Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Heady Days of Lake Erie’s Middle Island

Lake Erie's Middle Island

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Lake Erie’s Middle Island is Canada’s southernmost possession, lying just south of Pelee Island. Over seen by Parks Canada, the 45-acre island is home to hundreds of heron gulls, thousands of cormorants, even pelicans, and warblers during spring migration.

Middle Island Lighthouse Before it Burned

Charles E. Frohman Collection

During Prohibition, Middle Island served as an important way station and haven for rumrunners, smuggling whiskey and premium beers across the lake from Canada to the U. S. mainland. Toledo underworld figure Joe Roscoe, who had ties to the Purple Gang in Detroit, owned a large portion of the island. He built an air strip and a plush hotel that he called “The Lake Erie Fishing Club” although there was little fishing going on. It featured 7 bedrooms, fireplaces, electricity, large, beautifully-situated verandahs. The basement, carved deep into the bedrock, sported a casino.

Roscoe hired his buddies, former convicted liquor smugglers Ted and Bert Angus, to manage the “club house” on a percentage basis from 1928 to 1932.  Along with other gangsters, Al Capone is rumored to have stayed at Roscoe’s establishment.

Middle Island Club House, 1945

Thomas H. Langlois Collection

Middle Island Caretaker's House, 1945

Thomas H. Langlois Collection

When Prohibition ended and there was no longer money to be made in smuggling liquor, Roscoe continued his business as a hotel and restaurant, hosting vacationers, fishing charters, and local sailors. As many as 200 boaters a day were treated to sumptuous pheasant dinners.

Roscoe also owned one of the fastest boats on Lake Erie. His “Rainbow” was a 32-foot custom built craft that featured a 500 horsepower, 12-cylinder V-type Liberty motor. After Prohibition, Roscoe used it to commute from the island to Toledo where his wife Ganey and her father, Jack Broadway, managed his 42nd Street CafĂ© on Broadway and the Jovial Club on St. Clair.

Some of his gangster friends like Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Hugh Campbell were not as lucky as Joe. They turned to kidnapping and robbery to make a living. After the kidnapping of Edward Bremer in 1934, Karpis hid out in Toledo for a time. It was Joe who found Karpis and his pal Campbell a place to lay low with his friend Edith Barry, who ran a brothel on Southard Avenue.

Alvin "Creepy" Karpis

Courtesy Federal Bureau of Investigation

Karpis again turned to Joe Roscoe after his gang’s daring mail train robbery at Garrettsville, Ohio in November of 1935. Joe arranged Karpis’ escape via a flight  from Port Clinton to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Evening Independent, Massillon, Ohio, 1937

But Hoover and his G-men caught up to Karpis. He was sentenced to life in prison on Alcatraz, the last of the Depression-era gangsters.  It wasn’t until January 1937 that the FBI arrested Joe in Miami. Later that year, he was sentenced to 7 ½ years in Leavenworth for his part in assisting Karpis. Having served his time, Joe returned to Toledo, where he died in 1965. According to his obituary, he sold Middle Island shortly before his death.

Today, swallows are the lone guests at Roscoe’s hotel, now nothing but a mere shell. Only the stone foundation of the burned out lighthouse and the overgrown air strip remain as evidence of those heady days on Middle Island.

To see some fine photographs of Roscoe's abandoned hotel, please go to flickr to view images taken by Ken Bell in 2007.



Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Underground Railroad - Real and Imagined

Few subjects in America’s past are more steeped in myth than the Underground Railroad, according to Fergus Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan. Lacking facts about the real history, tales of hidden tunnels, cryptic codes, songs, quilts and secret maps flourished. In reality, the Underground Railroad was a partnership between African Americans, both free and enslaved, and whites, first Quakers and later Christian reformers. Its existence was dependent on cooperation, trust, flexibility, and the Golden Rule.

Why is so little known? Bordewich writes that much of it was suppressed during Jim Crow years because it demonstrated the great cooperation between Blacks and whites, men and women who worked on equal footing.  Together they “created the first interracial mass movement for others’ human rights.”

                      Painting of Runaway Slaves on the Underground Railroad

Peter Pointz escape from slavery and who lived much of his life in Clyde, Ohio, bears testimony to these facts. Born into slavery in Bracken County, Kentucky in 1817 and “owned” by one Hugh Atwell.  He spent most of his young life at farm work and then as a hotel porter in Maysville. Peter was one of perhaps as many as 70,000 enslaved (Ohio’s Freedom Center puts the number at 100,000) who escaped via the Underground Railroad in the 60 years before the Civil War. Most were from Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, states that shared long borders with free states and where information about northern routes was readily available. According to Bordewich, few could escape from the Deep South where the way north was one long, dangerous route.

Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Courtesy of Ohio History Connection

In 1848, so many slaves were escaping across the Ohio River that all were being watched closely by whites. After several attempts, Peter paid a Black man to take him across the Ohio River with co-worker Mary Gross and another. They arrived in Ripley and were taken on horseback to the home of a mulatto couple named Delaney who refused any payment. The Delaneys transported them at night on horseback to the Voorhees home where there were other runaway slaves. Peter wrote, “We all helped him strip his tobacco. That night he took 17 of us to the next place and so on traveling in the night on horses we went from place to place til we reached Delaware.”

Ohio Underground Railroad Routes

Courtesy of Federal Writers Project

On January 7, 1849, they departed for Mt. Gilead, where Peter and Mary remained for some months. That May the couple travelled by buggy to Mansfield and were put aboard the REAL railroad bound for Sandusky, Ohio.  At the docks, Peter found work on the “Sultana.” He later married Mary and settled in a home he had rented in Oberlin.

Peter Pointz

Courtesy of Harris-Elmore Library

Peter became fearful when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850. He and Mary fled to Windsor, Canada where they leased a farm until 1858.  All the while, Peter corresponded with his brother Samuel who assisted him in buying his freedom from the Atwells. He then returned to Kentucky to help a nephew escape to the north, but Peter found him to be a “worthless, shiftless fellow who did not know the value of freedom.” It was then that Peter traveled north and made his home in Clyde until his death in 1898.

In Bound for CanaanBordewich reminds us that slavery shows Americans at their worst, but the history of the Underground Railroad shows them at their bravest and best.”

A version of this article appeared in Lifestyles 2000.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Lucy’s Compassion Touched the Lives of Many

First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes

Hayes Presidential Library and Museums


Lucy Webb Hayes’ compassion and kindness extended well beyond her family, friends, and the communities in which she lived. Becoming first lady broadened her horizons even further. Now her concerns were for veterans, the impoverished, and the chronically ill around Washington, D. C. She also became well aware of the challenges Indians confined to reservations faced. Her concerns drew her to Hampton Normal and Industrial School located at Hampton, Virginia. Created in 1868, by the Freedmen’s Bureau, it was managed by General Samuel Armstrong, a son of missionaries and commander of African American regiments during the Civil War. Hampton was devoted to the education of the children of freed slaves.

 General Samuel Armstrong

Courtesy of Library of Congress

But Armstrong was given a new challenge when President Hayes released the Plains warriors from Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. Under the care of Colonel Richard Pratt, the Native Americans could choose to return to the plains or remain in the east for education at the old cavalry barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. But until it was repaired, Pratt asked Armstrong to house the Native Americans at Hampton. Armstrong immediately agreed and made plans to build a structure at Hampton to house his new students.

                                        Hunkpaka Girls on Arrival at Hampton

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Like most Americans, the president, first lady, and his administration believed that through education in the English language, the trades, patriotism, Christianity and citizenship, the native peoples would soon find their place in mainstream American society. Today, this attitude is clearly seen as paternalistic and destructive of their culture, but in 1878, it was an extraordinarily enlightened Indian policy. 


Booker T. Washington 

Their teacher at the newly built Wigwam (which still exists today on campus) was none other than Booker T. Washington. He was Hampton’s most successful graduate who returned to take a teaching position before creating the Tuskegee Institute.

Wigwam at Hampton

Courtesy of National Historic Places

The arrival of the Native Americans from Fort Marion created publicity across the nation. President Hayes became the first prominent individual to support Hampton’s efforts. During Lucy’s frequent visits to Hampton, Armstrong showed her photographs, ledger art, and pottery designed by the Native American students. It was his way of demonstrating to Lucy that these dispossessed children could succeed in American society. Lucy’s influence attracted wealthy individuals and reformers. A new wave of funding from Christian reformers helped shore up the school’s finances. President Garfield, Grant, and Secretary of War Robert Lincoln visited and advocated Indian education so strongly that the federal government paid $16,000 for 100 students to attend Hampton the next year. While the Native American program never matched that for African American students, the federal funding attracted nearly double the number of private contributions.

Pottery Compote by Bears Heart

Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

Many of the Fort Marion Indians joined Pratt when the Carlisle Barracks was completed, but some remained at Hampton. Among them was Bears Heart, a Cheyenne warrior who Lucy knew well.

Bears Heart at Ft. Marion

Courtesy of National Archives

 Nearby is one of the pottery pieces created by him and given to Lucy. Bears Heart traveled with Armstrong to reservations and encouraged children to gain skills and education at the school. Eventually, between the years 1877 to 1923, nearly 1400 students came to Hampton from 62 different tribal groups.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Island Son Finds Life’s Calling Far From Home


Island Son Finds Life’s Calling Far From Home


When we think of the Kelley families, we immediately think of that island in our Lake Erie, an island that carries their name and remains home to many of them. However, there were those like Douglas O. Kelley, who was born on the island in 1844. He was the son of Julius and grandson of Datus Kelley. Douglas left the island to attend law school at Hobart College in Geneva, New York.


Douglas O. Kelley

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

A short time later, he left school and enlisted as a private in Ohio’s 100th Infantry forming at Toledo, Ohio. He quickly rose to the rank of first lieutenant, but in September of 1863, he was captured at the Battle of Limestone Station. Young Kelley escaped and received aid along the way from African Americans, but soon was recaptured and spent nearly 15 months in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. In the spring of 1864, Lt. Kelley was grievously wounded when a guard’s bullet passed through Captain George Forsyth and hit Kelley in the throat. Bleeding profusely, Kelley was carried by his comrades to the prison’s hospital ward where, in time, he recovered.


At war’s end. Kelley returned to the island, read law and was soon admitted to the bar. He followed his younger brother Zina and the Episcopal missionary and educator Rev. James L. Breck to California. While Zina attended St. Augustine College, founded by Breck in Bernicia, California, Douglas practiced law in San Francisco.


It wasn’t long before Douglas found his true life’s work. In 1872, he was ordained a deacon and several years later was accepted as a priest in the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Kelley chose to spend the next years as a missionary, establishing parishes and missions throughout the San Joaquin Valley – 18 in all. All of which are still active today. For many years, he was editor of the “Pacific Churchman” and compiled and published a “History of the Diocese of California: 1849 to 1914.”


Rev. Kelley married Ann Fletcher. The two became tireless workers for the Episcopal Church, traveling throughout the San Joaquin Valley.  They had 8 sons. The eldest, Tracy, taught at the Episcopal Church’s St. John’s College in Shanghai, China, and at the University of California. Another son served as an Army chaplain. In January of 1918, Rev. Douglas O. Kelley died at St. Luke’s Hospital, a facility he was instrumental in founding.


To learn more about the Kelleys and the history of Kelleys Island, pick up one of Leslie Korenko’s six books about island life. Read her blog and articles in the “Put-in-Bay Gazette.” Leslie, an award-winning author, has done much to preserve and share the history of Kelleys Island.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A Mother’s Love: Hayes Children Eagerly Await Lucy’s Return

Curator of Manuscripts Julie Mayle shared this touching letter written by Scott Hayes (7 years old) and his sister Fanny (11 years old ) to their mother First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes. President Hayes and Lucy's  two youngest children lived with them in the White House from  1877 to  1881. 

Scott wrote this heartfelt letter in March of 1878, telling his mother how lonely he and sister Fanny were without her. Lucy had gone to Chillicothe, Ohio to visit Cook family members. Lucy's kindness, compassion and caring ways not only endeared her to her own children, but to those of friends and relatives. 

Scott wrote this letter in pencil on White House stationery.  Julie has prepared a transcription of the letter below that also includes a short note from Fanny. The letter is part of the Rutherford B. Hayes Papers located at the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum and Libraries.


Executive Mansion, Washington

March 21

My dear mama

I was so glad to get Aunt Phoebe’s letter telling all about you.  We want to see you so much for it is so lonely without you.  We want you to come home very soon.  Fan has got hurt on her poor knee and can’t walk without her leg getting stiff.  We are all in a great hurry for you to come home.  Are you not ready to start?  I’m going to see Joe Potter to-day.  Fan and I went last Saturday and had a good time.  I hope you will send me an answer very soon.  Love to all.

Your loving Scott



Dear Mama

I hope that you will answer my letter as soon as possible, now as this is Scott’s letter I will stop.

Love to all, I am your loving Fanny


Rud will be at home on Friday


               March 28th 1878

This picture of Lucy in the White House conservatory was taken by artist Theodore Davis. Fanny stands behind Lucy while Scott is seated to her right. Next to Scott is  Theodore Davis' daughter, Carrie. This photograph was taken in 1879.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Grim: The Hayes Family's Favorite


From George Washington to Joe Biden, America’s presidents and their families have displayed great affection for their dogs. Perhaps none enjoyed this special bond more than the Hayes family. Their collection of canines included every size and shape. But the hands-down favorite was a beautiful brindle, mouse-colored greyhound named Grim, a gift from the DuPont family of Delaware. According to President Hayes, when the “good natured greyhound” arrived at Spiegel Grove, he “took all our hearts at once.”

 It was Grim’s special personality – his peculiarities – that endeared him to the family.  One day Lucy Hayes sang the Star Spangled Banner and “Grim lifted up his head and howled in a most pitiful manner.” And ever after when his mistress sang the national anthem, Grim began to howl. But if Hayes and the children were exceedingly fond of their “large, handsome” greyhound, it was Lucy whom Grim loved the best.  Hayes recalled, “How happy old Grim always was when she returned after an absence.” He was “lonely without her and unhappy.”

President Hayes and Lucy with Grim at Spiegel Grove
May 1887 

Lucy Keeler Photograph Collection

Had it not been for its many trees, Spiegel Grove would have suited Grim’s natural love for running to perfection. The sleek greyhound reached such speeds that “if a tree chanced to be in his way,” he would run headlong into it. Later, two pups fathered by Grim, Jove and Juno joined in these antics that so delighted the Hayes family. The three greyhounds raced around the grounds and if a door were open, they continued the chase inside. The family’s shepherd and little terrier were forever relegated to bringing up the rear.


                    Enlargement of Photo Showing Grim Beside Lucy

The president, believed that because of his size and appearance, Grim commanded respect from everyone who knew him. Wagons and carriages turned aside for him wherever he went. But Grim’s privileged status may have been his undoing. One spring day, while running on Lake Shore Railroad tracks, Grim encountered an oncoming train.  Instead of moving aside, he “stopped still.”  The engineer blew his whistle repeatedly, but Grim “did not stir.” Death was instantaneous. The president could only conclude that Grim fully expected “the train to turn out for him.”

 Hayes and Lucy were deeply affected by the loss of this much-loved pet. As soon as the frost was out of the ground. Hayes carried the remains of dear Grim to “cemetery point.”  He buried him there by his war horse Whitey.  Grim lies there still – only a few feet from the final resting place of the master and mistress to whom he had given so much joy.

Note: Taken in May 1887 by Lucy Keeler at Spiegel Grove with President Hayes and Lucy this photograph is the only known image of Grim. In the second picture, Photographic Curator Gil Gonzalez enlarged that portion  featuring Lucy with Grim by her side. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tragedy Aboard the Noronic

                                                         Noronic Brochure

 Cruising America's rivers and coasts has once again become popular. However, it was the Great Lakes destinations that remained the premier attraction for travelers both Canadian and American at the turn of the century. To meet this demand the Canada Steamship Lines set about building stately passenger ships. The “Noronic,” launched in 1914, joined her sister ships the “Huronic” and the “Hamonic.” All told the Canada Steamship Lines grew to include more than 100 of these luxurious vessels. The big steamers became known as the “Great White Fleet.” “Noronic's” beauty caused many to refer to her as the “Queen of the Lakes.” 

                                                 Charles E. Frohman Collection 

Built for both safety (steel-hulled and double-bottomed) and passenger comfort, the “Noronic” featured an orchestra, spacious staterooms and elaborate woodwork. She had five decks and room for as many as 600 passengers and 200 crew.

On the fateful night of September 16, 1949, the “Noronic” docked at Pier 9 in Toronto. In the early morning hours, a passenger smelled smoke coming from a locked linen closet. A bellboy retrieved the keys to the closet. When he opened the door, the fire exploded into the hallway fueled by fresh air and fed by the heavily oiled woodwork. Fire extinguishers proved useless and the ship's fire hoses were out of order. When the vessel's alarm whistle sounded 8 minutes later, more than half the decks were on fire.

Noronic Ablaze
Courtesy Creative Commons

When pumpers arrived, flames were as high as the ship's mast. With stairwells on fire, passengers (some engulfed in flames) jumped into the frigid waters below. Others climbed down ropes as the “Noronic's” gangplank extended only to a single deck. Crew members broke stateroom windows, but many had already suffocated or were burned alive in their cabins. Fire boats, ambulances, and more pumpers arrived. When the first extension ladder reached B deck, it quickly broke under the weight of dozens of panicked passengers. Some fell into the water, others tumbled to their deaths on the pier. As the heat intensified, the decks buckled. So much water had been poured into the “Noronic,” that the vessel began to list. Firefighters were forced to stop until she again righted herself. When recovery operations began, firefighters found passengers trampled in their attempt to reach the decks via the burning stairwells. Many were found burned beyond recognition.  Of the 582 passengers 119 perished, all American save one.

No cause of the fire was ever determined, but the crew was blamed for cowardice and negligence. Too few (only 18) remained on board the “Noronic” that night. No one provided passengers with evacuation procedures or awakened them as the flames spread. Some of the crew even fled the ship. Using dental records for the first time, it took investigators nearly a year to identify the dead. “Noronic's” hull was eventually re-floated and scrapped at Hamilton, Ontario. The tragedy sounded the death knell for Canada Steamship Lines' cruises. Only a few years later, CSL, amid lawsuits and new regulations,  brought a sad end to  its once famous Great Lakes cruise line.