The King Block, downtown Toledo
Throwing Trash Out the Window, Toledo, Ohio, 1865
One of the best features of modern society is sanitation workers, or garbagemen. In our prepackaged, throwaway world, the refuse collectors can barely keep ahead of the junk we throw out. In the past, our consumer habits were different. We did not throw so much away, partly because there was no place to throw it. It could be burned, buried, or thrown into the nearest body of water. All of these methods had their drawbacks. Here is the story of one Toledo resident, who had both a sanitation problem and a neighbor problem.
In the fall of 1865, L. Henry Bodman was mad enough to write to his attorney. He worked at the King Block commercial building at Summit Street and Madison. The King Block was new, built only two years earlier in 1863. But he took time to write to lawyer F. Blake Dodge about a problem he was having with one of his neighbors at home six blocks away. We don’t know what Mr. Bodman did for a living, but let him describe the situation:
One of the occupants of the house on Erie St. adjoining the property I rent . . . . has been in the habit for several weeks of throwing the refuse matter of her kitchen (dish water, egg shells & rotten eggs, rotten potatoes, cabbage leaves, etc. etc.) out of a window over looking my lot . . . . the name of the offending party is Mrs. Ferguson. . . .
It appears that Mrs. Ferguson rented the upper rooms of a house occupied by a family named Lurgant, who lived on the ground floor. A talk with Mrs. Lurgant had accomplished little; she had complained to Ms. Ferguson, who continued flinging garbage out the window:
Since that time, the offence having been almost daily repeated, I have twice forbidden Mrs. F. to throw her slops on my premises, but she seems determined to continue the practice. To day I told her if she did it again I would prosecute her on the first repetition…..
Clearly, Mr. Bodman was fighting mad. The man he turned to was one Frederick Blake Dodge (1838-1893). Dodge was, perhaps, an unusual choice. An 1860 graduate of Dartmouth College, he was a teacher in Toledo until the Civil War began. He then served with the Adjutant General’s office in 1862-63, which interrupted legal studies dating back to 1857. He was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1863, then practiced law in Toledo for only two years before going back east. For unknown reasons, he was back in Toledo by 1880, selling fire insurance. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Unfortunately, while we know the situation, we do not know the outcome. Mr. Bodman finished his appeal to Attorney Dodge by stating:
I am determined to put a stop this trespass, “peacably if I can, forcibly if I must.”
There is no record of a lawsuit, or that it came down to a lawsuit. For all we know, Mrs. Ferguson continued to throw refuse out the window on Erie Street. And while more than 150 years have passed, if I ever chance to walk long Erie, I will carry an umbrella. You never know what might come flying from a window!
[The letter from Mr. Bodman is in the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. I also consulted William D. Speck, Toledo: A History in Architecture 1835-1890 (2002).]