One month out of the year, innocent children lost their little minds. They slinked off into the night to revel in mischief and mayhem.
No community was safe. Every house was fair game.
Goblins and gremlins roamed neighborhoods and prowled streets for easy prey. They soaped windows, toppled outhouses, tossed garbage, unhinged front gates, scrawled messages in chalk and stretched clotheslines over darkened walkways.
The childish pranks began in early October, picked up speed as the month continued and culminated in chaos on Halloween night. Many adults were not amused.
“Last night, it is scarcely necessary to say, was Hallowe’en,” the Akron Daily Beacon reported in 1891. “The Akron youth, however, are no longer contented with the harmless pranks of past years but have gradually gotten to vying with each other as to how much property they can destroy with impunity. The evil has grown worse each year, and last night’s transactions appear to have capped the climax.
“From early evening to one or two o’clock in the morning, groups of boys, grown bold by past leniency, went about the streets intent upon whatever mischief they could lay their hands to — the more destructive, the better. Another Hallowe’en should not pass without having the city thoroughly policed on that night and every offender brought to speedy justice.”
Good luck with that. There were far more children than police.
A favorite pastime of Halloween pranksters was to dismantle wagons or buggies and reassemble them on roofs of homes or businesses. They also liked to take furniture, barrels, farm implements, wagon wheels — whatever they could find — and lift them high into trees to dangle from limbs.
Kids threw beans, corn, nuts and pebbles at windows in a practice known as “tick-tacking.” They also hurled cabbages, tomatoes, turnips and eggs. They collected cornstalks and redecorated properties with the shocks, turning them into cornfields.
In the 1890s, outhouses were the primary targets. Children pushed them over and then ran away in glee. Citizens had to restore the privies to their upright positions the next morning before conducting their daily business.
“We didn’t make many arrests in those days — but we got a mighty workout on Halloween night, chasing gangs that would scatter and disappear, only to reassemble on some other corner and start their mischief anew,” retired Akron Police Lt. Alva G. Greenlese reminisced in October 1939.
“Streets were not as well lighted then as they are today and the youngsters had a better chance to escape the arm of the law.”
The night before Halloween was called “Doorbell Night” in Akron. Children sneaked up to homes and rang doorbells or rapped on doors before scampering off. Residents emerged to find no one there. Or worse yet, they found that rubbish had been strewn everywhere and their porch furniture was missing.
Unfortunately, tick-tacking led to rock throwing, bottle tossing and pumpkin chucking. Many a window was shattered on Halloween night. More and more, innocent pranks began to resemble vandalism.
“If the parents of those who commit depredations were made to pay fines for their children who go out at night and destroy and mutilate property, there would be less depredation committed,” Police Capt. Robert Guillet fumed in 1906. “The trouble is that too often when arrests are made the offenders are given a little lecture and then let go. That does little good.”
Many homeowners sat on their porches at night with shotguns in their laps to scare away intruders. Others decided to turn the tables, moving their outhouses just a few feet so that unwitting pranksters might fall into the dreadful, gaping hole in the dark. That surely would teach those kids.
After his window was smashed one year, an Akron baker retaliated by making pies containing salt, pepper, dough and rotten eggs, and leaving them on the sill. He must have smiled contentedly when he returned to find the pies were all gone.
There was no end to the mischief. Children turned signs around, greased streetcar rails and pulled fire alarms. They stuffed dummies and placed them in roads to simulate accidents. They tied long ropes to schoolhouse bells, hid in bushes and rang incessantly. They borrowed cows from barns and led them into classrooms.
Summit County Sheriff’s Deputy James Phillips took a call one night from an irate woman who was upset that boys had tipped over her outhouse.
“That happens often on Halloween,” Phillips commiserated.
“Yes,” the woman groused. “But I was in it.”
As Akron became more of an industrial city, buggies and outhouses grew scarce, but smaller communities still had plenty.
Uniontown pranksters took four outhouses and set them up on each of the four corners at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Route 619. In Greentown, pranksters created a corral out of snow fence and penned up a cow in the center of town. In Freedom Township, kids built a 5-foot wall with 30 bales of hay in the middle of Streeter and Nichols roads. In an oldie but a goodie, pranksters hoisted an Amish buggy on Randolph School.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the Akron Touchdown Club sponsored a “Fun vs. Vandalism” campaign, which encouraged children to go trick-or-treating or attend Halloween dances instead of pulling pranks. The campaign’s motto was “Don’t destroy! Enjoy!” Public officials thanked the program as vandalism began to decline.
Oh, but there were still pranks. Kids posted for-sale signs on homes that weren’t for sale. They rounded up all the election signs on one street and stuck them in one yard.
They poured paint on the Portage Path statue and dressed up the Doylestown doughboy in old clothes and a plaid coat with a lamp shade on his head.
And so it went from generation to generation.
Although Halloween pranks don’t seem to be as popular today, don’t let your guard down.
Keep your buggy locked up in the barn. Tighten the hinges on the front gate. And for gosh sakes, keep an eye on the outhouse.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
More than 50 stores awaited shoppers when Chapel Hill Mall held its grand-opening sale in October 1967.
Beginning on Columbus Day, the three-day event Oct. 12-14 featured the theme “Discover the New World of Chapel Hill.” The shopping center was Akron’s answer to Summit Mall, which had opened two years earlier in Fairlawn.
Richard B. Buchholzer and Forest City Enterprises developed the $75 million complex on a 175-acre site off Brittain Road with free parking for more than 5,400 automobiles. Anchor stores O’Neil’s, J.C. Penney and Sears, along with many smaller shops, had already debuted over the past year, so the grand opening was a celebration of the mall’s completion.
Shoppers admired the spacious concourses, gleaming floors and inviting storefronts. Unusual amenities included Cleveland artist Brian J. Plesmid’s The Four Seasons, a sprawling mural 218 feet long and 13 feet high, made of fresh cement troweled over metal mesh and imbedded with colorful glass, and designer Jack Erbe’s twin musical fountains that splashed and pranced to the sound of piped-in songs.
For the grand-opening celebration, 1961 Mr. Universe Bruce Randall demonstrated weightlifting exercises at O’Neil’s, Capt. Walter Kruse presented an exhibit of rare treasure salvaged from sunken Spanish ships in the Bahamas, the Akron Fire Department dedicated a display to Fire Prevention Week, the Civil Air Patrol set up a real gyrocopter and the Carbone Puppets provided free shows four times a day.
Mall tenants competed for customers as they strolled through the concourse. Here is what some of those businesses had to offer 50 years ago.
• Recordland advertised “the latest in folk, teenage favorites, hard-to-find current numbers, jazz, classics, country and western, and nationality records.” The store sold 45 RPM records, 33⅓ albums, 8-track tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, phonograph needles and sheet music. For the grand opening, it had a big sale on new Columbia albums by Ray Conniff, Robert Goulet and Percy Faith for $2.79.
• Spencer Gifts had novelty items for sale, including full-page magnifiers — “Fits right over an entire page! No moving old-fashioned magnifiers from line to line.” — for 88 cents. And what kid wouldn’t want a clown face flashlight for $1? “Youngsters will beam with delight when you give them this fascinating flashlight,” the store advertised. “Light shines thru clown’s eyes, nose and mouth to guide their way in the dark.”
• Cinema I and II, “America’s Most Beautiful and Unique Theaters,” featured Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, and George C. Scott in The Flim-Flam Man. The twin theaters had wall-to-wall screens and push-back chairs “for the ultimate in legroom.” The cinemas boasted “living room comfort” and “symphony hall sound” via “strategically placed speakers and acoustically treated walls.”
• Baker’s had QualiCraft footwear with that “with-it look” for $6.99: “See the shoe shapes with the happiest spirit!” the shop advertised. “Have fun with the girlish look of poufy pom-poms, big or little bows, straps stripping every new way, buckles in every shape, colors from spicy brights to pepped-up pastels.”
• Cowell & Hubbard jewelry store advertised anti-magnetic, shock resistant, waterproof Neptune watches for men for $19.95. “Here’s the watch that can go anywhere he can … even 600’ under water,” the store noted. “The Neptune features a precision 17-jewel movement with unbreakable mainspring, luminous dial and hands.”
• Chapel Hill Toys stocked its shelves with “lushy, plushy” stuffed animals. “Something to please everyone … from tots to grandmas,” the store claimed. “Mini animals, giant animals, almost real ones, frankly fake creatures … such great pets, so little initial cost, no upkeep.” Its big sale was 15 percent off on a Laughing Cat regularly priced at $12.98.
• Andre Duval’s salon sold wigs for $29.50 and wiglets for $17.95. Its special was a $20 permanent wave for only $5.95, including shampoo, haircut and styled set. “Prepare to look your very prettiest with this coming season’s more flattering, wavier hair styles,” the salon said. “Skillfully salon waved by our expert stylists — with Vanity Fair’s gentle, sure solutions, your hair will be lovelier than ever.”
• Woolworth’s offered the usual assortment of odds and ends. When shoppers wanted to take a break, its Harvest House cafeteria served roast turkey, chopped steak, baked ham, roast beef and chicken dinners in “liberal portions.” “The whole family will enjoy our fine selections of tasty foods,” the business explained. “Dad will enjoy our reasonable prices, too!”
• Not to be outdone, Gray Drug Store offered the Dutch Oven with Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and décor. Its menu included charbroiled steaks, sandwiches and “melt-in-your-mouth pies.”
And so it went 50 years ago at Chapel Hill Mall.
Memory Lane gift shop had “a glorious selection of quaint, charming, old world figurines” from Hummel. The Village sold mink-collared suede coats for $66 in a “delicious duet” that combined suede and “luscious mink in Antelope, Silver or Brown.”
Sears promoted a 172-square-inch Silvertone portable TV for $98 with side-mounted controls for tuning. (“Use anywhere … move from room to room.” Yes, a 172-square-inch TV was considered portable in the 1960s.
Kroger’s sold potato salad for 88 cents a pound (“Entertaining is easy when you let Kroger’s Delicatessen Department help you”). Paul Harris featured jumpers for $10.90 (“You’ll go wild when you see our jumper-land. So many styles, colors and patterns to choose from”).
And Foxwood Casuals advertised a wool poncho cape for $11.99 (“The very same you’ve admired at the game, over pants, skirts … always so young and snappy”).
Young and snappy, Chapel Hill Mall had a grand time 50 years ago at its big opening.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Behold a temple on a hill.
In 1927, the North Akron Board of Trade’s directors proposed naming the busy intersection of North Main Street and East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue as “Temple Square.” Akron Mayor D.C. Rybolt found the name to be “appropriate and euphonious,” and North Hill residents have been calling it that ever since.
Temple Square’s name might baffle some younger folks, but it made perfect sense when it first was applied 90 years ago. It was a tribute to the “most pretentious structure” on North Hill — back when pretentious was considered a good thing.
With fraternal organizations enjoying overflow membership, North Hill residents decided to form a new Masonic lodge in 1922. The Rev. John M. Baxter, pastor of North Hill Methodist Episcopal Church, selected the name: Mount Akra Lodge.
He explained that Mount Akra was the name of the hill where King Solomon built his temple in Jerusalem. Appropriately enough, Akron sounded like Akra, and the Masons planned to construct a temple on their hill.
Mount Akra Lodge 680 was chartered in October 1922 with 128 members. Baxter served as chaplain. Other officers were: Curtis J. Bowman, worshipful master; William Bennett, senior warden; Charles Gardner, senior deacon; James J. Ensign, junior deacon; Dr. J.A. Hagstrom, senior steward; Raymond Porter, junior steward; L.L. Hoopes, secretary; John H. Davis, treasurer; and George Spaulding, tyler.
In one early meeting, the Rev. Elmer Smith spoke of Masonic comradeship and declared that “every normal man has the impulse to unite with others, and that a union of right-minded men is good.” He said that fraternalism leads to the “common level of true manhood,” but warned that fraternity members needed a purpose.
He suggested that the lodge concern itself with national issues, including an “utter disregard of law,” “the lowering of the principles of Americanism” and “the curse of unrestricted nonselective immigration.”
Building a temple was of utmost importance. In 1924, the Beacon Journal reported that the lodge had completed designs on “the most pretentious structure yet erected in the northern section of the city.” Architectural drawings showed a three-story building, made of brick, stone and steel, in the Italian Renaissance Revival style.
“The plans call for five bowling alleys, billiard parlor and barbershop in the basement, two store rooms on the ground floor, and a public auditorium with balcony and kitchen on the second floor,” the Beacon Journal noted. “This will be available for any public or community gathering or banquets. The third floor will be the lodge rooms and quarters for the members of the lodge.”
The North Hill Masonic Temple Co. was tasked with building the $150,000 structure (about $2 million today) at 775-779 N. Main St.
A large crowd was present, including hundreds of plumed Knights Templar, when Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge James B. Ruhl, grandmaster of Ohio Masons, officiated at the laying of the cornerstone in June 1925. The Mount Akron octet sang patriotic songs. The VFW band and West High School band provided music.
After visiting the Holy Land, the Rev. Baxter brought back an 8-inch, oblong stone from a quarry in Jerusalem. The rock was incorporated into a pillar at the front entrance of the North Hill temple along with an inscription that was taken from King Solomon’s Mines.
Unfortunately, a vandal gouged the surface within a few days. The Masons installed heavy plate glass over the rock. After a few months, a vandal gouged the glass, too. The Masons put another glass over the rock, but it was pried off. Suspecting that boys were to blame, the Masons floated a theory that anyone desecrating the stone would face “The Curse of King Solomon.” That did the trick.
The new temple’s first big event was a Christmas gala held by Yusef-Khan Grotto No. 41 on Dec. 22, 1925. Hundreds danced in the ballroom to the music of Benson’s Orchestra.
Meetings and events were held at the temple over the next two years, but the grandest event was the temple’s dedication Oct. 2, 1927. More than 500 Masons attended the solemn, mystical rites.
Dressed in full Masonic regalia, Grand Marshal Herman Thiessen and Grand Tyler Frank M. Hughes led the Main Street procession, followed by past masters John A. Davis, William E. Bennett, Charles E. Sweeny and Wade E. Warden.
Members carried ceremonial implements, including a sword, Bible, Masonic square and compasses, candles, a silver vessel of corn and a golden vessel of oil into the lodge, which was covered in white linen. John G. Nees played music on the temple’s new pipe organ.
Grandmaster Ruhl confirmed the temple had secured “the entire approbation” of the grand lodge, and expressed his hope that the temple would be “a lasting monument of the taste, spirit and liberality of its founders.”
Long live North Hill Masonic Temple — and long live Temple Square.
Over the decades, the business district would include such mainstays as Acme, Temple Square Hardware, Isaly’s Dairy, A&P Tea Co., Kaase Co., Peoples Drug Store, Schmidt’s Pharmacy, Cevasco Jewelry, Ernie’s Chestnut Bar, North Hill Recreation, Aster Meats, North Akron 5 and 10, Temple Men’s Wear, Renee Dress Shop, DiLullo’s Bar, Central Grill, Andy’s Pizza Shop, Ruth’s Beauty Salon, Temple Square Barber Shop, Del’s Apartments, Spiegel Shopping Catalog Center, North Akron Savings Association, North Hill branch library, Lay’s Guitar, Temple Square TV, Temple Tavern, Arsenic & Old Lace, Ron’s Crossroads and the Office.
And that’s just scratching the surface. There were so many more. There were also professional offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers and real estate agents in the neighborhood.
And the service station on the northeast corner changed hands many times, going by such names as Whittaker & Fisher, Steigner’s, Robinson’s, Temple Square Amoco and European Automotive.
After Yusef-Khan Grotto bought the North Hill temple in 1942, it became known as Grotto Hall or the Grotto Building, and remained a hub of Temple Square for 40 more years. As membership in fraternal organizations waned, Yusef-Khan moved to Tallmadge in the late 1980s. Mount Akra Lodge No. 680 moved to Akron-Peninsula Road.
Temple Square has seen its ups and downs over the years. Some buildings have been razed, leaving vacant lots where prosperous shops had operated. Other businesses are going strong,
A formerly pretentious building still stands tall. Today, the former North Hill Masonic Temple holds court on Main Street as the home of Akron A.A. Archives, Akron Area Intergroup, God’s Will Apostolic Church and Arsenic & Old Lace, which are all institutions in their own way.
Long live Temple Square.
Copy editor Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
What’s wrong with today’s youth? The question has puzzled adults since the dawn of time. Parents forget what it’s like to be young, and young people don’t think they’ll ever get old.
In the 1920s, America faced a gathering menace that threatened to rip apart the very fabric of society. Young women, namely flappers, were out to have fun.
They bobbed their hair, applied colorful makeup, wore short dresses, rolled down their stockings, chewed gum, swigged gin and even smoked cigarettes. Worst of all, they listened to jazz and danced. Oh, how they danced.
“The modern dance is a carnival of death because it rips from the shoulders of womanhood of this land her only mantle of protection,” evangelist E.G. Sawyer preached in 1925 at United Brethren Church on South Arlington Street in Akron. “… Out of the 230,000 fallen women in the United States, statistics show that seven-tenths of them went by way of the modern dance.”
Dance hall days
Flappers enthusiastically performed the Charleston at East Market Gardens and short-lived venues such as South Main Gardens, Arlington Terrace, Winton Dance Palace, Zigler Dance Hall, the Red Mill, Lockney’s Pavilion and Workingman’s Dance. When the Charleston’s popularity faded, flappers switched to the Black Bottom, a scandalous dance that involved wriggling, waving, strutting and overall cavorting.
“They call it Black Bottom, a new twister,” Annette Hanshaw sang in a popular tune of the day. “Sure, got ’em. Oh, sister!”
Yes, it sure did get ’em. When Clyde McElroy of Barberton filed for divorce from his wife, Thelma, he told a judge that she spent all her time dancing. After he pleaded with her to return home, Thelma reportedly replied: “No one is going to chain down my Charleston and Black Bottom dancing.”
The Miles Royal Theater sponsored Black Bottom contests. Burlesque star Flossie DeVere starred in the vaudeville show Parisian Flappers at the Grand Theater.
Flappers flocked to Akron movie theaters such as the Dreamland, Orpheum, Waldorf, Liberty, Allen and Strand to see such titles at The Perfect Flapper, The Exalted Flapper, The Painted Flapper, Flapper Wives and Twin Flappers. Silent-film actresses Louise Brooks, Clara Bow and Colleen Moore became screen icons whose youthful looks, stylish clothes and carefree spirit were emulated by flappers.
When Bow’s 1927 romantic comedy titled It made her the original “It girl,” the Orpheum advertised: “Flippant flapper, trim and dapper, naughty, haughty, chic man-trapper. All together now, boys, ‘Has she got IT? Well, I guess. Clara! Clara! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ ”
For those wishing to dress like the stars, O’Neil’s, Polsky’s, Federman’s, Yeager’s and other Akron department stores sold the finest in flapper dresses, flapper hats, flapper shoes, flapper coats, flapper hose, flapper purses, flapper umbrellas and flapper teddies.
For flappers in training, Akron Dry Goods offered a fascinating assortment of flapper dolls with bobbed hair. Want to bet that someone just took a pair of shears to long-haired dolls and put up a new sign?
Critics blamed flappers for many of society’s ills, including juvenile delinquency, truancy, immorality and social diseases.
Akron newspapers were filled with articles about girls gone astray:
• “Akron’s flapper rum runner, Irene Moore, pretty, bobbed haired and 22, was fined $500 and costs by Judge Gordon Davies after she had pleaded guilty to transporting liquor late Thursday.”
• “A flapper bandit, described as about 23 and pretty, pointed a pistol at a salesgirl in a downtown department store and made away with four dresses.”
• Vivian Gingram, 25, the “flapper bandit” of Toledo, slid down a rain spout after midnight and escaped from the women’s reformatory in Marysville.
Perhaps the biggest outrage was over flappers’ rising hemlines. “Nobody would be agitated about the way flappers dress if they only would,” one wag noted.
In 1927, a man identified only as “West Side Reader” wrote a letter to the Beacon Journal about “the boldest and must vulgar young girl I ever saw.” He said he was riding a streetcar on West Market Street when two flappers, bound for a dance hall, boarded the car and sat across the aisle from him.
“The larger and apparently the older of the two insisted on crossing one leg over the other and I was convinced it was not done for comfort,” he wrote. “This girl was at least 20 years old, if not 25. By crossing one leg over the other she exposed at least 12 inches of her bare leg above the knee.
“I mean the leg that was under. I could not help but notice it because she was nearly direct across from me. Once she caught my eye and she stuck out her tongue and turned up her nose at me. I was just looking natural at her, but I did not feel natural.”
In counterpoint, another letter writer using the pseudonym “I. Likum” confessed: “I, for one, do not object to seeing the naked and comely shanks of flappers on the streetcars.” He criticized “pathetic greybeards” and “old fossils” for raising a fuss, and proposed a solution:
“Why not have the girls paint on their thighs chaste and moral mottoes? These might be used: ‘Evil to Him Who Evil Thinks.’ ‘He Who Looks and Runs Away May Live to Look Another Day.’ ‘A Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother.’ ‘Beauty is Only Skin Deep.’ ”
In a 1927 column in the Beacon Journal, Dorothy Dix chided middle-aged women for bobbing their hair, saying it was a “fatal folly” to invite comparison to flappers.
“The boyish bob is the exclusive prerogative of sweet and 20,” she wrote. “It calls for a slim, thin, flat little figure; a peaches-and-cream complexion; shining young eyes. And when fat old grandma brings her grizzled gray locks in competition with her, it makes you realize what an awful thing times does to women. You wouldn’t have noticed it if grandma had enough sense to keep her hair on.”
The Black Bottom couldn’t be danced forever. The flapper era flamed out in the early 1930s as the Great Depression gripped the nation. Those daring young women grew up, got married, had children and eventually became grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
What’s wrong with today’s youth? Nothing that a few decades won’t change.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Professional wrestling seemed like a strange career move for Dr. Sam Sheppard.
After spending a decade in prison, the infamous Ohio physician was expected to maintain a low profile instead of donning tights and grappling in a sweaty ring before a boisterous Akron crowd.
“This is my sport,” Sheppard explained. “Some people play golf. I wrestle.”
The osteopath said he wrestled at Cleveland Heights High School and Hanover College in Indiana before perfecting his technique at the Ohio Penitentiary and Marion Correctional Institution, where he claimed to have won six bouts against inmates.
“I’m not such a great wrestler, but I did have to fight for my life in the jungle of the prison,” he once told a reporter. “It gave me the fiber.”
Sheppard gained international notoriety after his pregnant wife, Marilyn, was bludgeoned to death in their Bay Village home July 3, 1954.
The bruised doctor told police that a “bushy-haired intruder” had attacked the couple in the dark, but Sheppard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in a sensational case that inspired The Fugitive, a 1960s ABC-TV series starring David Janssen, and later a 1993 movie starring Harrison Ford.
The doctor spent 10 years in prison before the Supreme Court reversed the verdict, saying pretrial publicity and a carnival atmosphere had made it impossible for Sheppard to receive a fair trial. He was cleared in a 1964 retrial, although many in the general public remained skeptical of his innocence.
In 1969, Sheppard’s friend George Strickland, a pro wrestler nicknamed “The Great George,” talked the 45-year-old doctor into stepping into the ring with him as a tag team.
Sheppard, who was eking out a living with a small practice in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna, had recently divorced his second wife, Ariane, a former pen pal who had written to him in prison, and was only months away from eloping with his third wife, Colleen, 20, Strickland’s daughter.
What did he have to lose?
Serving as manager, Strickland told reporters that Sheppard would make his pro wrestling debut Aug. 9 at a benefit for cancer research in Waverly, Ohio. “There couldn’t be a better drawing card,” he said.
Tickets sold so quickly that the bout was moved to a larger venue that accommodated 5,000.
“My partner and I wish to display that men over 40 can stay in good physical shape,” Sheppard said. “We wish to encourage men to give up smoking and strive for better bodies.”
To be a wrestler, the doctor needed a signature move. Bobo Brazil had the Coco Butt, Lou Thesz had the Power Bomb, Angelo Poffo had the Neckbreaker, Buddy Rogers had the Figure-Four Leglock.
Sheppard developed the Mandibular Nerve Press. His finishing move was to plunge two fingers into an opponent’s mouth and press two nerves beneath the tongue, supposedly inducing a temporary paralysis that would render a foe helpless.
“The only new hold in wrestling in many years,” Strickland boasted.
Crowds greeted Sheppard with boos, hisses and cheers as he and Strickland conducted a small tour of Ohio and Michigan. From town to town, the tag team wrestled many of the same foes, and each time, an opponent always managed to fall prey to the fingers-in-the-mouth ploy.
“Mr. Strickland is a professional wrestler, and he is trying to make a living,” Sheppard told a reporter. “I am in it for the sport. My share, except for expenses, goes to the Sloan-Kettering Research Foundation.”
Then he added somewhat mysteriously: “Of course, my expenses come pretty high.”
The 13th match in Sheppard’s fledgling career was booked Sept. 27, 1969, at the Akron Armory, a 2,510-seat arena at 161 S. High St. (where the Ocasek building stands today). Walter Moore was the promoter of the event.
Sheppard and Strickland served as the headlining act against Jack Murphy and Porky “The Pig” Loren. Also on the bill were the Kangaroos vs. Chief White Owl and Johnny Powers, and Big Saka vs. Bob Harmon.
Beacon Journal reporter Doyle McGinley interviewed Sheppard and Strickland in a hallway of the complex on the night of the match.
“At 45, he is in excellent condition,” McGinley noted of Sheppard. “He weighs in at 195 and there’s not much fat on that six-foot frame. They were both dressed for the ring — black tights with leotards.”
McGinley wondered why Sheppard didn’t go all in on the doctor theme, wearing a doctor’s uniform, stethoscope and other medical gear when he stepped into the ring.
“I would disgrace the medical profession,” Sheppard replied.
“Both professions,” Strickland interjected.
Before boos, hisses and cheers, the tag teams entered the ring and stomped around, fighting like they had never seen each other before.
Just when all seemed lost in the loud, hot, smoky arena, Sheppard employed the Mandibular Nerve Press on Murphy and escaped with yet another win.
“Doctor is an excellent wrestler,” Strickland said. “Medicine’s loss is wrestling’s gain.”
The tour continued for a few more weeks, including an Oct. 2, 1969, bout at the Cleveland Arena before a crowd of 5,384. Murphy fell prey once again to the under-the-tongue hold.
Some guys never learn.
Dr. Sam Sheppard’s wrestling career didn’t last long because he wasn’t long for the world.
Six months after wrestling in Akron, Sheppard was found dead at age 46 in his Columbus home April 6, 1970. The Franklin County coroner ruled the cause of death as liver failure.
One of medicine’s most notorious doctors was gone. The wrestling world had lost an unlikely star.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
History buffs, genealogists, librarians, teachers, students and researchers have reason to smile. The search for information just got so much easier.
The Utah-based website digitizes historical newspaper microfilm and allows readers to browse old articles and conduct specific searches of names and dates. It contains more than 5,300 newspapers from the 1700s to the present with nearly 300 million pages available for research.
All that information is now available at your fingertips via computer or smartphone. In cinematic terms, this is the equivalent of the ape man touching the monolith and gaining instant knowledge in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Among the publications of local interest that are available for research or perusal on Newspapers.com:
• Akron Beacon Journal, 1872-2017, 2.99 million pages.
• The Summit County Beacon, 1840-1904, 14,281 pages.
• Akron City Times, 1884-1889, 1,294 pages.
• Akron Daily Democrat, 1892-1902, 14,691 pages.
• Akron Times-Democrat, 1900-1902, 1,197 pages.
• Akron Evening Times, 1913-1920, 29,544 pages.
The website also has plans to digitize the Akron Times-Press (1925-1938), the Beacon Journal’s main competitor, which folded after the two newspapers merged.
Users can print, save and share articles that they find on Newspapers.com. When you search for a name, you never know what you’ll find.
For example, here is an impassioned plea about Beacon Journal comic strips in December 1978: “Mark Price, 15, of north Akron, is ‘tired of all this talk’ about Spider-Man, Hulk and Superheroes ‘being too violent.’ ‘There is a lot more violence on television,’ he said.”
What a nerd.
Doing a few simple searches, I learned that my father, Joel E. Price, then age 19, was charged with driving through a red light in 1953 in Massillon, and that my mother, Angela Bollas, then a 16-year-old student at North High School, received honors at the Akron Science Fair in 1957 for her miniature solar system.
There is no end to the random searches that can be conducted. What was the price of milk on the day you were born? What was the name of that long-forgotten restaurant on Mill Street? When did Frank Sinatra perform at the Akron Palace Theater? Who played catcher for the Akron Yankees?
Visitors to Newspapers.com can plug in their street addresses to learn details about their homes, including when they were built, who lived there previously and what events may have transpired there. The website makes it easy to look up engagement, wedding and birth announcements as well as obituaries.
If you want to research a family anecdote or legend, this is a good place to start. But beware: Newspapers.com can unearth skeletons that have been safely hidden in closets for generations.
For example, I discovered that my great-great uncle George faced an alimony petition from his destitute wife, Melea, in August 1913. She married him in Greece in 1907, had a baby in 1909 and moved to this country at his request in 1912 — only to discover that he had skipped town a few days before she arrived with their child. George reportedly was “in the company with another woman.”
What a lout.
Newspapers.com is not flawless. If a name was misspelled in the original article, it might not show up under a modern search. Also, if there are any imperfections in the source material — scratches, blotches, shadows, dark print, etc. — the searched word might not show up. Furthermore, blurry or fuzzy words in old articles can cause false hits. For example, if you search for “internet” in the 1880s, the word “interest” might pop up instead. And some editions and pages are missing.
Still, the search for old, hard-to-find information is easier than ever.
A basic subscription to Newspapers.com costs $7.95 a month or $44.95 for six months. There is a seven-day free trial subscription available, so you can check out the database before committing.
You can do a basic search without being a subscriber, but you won’t be able to pull up the articles if you find anything interesting.
And you will find something interesting. Don’t be surprised if Newspapers.com becomes your latest obsession. There’s nothing like catching up on old news.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Critics dismissed Akron’s urban renewal project as “the hole.” After years of funding delays and work stoppages, the 5-acre site was little more than a muddy crater in the heart of downtown. Some called it a money pit.
But city leaders refused to give up on their dream of revitalizing downtown. Ever so slowly, the plans became concrete. Mayor Leo Berg championed the development in the late 1950s, Mayor Edward O. Erickson shepherded it in the early 1960s and Mayor John Ballard oversaw its rise in the mid-1960s.
Cascade would not be stopped.
The Sept. 15, 1967, dedication of the $10 million Cascade Parking Deck (about $73.2 million today) was the first tangible sign of progress in the ambitious project, which had demolished dozens of landmark buildings, eradicated South Howard Street, enclosed a section of the Ohio & Erie Canal and bewildered downtown shoppers.
Bounded by Bowery, Main, Mill, Ash and Quaker streets, the four-level garage could accommodate 2,150 automobiles. The John G. Ruhlin Construction Co. had used 70,000 cubic yards of concrete and tons of reinforcing steel during two years of work on the parking deck, which was financed primarily through general obligation bonds and notes.
“THIS IS CASCADE,” a billboard proclaimed as hundreds attended the dedication ceremony. Red, white and blue bunting fluttered, the North and Kenmore marching bands performed patriotic music and participants released helium balloons.
With a growing roar, the WCUE radio helicopter flew into sight and landed atop the parking deck, where a triumphant Mayor Ballard stepped out to address the assemblage at 11:30 a.m. Friday. “The city of Akron is on the march,” he announced. “We are well on our way, and this is only the beginning.”
U.S. Rep. William H. Ayres, R-Akron, noted: “We are not dedicating only bricks and mortar here this morning. We are dedicating a principle. America’s real strength lies in what is done at the local level, and this is as it should be.”
Instead of cutting a ribbon, the officials cut a large rubber band, a symbol of the city’s major industry.
The garage was the first step for the $224 million Cascade project, which would include a 24-story office tower, a seven-story professional building, a 16-story motel and a public plaza with a skating rink. The John W. Galbreath Co. was Cascade’s developer.
The project derived its name from the 1830s village of Cascade, which sprouted around the intersection of Howard and Market streets. Dr. Eliakim Crosby’s cascade race diverted water from the Little Cuyahoga River and funneled it down the center of present-day Main Street toward Mill Street and into the Ohio & Erie Canal.
Following the parking deck’s dedication, the Akron Chamber of Commerce celebrated with a luncheon. John S. Knight, president and editor of the Beacon Journal, served as the master of ceremonies.
“I’m proud of Akron — always have been,” he told the audience. “There was a great deal of scoffing about ‘that hole in the ground.’ People were afraid it would be another boondoggle. But the combination of leadership — business, civic and labor, together with government — has succeeded in achieving this magnificent development toward the renaissance of downtown.”
A. Dean Swartzel, regional director in the Chicago office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told the luncheon crowd: “We are inspired by what can and will be accomplished in Akron, and are glad to be a part of it.”
Open for business
Hundreds toured the Cascade garage after the ceremonies, but it didn’t officially open until Monday, Sept. 18. The Russell Harp Co. supervised parking operations and John Kaman served as manager.
Rates were 15 cents for the first half-hour, 15 cents for the second half-hour and 15 cents per hour with a $1 limit for 12 hours of parking. The deck was open 24 hours. Drivers received automated tickets at the Mill and Quaker entrances and followed one-way traffic patterns.
Lighted signs directed drivers to parking spaces. The levels were color coordinated — yellow, orange, blue and green — to help people find their vehicles when they returned.
About 500 people signed up for monthly parking for $20 before the garage opened.
Akron attorney Bruce W. Bierce, whose office was in the First National Tower, was the first to arrive at 6:41 a.m. Monday. He had parked for 30 years at Central Garage, a 1919 building that Cascade made obsolete.
“For anyone located where we are, it’s wonderful,” he told a reporter. “The attendants are very helpful. It’s a great relief to have your car practically in the back door of your office.”
By 10:30 a.m., more than 200 drivers had parked their cars in the new structure.
The Cascade Parking Deck provided a science-fiction element with the introduction of a “vehicle sensing system,” a giant computer developed by Taller & Cooper of New York.
“The equipment will keep track of how many cars are moving into each level,” the Beacon Journal explained. “The equipment can’t be tricked by backing over signals.
“The equipment automatically will switch on signal lights in the various sections, warning motorists that a particular area is full and directing them to another.”
Naturally, there were some bugs along the way. The deck had to close for almost an hour on opening day after a fuse blew and the lights went out. The power failure knocked out car-counting devices, but 300 cars were estimated for the first day.
About 1,500 drivers used the deck during its first five days of operation — and they’ve been coming back ever since.
Happy 50th birthday, Cascade Parking Deck.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Women would be much happier if they just paid more attention to pleasing their men.
That was one conclusion that Kate Constance, author of the book How to Get and Keep a Husband, reached 60 years ago during a weeklong series that the Akron Beacon Journal published Sept. 8-16, 1957, on its “Women’s Pages.”
“Every man has in the back of his mind a vision of the kind of woman he would like to have for a wife,” she wrote. “No matter what people say, men are idealistic. Each of them can imagine the girl whom he considers the Complete Woman for his particular way of living.”
According to Constance, most men wanted their wives to possess certain attributes, including:
• A loving warm nature. “The male craves a mate who will satisfy his yearning for loving attention.”
• Ego boosting. “A man needs to feel he is somebody.”
• Respect for money. “Nearly every man is looking for a woman who will be a good manager.”
• Good health. “This is one of the most desirable assets in the mind of a man.”
• Compatibility. “If you want to win a man, take time to discover his likes and dislikes.”
• Easygoing personality. “Nagging seldom improves a man. It only tends to irritate and set him in the opposite direction.”
• Kindness and understanding. “Nearly every man dreams of the woman with whom he does not have to explain away every little fault, every little misdemeanor or action.”
• Freedom from possessiveness. “The possessive heart usually is jealous, fearful and selfish. It can rob the owner of happiness and health.”
• Faithfulness and spiritual strength. “A man yearns for a woman whose moral standards are beyond question.”
• Physical attractiveness. “No matter how little nature has bestowed upon her, every woman can enhance her physical attractiveness.”
• Interest and ability as a homemaker. “Are you willing and able to make a comfortable home? You should be.”
Constance did warn women against suitors to avoid: tightwads, spendthrifts, free lovers, perfectionists, abnormal men and uncontrolled drinkers.
But she also told women not to wait too late to wed.
“If you are 30 years old and aren’t married, something is wrong,” she wrote. “That something is not necessarily wrong with YOU. Perhaps it is in your environment or circumstances. But very likely it is you — your attitudes, your personality, your objectives or your appearance.”
Ultimately, if a woman was lucky enough to find a man, she had to keep him. She had to make sure that her husband was happy.
Constance offered a pop quiz for wives to measure if they were meeting certain standards.
Sixty years later, we are publishing it again. How much has changed since 1957?
Get out your pencils.
OK, ready? Begin.
How effective are you as a wife in making your husband happy and content? Ask yourself these questions and answer completely honestly:
1. Do you ask for your husband’s advice and pay attention to it?
2. Do you praise him for the good things he does?
3. Do you refrain from criticizing him, and especially from upbraiding him in the presence of others?
4. Do you build up his ego by telling him that he is a good host, the kind of man who can make people feel at ease and enjoy being with him?
5. Do you avoid praising men who are younger, better looking or have more money and better jobs?
6. Do you prevent your eye trailing after other men, especially in his presence?
7. Do you give him constant evidence of your love for him?
8. Do you avoid criticism of his clothes and his grammar?
9. Do you take pains to pick out something he has done and tell him how smart he is for doing it?
10. Do you ever tell him that, as far as you are concerned, he is the most important, handsome and capable man in the world?
Score yourself 10 points for each “Yes” answer.
A score of 90/10 indicates that yours is a fine marriage, with good prospects of continuing and lasting happiness.
A score of 50/80 indicates grounds for improvement — and make it now!
If your score is less than 50, you should sit down and take a long hard look at yourself and your marriage.
Mark J. Price, who didn’t show his wife this quiz, can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Little mysteries present themselves daily to drivers in Akron. Traveling around town, a motorist might pass a certain street and wonder: “Why is it named that?”
Take Aqueduct Street on West Hill. The very name conjures images of imposing ruins from ancient Rome or Greece. Yet, the tree-lined, residential street, which links West Market Street with Memorial Parkway, doesn’t appear to have any arched passageways or stone conduits.
Upon closer inspection, though, Aqueduct Street oozes with history.
Before there was a street, before there was a neighborhood, before there was a village, a natural spring trickled through conglomerate rock. Ohio pioneers discovered it in the early 1800s, but given its proximity to the Portage Path between the Cuyahoga River and Tuscarawas River, American Indians must have known about it, too.
The rippling water was clear, pure and refreshingly cold. No matter the season, it flowed at a constant 57 degrees, inspiring the name Cold Spring. Thirsty settlers proclaimed the ever-gushing fountain as “the best water in the world.”
Real estate dealer Justin Ely of West Springfield, Mass., purchased the surrounding Portage Township property in the late 1790s through the Connecticut Land Co. His descendants sold three-quarters of an acre in the late 1840s to a group of businessmen who wanted to tap Cold Spring as a water works.
Akron was barely 20 years old and had a population of slightly more than 3,000 when the Akron Cold Spring Co. organized in 1848 with a capital stock of $3,700. Its primary backers were Benjamin Felt, Henry Rattle, Jonathan F. Fenn, Arod Kent, Horace K. Smith, William H. Dewey, Henry C. Crosby and Simon Perkins.
Yes, that Simon Perkins.
According to its articles of incorporation, the company was “authorized and empowered to locate and construct an aqueduct and such other works and appendages as may be necessary for the conveyance and protection of the water of a spring which is on the north part of lot five, tract two, in Portage Township in the county of Summit, to any part of said township.”
The company hired the foundry of G.D. Bates & Co. along the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal to manufacture 1½ miles of cast-iron pipes to descend the rugged terrain of West Hill. Most of the pipeline was buried more than 3 feet in the ground, but a few sections were visible as the aqueduct crossed two ravines.
The Akron Cold Spring Co. looked forward to providing “the best water in the world” to all of those who resided in the village, but it was happy to start with Spring Hill, the short-lived name for that section of West Hill serviced by the pipeline.
“It affords us much pleasure to state that the citizens of the west part of Akron — residing on the west hill — have at length secured at their doors an abundant supply of pure cold water,” the Summit County Beacon reported May 23, 1849. “… Better water cannot be found any where. It is pure, cold and soft. The volume issuing from the rock would, with proper care, supply the wants of a population of 6000 or 8000.”
The company held a community celebration to christen the pipeline, which traveled from present-day Aqueduct Street to West Market Street to Green Street.
“The water was conducted through the whole length of the pipes on Wednesday last, on which occasion our neighbors on the west hill had quite a jubilee,” the Beacon reported. “The brass field piece opened wide its brazen throat and mingled its thunder with the shouts of the assembled crowd, while the water shot up into the air and reflected the rays of the sun.”
Cold Spring initially serviced about 30 families on West Hill, producing about 350 barrels of water a day. The fresh water was a big selling point as homes were constructed in the neighborhood. Cold Spring Road was laid out along the pipeline route, but sometime in the 1860s, its name was changed to Aqueduct Street.
In 1880, the German Reformed Church bought 7 acres on the east side of Aqueduct Street for a cemetery. Today, Mount Peace Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 11,800 people.
The West Hill water works included two small reservoirs and a gate system to stem the flow in case of malfunction. Those gates were needed more than anticipated.
The pipes kept bursting — especially during subzero weather. Severe flooding from heavy rainstorms also undermined the aqueduct. Service was disrupted for weeks at a time until repairs could be made.
During an especially bad break in November 1889, company spokesman Turner N. Ganyard warned customers that they needed to make other plans for a few months.
“The pipe in this section is at places seven and eight feet underground and covered with brush and rubbish so that the exact location of the spot cannot be determined without a great deal of difficulty, and if cold weather comes on before we fix the break, the water supply may be shut off all winter,” he explained.
The Akron Cold Spring Co. hired city contractor John H. Doyle to install 8,800 feet of new 4-inch pipes in 1891 for $3,409 (about $114,700 today). After he completed the work, however, he claimed that he received only $1,804. After he sued, a jury awarded him $500.
Although the water company’s directors included many respected citizens, including George W. Billow, Charles F. Dick, Lorenzo Hall, Philander Hall, George A. Kempel, A.M. Armstrong and S.E. Phinney, its business practices grew erratic. Meetings frequently were postponed because of a lack of a quorum.
Despite plans for expansion, including the purchase of Chitty Spring near present-day Chitty Avenue, the company served about only 75 families at its peak. It became all but obsolete in 1915 once the city began offering public water from Lake Rockwell near Kent. The Akron Cold Spring Co. quietly pulled the plug in the 1920s after more than 70 years in business.
Aqueduct Street’s name is the last reminder of the defunct business.
Well, not quite.
For those who know where to look, Cold Spring continues to gurgle on private property in the residential neighborhood. The best water in the world is hiding in plain sight.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Never has an act of vandalism been more celebrated in the English countryside.
When Akron soldier Guy Caruso carved his name on a stone pillar at the entrance to a plush estate in 1944, he didn’t dream it would cause such a commotion nearly 75 years later. He etched “Caruso Akron Ohio” inside a heart — his version of “Kilroy was here” — before leaving for D-Day.
The graffiti artist’s identity had been a mystery for decades at Hennerton House, a mansion in Hennerton, a 13-home enclave in the village of Wargrave in Berkshire, England, west of London. Through the efforts of genealogy enthusiast Phil Davis, the carving was traced in 2014 to Guy Caruso, who died in Akron in 1993 at age 74.
Hennerton residents invited the World War II veteran’s descendants to visit the village, and this summer, Caruso’s granddaughter Angela Wojtecki, 33, of Copley, and her uncle Jimmy Caruso, 58, of Akron, were happy to take them up on the offer. Wojtecki, director of libraries for Nordonia Hills City Schools, made the arrangements after receiving a fellowship to study at Oxford in July.
Davis and his wife, Maxene, who live in Hennerton, were gracious hosts and tour guides during the four-day visit in the countryside around Henley-on-the-Thames.
“Of course, the very first thing we did was see the pillar,” Wojtecki said. “We’d seen it in pictures, but actually seeing it in person, it gave me goose bumps.”
Caruso agreed, saying: “When I first saw the carving, it was kind of emotional. It was like, wow, this is really something my father did.”
His father never talked about the war, so it was interesting to walk in his footsteps, see some of the places that he had visited in England and imagine what he might have been thinking before the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.
Residents were excited to meet the American visitors as they toured the picturesque community along the River Thames.
“We kept apologizing,” Wojtecki said with a laugh. “We kept saying that we’re sorry that my grandfather did this. But I think to them it’s a piece of history.”
The stone carving, possibly done with a bayonet, seemed completely out of character for Guy Caruso, a former Akron cabdriver who retired from DeWitt Motors after 35 years of service.
“It kind of cracks me up because I remember growing up: ‘Don’t you EVER write on walls or buildings,’ ” Jimmy Caruso chuckled.
Davis showed his guests where the U.S. Army had been stationed during the war, and pointed out some of the sights that would’ve been familiar to the soldiers, including the old Hatch Gate Pub, which is now a private residence.
“At one point, Phil was taking us to the pub where my father would probably go on Saturday nights,” Caruso said. “Walking down the road were a couple of people that he knew. So he pulled over and he rolled down the window, and they just started saying, ‘Oh, you must be the Americans!’ ”
Wojtecki said that Hennerton residents couldn’t have been friendlier.
“They were just so kind and they were just so willing to go above and beyond to make us feel welcome,” she said.
“The English are very, very hospitable,” Caruso agreed.
Coincidentally, the current owners of Hennerton House are Americans: Lawyer Jef McAllister, former White House correspondent and London bureau chief for Time magazine, and his wife, Ann Olivarius, a well-known attorney.
“Sunday evening, they had a community dinner for us,” Wojtecki said. “All of the current residents of Hennerton got together and they had us for dinner.”
“They just welcomed us with open arms,” Caruso said. “We had a beautiful dinner reception.”
A highlight of the meal was the presentation of a special gift for the Americans: a replica of Guy Caruso’s graffiti on the front gate.
“The residents came together and they gave us a molding of the exact carving in cement,” Wojtecki said. “They framed it and they gave it to us to take home. That was amazing. We’ll keep it displayed in the family.”
“They rolled the red carpet out,” Caruso said. “It was amazing. It was just utterly amazing.”
“It’s gone full circle,” Wojtecki said.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
George Latshaw lived in a make-believe world of talking animals, magic giants, fairy princesses and playful imps.
Retaining a childlike sense of wonder, he roamed wherever his imagination took him, and, boy, did it take him far.
The Akron puppeteer built magnificent creatures, penned whimsical stories, entertained international audiences and taught his delicate craft to generations of students.
His widowed mother, Mildred Latshaw, a teacher at David Hill Elementary, introduced him to the hobby about 1931 when she took a marionette class at the University of Akron. The lanky, soft-spoken boy, an 8-year-old pupil at Spicer Elementary, grew animated.
“George was not very strong when he was a youngster so I tried to think about out-of-door hobbies for him, and after taking my course in marionette making, I decided to build him an outdoor theater,” she recalled in a 1939 interview.
Mother and son began carving circus marionettes — clowns, elephants, acrobats — out of balsa wood and pine. They used buttons for eyes and crepe mohair for hair. They stitched colorful costumes.
“I thought he’d soon get sick of sewing, being a boy, but he kept right on and soon was turning out some very clever figures,” Mildred Latshaw recalled.
Soon they were putting on puppet shows at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church or entertaining kids at the Latshaw home on Dixon Place and later Buchtel Avenue. George pulled the strings and supplied the voices for such plays as Rumpelstiltskin and The Three Wishes.
When Latshaw was 11 or 12, he saw a professional troupe entertain at Polsky’s department store in downtown Akron.
“The Kingsland Marionettes performed in a corner window and also in the auditorium,” he recalled years later. “I managed to get an introduction to the puppeteers and they allowed me to go backstage. So I’d walk downtown after school to watch them work.”
Mildred Latshaw allowed her son to study with the troupe for two summers in Brandon, Vt., and his technique improved dramatically.
Reaching 6-foot-5 as a teen, Latshaw outgrew his outdoor theater, but he still put on puppet shows as a student at Central High School. After graduation, he attended the University of North Carolina and Yale School of Drama and set his sights on a career in puppetry.
At age 23, though, he made one major change.
“I gave up the marionettes on strings when I first got my hand inside a puppet and saw all the things you could do without waiting for it to happen down at the other end of the strings,” he said.
He built hundreds of characters, including his signature puppet, Wilbur, a wide-eyed, precocious boy with a red tuft of hair.
“I suppose you could say he represents all those childhood impulses that get repressed in real life,” Latshaw explained.
Latshaw put on five to 10 shows a week at schools, clubs, museums and theater groups, and learned to master subtle movements, making puppets appear to breathe, think and react.
“It’s just a doll unless you can get a real performance out of it,” he said. “And there’s nothing more horrible than a bad puppet show.”
In Chicago, Latshaw worked with puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, who later gained fame as creator of the NBC children’s show Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
Latshaw ventured to Hollywood, where he literally lent a hand on a surreal 1953 Technicolor movie starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer.
“The movie’s title is ‘Lili,’ or that was it when I left,” Latshaw told the Beacon Journal in 1952. “The Hollywood puppets were so complicated, it took four of us to work their movable eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows, etc. But the audience will see only two puppeteers, and they’ll be led to believe Ferrer is one of them.”
He operated the puppet for Carrot Top, a red-haired boy, who must have reminded Latshaw of Wilbur. Lili was Latshaw’s only movie credit, but it’s considered a classic today.
He parlayed that experience into serving as a host on the Merry-Go-Round children’s program on Cleveland’s WXEL-TV (now WJW), and also emceed a Looney Tunes program on Cleveland’s KYW-TV (now WKYC).
In 1957, Latshaw was working as a puppet instructor at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights when he met Patricia Herget, a Lakewood native who supervised a youth theater program. They got engaged a few months later and married in 1958.
Their George Latshaw Puppets troupe expanded with the births of sons Christopher in 1959 and Michael in 1961. The family moved to Macedonia and toured the country.
Latshaw was commissioned to create six 9-foot puppets that appeared in concerts by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra. The experimental puppets were operated by two people dressed in black.
“Puppets used to be little and secret,” Latshaw said. “Now used on a larger scale on a theater stage, puppets want equal status with actors.”
In 1960, Latshaw performed at the Puppeteers in America festival in Detroit, where he met Jim Henson, whose Muppets were years away from fame. Henson invited Latshaw to help film an ABC pilot in New York, but the show didn’t sell.
Latshaw toured the country with self-written shows such as The Wizard in the Well, Monkeyshines, The Princess Who Popped, Noah from A to Z and Wilbur and the Giant.
“My puppets seem like almost real characters to me,” Latshaw said. “I take them to parties and ad lib for laughs. They get to be a part of you.”
He served as artist-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution, served as president of the Puppeteers of America and was named a finalist with Henson and Tillstrom to represent the United States in the Union Internationale de la Marionnette in Moscow.
“It’s flattering to be considered with such company,” Latshaw said.
Perhaps Latshaw’s greatest gift to the craft was writing the 1978 children’s book Puppetry: The Ultimate Disguise (since retitled The Complete Book of Puppetry), a comprehensive guide to the entertainment form.
To this day, the Puppeteers of America’s George Latshaw Award honors accomplishments in writing in puppetry.
Latshaw retired from show business after he and his wife moved to Florida about 1997. He died at age 83 in 2006 after battling leukemia.
The puppet world had lost a master.
Fountain pens weren’t supposed to be thrown away. They were lovingly made, thoughtfully purchased, gingerly refilled, carefully repaired and dutifully bequeathed to the next generation.
We’ve become such a disposable society that most of us don’t have the patience for them today, but these top-of-the-line writing instruments were considered exquisite gifts more than 100 years ago.
Two former B.F. Goodrich workers made fountain pens their signature product when they established an Akron manufacturing company in the late 19th century. Joseph F. Betzler and Wesley E. Wilson had labored together in Goodrich’s pen-making unit, but when the rubber factory capped production, the gentlemen decided to start their own business.
Instead of producing nib pens that required users to dip metal tips into bottles of ink, the Betzler & Wilson company decided to make fountain pens with built-in reservoirs of ink. No more soiled fingers!
Betzler & Wilson created a niche industry in Akron, sold products around the world and enjoyed more than 25 years in business.
“The only unconditionally guaranteed pen on the market,” the firm boasted.
Betzler, the senior partner, had been born in Wurttemberg, Germany, in 1868 and immigrated at age 14 to Akron, where his uncle William Mangold lived. He found a job at Goodrich’s Akron Hard Rubber Co. division, where he learned his trade and met his future business partner.
According to Akron historian William B. Doyle, Betzler was a “man of recognized business enterprise” who enjoyed “a high commercial rating in the city.”
Doyle described Wilson as “an enterprising business man one who not only understands the demands of the public for a first-class article, but knows also how to push its sale.”
Born in Niles in 1869, Wilson had moved at age 9 with his family to Akron and similarly found work at the rubber company. When Goodrich shut down its pen unit circa 1890, Wilson and Betzler moved to Cincinnati to work for a manufacturer.
“One day we concluded we might as well work for ourselves as for someone else so we decided to come back to Akron and start up for ourselves,” Wilson explained in 1892. “We came last June, rented this room, put in our outfit and began manufacturing fountain pens.”
The men rented space from the Akron Brass Foundry on the top level of a two-story building at East Exchange and Carroll streets. The two proprietors and three assistants worked on more than 100 styles of pens, including holders with spiral twists, hexagons, octagons and circular patterns.
According to an 1892 article in the Beacon Journal, Betzler & Wilson laborers used Goodrich rubber for fountain pens.
“The body or barrel of the holder is purchased already turned, in the rough,” the newspaper explained. “It then goes through a process known as roughing off the rubber; then the threads are put in, then they are turned, then pumiced and polished, and then chased.
“The caps then go through the same process, and are fitted on the barrels and the point sections made. Then the feeder is prepared undergoing the same process as the others. When you know all this is done by hand you will have an adequate conception of the enormous amount of work required before a fountain pen is ready to be put on the market. They are handled about 30 times before completion.”
If a pen was not to a customer’s liking, the company promised to cheerfully exchange it. No questions asked.
Demand was so great and business was so prosperous that Betzler & Wilson began construction in late 1894 on a two-story factory on South Street near the railroad tracks.
The new factory was easily recognizable by the 10-foot Betzler pen model that was propped up on the roof with metal rods.
The company grew to 25 employees who worked day and night to fill orders from around the world. Repairs were also an important part of business because people just didn’t throw away pens in those days.
Betzler & Wilson fountain pens were sold at the A. Polsky Co., the M. O’Neil Co., Day Drugs, Dales Jewelry, Robinson’s Book Store and other Akron businesses.
The company’s premium product was a $3.50 pen made of solid 14k gold, pointed with iridium.
In 1905, Betzler patented a self-filling fountain pen with a bellows in the barrel that was designed not to leak or clog. “It fills itself,” the company advertised. “It cleans itself. It is absolutely secure, and will not leak.”
The company fell into receivership in 1908, owing Dollar Savings Bank about $4,300, but reorganized a year later, increasing its capital stock from $1,000 to $50,000.
In 1914, Betzler & Wilson bought O.E. Weidlich, a Cincinnati pen company, and moved it to Akron. That same year, Wilson left the company to serve as sales manager of Akron Rubber Mold Co.
Betzler worked a few more years before retiring from the business about 1918, bringing an end to Akron’s fountain pen empire. After a 10-month illness, he died in Cleveland, and was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Alma.
“Mr. Betzler was the soul of honor in business and private life and enjoyed to the fullest extent the esteem and confidence of his fellowmen. He was devoted to his family and friends, and his death occasioned deep and widespread regret,” historian Doyle wrote.
Wilson rose through the ranks at Akron Rubber Mold until he became company president.
In 1935, he and his wife, Ella, were on their way to Cincinnati when they were involved in a car crash in which she was killed. He survived but contracted pneumonia and died two months later. They were survived by a son, George Wilson.
The Beacon Journal noted of Wilson: “He was a forward-looking civic leader, broad-minded and generous, and integrity in all his business and social relationships was his outstanding characteristic.”
Betzler & Wilson’s fountain pens are forgotten today in Akron, but perhaps they shouldn’t be.
Did your great-grandparents own one? You might want to rummage around in old desk drawers to see what’s hiding.
Some antique Betzler pens can fetch $200 or more in the collectibles market. Those manufacturers weren’t joking about their guarantee.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Some time in the early ’50s, my neighbor, Mary Rita, and I took the bus from East Akron to Summit Beach Park. It was on the opening day for the summer season. We bought our tickets for the rides, but as we walked by the roller coaster, they said we could ride the coaster for 10 straight rides free, so of course we jumped on. There was a Beacon Journal photographer up on the rafters taking pictures of us going down the steep big hill. That picture was on the cover of the next Sunday’s Roto. Years later, I was able to get two of those pictures from the Beacon Journal archives, which I still have today.
I grew up in Akron. It was a short trip to Summit Beach Park and one we made often during the summer in the 1950s. I was only 7 years old when it closed, but I can still remember the rumble of the roller coaster and the smell of cotton candy and roasted peanuts.
I was not allowed to ride the roller coaster, because surely I would have fallen to my death. My parents did however let me ride the merry-go-round over and over and over. The midway was lined with offers to “knock down the milk cans to win a stuffed animal for the little lady.” There were also galleries to shoot the ducks with play guns and fishing ponds to catch a fish to win a prize. “Step right up and win a prize!!” It sounded soooo easy.
I have one picture from the park. I think I was supposed to be smiling, but apparently I was having no part of that. Not sure what concerned me more, being in “City Jail” or sharing the cell with a gorilla. No matter, always a good time. The balloon was most likely stuck to my hand with the leftover cotton candy from earlier in the day. It certainly is a bygone era.
I recall back in the early 1950s when Summit Beach Park had a Lawson’s Day each year. You could purchase tickets for the rides using the cardboard caps of milk bottles (yes, milk was sold in returnable bottles) collected during the year. My mom and I took the bus to Summit Beach Park to spend the day. I believe at that time Summit Beach was the end of the bus line in that direction. The only ride I can remember is the roller coaster — the first one I ever rode. It was a day I looked forward to each year.
May 10th, 1927, was a special day for John Willis (27) and Vera Smith Willis (19), their wedding day. Attached is the picture of the happy couple, who spent their honeymoon at Summit Beach Park. They danced and had fun in addition to having this picture taken at the park.
After the honeymoon, they were then longtime residents of their Goodyear Heights home. John retired from Goodyear and Vera was a nurse, both spending their entire lives in that home.
Lyn Willis Burkey, daughter of John and Vera
I used to go to Summit Beach Park, went swimming in the Crystal Pool, did rides. My mom was a lifeguard there, Josephine (Gay) Hearty. I don’t remember a lot, but do remember the pool. I was born in December 1940. Mom was born in April 1908.
She also dove off the Gorge bridge and was a good swimmer. She had a bathing suit with a Red Cross emblem on it.
Back in the early 1950s, my brother and I (Bill and Patty Stermer) collected all year long the small cardboard lids from Isaly’s Dairy (located on East Market Street at the bottom of Brittain Road hill) glass milk bottles, to trade for tickets to Summit Lake. Going there was the highlight of the year and we loved the wooden roller coaster! I also remember Skyscraper ice cream cones from Isaly’s; they had a special-made ice cream scoop to make them.
I grew up on Clearview Hill and attended Margaret Park Elementary, which was located on the northwest corner of the lake. I have childhood visions of attending the park and riding the rides, although my fondest memory is in the enclosed photo.
Pictured is my father, Jimmy Valentine, trying his hand at the “Open Me and Take the Money” attraction. If you fail to grasp the significance, read O. Henry’s short story, “A Retrieved Reformation” (1909). The principal character is noted safecracker Jimmy Valentine, and the surprise ending is in the classic O. Henry style.
No, my father didn’t crack the safe.
James D. Valentine
Born in 1929 and raised in Goodyear Heights. I recall outings across town in the 1930s to Summit Beach Park as something to be excited about.
The notorious Bonnie and Clyde had been killed in Louisiana by law enforcement officers in May of 1934 while driving a stolen 1934 Ford flathead V-8. A few years later, that car was on display at the park. I was just a kid, and was I ever impressed on seeing the number of bullet holes in it.
The ride that caught the attention of my sense of smell was the Dodgem Cars. It was the ozone emitting from the electricity which powered the motors.
A sentimental memory I have is of the dance hall and the big band music. The girl next door and I had been just classmates and friends through grade and high school. During 1950 and 1951, that relationship evolved into a romance and in 1953 a marriage that lasted until her death in 2015.
My grandparents lived on Miller Avenue, just up from the entrance. My grandfather ran the boat there and my father ran the train when a very young guy. My grandmother worked the gate and sold tickets.
I can still remember going there just before it closed. I was born in 1949. My grandparents lived on Miller Avenue until their deaths.
It was about ’45/’46 and I was 5 or 6 years old when my dad started taking me to Summit Beach. What a great place and, yes, the merry-go-round (a great classic Dentzel design with the colored lights and the Wurlitzer organ, probably a model 146) was one of the first things I wanted to go on, along with the train pulled by a real coal-fired steam locomotive next. Those were great, so were the small cars and the small roller coaster on the north end and overlooking the train.
There was the fun house and a cage of monkeys, and the boat ride out on the lake in the evening with the ride lights reflecting on the water were memorable. The Crystal Pool was nice to see, but I was too young to go in. I remember watching the motorcycle motordrome, wondering how he could go upside down.
They had fireworks four times a year: Decoration Day, both the third and fourth of July and on Labor Day.
We lived at the top of School Street, and had a view of the top of Margaret Park Elementary School where I went, to the right the park itself and the lake. It was a good place to see the fireworks without leaving the backyard, great viewing. At night from the backyard, you could see some of the rides with lights going around and the reflected light off the lake waters.
The entrance was impressive and the parking lot right where the large roller coaster was operating with screaming people, then going through the gates was the beginning of a nice afternoon and into the early evening of fun.
The expressway took all of our street and many houses, so 1953 or ’54 was the last we were able to go, as the move took us out of the county, and Chippewa Lake Park was much closer then, had free admission, but it too is all gone. So is Margaret Park School, what a shame. Now at 75 years old, it’s too bad it can’t all be brought back.
[We have a] family picture taken at Summit Beach, showing my mom and dad and their children. I am not in the picture, being born a few years later. The picture shows my mom, Angelene, my dad, Charles, my brothers, Angelo, Mike, Paul and Jim, sisters, Carolene and Angelene. A prize was also awarded to the largest family. Estimated date 1933.
My fondest memory of Summit Beach Park is the roller rink in my poodle skirt, skating with friends in the early ’50s. The second favorite is that I made my first (and only) recording there with Carroll and Becky, we’re still friends. We sang but mostly giggled.
I’m 86 years old and have a couple of memories of the old Summit Beach Park. Living in South Akron for many years, it’s hard to forget places like that. Especially the Crystal Pool! I was about 8 years old and not much of a swimmer; there were always a lot of older kids in there, too. I remember getting dunked too many times and nearly drowned. That was enough of the Crystal Pool for me. Just point me to the cotton candy. Those were the days.
I was born in 1925 and as a child under 7 I remember my mother and father and my little brother Ben going to Summit Beach Park. The Whip was my favorite ride; it whipped you around and you had to hold on to the wheel as it flew around and around flying in the air. The merry-go-round also appealed to me. I chose the horse that went up and down.
Summit Beach was a great gathering place. It’s hard to believe it’s 100 years since it opened. It should have stayed forever; it’s a blink of an eye and it was over.
Rebecca Heisler Weissfeld
Back in the early ’50s, my teacher on the last day of school would give us all a fistful of tickets for rides at the park. We all couldn’t wait. There was the motorcycle daredevil. Also we would go around the neighborhood and ask the people for their empty pop and Lawson’s milk bottles to get refund money to go swimming at Crystal Pool. Looking forward for the weekend to go roller skating, also I would spend many hours just in the arcade. I was one of the lucky ones that lived less than 10 minutes’ walk to the park.
Paul J. Sasz
Summer of ’52, my high school buddy Ray Ward and I arriving in his dad’s new Lincoln (the girls loved it) would spend the summers at Summit Beach Park. We rode the rickety roller coaster, the carousel and tunnel of “Love Boat.” Roller skated, spent pennies at the arcade and watched the speed of the motorcycles in the motordrome. Fun summers with very little money. Lots of memories. Kids today don’t know what they missed.
I grew up on South Street across from Summit Lake, a 10-minute walk to Summit Beach Park. I’m 79 years old and I was a lifeguard at Crystal Pool. We were paid cash weekly based on the number of hours we worked.
I’m a retired attorney having practiced law in Summit County since 1968. A few years after I started practicing, I ran into an attorney named Rusty Smith who looked very familiar. He said I also appeared familiar to him. After a few meetings, we both realized where we knew each other. Rusty ran the skee-ball game at Summit Beach Park and I was a lifeguard. We reminisced and laughed at some old memories.
Crystal Pool closed in the later ’50s without notice to some of the employees. One day, trucks of fill dirt and stones appeared and filled the very large pool area. I don’t know how true it is, but we were told the owner decided that no blacks would be allowed in his pool and since he, or she, could no longer keep them out, a decision to close the pool took place.
The pool was beautiful. It had in the deep zone three diving areas. A high board, a low board, and between them a high diving platform. It was a very large pool with crystal clear water. The Beacon had coupons; with a dime, you could swim all day. I didn’t get to be a lifeguard very long because the pool closed right after I was hired. I was in my third year at Akron University.
There were beautiful fireworks shot over Summit Lake on the eve of various holidays. My family would sit on our front porch and enjoy them every time.
I especially liked to ride the roller coaster and the flying scooter. As I remember, the roller coaster had the added excitement of having old weathered wood and the ride shook throughout. I don’t know how true it was, but we were told the car left the track on a turn where certain boards had rotted. There was an area where there was a hole in the side boarding at the second turn, which some said the car smashed through.
There was an area housing little cars called the Dodgems. We had a group of us that would ride in the cars and try to ram each other. Great fun.
Your article ended with “Summit Beach Memories — no matter how faded — still provide a thrill.” How true.
Don E. Lombardi
Bleeding from shrapnel wounds, Akron sailor Elgin Staples tried not to panic in the shark-infested water. He bobbed beneath the stars as the dark ocean swelled with the bodies of shipmates.
When all seemed lost, his hometown threw him a lifeline — and it was nothing short of miraculous.
Staples, 19, a signalman third class, had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May 1941 following his junior year at South High School and trained at Pearl Harbor, going to sea aboard the cruiser USS Astoria on Dec. 5 only two days before the Japanese attack.
As the ship evacuated Americans from Wake Island, Midway and Guam, the Akron youth tried to accentuate the positive. “The water out there is clear and blue and the sunsets at Midway are the most beautiful in the world,” he mused.
In a 1942 note to his mother, Vera Staples Mueller, the sailor tried to downplay the perils of the Pacific during World War II. “War isn’t so bad and there’s still plenty to eat,” he wrote.
Staples didn’t tell his mother that he was ready to die for his nation, and it might come any day.
“They prepare us in a wonderful way for battle,” he told Beacon Journal reporter Helen Waterhouse. “They give us a pretty good idea of what is going to happen to us. They tell us there will be some of us who will die, they outline the plan of battle and they make us feel that death in that way is glorious.
“Before this war, I was afraid of death. Now I don’t feel that way any more. I am ready for it if it comes.”
USS Astoria’s battles
The USS Astoria had seen its share of action in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. Staples described the war in a matter-of-fact manner as if he were talking about a baseball game at Akron’s League Park.
“When the thing finally happens and the battle is upon you — first, you see the planes a long ways off,” he said. “Then our fighters get into action and you have a feeling of great pride when you see the enemy planes go down like balls of fire in the distance. You feel like cheering and sometimes you do cheer.
“The little specks of planes grow bigger and bigger and fewer and fewer. When they finally are above you, you are so busy passing ammunition and manning guns that even when your best buddies fall all around you, you don’t have time to be afraid. You just go right on working. Afterwards, well, afterwards, is when you begin to feel it.”
The Astoria traveled to the Solomon Islands in August to provide support during the Marine landing at Guadalcanal Island. Staples had retired to his cabin after midnight Aug. 8 when Japanese shells struck the cruiser, turning the night into fiery chaos.
Staples put on his inflatable life belt and raced to the deck, but another explosion rocked the ship and the sailor lost his balance and fell 30 feet into the dark ocean with shrapnel wounds to his leg and shoulder.
“I began treading water, trying to stay calm as I felt things brushing against my legs, knowing that if a shark attacked me, any moment could be my last,” he later wrote. “And the sharks weren’t the only danger: The powerful current threatened to sweep me out to sea.”
Staples floated four hours in the darkness until a U.S. destroyer plucked him out of the water at dawn and returned him to the damaged Astoria. Sailors tried to make repairs, but the doomed vessel slowly sank and the crew abandoned ship.
Still wearing his life belt, Staples jumped into the Pacific until another U.S. ship rescued him. More than 200 men were lost aboard the Astoria in the Battle of Savo Island.
Staples kept the khaki belt as a memento and was surprised to see the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. logo on it. How about that? His hometown company had saved him.
Back at home
The sailor returned to Akron to recuperate from his wounds and enjoyed an emotional reunion with his mother at her West Market Street home. As Staples told his story, Vera Mueller gasped.
The former waitress explained that she had taken a wartime job at Firestone. Staples pulled the life belt out of his duffel bag and placed it on the table in front of her.
As Staples later recalled: “When she looked up at me, her mouth and her eyes were open wide with surprise. ‘Son, I’m an inspector at Firestone. This is my inspector number,’ she said, her voice hardly above a whisper.”
She had inspected, stamped and packed the belt for the Navy.
“We stared at each other, too stunned to speak,” Staples recalled. “Then I stood up, walked around the table and pulled her up from her chair. We held each other in a tight embrace, saying nothing.”
After the Beacon Journal published its article, Staples and Mueller traveled to New York to appear on the CBS radio program We the People on Oct. 18, 1942, where they recounted their tale.
“It was like having my mother’s arms around me,” Staples said of his Firestone life belt.
Calling forth others
Mueller, normally a quiet person, delivered an impassioned plea.
“There are millions of women whose sons are in the fighting forces right now,” she said. “Millions more will have to see their husbands leave. But we women can’t afford to sit at home and just pray that our menfolk come back safe. We’ve got to help them come back. And the best way is to get into war work.”
In Akron, the two were the guests of Firestone Chairman John W. Thomas and Harvey S. Firestone Jr. at an Oct. 20 luncheon.
“The production workers on the home front must supply the arms and munitions of war, and fast,” Staples told the audience. “We are all in this fight together and if we are going to win, we must all work together for the final victory.”
He returned to active duty one day later.
Vera Staples Mueller was honored Dec. 4, 1942, by the War Congress of American Industry in New York for “initiative, skill and constructive aid” in industry.
She moved from Ohio and was only 56 when she died in Nevada in 1960. She is buried in Las Vegas.
After the war, Elgin Staples moved to California, where he studied accounting under the GI Bill, got married and raised a family. A former firefighter and postal worker, he became a stockbroker and money manager. He died in 2009 in San Diego at age 86.
Over the decades, their story has been told in religious tracts, inspirational books and naval tributes.
It’s the amazing-but-true tale of an Akron mother who reached halfway around the world to save her sailor son’s life.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
No girls allowed!
It took more than 30 years for the glass ceiling to shatter at the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron. From the 1930s through 1960s, girls were prohibited from competing at Derby Downs.
That didn’t stop some girls from pointing out the unfairness of it all.
In July 1937, a New York girl pleaded for a chance to race in the Soap Box Derby in Akron.
June Gavin, 11, of Flushing, N.Y., sent a polite letter to legendary Beacon Journal Sports Editor Jim Schlemmer, asking that the All-American derby bend its boys-only rule.
Schlemmer gently but firmly rejected the idea in a July 26, 1937, column titled “Why Girls Can’t Build Racers.”
The tone of the sports editor’s reply is lighthearted, but the cavalier, sexist attitudes of the era might make some readers wince today. Unperturbed, June followed up with a note published July 31, 1937, in which she got the last laugh.
Strap on your helmet. Here is that memorable exchange from 80 years ago:
Dear Sir: I am a girl 11 years old and I would like to enter your race. I know the rules say it is open to boys only, but I thought you might change them this year. After all, we have both men and women in public office, in the professions, in politics and in the air races — so why can’t girls get into the Soap Box Derby?
I can ride a horse, I’m a champion roller skater and I can ride a bicycle better than a lot of boys. I believe I could build a Soap Box racer, too, that would beat a lot of boys’ cars. Please say I can get in the Derby.
My Dear June: I haven’t a doubt in the world but that you are right in believing you could build a winning Derby car. But you will never get the chance to prove it in an official race.
The Soap Box Derby is exclusively a boys’ event. That is one thing which makes it different. It’s about all we boys have left to ourselves any more.
You girls have cut in on everything else. Jackie Mitchell, a Chattanooga girl, is pitching for men’s baseball teams. Babe Didrickson, a Texas girl, is chiseling into men’s golf tournaments (and doing quite well, too). Clara Mortenson, a coast girl, is wrestling on the big time circuit, and packing ’em in.
And every now and then you read about a girl jockey, and you see pictures of Mrs. Harold Vanderbilt at the wheel of the Ranger, America’s cup defender, and just the other night Shirley Fry beat the stuffings out of her brother, Byron, in the McQueeney Junior tennis tournament.
Don’t you see, June, it would be a dangerous move to let girls into the Soap Box Derby? The first thing a fellow would know, you or one of your sisters through the country would be waltzing away with the championship … and 100,000 or more boys would be humiliated to no end.
Nope, Miss Gavin. It isn’t safe. You gals told us that if we’d let you patronize our barbershops you’d go during the morning hours and you wouldn’t interfere with our pleasures the least bit.
And you told us if we’d recognize such a person as a business woman golfer you’d only invade the links game deep enough to sell the latest things in golf clothes in the department stores.
And you said if we’d accept you as tennis players you’d only enter the mixed doubles. Not that we don’t trust you, or anything like that, but you know how it is; give you the right to enter this last strictly stag affair and blooey, out the window it goes.
Then the only thing left for the American boy would be for him to take up a cake baking contest or embroidery competition. No, my dear June, the answer is a thousand times NO … But you can help design something different in upholstering for your brother’s car … if he’ll let you.
— Jim Schlemmer
Dear Jim: I read with regret in Monday’s Beacon Journal that girls will not be officially recognized in the Soap Box Derby. However, I want to inform you that on July 17, 1937, I raced in Port Washington, N.Y. (unofficially, of course) by permission of the Long Island Daily Press and I won the heat, beating two boys in the same heat by a city block.
The Chevrolet dealers of Nassau County gave me a cup, same as other heat winners, and I am going to race last year’s Long Island champion, Bob Mahoney, Saturday, July 31, in a special feature race sponsored by the Gertz department store of Jamaica, Long Island.
Now, friend Jim, I just know you are kind of jealous because us girls are getting somewhere in the sportslight, ain’t you? But anyhow I forgive you and the very next time I am in Akron I’ll go to O’Neil’s and buy you a nice big hammer to knock with, or maybe I’ll buy it in New York and bring it to your office some day soon.
If I could get in that race in Akron I would be down there sooner than you could say Jack Robinson. Why not invite me down and I’ll show you what us girls have got and what it takes to put over a stunt in a Soap Box Derby. What do you say … or don’t you?
— June Gavin, 7925 152nd St., Flushing, N.Y.
Nope … You can sit in the stands or stand behind the fence, but you can’t be on the track. But if you are serious about that hammer, please buy in Akron.
— Jim Schlemmer
Dear June Gavin: It’s been 80 years since your first letter was published in the Beacon Journal.
We’ve tried to track you down with the aid of ancestry and marriage records, but we haven’t been able to find you.
We hope you’re enjoying life at age 91.
We hope you took notice in 1971 when girls were allowed to race in the Soap Box Derby for the first time. We hope you were proud in 1975 when Karren Stead, age 11, of Lower Bucks County, Pa., became the first girl to win the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Your old friend Jim Schlemmer lived to see both milestones, passing away in 1977 at age 77.
If you still are interested in riding down the hill at Derby Downs in Akron, please contact us. We’ll see what we can do.
You won’t need a hammer this time.
— Mark J. Price
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Editor’s note: Here is the first known article in the Akron Beacon Journal to mention the Soap Box Derby — back when the All-American race was held in Dayton. The Akron derby was held on East Tallmadge Avenue. This article was published June 25, 1934.
Here it is, boys!
The biggest contest of the year.
Indianapolis has its Memorial Day classic. France has its Grand Prix, and now Akron is going to have its Soap Box Derby.
Akron district boys will build their own soap box racing cars and on Aug. 4 they will stage a race to determine who has the fastest car. The winner of the Akron derby will go to Dayton, O., on Aug. 18 and 19, as guest of the Beacon Journal and All-American Soap Box Derby Inc. to participate against 40 or 50 other boys in the national derby.
The derby is open to all boys from the age of 6 to 15 inclusive.
The only requirement is that the racer is homemade and meets building specifications.
Specifications are ready and registration cards are waiting to be filled out.
Akron Chevrolet dealers are cooperating with the Beacon Journal in staging this contest. To save the entrants from having to come downtown, the Chevrolet dealers of the district have the booklets telling all about the race and how the cars should be built, as well as the registration cards.
C.W. Seiberling, vice president of the Seiberling Rubber Co., and a great defender of the American boy, is chairman of the general committee. Coach Ed Conner of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., who has worked with boys from many years, is executive vice chairman.
Starters, timers and other officials will be named later.
When the race was run in Dayton a year ago, more than 400 boys took part. More than 30,000 persons lined the sides of the hill to witness the race.
And here is more big news.
The grand prize in the national contest is four years’ tuition in any state university in the country.
Second prize is a three-day trip to the Century of Progress exposition with all expenses paid.
Third prize will be a $100 wrist watch.
There are numerous other prizes, and almost every entrant in the national event will receive one.
Of course, the two-day trip to Dayton is a prize in itself.
Prizes in the Akron derby will be announced later.
Here is how the race will be run:
Boys will be divided into two age classes. Boys 6 to 11 years old are in class A. Boys from 12 to 15 inclusive are in class B.
Cars also will be divided into two classes. Class X having plain wheel bearings and class Y with roller bearings.
Boys in class A, driving class X cars will be classified as class A-X. Or boys in class A driving class Y cars will be called class A-Y. B boys driving X cars will be class B-X, and B boys driving Y cars will be class B-Y.
The races will be run in heats, the first heats starting from scratch. In the first heats, only class A-X boys will be raced against each other and the same for other classes.
When the gun is fired, the boys will release their brakes and the race will be on. For safety sake, the course will be divided into lanes with the drivers expected to stay within their own lanes.
Eliminations will continue until there are four boys left in the race, one representing each class. Each race is timed from start to finish.
The very last race of the day, the race to pick the Akron champion, will be a handicap affair.
For instance, John Smith coasts the hill in 28 seconds; John Doe makes it in 26 seconds; John Brown in 24 seconds; and John Doaks in 20 seconds.
Smith is started first. Two seconds later, Doe starts. In two more seconds, Brown starts, and finally, two seconds later, Doaks releases his brakes.
The handicap system is designed to make the race as fair for one boy as another. The same system will be followed in the national race at Dayton.
Although the rules book tells about a Blue Flame race, this event will not be staged in Akron. The Akron derby will be for “Simon-pure” amateurs only, the boys in classes A and B.
So drop in at your nearest Chevrolet dealer for your instructions, and then get out the old hammer and saw. For you may be the boy champion Soap Box Derby racer of the United States for 1934. And be sure to watch the Beacon Journal every day for new developments and announcements.
Pedal to the floor, John DeLorean couldn’t get out of Akron fast enough. The brash, flashy executive wanted nothing more to do with the All-American Soap Box Derby.
In 1972, DeLorean, vice president and general manager of Chevrolet, slammed the door on the company’s sponsorship of the derby, ending a 35-year partnership with the gravity-powered race. “Practically from the day I got to Chevrolet I was determined to discontinue the derby,” DeLorean explained to the Beacon Journal. “… My reasons were twofold. First, I didn’t think it fit in today’s contemporary America. It wasn’t something young guys of today wanted to be doing.
“It was part of the past. And then there was its tremendous cost, which was about $1 million … and very few people had a chance to participate in it.”
If DeLorean were a movie villain, Akron audiences would have hissed.
Although his automotive successes included launching the Pontiac GTO, Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Vega, DeLorean just didn’t get the appeal of the derby.
“DeLorean missed the point completely,” George W. Brittain, former executive vice president of the Akron Area Chamber of Commerce, recalled years later. “He was not interested in youth. He was interested in other things.”
American as can be
The derby was as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pies and Chevrolet. What was so difficult to understand?
Cheering crowds of up to 75,000 packed the sun-drenched stands at Akron’s Derby Downs every summer as hundreds of children from across the nation raced their home-built cars on the giant hill. The Soap Box Derby parade was always a joyful, colorful procession featuring thousands of marchers, musicians, flag wavers and dignitaries.
No doubt about it, a major attraction of the All-American was the participation of big-name celebrities. More than 15,000 people routinely jammed South Main Street to greet entertainers as they arrived in open Chevrolet convertibles to the Mayflower Hotel.
Some celebrities were obligated to attend the derby through contracts they had signed with Chevrolet. The famous visitors received free use of a Chevy for a year after appearing in Akron.
Among the Hollywood stars who attended the derby were Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Glenn Ford, George Montgomery, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Singers included Dinah Shore, Paul Anka, Andy Williams, Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon and Snooky Larson.
Akron residents welcomed the TV casts of Bonanza (Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts), Bewitched (Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York and Agnes Moorehead), F Troop (Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch and Ken Berry), Route 66 (Martin Milner and George Maharis) and Laugh-In (Paul Lynde, JoAnne Worley, Judy Carne).
Others notable guests were Art Carney of The Honeymooners, Fess Parker of Daniel Boone, Adam West of Batman, Christopher George of Rat Patrol and Patty Duke of The Patty Duke Show.
John DeLorean attended the derby only once — in 1969, the year that the Detroit native took over the helm of Chevrolet after working at General Motors since the mid-1950s. He seemed more interested in staying in his hotel room than venturing out to Derby Downs.
“He was not cooperative at all,” Brittain recalled. “All the other executives at Chevrolet were top drawer. We could work with them. But DeLorean wasn’t interested in community things …”
In September 1972, DeLorean cut Chevy’s sponsorship of the derby. Instead, the $1 million would be presented to elementary and high schools across the nation.
“Instead of giving it to 12,000 kids running down a hill, suddenly there were 7 or 8 million participating,” he said.
DeLorean had Robert D. Lund, general sales manager, break the disappointing news to Akron Mayor John Ballard and other city leaders.
“With today’s changing lifestyles, young people in America have different needs, attitudes and interests,” Lund said. “To keep pace with the changes, we must develop creative new programs that are responsive to modern attitudes.”
As a parting gift, Chevrolet pledged to donate $30,000 for the 1973 race.
The Akron Chamber of Commerce and Akron Jaycees kept the Soap Box Derby afloat until other sponsorship could be arranged. When Chevy withdrew its support, the race dwindled from 252 participating cities to 138 in a single year.
DeLorean dared to return to Akron in 1973, speaking to a luncheon at Portage Country Club as president of the National Alliance of Businessmen. In an interview with Beacon Journal business editor Joseph Kuebler, DeLorean had no regrets about his derby decision.
In fact, he didn’t expect the All-American to be around much longer.
“I felt for years it had no place in contemporary America,” he reiterated. “This is probably the kiss of death in my opinion. That’s one man’s opinion. I am not speaking for General Motors.”
The executive left GM to form his own business, the DeLorean Motor Car Co., which is probably best known for producing the DMC-12 gull-winged sports car that doubled as a time machine for Michael J. Fox in the 1985 movie Back to the Future.
Otherwise, the venture failed. Apparently, it had no place in contemporary America.
FBI agents arrested DeLorean in a 1982 federal sting operation, alleging that he conspired to sell $24 million in cocaine.
He was acquitted in a 1984 trial after his defense team successfully argued that DeLorean had been entrapped. Despite being cleared, his reputation was ruined.
“He came in here like a thunderstorm and left like a thunderstorm,” Brittain told the Beacon Journal in the early 1980s. “I still feel very strongly that had it not been for DeLorean, we would have had an excellent chance for continued support from Chevrolet. He killed it.”
DeLorean was 80 years old in 2005 when he suffered a fatal stroke.
In addition to his family, he was survived by the All-American Soap Box Derby, which is still going strong 45 years after its imminent demise.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
“It’s New! It’s Modern! It’s Terrific!”
Century Food Market promised big values and big savings when it opened in July 1952 as the anchor store of Westgate Shopping Center at West Market Street and South Hawkins Avenue in Akron.
When the automatic doors swung wide, customers stepped into air-conditioned comfort and roamed the bright, gleaming aisles of a 21,000-square-foot supermarket.
“The Store of the Century” was imported from Youngstown for Akron’s shopping pleasure 65 years ago. The Wallhaven market was the 18th location for the regional chain, which traced its origin to 1917 when Russian immigrants Samuel and Dina Aron opened a small grocery on Chicago Avenue in Youngstown.
Their four sons, Fador, Harry, Julius and Norman, founded the chain in 1940, anticipating that self-serve supermarkets would eventually supplant mom and pop shops in neighborhoods. In addition to Youngstown, the family operated stores in Warren, Berea and Ellwood City, Pa.
Century Foods followed Youngstown developer Edward J. DeBartolo to Akron in 1952 after he built Westgate Shopping Center for $750,000 (about $18 million today). The market soon was joined by other tenants, including F.W. Woolworth, Gray Drug Store, Wagoner-Marsh and Irene’s Women’s Apparel.
It was a carnival atmosphere when the supermarket held an open house Sunday, July 13, at 1688 W. Market St. Most of the 300 free parking spaces were filled with automobiles.
The Tommy Tucker Orchestra performed, and Miss Pennsylvania 1952 Claire Lippert sang. WCUE morning DJ Art Ross served as master of ceremonies, Akron Mayor Charles Slusser officiated at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and a Pathe news crew filmed the event for a showing at the Palace Theater.
About 18,000 people inspected the store from 1 to 7 p.m., but they didn’t buy a thing! Century Foods didn’t technically open until the next morning, July 14.
At Monday’s opening of “the largest food store in Ohio,” a little person in a bear costume welcomed shoppers. Teddy Snow Crop, a trademarked character of Snow Crop Frozen Foods, was 38 inches tall and weighed 75 pounds. Other attractions included Texas Jane’s Wonder Pony and Old Eli’s Ferris Wheel. Children were handed free balloons and bubble gum and could play in the Kiddie Korner while their parents shopped.
Grand-opening specials included meat (chuck roast, 53 cents a pound; chicken, 49 cents a pound; ham, 39 cents a pound; and link sausage, 39 cents a pound), fresh produce (oranges, 45 cents a dozen; grapes, 29 cents a pound; tomatoes, 39 cents a pound; and lemons, five for 29 cents) and name-brand products (Smucker’s grape jam, a 12-ounce jar for 19 cents; Libby’s pork and beans, two 14-ounce cans for 27 cents; Ritz Crackers, a 1-pound box for 29 cents; and Dinty Moore beef stew, a 24-ounce can for 53 cents.
A free bag of groceries valued at $10 was presented on the hour every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from July 17 to Aug. 9. Also, four $500 diamond rings were presented at 9 p.m. Saturday for four weeks.
Century Foods also offered S&H Green Stamps. One stamp was given for every 10 cents spent. Shoppers filled stamp books and redeemed them for premiums.
John Hatala and Arnold Cerny co-managed the store, which employed about 85 workers, including department heads, meat cutters, cashiers, stock clerks, dairy clerks, meat wrappers and carryout boys.
For employees, the chain pledged high income, life insurance, a payroll savings plan, pleasant working conditions, paid vacations, sick benefits, hospitalization and surgery coverage.
One of the store’s mottoes was “A better place to shop, a better place to work.” According to the norms of the era, though, the business preferred to hire men over women for most jobs.
“I’d choose the man every time,” assistant manager James Higgins said in a 1952 interview with the Beacon Journal. “I’ve worked 17 years in food markets and I feel justified in saying this. It’s harder to get women to work in harmony. They are more sensitive and more easily upset.
“Of course, there are jobs like cashier’s jobs for which women are better suited because they are better on detail work than men.”
Within months of the Akron store’s opening, rumors began to circulate that Loblaw Inc. of Buffalo was interested in buying the Century Food Market Co. chain. Jules J. Aron, president of the company, denied that a sale was in the works.
Instead, the company expanded in Greater Akron, adding locations at Arlington Plaza, Wooster-Hawkins Plaza, Coventry Plaza, 866 W. Wilbeth Road in Akron, 655 W. Portage Trail in Cuyahoga Falls, University Plaza in Kent and finally Lakemore Plaza.
The takeover rumors began to circulate again. In May 1961, Loblaw Inc. bought out the 39-store Century Food Market Co. chain. There was no denying it this time.
“The Store of the Century” turned out to be “The Store of the Decade” — at least in Akron.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
With each passing year, the memories grow fainter along the sunny shores of Summit Lake.
Only those of a certain age can still hear the calliope music, feel the rumble of the roller coaster, smell the fresh paint of the concession stands, taste the salt of the popcorn and see the colorful chaos of the midway.
This summer should have been the backdrop for the grandest party ever held at “Akron’s Fairyland of Pleasure” and “Akron’s Million Dollar Playground.”
Summit Beach Park would have turned 100 years old.
The amusement park opened its gates with great fanfare July 4, 1917, welcoming thousands of well-dressed visitors beneath a blazing sun on Independence Day as World War I consumed the international headlines.
“Most of the citizens left town early in the morning, taking their lunches with them and went for long auto trips or spent the day at Summit Beach or Silver Lake parks, where the beaches were crowded with bathers and the lakes were dotted with canoes and parasols of every color,” the Beacon Journal reported.
It was the final season for Silver Lake Park, which had been open since 1874. Summit Beach, however, was just getting started.
Akron businessmen John L. Snyder, Philip Austgen and Jack Rampanelli, who had conceived the idea for the park in 1914 while chatting over billiards at a South Main Street poolroom, spent a couple of years recruiting financial backers.
The Summit Beach Park Co. incorporated in 1916 with $200,000 in capital stock and E.A. Shutt as president, George Wolfe as treasurer and Snyder as secretary and general manager. For their resort, they chose a 15-acre site along Summit Lake’s eastern shore adjacent to Lakeside Park, which the Akron Street Railway & Herdic Co. opened as a picnic grounds in 1887.
In a pitch to potential stockholders, the company explained enthusiastically: “Right in the heart of Akron — the greatest show town in America — is a lake and amusement park. Ten minutes’ ride from the center of Akron! Within walking distance of 20,000 people! 130,000 people to draw from! Who in summertime crowd our theaters and sidewalks! These people must have some place to go!”
Rides and attractions
More than 100 prospective concessionaires flooded the company’s office with proposals to operate rides and other attractions at Summit Beach. Akron Storage and Contracting Co. began to construct 50 stucco buildings in the Spanish colonial style.
Former Silver Lake Park employee John “Jack” Kaster built the Dixie Flyer, a wooden coaster that snaked around the park. (“The fastest and steepest ride in the state,” Summit Beach bragged. “One mile long. It takes away your breath. You will want to ride it again.”)
Walter G. Shaw of Coney Island, N.Y., built a Ferris wheel for concessionaire Charles X. Zimmerman. (“The biggest ever brought into Summit County. A beautiful view of the surrounding country can be gained from the top of this velvet ride.”)
Shaw also constructed The Whip, a whirling ride, for operator Pickles Witherspoon. (“A thriller that will make you laugh long, hard and loud. A sure cure for the blues.”)
William H. Dentzel of Philadelphia hand-carved 46 wooden animals, including horses, lions, pigs, deer, mules and tigers, for concessionaire Eugene Sheck’s $25,000 carousel, which featured a Wurlitzer band organ. (“The first thing all children from 1 to 90 look for when they enter any park.”)
Motorcycle daredevil Fred R. Elias risked his neck daily while zooming 70 mph on the 22-foot circular track of the Motordrome. (“Speed! Speed! Speed! The most thrilling hair-raising spectacular and death-defying sport ever introduced in Akron.”)
Other attractions included a dance hall, roller rink, penny arcade, shooting gallery, miniature railway, boat launch, pony ride and a swimming beach on Summit Lake with a bath house where 3,000 dark-blue, one-piece bathing suits were available for customers. Within two years, the lake was considered too polluted for guests, so the park built the chlorinated, mosaic-tile Crystal Pool.
Grand opening delayed
Summit Beach hoped to open for Memorial Day 1917 but a windstorm May 20 caused $15,000 in damage, wrecking the roller coaster, ripping the roof off the dance hall and creating other havoc. Organizers announced a June opening, but that had to be scrapped, too.
Finally, after some hasty rebuilding, a grand-opening celebration was held on the Fourth of July.
Bustling crowds enjoyed picnicking, dancing, swimming, skating, boating, riding rides and viewing fireworks. Although concessionaires missed out on more than a month of sales, they quickly made up for it. More than 300,000 tickets were sold that summer for The Whip alone.
After the debut season, Summit Beach announced plans to add more attractions in 1918, including Hilarity Hall, Scenic River, Steeple Chase, Shoot the Chute and a new roller coaster, Over the Top.
The amusement park expanded by swallowing adjacent Lakeside Park, which could not compete with its large, noisy neighbor.
The ride had just begun. Summit Beach reigned for generations.
Averaging 25,000 customers a day at its peak, the amusement park enjoyed 40 years of summer fun until it shut down after the 1958 season without any warning.
“Akron’s Fairyland of Pleasure” has been gone for nearly 60 years, but Summit Beach memories — no matter how faded — still provide a thrill.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].