Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Baloni Bullet and the Black Hand

The " Baloni Bullet" was discovered in a manila envelope in a bound volume of "Sandusky Register" newspapers during obituary indexing

On the night of March 9th, 1916, James Baloni (aka Bologna) rushed into the home of Angelo Lauria (aka Lowrey) to call the Sandusky police. He reported to Chief Weingates that his older brother Giuseppi (aka Thomas) Baloni had been shot in the neck and lay dead in the alley at Camp and North Depot. James had also suffered a gunshot wound to his thigh. Both had come from Italy and were working as section men on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

James told police that he had no idea who had shot them. But the coroner noted there were powder burns on Giuseppi’s neck, indicating the murderer was at close range. He also discovered a 32 caliber revolver with 5 loaded chambers lying beside the body. Surely, there was more to the story than what James was telling the chief. In fact, James was also carrying a fully loaded revolver.

Weingates interrogated James before taking him to Providence Hospital. He also questioned Angelo Lauria…. No one was talking. The chief hoped the bullet would reveal the truth. Had the Baloni brothers fought and shot each other? Had Angelo Lauria shot both brothers? What was the motive? Was it a family argument or was it the work of the “Black Hand”?

Black Hand tactics were at work in Italy at the turn of the century and then infiltrated Italian neighborhoods in large U.S. cities. Black Hand gangs used extortion and threats of violence to extract protection money from their intended victims. The term Black Hand evolved from the cryptic notes that bore black lettering and drawings. Now, Chief Weingates suspected the Black Hand may have come to the Sandusky area.

Eventually the bullet did reveal the truth. It was not of the same caliber as that of the Baloni brothers’ revolvers. Pressuring Angelo Lauria further, he confessed that it was his brother Dominick who had murdered Giuseppi and wounded James. Dominick had fled the city on the very night of the killing.

Less than a week later Diego Lauria, cousin of Dominick and Angelo, turned up dead at the Vissenera boarding house. Two 38 slugs were extracted from his head. All eight boarding house residents were held at the police station and questioned. Chief Weingates told the “Sandusky Register” reporter that Diego had been implicated in a Black Hand murder at Marblehead a few weeks earlier.

Further investigation led Chief Weingates to suspect boarding house resident Vincenzo Denneria as the man who had killed Diego Lauria. Vincenzo was picked up while on the run in Toledo. He later confessed that he had murdered Diego because he feared Diego was out to “get him.” The two had quarreled when Diego had lured Vincenzo’s cousin Mariano Dennaria to Marblehead to extort $100 from another Italian. In a matter of three weeks, Giuseppi Baloni, Diego Lauria, and Mariano Dennaria had all been victims of revenge. Chief Weingates’ theory had proved correct. The Black Hand had indeed come to Sandusky.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Frohman Summer Series: "Hands on History" Features Roller Coasters

Steve Oberst Demonstrating How Coasters Use Kinetic Energy
Students Creating Their Roller Coasters

It Works!

Students Working with Sierra Lobo Sponsors

The second session of the Frohman Summer Series "Hands On History" focused on roller coasters. The Charles E. Frohman Collection housed in the Manuscripts Division at the Hayes Presidential Library & Museums contains the oldest pictures of the world famous Cedar Point Amusement Park. From 1892 to the present day, coasters have been a top attraction at Cedar Point. 
Students, age 6 to 11, used the  photos of these early coasters to gain firsthand knowledge  by connecting history to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Steve Oberst then demonstrated the impact of speed, kinetic energy, and gravity. Students used a variety of materials and applied the knowledge they'dd gained in this STEM project to create their own coasters.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Join us for History Roundtable with Mike Gilbert now in its Fifth Season!

Mike Gilbert 
The ever-popular History Roundtable with Mike Gilbert returns for its fifth year this fall with another fascinating series. From taverns and mile markers on Route 20 to Civil War medicine and ghost stories, master storyteller Mike Gilbert will speak Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Hayes auditorium. The cost is $5 for each session. We are grateful to Mary Wonderly, M.D. for sponsoring History Roundtable once again this year. Preregister with Nan Card 419-332-2081, x239, or

The schedule is as follows:

Sept. 15Taverns, Route 20, Mile Markers   - Travel the same path as our pioneer leaders as we explore the taverns and mile markers along Route 20.  During the early 1800s these taverns served as resting places for the trip through the Black Swamp. Learn the history and stories hidden behind their doors.

Sept. 22 – Tales of Fort Stephenson - Experience the noise and smoke of battle. You may feel you’ve heard it before, however, this presentation promises to deliver interesting and lesser known stories about those who participated. Unless you’ve studied the battle in detail you are certain to learn something new.

Sept. 29 - Did You Know ?  Bring your knowledge of Sandusky County for this topic. Find out and share the amazing connections that make our county one of the most historically rich areas in Ohio!

Oct. 13 - Trolley Tours of Oakwood Cemetery, sponsored by George Schrader, attorney at law -
This session, which covers the stories of the men and women who are buried at Oakwood Cemetery, is sold out. 

Oct. 20 - Civil War Medicine - The medical field has made tremendous advancements since the Civil War.  Listen to a discussion of medical practices certain to make you squirm in your seat.  Thankfully participants will not have to undergo treatment, just listen to stories concerning early medical procedures.

Oct. 27 - Ghost Stories -  Gilbert brings back one of his most popular Roundtable presentations and just in time for Halloween! Gilbert takes us around the world as we investigate international hauntings.                

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Adeleta and the Boys of Company K

Company K on the Sandusky County Courthouse Steps

In early April of 1923, Captain Frank Buehler of Fremont, Ohio announced the death of Adeleta, the cat.  With tears in his eyes, the veteran stated that she had been buried with full military honors!

A large, pure white angora, Adeleta had been living with the Buehlers on Adams Street where she was loved and pampered by the entire neighborhood. But her beginnings were anything but quiet. As the mascot of Fremont's Company K of the 147th Infantry, Adeleta was all military.

In 1916, Company K joined General John J. Pershing's Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa.  Shortly after arriving at Fort Bliss, Texas, the Fremont soldiers encountered a fluffy little feline.  Details of just how Adeleta was "inducted" into Company K remain murky. Sources indicate that she was "drafted" as a kitten against objections from her owner.  By the time an investigation was launched, it was too late. She had been "sworn in."

With orders to capture Pancho Villa, Pershing's 10,000-man force headed for the Mexican border.  Now a member of Company K, the kitten traveled with the troops. Like most angoras, she was intelligent, curious, and bonded easily with humans. During the nine months spent patrolling the border and confronting Mexican revolutionaries, she grew into a "beautiful, powerful" creature whom the men claimed was "terrible in war."

While fighting Pancho Villa's guerrillas on the border, the Fremont soldiers heard Mexican villagers singing a romantic folk song about "Adelita," a brave female warrior who fought along side the revolutionaries. Then and there they knew they had found the perfect name for their mascot.  

When Company K returned from the border and settled in at Fort Riley, Kansas, Adeleta was front and center with her comrades. But in a matter of months, everything changed for the Fremont soldiers and their beloved Adeleta. With war brewing in Europe, Pershing was headed overseas and the 147th Infantry would go with him.

The soldiers worried about Adeleta and her future. What would become of the mascot who had touched their hearts and brought them so much enjoyment during their days on the border?  With all certainty, the men knew taking her to Europe was out of the question.  Finally, the men decided that on their return to Fremont, Adeleta would be "furloughed" so that she could live with the Buehler family. And there she remained - fat, happy, and the center of attention. At the end of World War I, she was there to welcome home her former comrades.

She lived another five years with the Buehlers until that fateful spring day when Taps were sounded to herald her passing and honor her service to the boys of Company K.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

WWI Creates Suspicion of Loyal German Americans

Courtesy Library of Congress

When America entered the First World War, the Wilson administration launched a massive propaganda campaign against its enemy - Germany. Referred to as “Huns,” Germans were portrayed as inhumane on posters, leaflets, and in advertisements. With 1/3 of the nation’s population composed of immigrants, the federal government feared that many German Americans would become spies or assist the German war effort. The Justice Department kept a list of German aliens. More than 480,000 individuals appeared on the list, of which 4,000 were imprisoned for spying or supporting the German cause.  In its efforts to identify more spies and traitors, the federal government soon began suppressing the German culture.

The campaign worked splendidly. Cities across America went to great lengths to show their allegiance to the United States and help root out spies and sympathizersBusinesses, streets, and towns with German names were changed. Some libraries removed German books from their shelves. The German language was frequently banned in churches and schools. Many with German surnames soon began to Americanize them.

In Sandusky County, Ohio, some German Americans were looked upon with suspicion and attacked for refusing to swear allegiance to the U. S. The most serious incident occurred in the spring of 1918 when a German resident was overheard in a downtown bar supporting the Kaiser. A crowd chased him to another bar, finally capturing him. They took him to his tailor shop. There he was forced to his knees and ordered to kiss the American flag. Defending himself with a club, he declared that one of his sons was in the service and that he himself was actually Russian! But the mob was having none of it. They threw the tailor down the stairs and stuffed the flag down his throat. They then decorated his shop with an abundance of American flags. The “Daily Messenger” wrote that the sheriff housed him for a short period in the city jail for his own protection.  

 The Sedition Act covered a broad range of offenses, including speech and expression of opinion. Only federals could enforce the Sedition Act, but local law officials were compelled to identify and report to the Justice Department those they believed disloyal to the United States. This increased tensions everywhere. Locally, the angry mob moved on to interrogate the loyalty of Rev. Erwin Marker of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Rev. U. S. Bartz of the First Presbyterian Church, Charles Maule who had celebrated after early German victories, and “German Courier” editor Vollmer. Their suspicions were unfounded and nothing came of it. 

It wasn’t long before cooler heads prevailed, first in Gibsonburg, Ohio and then in Fremont. By week’s end, “vigilance” committees were formed. Their purpose was two-fold: to prevent loyal German Americans from being humiliated and to identify those suspected of treason. An enormous “Liberty Parade” was organized for Patriot’s Day. Thousands poured into the streets with flags flying! The local papers featured the event as a patriotic celebration. In reality, those suspected of German sympathies were compelled to demonstrate their allegiance by kissing the American flag, purchasing war bonds, and supporting the Red Cross

Courtesy Library of Congress

As the war turned against the Central Powers and the Sedition Act was repealed, emotions subsided across the country. There were those who secretly believed the government’s tactics had been too heavy handed. Some resented the severe repression of speech. Most German Americans went on with their daily lives, eventually forgiving their neighbors for the hard feelings harbored against them. But in the process, many treasured German traditions were lost forever.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Toledo State Hospital Baseball Team, ca. 1905

Toledo Asylum for the Insane was established in 1888 on 150 acres located at the corner of Detroit and Arlington Avenues. The land had been donated by Lucas County. It was the first institution in the  United States to be designed on the cottage system. The grounds were situated in a park-like setting where 32 buildings were constructed. The site consisted of 20 cottages, 2 strong wards, 2 infirmary wards, 2 hospital buildings. 2 dining rooms, an administration building, chapel, kitchen and bakery, laundry, storehouse, and boiler house. Dr. H. A. Tobey was appointed superintendent in 1886 and remained in this position for 19 years.

To learn about Toledo State Hospital and the collection, use the link above.

Toledo State Hospital Baseball Team, 1905
Toledo State Hospital Baseball Player, unidentified

Monday, June 4, 2018

Finding David J. Vance

Dr. Charles R. Pontius with David J. Vance in the "Winton" 
Hayes Presidential Library and Museums
Sandusky County Local History Photograph Collection
Some years ago, I researched more than two dozen African American soldiers who served in the Civil War who either enlisted from or resided in Sandusky County, Ohio. You can read short sketches about each of them on the Hayes Presidential Library & Museums website. What proved to be most frustrating was my search for pictures of these courageous men who enlisted midway through the Civil War. By mere happenstance, I discovered a photograph of one of these soldiers taken long after the war and for a totally different purpose! That Civil War veteran was David J. Vance who was born in 1839 in what became Lewisburg West Virginia.  

The picture in which David Vance appears is one of a series of staged images taken in 1903 of well-known Sandusky County physician Dr. Charles R. Pontius. Pontius was apparently thrilled with his beloved “Winton” automobile. In addition to the "Winton,” a horse named “Kitty,” and an electric street car are featured in the photograph. The picture was intended to show viewers the rapid evolution in transportation that was taking place at the turn of the century. But of course, none of this immediately of interest. It was the friend sitting beside Dr. Pontius in the “Winton,” who was identified as Vance – the first and only picture I had located of one of Sandusky County’s African American Civil War veterans. I am hoping I will discover more images of these brave men!

Vance enlisted in the 44th U. S. Colored Regiment that was formed at Chattanooga in 1864. The regiment fought at battles near Dalton and Rome, Georgia and at Nashville. Serving a total of 19 months, Vance was discharged in August 1865. He returned to Sandusky County where he worked as a laborer and then a shoemaker. In 1882, he married Jane Whetzel Keys. She was the daughter of Felix and Lavina Newsome Whetzel and was born near McCutcheonville, Ohio.

Courtesy of Wayne Van Doren

To add to their income,he Vances rented rooms to several boarders and Jane worked as a hair dresser. At the age of 56, David Vance joined the local Eugene Rawson Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. He remained a member in good standing until his death in January of 1904. Jane lived until the age of 91. Both David and Jane are buried in Fremont, Ohio's OakwoodCemetery.

Courtesy of Find a Grave

A version of this article appeared in Lifestyles 2000.