Monday, July 21, 2008

Henry Pletscher and Lake Erie's Buckeye Island

Henry Pletscher

Buckeye Island is a small outcropping of glacial rock lying on the northeast tip of South Bass Island. For Henry Pletscher is was much more than rock and reef; it was his retreat –a place of peace and quiet where he spent long summer days tending his garden and fishing with friends and family.

Born in Cleveland in 1842, Henry served with the 13th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in some of the Civil War’s fiercest battles. After 3 years’ service, he returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart. Following the death of their two-year-old son from diphtheria, Henry headed West in search of his brother. Gone for nearly two years, Henry discovered upon his arrival back in Ohio that his wife, believing him dead, had married again. Heartbroken, Henry set out for the West once more. He re-enlisted, serving in the U. S. Cavalry in the Dakotas and the Arizona Territory with famed Indian fighter General George Crook.

It was Henry’s stories of high adventure fighting the Apaches that held his nieces spellbound. In a 1991 article in the Put-in-Bay Gazette, niece Elsa Watters shared her childhood memories of summer afternoons with Uncle Henry, listening to his tales as they picked raspberries, caught crayfish, and searched for seagulls’ nests.

Henry Pletscher at his cabin on Buckeye Island

According to his niece, Henry purchased the island in 1909. There he built a cabin, tool shed, and dock for his fishing boat and those of the many relatives he invited to Buckeye. Sharing his special place was Henry’s way of repaying family members with whom he stayed each winter.

But Henry’s days on that idyllic island came to an end on his 76th birthday. After stopping for a drink, Henry mistakenly signed papers agreeing to sell Buckeye. The following day, after realizing what he had done, Henry was nearly overcome by the loss. But he knew his little retreat was gone forever. Elsa recalled that “after that day, he seemed to shrink in stature.” It wasn’t long after that he left his beloved island for the Sandusky Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home.

On their visits to Put-in-Bay, his nieces would often stop at Sandusky to see Uncle Henry. They thought he seemed content enough, but life was never the same for Hnery. As Elsa put it, “his sparkle was gone with his island.” Henry Pletscher died there in the spring of 1922.

Without Henry, the winds and waves of Lake Erie began to take their toll on the little island. The garden, cabin, and dock soon were gone. But for Elsa Watters and her sister, their childhood memories of summer days on Buckeye Island with Uncle Henry would remain forever.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

That Magical Place: The Blue Hole

Blue Hole by Ernst Niebergall

If you grew up in northern Ohio during the 40s and 50s, chances are you made a trip to the Blue Hole near Castalia. I know I did. In fact, I recall passing through the impressive tufa rock entrance many times as we made our way to that fascinating natural phenomenon.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see myself as a child, bending over the rail of the rustic foot bridge. Mesmerized by the encrusted stumps and vegetation, I would peer deeply into the quiet blue-green waters of that “spring without a bottom.” With the vivid imagination of a child, I often wondered if it went all the way to China. What would happen if I fell in? Would I disappear forever like the farmer with his wagon and team of horses? Even though I later learned that the story was the stuff of legend, I am still certain that one time I saw a wagon wheel far below the Blue Hole’s quiet surface!

Blue Hole by Ernst Niebergall

I wasn’t the only one who found the Blue Hole a magical place. Long before Ohio was Ohio, the Wyandots believed the clear, cold waters held curative powers. And in 1761, when Major Robert Rogers first recorded the discovery of springs surrounding the Blue Hole, he called it a “remarkable fine spring.”

Years passed before I discovered that my mysterious Blue Hole was in fact a funnel-shaped sink hole created when pioneer Dorastus Snow built a grist mill and dam on Cold Creek in 1810. Water pooled, causing the collapse of strata in the area of the Blue Hole, allowing water to “spring” through to the opening.

The spring puts forth an estimated 450,000 gallons of water every hour! The water’s constant temperature of 48 degrees prevents the Blue Hole from ever freezing. Its color comes from its mineral content - potassium, magnesium, lime, soda and iron. Without oxygen, nothing grows in the enchanting pool of water that today measures 75 feet in diameter.

Owned by the Castalia Trout Club, the Blue Hole opened as a tourist attraction in 1925. Improved with fences, footbridges, walkways, and benches, “Ohio’s Greatest Natural Wonder” attracted an estimated 150,000 visitors annually during its heyday. On sunny days, visitors could see to a depth of 50 to 60 feet below the surface. The sun illuminated the openings through which water surged from the underground streams. After more than six decades, interest in the Blue Hole began to wane. In 1990, the Castalia Trout Club closed it to the public.

Whenever I grow nostalgic for those long-ago visits to the Blue Hole, I look at the photographs Ernst Niebergall took around 1910. They are now preserved in the Charles E. Frohman Collection at the Hayes Presidential Center. I see the Blue Hole in its natural setting, but it is one that I never knew. Now thanks to Glenn Kuebeler, I can enjoy Niebergall’s photos and many others that do depict the Blue Hole just as I remember it. Pick up Glenn’s book, “Castalia, Cold Creek, and the Blue Hole.” You will enjoy a memorable journey back to that magical Blue Hole of our past!
[This post was first published in "History Notebook" in Lifestyles2000]