters. [Figure 3]

Beyond strictly postal business, Caleb Atwater used the most important “perk” of his appointment, postage-free personal correspondence. “Atwater was a man of learning and of wide ranging interests,” states a recent scholarly work. A member of the Lyceum of Natural History and of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), Atwater frequently used his franking privilege in his scholarship.

The AAS, which elected Caleb Atwater to membership in 1818, had a stated interest “in recruiting persons of information who were in a position to promote the study of mounds.” An ideal candidate for this idealistic and proto-archaeological work was Caleb Atwater. Atwater studied the mounds of south central Ohio, dashing off letters describing his finds to the AAS. All through 1818 and 1819, the letters poured in to the Society. “He wrote most of those letters in haste and carelessness. . . . Atwater’s handwriting was not always legible, resulting in mistaken place names and other errors.” I have read some of these letters, and legibility is indeed and issue. [Figure 4]

Atwater also used his frank to send reports, research, and drawings to the AAS. The publishers at the AAS not surprisingly made errors of omission and commission in publishing their final report. Errors aside, Atwater’s summation appeared in volume one of the Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society (1820), gorgeously illustrated with engraved plates. Atwater’s text was new and novel as well. Although he came to erroneous conclusions (he believed the Moundbuilders were Hindus from India), he was one of the first to thoroughly study, catalog, and categorize the mounds and their contents. The illustrations of his work in some cases provide the only views of destroyed earthworks. Circleville, his adopted hometown, was thusly named because the town was built on a large circular mound. Atwater’s note and engraving provide one of our few glimpses of a since destroyed work. [Figure 5]

Caleb Atwater gained some fame, or notoriety, through his publications, and by the time he died in 1867, he was probably better known in Europe than America. Historian Henry Howe visited him in 1846 in Circleville found him in a funk. According to Howe, Atwater was “a queer talker, and appeared to me like a disappointed, unhappy man.” With a wife and nine children to support, Atwater was by then eking out a living selling his books “by solicitation.” Yet Atwater made a lasting contribution to American archaeology. Some of the enthusiasm that propelled him is captured in his letters, and more generally, the need to communicate that those letters represented:
How anxiously have I wished for the company of someone like the person to whom these observations are addressed, so that he might participate with me in the emotions which filled my breast.
Caleb Atwater ”addressed” his “observations” partly via the free frank bestowed on him by the office of postmaster of Circleville. Whatever his accomplishments as an antiquary, and they were numerous, were in part made possible by his postal position.

Caleb Atwater, Description of Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States (1820); new introduction by Jeremy A. Sabloff; New York: AMS Press. 1973, p. ix.
Terry A. Barnhart, American Antiquities: Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), pp. 179-83, 197-98, 204.]

Figure 2, Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

“Shivaree,” 1924

Albert and Charles Borer, May 1, 1924

“Shivaree,” 1924

My paternal grandparents were married on May 1, 1924 in New Riegel, in Seneca County, Ohio. That’s almost a century ago. A few faded photos in my grandmother’s photo album are about all that is left of their wedding. I know the names of the wedding party. I know the church in which they were married. They both came from large families, and quite a crowd must have gathered.

I wish I knew the details of another part of that long-ago wedding day. In the evening, their friends treated them to a “shivaree.” The shivaree happened when friends and neighbors made noise to keep the newlyweds from retiring. The noise was made by beating pots and pans together, banging on washboards, along with yelling and laughter. Anything to disturb the new couple!

The shivaree, which was depicted in the 1948 movie version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, has a long but not well documented history. Shivariee, or more formally “charivari,” is a French word. The custom dates from the late Middle Ages. Originally, shivarees occurred when there was community disapproval of a couple’s match. A great difference of age between a bride and groom, or a young widow married very quickly after losing her first husband, were that sometimes sometimes called for a shivaree. In a world of small farming villages, where there were no secrets and everyone knew each other’s foibles, a community could “tut-tut” a couple with a shivaree.

The tradition crossed the Atlantic as the American colonies were settled. Shivarees flourished in North America, where life again revolved around tiny, rural settlements. The shivaree lost its scolding tone in the new world, and slowly became a night of teasing, where the pranksters merely do their best to separate groom and bride. There were regional variations, as in this recollection of a shivaree in 1951 Texas, where the event took place after the honeymoon:

At times shivarees were friendly. If the newlyweds were needy, gifts of food and household goods were brought, much like today’s bridal shower. If the groom had been a participant in previous shivarees, memories were long and revenge was sought. . . . . Just after dark the abuse began with the largest crowd ever gathered at a shivaree in our community. This was probably because I had been a very active participant in many previous community shivarees. One cousin drove 200 miles to exact his revenge after waiting years for the opportunity. [Farm Collector, October 2007.]

The shivaree survives in the American rural Midwest and especially in the prairie provinces of Canada (where it is spelled “chivaree”). I have never been to a shivaree, but a couple of times I have been at wedding receptions and observed a custom in which the guests spontaneously used tableware to beat on their drinking glasses. The ringing noise would not stop until bride and groom kissed publicly. I’m not enough of an anthropologist to say for certain that this custom is descended from the old shivaree, but it seems to me the customs fulfill the same purpose. They slightly embarrass the newlyweds, yet in a gentle way, welcome them to the married world.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bowling Green Heinz Plant

When I was a boy, my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio, spent several days in late summer/early fall smelling strongly of ketchup. I do not know how adults reacted, but the tomato ketchup (or is it catsup?) smell was an important milestone of the year. It meant that summer was ending, that school was right around the corner, and that we would have plenty of ketchup for French fries. The tomatoes that grew in sandy patches of the old Black Swamp were coming home in a form that even kids could understand. Any hot dog vendor could speak to the importance of ketchup.

The reason Bowling Green smelled so strongly of cooking tomatoes was the H. J. Heinz plant located just east of the courthouse. Opening in 1914, Heinz built the factory on the property of the former Ohio Cut Glass factory. There had been a short-lived natural gas boom in Bowling Green at the end of the nineteenth century, but the gas, and the industry it brought, was short lived. The Heinz plant covered several acres near where the state had just opened a new teachers’ college in 1910 that evolved into Bowling Green State University.

Heniz built the Bowling Green plant as a “field to bottle” facility; all major steps from growing tomatoes to bottling the project could be done in Bowling Green. The ketchup factory grew into a bustling production facility. As one of the city’s major employers, established in one of the most productive agricultural districts in the world, Heinz set many records. At one time, the Heinz plant in Bowling Green was the largest tomato ketchup factory in the world. In 1948, it set a record for the most ketchup processed in one day.

The plant had an interesting mix of workers. Heinz Bowling Green was one of the first to employ large numbers of women. Because of the rush of work at harvest time, Heinz had to use temporary help. During World War 2, German and Italian prisoners of war were made to labor at planting the millions of tomato plants needed to supply the Heinz factory. Some of the first migrant farm labor came to Heinz, first from West Virginia, then from Mexico. Staying only three weeks or so, the Mexican laborers were housed and fed by Heinz, although admittedly in sparsely furnished housing.

Heinz closed the Bowling Green factory in 1975. Processing equipment was antiquated by then, and the price of wastewater treatment had climbed enough that Pittsburgh based H. J. Heinz & Co, could not see a future for its Bowling Green operation. Another Heinz facility in nearby Fremont continues to operate.

The Heinz buildings in Bowling Green were destroyed by fire in 1980. Student apartments now occupy the site. Bowling Green no longer basks in the odor of ketchup in the fall. But the memory of so many tomatoes, and so much ketchup, lingers on.