Saturday, February 16, 2008

White House Easter Egg Roll

White House Easter Egg Roll
[Courtesy of the Library of Congress]
Slowly, silently, the White House gates opened. In dashed a group of small boys. Each carried a basket of brightly-colored Easter eggs. As they rushed across the freshly clipped grass of the South Lawn, their numbers multiplied. Out of nowhere, hordes of laughing, giggling children - some in dainty pinafores, others in tattered rags - flooded the White House lawn. Moments later, the grounds were alive with streams of color as thousands of Easter eggs rolled and bounced down the slopes. Behind them came hundreds of children, running, tumbling, screaming, and laughing all the way to the bottom. From inside the White House, President Rutherford B. Hayes and the First Lady watched with delight.

Washington's children always had claimed the grounds around the halls of government as their own on Easter Monday. Even before the Civil War, thousands of little ones gathered on the lawns of the U.S. Capitol to roll, race, toss, chase, and eat gaily-painted eggs. At noon government workers, nannies, and nurses came with picnic lunches to watch the fun. The afternoon was spent playing tag, croquet, skipping rope, racing, and floating eggshells. Only when the sun set did the celebration end.

But on Easter Monday in 1877, Congressmen were horrified to find the Capitol rotunda filled with screaming children, broken eggshells, and discarded sandwiches. Determined to return dignity to the hallowed halls, they signed a bill into law forbidding any such future events on the Capitol grounds. But even an act of Congress could not prevent the children of Washington from enjoying their East Egg Roll.

The following year, just before Easter, a boy bravely approached President Hayes and asked, "Are you going to let us roll eggs in your yard?" Unfamiliar with the event, Hayes answered, "I don't know, I'll have to see about that." When the White House staff explained the tradition, the President good-naturedly ordered the gates left unlocked on Easter Monday. Hidden from view, the Hayeses and their staff watched with amusement as children slipped through the gates to roll eggs on the South Lawn. The next year, the Easter Egg Roll became an official White House celebration and has remained so ever since.

Today the staff prepares 10,000 eggs for this unique event hosted by the First Lady, with each adding her personal touch to the 125-year-old tradition. Mrs. Nixon brought the Easter Bunny. Betty Ford introduced eggs decorated in the Ukrainian style. Rosalyn Carter presented souvenir eggs. Nancy Reagan autographed wooden eggs, and Hillary Clinton's featured the paw print of Socks the cat. More importantly, the White House Easter Egg Roll remains a fun-filled day especially for children - just as it did in President Hayes' time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Wild Wolf Hunt

Last Wolf in Sandusky County

The air was crisp and clear as dawn broke - a perfect day for a hunt. Right on schedule, men began arriving with guns and ammo packed. Within minutes, the caravan pulled out of Fremont, Ohio. The "wild wolf hunt" was on!

During the first weeks of 1917, the hen houses and barnyards of Jackson Township farmers had been the target of nighttime raids by what some thought was a wolf. Most were certain the culprit was a dog, as it had been years since anyone had seen a wolf roaming the countryside. Mass hunts, poison, traps, and the destruction of the forests had ended their reign.

Once common throughout the Black Swamp, wolves hunted in packs, working together to feed and care for their young. Their haunting howls echoed through the forests at night, sending shivers down the spines of little ones. Wolves found the livestock of early pioneers easy pickings. Skilled hunters, they became an ever-increasing threat to the very livelihood of farmers. To reduce their numbers, the state of Ohio established bounties of up to $15 for each wolf scalp. One record book from the 1830s shows Sandusky Countians claimed payment for no fewer than 85 wolves.

Arriving in Jackson Township, the hunters - more than 200 of them – organized into squads. It wasn’t long before they had flushed the animal from Jacob Gabel’s woods near the Greensburg Pike. Desperate to escape, the animal fled south across snow-covered fields toward Havens Station. In hot pursuit, the troops chased their prey for more than a mile as the squads to the south and east pushed forward. Excitement reached fever pitch as the cornered animal came into sight. Within minutes, the mighty hunters took aim and began blasting away.

Weapon used by William Long on the Wolf Hunt
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Collection

All 200 rushed to inspect the kill. Indeed it was a timber wolf! Ross Koleman finished him off with a few rounds from his revolver. Shots rang out in celebration, but minutes later an argument erupted. Charlie Pero, a crack shot, claimed to have brought him down with his Winchester. William Long was sure his 10-gauge shotgun had done the job. C. E. Hite, Clyde Mitchell, and Gene Swint also claimed the prize.

As the argument grew more heated, someone threw the riddled carcass into the trunk of a car and made ready for a quick getaway. A dozen angry men moved into action. They grabbed the back of the car, lifted it from the ground, and stopped it dead in its tracks.

Back in Fremont, the debate over who killed the timber wolf raged for days. Finally, with no resolution in sight, the men reluctantly agreed to have the wolf mounted and placed on public display in the Birchard Public Library. But before the prize was turned over, the hunters arranged for a series of photographs of themselves at the kill site. The photographs would document for all time when, where, and WHO had brought down the last wolf of Sandusky County, Ohio.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Rockwell Springs Trout Club: A Fisherman's Paradise

Two miles south of Castalia, near the Sandusky Erie County line, lies Rockwell Springs Trout Club. For more than a century, the club has been a fly fisherman's paradise and a place of respite for members, their families and guests. Organized in 1900, the club acquired title to property on Little Pickeral Creek previously owned by the Bellevue Trout Club. They named the club after the natural sink that feeds the stream with cold, clear waters.
Within a few short years, the organization erected a clubhouse and recreation building that included a fish hatchery in its basement. Speckled trout eggs shipped from Michigan were gently turned with feathers until they hatched. Fed a diet of ground liver, the hatchlings were released into ponds when they reached the fingerling stage. Members used metal plates pulled by mules to dig the original streambed. To maximize fishing habitat, the club developed channels that coil snakelike throughout the property.

Rockwell Springs ca. 1950

[from the Charles E. Frohman Collection]

Families came by train from Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo. Met by the caretaker, they were transported to the grounds by horse and buggy. While the men fished, the women sewed, played cards, and chatted at the clubhouse. The children enjoyed croquet and swung from the big cottonwood tree out over the pond.

Rockwell Springs ca. 1950

[from the Charles E. Frohman Collection]

The Depression, declining membership, and the threat of development forced Rockwell Springs to re-organize several times. By 1940, George Ball of the Ball Mason Jar Company had taken title to the property in exchange for paying the club’s debts.

Inspired by the possibilities of reviving Rockwell Springs as a for profit Club, Sandusky’s former city manager Webb Sadler bought the property from Ball. Sadler was no stranger to establishing successful recreation areas. He was the driving force behind Sandusky’s Battery Park and later helped develop the Castalia Blue Hole and managed the Castalia Trout Club.

With Sadler at the helm, the club quickly grew to more than a thousand members. Critical to Sadler’s success was his relationship with neighboring trout clubs and his friendship with William Levis of Owens Illinois, owner of Castalia Farms. Levis shared his resources and exchanged information with Sadler. Through his influence wealthy executives, politicians, celebrities, and professional athletes found their way to Rockwell Springs.

Sadler transformed the property, renovating buildings, improving streambeds, and increasing water flow. After Sadler’s death in 1953, members purchased shares held by his estate and Rockwell Springs Trout Club became member owned and operated.

Rockwell Springs ca. 1950

[from the Charles E. Frohman Collection]

During the 50s and 60s, the club flourished. Its 600 members devoted themselves to creating the ultimate experience in fly fishing - whether expert or novice. They gradually purchased adjacent lands, more than doubling the size of the property. Streams, wells, and accommodations were added.

Today, more than 20,000 brook, brown, and rainbow trout swim the two and a half mile stream that wends its way through the 125-acre oasis of wildflowers, willow, honey locust, and tulip trees. Members, many from third generation families, come to test their skills against the skittish fish, enjoy Rockwell Springs' social life, and find peace and serenity in this trout paradise.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Glenn Curtiss and the 1910 Flight from Euclid Beach to Cedar Point

Glenn Curtiss
[from the Charles E. Frohman Collection]

It was a more than a strange sight to the 100,000 spectators who jammed Cleveland’s Euclid Beach in late August 1910. A man with goggles, helmet, and an inner tube draped around his neck was stepping onto what looked to many like a box kite. In reality, it was Glenn Curtiss and his Hudson flier, preparing for a flight over the waters of Lake Erie from Euclid Beach to Cedar Point.

Sponsored by Cedar Point and Cleveland’s “Press,” the flight was intended to bring publicity to the Lake Erie resorts. For Curtiss, the 64-mile trip would mean $15,000 in prize money if he could make the trip in under an hour, circle the Breakers Hotel at 3,000 feet, and return to Cleveland the following day. More importantly for Curtiss, it would mean breaking the world record for over-water flight held by the Frenchman Bleriot who had flown the English Channel.

Throwing up sand, Curtiss bounced down three hundred feet of beach, barely missing a retaining wall, before turning to pass over the cheering throngs below. Loaded down with 10 gallons of gas and two quarts of oil, Curtiss’ 850-pound pusher-type biplane could barely rise above 200 feet. The aviator hugged the shoreline to avoid wind currents that began to tax his 30-horsepower engine. Curtiss shifted from side-to-side in his seat to balance the fragile craft.

Few believed that Curtiss could make the daring flight. Rescue boats; stationed off shore at Edgewater Park, Rocky River, Avon, Lorain, Vermilion, and Huron, testified to their lack of faith. More than 300,000 people were strung out along the route to catch a glimpse and perhaps help pluck the “birdman” from the water.

Although Curtiss foresaw the day when planes could carry “up to ten passengers,” he too had his doubts on that August afternoon. Wind gusts slowed the craft at Lorain and Huron. But soon Curtiss could see the Breakers and some 20,000 onlookers waiting for him on the beach. In a slow descent, he skimmed the waves and dropped lightly to the beach. The crowds swarmed the aviator, tearing off his goggles and gloves, and hoisting him onto their shoulders.

Amid rain, gusts of wind, and blowing sand, Curtiss took off for Cleveland the following day. So strong were the winds on the return flight that Curtiss feared that his Hudson flier would break up completely. It took 102 minutes, but the brave pilot landed safely at Euclid Beach where thousands once again mobbed him in a wild celebration.

Monday, February 4, 2008


On the Fourth of July 1946, hundreds watched from the Port Clinton, Ohio shoreline as one of the world’s most notorious and controversial ships burned to the waterline in a spectacular blaze. Gone for more than six decades, the ship Success remains as fascinating today as she did when she sailed the world.

Success aground at Sandusky, Ohio

Laid down in 1840 in Burma as an East Indiaman, the Success carried trade from Southeast Asia to England. Within a few short years, she was transporting settlers to Australia’s Swan River. But in 1852, the Success’ crew, overtaken by gold fever, abandoned her at Melbourne. The Victorian government soon purchased the 137-foot vessel along with four other hulks to confine its burgeoning “criminal” population.

Moored off Williamstown, the Success was fitted out with cells to hold its cargo of prisoners. Over the next years, tragedy and terror stalked her decks - first with prisoners and then with women and boys held in government detention. In 1885, when the Australian government deemed the “felon fleet” inhumane, the ships were ordered broken up. Somehow the Success escaped the fate of the others. Alexander Phillips acquired her and converted the hulk into a floating museum, featuring all the horrors of Australian prison life. Despite his efforts, Phillips’ venture was less than successful.

Purchased by a syndicate, the Success sailed to England in 1895. She toured ports throughout the British Isles, where curious visitors flocked to the ship to see her cells, torture chambers, and wax figures. In 1912 the Success crossed the Atlantic once more. This time she sailed for America, where huge crowds met her at every port-of-call.

Fact and fiction merged as her devoted crew of showmen thrilled visitors with horror stories and tours of ghoulish exhibits. Eventually, truth gave way to myth and she became erroneously known as the “Convict Ship” that had transported convicts from England to Australia.

In 1915, the Success sailed south, passing through the Panama Canal to take part in San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific Exposition. Indeed, the old ship lived up to her name; her tour of the West Coast was an unqualified “success!” Under new ownership, she returned to the Panama Canal and toured ports in the Gulf region, the East Coast, and along the Mississippi.

In 1923 she made her first tour of Great Lakes ports where thousands packed the old vessel at Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. After sailing the Great Lakes for nearly a decade, the Success found a permanent home in Cleveland.

Neglected, more than a century old, and no longer seaworthy, the Success was towed from Cleveland to Sandusky through the efforts of Harry Van Stack. A South African native, Van Stack had hired on in 1925 as a lecturer. Following a heavy storm, she settled on the bottom alongside her moorings. In 1945, her final owner towed the Success to Port Clinton, where she grounded in 16 feet of water a half-mile off shore. Fall storms and ice took their toll until only her teak timbers could be salvaged.

In 1963, the widow of Harry Van Stack donated books, pamphlets, artifacts, advertisting materials, photographs, and newspaper clippings, associated with the Success to the Hayes Presidential Center.

Friday, February 1, 2008

General James B. McPherson Monument at Clyde, Ohio

General James B. McPherson Monument

On August 22nd, 1881, 10,000 individuals - Civil War veterans, U.S. congressmen, military officers, area residents and even an ex-president - joined family members in Clyde, Ohio, to honor General James B. McPherson. A bronze statue, at long last, would mark his gravesite.

The story of Clyde's McPherson monument started years earlier. Civil War veterans and Clyde citizens had struggled unsuccessfully for more than a decade to raise funds for a memorial worthy of General McPherson, the highest-ranking Union officer killed in the Civil War. The catalyst for reaching their goal finally came in the spring of 1876.

The incident involved the unexpected arrival in Clyde of strangers from Washington, D.C., who had come to remove McPherson's body for re-burial in the capital. Clyde residents exploded in anger. Tempers flared and accusations of grave robbing flew as inaccurate newspaper reports fanned the flames. Councilman A. B. French recalled, "Our people did not take kindly to the idea of having our dead hero removed. A secret committee of citizens was formed to guard the grave. If those fellows from Washington had come back to get McPherson's body, powder would have been used!"

Only gradually, did the full truth come out. In fact, it was McPherson's fiancee, Emily Hoffman of Baltimore, still in mourning, who wished to have the remains of her gallant soldier nearby. As years passed and no Clyde monument materialized, Emily called on two of McPherson's closest friends for help - then President Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman. Her brother-in-law, one of the founders of Wells Fargo, offered to pay for the completion of an equestrian statue of McPherson if Grant and Sherman could convince Congress to provide a location and a granite base. When arrangements were complete, Grant himself contacted Cynthia McPherson. She agreed to the reburial of her son's remains beneath the statue in Washington, D.C. And, rather than an insensitive "lowly government official," as local residents claimed, it was General George Elliot who came to take the body of his dear friend to the capital. Elliot, a fellow West Point engineer, had been McPherson's assistant in San Francisco before the war.

Elliot left Clyde empty handed. Despite the setback, President Grant, General Sherman and thousands of veterans met that fall for the unveiling of the magnificent bronze statue at McPherson Square, just blocks from the White House.

Although Sandusky Countians had prevented the removal of McPherson's remains, they still felt betrayed - the monument intended for Clyde was in Washington, D.C. In time, anger and disappointment gave way to a determined effort to raise the funds for a statue in Clyde. Five years later, on the seventeenth anniversary of General McPherson's death, the statue that stands today over the fallen warrior's gravesite was dedicated.