Friday, March 28, 2008

Walleye - Ohio's Most Prized Game Fish

Lake Erie Walleye
(Courtesy Ohio Fish and Wildlife)

On May 22nd, Port Clinton, Ohio will once again lay claim to its rightful title as the official WALLEYE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD during its annual Walleye Festival at Water Works Park. Other cities as far away as Garrison, North Dakota vie for rights to the title. But it is Port Clinton, lying on the western basin of Lake Erie, that has been home to the walleye since prehistoric times.

Sometimes called pike-perch, walleyed pike, or jack salmon, the walleye have few distinguishing marks other than their sharp teeth and whitish eyes. In Ohio’s early history, walleye often reached 20 years of age and weights of more than 20 pounds. Millions spawned from mid-April to early May in the clear waters of the Maumee, Sandusky, St. Mary’s, Scioto, Auglaize, and Muskingum rivers.

By the 1840s commercial fishing on Lake Erie began to grow at a rapid pace in an effort to meet the ever-growing demand of the fish market. During the 1880s, the heydey of Great Lakes commercial fishing, walleye could be found in abundance in Lake Erie. But by the turn of the century fishermen began to realize that the supply was not limitless.

Unloading a catch for fertilizer during the heydey of
Lake Erie's commercial fishing
(Charles E. Frohman Collection)

Pollution and heavy harvesting sent walleye into a dramatic downward spiral. Catches at Lake Erie ports that once ranged from one to fifteen million pounds annually were reduced to a mere 163.000 pounds by 1966. Four years later, commercial fishing for walleye was banned in Ohio waters. Despite restocking and establishing catch limits, the walleye, the most prized fish of Lake Erie, remains in a precarious state. Their movements, spawning, and diet remain under close and constant scrutiny by conservationists and biologists.

Historically, the Sandusky River has always made a significant contribution to Lake Erie’s walleye harvest. Famous for its spring run, the river produces some of the largest of its species. Yet the walleye population has been declining for the past 30 years. For this reason, the river has become the focus of a 3-year study to learn more about walleye spawning behavior.

Biologists believe that the Ballville Dam, built on the Sandusky River in 1911, may limit spawning, confining walleye in an area downstream that contains one-tenth the suitable spawning habitat. Tracking walleye equipped with radio transmitters will provide a better understanding of spawning habits on the Sandusky River and out into the Sandusky Bay - and ultimately improve the population of Ohio's most prized game fish.

To learn more about Port Clinton's Walleye Festival go to

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lower Sandusky Temperance Society

Constitution of Lower Sandusky Temperance Society

By almost any standard, early Americans drank not only universally but in large quantities. According to historians, average annual consumption at the time of the Revolution equaled 3 ½ gallons of pure 200 proof alcohol per person. By 1830, hard liquor consumption reached nearly 9 gallons per every man, woman, and child – excluding ale, hard cider, and wine!

Alcohol permeated and propelled 19th century America. It was considered an essential stimulant for hard work and a symbol of fellowship. The obligatory keg or bottle of rum, whiskey, or gin was a staple at weddings, funerals, frolics, cabin raisings, and log rolling. Early Sandusky County pioneer Ezra Howland matter-of-factly reported that Lower Sanduskians “gathered early one SUNDAY morning with a keg of whiskey and proceeded in raising the courthouse.” Lawyers often drank before court. Physicians believed in liquor's curative effects.

List of signers of Lower Sandusky Temperance Pledge

As the problem grew, temperance societies formed throughout the country. The Lower Sandusky (Fremont) Temperance Society functioned much as other chapters across the nation in their attempts to control the “evils of drink.” The group raised funds for the national organization, presented a proclamation to the “town fathers,” and petitioned for better law enforcement. Interestingly, its first meeting took place on July 4, 1839. Nearly 200 Lower Sanduskians took the “pledge.”

Perhaps the success of the society was due in large part to one man – Ezra Williams. Williams had come “west” from New York in the early 1820s. By 1824, he was running the tavern of Israel Harrington. The following year, he built a distillery at “the foot of the east side hill just south of State Street” in Fremont, Ohio.

Here Williams created some of the purest whiskey that could be had. His experienced distiller combined just the right amounts of corn and rye to produce an exceptional product. The distillery was the chief source of revenue for area farmers, who sold some 12,000 bushels of corn to Williams annually. Catherine Hawk Tillotson remembered that “Williams’ hogs filled themselves with the slops or swill or other refuse of the distillery…it was a dirty place, and a dirty business.”

But all of that changed when Williams found religion at a revival meeting. He abandoned his distillery and true to his new found faith became a charter member of the society. For the first time, the amount of liquor available in Sandusky County declined. Clearly the Lower Sandusky Temperance Society brought about the first real change in the drinking habits of the early pioneers.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coverlet Weavers in Northwest Ohio

Unidentified Seneca County, Ohio children pose for their photograph before an overshot coverlet used as a backdrop

In a letter to her husband, then serving in the Civil War, young Josephine Hetrick of Washington Twp. Sandusky County, wrote, “I have been weaving all day and must go at it again tomorrow.” Weaving cloth on a hand loom for her family’s needs was a skill that was part of Josephine’s heritage. The tradition of producing cloth from wool, flax, and cotton was brought to Ohio by European immigrants and their descendants. From the 1820s through the Civil War era, these talented weavers played a key role in Ohio’s textile production.

Seneca County, with strong German influence, claimed more than a dozen professional weavers during this period including, John Bick of Rome: Henry Miller of McCutchenville; Jacob Sherman of Attica; Charles Schoch of Thompson Twp.; and Henry Brinkman, Jacob Kline, and John Gites of Hopewell Twp. These skilled artisans produced durable, colorful, and richly decorated coverlets for their families and communities.

Overshot coverlet woven in Ballville Twp., Sandusky County, Ohio
ca. 1850
weaver unknown
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Collection

By the 1830s, many professional weavers had purchased Jacquard attachments for their box frame looms. The series of punched cards with encoded designs (a forerunner of today’s digital technology) was attached to the hand loom, making it possible to control the warp and weft yarns. Traditional geometric patterns soon gave way to the complicated designs that could be created only with the Jacquard attachment: birds, flowers, buildings, trees, animals, patriotic emblems, and folk motifs.

Weavers could purchase sets of punched cards or they could punch their own to produce unique designs and their corner “signature” blocks. In the “signature” block, a Jacquard weaver could advertise his product and identify himself by giving his name; date; and the state, county, or township where he lived. Sometimes a weaver even included the name of his customer. Today, it is the “signature” block that provides clues to a coverlet’s origins.

Functional and relatively inexpensive, coverlets were very much a part of Ohio’s middle-class life. They were used commercially in railroad cars, Civil War hospitals, and servants’ quarters. They can often be seen in period photographs such as this one, where a coverlet serves as a backdrop for an image of three Seneca County children.

More sophisticated tastes and the development of the automatic loom shortly after the Civil War forced weavers to find new work or migrate to other areas. Yet in rural Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New York - where the German influence remained strong – families continued to use these durable coverlets long after their creators had died or moved on. They can still be found in homes, museum collections, and antique shops. Today, because of their rich designs and inherent beauty, woven coverlets are no longer viewed as common household goods, but rather as works of art.

Jacquard coverlet by weaver P. Shreffler, Washington Twp. Sandusky County
date unknown
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Collection

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bob Hines: Wildlife Artist

Bob Hines
(Courtesy of U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

For Bob Hines, the Sandusky River Valley’s wildlife proved an endless source of fascination. Camping, fishing, and hiking consumed his boyhood days. Little did he know that these experiences would dictate the course of his life.

Born in Columbus in 1912, Hines moved with his family to Fremont, Ohio, at the age of nine. He quickly transformed the Hines property into his personal “backyard zoo.” At any given time he could be found tending a menagerie of wild creatures – turtles, toads, fish, woodchucks, skunks, ducks, quail, and crow.

After graduating from Ross High School in 1928, Hines worked as a cook, inspector, and shipping clerk. Later, through a correspondence course, he learned taxidermy. Forced to rest during an illness, he took up drawing and painting the wildlife he so cherished.

In 1939, Hines was offered the position of staff artist of the Ohio Division of Conservation. When he discovered that his work would involve painting with oils, a medium he had never used, Hines contacted his high school art teacher Mary Williams. She provided a four-day crash course in oil painting. It was the last formal training Hines would ever have.

For nearly a decade, Hines illustrated the agency’s “Ohio Conservation Bulletin” and “Under Ohio Skies,” a wildlife education feature that appeared in 250 newspapers. Hines’ work caught the eye of Frank Dufresne, Chief of Information at the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Before long, Hines was in Washington working as an artist-illustrator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

From simple pen-and-ink line drawings to large murals, Hines’ artwork graced brochures, newsletters, wildlife guides, scientific articles, posters, prints, books, and buildings. He created the first series of wildlife postage stamps. Hines also managed the celebrated Federal Duck Stamp competition. Especially gifted at painting and describing waterfowl, Hines' Ducks at a Distance became a classic waterfowl primer, selling two million copies.

Atlantic Salmon
(Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

In 1991, Hines completed his final commission – the 50th anniversary edition of Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind. Carson, marine biologist and founder of the modern environmental movement, came to know Hines during their years at the wildlife service. In 1955, she commissioned her friend and colleague to illustrate her second book The Edge of the Sea.

When Bob Hines died in 1994, an admirer of his work wrote that “he had left behind a visual legacy of the wonder and beauty of the natural world.” His exceptional talent and knowledge of pose, plumage, and habitat merged to create living, breathing works of art.

Hines’ work was the subject of a special exhibit at the prestigious Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, Maryland, in 2003.

Acorn Woodpecker
(Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Kurt Ludwig: Nazi Spy

[Courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation]

Although he did not know it at the time, the life of Kurt Ludwig and his secret plans first began to unravel in one of America’s most public places – New York City’s Times Square. It was on March 18, 1941, near 7th Avenue, that Ludwig was to meet the man ordered to take control of the German spy ring he had organized for the Third Reich. But a freak traffic accident had left his counterpart dead and Ludwig fleeing the scene with documents intended for the Nazis.

Born in Fremont, Ohio, in 1903, Ludwig was taken to Germany by his parents as a small child. He visited the U. S. on several occasions in the 1920s and 1930s, but by 1938, Ludwig was in Austria spying for the Nazis. Discovered and detained, Ludwig remained in Austria until Hitler's takeover a month later. Returning to Germany, Ludwig was ordered to the U.S. to establish a spy network.

Ludwig recruited agents from New York’s German American Bund groups, many of whom were sympathetic to the Third Reich. Traveling the East Coast, Ludwig and his ring gathered data on U. S. shipping, aircraft production, troop strength, and munitions. Ludwig used couriers, short wave radio, invisible ink, code, and the alias "Joe K" to transmit his information to Berlin. High priority materials went directly to Heinrich Himmler.

Through British intelligence and the investigation of the Times Square accident, the FBI determined that Ludwig was indeed the Nazi spy known as "Joe K." Hoping to learn the identities of his agents, the FBI placed Ludwig under surveillance. It wasn’t until some months later that Ludwig realized that agents were watching his every move. In an attempt to escape, Ludwig led agents on a cross-country chase, finally stopping in Missoula, Montana to destroy evidence, store his car, and ship his luggage to East Coast relatives. Fearing that Ludwig would escape to Germany via Japan, FBI agents arrested him not far from Seattle.

Prosecutors indicted agents of the "Joe K" spy ring in Federal Court in New York City on charges of espionage and treasonable conspiracy. Eighteen-year-old Lucy Boehmler, who had joined the ring for "excitement," testified against her co-defendants. In January 1943, a jury deliberating just over two hours, found the entire "Joe K" spy ring guilty as charged.

Ludwig was sentenced to 20 years. He escaped the death penalty because his espionage activities were conducted before the U.S. declared war. Ludwig was imprisoned on Alcatraz Island until 1953 when he was released and then deported from the U.S.

You can read more about Kurt Ludwig and the "Joe K" spy ring on the FBI website.