My Downtown Playground – Part 1

Downtown Van Wert, Ohio

Downtown Van Wert, Ohio

Around 1956 my family moved to a little town called Van Wert, Ohio. Apparently Dad took it upon himself to buy an old hotel smack dab in the middle of town. It was called the Marsh Hotel or the Hotel Marsh, depending upon individual preference. This became my new stomping ground. We occupied the Manager’s Suite on the top floor.

But what–you say–did a kid do in the middle of downtown for entertainment? Well, there were lots of things to occupy my days and my mind.


For starters, there’s the Hotel itself. How many kids get the run of the house, especially if that “house” is a hotel? Being Nancy Drew incarnate, I could run up and down those hallways and into empty rooms looking for “clues” and building cases.

There was a big formal restaurant dining room in the back of the Hotel. In that dining area sat an old piano. Gosh, I loved that old piano. I didn’t know how to play but that didn’t stop me. I learned all the easy stuff kids learn on pianos without lessons. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; you get the idea. Little tunes kids can pick out on their own. Of course, that was only allowed during times the restaurant was closed. We wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s appetite!

The check-in desk was full of surprises with its cubbyholes and glass display cabinet. There were boxes of cigars in the display that were for sale. I don’t like the smell of cigar smoke but I did like the smell of those cigar boxes! I had quite a collection of the old empty boxes. Most were used to store my crayons and other trinkets.

Marsh Desk

Yep, that’s me, my Mom and my faithful companion, Happy, right there at the check-in desk. It’s a pretty beat-up picture but if you look real close over my Mom’s right shoulder, you can just barely make out an old PBX switchboard. I’m guessing it was installed maybe in the 1930s or 1940s.

Antique PBX

Antique PBX

This picture is just an example of the PBX with those cords and buttons and I knew how to use it. I was able to take and place calls on occasion to help out! It was fun.

elevator handle

The hotel was four stories and had an old Otis elevator that was manually operated. It had one of those gates across the door that was shut manually. And then there was the apparatus that moved the elevator up and down. It was pushed to the right to go up and left to go down. The trick was when you stopped at each floor you had to bob up and down until you got it lined up. Otherwise, there would have been a big step up or down when exiting the elevator. I did operate the elevator on occasion. There were times when I just wanted to go upstairs and grab something out of the apartment without having to run up and down the flights of stairs so I would take the elevator. Sometimes I would even get to take the guests to their floor. Then you always said “Watch your step, please.” Of course, I  only got to do that when Shorty was busy! We had a regular bellhop named Shorty who was also the elevator operator. Such a nice man he was, too. Heck, he tolerated me, didn’t he?! Hey, I just realized. Could this be like a forerunner to video games? You don’t see the connection? Well, I had to synchronize the handle up and down to get it lined up just right with the landing.

The Cisco Kid and Diablo

The Cisco Kid and Diablo

There were definitely some perks being the young daughter of the Hotel owner. Every now and again someone famous or sort of famous would stay at the Hotel. One such individual I remember so well was Duncan Renaldo. Who is that some of you younger readers might be asking. Why, it’s the Cisco Kid! Oh, Pancho! Oh, Cisco! Leo Carrillo, who played Pancho in the TV series was traveling with him. Of course, he also brought with him his trusted horse, Diablo, but Diablo, much to my chagrin, did not stay at the Hotel. They were in town for the Van Wert County Fair. Even as a child, I knew that the Cisco Kid was a VERY handsome man! He and Pancho were talking with me and asking me if I watched their TV show. Of course I told them I did – and I did. When they asked me which day it was on TV, I couldn’t tell them. I was so embarrassed at the time. But, he was so gracious. He had such a wonderful laugh and he said I was so cute. Well, that was all I needed. I was smitten. Of course, my poor mother was just sure that I would be “discovered” and asked to go to Hollywood and become famous and rich. Ha!

From Google Images - not the actual dance troupe

From Google Images – not the actual dance troupe

One other example was a troupe of Irish dancers touring the country. If memory serves, they probably ranged in age from about 10 or 12 to about 15 or 16. Having Irish blood myself flowing through my veins, I felt as one with them! They were teaching me how to do the Irish jig and a sword dance. My, but they were a fun bunch. I was able to ride on the tour bus with them to one of their stage performances. Naturally, I fell in love with a couple of the Irish boys. They weren’t just cute – they had the neatest accents ever! They paved the way for Michael Flatley and Lord of the Dance!!

Yes, there was a lot of mischief for a young girl to get into at that old Hotel. In Part 2 I’ll move my activities to the great outdoors. Look out world, here I come!

Case of the Missing Cousins

I always wanted to be a detective. Like practically every other young girl my age, I had a steady diet of Nancy Drew books. But I was convinced I was Nancy Drew. It wasn’t that difficult to pretend I was a detective growing up like an only child in my Dad’s old hotel. There were definitely plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and look for clues. Then when I was older, I worked with the local police department. I loved it. I was a fully sworn police officer for a year. I should have stayed with it and I might have actually become a detective. But I passed up the opportunity and opportunity never reared its head again in that regard.

But I have always loved following clues and solving puzzles. So, guess what works in its own way. Genealogy! Those who are into genealogy know exactly what I mean. After all, how much harder can it be than trying to solve old cold cases! And sometimes I really get lucky and find living relatives. That’s just what happened recently.

A little background for you, dear reader. My mother comes from a family of ten children. Some stories I’ve heard would seem to indicate that they were a close-knit family. Other clues point in different directions. It seems to me that her siblings all pretty much went in different directions and didn’t appear to have much contact.

Out of nine aunts and uncles I have eleven cousins. Over the years I have managed to re-establish email contact with four of them but we have yet to see one another since the 70’s. But at least I knew them growing up even if we weren’t together as much as I would have liked.

Mother’s youngest brother had two daughters, Linda and Susan. Susan is my age and Linda is a few years older. I never met these cousins. They are not included in the four referred to above. I know my mother cared for her younger brother because of things I heard her say but no one in her family ever seemed to want to go out of their way to get together. As a child it didn’t bother me because I didn’t know any better. Now, it bothers me. I’ve thought about my missing cousins off and on over time. Working on my genealogy has really brought it to my attention. So why couldn’t I try to find them? The initial bump in the road, after 60+ years, how on earth could I find out their married names? Assuming, that is, they did marry. I set the thought aside for the time being but it never really went away.

Recently I began sorting through old papers and documents that I had accumulated years ago when I first began researching my genealogy. My, my! What’s this? Look! It’s an obituary for my uncle. And, what’s this? Gasp! Right there in black and white are his daughters’ married names. Oh, but there’s no location given. Who knows where on earth they might be living now? Who could I ask? All my aunts and uncles are deceased. I asked the cousins I had contact with for any clues. They knew nothing. This can’t be.

To myself: “Think, Linda, think. When you first started your genealogy everything was done either first-hand or through the mail. Then in the late 90’s you were able to glean information from some of the genealogy websites and forums. Now? Well, it seems that now the sky is the limit.” My goodness, is there nothing that can’t be found on the Internet? I think not. And what does the Internet have now that it didn’t have then? For one thing, FACEBOOK! Aaack!

Facebook? Seriously? Well, what have I got to lose? It’s true I’m not a big fan of Facebook although I do have a page. And, yes, I will occasionally go on there to see what other family and friends who actually use it are up to. Well? Who is to say my cousins aren’t on there. Just go look. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, etc. etc., and all those other clichés. It just might work.

Hmmm, but look at all the hits for both Susan and Linda. So what? Check them out. See if you can find any connections. Oh, look, I can access their “Friends” list. Oh, oh, oh. Look, Susan has a connection with a matching Linda. Fever pitch. Is it possible it’s going to be that easy? Okay, I’ve got what appears to be matching names. Oh, this can’t be right. This has both individuals living in Florida. Gasp. They both show connections to Virginia. Aha! Another clue. Phone number, phone number, I need at least one phone number. Gotcha!

Dialing…. “Hello? Is this Susan Hatcher, daughter of Raymond Hatcher? IT IS?? Omigosh, this is your cousin….”

Susan and I talked for at least half an hour, which was quite a while for her since she was under the weather. She gave me Linda’s telephone number and I contacted her. Linda and I talked for almost an hour.

It truly is a small world. Linda and Sue live less than two hours from me. Once Sue was well, we planned a meet and greet. Last week we met for the very first time. We spent nearly four hours just talking and sharing genealogy and trying to catch up. I’m surprised the restaurant didn’t throw us out but I’m glad they didn’t!

This has been an exciting event for me. I have two new best friends! We’re going to be getting together at least monthly. The suggestion has already been made to try and put together a family reunion. Pessimist that I am when it comes to extended family, I don’t really see that coming to fruition. But I won’t completely rule anything out.

So, in conclusion, I wish all other amateur genealogists out there the best of luck. And don’t give up! Keep following clues and when the trail runs cold, take a break and pick it up again later. I’m certainly glad I did!

Sue-Linda-Linda 2-7-13