Monday, October 28, 2013

Mentor @ 50 -- Anniversary Lecture Series Culminates with Hometown Heroes

Hometown Hero  -  Coach Coogan Reese,  1916-2004

A ten part free lecture series celebrating the City of Mentor’s 50th Anniversary culminates with a program on October 29th honoring ‘Hometown Heroes, Past and Present.’   As a former MHS student, class of ‘75 and retired educator, I can think of no one other than Coach Reese more deserving of being recognized.  It was not until I spoke at his funeral and served as pall bearer in 2004 that I came to realize how giving a man he truly was.  I had only known Coach Reese as a guidance counselor and my cross country – track coach before that moment.  Here is his story and my recollections of a hometown hero to many of us former Mentor Cardinal student-athletes.

Coach Reese had a military career few even knew of.  He enlisted in the US Army in 1933 and served thru 1937 attaining a rank of PFC.  He reenlisted in 1940 and served as an intelligence officer with the 475th Infantry thru 1945.  1944-45 saw him experience some of the War’s most iconic moments in India, Burma, and China.  It was not until giving his eulogy that I learned of Combat Awards, Purple Hearts, China and US awarded  ‘Stars’.

Coach’s next phase of life was known to me.  He attended Hiram College, starred in athletics while there and graduated in 1949.  This I know because Coach Reese always pitched his alma matter to us on the track team each year.  He even took us to the campus for a day and introduced us to his classmate, friend, and another war decorated veteran – track coach Bill Hollinger.  That visit sealed my college choice.

Upon earning his degree in education, Coach Reese located to Lordstown,Ohio for two years, residing in a boarding house with his young family.  He taught history, physical education, and drivers education at the high school.  He also founded the football program at the school.  In 1951, Coach Reese joined Lee Tressel and Arden ‘Stretch’ Robertson at Mentor High.  Coach Reese was the QB coach, asst. basketball and track coach.  In time he became the head boys basketball coach.  In 1956 he left basketball and football to assume the head track coach duties.  In ’57 he added head cross country coach to that list.  Coach Reese remained in both those positions for more than three decades.  His last year was ’79-80 and a young coach at Euclid had the opportunity to share a moment with his former coach and mentor at the Euclid and Mentor Relays.  That coach was me.

Coach retired and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida but his influence never waned.  His Christmas card arrived a day after Thanksgiving every year until his passing.  Pictures of his wife Mary’s exploits as senior citizen community baker or Senior Olympics medalist followed.  Stories about golf rounds and memories from our shared past never faded.  Coach Reese touched the lives of probably in excess of 3000 athletes in his time at Mentor.  My story is not unlike any other person who met Coach Reese – our lives were intertwined and made all the better because of his generosity and commitment to our total lives.  Hometown Hero is a title that is synonomous with Clarence Richard Reese – Coach Reese.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Myths, Legends & Hauntings in Lake County continued...Robbie Babcock and Sentinel et al.

It's that spooky time of the year, when 'Jack Tales' and other phantoms go bump in the night.  Lantern Tours, ghost walks, and paranormal tales only serve to magnify the sounds of rustling leaves, the rasping sounds among the branches and the lurking shadows among the darkening nights under an October harvest moon.  Even before Lake County was founded in 1840, stories of hauntings and bizarre activities were whispered by locals and recorded in print.  Some like the 'Girl in Blue', 'Willoughby Medical College', or the 'Melonheads' have been shared in 2012 and earlier.  The 'Monster of Little Mountain' kept scores of families in their homes at night in the early 1800's.  These loud, eerie noises resonating off the rocks and nearby caves proved to be a prank by local lads who created these menacing sounds with a wooden barrel and rawhide ropes.  Jilted by a lover, Hattie Martindale travels from her Historic North Cemetery home to haunt homes including the one on the hill at the intersection of 615 and Baldwin Road.

Fairport Harbor's Lighthouse Keeper Joseph Babcock is at the heart of two such haunting tales.  Babcok and his family resided over the lighthouse from 1871-1925.  Babcock's tenure though was not a happy one.  Babcock escaped death several times over during the Civil War, in Indian uprisings in Sandusky, and at the lighthouse, but fate was not as kind to his family.  The first story involves his son Robbie.

The Babcocks had two children during his tenure at Fairport's lighthouse.  Robbie died at age 5 of smallpox.  It has been said in journal entries and reported by villagers that Robbie continues to haunt the museum.  Staff at the all-volunteer museum have claimed to feel the chill of the cold air and the smell of decay in the basement.  Some have even mentioned an eerie sense of dread hovering while they work there.  Paranormals have even recorded images and voices from the tower telling them to 'go-away'.

However it is the the cat Sentinel that has made the museum even more special since 2001.  While cats have long been prized household pets, for millenia they have been shrouded in mystique.  Hapless felines were mummified and entombed by the pharohs of ancient Egypt.  Cats were persecuted in Europe for being in cahoots with witches.  In fact, cats have become woven into the fabric of the season.  Here once again, Mr. Babcock's family becomes involved.

Mrs. Babcock fell ill and spend a long period of time in her remaining years bedridden in the lighthouse dwelling's second floor quarters.  Her days were brightened by a grey puff cat and numerous other cats, nearly 21 in all.  At the time of her death, the cats disappeared.  What happened to her favorite grey cat?  Tales persisted of his reappearances.  Even the last curator to live in the house, 1988-91 encountered the ghost cat within a year of her arrival.  Reality set in in 2001 when a repairmen uncoverecd the cat.  The legendary cat was examined by museum staff from all-around Cleveland.  The cat named Sentinel still resides in the museum dwellings and may or may not be Mrs. Babcock's grey cat.  Photos, some tales, and several newspaper accounts do though lend credence to this tale.  Logic suggests the cat was accidently trapped beneath the dwelling or in the basement, starved to death and naturally mummified due to its dark, cool final resting spot.

Other possibilities suggest or support the UK lore of mummified cats being found inside of walls, crawl spaces and above rafters.  This practice was thought to ward off evil magic.  A second more graphic theory is the one of foundation sacrifices practiced by the Celtics.  Humans were preferred but a cat would suffice.

The keeper's cottage has been empty since 1991 but the rumored presence of Robbie and the actual remains of a ghost cat (2001) keep the legends alive.  Visitors and museum volunteers still report the eerie chill or skittering sounds of a feline to this day.

Strange happenings continue to be reported in Lake County to this day.  The renovated Steele Mansion in Painesville, a 'Not Guilty' grave in Evergreen Cemetery, dorms at Lake Erie College, Willoughby Coal, and even the witch's grave on Hart Road in Kirtland are but a few legendary tales still alive today.  Their existence lie in the eye of the beholder.

Sources- Mike Nolan, Cat Fancy 2003   Plain Dealer, 2001, Haunted Lighthouses, FHHS archives

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lake County Mini-Profiles -- Dwight Boyer, Reporter & Marine Historian

Born in 1912 in Elyria on the far west side of Cleveland, Dwight Boyer resided in Lake County in Willoughby for more than three decades.  Boyer began his notable journalism career as a reporter for the Toledo Blade from 1944-54.  From '54 thru the time of his death in '78, he was a featured reporter and editor for The Plain Dealer.  Boyer's passion for marine history elevated his journalistic accomplishments.  This is his story.

Boyer's love of freighters and the Great Lakes led him to write numerous articles and five narrative books of life aboard Great Lakes freighters.  Combining his connections with primary sources in the maritime industry and the events from the great storms of the lakes past, he specialized in constructing conjectural tales for vessels whose disappearance garnered the imaginations of the public eye.  Three stories that merit mention are the 1927 disappearance of the SS Kamloops, the 1929 foundering of the SS Milwaukee, and the infamous story of the 1975 loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  These stories and others comprise the five books he published from 1966-1977.  Their names and year of publication  appear below.

Dwight Boyer was also a member of the Fairport Harbor Historical Society, whose mission is to preserve Fairport history and the maritime sentiment of the Great Lakes area.  He was able to add to the museum's legacy when in late '67 he helped arrange for the acquisition of the pilothouse from the freighter Frontenac.  The Frontenac was a Great Lakes freighter built in 1923 and 600' in length.  She had a storied career on the Great Lakes until 1979 for Cleveland Cliffs.  At the time of her acquisition, she was the last wooden pilothouse on the Lakes.  The pilothouse sits attached to the 1825-1925 lighthouse in Fairport Harbor and is a part of this unique museum collection.  The pilothouse is appointed in true fashion to its 1967 setting.  The Frontenac and marine museum offer lighthouse visitors and lovers of maritime history a detailed insight in the history of the Great Lakes, freighters, and Lake Erie commerce itself.  The lighthouse and museum are open May-October and by appointment.

Dwight Boyer's books about the Great Lakes:
Ghost Stories of the Great Lakes, 1966
Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes, 1968
True Tales of the Great Lakes, 1971
Strange Adventures of the Great Lakes, 1974
Ships and Men of the Great Lakes, 1977

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lake County Mini-Profiles - The Story of Walter Wellman

Walter Wellman was one of Lake County's most accomplished and interesting native sons.  His accomplishments in journalism, exploration, and aeronautics gained world-wide recognition.  Yet to many of us in Lake County his name is unknown and his accomplishments largely forgotten.

Walter Wellman was born in 1858 in Concord.  His family roots were quite distinguished, having dated back to New England as early as 1640.  Their pedigree included inventors, lawyers, clergymen, scholars, and early pioneers of the Western Reserve.  Wellman's grandparents came to Madison and prospered as farmers.  Three of Walter's uncles became captains and important Lake Erie vessel masters.  Walter's father served in the Civil War and settled in our county for a short period of time before succumbing to his pioneer yearning and heading west.

Walter's career began with some writing endeavors for the Cincinnati Daily Gazette in the 1870's.  Walter and his brother Frank started a newspaper in 1880-81- The Cincinnati Post.  Another daily newpaper soon followed.  Known as the Penny Paper, it was the only penny daily between Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.  Their target audience was the industrial working class.  Wellman sold controlling interest in the paper to the Scripp's family.  This association with the Scripp's group led to the Post, Cleveland Press, Times-Star and some other 17 locals being launched.

After a brief span of years under the radar, Wellman re-emerged with the Chicago Herald and Record-Herald.  In 1891 it was reported that Wellman found the exact landing spot of Christopher Columbus.  In 1894 and again in 1898 a trek to the North Pole by dirigible ensued.  He attempted the treks again in 1909 and 1910 before losing the moment to Perry.  A cross Atlantic trip by airship garnered headlines in 1910.  Wellman's explorations set records and even recorded a first- wireless messages sent from land to air.  However these flights took their toll.  Wellman was a hero but dropped from public view and lived out his years quietly in NYC.

Wellman passed in 1934 at the age of 75.  Fame came once again as a 10,500 ton liberty ship was named after him.  Launched in 1944 in Houston, Texas the vessel's back story may never be fully appreciated in 20th century annals.  Wellman lived but a short time in our county but like most pioneers his innovations left a lasting legacy on the American Experience.

Sources:  Newsweek,  Feb. 10, 1934   Scientific America, April 1934  George Stevens article, August 1969