Monday, March 31, 2014

Sandusky's Boy With the Boot

(D. Brady photo)
I'd noticed the Boy With the Boot statue many times over the years while passing through Downtown Sandusky and wondered, "What's the story behind that thing?"

A casual internet search reveals that not only are there a lot of those same statues all over the country, but they are all over the world as well. No one seems to know what country they originated from, or if there is truly a story behind it.

The Sandusky version still seems to suffer from conflicting stories about its origin. That's why I thought it would be fun to properly research it using the best source: the actual newspapers that reported the statue's comings and goings. During my research, I managed to dig up a few nuggets of information about the statue that apparently had been lost to time.

So here's my story (below). It ran in The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette in the Spring 2013 issue, and appears here courtesy of that publication. 

I've thrown in a a few bonus color photos and other images that didn't make it into the newspaper (which due to space, usually limits me to three or four greyscale images to accompany my articles).

Giving the Boot to the Myths About Sandusky’s Beloved Statue
By Dan Brady
(D. Brady photo)
For more than one hundred years, Sandusky’s iconic Boy With the Boot statue has been a beloved landmark in the community. Although the locals are well acquainted with him, however, the statue is a source of mystery to many out-of-towners. Adding to the curiosity is the fact that the present statue atop the fountain in Washington Park is a copy of the original. What is the history of the original Boy With the Boot statue, as well as his fate? Let’s take a look at the story of this symbol of Sandusky, as told through vintage newspaper accounts, and debunk some of the erroneous information about him to boot.
First of all, there is still some lingering confusion about the original statue’s origin. It is well known that his “father” was Voltaire Scott, who owned a two-story hotel located at the corner of Water and Wayne Streets. Scott decided to improve the small park he had created across the street from his hotel, and contributed $2,000 to the City for this purpose. A fountain decorated with electric lights and adorned with several statuaries – including the Boy With the Boot – was to be the centerpiece of the park.
But where did the Boy with the Boot statue actually come from?
Many online sources still state that Scott and his wife obtained the Boy With the Boot statue in Baden, Germany in 1876. But newspaper accounts from the week that the park improvements were taking place contradict this claim.
The Boy With the Boot as
depicted in the J. L. Mott catalog
The Sandusky Register of July 4, 1895 includes an article entitled “Fine Pieces of Statuary Will be Erected in the Fountain,” that tells the story of the arrival of the statues. As the article noted, “The pieces arrived in the city on Wednesday morning from the house of J. W. Fiske, of New York. The pieces represent “Venus Rising from the Water,” and the “Unfortunate Boot,” the latter representing a little boy holding in his right hand a boot. From the toe of the boot, where the statue is mounted, will issue a small stream of water. The statue is four feet high and will be placed between the two statues of “Venus,” which will rest on either side of the fountain.”
Other companies besides J. W. Fiske – such as the J. L. Mott Iron Works of New York – produced their own versions of the Boy With the Boot. According to the book Zinc Sculpture in America 1850-1950 (2009) by Carol A. Grissom, the statue was the most popular fountain figure, with thirty-three copies identified in the United States. (It’s believed that at least 24 are still in existence today in the U. S. and other countries.)
The Boy With the Boot was a popular attraction in Scott Park. But when the notorious Lorain-Sandusky tornado struck on June 28, 1924, the park and its fountain sustained some damage. This has resulted in a commonly accepted narrative that the damaged Boy With the Boot was put into storage until the mid-1930s, before being moved to Washington Park.
The original Boy With the Boot in Scott Park
But there is reason to believe that the Boy With the Boot remained in Scott Park longer than previously thought.
The Sandusky Star-Journal of April 5, 1927 included a tongue-in-cheek crime story about one of the Venus statues in Scott Park that mentions the Boy With the Boot. It stated, “Police found the body of a young woman lying in Scott park at the foot of Wayne-st. Tuesday morning. It was first believed that the lady had been the victim of foul play, but after a more thorough investigation it was thought that she had been caught in the storm Monday night and succumbed.” The article noted, “the lady had been a resident of Sandusky for a number of years and was well known, especially among the loafers along the water front. The lady in question is one of the twins residing at Scott park over which the boy with the boot sprinkles water.” 
So it appears that the Boy With the Boot was not so badly damaged after the tornado that he was stored away. And two newly discovered newspaper articles indicate that he was moved to Washington Park five years earlier than previously believed.
On April 11, 1930, a small item appeared in The Sandusky Register, under the heading “Breakfast Table Talk.” It read, “The statue of the boy holding a boot from which water pours in a continuous stream, for years the central figure of the Scott’s Park fountain, has been placed in the fountain in Washington Park.” And on the editorial page of the Saturday, April 19, 1930 The Sandusky Star-Journal, under the heading “IN GAY RAIMENT,” it is noted, “The little boy with the boot, years ago a fixture in the old Scott park at the foot of Wayne-st, now stands in the Washington park fountain, sprayed by the rising streamlets.”
In June 1935, the dilapidated fountain and remaining statuaries were removed from Scott Park, prior to its conversion into a parking lot. Two years later, the Boy With the Boot was once again threatened – not by a tornado, but surprisingly by public opinion.
In late March 1937, it was announced that the fountain in Washington Park would be rebuilt and beautified, with a new raised ornamental garden made of tufa rock surrounding the pool. When the renovation was complete in May 1937, the Boy With the Boot was placed on the apex of the fountain. But within a month, at least one citizen was unhappy about it!
The infamous letter to the editor in which a reader
urges, "Junk the water boot junk."
In a letter to the editor published in The Sandusky Star-Journal on June 17, 1937, Dr. J. T. Nicholson made his opinion known. “Junk the water-boot junk,” he wrote. He explained that, “We citizens hoped that a statue of George Washington in rustic pioneer uniform, yes, or that of the Great Sandusky citizen Mr. Mills who donated the land to our city for park purposes, yes, even a statue of an Indian chief, say Chief Sandusky, would complete the picture. If so, Sanduskians, passing through said park would not feel like holding their noses or hanging their heads in shame.”
At the same time the letter was published, the Boy With the Boot was removed from the fountain. Was it because of the criticism?
No, explained Park Superintendent Jacob Roth in an article published in the same paper the same day as the letter. The statue was taken down so that it could be given another coat of white paint. “Art critics and fault found by local historians had nothing to do with the removal, the city official indicated,” stated the article.
Back on his perch atop the tufa rock mountain, the Boy With the Boot enjoyed regular mentions in the newspapers. An April 1940 article in The Sandusky Star-Journal about getting city parks ready for summer noted, “The boy with the boot has been given a fresh coat of paint and is ready to go on duty at the fountain.”
It's easy to overlook the Boy With the Boot on
this vintage postcard – but he's there
A 1947 tourism article in The Sandusky Register-Star-News attested to the statue’s popularity. “The boy with his leaky boot draws much attention,” it stated.
By the late 1950s, the disappearance of the Boy With the Boot when it began to get colder was a sure sign of the coming winter. As The Sandusky Register-Star-News charmingly put it in its October 12, 1956 edition, “When white-gleaming “Huckleberry Finn,” (or is it “Tom Sawyer”) and his water-spouting torn boot leaves his seasonal perch atop the fountain in Sandusky’s scenic Washington Park – when falling, rustling leaves are being raked and hauled to fill the now dry basins of the fountain to be used next spring as fertilizing compost – when flower-beds are being denuded of their erstwhile blooms – then we know that fall has taken hold.”
Similarly, the reappearance of the Boy With the Boot when it began to get warmer was a harbinger of summer. An article in The Sandusky Register of April 21, 1958 noted, “Our little Friend, the Boy With the Boot, again attired in spotless white, and holding his tattered boot, has this morning once more climbed to his pedestal above the park fountain.”
Sept 1965 newspaper ad
The Boy With the Boot continued to enjoy great popularity in the ensuing decades. In addition to being depicted on postcards through the years, his likeness was made into a popular charm that was sold in local jewelry stores in the 1960s. He was also featured on an apothecary jar that was a local bank’s 1977 Christmas Club promotional giveaway.
The 1980s were very big for the Boy With the Boot. He was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and celebrated his 90th birthday in 1985. But the 1990s would literally be the downfall of the aging statue.
In 1991, the Boy With the Boot suffered two shocking acts of vandalism. First, in July he was beheaded; then, after being repaired, he was knocked from his pedestal into the fountain in early September.
1970s promotional jar
Something had to be done – so a bronze copy of the original Boy With the Boot was commissioned from the Toledo Area Sculptors Guild. It was installed in the fountain in Washington Park in May 1992.
The replacement Boy With the Boot does not need to be removed for the winter. Tom Speir, Sandusky’s Greenhouse Foreman, confirmed that the current statue is only occasionally removed for a coat of paint or for maintenance.
In July 1992, the original Boy With the Boot – fully restored – was put on display at Sandusky’s City Building at 222 Meigs Street. Kelly L. Kresser, City Commission Clerk, has an office near the display case and she notes that he still attracts attention from visitors to the building.
However, the City is taking no chances with anything happening to its retired Boy With the Boot. Kresser asked me if I had taken a good look at the display case.
“That’s bullet-proof glass,” she smiled.

The original Boy With the Boot – retired, and
under bullet proof glass in the City Building in Sandusky

Friday, March 28, 2014

"The Boy With the Boot" to Return to Wadsworth

Historic photo of Wadsworth's original
Boy With the Boot – without his boot
(Courtesy and
Downtown Wadsworth, Inc.)
I saw in The Morning Journal a few weeks ago (here) that the City of Sandusky was loaning its beloved Boy With the Boot statue (actually a replica of it) to the City of Wadsworth so that they could have a replica of their own made.

It's a really nice civic gesture.

Wadsworth had their own copy of the iconic statue until the beginning of World War II. That's when it was taken down – and melted down – for scrap metal for the war effort. Now, the city would like to replace its statue in time for its Bicentennial and Memorial Day celebrations in May. The statue is going to be the centerpiece of a new memorial to Wadsworth's fallen soldiers.

The only unfortunate thing about this story is that it mentions and perpetuates the oft-repeated legend of the "Boy With the Boot" – that is, that the statue depicts a boy "taking water to Civil War soldiers." There is no known documented source for this story, or another one in which the boy is supposed to be using his boot to help put out a fire as a member of a bucket brigade.

These are merely attempts to assign a heroic meaning to something that is supposed to be whimsical and fun to look at.

Nevertheless, it's wonderful that Wadsworth is going to bring back part of its past with the installation of the new statue.

Why am I so interested in the statue? Because Sandusky's Boy With the Boot was the subject of an article that I wrote for The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette back in 2013. On Monday, I'll post an expanded version of it here on the blog.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Clarkins Was New – March 1973

Here's a photo with caption that ran in The Journal on March 1, 1973 announcing the impending opening of the new Clarkins store on Leavitt Road.

For those of us used to seeing the Lorain City Airport there, it was kind of a wistful thing. But it was nice to have a dept. store just a few minutes away. I bought my records over there!

I've mentioned Clarkins on this blog before (here).

Clarkins also had a small gas station operation (with really cheap gas) over there too near the entrance. I remember my older brother buying a dollar's worth of gas there while shuttling us home from Admiral King in the '63 Buick LeSabre. We really scrounged around for every bit of change under the seat that day!

Anyway, here's a few recent shots of the former Clarkins property. Today it's the P.C. Campana Industrial Park.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Top Value Stamps Ad – March 27, 1957

Remember the original store "rewards" program – getting trading stamps at stores with your purchase, pasting them in books and then redeeming them for free gifts?

Lots of families did it in the 50s and 60s and we were no exception. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and sticking our huge backlog of stamps in the books – rather crookedly, too.)

That's why the Kroger ad above promoting Top Value Stamps brought back a lot of memories. It ran in The Lorain Journal on March 27, 1957.

It even features one of my favorite advertising mascots: Toppie, the Top Value Stamp Elephant.

Toppie embodied the concept of Scottish thrift, with his Tam O'Shanter, as well as the Tartan pattern covering his pachyderm physique. Since elephants never forget, he was also there to remind people not to forget to shop where Top Value stamps are given out.

Toppie was popular enough in 1958 to star in his own comic book (below). Although it seems kind of cruel to show the gentle beast's trunk getting flattened by a steam roller, the accident was the plot device that drove the comic book story. Want to read it? Click here.)

Toppie was also made into a cute stuffed toy.

 He was even featured on some of the Top Value gift merchandise, including a lunch box (below).

We had one exactly like it (including the thermos) while I was growing up. My siblings and I all used it at some point or another.

I wonder whatever happened to it?

Anyway, here's a link to a great flickr set of Top Value Stamp Catalog images.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Findley State Park Article – March 17, 1956

Here's another full page article with photos from the pages of The Lorain Journal. Like yesterday's post, this one is also from March 1956 and tells the story of how the lake at Findley State Park on Ohio Route 58 south of Wellington was formed by the construction of a dam.

According to the article, which ran on March 17, 1956 in The Lorain Journal, Findley State Forest had been established in 1936 when Common Pleas Judge Guy B. Findley donated 890 acres of his farmland in Huntington Township to the State of Ohio. It became Findley State Park in 1950.

I have many happy memories of camping at Findley State Park with my family in the late 1960s. Although it was only a short drive away (close enough that we could make a run home if we forgot something), the tall pines made it seem like you were camping in another state.

It was a good place to go to the beach too. I had no idea as a kid that the beautiful lake was man-made; I only know that we used to go there because Lakeview Park in Lorain at the time had very little beach – and what beach there was, hurt your feet!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lorain's Naval Reserve Center Article – March 24, 1956

Courtesy Lorain Historical Society
Here's an interesting full-page article that ran in The Lorain Journal on March 24, 1956 – 58 years ago today.

The article is about an almost forgotten part of Lorain's maritime heritage: the Naval Reserve Center that used to be located at 1840 Cleveland Boulevard on Lorain's East Side near Longfellow School. (Click on it for a hopefully large enough version to read.)

According to the article, the Naval Reserve Center had twenty-two classrooms, a rifle range and a drill hall, as well as electrical, electronic and machine shops. Thirty or more men drove to the center weekly to participate in Naval Reserve training.

The Naval Reserve Center won the James Forrestal Award in 1953, the highest rating that a Naval Reserve Center. It beat out more than 500 other centers to win this honor.

I'm not sure when the Naval Reserve Center closed, or when it was torn down.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hialeah Tourist Court

Aerial view of the former Hialeah Tourist Court today, located at the east end of Pueblo Drive;
the red-roofed buildings at the top are what's left of the Hialeah property. It's not hard to imagine
that there were probably other buildings along the drive circling the Hialeah property.

Just a little to the east of Lorain Diner was Hialeah Tourist Court.

What's a tourist court? It was an early form of roadside lodging (also known as a tourist camp) that consisted of a few cabins that were for rent by tourists. Tourist courts were the predecessor to today's motels, which didn't really come into existence until after World War II.

There were several tourist courts and camps along U.S. 6 west of Lorain back in the 30s and 40s.

Anyway, the earliest listing I could find for Hialeah Tourist Court was in the 1939-40 Lorain City Directory, when it was known as Hialeah Cabins. The name associated with the business at that time was M. B. Glockle.

Slowly, the name of the business began to evolve. It appeared in the 1947 Lorain Phone book as Hialeah Tourist Camp. A few years later it became known as Hialeah Tourist Court.

1952 Lorain Phone Book listing
The Hialeah Tourist Court's owners in the 1950s and 60s were Ludwig "Tiny" Pincura and his wife Margaret.

It's easy to see that in the post-war era – when Americans and ex-GIs decided to hit the road and see the country – there were many business opportunities along busy "6 & 2," the main east-west highway in Lorain. During the late 40s and early 50s, several roadside lodgings and eateries popped up in that area.

The Hialeah Tourist Court seems to have been one of the first, predating its immediate neighbor, Beth-Shan Motel and Trailer Court.

Unfortunately, the widening of West Erie Avenue in the late 1950s resulted in several businesses – including the Hialeah – being stranded on Pueblo Drive, the short, bypassed stretch of the highway.

The Hialeah Tourist Court hung on until the mid-1960s. It even changed its name in the directories to Hialeah Court Motel in some of its last listings, before finally disappearing from the phone book and the city directory around 1966.

Today, the former Hialeah Tourist Court at 4015 Pueblo Drive remains largely hidden from view from U.S. Route 6 motorists. The house that the owners lived in is still there (at left), but it looks like any other residence.

Only a lone cabin (below) – sitting back from the road and peeking out from the trees – provides a hint of the property's roadside heritage as a refuge for weary travelers.

Incidentally, Mr. Pincura was a star football player at Lorain High and an athlete with many accomplishments; here's a link to his page on the Lorain Sports Hall of Fame website. He also served as a Lorain County Commissioner, retiring in 1976.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lorain Diner Part 3

Aerial view of Pueblo Drive businesses
The Pueblo (and later, the Gypsy Fiddle Inn) had been located at the very end of Pueblo Drive – right where Charles Akers Construction is now located at 4205 Pueblo Drive. And Lorain Diner had been just to the east of it according to the 1954 city directory listing. Could one of the buildings in the above photo be Lorain Diner?

I drove out there to try and find out.

I immediately eliminated from contention the large warehouse building (at the far left of the above photo) of West Side Tractor and Marine. It was simply too new and too big; it also appeared to have a newer poured concrete construction, with those telltale seams.

But what about the company's white headquarters building (at left)? It looked about the right size, and structurally resembled the diner in the photo.

A phone call to Drew Kreger, the owner of West Side Tractor and Marine, confirmed it: the white building was indeed the former diner.

He explained that his father had purchased the building in 1961 from Mr. Carnik, who also owned the Vanishing Beach Motel property across the highway. Drew also remembered that the outside of the building had originally been "a corrugated material of either tin or aluminum."

Drew's father – "Lee" Wesley H. Kreger – operated West Side Tractor and Marine for 49 years.

Drew also said that originally there had been a small house or shack to the east of the former diner building. It was located where the current warehouse for West Side Tractor and Marine now stands.

I'm guessing that the shack might have been the Peanut Stand mentioned as being to the east of Lorain Diner in that 1954 Lorain County Farm & Rural Directory listing (at right).

(By the way, the former "vacant house" in the directory is still there, just to the west of West Side Tractor and Marine. According to the Lorain County Auditors website, its current address is 4147 Pueblo Drive and was built in 1940. The listing for F. R. Kebberly apparently was for a trailer, as he is listed as a trailer owner elsewhere in that same directory. So that ties up all the loose ends.)

I thanked Drew for sharing his information and reminisces with me. It's always nice to get the story from someone who knows!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lorain Diner Part 2

Since I knew that Lorain Diner's one year anniversary was in March 1953, it was easy to find its rather humble Grand Opening ad (above) on microfilm. It ran in The Lorain Journal on February 29, 1952.

Within a week, ads for the diner began to appear regularly in the paper, like this one (below) – with an actual photo of the diner. It appeared in The Lorain Journal on March 6, 1952.

Although the photo was rather poor (it looked even worse before I Photoshop'd it), at least it showed me that Lorain Diner looked like a prefabricated diner, especially because of its classic neon sign. But was it a prebuilt?

I decided to bring in an authority on the subject.

I contacted a diner expert – Mike Engle – the author of Diners of the Capital District as well as Diners of New York (and the man behind to get his opinion. (Mike had helped me identify another diner in Lorain back here.)

Mike responded, "The building seems to look too large to be a factory built diner. Because they had to be shipped, they couldn't be too tall, with all the height restrictions out there." He added, "I imagine it was just a regular building built by the owner. At the time, probably cheaper and quicker to build something that somewhat looked like a diner."

So if it was unlikely that Lorain Diner was a prebuilt, that meant it might still be out there by the undercut.

It was time to head out there and find out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lorain Diner Part 1

Sometimes, an item that I was going to post as filler ends up leading me on the proverbial wild goose chase.

On the same page of the March 16, 1953 Lorain Journal that included the Hollywood Lounge ad (which I posted yesterday), there was an ad for Lorain Diner (above).

Lorain Diner? I'd never heard of it.

But the ad said it was at "Stop 109 West Lake Road – near the underpass." According to this list of Lake Shore Electric Railway stops (on the Lake Shore Rail Maps website), Stop 109 was the Lorain Country Club, which was located just east of the railroad undercut on the north side of U.S. Route 6.

Intrigued that a classic diner might have been located out there at one time, I did a little digging in the city directories. Unfortunately, that area was part of Black River Township until it was later annexed to Lorain in the 1960s – so the diner wasn't listed in the 1950s books. The diner wasn't to be found in any of the mid-1960s books either.

However, it was in the 1954 Lorain County Farm & Rural Directory. The listing for U.S. 6 started at the Vermilion border and worked its way eastward, numbering the properties as they appeared and designating whether they were on the north or south side of the highway. (Most of the properties didn't have numerical addresses yet.)

Here's the listing for Lorain Diner (below).

So now I knew it was on the south side of the street, just east of the Pueblo Tavern (which I've been promising to blog about for almost 5 years) and a few residences. The diner was also roughly opposite the Vanishing Beach Motel.

The name associated with Lorain Diner – Richard Head – made sense, since he owned and operated the various outlets of The Hoop restaurants.

But what became of Lorain Diner? It sure wasn't there now. Was it trucked away at some point?

It was time to head back to the library.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Vintage St. Patrick's Day Ads

It's St. Patrick's Day, so along with my bowl of Lucky Charms for breakfast, corned beef for dinner, and annual viewing of The Quiet Man, I thought I'd post a few vintage ads to celebrate the holiday.

First up is a Bob Beck Chevrolet newspaper ad that ran in The Journal on March 16, 1964 (above). Rather than feature the traditional cartoon of Bob Beck (like last Friday's blog post), the ad includes clip art of what I assume are two traditional leprechauns, as well as another one wearing a strange hat with a dollar sign on it.

The ad is interesting to me because the largest leprechaun is a visual leftover of the era in which the Irish in America were depicted as monkeys in editorial cartoons. (Think I'm making this up? Click here to visit a scholarly website with lots of examples!) But that's okay – we Irish have a sense of humor about it.

My other St. Paddy ad (below) – for the Hollywood Lounge – also has the usual Irish icons.

This ad ran on March 16, 1953 in The Lorain Journal and announced the appearance of The Jolly Boys. You might remember I've mentioned that particular group here on the blog before, such as here when they appeared on the bill at the 1956 Mary Lee Tucker benefit show.
I don't know all the members of The Jolly Boys over the years, but they included Edward Carl Domazet on accordion and George Higgins on drums.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Chevy Dealer Mascots: Bob Beck and Commander Ray

Bob Beck Chevrolet circa 1955
Chevrolet dealers seemed to like to feature themselves as advertising mascots back in the 50s and 60s.

Remember the Bob Beck Chevrolet ads with the distinctive caricature of Mr. Beck? I remember seeing that cartoon for years. This full-page ad (above) ran on Monday, March 11, 1957 in The Lorain Journal.

I always liked it when a company depicted its owner as a cartoon mascot in its ad. It puts a friendly face on the whole operation and instills trust – which is critical if you're selling cars, as in this case.

The Bob Beck dealership was located at 2147 Broadway in Lorain.

In Cleveland, there was "Commander Ray" of West Park Chevrolet. Here's a portion of an ad (below) from late July 1969 that appeared in The Plain Dealer.
Commander Ray was Ray Herzberger Jr. He was a former Navy Commander who starred in a series of commercials for his dealership, which had been in his family since 1927. I'm sure all of you remember the catchy jingle used on his TV commercials, performed to the tune of "Sailing, Sailing."

"Chevy, Chevy – see Commander Ray at West Park Chevrolet!"

Mr. Herzberger passed away in March 1998.

I wonder if he knew Admiral King?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Willow Hardware Anniversary Ad – March 14, 1957

Yesterday's post showed Willow Hardware at the time of its opening in March 1953. Well, here's a full-page ad for the fourth anniversary of the iconic Lorain store. The ad ran in The Lorain Journal on March 14, 1957 – 57 years ago tomorrow.

I guess the store's customers back then were primarily men, judging from the clip-art head in the ad.

Times eventually changed. In our house, although the spouse didn't even know where Oberlin Avenue was shortly after we got married (she was a Sheffield Laker), she eventually found her way to Willow Hardware. She was in there as much as me, since she is the painter in the family. She sure misses that place and the helpful staff.

Aside from the nostalgic factor, the ad is interesting because of the mundane sale items that it includes: garbage cans, waste baskets, brooms, clothes pins, coffee mugs and laundry carts. Not exactly big-ticket items!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Aunt Jemima Visits Jay's I.G.A. – March 1953

Here's an interesting full-page ad for Jay's I.G.A. Food Liner, which was located at Oberlin Avenue and Meister Road. It opened on March 6, 1952 and the ad at left – which appeared in The Lorain Journal on March 4, 1953 – apparently was celebrating both the grocery store's one year anniversary as well as the expansion of the shopping center strip to include Willow Hardware, which opened at that time in 1953.

The point of interest of the ad is the appearance of Aunt Jemima in person at Jay's, cooking up her famous ready-mix pancakes.

Aunt Jemima Pancakes had been around since 1889. That's when Chris Rutt, one of the owners of the Pearl Milling Company of St. Joseph Missouri, appropriated the Aunt Jemima southern "mammy" character from a performer in a minstrel show to be the name and advertising mascot of his self-rising pancake flour.

The brand later passed to the R.T. Davis Milling Company, which successfully employed an ex-slave – Nancy Green – to bring the Aunt Jemima character to life at wildly popular pancake demonstrations at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. As described in the book Brands, Trademarks and Good Will – The Quaker Oats Story by Arthur Marquette, Nancy Green as Aunt Jemima "presided at her griddle, cooking pancakes for the crowd, trading greetings, singing songs and telling stories of the Old South. Her routine was a lively combination of folklore, wisdom and fun."

The current package
Later, when Quaker Oats had acquired the brand, the idea of using of a real-life Aunt Jemima was revived in the 1930s to great success by having Anna Robinson make personal appearances as the character. She was so well-received and beloved by the public as Aunt Jemima that Haddon Sundblom – now known for his renderings of the Quaker Oats man trademark as well as Coca-Cola's Santa Claus – was hired to create an illustration of her for the package. (That's Anna Robinson in the 1953 ad for Jay's, and a modified and updated version of the illustration of her still appears on the package today.)

Understandably, by the early 1960s, the NAACP strenuously objected to the Aunt Jemima name and trademark – specifically because the character as originally conceived was a slave. The organization called for a boycott of Aunt Jemima products and many local chapters protested the personal appearances that were still taking place at grocery stores and trade shows.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

In preparation for this post, I read the book Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M. M. Manring, and the author makes a very convincing argument that the Aunt Jemima brand is utterly offensive and demeaning to African Americans. He points to the long-running Aunt Jemima advertising campaign during the 1920s and 30s which created a whole backstory for the character as a slave well-known in the Old South for her pancakes, who later (after she was freed) sold her recipe to Yankee businessmen. Later advertisements in the 40s and 50s featured Aunt Jemima butchering the English language in a cartoonish, stereotypical dialect that's pretty racist.

On the other hand, an argument is made in the book Brands, Trademarks and Good Will – The Quaker Oats Story that the character of Aunt Jemima as originally conceived was an affectionate tribute to the extraordinary culinary talents of African-American cooks.

In our house while I was growing up, Mom made Aunt Jemima pancakes a lot. So when I see Aunt Jemima's smiling face on the package today, my only thought is of those family pancake dinners in the 60s and 70s.

Anyway, since I started preparing this post last week, I've made Aunt Jemima's famous pancakes twice! They were as good as I remembered.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lorain Historical Society Open House

It was good to attend the Open House this past Sunday down at the Lorain Historical Society. The place was packed with visitors curious to see the remodeled first floor of the Moore House, as well as the museum's collection of historical artifacts on the second floor.

For me, the Open House was an opportunity to meet  – in person, for the first time – some of the fine people who I have traded many emails with over the many months while they helped me with research for my blog.

In this case, I had a chance to meet the authors of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter  Albert Doane, Bill Jackson, Paula Shorf, Matthew Weisman and Bruce Leiter Waterhouse, Jr. – who were busy signing copies of their book. They seemed to be doing a brisk business, so apparently the book has been a big success.

(They autographed my book, even though it was a (ahem) freebie advance copy made available for promotional purposes.)
I also got to meet Sheffield Village Historical Society Director Dr. Charles "Eddie" Herdendorf, who has been helping me with some research for an upcoming April blog post.

Anyway, these are exciting times for the Lorain Historical Society with the upcoming move of the archives and many of the artifacts to the former Carnegie Library.

It's a great time to join if you're not a member already. Here's the link to the Society's website.

The authors busy signing books: (from left to right) Bruce Leiter Waterhouse, Jr.,
Matthew Weisman, Bill Jackson, Albert Doane and Paula Shorf

Monday, March 10, 2014

The House at 1034 Fourth Street

The scene on Friday night as the sun literally set on the rubble of 1034 Fourth Street
The view last November
One of the recurring themes on Loraine Ritchey's blog over the years has been the unsuccessful attempts by her and her neighbors to get the City of Lorain to do something about the nearby vacant, deteriorating house at 1034 Fourth Street.

With the house finally demolished last Friday, it was strange to see the difference in coverage by the two local newspapers.

The Chronicle Telegram led the way with a great article last Thursday by Evan Goodenow, which included the whole story of how Loraine had contacted each of the city administrations since 1976 trying to get something done. But The Morning Journal's front page story on Saturday by Richard Payerchin had no mention of Loraine at all.

I was curious about the original owners of the house, so I checked the city directories at the library. Amazingly, the house had been in the same family for more than a hundred and ten years at least.

The 1903 city directory (the earliest available edition with residents listed) had Frank and Louisa Gow at 234 Duane Street. Mr. Gow was employed as an electrician at National Tube.

Duane Street later was renamed Fourth Street as part of Lorain's street renaming plan. Numerical addresses were also adjusted, so consequently 234 was renumbered as 1034.

Anyway, as much as I usually don't like to see old things torn down, it looked like this one had to go.