Saturday, July 7, 2018

Helena, Toledo, and H. G. Harter


Helena, Toledo, and H. G. Harter by Alan Borer

Helena, a village in Sandusky County Ohio on Route 6, is a pleasant-appearing hamlet. We used to go through it on the drive between Bowling Green and Fremont to see relatives. We rarely stopped in Helena. It is a very small town; by the time you passed the post office, a barber shop, and a lumber yard, you missed it. With a population (2010) of 224 people, you much watch closely to see Helena in any detail.

Looking back, however, a sizeable business with a Toledo connection was born there. Around 1885, a New York native named Helon Gepman Harter set himself up as a druggist in Helena. For fifteen years, Harter pedaled his trade in Helena. Slowly and steadily, Harter built up a business in patent medicines. The remnants of the Black Swamp, although being quickly drained, were in the area, and Hartman knew that the very term “black swamp” brought to mind cholera, malaria, and dysentery to his Helena customers. So it was no surprise that in 1893, when Harter trademarked his now-popular medicine, he called it “Black Swamp Remedy.”

As H. G. Harter’s concoction grew in popularity, it came time for him to relocate to a larger city. Settling in Toledo’s East Side in 1900, he opened for business at 629 Main Street. After a few years, he switched to new headquarters to 609 South St. Clair Downtown. At his new plant he diversified, selling oddly named pills for people and livestock such as “Crewso Poultry Powder,” “Noxit Quinine,” “Protolene”(for sheep), “Louse Snuff,” and my favorite, “Fatmore,” apparently a supplement to help hogs gain weight.

The “Black Swamp Remedy,” Harter’s primary product, was not necessarily a piece of quackery. Sometimes called “Black Swamp Blackberry,” the mixture’s main ingredient was in fact blackberry root. Pharmacists of the time understood the astringent properties of blackberry needed to treat dysentery, a major complaint in the days before sanitation. Harter’s Black Swamp medicine was not just hokum. Others, however, were more questionable. The company made “Lung Balsam,” which was 15% alcohol and also contained chloroform!

A good businessman, Harter advertised widely. Newspaper ads proclaimed the virtues of the Black Swamp Blackberry as being “Better than Gold.” One ad suggested that the remedy would help “Save the Children” from summertime, and thus mosquito-spread, cramped stomachs. Knowing that potential customers were swayed by free handouts, Harter produced a “Black Swamp Cash Book” for use as a token gift. Produced cheaply, it was only a few pages for keeping track of one’s purchases, but helped customers keep the name in mind.

As the Black Swamp faded into memory, and the medicinal use of blackberry gave way to modern medicine, H. G. Harter saw sales of his formulas begin to dwindle. Harter, who lived above the St. Clair St. factory, died in 1937. The firm was listed in the Toledo City Directory until 1939, and was finally closed in 1946. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

The “quack” patent medicine salesman shows up in many comedies and melodramas. I remember W. C. Fields and “The Three Stooges” playing fraudulent medicine hucksters. But H. G. Harter appeared to believe in the “Black Swamp” medicine he sold. And it probably did help people who contracted swamp diseases, although not as well as modern medicine.

Latchie or Latcha?

Latchie or Latcha? By Alan Borer

We used to take the back way from Bowling Green to the Woodville Mall every once and awhile. Pemberville Road to the Woodville Road, then northwest toward Toledo. In the forty five years since I last went that way, the scenery has likely changed. We were always fascinated by a village we passed on that trip called Latcha, partly because it was just about the smallest place we had ever seen. A recent satellite map shows about fifteen dwellings, plus some miscellaneous outbuildings. There were probably fewer back in the mid 1970s, as the eastern exurbs of Toledo have brought in a few newer residents. A new motel has been built nearby, as well as a tavern. A small place, however, it still is.

The main issue I wish to examine is the name of this hamlet. Modern maps clearly label it as “Latcha.” Highway signs and the county engineer use that spelling for Latcha Road, an east-west roadway that runs under I-280 in Wood County’s Lake Township. But the village has an alternative spelling, “Latchie,” which was used by the post office, which closed in 1953. Records do not tell us quite where the confusion arose. It might be worth looking back over this tiny town and see if we can find an answer.

Latcha (we will use this form unless describing specifically postal matters) originated as a lumber town. In the 1870s, the forested land of the shrinking Black Swamp was still providing work for many. The first land was formally platted in 1876. A few years before, in 1871, the Toledo and Woodville Railroad acquired a right of way through what would become Latcha. The forests disappeared, but farmers followed. Farmers needed stores, churches, doctors, and rail access, and these all came to Latcha. And in those pre-Internet days, the farmers needed a post office.

The Latchie post office replaced an even smaller office called Webb. The first postmaster of Latchie was appointed January 13, 1873. His name was James J. Brim, a family prominent enough to give its name to a county road in Wood County. Like many small town offices, Latchie’s post office moved with whichever shopkeeper received the postmaster’s job. One postmaster, Thomas Rowe (1889-1893, 1897-1901), kept the post office in his home east of the village. Mr. Rowe must have been a Republican; his two terms of office match almost exactly the Presidential terms of Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.

Over the years, several members of the Bahnsen family were postmasters, including Henry M. Bahnsen. Henry Bahnsen served from 1918 to 1953, at which time the Latchie office closed. Latchie was never big enough to have Rural Free Delivery, although when the office closed, it still had about fifty box holders who called daily for their mail. In deciding to close the Latchie office, the government cited the cost of keeping such a small post office alive. [Figure 1]

But the question remains – Latchie or Latcha? Printed maps in the 1870s and 80s clearly spelled it Latcha, as does the most recent history of Lake Township (1998). But the 1897 history and atlas of Wood County used Latchie. The last postmaster, Henry Bahnsen, said the correct version was Latchie. A report filed with the federal Postal Topographer in 1898 spelled it both ways; Latcha for the town and Latchie for the post office. Who is right?
The answer possibly lies in how the name was pronounced. I have made no formal study, but local speech patterns do sometimes switch the “a” sound at the end of a place name for an “e” pronunciation, if the word ends with a vowel. A resident of the next county to the east, for example, lived in “Senekey” (Seneca) County, and sometimes went to “Fostorie” (Fostoria). Most place names do not lend themselves to this, but “Latcha” could become “Latchie,” just as “Attica” could be “Attikey.” In the case of Latcha, the post office may have picked a dialect form, rather than a “standard” form.

It has been many years since I was last in Latcha. I would be interested to hear from life-long residents of Wood County’s Lake Township if they call the village Latcha or Latchie. Like many questions, there may or may not be a “right” answer. And while nobody asked, I am happy with either spelling!
[More on Latcha can be found in Robert L. Blake, A History of Lake Township Wood County, Ohio (1998). Thanks to Michele Raine, Wood County District Public Library, for help!]

1911 Theater Fire Made for Big Show


1911 Theater Fire Made for Big Show by Alan Borer

Nothing brings a crowd like a disaster. Anytime there is a car crash, a fire truck, or a police siren, people come out to see what the cause is. The bigger the disaster, the bigger the crowd. Where were you when the Fassett Street bridge was ruined? Or when the Tiedke’s building burned? When a piece of our collective memory is destroyed, the destruction itself becomes a memory.

The post card above is of a fire in Toledo in 1911. I was surprised that something as fleeting as a fire would appear on a post card, but there it was. The card was mailed on November 14, 1912, and illustrated a theater fire in downtown Toledo that occurred on April 11 of the year before. A post card does not travel with the speed of email, but it was impressive in 1912, and the color that was added to what was originally a black-and-white photograph was unavailable in newspapers of that time.

What was going on in this scene? The caption tells us that this was the American Theatre on Jefferson Street, and notes that the Pythian Castle is in the background. Interestingly, both of these buildings still stand. The Pythian Castle, standing on the corner of Jefferson and Ontario, was built in 1890 for the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization. The building changed hands a number of times since the Knights sold it in 1951. A fire in 1978 left the building abandoned. Just last summer, the building was bought by developer David Ball, and at last report the building was in the midst of a three year remodeling project.

The theater has a somewhat more complicated story. When it was built in 1897-98, the theater was called Burt’s Theater. Burt’s Theater was built by Frank Burt, a showman and owner of several Toledo-area theaters. The new theater was designed “as a copy of a 15th century Venetian palace complete with a row of ornate gothic columns and balconies. The 1565 seat theater also featured an extra wide row called a "fat man's row". Patrons were offered a variety of daily shows of early vaudeville performances and melodramas. . . .”

Mr. Burt sold the theater in 1910, after surviving being shot by his jealous wife! “The Toledo City Directory lists it as the American Music Hall. From 1911 to 1915, the city directory lists the building as the American Theatre.” But in 1911, a fire broke out and nearly destroyed the building. On the afternoon of April 11 a fire started in the “gallery” of the theater, started by electrical wires leading to a “newfangled” motion picture projector. Very quickly, flames could be seen shooting the second and third story windows (as seen in the post card).

Two pieces of luck kept he fire from being a total disaster. The fire occurred well before scheduled evening performances of the Paycen Stock Company, an acting troupe scheduled to perform that night, which prevented any casualties. Even more fortunately, the theater stood right across the street from Toledo Fire Engine Company #3, and the firemen were able to fight the fire with no delay at all. Fire Chief William F. Mayo was on the scene, and the fire fighters were able to pour water the building from three sides. In about 45 minutes, the fire was out.

The fire was quite a show. “The streets on both sides of the burning theatre were thronged with men, women, and children and the police had their hands full to keep venturesome spectators back of the fire lines.” One of the fire hoses burst during the affair, and the crowd fled in a “mad stampede” to avoid getting soaked. At least one spectator believed the spray had been a joke of the fire fighters, and complained about such frivolity.

The building, while damaged to the tune of $10,000, was saved. The theater went on to other uses. “The Burt Theater went through many iterations through the years; the Peppermint Lounge, the Country Palace, the Club and Caesar's Showbar are businesses that people might remember. The building sits empty today and its ornate architectural features were most recently saved from demolition when it became a part of the Lucas County Land Bank in 2013.”

We moderns are lucky to have this post card view of an early twentieth century Toledo fire. If only the photographer had thought to record the crowd that watched this fire, surely as interesting a scene as any that appeared on the floorboards of the old Burt’s Theater.

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).]

http://www.umanitoba.ca/colleges/st_pauls/ccha/Back%20Issues/CCHA1940-41/Dooner.html