Wyandot County’s weird and wonderful history

Artifacts pertaining to astronaut Neil Armstrong are among the exhibits currently on display at the Wyandot County Museum in Upper Sandusky. Armstrong, who was the first man to walk on the moon, spent part of his youth living in Upper Sandusky, where he played in the middle school band and was a Boy Scout. (Photos by Jeannie Wolf)


UPPER SANDUSKY — From a pair of red shoes worn by a murder victim to pieces of Civil War hardtack, there’s a plethora of unusual history housed at the Wyandot County Museum.

Located at 130 S. Seventh St. in a historic home that dates back more than 160 years, the Upper Sandusky museum houses artifacts and documents relating to the history of Wyandot County.

Many of the items in the collection have been donated, said director/curator Ronald Marvin Jr.

“There’s quite a bit of research involved when a piece comes in,” he said.

In fact, there’s one mysterious piece in the collection that has even Marvin stumped: a small, triangular piece of metal on a wooden handle that is located in the carpenter’s room.

“I have no idea what it is. I’ve even taken it to conferences where they say bring your mystery object and our experts can identify it, even woodworking collectors and leather workers,” he said. “Nobody has an idea of what that is, so whether it’s a piece that goes into something else, it’s one of the few mystery pieces.”

Visitors can see a number of artifacts on display that tell weird and wonderful stories about the people, places and events that make up Wyandot County’s rich history.

Red Slipper Murder

A pair of worn red shoes sits in a display case at the museum. They are reportedly the original slippers worn by 19-year-old Cynthia Pfeil, who was badly beaten and her body dumped near Upper Sandusky in 1953.

It’s one of Wyandot County’s most famous murders, and part of a display that opened in 2012 at the museum.

“Apparently one of the undertakers cleaned her face up a little bit. They put her photograph in the newspaper hoping that someone might identify her as a missing cousin or niece or something,” said Marvin. “They really got no hits from any of this information. No one came forward that they had missing relatives.”

Wyandot County Sheriff Dean McAllister went back to the only evidence he had: the red slippers. By tracing the manufacturer’s numbers stamped on the shoes, it was determined that they were purchased in Pfeil’s hometown of White Plains, New York. Dental records of the missing girl were matched with those of the body in Upper Sandusky.

Investigators headed to Ohio Wesleyan and talked to the girl’s friends. They learned that she had been having arguments with her boyfriend, 19-year-old Roy Schinagle Jr., a sophomore at the university.

“They brought him in for questioning and apparently, within 24 hours, he confessed to strangling her and beating her during an argument,” Marvin said.

Schinagle was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled for good behavior after serving just 10 years.

Neil Armstrong

The first man to walk on the moon actually spent part of his youth living in Upper Sandusky, said Marvin.

“His father was a member of the staff of the auditor of Ohio, so he would be stationed throughout the state in different spots. And during the time Neil Armstrong was in middle school and his freshman year of high school, his father was stationed in Upper Sandusky,” he said.

The Armstrongs lived in the 400 block of North Sandusky Avenue. Marvin said young Neil was a Boy Scout while he lived in town and played in the middle school band.

“He also talked about one of his first jobs was mowing grass at Old Mission Cemetery for about 10 cents an hour,” he said.

The family lived in Upper Sandusky for about four years before moving to Wapakoneta, where Neil had been born.

“That’s why people associate him with Wapakoneta, but a lot of people don’t realize he actually lived in different areas, and part of his formative years were right here in Upper Sandusky. There are still some people here that knew him and were in the Boy Scouts with him,” said Marvin.

The museum’s collection includes an Upper Sandusky High School yearbook from 1970 that features numerous photographs relating to Armstrong, an Apollo collectible drinking glass and a 45 rpm record of the moon landing narrated by broadcaster Hugh Downs.

Bricks and Tile

An assortment of tile and bricks manufactured in Wyandot County in the 1800s are on display in the Wyandot History room. These were found in the museum’s basement.

“We have just a really odd collection of early bricks and tile that were manufactured here in Wyandot County, some in Upper Sandusky, some in Carey, Sycamore, Nevada, because there was a lot of clay in this area, so there were a lot of different brickworks,” said Marvin.

One brick measures just about an inch in depth. The tag says the block was made by William Hidge in 1818 and the clay was mixed by driving oxen through the clay.

“You don’t think of the bricks being that thin,” he said. “And 1818, we weren’t even technically a county. This would have been the Wyandotte reservation.”

Wyandot County wasn’t established until 1845, he said.

Marvin is most fond of a brick made in 1892 at the Gilliland and Hildebrand Brick Yard that had been hit by a hail stone when it was in the process of being laid out for firing. The brick shows a large round indentation several inches in diameter.

“It got fired with the impression of the hail stone,” he said. “To me that is just neat. It’s something that people don’t often see.”

Indian Tree Trail Marker

Hanging in the Wyandotte Room is a black-and-white photograph of an old elm tree with a bent trunk that seems to point like a directional arrow. The tree was located about two miles north of Upper Sandusky along U.S. 23.

According to tradition, said Marvin, there were several of these around the Wyandotte reservation, reportedly pointing to the location of the Mission Church and the Indian Council House.

“A young tree would be tied with grapevine twigs and then pulled down. As it grew, it would actually give it kind of a ‘V’ shape to point whichever direction,” Marvin explained. “There were several of them here.”

This particular tree was hit by a lightning storm about 1966 and was eventually cut down, he said.

“One of the interesting things they said when they cut it down, the tree rings they counted were not enough to make it go back to when the Wyandottes were actually living here,” said Marvin. “So whether that’s an original one or something someone did at a later time, we don’t know.”

“We do know there are reports of these trees on not just ours, but other reservations.”

Indian Jail Key

The same room contains artifacts from when the Wyandotte tribe lived in the area from 1782 until they were moved to Kansas in 1843. Items include chunks of limestone from the foundation of the Indian Council House, wood from the old Mission church and saddlebags that belonged to John Stewart, who founded the Wyandotte Indian Mission in 1816.

There is also a large, black metal key on display that was used to lock the Indian jail that was located on the Wyandotte Indian Reservation. The two-story wooden structure had been constructed using a blockhouse from old Fort Ferree, said Marvin.

“Fort Ferree was actually built during the War of 1812. It was a supply post for Gen. William Henry Harrison,” he said.

At the time, it was located near the present day Elks Lodge on East Wyandot Avenue.

It was said the jail could hold 29 men. There were two doors, said Marvin: an outside wooden door and a heavy metal door on the inside that would be locked with the key now on display in the museum.

Hardtack and Boots

The Civil War hallway on the second floor of the museum features items that belonged to soldiers from Wyandot County. Items include a wooden chain hand-carved by a prisoner held at Andersonville Prison and a small silver spoon that was used to eat ice cream during the Battle of Gettysburg. There are also several pieces of hardtack that were carried by Gust Snyder of Co. C, 155th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

“Hardtack is basically a cracker made of flour, water and salt,” said Marvin. “There was no yeast or anything in it, so it didn’t really go bad. It just got harder and harder and harder.”

Sitting atop the display case is a pair of black boots worn by Joseph Chadwick, who served with Co. I of the 82nd OVI.

“The boots are in pretty good shape; we’re thinking that he probably wore these near the end of the war because they’re just in such good shape,” said Marvin.

Chadwick enlisted as a private and mustered into service in Kenton. He fought in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and was wounded at Peach Tree Creek in 1864.

Presidential Pistol

A pistol that belonged to President Lyndon Baines Johnson can be seen in the Military Room. It is based on the 1908 handgun the soldiers carried during World War I, said Marvin.

At some point, Johnson presented the handgun to his pastor, the Rev. Normal Truesdell, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Stonewall, Texas, as a thank-you gift.

“The pastor, not wanting or needing the handgun, had ties to Wyandot County, so he arranged to have it brought up here and put on display in the museum,” Marvin said. “But I thought, ‘Only in Texas, what is a good gift for your pastor? A target pistol’. It’s just not the first thing you think about for a thank-you gift.”

It’s one of two presidential artifacts at the museum. The other is a trumpet that was played by 29th president Warren G. Harding when he was a student at Iberia College.

German Man Trap

The Military Room is also the site of one of Marvin’s favorite pieces: a 5-foot-long metal man trap used by German soldiers in World War I.

“It’s like an oversized bear trap that’s about a quarter-inch thick of cast iron,” he said. “You opened it up like an animal trap. It probably took two to three guys to spring the jaws to set it out and cover it with leaves and debris.”

The plan was for an enemy soldier to walk by, step on the trap and have it clamp onto their leg.

“If you were lucky, it just broke your leg,” said Marvin. “More often than not, just looking at the size of it, it probably shattered your leg and you probably bled out before you could get help. Very horrendous.”

Marvin said it’s not the item that intrigues him so much as the fact that Lt. James McNamara found the trap while he was stationed in France and sent it back to Upper Sandusky as a souvenir.

“This thing probably weighs about 70 to 75 pounds. He straps it to his back and starts hiking off with it. Everybody else is bringing back little rings and coins and trench art, maybe a couple of helmets. He ships back this humongous piece, a big German mantrap,” said Marvin.

McNamara reportedly carried the device two miles on his back, four miles on horseback, then 200 miles by truck to Paris, from where he shipped it home.

After the war, he practiced veterinary medicine in Upper Sandusky until 1935, Marvin said.

Museum hours are 1-4:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Wolf: 419-427-8419
Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf


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