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Monday, May 7, 2012


                                   TORONTO, OHIO LAYS CLAIM TO THIS DISTINCTION




            Despite its Canadian name, Toronto, Ohio has always been a city of patriotism and fierce national pride as currently displayed by its array of American flags lining its streets.  But never was Toronto’s patriotism more fervid than when it unveiled the nation’s first monument dedicated to the American soldiers and sailors who had fought in World War I.
            It was November 11, 1919, Armistice Day, one year after hostilities of the great war had ended that as many as an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people amassed in Toronto streets, which were decorated with patriotic colors from one end of the river-edged town to the other.  These spectators watched a parade of 3,000 marchers, led by 250 soldiers, sailors and marines, trailed by the Toronto band, various civic organizations, as well as 800 school children all carrying tiny American flags.
            After the paraded concluded, the soldiers marched to town square where the War Commission awarded the servicemen bronze medals and made a few speeches, and then the honored defenders and public dignitaries crossed Market Street to the First Presbyterian Church where they ate a chicken diner prepared under the direction of Mrs. Mary Hanna and assisted and sponsored by the Daughters of America.
            After diner, the servicemen stepped outside under mild mid-autumn weather across to town square as the shadow of the five-ton statue canted eastward under the two-o’clock sun.  A large white cross now loomed on a platform before the veiled monument and standing before it were eleven girls clad in white, clasping a red rose, each girl representing the ten fallen sons and one fallen daughter of the Toronto area.
            The crowd of 3,000, settled and quiet, watched with eager anticipation a Miss McClean draw the cord encasing the ten-foot high monument that many of them had personally contributed to financially.  As Miss McClean swept her arm toward the glistening bronze statue, the crowd erupted into resounding applause.
            Present at the unveiling was Guiesseppe Moretti, whom the Toronto War Board had commissioned to sculpt the monument, of which the artist stated, “It represents the glorious liberty with the American soldiers and sailors by her side.”
            Moretti, 62 years of age at the ceremonies, was an Italian √©migr√© who had gained fame in America for his public monuments cast in bronze and marble, most notably his work “Vulcan” in Birmingham, Alabama, still the largest cast iron statue in the world.  Other important works of his included the Stephen Collins Foster memorial and the entrance to Highland Park in Pittsburgh, where he had resided much of his life.
            Moretti was known as an eclectic personality who always wore a green tie.  Undoubtedly he was wearing his trademark color as he stepped off the podium, standing before the towering five-ton memorial he had completed in just six months.
            Next United States Congressman Benjamin Frank Murphy took the platform.  Murphy, a Republican representing the district, won election for six successive terms.  He gave a brief speech of welcome to the crowd and servicemen and then introduced keynote speaker William D. Upshaw, recently elected by Georgia voters to Congress.
            A son of a Confederate soldier and a staunch Southern Baptist, Upshaw was a strong supporter of the temperance movement, so much, in fact, he was known as the “driest of drys.”  Prior to his election to Congress, Upshaw served as vice president for the Anti-Saloon League and was instrumental with making prohibition a Georgia law by 1907.
            Upshaw, suffering from a spinal injury that occurred at age 18, and now 52, leaned upon crutches as he addressed the crowd with his passionate deep Southern drawl.  “I congratulate Toronto, Ohio on being the first community in America to erect and dedicate a monument to the glory of the living and the memory of the dead who fought for the safety of America and for the living of the world.”
            After several minutes of continued praise for the town’s patriotism and for its being a role model as an American melting pot, Upshaw segued into sermonizing upon the other war that was threatening the individual’s freedom.  “…in order that America may be kept clean for them—for those who come back to us in buoyant manhood or stagger back to us maimed or blind, reaching out their hands for encouragement from the nation for which they offered their all.  We have learned that if it required a sober citizen to live well and teaching this vital lesson to the nations now new-born in their freedom from autocracy, but still shackled by the slavery of drink, is America’s new mission to the peoples who have been set free.”
            Ironically, Upshaw’s visit to the Gem City failed to influence the citizens’ attitude toward consumption of alcoholic beverages because a little more than 50 years later in 1970, a poll conducted by “Time Magazine” listed Toronto the city consuming the most alcohol per capita in the United States.
            In 1932, Upshaw ran as presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party against Franklin D. Roosevelt, who favored the repeal of prohibition, and was overwhelmingly defeated.
William D. Upshaw
Lamplight Assisted Living Coming to Toronto soon.
            In 2004, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was restored by the Toronto Beautification Committee and accepted in the National Register of Historic Places.



                  Hallowed is the ground where the glinted steel spikes of summer and autumn once trod in the north end of Toronto.
This small piece of earth, Kaul Field, where the bowling alley currently sits parallel to the 1100 block of Fifth Street, served as home field for some of Toronto’s most revered sports heroes, including Pick Nalley, Gabby Kunzler, Clarke and Gordie Hinkle and Hook Comer.
         Soon after the turn of the Twentieth Century baseball became vogue in the Gem City, with a semi-pro team, the Toronto Athletic Club, dominating most local nines.  At Kaul Field, the TAC hosted other semi-pros from the area and sometimes others of higher caliber.
         “The Pittsburgh Pirates came barnstorming into town along with Honus Wagner,” John Petras said.  “I can’t remember who won, but yes they did play in Toronto.”
         Petras, now resides in Royal Oak, Michigan, is the son of John Petras Sr., who was a member of the TAC before World War I and played alongside Pick Nalley, Wenzel Straka and other founding fathers of baseball in the Gem City.
                At the end of the 1918 Pittsburgh Pirates' season, Bill Mekechnie dropped out of baseball and moved his family to little Toronto where he took up a position of sales for Kaul Clay.  He also set up a grocery in the Daniels Building.  The following year, Mekechnie became player-coach for the Toronto Athletic Club and convinced no retired Pittsburgh Pirates legend Honus Wagner to play games for Toronto on weekends.  Both would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Honus Wagner
         A wooden fence enclosed Kaul Field then, but sometime around the 1920s the only wooden structure remaining was the grandstand framing the home plate area at the site approximately where the cul-de-sac is today on Fifth Street.
         It was this period that Toronto resident Tom McKelvey remembers well.  “Kaul Field was used for baseball in the summer and football in the fall,” McKelvey said.  “We had church leagues five nights a week, Monday through Friday.  Every church had a team.  The best team was always St. Francis, who we called back then the Mickeys”
         McKelvey also has fond memories of the semi-pro football club, the Toronto Tigers, when professional football was at its infancy and germinating in northeastern Ohio.
         “The Toronto Tigers played their games at home in the fall months in front of good crowds,” McKelvey said.  “The train pulled in across the field and the opposing players and fans stepped off; then walked to the field.”
         According to McKelvey, the Toronto Tigers and their opponents played with fierce competition, locals occasionally being replaced by ringers--college athletes playing for dough under aliases.
         “I heard two Ohio State players came in playing for 100 or 200 dollars.  Fats Henry came in from Washington and Jefferson.  Henry would later play for the Canton Bulldogs and become inducted in the Hall of Fame”
         Some of the Toronto standouts included the Ferris brothers and Hook Comer.  Comer had a short stint at fullback with the Canton Bulldogs alongside Henry and the great Jim Thorpe.
         Toronto High School also staged its football games at Kaul Field prior to 1930.  McKelvey’s father, Tom Sr., took young Tom to watch his first game, a match-up between Toronto and Warwood.
         “There were no lights back then,” McKelvey said.  “The games were held in the afternoon.  There were ropes stretched along the sidelines to keep us from coming onto the field.”
         Kaul Field was used for other endeavors beside sports during that era.  McKelvey said a traditional ox roast was held at the grounds around Thanksgiving Day.
         “I remember the kids from the north end ice skated in the winter there,” Vince Exterovich, a 1942 THS graduated said.  “There was a pond, actually a marshy area that froze over during the winter.  Mostly north end kids skated there.”
         Exterovich resided at Sixth Street back then, considering himself a south ender.  Today, the line separating the two ends of the Gem City runs east to west along Main Street, making the southern end larger in area than the older north.  All of Sixth Street today is located what is considered the north end.
         “The south end wasn’t developed in those days,” McKelvey said.  “It was mostly farms and Sloane’s.”
         During the Forties and the Fifties, with the emergence of Little League at newly built Memorial Park and the development of the south end with its new schools, Kaul Field was reduced to a sandlot until it ceased to exist at all with the construction of Toronto Lanes around 1960.
T-formation from the Toronto High School band on Kaul Field.
1913 Toronto Athletic Club
         “The field was very important,” McKelvey said.  “It was our arena.  Kaul Field was the center of ououtdoor sports for Toronto back then.”