The Mustill Store is well stocked with local history.
Dating back to 1847, the Akron grocery and butcher shop catered to customers from near and far as more than 50 canalboats passed daily through Lock 15 along the Ohio & Erie Canal.
English immigrants Joseph and Sarah Mustill lived in a Greek Revival house at Lock 15 and operated the one-stop shop.
They were succeeded by their son Fred and his wife, Emma, and grandchildren Maria, Frederick, Edwin and Franklin Mustill.
As the Cascade Locks Parks Association prepares to reopen the landmark for the season Saturday at 248 Ferndale St. (off North Street), we decided to dig up some 19th century anecdotes about the store from the Summit County Beacon, Akron Beacon Journal and Akron Daily Democrat.
Be sure to visit the Mustill Store — it’s free to the public — to create anecdotes of your own.
Local authorities impounded the canalboat May Queen at Lock 15 in October 1857 because its captain owed money to Fred Mustill.
To satisfy the debt, Akron Constable J.J. Wright listed the following property for sale on Oct. 24: One canalboat, one bay horse, one bay mare, two poles, one table, three stools, one boat lamp, one cook stove, two jugs, one oil can, one tow line, one ax and one shovel.
The Mustill home was the scene of a grand party Dec. 29, 1875, following the marriage of Maria Mustill and Charles Marquardt at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
“The entertainment got up at the residence of the bride’s father, for the benefit of the guests, was all in appearance that a person of taste could wish, and in substance and variety that a gourmand could desire, English dishes predominating and in great profusion,” one reporter noted.
“It was at a late hour that the friends and relations left Mr. Mustill’s hospital roof, with many blessings upon its inmates and especially upon the young married couple just starting out on the journey of life.”
Quite a mishap
North Howard Street resident Sarah Cramer suffered “quite a mishap” late Nov. 24, 1877, while returning home from a friend’s house on the west side of the canal.
As she crossed at Lock 15, the shimmering reflection of a light from the Mustill residence caused her to lose her bearings and she stepped off into the lock.
“Her cries for help soon brought one of the neighbors to her assistance and she was quickly rescued from her perilous situation,” the Summit Beacon reported.
A right royal time
Nearly 200 people attended “a gay party of friends and neighbors” as Frederick Mustill celebrated his 57th birthday Dec. 9, 1879, on the same day that his daughter Maria turned 27. Mustill’s children presented him with an easy chair and overcoat while he gave his daughter a $20 gold piece.
“The evening passed most pleasantly and the guests expressed themselves as having a right royal time,” a columnist noted.
Look out below! The foot bridge at Lock 15 fell into the canal May 18, 1883, carrying portions of the abutments of the lock along with it.
“Navigation is stopped, and some damage done to the canal,” the Beacon reported. “No one was hurt, although a man had just crossed over before the bridge fell.”
What a hooligan
Fred Cooney, “an incorrigible small boy,” was arrested Sept. 7, 1886, after he pried open a cellar window at the Mustill store and stole two boxes of cigars, some plug tobacco, pocketknives, eyeglasses and 35 cents.
An Akron officer followed the boy to his North Street home where he was smoking a stolen cigar. Authorities recalled that the last time the boy was charged with theft, he ended up picking the pockets of all inmates in the city jail. For the latest offense, he was sentenced to the Ohio Reform School in Lancaster.
Partners in crime
Frederick Mustill notified authorities in October 1886 that merchandise was missing after a “frowsy-looking couple” named Albert and Hattie Coulter had been seen lurking around Lock 15.
Authorities tracked the couple to New Portage.
“They were living in a tent made in part from 20 yards of muslin stolen from Mustill,” the Beacon Journal reported. “The other articles, a coat, a pair of pantaloons, a lamp and an oil can were found in the tent, and the couple were put under arrest.” They pleaded guilty to larceny and were sentenced to 30 days in the Cleveland Workhouse and were fined $10.
Watch the birdie
Polly want a newspaper? “Frederick Mustill, who resides at Lock 15, has a parrot which, when the Beacon is thrown on the porch by the carrier, cries out in a loud voice, ‘Beacon,’ ” the weekly edition reported Nov. 26, 1890.
The body of Hickory Street resident John N. Evans, 64, was found floating just below Lock 15 on April 30, 1892.
He had gone missing three nights earlier, apparently falling into the canal at Lock 11. The case was ruled an accidental drowning.
“The following property was found on the body of the deceased,” the Daily Democrat reported. “About $9 in cash; two promissory notes, one for $25 and one for $113, a pair of gold spectacles and a pocketknife.”
Frank R. Mustill, who operated a cigar box factory near Lock 15, made the mistake of telling his buddies that he was afraid of ghosts.
As a result, a figure in white startled him several times during nighttime strolls on North Howard Street in August 1892.
“The performance has been kept up regularly since Monday night, and the ghost, if it reads the Daily Democrat, should take notice that the sheet used it getting soiled trailing through the wet weeds and grass, and a clean one will make its appearance more presentable,” a reported noted.
Mark J. Price is the author of the book Mafia Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
The car weaved erratically before halting near the Ohio Highway Patrol post on Route 3 in Medina. A young male driver stumbled out, collapsed to the ground and mumbled as troopers rushed to help.
He seemed drunk.
Or maybe it was something else.
Troopers looked inside the 1939 Chevrolet and found a girl slumped in the passenger’s seat April 10, 1948. They tried to wake her, but she would not stir. The poor girl was dead, the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Driver Clark Hill, 19, a tall lad with brown hair, glasses and a wispy mustache, was taken to Medina Community Hospital.
“He didn’t appear to be unconscious, although he did look a little dazed and confused,” Dr. Frederick Kornfeld later recalled. “His speech was indistinct and slow, but there was no discoloration of the skin to indicate he was suffering from carbon monoxide.”
His passenger, Jeanette Weimer, 18, of Lakemore, however, had a 70 percent concentration of carbon monoxide in her blood, a test discovered.
A hazy story emerged as investigators questioned Hill at the hospital. The boy complained of leg paralysis and pain from a red, swollen ear.
The foundry worker said he had met Weimer at the Huddle, a Lafayette Road hamburger stand where she worked as a carhop. They had gone on a date the night before to see a movie in Lodi, and then stopped at a soda fountain to get milkshakes and play pinball.
Afterward, they went for a ride in the country, and “everything went black until the sun was high in the sky,” he said. Hill told authorities he woke up 15 hours later in the parked car on a country lane off Bagdad Road about 4 miles northeast of Medina. When he couldn’t revive his date, he groggily drove to get help about 4:30 p.m.
Weimer, the daughter of Arthur and Provia Weimer, was one of nine siblings. Her devastated family didn’t know Clark and couldn’t understand why the girl was dead. Services were conducted at Hopkins Funeral Home with burial at Glendale Cemetery in Akron.
By then, authorities were suspicious. Tests had found no carbon monoxide in Hill’s blood. If the car’s engine had run all night, why was there enough fuel to drive?
A group of girls came forward to say they had seen Hill on Saturday afternoon in a parked Chevrolet on Bagdad Road, and he was very much alert.
“We girls were walking to a fishing place,” recalled Mary Lou Ferguson, 14. “We passed the car and saw Hill sitting at the wheel. He looked troubled and strained, like he had just awakened from a sleep. I said hello to him and he said hello. His eyes followed us as we walked past.”
Cuyahoga County Coroner Sam Gerber conducted an autopsy and found a dark liquid in Weimer’s system. What was it?
Confronted with inconsistencies in his story, Hill broke down during questioning from Medina County deputies and signed a 23-page confession April 16.
“I was attracted to Jeanette but there was nothing more than friendship between us,” he said. “She was engaged to another boy and I planned to marry another girl in two years. I knew Jeanette wasn’t in love with me, but she was lonely and I thought I could comfort her.”
Hill said he had slipped an aphrodisiac into Weimer’s milkshake while she played pinball. She passed out in the car and he drove to the country lane, where he parked and accosted her.
Scared that Weimer might tell authorities, Hill said he attached a rubber hose to the exhaust system and directed it into the car, flooding the vehicle with carbon monoxide. According to the confession, he stepped out of the Chevy and let the engine run for an hour. Then he let the gas dissipate and climbed back inside.
Authorities recovered a hose near the scene and theorized that Hill had burned his ear on the hot tailpipe while trying to connect the tube.
Hill staged the girl’s death to look like a tragedy on lovers’ lane, deputies said. He wanted to be found but the few passers-by who came along didn’t notice Weimer’s body.
After waiting 15 hours, he drove to the Highway Patrol post and pretended to be poisoned.
“I was scared she’d tell on me,” Hill told Beacon Journal reporter Alicia G. Hopkins at the Medina jail. “I sure didn’t mean to do it. I don’t know what happened.”
When Hill was charged with first-degree murder April 17, articles about “the love potion killer” appeared in newspapers across the nation. A week later, he recanted his confession, calling it an “untrue story.”
No, it was just a horrible accident with a faulty exhaust system, he said.
Hill pleaded not guilty to a three-count indictment, waived his right to a jury trial and let a three-judge panel hear the case.
He shaved off his mustache and looked clean cut at the Oct. 18 trial before Judges Windsor E. Kellogg of Medina County, E.H. Savord of Erie County and Lynn B. Griffith of Trumbull County.
Prosecutor William G. Batchelder called Weimer’s death “a cold, calculated crime.”
“Hill attacked her, then became scared,” he said. “He lost no time attaching a hose to the exhaust and running it into the car where the unconscious girl was left to die. He was not concerned about saving her life. He wanted to be sure she was dead.”
Defense attorney Raymond B. Bennett insisted that the death was a tragic accident. “If Hill is as vicious as they claim, why didn’t he get rid of the girl’s body?” he asked.
The lawyer wanted the 23-page confession to be thrown out as evidence.
“This confession was the result of a desire on the part of law enforcement officials to dramatize the sorry predicament in which Hill found himself,” Bennett said.
But the judges allowed it and heard testimony from hospital workers, law enforcement officials and other witnesses.
After deliberating four hours, the judges found Hill guilty of murder but recommended mercy.
“When he heard the verdict, Hill was shaken and near collapse,” the Beacon Journal reported. “He covered his face with his hands. The strength seemed to leave his legs and deputies had to help him from the courtroom.”
At sentencing Nov. 6, Judge Kellogg asked Hill if he had anything to say.
“I’m not guilty,” Hill replied before being taken to the Ohio Penitentiary.
The so-called love potion killer was transferred to the Marion prison in 1955. After serving nearly 25 years behind bars, he was released in 1973. He was 81 when he died in a Columbus nursing home in 2010.
He was survived by a wife, a stepson and a dark secret down a lonely road in Medina County.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
In Northeast Ohio, residents reacted with shock, horror, anger and profound grief after learning about the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn.
Culled from prepared statements, speeches, sermons and letters, here are some of those raw reactions from 50 years ago.
• • •
We mourn the untimely death of Dr. Martin Luther King. And we ask ourselves if it is possible for any group to compensate for the loss of one who combined the rare qualities of poet, statesman and philosopher in such a unique and influential manner.
It is our hope that his death will not be in vain. It is our hope that the supreme sacrifice on the part of Martin Luther King will serve as a rallying point for the conscience of the American public.
Our purpose is that of preparing the youth of the community to some day fill responsible roles as leaders in Akron and elsewhere. But the implications of such a tragedy serve to underscore our observation — that little, except for lip service — is being done by the establishment to honestly — and as swiftly as possible — bring about change.
As a group, we suggest that the first faltering steps be taken in Akron to candidly examine and correct the existing patterns in housing, education, employment and other sensitive areas. These are areas where communication has been diplomatically staged, but extremely unfruitful in coming to grips with the harsh and uncompromising realities of existing discrepancies.
In our opinion, the expression “We shall overcome” was not intended to apply expressly to the Negro. It is a comprehensive statement which includes all Americans who are imbued with the desire to achieve true equality.
— Terrance Evans, Akron Youth Council president, NAACP
My deepest sympathy goes to his family and to those persons of all places who knew him as a great and good leader in the cause of equal rights.
I fervently pray that Dr. King’s sacrifice will not be dishonored by acts of violence taken in his name, but that his memory will inspire quicker achievement of equal opportunity for all.
— Ohio Gov. James Rhodes
What made King great and unique was the awesome job he tackled and the manner in which he did it. Many have launched out in enthusiasm and idealism — only to become bitter when the going got rough.
King, who sought economic opportunity for poor Americans, black or white, was arrested, jailed, derided and hated.
But [he] was a man of peace, a gentle man who knew you cannot use violence to achieve justice, quality and brotherhood.
Love envieth not, suffereth long and is kind … and rejoiceth not in iniquity.
— Akron Mayor John Ballard
What has happened tonight must be taken in the same spirit and with the same fortitude with which this nation has suffered through the loss of our beloved President John F. Kennedy five years ago.
Now is the time to accept the gift of life and use it as a stone on which to build a better America.
— Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes
Once again another great American has felt the wrath of unchecked bigotry. How many more men like Dr. Martin Luther King must die before something is done to remove the weapons of death from the hands of depraved men?
Congress must pass some form of gun control law. We can no longer depend on sanity to prevent people from taking up arms to eradicate anyone who does not believe in the same things that they believe in.
Dr. King shall not die in vain. Someone will continue to fight for the right of the oppressed.
I believe that nonviolence is the right way to achieve our freedom. If we must take to the streets we will. If we must die we will, but we will fight until Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream becomes a reality.
— D.E. Martin, Akron
Black Akronites have reached the point beyond which they will not be moved.
We intend to establish the fact that there exists in the black community an heretofore unrealized solidarity of cause. We state the cause simply; the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., our leader, has served only to bolster our effort to obtain racial justice and equality in our community.
At this time, revenge is not our prime purpose; violent reaction is not our goal. We are saddened and we wish only that those goals of our fallen leader be made factual and not be lost from sight. And we will watch, and watch closely, to catch sight of that movement expected of the white community.
We are convinced the violent death of Dr. King signaled a period for reflection and reassessment by black Akronites. We are more deeply convinced this tragedy demands an eruption of more personal and more energetic action by white Akronites.
— Akron chapter of the NAACP
Let us make Akron a model city.
Let the fathers and leaders of Akron raise the banner and the sons and daughters of Akron will walk thereunder.
Let them throw a highway of real social progress, and the sons and daughters will come from every street, alley and back road to walk thereon.
Let them lift the torch of complete freedom and we will light our candles and dispel every trace of social darkness.
Let us burn down the walls of hate, distrust, misunderstanding and fear.
Let us not burn buildings, but put fire to bigotry and every social evil that would stop the progress of democracy.
[Do this] and Dr. King is not dead.
— The Rev. K.L Brazil, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church
When will it ever cease? When will man stop hating his fellow man?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is dead. Who killed him?
Many of us are guilty. Everyone who has some prejudice, some hatred, some bigotry in his heart shares the guilt.
Tolerance is not enough. We must have acceptance and understanding among all toward all.
— Patricia Hunt, Silver Lake
Last Thursday, the people of the world and particularly the people of America lost through violence a man who devoted his life to nonviolence — Dr. Martin Luther King. A man of God, a great spiritual and moral leader, a man with a dream.
For him, the dream is over. For the living, the dreams and hope of Dr. King continue.
During this trying time, while the emotions of the Negro people are overflowing, let us remember Dr. King’s rallying song, “We Shall Overcome.” Let us NOT put his memory in shame with violence. Rather, let us put violence to shame in the example of Dr. King.
This killer of Dr. King has millions of co-defendants, for each of us, in our own way contributed to what America is today.
Each of us should resolve that life, liberty, equality, justice, peace and the pursuit of happiness are not just words but actions and as necessary to free men as food is to the body.
Again, I ask each one of us not to put the memory of Dr. King to shame.
We have been traveling a road filled with obstacles and we have overcome some. We still have a long way to go, but if in our hearts we do not yield, we shall overcome.
— Charles F. Howell, Akron
Once more, with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the white man must feel shame because he is white.
Once more we must turn to our Negro brothers and ask that they behave as saints and forgive us, for we know not what we do.
— Evelyn Neri, Akron
The sudden and tragic death of yet another great American again turns our sights to the continuing problems at home, too often overshadowed by war and politics. The time has come for answers. The questions have been asked too long.
Is it no longer enough to recount past accomplishments. Now we must look forward and make plans for that which has yet to be done.
The man largely responsible for many such past accomplishments has been taken and his loss will be felt. His philosophy of nonviolent resistance remains, and it is the duty of all people to realize that it must be continued, not only as a working, living memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, but of and for all me.
It is time that Dr. King’s dream be fully realized, without hesitation or further delay. This is certainly the most important issue yet to be resolved.
— Pegge Kerr, Akron
Last Thursday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died in Memphis, Tenn. He met a vicious, unnatural death at the hands of a killer whose mind I cannot begin to understand.
Does this killer and others like him call themselves Americans? Can they, in all honesty, call themselves humans? It causes me to wonder.
America is under a dark cloud of shame. One of her finest sons is not here to bear this shame. He was one who was used to the burden of abuse and shameful treatment.
He would have been able to help this country in its our of need. But he is gone.
Today, the world is closer to global peace, because of nonviolence. Yet in America, the land of peace, a champion of nonviolence is dead by the act of a savage. It causes me to wonder.
Do we pass this death off as another act of fate? Will Dr. King be remembered tomorrow? Will what he stood for be forgotten or washed away in a tide of hatred? Will his death cause Americans to search their souls for answers?
Is the death of this man of peace a foreshadowing of America’s future or the beginning of the end of the violent sickness that often afflicts this land? It causes me to wonder.
— David Hervey Jr., Stow
The world has lost a champion of peace. The church has lost a prophet and servant of the first order.
Can we afford this loss in our day? How many more young men of vision, statesmanship and moral leadership will we assassinate before we return to sanity as a nation?
Shall we arm our society with guns and bombs and commit fratricide in our streets, or shall we arm ourselves with justice and truth in pursuit of genuine brotherhood no matter what the cost?
There isn’t much time left to make up our minds. If we can be shocked into action by this senseless murder, perhaps America can yet atone for this sin and erect a timeless memorial to this apostle of nonviolence in the building of a nation in which there is liberty and justice for all.
— E. Stanley Smith, pastor of Eastwood Church of the Brethren
The world has suffered a tremendous loss in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He takes his place among the great men of history.
I sincerely hope and pray that some day, in some way, we will be able to love our neighbors as ourselves and really be concerned about one another. With God, all things are possible.
— Allene Hammonds, Akron
News of the remarkable find spread quickly in Summit County. The Gorge, the rocky chasm separating Akron from Cuyahoga Falls, had reluctantly given up a secret.
The Beacon Journal published a fascinating article March 31, 1900, about the accidental discovery of a magnificent cave on a ledge overlooking the Cuyahoga River.
According to the story, Cuyahoga Falls boys Robert Whelan, 12, and Cecil McCoy, 11, were walking a hunting dog that Saturday morning along the northern edge of the Gorge — about 200 yards northeast of the street railway bridge — when the animal chased a rabbit to a gap under a large rock. The dog dug through a pile of dead leaves and dislodged a flat stone, causing a dark hole to appear.
McCoy ran home to retrieve a lantern and returned with his uncle Martin Quigg, who widened the opening, crawled inside and found a passage about 10 feet tall with multiple chambers. Learning of the discovery, an unidentified Beacon Journal reporter rushed to the scene to join Quigg on a rugged adventure by gaslight.
“The walls and roof glisten and scintillate with a thousand reflections in the light from minute crystals of some substance that has formed over the whole surface,” the newspaper noted. “Passageways lead off to the right and left but none of them have as yet been explored.”
In one corridor, the explorers reported hearing a small waterfall far below in the darkness.
Was this “the remarkable cavern” that Gen. Lucius V. Bierce had reported finding in 1826?
“It is on the very brink of the chasm cut by the river; and the small opening but just large enough to admit a person’s body was on a level with the ground,” Bierce wrote in his 1856 history Reminiscences of Summit County. “A few leaves, or a rotten log, will easily conceal it.”
Bierce had heard the flow of an underground river in the cave.
“It being totally dark in the cavern, I could make but few examinations; and, fearing some chasm in the bottom, I did not let my curiosity tempt me far in my explorations,” he wrote.
A flood destroyed the entrance and Bierce never was able to find it again, thereby creating the legend of the lost cave in the Gorge.
The 1900 Beacon Journal reporter estimated that he and Quigg traveled nearly a quarter-mile on smooth stone floors through the cavern. He doubted that any white man had ever explored the labyrinth, noting that American Indian pottery, arrowheads, stone implements and other artifacts were found undisturbed.
Most significantly, Quigg reported finding the ancient bones of Indians in an alcove-like section about 20 yards from the entrance.
“In the niche in the wall, the guide showed the reporter the bones … seven complete skeletons, some parts, however have crumbled to dust,” the Beacon Journal noted.
Truly, it was an extraordinary find.
“Arrangements are already being made to show visitors through the quarter of a mile or more of cave already explored and it is fully expected by those in charge that more remain and other strange things may yet to be found,” the newspaper said.
“… The entrance which was naturally quite small is being enlarged and arranged for the crowd that will visit the place tomorrow especially if it is a pleasant day.”
Sure enough, thousands of curious residents ventured to the Gorge the following day, a Sunday. They arrived by railway, buggy and bicycle from Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Barberton and Kent. Some carried lanterns and cameras to document their visit.
“It is a well-assured fact that the Gorge was never so thoroughly explored as it was Sunday,” the Beacon Journal reported. “Crowds of men and boys, young men with sweethearts, and husbands and wives strolled over the hills and along the river exploring every crevice in the rocks that gave the slightest possible evidence of being a cavern in hopes of discovering the abiding place of some prehistoric race.”
They looked … and they looked … and they looked.
But they could not find the entrance to the magnificent cavern.
After a long, fruitless search, the confused explorers finally remembered something.
The date was April 1. It was April Fools’ Day. Apparently in cahoots with the two boys and uncle, the Beacon Journal had played the granddaddy of all jokes on its readers.
“When the visitors discovered that they had been sold they did not get angry but roamed over the hills enjoying the refreshing air and bright sunshine, and everybody was appointed a committee of one to escort the newcomers to the spot where the wonderful cave was to be found,” the Beacon Journal reported April 2.
Yes, that’s right. After learning it was a big hoax, some Gorge visitors went along with the charade and tried to “help” others find the lost cave. Then those people got wise and did the same thing to the next group. The lost cave never was found, but it wasn’t for a lack of looking.
The reporter seemed pleased that he had talked so many people into abandoning “the smoke and dust of the city” to enjoy a beautiful spring day in the country.
“The large number of persons that visited the Gorge and enjoyed the harmless joke shows conclusively that the Beacon Journal is widely read,” the newspaper concluded.
Mark J. Price is the author of the book Mafia Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
CUYAHOGA FALLS: The Ladies Cemetery Association will have an open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 7 to rededicate two stained-glass windows at the Chapel at Oakwood Cemetery.
Author and historian Mary McClure will be the speaker at the event.
The association built the chapel in 1898, and memorial windows were donated at that time. One was dedicated to the long-defunct Elm Rebekah Lodge No. 22. The Tifft family window celebrates Rufus L. Willard and his wife, Mary Tifft Willard, who moved to Cuyahoga Falls in the 1880s.
Whitney Glass in Cleveland restored the Elm Rebekah Lodge window for $28,200. Studio Arts & Glass in North Canton restored the Tifft window.
The association will also dedicate a 1903 Sterling grand piano at the event.
The chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Andy Fela was quite a fella. At a young age, the penniless orphan boy discovered a special talent that propelled him to international fame.
The kid could swim like a fish — backward, forward or upside-down.
Fela, 17, attended East High School while living at the Summit County Children’s Home on South Arlington Street in Akron.
He was born May 19, 1910, in the mining town of Shamokin, Pa. His father, Casimiro “Charles” Fela, a native of Poland, and an older brother, John, were among 180 men killed April 28, 1914, in the Eccles mine explosion in West Virginia.
Mother Mary Fela, also a Polish immigrant, moved her family to Akron in 1917, but she died unexpectedly in March 1918, and her children were farmed out. Andy and his brothers Steve and Frank resided at the Children’s Home while older sisters Rose and Anna and baby brother Chester lived elsewhere.
“God gave me something to get me through my personal Waterloo,” Fela later said.
Eagle Scout James Frazer, a seasoned swimmer, organized Boy Scout Troop 19 at the Children’s Home in the early 1920s. Fela could barely dog paddle until age 12, when he learned to swim at Camp Mudjekeewis at Cottage Grove.
He was a natural in the water and perfected his swim strokes at the Akron YMCA under the tutelage of Ted Herman and Eddie Philput. After passing a lifesaving course at the American Red Cross, he began volunteering as a lifeguard at Rex Lake.
At East High School, swim coach Larry Ricker recognized Fela’s talent and worked with him on conditioning and diet. “Mentally and physically, Andy Fela is the easiest high school boy I have ever trained,” Ricker said.
Fela began competing in city meets and racking up wins. He made the backstroke his specialty and glided through the water like a dolphin.
On March 1, 1928, coach Ricker traveled with Fela to an Amateur Athletic Union meet in Chicago, where the East senior placed second in the 100-yard backstroke behind Joe Rosen of Chicago Roosevelt High School. Rosen finished in 1:08.3, just three-tenths of a second ahead of Fela.
Fela qualified for the national high school championships March 23-24 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., but the school didn’t have the funds to send him, and Fela didn’t have any cash.
In a series of articles, Jim Schlemmer, sports editor at the Beacon Journal, championed the orphan boy’s cause, selling “shares” of “preferred stock” to fund Fela’s trip. Hundreds of readers paid $1 a share. In a couple of weeks, Schlemmer had collected enough money to send Ricker, Fela and his teammate Luther Jolly on a train trip to Northwestern.
Fela didn’t disappoint the stockholders. On the first day of competition, he went toe-to-toe against rival Joe Rosen in the 100-yard backstroke in the 60-foot pool. The boys dived into the water and Fela went out front immediately, made the turn and crossed the tape several feet ahead of Rosen.
Timekeepers were astonished. Fela finished in 1:06.1, shattering the interscholastic record of 1:07.6 from 1927.
“Gee, it was the time that got me,” Fela told the Akron Times-Press. “… I knew I was going to try awfully hard, but I didn’t think I could make it in the time that I did. But I knew that the boys were banking on me and the whole school was waiting, so I just went in with the determination to win.”
Fela competed the next day and won the 100-yard backstroke again, but his time of 1:06.3 was off the previous day’s mark.
Nearly the entire student body from East High School and hundreds of other Akron supporters were waiting at Union Depot when Fela’s train arrived at 8:20 a.m. March 25. A brass band performed and the crowd waved banners and cheered. Among those waiting to congratulate Fela were East Principal O.C. Hatton and Children’s Home matron Mary Boteler.
A 60-car parade decorated in scarlet and gray whisked the bewildered boy to Goodyear Theater, where a reception was held in his honor and dignitaries took turns praising the swimmer.
Fela reluctantly took the stage and shyly addressed the audience.
“I am grateful for the trust you have put in me,” he said. “The trust that all Akron has put in me, and the trust of Miss Boteler, Mr. Hatton, my coach and all those who have helped me to win the swim.”
The interscholastic record stood for nearly a year until Walter Murphy, 17, of Des Plaines, Ill., swam the 100 backstroke in 1:05.8 at a February 1930 meet in Iowa.
Fela graduated from East, and thanks to his athletic success, was able to attend Ohio State, where he swam for coach Mike Peppe. Fela was the first OSU swimmer to become a three-time All-American and broke several pool records.
“In my freshman year, Ohio State didn’t have a swimming pool so we practiced one hour a day at the local YMCA,” Fela later recalled.
Peppe, who led the Buckeyes’ swim team for 32 years and served as U.S. Olympics coach in 1948 and 1952, recalled Fela as “the first polished swimmer” at Ohio State.
“Fela always was one of the top one or two swimmers in the country and I would rate him as one of the finest of his day,” Peppe said.
Fela served as team captain in his senior year, graduating in 1934 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. A year later, he married his sweetheart, Ruth Diane Elliott.
Fela served as a Navy lieutenant during World War II and relocated with his wife to Glenview, Ill., where he worked as a wholesale manager at Tilemaster Co.
In 1957, he returned to Akron to be inducted into the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame.
“A night to remember,” he smiled to reporters.
During a 1969 interview, Fela looked back on his interscholastic achievement from 1928.
“I presume it was the biggest thrill of my life, but at that time, I wasn’t fully cognizant of what I had done,” he said. “About a week later, I began to realize what had happened.”
Andy Fela lived to be 89 years old. A widower, he died in April 2000 at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. His final resting place is Sunset Cemetery in Galloway, Ohio.
Gee, that orphan boy made Akron proud.
Mark J. Price is the author of the book Mafia Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
The ground trembled for 30 miles. Floorboards creaked, dishes rattled and chandeliers swayed.
Northeast Ohio residents looked up 75 years ago to see a churning black cloud rise into the air. Minutes later, a dark rain of fine soot began to pelt the ground.
A horrifying thought occurred to many observers: “There goes the arsenal!”
The Ravenna Ordnance Plant and the adjacent Portage Ordnance Depot, known collectively as the Ravenna Arsenal, bustled with activity during World War II. The 21,419-acre complex, which assembled and stored U.S. military ammunition under the direction of the Atlas Powder Co., employed 16,000 workers.
Secrecy shrouded the heavily fortified facility as it cranked out artillery shells and bombs for the battlefield. The explosion on March 24, 1943, was a shocking disaster.
A 20-man crew had been unloading four boxcars of cluster bombs from a railroad siding into semitrailers for storage in a 60-foot igloo of reinforced concrete at the depot. The men rolled the 168-pound crates down a conveyor and stacked them inside the igloo from back to front.
It was 11:55 a.m. and the crew was looking forward to lunch. Investigators later wondered if the men had hurried to complete the job before getting some chow. There were only a few crates left to stack. Perhaps one slipped or bumped another.
At five minutes to noon, 2,516 clusters of 20-pound fragmentation bombs detonated with a deafening roar. Jagged concrete chunks, some weighing 2 tons, were hurled up to 3,800 feet away. The igloo’s heavy steel door was blown 1,800 feet forward.
Killed instantly were Rufus Bankston, 26, of Akron; Ona Sayre, 42, of Akron; Harry C. Kyer, 28, of Akron; Dave Anderson, 46, of Akron; Robert Scott, 49, of Warren; Don Wirth, 28, of Ravenna; Alex Woodman, 61, of Newton Falls; Samuel R. Wagoner, 60, of Ravenna; William F. Allen, 27, of Newton Falls; and George W. Hawkins, 33, of Brady Lake.
They were husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers, sons, friends and co-workers, and their lives were lost in a fraction of a second.
The blast was felt up to 20 miles away in eastern communities including Youngstown, Niles, Warren and Girard. Because the igloo was designed to direct the force of any blast, the concussion wasn’t felt in Ravenna, only 15 miles to the west.
Beacon Journal reporter Harold Lengs described a dirty, soot-like rain that fell for miles around the depot. “Witnesses said the soot and a fine, sand-like material that resembled ‘pulverized concrete’ fell for several minutes after the blast — dropping as far away as Windham. It seemed to spill out of the edges of the ominous, black umbrella of smoke that rose over the site of the blast.”
Emergency crews rushed to the scene of the disaster, but there was little that could be done except to extinguish grass fires near the crater. An 11th victim, Robert C. Hillier, 61, of West Farmington, was discovered on the ground and taken to Marine Hospital in Cleveland, where he died the next day.
Col. Raymond A. Brown, commanding officer of the $7 million storage depot that adjoined the $60 million ordnance plant, issued a somber statement about the 11 blast victims.
“These men died for their country,” Brown said. “The supply of explosives and all other vital materials is as much a part of the war effort as the man who pulls the trigger.”
Because of the wartime secrecy at the arsenal, Brown announced that no other information would be released about the cause, location or extent of the blast.
In cold terms, the military announced that the U.S. government would pay $200 in funeral expenses for each family. Widows were entitled to 35 percent of their husbands’ monthly salaries, plus 10 percent of the monthly earnings for each child under 18 years old. The compensation would continue until the women remarried or died and until their children turned 18.
Grieving workers returned to their jobs at the Ravenna Arsenal. The war operations had to continue for the sake of U.S. troops overseas.
The Army Service Forces conducted an investigation into the Ravenna Arsenal disaster and released a classified document in August 1943 with its findings. Investigators zeroed in on M-110 fuses manufactured at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey and shipped to the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant in Indiana for bombs to be stored at the Portage Ordnance Depot.
According to the Chicago report, reprinted in The History of the Ravenna Arsenal (2009) by Ralph A. Pfingsten, more than 1 million fuses “had to be reworked before they were sufficiently reliable to be placed on the bombs. The chief weakness was that a pinion column could come out of adjustment and permit safety blocks to fall out of place and thereby arm” the fuse.
Investigators checked a Kingsbury boxcar and found that several crates contained bombs with “a large amount of play” and some that were pre-armed with safety blocks in a “very loose position.”
In their final report, Army investigators cited the “bad history” of the M-110 fuses and concluded: “It was believed that the fall of any bomb having an armed fuse from a height of three feet would have been sufficient to initiate the first bomb explosion.”
It was an accident waiting to happen, and it claimed the lives of 11 men who died for their country 75 years ago during World War II.
Iron bars slammed shut with a clang in March 1958. It was the sound of the old order colliding with the new world.
Horse-drawn buggies filled parking spaces outside Wayne County Juvenile Court in Wooster as dozens of Amish people waited quietly for the proceedings to begin March 12. The men wore black suits, suspenders and long beards. The women sat in long black dresses, black bonnets and boots.
Three Old Order Amish couples from Mount Eaton had been charged with contempt of court for refusing to place their teen sons in the Wayne County Children’s Home. The boys — Sammy Hershberger, 14, Andy Hershberger, 15, and Jacob Slabaugh, 14 — were considered truants because they weren’t going to high school.
Ohio law required children to attend school until age 16, but formal education in Amish households ended at eighth grade. Something had to give.
Wayne County Schools Superintendent John Lea had asked local officials to enforce the state law to set an example. Sheriff Glenn Rike and Welfare Director Paul Kinney couldn’t find the boys, who apparently had run away to Pennsylvania to hide out with relatives.
So their parents were ordered into court.
John Hershberger, 46, and his wife, Salome, 48; Eli Hershberger, 42, and his wife, Elizabeth, 41; and Emmanuel Slabaugh, 45, and his wife, Mary, 44; stood before Visiting Juvenile Court Judge Donald J. Young of Huron County. He had been called to duty after Wayne Judge Myron Brenneman recused himself, citing a conflict of interest.
One by one, the fathers addressed the judge, saying: “I couldn’t give up my boy. It’s against my Scriptures.”
After hearing the men’s statements, Young replied: “I can’t indulge in a religious argument with you. Religious convictions do not stand against an order of the court. We must ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ And today, we’re dealing with Caesar.”
He found the six Amish guilty of contempt and ordered the sheriff to hold them in the Wayne County Jail until their boys were apprehended. The three couples, who among them had 28 young children waiting at home, were led off to jail.
Family spokesman Samuel Swartzentruber, 68, an Old Order Amish bishop who lived in Kidron, rose to speak to the Englishers in the packed courtroom.
“For all those here … if you’d like to have your religions persecuted, persecute ours,” he said. “If you want to be free under the Constitution, you should give us freedom, too.”
If it were God’s will, the families would stay in jail, Swartzentruber said, but they wouldn’t give up their children.
“We’ll have to suffer the consequences for Christ’s sake,” he said.
Sheriff Rike vowed that the couples would be jailed until their teen sons were located. “As long as I hold warrants for them, I’ll keep looking for the children,” he said.
After 36 hours, though, the boys were still absent.
Bishop Swartzentruber quoted Scripture in explaining why the Old Order Amish wanted to limit their children’s exposure to the outside world and modern technology such as electricity, automobiles, telephones and photographs:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, is not of the father but is of the world.”
It was nothing personal, he maintained.
“We don’t dislike outsiders,” Swartzentruber said. “We don’t think you people will go to hell just because you own an automobile — but I might, though. If I owned an automobile, my conscience would bother me. I would go to hell.”
On the fifth day of captivity, the Amish parents granted an interview with Beacon Journal reporter Helen Waterhouse.
“We never thought we’d be kept in jail that day we came up for the hearing,” Salome Hershberger said.
Cellmate Elizabeth Hershberger agreed, saying: “We didn’t have time to even pick up a bit of sewing to keep us busy. We just pray and read the Bible and talk to each other about our families.”
John Hershberger said that it must have been the will of God that their boys weren’t found. “We didn’t tell them too much what to do,” he said. “They hid themselves.”
The longer that the Amish were jailed, the more that community outrage grew. The Akron chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union began investigating the case as a violation of religious rights. Akron attorneys O.H. Corvington, Clarence May and Bernard Roetzel all volunteered their services.
Cuyahoga Falls attorney E. Guy Hammond, 76, a Mormon, worked pro bono for the Amish prisoners. “I don’t really believe the court had jurisdiction over the parents,” he said. “It’s not right to put them in jail.”
Well-wishers began to flood the jail with letters.
“We have more friends than we thought,” prisoner John Hershberger said.
On March 25, nearly two weeks after the jailing, the 9th District Court of Appeals ordered the release of the Amish on $250 bond. The three couples smiled in court, shook hands and went home.
“I knew they’d get out soon,” Bishop Swartzentruber beamed.
The court ruled March 29 that the jailing had been illegal and ordered that the $250 bonds be refunded to the couples.
Wayne County backed off prosecution, although it took more than a decade to resolve the issue. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Wisconsin case that Amish youths could not be forced to attend school past eighth grade because it violated the free exercise of their religious rights.
Delivering the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger noted that “formal high school education beyond the eighth grade is contrary to Amish beliefs” because it put adolescents in a hostile environment and took them away from their farming community.
“During this period, the children must acquire Amish attitudes favoring manual work and self-reliance and the specific skills needed to perform the adult role of an Amish farmer or housewife,” Burger wrote.
Or in the words of Bishop Swartzentruber from 1958: “Some worldly people are as nice people as you’d want to meet, but we don’t want close association with them.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
When Shannon Casey began digging into the history of her Hudson neighborhood, she didn’t expect to reach the Pleistocene Age.
The Barlow Road resident was surprised to learn that shaggy, tusked mammals, roughly 7 to 9 feet tall, roamed the wetlands more than 11,000 years ago in an area once called the Great Hudson Swamp. Some apparently never left.
Casey, a professional artist, is a vocal opponent of Hudson’s plan to move its school bus garage and salt storage facility from Owen Brown Street to a 40-acre site of city-owned land behind her 90-year-old home on Barlow. She’s concerned about the traffic noise and environmental impact of the project, and has attended many meetings and written many letters in an effort to persuade city officials to find another location.
“Late one night, I was trying to compose a letter for the Army Corps of Engineers, just trying to wrap my head around this, and just trying to think of anything, and I did a Google search,” Casey said. “I was putting all sorts of word combinations together … and I just sort of got this nudge: Why not put ‘Barlow Road’ and ‘mammoth’? And I did, and I got a hit.”
Technically, it wasn’t a mammoth but a mastodon, an extinct relative of the elephant, which once lumbered through present-day Hudson during the ice age.
She learned that two local boys, Jim Delmoro, 14, and Douglas Kirk, 13, had discovered a fossil specimen in 1957 just down the road.
“I am a mile from where this was found,” she said. “That whole area is wetlands.”
Last year, she tracked down Delmoro, 74, to his home in Georgetown, Ky., and sheepishly left a message for him about the mastodon.
“When he called me, I think I screamed,” she said.
At Delmoro’s invitation, Casey and her husband, Jeff, made a side trip to meet him last summer while they were visiting Kentucky to view the solar eclipse Aug. 21. The Hudson native welcomed the guests, talked about his discovery from 60 years earlier and showed them a scrapbook of photos and articles.
“It was so much fun meeting him,” she said.
Contacted by the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, Delmoro was happy to share his childhood memories of the prehistoric find on Leland Treap’s property near the railroad underpass on Barlow Road.
“Well, my neighbor and I were sitting on a bridge that went across Mud Brook on Barlow Road near the railroad trestle, and we saw something shiny with the light hitting it,” Delmoro recalled. “So we went down and started digging.
“The more we dug, the bigger it was. It was a top jaw to a mastodon with four big teeth in it. It was one of those teeth that was shining.”
The well-preserved jawbone weighed about 60 pounds, measured 2½ feet long and contained two pairs of 6-inch molars. The excited boys ran to tell their families.
“Nobody believed us,” Delmoro said. “Finally, I went to my house and got a little red wagon and we pulled it home. We didn’t know what it was. So the neighbor’s dad called Kent State and they sent out somebody and told us what it was.”
Glenn W. Frank, a professor of biology at KSU, inspected the fossil and identified it as a mastodon. “It’s a wonderful specimen, one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen,” he told reporters.
In the spirit of P.T. Barnum, the enterprising youngsters made a wooden sign with red letters and scrawled the dubious claim: “See the Only Mastodon Jawbone in Ohio.”
“We had it in my parents’ basement for a long time,” Delmoro recalled. “We would charge people a quarter. We had a lot of people come look at it.”
Neighborhood kids and even some parents dug around in the mud at the site of the discovery, but only a few small bones were unearthed. Delmoro has a theory about why the rest of the mastodon was never found.
“The year before, they had dug through that creek to put in a pipeline, and they probably disturbed the earth and the jaw worked its way to the top,” he said.
After several years, Delmoro’s family donated the mastodon jawbone to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and it’s still housed there in the archives.
“It’s not on display, but if you call in advance and they’ve got somebody available, they’ll take you down to see it,” he said.
Casey said: “My husband says we’ve got to go see it.”
She realizes that new revelations of the 1957 fossil discovery aren’t enough to stop the city from building a school bus garage and salt facility on the land behind her property, but she’s enjoyed delving into the past, connecting with Delmoro and telling the story.
It’s been an unexpected journey since she conducted that Google search last year.
“I was hoping to find a mammoth in my backyard,” she said with a laugh.
Who knows what else might be hiding beneath the surface in Hudson?
A note of caution to developers: Be careful where you dig.
The Barlow Road mastodon may have had brothers and sisters.
Mark J. Price is the author of the book Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
The last time I sat in the principal’s office at North High School, I was in trouble.
My homeroom teacher sent me to the office nearly 40 years ago because I had worn a Queen concert T-shirt of questionable taste. It showed a curvaceous, bikini-clad Statue of Liberty cracking a whip, and I think the teacher feared it may have been a violation of the student dress code.
After seeing the concert jersey, Principal Frank Hanson gave me the option of turning it inside out or covering it with masking tape. We reached a compromise: I made a “CENSORED” sign and taped it across my chest, drawing puzzled looks from students and teachers for the rest of the day.
I recalled that 1980 incident with a smile as I sat in the principal’s office again Monday in a navy-blue suit. This time, I wasn’t in trouble. I was an invited guest.
Angelo Donatelli, a teacher in North’s Freshman Academy, had arranged for me to talk to an honors history class after students read a 2012 article I wrote about a 1950s nuclear shelter in downtown Akron, during the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union.
The students were responsible for planning my visit and really wanted to make a great impression, Donatelli said. He sent two young men, Elijah Humphrey and Marcelus Lykes, to meet me in the office and escort me to their classroom on the second floor.
Black-and-gold memories came rushing back. I was the third generation in my family to graduate from North. The hallways, tile floors, school lockers and stairwells looked exactly as I remembered.
I thought about some of the dedicated teachers at North — Phyllis Heischuber, Robert Herceg, Guerrino Rich, Mary Jane Stone, Andrea Teter, Jim Zwisler and so many others — who prepared me well for life beyond school.
The sweet strains of our alma mater whispered in my ears: “Sons of Vikings drink the health of our dear North High School. Praise and keep her standards high. May she ever rule. Those who fight to win her fame, sure to meet with victory. Students of our dear North High, proud and loyal are we.”
As I entered the classroom, more than 25 expectant faces looked up. Donatelli introduced me to his students, and it dawned on me that I had once taken a class in that very room.
The students were bright, polite and well-prepared. They peppered me with questions about modern journalism and 1950s bomb shelters. They asked about the research that goes into articles, the importance of supporting stories with facts and whether I thought Akron was prepared for nuclear emergencies in the 21st century.
We went back and forth for nearly an hour until I had answered every question that was posed.
Where do you find information? How has the internet changed reporting? What is the future of newspapers? Do you have any advice for writers?
Finally, student Danielle Dean asked if my visit to the classroom had met my expectations or exceeded them.
“Far exceeded them,” I replied.
And I meant it.
Those students were amazing. They applauded me as I left the classroom, but I should have applauded them.
“I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of me, my students and all of North High School for taking time out of your busy schedule to come and share your knowledge of Akron’s rich history with us,” Donatelli told me afterward.
The afternoon couldn’t have gone any better, he said, and I have to agree. In one short hour, those students made me realize that the future is in good hands.
As Elijah and Marcelus escorted me back to the office, I told them about how Beacon Journal movie critic Dick Shippy had spoken to my high school journalism class nearly 40 years ago — just around the corner from where we were — and how it had made a big impression on me as a kid. I dreamed of working at the Beacon Journal, and here I am today.
I told them that I hoped someday that they would pass the torch. Forty years from now, I’d like them to go back to North or its successor and speak to the students of the 2050s.
Students of our dear North High, proud and loyal are we.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
For generations of West Akron residents, winter recreation whirled and twirled around Forest Lodge in Elm Hill Park.
Mirth and joy filled the frosty air while bundled youngsters skated on a frozen pond in a wooded landscape. If they didn’t know how to skate, kids wobbled as best as they could on the gleaming ice. Ideally, the outing ended with a hot chocolate before a roaring fireplace.
More than a century ago, Forest Lodge stood in a sparsely populated area on the 165-acre estate of B.F. Goodrich executive Arthur H. Marks. The original lodge was a rustic cabin that Marks used for hunting and fishing.
Following a divorce, Marks unloaded the property in 1919 to the Elm Hill Estates Co., led by real estate mogul Charles Herberich, who promised to develop “the most attractive residential project ever launched in Akron.” Marks directed the sale of 33 acres, including his West Market Street mansion, Elm Court, to the Sisters of St. Dominic, who renamed it Our Lady of the Elms.
The rest became a swanky neighborhood built around a park that the real estate company donated to the city.
“Elm Hill is as pretty today as when its former owner, charmed by a small lake, great virgin trees and as pretty ground as lies out-of-doors, bought it for his own,” Herberich advertised. “These natural beauties will be preserved in Elm Hill. The lake, surrounded by virgin trees, will be a park of 15 woodland acres. In the midst of it Mr. Marks built a forest lodge which will be preserved as it now stands …”
Elm Hill Park, bounded by Hawkins, Mull, Greenwood and Jefferson avenues, opened in 1920. Skaters ventured out on the pond in winter, but it wasn’t officially opened for public use until early 1923 when Rollins Raymond, 18, of Beechwood Drive, promised city park manager H.R. Russell that a crew of neighborhood boys would provide upkeep just like “Uncle Sam’s foresters work out west in taking care of woods and shrubbery.”
The skating was free, but entirely dependent on the weather. Because the pond was only 18 inches deep, the danger of falling through the ice was less of a concern than at other ponds. The old cabin served as a shelter where skaters could warm themselves in front of a log fire.
The neighborhood slowly began to fill in with residences. St. Sebastian Catholic Church and its school opened across Mull Avenue in November 1929 just as the Great Depression took hold.
In 1932, the city doubled the size of the skating pond to 240 square feet and built a rock retaining wall. In 1933, the Works Progress Administration began to build a brick-and-stone shelter — a new Forest Lodge — to replace the aging cabin. The English-style building at 260 Greenwood Ave. had plumbing, heating and electricity.
Lawson Chase Drown, his wife, Anna, and their daughter, Janet, were named caretakers of the property before the formal opening in November 1934. For nearly a decade, they lived on the second floor of the building while operating a sports lodge, skate rental and snack bar on the first level.
“My grandfather had been trained as a teacher, and during the Depression, he lost his teaching job,” said Denise Remark Lundell, an accountant, local historian and lifelong Akron resident. “They had moved to Sullivan, Ohio, while he was waiting for an appointment to the WPA. When that came, he moved back to Akron because he was assigned to be the caretaker of Forest Lodge.”
The Drowns resided at the lodge for free but had to pay all utility bills and supervise the property, and one of the most important things for L.C. Drown to maintain was the lagoon.
“During the winter, he was responsible for flooding the skating rink, and my mom said he was meticulous,” Lundell said. “He would be out there watching to keep the kids off the ice before it had fully frozen because he didn’t want any ruts in the ice.”
Hundreds of skaters could fill the ice any given afternoon. When they were tired or needed to thaw out, they headed indoors to rest on log benches in front of a huge, crackling fireplace.
“The kids could go in and warm up there and take their skates off and unfreeze their feet,” Lundell said. “My mom said they sold snacks like candy bars and hot chocolate.”
Janet Drown liked living at the comfy, quiet lodge, although she didn’t particularly enjoy traipsing to Portage Path Elementary and later Buchtel High School in waist-deep snow while wearing a dress, boots and long coat.
“She said it was a real slog,” Lundell said.
The adolescent girl also wasn’t too keen on working the snack bar or skate rental, in part because she might have to wait on classmates.
“My mom was real friendly, but I think she was really self-conscious,” Lundell said. “She didn’t want to be noticed.”
After nine years, the Drown family said goodbye to Forest Lodge and moved to Lakemore near the end of World War II. Lundell believes the family’s improving economics led to the mid-1940s relocation. Her mother, Janet Drown Remark, always had fond memories of the lodge.
“She seemed to think that it was a pretty nice place to live,” she said.
Forest Lodge continued to operate as a winter recreation area for another 60 years. Although fashion trends came and went, the pond remained popular at Elm Hill Park (commonly known as Forest Lodge Park). Ice skaters whirled and twirled through the doo-wop 1950s, psychedelic 1960s, disco 1970s, new-wave 1980s and grungy 1990s.
At the dawn of a new century, Forest Lodge held its last skate in 2001. The city drained the lagoon, ending more than 80 years of winter fun.
Today, St. Sebastian Parish oversees the city-owned Forest Lodge Community Center. Parish offices are maintained upstairs in the caretakers’ former quarters, and the first floor is available to rent for meetings, parties and other gatherings.
Outside in the cold, empty lagoon, only memories whirl and twirl.
It seems there’s a fair amount of Akron in Cleveland’s history.
The newest exhibit at the Cleveland History Center, put together by the fine folks at the Western Reserve Historical Society, traces the history of the city from its humble beginnings in 1790 to today.
The Cleveland Starts Here exhibit tucked inside the museum’s main floor in Cleveland’s University Circle is dominated by the giant, old, lighted Chief Wahoo sign from Municipal Stadium.
It has a nice mix of videos, pictures and interactive displays that tell the city’s history with some cool artifacts thrown in, like the podium that Donald Trump used for practice before his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and a postcard addressed to celebrated crime fighter Eliot Ness.
There’s even a restored DeLorean — remember that car from Back to the Future? — celebrating that one of the original dealerships of ill-fated auto manufacturer John DeLorean was run by his brother Charles in Lakewood.
This drives home the point that Cleveland’s history and what is found in the exhibit go way beyond the city itself.
And to trace the origin of a surprisingly fair number of the items, you would have to take Interstate 77 south to Akron.
He wears the jersey of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but ask LeBron James where his heart lies, and he’ll be quick to drop his signature line that he’s “just a kid from Akron.”
But there’s no denying the Cavs bringing home the first championship trophy in generations will always hold a special place in Cleveland’s history and the museum’s exhibit.
James’ size 15 leaves a pretty big footprint in the display with not just one, but two artifacts on display.
The first is a LeBron bobblehead from the 2004 season, situated just below another Cleveland icon, an American Splendor comic book by the late Harvey Pekar.
Not too far away, just past a wooden replica of the Terminal Tower and a lunar descent engine, is James’ second piece in the collection. Donated by the LeBron James Family Foundation is a black pair of signature Nikes that he wore March 18, 2016, in a win against the Orlando Magic.
The game was just one step in the magical season that ended with the Cavs overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA title.
On a wall not too far away is another name synonymous with Akron.
A display tracing Cleveland’s industrial successes and dominance includes an early Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. advertisement complete with a signature Wingfoot logo that is now featured on the Cavs jerseys.
On a nearby pillar — fittingly enough — are the “Faces of Cleveland,” which includes pictures of notable residents including another Akronite. Astronaut Judith Resnik, who was killed in the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, is featured prominently. Resnik also holds the distinction of being the first Jewish American in space.
Kelly Falcone-Hall, Western Reserve Historical Society president and CEO, said the exhibit stands as “a celebration of the past and the present” and a way for visitors to “make connections to their lives.”
The permanent exhibit opened in late November and was part of the Western Reserve Historical Society’s celebration of its own 150th anniversary.
Admission to the Cleveland History Center includes access to Cleveland Starts Here, two historic mansions, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, Chisholm Halle Costume Wing, the Research Library, the Kidzibits Playzone, Community History Galleries, and two rides on the Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel.
Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.
Billy Graham’s message of faith and a love of God echoed around the world through his radio and TV programs, missions and crusades.
It was a sunny day on Sept. 16, 1956, that the 37-year-old evangelist’s message echoed before a then record crowd at the Akron Rubber Bowl.
It would be his only appearance in Akron. Graham died Tuesday at the age of 99.
Akron’s stop was for a single day, but he did, however, bring his famous several-day crusades to other Ohio cities over the years including Cleveland in 1972 and 1994, Columbus in 1964 and three appearances in Cincinnati in 1951, 1977 and 2002.
In Akron, he delivered a pair of sermons in 1956.
The first sermon was to his radio audience — available online at billygraham.org/audio/the-bread-of-life/ — where he praised his host city.
“Today we are in Akron, Ohio, in the world famous Rubber Bowl where thousands of people from all over Ohio have gathered for this afternoon service,” he told the radio audience. “We’ve not been in Buckeye State often and it is a great thrill for all of us to be here today.”
He then recounted what a great city Akron was.
“Akron is a city of 300,000 population and is world renowned as the Rubber Capital of America,” he said in the 15-minute sermon. “Though Akron is highly industrialized it is also a city of educational and cultural advantages far beyond the average American city.
“It is also a city of churches and they have united almost 100 percent for this great meeting today.”
The appearance at the Rubber Bowl took some 4,000 local volunteers, a 2,500-voice choir, 900 ushers, 425 counselors and 200 ministers to pull off.
Like his radio address, the sermon Graham gave to the 35,000 lucky enough to have a seat and another estimated 5,000 that had to stand was a rousing Gospel lesson that also touched on the worries of the day — the threat of Communism in the Middle East and Asia.
The Akron appearance by the charismatic North Carolina minister lasted some 2 hours and 30 minutes and was billed as his first-ever outdoor rally in Ohio.
The gates to the Rubber Bowl opened at 1 p.m. and the program began at 3 p.m. City buses offered special service to the event as the parking lots around the Akron Municipal Airport filled quickly.
Some $26,000 was collected from the crowd with another $707 in loose change to assist his ministry’s work.
His 30-minute sermon was based on the Gospel of John.
“The Bible tells us what kind of a God there is,” Graham told the Akron audience. “He is everlasting to everlasting, the eternal, mighty creator of all things.
“God also is a spirit. He can be all over the world at the same time. He is a holy God. His eyes are too pure to behold evil. He hates sin.
“God also is impartial. You may have white skin or dark skin, but it makes no difference in the sight of God. We are all the same in his presence. We stand before God naked. God loves the Russian as much as the American. He loves the Indian as much as the Negro.”
After the sermon, he called on those gathered to come forward to ask for forgiveness and “receive Christ.”
As the choir sang, Graham stood before the crowd for some 20 minutes for each person to “come to a decision” whether to publicly accept Christ.
“This is a big stadium and it takes time to get down out of the stands,” he told the crowd. “It’s a long walk. I wished it were farther. Jesus walked all the way to the Cross.”
Newspaper accounts say an estimated 960 answered the call that day in Akron.
Graham asked those who walked down and gathered in front of the stage to bow their heads and repeat the prayer: “Oh, God, I am a sinner. I acknowledge my sins. I am sorry for my sins. I receive Christ as my savior. I confess him as my lord. From this moment on, I want to follow him and serve him in the fellowship of the church.”
Staff writer Mark J. Price contributed to this article. Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson needed a new set of wheels in 1968, Akron’s Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. delivered the goods.
Understandably, these weren’t $20 tubeless blackwalls that any motorist could pick up at Sohio, Amoco or Pure Oil. No, these babies took a lot more effort.
The Secret Service had approached Firestone two years earlier about producing tires for the president’s new limousine, which was still in the developmental stages. Firestone engineers worked quietly on the top-secret project for the VIP customer.
As the 1960s commercial jingle promised: “Wherever wheels are turning, no matter what the load, the name that’s known is Firestone, where the rubber meets the road.”
In this case, the road was Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln-Mercury division, which had supplied automobiles for U.S. presidents since the Calvin Coolidge administration in the 1920s, began work on a heavily armored Lincoln Continental that would be bulletproof and bombproof.
The vehicle, dubbed “LBJ’s tank,” cost about $500,000 ($3.6 million today) — roughly $497,000 more than the going rate for most automobiles in 1968.
The sleek, black, 21-foot limousine weighed 6 tons, including 2 tons of armor plate. It was built in Detroit but customized by Chicago’s Lehmann-Peterson Inc., which boasted that the vehicle could withstand a “small scale military attack.”
“We don’t even know who made some of the parts or exactly what the parts do,” company leader George Lehmann told a reporter.
Details slowly emerged in 1968. The 340-horsepower, 460-cubic-inch V-8 engine was built at Ford’s factory in Lima, Ohio. The distortion-free windows and sunroof, molded from special, curved, glass armor, were developed at Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.’s plants in Creighton and Harmarville, Pa.
And the tires, of course, were from Akron. Firestone produced 10 heavy-duty, high-pressure, deluxe tires for the limousine and another vehicle in the presidential fleet. Filled with 70 pounds of air, the tires incorporated a run-flat technology featuring a steel cylinder covered with a hard rubber tread.
In theory, the limousine could travel at top speeds for 50 miles despite all four tires being punctured from bullets, blades or explosives.
“Except for the still vivid recollection of President Kennedy’s assassination, and the nagging fear of other crackpot-shots, one might wonder if any car is worth half a million dollars,” the Beacon Journal noted. “Actually, the government isn’t buying it — only renting it, for $100 a month.”
The vehicle was equipped with enough modern gadgetry to rival any spy movie of the 1960s. For example, the rear bumper could be lowered like a tailgate and converted into a platform upon which agents could stand if necessary.
A public address system was installed so President Johnson could speak to crowds outside the vehicle, plus a sound system was included so he could hear real-time reactions from audiences if the windows were closed. As Vietnam War protests multiplied during that era, however, he may not always have wanted to hear what was being shouted on the streets.
In addition to a two-way radio and telephone communications, the limo had three television sets so the president could monitor all three networks simultaneously. (Yes, children, there were only three TV networks in 1968.)
The vehicle had separate heating and air-conditioning units for the front and back compartments, and a retractable roof so the 6-foot-4 president could stand while the car was in motion, holding onto a chrome bar for balance. Given the tragic events of November 1963 in Dallas, though, the open window wasn’t likely to be used very often. In fact, a black vinyl cover was installed for privacy.
In a news release, Ford boasted: “The new presidential limousine has more advanced security communications and engineering features than any automobile used for official duties at the White House.”
Ironically, the car lacked front-seat shoulder harnesses as mandated by the federal government. Secret Service agents wanted easy entrance and exit from the vehicle and didn’t want to get tangled up in any belts.
Just as work was nearing completion on the vehicle, President Johnson announced March 31, 1968, in a national address: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
That didn’t give him a lot of time to put any wear on those Firestone treads. The limousine made its public debut Oct. 21 — a couple of weeks before the presidential election. Former Vice President Richard M. Nixon defeated incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the office.
In addition to the Oval Office, Johnson turned over the keys to the brand-new limousine before Nixon’s inauguration in January.
Nixon used the presidential limousine for three years until it was replaced with another $500,000 heavily armored Lincoln Continental in 1972.
“It’s as strong as a tank,” a Ford employee told the Detroit Free Press. “It is so strong that a bomb would only roll it over.”
On the sleek, black vehicle were four new metal-reinforced tires from Firestone, where the rubber meets the road.
Fifty years ago, empty buildings littered Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls. City officials feared they were in danger of losing their historic downtown.
In the parlance of the Vietnam era, it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.
Cuyahoga Falls Planning Director Arthur Stout, a California native who had been hired by the city in 1965 after serving on the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, noted the exodus of retail customers to State Road and Chapel Hill, and determined that something drastic was needed to bring them back to Front Street.
“We either go with a downtown or the downtown will go,” he warned.
Stout proposed an urban renewal project known as Front & Center, an ambitious plan to acquire properties along Front Street and revitalize an area bounded by Oakwood Drive, Second Street, Broad Boulevard and the Cuyahoga River.
“We’re heading in the right direction, but there’s a lot that must be done to truly make Cuyahoga Falls a beautiful city,” Stout noted.
The City Council agreed to apply for federal loans and grants to acquire 75 buildings, including dozens of homes, over a 35-acre section.
In April 1968, Lockwood Martling, a supervisory architect of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, gave a slide show at Cuyahoga Falls High School to promote Front & Center. The $6 million plan called for closing Front Street to vehicles, development of a pedestrian mall, construction of a motel near Broad Boulevard, the demolition of several old buildings and the widening of Second Street to accommodate two-way traffic.
“There is no easy road to a more handsome city,” Martling told the audience. “Some rehabilitation standards must be developed and you must dare to be old-fashioned. … It is beauty that counts and beauty that endures.”
Front Street merchants had doubts but realized something needed to be done. They had lost customers to shopping malls and retail plazas, and many of their neighboring businesses had closed. The Front & Center project promised specialty shops, boutiques, restaurants and recreational establishments.
Finally, someone had a comprehensive plan for the city of 53,000.
“We had no planning in this town,” City Councilman Chester Travis complained. “It grew like Topsy. It was an uphill battle for every damned change we tried to make.”
With great fanfare, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved a $4 million grant for Front & Center in May 1969.
Stout, who had guided the project since its inception, was thrilled.
“With the attitude of businessmen and the potential for redevelopment, I see nothing but success for downtown,” he told the Beacon Journal. “I have no doubts as to the potential of this area.”
That’s why city officials were so shocked a month later when Stout resigned to become the director of community development in Decatur, Ill., a city of 90,000.
The Front Street project continued under the direction of acting director Pat Switz. Wreckers began to clear out some of the aging buildings that were deemed to be standing in the way of progress.
“Most investment in urban renewal will be made by developers,” Switz explained. “The only thing we do is get the old buildings out of the way and prepare the property for resale.”
In fits and starts, urban renewal continued through the tenures of Cuyahoga Falls mayors Delbert Ackerman (1966-1968), Bruce Thomas (1968-1969), William Coleman (1970-1973) and Robert Quirk (1974-1985).
Quirk, in particular, embraced the concept of a Front Street mall. He traveled to Alexandria, Va., Baltimore, Md., Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia to tour pedestrian walkways to bring back ideas for Cuyahoga Falls.
Jack Braun, architect with John David Jones and Associates, presented plans to the City Council for brick-surfaced, tree-lined pedestrian concourses to be built between Broad Boulevard and Portage Trail, and between Portage Trail and Oakwood Drive.
When a businessman expressed doubts to Quirk in 1976, the mayor replied: “You can’t suddenly turn around once you’re halfway down a ski slope.”
Ernest Alessio Construction Co. submitted the winning bid of $1.7 million to develop the mall. Formerly a major route between Akron and Cleveland, Front Street was closed to traffic Nov. 8, 1976. A groundbreaking ceremony was held the same day.
As work proceeded, crews erected cautionary signs that were almost comical in retrospect: “No Thru Traffic But Open for Business As Usual.”
Business as usual? After the barricades went up, more merchants expressed misgivings.
“Where were they nine or 10 years ago?” Quirk fumed.
The Front Street Mall took about a year and a half to complete. Mayor Quirk presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony June 2, 1978, and visitors admired the beautiful walkways and landscaped areas, including gushing fountains.
But the shopping district never did live up to the hopes of its developers.
While some businesses endured, others pulled up stakes. Front Street Mall, later known as Riverfront Center, became best known for weekend festivals and carnivals. Otherwise, pedestrian traffic was sparse on most days.
After 40 years, the experiment ended.
The city reopened Front Street to automobile traffic this month. There are plans for a grand-opening celebration in June, on the 40th anniversary of the street closing.
“Retail establishments demand visibility and accessibility to succeed,” Mayor Don Walters said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, the pedestrian mall offered neither. It’s been 40 years since cars have driven down Front Street and I am excited to usher in this exciting time of economic growth and prosperity.”
In the parlance of the modern era, it became necessary to restore the town in order to save it.
Mark J. Price is the author of Mafia Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Akron residents didn’t fully appreciate Alvin Smith’s life story until it was nearing its end. As he approached 100 years old, he became a local celebrity.
The white-haired gentleman, the city’s last living Civil War veteran, regaled visitors with his vivid recollections of growing up as a slave in Kentucky, escaping to freedom in Ohio and joining the Union Army to help free his family.
The third oldest of 18 children, Smith was born Oct. 15, 1843, in a cabin on the estate of slave owner Prudence Wallingford near Mount Carmel in Fleming County, Ky. He recalled being taken away from his mother at age 5 to look after the infant son of neighbor Richard Willet in a big mansion.
Then he was tossed outside to labor on the sprawling farm. For the rest of his life, he carried deep scars on his back from the rawhide whip of a Methodist minister who rented him for two years.
Willet purchased Smith for $760.50 when Wallingford died in her 80s. “At 19, they stood me on an auction block and sold me just like a horse,” Smith recalled.
As the Civil War engulfed the nation, Smith worked the fields for 18 months. Early one morning in 1863, the slave quietly slipped away from the farm and ran north, journeying 20 miles before crossing the Ohio River and finding refuge with the Underground Railroad in Brown County.
Some would have kept running north, but Smith marched south. In April 1864, he enlisted in the Union Army in Byrd, Ohio, joining Company H of the U.S. Army 27th Colored Infantry Regiment.
Private Smith’s regiment traveled to Maryland and fought its way across smoky battlefields in Virginia and North Carolina, braving artillery shells, gunfire and bayonets during grueling campaigns against the Confederates in Petersburg, Va., and Richmond.
“You see, I was fighting for the freedom of my mother and father and my brothers [and sisters] who were still slaves,” Smith later told the Beacon Journal. “I sent my mother my picture in uniform after I escaped, but her master burned it and told her I was dead.”
Alvin battled to the war’s end and was discharged in September 1865. He returned to Ohio and randomly settled in Akron, where he married, raised children and learned the plastering trade. By sheer coincidence, his newly freed Kentucky family traveled north to Peninsula.
“Sympathy for the slaves was strong in the north after the war and the town of Peninsula treated them well,” Smith recalled. “I heard they were there and eventually brought them to Akron where we bought a home on Upson Street. It was the first time I had ever seen my sister, who was born after I escaped.”
After Smith’s wife died in 1876, he left Akron to stay with a daughter near Youngstown. He entered the Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Sandusky after it opened in 1888 and lived there for more than 50 years — the longest stay ever at the facility — before being discharged in March 1940 at age 97.
Smith returned to Akron in 1940 to be closer to his grand-niece Ella Coker. He lived in a home for several years at 723 Hazel St. before moving in with Coker at 144 Mustill St.
The old soldier was a sturdy presence at Akron ceremonies for Decoration Day, Armistice Day and the Fourth of July.
He wore an old blue Union uniform while riding in patriotic parades.
“Just a runaway slave, I was, but I learned all about war,” he told the Beacon Journal for Memorial Day 1943 as the United States fought World War II. “War is a terrible, terrible thing. Yes, war is hell.
“I have seen two other big wars since then, and somehow I have a feeling that we are going to win this war. And after that — well, after that, I guess I won’t be here to see any more wars.”
The Akron Council of Negro Women celebrated Smith’s life with a 100th birthday party Oct. 14, 1943.
“Bright of eye, keen of mind, and zestful of life, Akron’s only remaining Civil War veteran started his day as usual by shaving himself and eating his hearty breakfast of veal chops, coffee and a big saucer of oatmeal,” the Beacon Journal reported.
“He smoked his pipe, with pieces of a cigar cut up in it, and took a drop of wine.”
When the women’s group arrived at his Hazel Street home, Smith sliced a pink-frosted birthday cake for hundreds of well-wishers. “Course I like cake,” he chuckled as he served himself a slice.
Four years later when he turned 104, Smith was asked how it felt.
“I couldn’t feel better than I do today,” he said. “Of course, like all old people, I have a pain here or there once in a while and I’m hard of hearing. But I can still hear ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ and church music on the radio.”
On Memorial Day 1948, the veteran was in a philosophical mood after riding in Akron’s parade on an American Legion float.
“It seems to me we humans run this world rather badly at times, and the Lord has to step in and take a hand,” he said.
Alvin Smith died Oct. 10, 1948, at Akron City Hospital — only five days short of his 105th birthday.
The funeral was at Turner Funeral Home and burial was at Mount Peace Cemetery.
The veteran’s grave remained unmarked until Litchfield Middle School history teacher John Gurnish, a Civil War buff, applied to Veterans Affairs in 1998 for a bronze marker on the 50th anniversary of Smith’s death.
A wreath-laying ceremony was held at the grave in 2011 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s beginning in 1861.
At the solemn service, The Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
The Pacific Garden was a classy joint that blurred the line between fine dining and hard drinking in the late 19th century.
Traveling salesman Charles Pfeiffer opened the Akron saloon about 1880 as Congress Billiard Parlors, an establishment at 118 N. Howard St. that served wine, whisky, ale, beer and imported cigars. “Open Day and Night. Sundays Excepted.”
Located near West Market Street, the 2½-story brick building shared quarters with Dr. Lucien G. Thorp’s dental parlor, where patients could buy a good set of teeth for $5, a better set of teeth for $8 and the best set of teeth — on vulcanized rubber — for $10.
The saloon developed a reputation for bizarre occurrences, including an infamous 1884 mauling by a black bear that was chained to a post in a back room. The 2-year-old animal, procured from Michigan as a pet, attacked patron James Cummins, 40, when he got too close. Akron major-leaguer Sam Wise, a shortstop for the Boston Red Caps, clubbed the beast until it let go.
Another night, intruders hauled away a nickel-plated cash register and smashed it in anger after finding that it contained only 70 cents. According to the Akron City Times, the broken parts “were scattered about promiscuously” on Canal Street.
In 1885, Pfeiffer rechristened the hall as the Pacific Garden, an unusually placid name for a place where whisky-fueled brawls frequently erupted. Pfeiffer offered a free, cold lunch every day to customers, a practice that evolved into an honest-to-gosh restaurant.
He expanded the menu to include such delicacies as lobsters, oysters, crabs, shrimp, bass and frog legs, and opened a dining room for ladies and gentlemen. Drinking customers used the swinging front door, but families had a separate entrance. Akron heavyweight boxer Gus Ruhlin was among the regulars.
The old pool hall became a favorite spot for banquets. Check out this fancy menu from an 1891 gathering: “Oysters on the Half Shell. Queen Olives. Slaw. Consomme En Tasse. Fillet of Sole in White Wine. Lettuce. French Dressing. Spring Lamb Chops. French Peas. Claret Punch. Roast Mallard Duck au Cresson. Cream Potatoes with Parsley. Shrimp Salad au Mayonnaise. Neapolitan Ice Cream. Chocolate Cream Cake. Malaga Grapes. Florida Oranges. Wines: Schlossberg. Hochheimer. French Coffee.”
Where could we order such fare today in Akron?
Business was so prosperous that Pfeiffer advertised for “six elderly women” to work in the kitchen, promising good wages and steady employment. The Pacific also attracted some brazen competition, the Atlantic Garden, an East Market Street saloon that billed itself as “The European Restaurant.” The Pacific retaliated by advertising as “The Only European Restaurant in the City.”
Pfeiffer remodeled the restaurant and installed $300 electric fans. The joke around town was that the Pacific Garden never had any flies because they all froze to death.
Just because the place was fancy didn’t mean that the brawls stopped. John Gehring and James McCormich engaged in a “lively saloon fight” on Feb. 21, 1891. It was 4 a.m.
“Gehring had entered the saloon and ordered supper for himself and a woman he had with him,” the Beacon Journal reported. “McCormich made some remark that caused Gehring to strike him. McCormich struck back and Denny Collins, in trying to separate them, hit another man who had stepped up in the meantime, and that precipitated a general row.”
The saloon was the setting of an early civil-rights case. James Lindar, a black man, filed a lawsuit against the business in 1892, alleging unfair discrimination after he was denied a seat. A Summit County jury deliberated only two minutes before awarding Lindar $1,000. After that, the Pacific was open to all.
For Thanksgiving 1892, Pfeiffer invited Akron Daily Democrat newsboys — of all creeds and colors — to a free meal of turkey, oysters and mince pie.
“Imagine 100 hustling, jostling, scrambling newsboys, from the ages of 5 to 12, chewing, biting and pushing to get in the doors, and you have an idea of the scene at Charley’s dining hall yesterday at 3 o’clock,” the newspaper reported. “But no one was slighted. All got their fill, and a newsboy never leaves the table until he gets it, either.”
In 1893, Pfeiffer sold his business to Marion brothers John S. Kesler and David W. Kesler, who pledged to keep the Pacific “up to the high standard it has always maintained.” They offered an introductory offer — a $1 meal ticket for 90 cents — and advertised: “Our prices are right, and we guarantee you will find the best quality of provender always used.”
At least two customers, Northfield postmaster Albert L. Bliss and Cleveland businessman Adam Johnson, took their last breaths at the Pacific. One fell dead after ordering a sandwich. The other keeled over a few bites into breakfast.
The incidents weren’t exactly good advertising, but the Kesler brothers continued to operate the Pacific until 1908.
Thanks to the renumbering of city streets, the address changed to 20-22 N. Howard St. Over the next decade, owners included Water C. Gorman, Martin Swing and Harry Ungerleider.
The saloon gave up all pretense of fine dining in 1918 when it was renamed the Akron Liquor House. But a year later, it gave up booze to become the evangelical Union City Mission and remained so for much of the ‘20s.
After the repeal of Prohibition, L.G. Sears and Pete Economou reopened the Pacific Garden two doors down in 1934, and it continued as the Pacific Cafe for decades. The original 1880 building served as the Hollywood Gardens (“The Night Club With That Harlem Atmosphere”) in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and got a makeover as the Nu Art Beauty Salon in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
By 1970, though, the former Pacific Garden was a vacant, derelict building. One by one, its aging neighbors tumbled on Howard Street during urban renewal. In April 1974, a next-door demolition job caused the southern wall to collapse. The city ordered the rest of the building to be razed.
So a few months later, the old saloon got smashed — just like some of its former clientele.
The wind howled as Oliver R. Ocasek started up his Cadillac.
Despite subzero cold and heavy snow, he would not change his plans. He had to drive to Columbus.
Barreling through drifts, Ocasek pulled away from his Northfield home at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 26 and disappeared into the Blizzard of 1978.
If it were any other day, he probably would have stayed home, but he had called a news conference for 9 a.m. at the Ohio Statehouse to announce a major decision. After careful consideration, the Ohio Senate president was prepared to reveal that he would not run for governor in the Democratic primary.
Ocasek, 52, a former educator in Tallmadge and Richfield, worried that he had low name recognition outside Greater Akron, and he feared that the $51,000 he had raised for a potential campaign wasn’t enough.
“The reason is very simple. Money,” he told the Beacon Journal a day earlier. “I was never in the ballgame. I had to come to the realization that although a lot of people told me how much they liked me, all that palaver doesn’t get you elected.
“Sure I’m disappointed. I’ve always wanted to be governor. But I have an ego and I don’t want to lose. I’m not a big gambler.”
Not a big gambler? What do you call driving into a blizzard? The barometer plunged to a record low of 28.33 inches that morning. Nearly a foot of snow fell on top of a 16-inch storm from days earlier. With the mercury at zero and gusts topping 75 mph, the wind chill was estimated at 60 below.
Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes announced the closing of all state offices at 7 a.m. and declared a state of emergency. “Ohio is in trouble,” Rhodes said.
The Highway Patrol reported that all highways were closed. “Those that aren’t closed are so bad they’re nearly impassable and will close shortly,” Trooper Joe Blosser announced.
But Ocasek was past the point of no return. It was a white-knuckle ride as he rolled south on Interstate 71 in near-whiteout conditions. Studded tires didn’t even help. Abandoned trucks and automobiles were scattered everywhere along the 140-mile journey, buried deep in wind-sculpted drifts that resembled nothing less than Dr. Seuss illustrations.
“It was the most frightening experience of my life,” Ocasek said. “In 37 years of driving, I’ve never seen anything like it. I saw hundreds of cars stuck in the median or on the side of the road. You would have to slow down because of the ice and then speed up to get across a snowdrift on I-71.”
Somewhere north of Mansfield, he passed the snow-encased truck of James Truly, 42, of Cleveland, who would spend six days in the cab of his vehicle before being rescued. He survived the ordeal by eating snow and became a folk hero after being freed from his icy truck.
With a little luck, Ocasek would escape that fate.
The senator continued to slog south, eventually realizing that there was no way in the world he was going to make it to his news conference. About 20 miles north of Columbus, just when it looked like he might make it to the capital safely, his vehicle “went flooey.”
“A dashboard light went on and the engine heated up,” Ocasek explained. “I didn’t know whether to let my $12,000 Cadillac burn up or my 215-pound body freeze.”
He rolled to a stop on the desolate highway, girded himself against the cold and abandoned his car. In those days before cellphones, there was no way to call for help. He really didn’t have a plan as he stepped into the Arctic cold, but he knew he wouldn’t survive in his vehicle. The wind pummeled the 6-foot-2, bespectacled senator as he battled to keep his balance in the snow along I-71.
“I felt like the girl Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,” he said.
He walked, walked, walked. What else could he do? It felt like an eternity, but it probably lasted only a few minutes.
Like some kind of ghostly mirage, an Ohio Highway Patrol cruiser appeared on the snowy horizon and pulled up next to Ocasek.
“Sen. Ocasek?” the trooper asked quizzically.
“I was so surprised that he recognized me that I almost reconsidered my decision not to run for governor,” Ocasek told the Beacon Journal.
The heroic trooper, who was not identified, got Ocasek to the Statehouse by 10:15 a.m. The news conference was canceled, of course, but there probably wouldn’t have been any reporters in attendance because they were all out covering the storm of the century.
Ocasek hunkered down at the Statehouse and assisted Gov. Rhodes, a Republican, as officials tended to the emergency. By the time it was over, the 1978 storm had killed more than 50 people in Ohio and caused $100 million in damage.
Although he never did run for governor, Ocasek spent 28 years in the Ohio Senate, retiring in 1986 and inspiring the name of the Oliver R. Ocasek State Office Building in downtown Akron.
After a long battle with cancer, he died June 25, 1999, at age 73.
It was a sunny day with temperatures in the 80s, a good distance down the road from the infamous Blizzard of 1978.
We’ve had it wrong all these years. The devil strip isn’t that narrow swath of land between the street and the sidewalk.
At least, it didn’t used to be.
For generations, Akron residents have taken pride in the devilish colloquialism to describe the neutral ground between public and private property.
While we call it the devil strip — or devil’s strip (or even devilstrip) — other communities refer to it by other names, including tree lawn, berm, curb strip, swale, parking strip, boulevard, planting strip, terrace, grass strip, tree row, green belt, sidewalk plot, street lawn, tree bank, neutral plot and utility strip.
As it turns out, the term “devil strip” didn’t originate here, and when its usage finally gained popularity, it meant something else entirely.
Thanks to Newspapers.com and other online databases, we now have the ability to track the linguistics of the phrase. Naturally, there were coincidental mentions such as this passage from A Journal of the Life of That Ancient Servant of Christ, John Grafton (1720, London): “… so would the Devil strip Religion, and make it poor, and bring Ignorance and Contempt, and destroy the Church if he could.”
Or this headline from the New York Herald in 1875: “The Devil Strips Adam in 15 Minutes.” Or this 1876 sentence from The Jeffersonian newspaper in Stroudsburg, Pa.: “Those sly California devils stripped me of everything.”
The earliest known mention in the Beacon Journal, though, was published in 1890 in an item from Cleveland about street railroads: “Mayor Gardner ordered Supt. Schmitt to stop all traffic on Woodland avenue street railroad from Wilson to East Madison for failure to obey State law which gave Cleveland [the] right to compel street railroads to pave a strip 16 feet wide. This meant all space between the tracks, the devil strip and two feet on the outside.”
What? Cleveland had a devil strip before Akron? Say it isn’t so.
The nickname referred to the center path between streetcars going in opposite directions. The distance between tracks varied from city to city, but usually was between 1 and 4 feet. Streetcars passed so closely that there was little standing room between.
And that made it dangerous. Grim articles chronicle the awful deaths of pedestrians, bicyclists and sled riders who got caught in the middle.
In 1895, the Toronto Bicycle Club crafted a rhyme so cyclists would remember the right of way when riding near the tracks. Here’s that catchy little ditty:
“When on the ‘devil strip’ you ride,
Be sure and by this rule abide:
All wheelmen riding westward must
Give way to wheelmen riding east.
And likewise all who’re going north
Give way to those who’re coming south.
Wheels east or south, by night or day,
Shall always have the right of way.”
Practically rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Yes, the term “devil strip” was common in Canada, especially in Ontario, Ottawa, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia. In the United States, it also was used in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa.
Ohio, though, is where it stuck. In Akron, it was common terminology for Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co., which supplied power and had nearly 300 miles of interurban track.
For decades, the term applied only to the strip of land between sets of tracks. Somewhere along the way, as more communities built curbs and sidewalks, the phrase jumped the rails and plowed into front yards.
Although we can’t be sure, this July 3, 1912, editorial from the Athens Daily Messenger might be the missing link between the old definition and the modern one:
“There are no double track street car lines in Athens — yet. But the proverbial ‘Devil’s strip’ is here just the same. Did you ever note how often, between a well-kept lawn and its adjacent sidewalk and a well-paved street, you see a strip of unkempt stony and weed-grown ground? It mars the otherwise beautiful street, especially when a dead tree or two helps to add to the neglect of this ‘devil’s strip.’
“Suppose each property owner should go home tonight, stand on the street in front of his home for 10 minutes and ponder over the little things that would add to the beauty of his property, and then pay a few hours and a few dollars more the execution of the ideas that come to him. ‘Athens Beautiful’ stock would go up several points within the next week. Try it. Begin. On the ‘devil strip’ in front of YOUR house.”
That’s the devil strip we know and love, but the phrase didn’t appear in the Beacon Journal in that context until the late 1920s. On Sept. 4, 1929, Dr. William C. Terwilliger complained that police had towed his car while he responded to an emergency call on Long Street.
“Dr. Terwilliger said that the desk sergeant told him that he should park his car on the ‘devil strip’ on Long st. out of the congested traffic area,” the Beacon Journal reported. “Having parked his car in such a place, Dr. Terwilliger said today he was bewildered by the conflicting police orders.”
Soon there would be no such confusion. The city produced red-and-white “No Parking on Devil Strip” signs to guard motorists against the offense. Those signs remained in common use in the late 20th century, no doubt causing confusion and possibly frightening some out-of-towners.
And that brings us to the end of the devil strip. It has inspired the name of Akron’s alternative newspaper, The Devil Strip, an Akron rock band, Devilstrip, and Akron guitarist Calfee Jones’ album No Parking on the Devil Strip.
Reproductions of the old street sign have been plastered on Akron merchandise, including T-shirts and magnets at Rubber City Clothing and other retailers.
So what did we learn about the devil strip?
Don’t get caught in the middle. Don’t park on it.
And for gosh sakes, don’t call it a tree lawn.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected].
Everyone loves a good mystery. Several weeks ago, we presented the puzzling case of the iron sign.
John Maag, 70, of Green, wanted to learn the origin of a cast-iron plaque that he bought last year during a yard sale at the home of Jim Mezaros in Coventry Township. Mezaros had explained that his father fished the sign out of the Ohio & Erie Canal in downtown Akron in the 1960s.
Measuring about 52 inches long, 28 inches wide and 1 inch thick, the heavy marker features scalloped, decorative flourishes and bears the bold inscription:
C C HINE
W G JOHNSTON
After the article appeared in the Beacon Journal and bounced around Ohio.com and other websites, several readers stepped forward to offer suggestions about the sign. Was it a remnant from the Akron riot of 1900? The great flood of 1913?
Robert Dill of Stow found confirmation in Samuel Lane’s history Fifty Years and Over of Akron and Summit County (1892) that the three commissioners were in office up to 1891. He suggested that the plaque could have identified their offices in the Summit County Courthouse.
Tom Schindler wondered if the sign had served as a marker at the Summit County Children’s Home on South Arlington Street in Akron. He found an article from March 5, 1890, in which the three commissioners inspected the new building.
“These Commissioners have done themselves great credit in the work which they have just completed,” the Beacon Journal noted.
However, history detective Jim Salay offered another possibility: “The cast iron plaque in today’s article is most likely a bridge plate, typically erected over the entrances of iron truss bridges which were replacing old wooden bridges at the time. Examination of the bottom or back of the plate may reveal some attachment mechanisms.”
He submitted photos of bridge plates including one on the Station Road Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River in Brecksville. A consensus seemed to be building as readers Jim Schlauch, Scott Davenport and Mike Elliott also suggested iron bridges as the likely source of the sign.
Debbie Gamauf Hensley of Portage Lakes Historical Society searched her collection to no avail. Then she started searching other collections.
“Bingo!” she wrote. “Sort of. I found a very similar shape on the top of a steel bridge, one at each end! Not our plaque, but straight across the bottom like it and about the same size.”
The image of Hawkins Bridge is from the Edwin Bell Howe photo collection at Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Summit Memory project. It shows 30 people and at least four dogs on the iron span over the flooded canal in Northampton Township. On top of the structure, one gentleman leans against the bridge plate.
John Maag’s sign appears to have come from a similar bridge.
Here’s a possible clue from the Summit County Beacon on Feb. 19, 1890: “County Commissioners Wash Johnson, C.C. Hine and Henry Frederick, together with the County Civil Engineer, C.E. Perkins, went to Massillon Wednesday to close a contract with the Massillon Iron Bridge Co. for the construction of two bridges in the county.”
But where? Unfortunately, the locations were not identified in the Beacon or the Massillon Daily Independent.
It was a big era for bridge construction as communities got rid of wooden structures in favor of iron works.
The Reilly Iron Bridge Co. of Cleveland won a contract in June 1890 for a bridge over the Cuyahoga River in Boston Township. The Novelty Bridge Co. of Cleveland started work in October 1890 on an iron bridge over the Cuyahoga River at Red Lock near the Summit line with Cuyahoga County.
Although the 1890 sign was fished out of the Ohio & Erie Canal, Salay cautioned that it might have started out somewhere else.
“The location where the plate was found may not be where it came from,” he said. “It may have been taken as a prank or for scrap metal and dumped in the canal later when the perpetrator realized the inscription could tie them to the theft.”
Plaques that were not essential for the structural integrity of a bridge often were donated by authorities to scrap metal drives during wars, he said.
The fact that this artifact exists after nearly 130 years is pretty remarkable. Even though we’ve narrowed the search, we still don’t know precisely where the sign was posted.
We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.