Friday, April 29, 2016

Kresge's M&M's Ad – June 1, 1960

With Kmart in the news, it's appropriate to post this ad for Kresge's, which ran in the Lorain Journal on June 1, 1960. Sadly, the Super K on Leavitt Road is closing later this year, bringing the company's longtime presence in Lorain County to an ignominious end.

I'm fairly upset because Kmart is my mother's favorite store. She's been a loyal customer for years, and like many other local senior citizens, felt comfortable shopping there for groceries and almost everything else she needs. She also enjoyed mingling with the other shoppers, with whom she had much in common.

Yes, the store was a little outdated and I rarely shopped there myself. But it was a good fit for economically depressed Lorain, and was always busy when I did go in there.

On a happier note, the vintage Kresge M&M’s ad is also timely because the 75th Anniversary celebration of that iconic candy has been going on since February of this year.

Who doesn't like M&M's? It's still probably the best candy ever made.

To celebrate the big event, the company is selling some M&M's in packages that feature the original advertising mascots through the years. Not surprisingly, a few of these packages (below) magically flew into my shopping cart.

I’m too young to remember this 1940s guy.
Ah, this 1950s one looks familiar.
I’m not sure why this 1960s peacenik version is shaped like a pickle. 
This 1970s one reminds me of Al Jolson.
I'm partial to the peanut version myself. And, of course, the blue ones are the best.
Here’s a hilarious M&M’s commercial from the early 1970s that I remember very well. Remember these card-playing cowboys? “These cards are marked!” “They’re a mess!” The commercial also features early animated versions of the two current, popular M&M’s mascots.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

McDonald's Restaurants by the Numbers: Can You Help?

Did you know that every McDonald's restaurant has a number assigned to it?

Ever since the launch of the chain, each new store has been assigned a consecutive number identifying its special place in the historical timeline.

Thus, a low number store has been around for a long time. If a store closes for good, its number gets retired.

Which brings me to today's McTopic.

Regular blog contributor and historian Dennis Thompson has been compiling a numerical list of all the original McDonald's restaurant from the very first one. He’s been doing pretty well and has many of the first one hundred stores identified. Now he’s working on the second hundred, and trying to fill in the gaps caused by the stores that are no longer in business.

His problem? He’s trying to find out what number was assigned to Lorain's original (and defunct) McDonald's restaurant on West Erie Avenue. He knows that it’s in that second hundred batch, because he already knows the numbers of some other local ones that came later and are still in business.

He’s reached out to McDonald’s corporate offices but hasn’t heard back.

Trying to research it locally, we've looked in the Lorain city directories, in phone books and in the ads that appeared in the Journal when it first opened in June 1960.

Unfortunately, the store's number is not mentioned anywhere.

So if any former employees of Lorain’s very first McDonald’s can help solve this problem, be sure to drop me an email. Dennis would sure appreciate it.

One place to possibly find it is on an old store cash register receipt. Anyone have one in a scrapbook as a treasured memento?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Norwalk Landmark – Then & Now

I’d been saving this small news item (above) about the Wooster-Boalt House for about five years, with the intention of giving it the then-and-now treatment. I finally had my chance last weekend during my first attempt to locate the Lyon house.

The small clipping appeared in the Lorain Journal on May 23, 1963.

As noted on the website, “this building used to be a Presbyterian Female Seminary and is an example of Greek architecture in Ohio.

"It was built in 1847 and currently serves as a private residence. It was converted into a home by Henry Wooster in 1855, and may also be referred to as the Boalt House.

The website includes an extensive biography of Charlotte Wooster Boalt (here), the daughter of Henry Wooster. It states, "The family moved to Plymouth in the pre-Civil War days and after living there a short period of time, came to Norwalk to reside. Thus, Mrs. Boalt became a resident of Norwalk when quite young and spent most of her life here. Her early education was obtained at the old Seminary that was located in the large and imposing dwelling house at the corner of West Main and Pleasant Streets, which later became the home of the Boalt family for many years.”

It wasn’t easy for me to grab my “now" shot, as it seemed most of Norwalk’s citizens were out for a walk on Main Street on Sunday. Every time I drove by the house to grab my shot, a young mother pushing a baby buggy and leading a gaggle of kids seemed to stroll into the shot.

But I finally got my photo (apparently without being reported to the police as a suspicious character with a camera).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Havana Holiday

One of the things I looked forward to when I went back to photograph the Lyon house was to actually see Havana. On my last visit, I had taken Route 61 out of Norwalk, got lost, and missed Havana entirely. This time, I brought along a map and followed Route 99 south out of Monroeville – so even I (notorious for getting lost) couldn’t miss it.

So, after getting my photograph of the Lyon house, I headed back north to Havana to give it a look-see, which took a minute or two. Here’s the southern approach to the town. That’s Greenfield Road, Havana's thoroughfare.

As you can see, the narrow road is dotted with only a handful of houses. Off in the distance, near the intersection of Greenfield and West Street, is this fine old commercial building.

Although it now resembles a ghost town, Havana used to be a busy railroad terminal. The building above was Geo. Van Horn's grocery and hardware store. 
You can see some great archival photos of Havana and read about its history on the Huron County Community Library website here. There’s a even a vintage photo of the store in its heyday.
Anyway, I’ve always liked these small, remote country towns such as Havana. I suspect that time passes slowly there and that life is simpler. Plus, country people always seem more friendly.
Almost to prove my point, while heading out of town, I met a lone car approaching from the opposite direction – the only sign of life in Havana I saw the whole time. Its driver gave me a friendly wave. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

On the Trail of the Lyon Murder House

Ever since I first read about the Jim Lyon murder case and saw the photo of the house where it all happened, I knew I had to drive out to Havana, Ohio sooner or later to see if it was still there. Chalk it up to my morbid curiosity.

I made a half-hearted attempt to find it last weekend with no success.

Fortunately, local historian Dennis Thompson also wondered if the house was still there and decided to research it properly. He visited the historical records room on the fifth floor of the Huron County offices in Norwalk, where he examined the coroner’s report on the McGrath murder. It listed the Lyon house’s location as Norwich Township.

To find out more, Dennis consulted the curator of the historical records room, Henry R. TimmanTimman is the past president of Firelands Historical Society, as well as County historian for Huron County, Ohio. He is also the well-known Norwalk Reflector columnist and author of the Just Like Old Times book series.

Timman provided Dennis with much more than the location of the house. As Dennis explained, "Not only is he well versed in the murder, his father played a small role! His father knew Jim Lyon. Henry's father worked for one of the county departments and they had come into possession of an old house they wished to re-purpose. His dad and Jim Lyon worked on cleaning out the house. The attic was full of antiques, and one day he saw Lyons driving off with a truck load of them. This was possibly one of the crimes for which Lyon was being investigated.”

Best of all, Dennis came up with the address for the house. It’s still there too, out on Thomas Road just south of Havana. So I drove out there on Saturday afternoon to photograph the house.

It sits pretty far back from the road with a very long driveway to boot. It’s obvious that the Lyon brothers had a good view of the approaching law officers back on that fateful day in 1926 – and plenty of time to get ready for them, too.

But in stark contrast to the house seen in the vintage black and white photo, the handsome farmhouse almost shines in the afternoon sun, its bleak past literally whitewashed away.

Special thanks to local historian Dennis Thompson for his help with this and other posts!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Killer Roams Norwalk – April 1926 – Part 2

Here’s the conclusion of the story that I began yesterday of the story of Jimmy Lyon, the escaped killer who turned Norwalk upside-down for a day back in April 1926 – 90 years ago this month.

Busy, Peaceful Norwalk Was Once Taut As Posse Roamed For Killer – Part 2

Reporter Jack Heil Jr. retells the story of an exciting incident in Norwalk’s history that his father covered as a reporter for a Cleveland newspaper 31 years ago.

The hunt was on. Into Norwalk poured a small army of law enforcement officials to swell a citizens’ posse hunting the fugitives.

A day passed and then two. Finally a week went by without a trace of the brothers. The posse disbanded and the hunt died down.

About three weeks later Huron County Sheriff Ed Gregory received word from Sheriff Ed Hatch of Alpena County, Mich., of the capture of the Lyon brothers following a gun battle in which Alpena Police Chief Dougal MacKenzie was wounded on a chase which ended on a barricaded road near Lachine.

It had taken police and deputies, together with a posse armed with shotguns and high-powered deer rifles which Jim Lyon later confided to newsmen, “could have blown us out of the car,” to stop the pair.

Jim Lyon sits in his cell in Huron County Jail
posing for a photographer. His desire for
publicity led him to break jail, which threw
Norwalk into turmoil for a day.
Jim Lyon and his brother were brought back to Norwalk to stand trial for McGrath's cold-blooded slaying by Sheriff Gregory. Lyon gloried in and bragged on the headlines he had made.

Speedily indicted by the grand jury for first degree murder, Jim Lyon faced trial on April 8 before Common Pleas Judge Irving Carpenter. County Prosecutor Ed Martin prepared to demand the death penalty.

Then Lyon, in a bid for bigger and better headlines, escaped. Later investigation revealed he had smuggled a wire into his cell and managed to trip the door locks and escape via the "Bridge of Sighs," which today still connects the jail and the court room.

After keeping the city in a turmoil all day, Lyon calmly walked up to the front door of the sheriff's quarters. He eluded his heavily armed searchers and surrendered to Gregory's two terrified daughters.

It was revealed later that he escaped simply to create more headlines and had actually visited a newspaper reporter in the reporter's hotel to make sure the story of his latest exploit made page one.

He told Sheriff Gregory" "You'd better take this jail out and have it fixed."

Jim Lyon was tried and found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. He spent his final hours playing a ukelele. His brother, Leonard, pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.

To read a detailed account and legal analysis of the State of Ohio’s case against James Lyon, click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Killer Roams Norwalk – April 1926 – Part 1

Occasionally, I like to let my Lorain County nostalgia blog drift into other nearby counties.

This is one of those times. The destination: Norwalk, in Huron County.

Why? Because I have a certain affection for Norwalk. It’s where my Great-grandfather Brady moved to from Mansfield. My grandfather was born and raised there, too. He left Norwalk to come to Lorain.

Plus, Norwalk is such a charming town – full of wonderful Victorian homes and throwback businesses, as well as a classic, old-time Downtown that I’m rather jealous of.

But I’m afraid that this nostalgic and wistful setup is somewhat at odds with the subject of today’s post. The particular news item that I’m sharing today and tomorrow is from the Lorain Journal of Thursday, June 20, 1957. It’s the story of an accused (and late convicted) murderer that escaped from authorities and ran amok in the Maple City for a day.

Here’s the story, as written by Jack Heil, Jr. It’s long, so I split it in two parts. (Plus, it builds the suspense.)


Busy, Peaceful Norwalk Was Once Taut As Posse Roamed For Killer – Part 1

Reporter Jack Heil Jr. retells the story of an exciting incident in Norwalk’s history that his father covered as a reporter for a Cleveland newspaper 31 years ago.

NORWALK – Norwalk today is a peaceable city of friendly people busily going about their daily work. It was not so carefree 31 years ago – on April 8, 1926 to be exact.

A legion of law enforcement officials roamed the streets. Railway Express company detectives, sheriff’s deputies, city police and private citizens, all heavily armed, searched the town while newspaper headlines in neighboring cities screamed:


For more than 12 hours that day, the city knew no peace.

Business stood still, women and children stayed off the streets. Lawmen puzzled over the escape and whereabouts of Jimmy Lyon, who had been slated that morning to stand trial for the murder of Frank McGrath, American Railway Express agent.

The events leading up to the trial and escape began six weeks earlier on the cold, snowy morning of Feb. 18 as express agent McGrath, his assistant James Morgan, Deputy Harley Vinson, and Chief Deputy Sheriff Frank Adelman pulled up at the Lyon farm house near Havana.

The law had come to question Jim Lyon about petty thefts which had occurred in the Huron County area. McGrath was particularly interested in the Norwalk express company office job where thieves had taken $35 and the office pistol.

McGrath and deputy Adelman were met at the door by Leonard Lyon, who told them his brother had gone to Willard. Flourishing a search warrant, the officers entered anyway, and made Lyon show them his brother’s room.

When they entered the bedroom, the door slammed shut behind them and from behind it stepped Jim Lyon, a gun in each hand. Warning that if they made a false move he’d kill them, Jim Lyon with his brother, Leonard, herded the two men out and started downstairs.

As Jim Lyon backed down the stairs, facing the helpless officers, McGrath tried to jump him from above. Lyon shot him dead.

McGrath’s assistant, James Morgan and Deputy Harley Vinson had waited outside. Hearing the shots, they rushed in to be met by a hail of bullets from the Lyon brothers.

The officers took cover outside, determined to get the Lyon boys when they left the house. However, they were unable to do more than duck when the brothers, holding Adelman as a shield, made their break, firing steadily at the law men.

Piling in the sheriff’s car, the two men careened through the farm yard gate and down the road, leaving Adelman shaken but unharmed behind them.

The hunt was on.

Tomorrow: Part 2