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It Happened in Oberlin

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

by Officer Bashshar Wiley,Oberlin Police Department

For the past 5 1/2 years I’ve been a police officer with the Oberlin Police Department. Prior to being employed by the city, I lived in Oberlin until the age of 11 when I moved to the Village of Grafton. Growing up, I became enamored with history due to an exceptional teacher I had while attending Open Door Christian School in Elyria. At the same time, I had a strong interest in law enforcement and investigations due to the fact my father worked as a detective after retiring at the rank of sergeant.

Wiley Photograph

Officer Bashshar Wiley (Right) and his father, retired Oberlin Police Sergeant and current Oberlin Municipal Court Deputy Bailiff, Bill Wiley.

 

My father, Bill Wiley, has seen just about everything there is during his law enforcement career which spans decades. This includes murders, arsons, sexual assaults, robberies, shootings and suicides. What is surprising about this fact is that my dad didn’t work for a police department in Cleveland, Akron, Lorain or Elyria. My dad spent 27 years as a police officer in Oberlin, Ohio from 1968-1995.

The quote “it happened in Oberlin” is something I heard many times over the years when my dad would share stories from his career. It’s important to note that while Oberlin is a very safe community, there have been incidents where some dangerous and even deadly occurrences have taken place. Although some of these incidents have been forgotten over time, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as a “crime free” community. In fact, cities and villages, no matter the size, do not have the ability to commit crimes. The unfortunate act of committing a crime is left to the resident or individual “passing through” the city or village to commit such an act.

As a 29 year-old man with interest in history and law enforcement, imagine my surprise when my father emailed me a month ago about an officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty way back in 1881 and completely forgotten about over time. This officer was Constable Franklin Stone, and he was shot and killed in Oberlin, Ohio.

The information provided to me by my dad began when retired Elyria Police Detective Alan Leiby was having a conversation with Oberlin author, Don Hilton, about police officers in Lorain County who had lost their lives in the line of duty. One of these officers, Constable Franklin Stone, was believed to be from Oberlin. Constable Stone’s name was not engraved on any memorial walls, nor was he acknowledged at any police memorials for fallen officers. There were no streets named after him or buildings constructed in his memory. In fact, there was no information at all about Constable Stone. At that point, the three of us were “all in” with conducting our own investigation into the life and unfortunate death of Constable Stone.

From three separate locations, my father, Alan Leiby and I each conducted our own investigation into the Constable Stone case. I don’t know how many times his name was typed into the “Google machine”, in a variety of ways, but anytime information was located, it was shared within our group. Although never in the same room together, we each found clues leading to just what took place back in 1881 on the streets of the “Village of Oberlin” with only a population of 3,242 according to the U.S. Census of 1880.

These “clues” consisted of old newspaper articles from The Oberlin Weekly News, book articles, Lorain County court records, gravesite information and even a map of Oberlin dated from 1876. Nothing was more exciting or rewarding than finding an old newspaper article describing the event. In fact, investigations are my favorite part of my job. Using the information we collected over the course of a two-week investigation, we were able to determine just what exactly took place.

Franklin Stone was born in Pittsfield Township on August 15, 1835. Stone lived there until 1866, when he moved to Iowa, where he remained for three years until relocating to Oberlin on South Professor Street. Stone worked as an agent for the United States Express Company and also owned/operated a carriage and transfer line. In the spring of 1881, Stone was elected marshal (constable) of Oberlin and New Russia Township.

Constable Franklin Stone succumbed to a gunshot wound sustained on May 12th, 1881, after a foot pursuit of a subject whom he was attempting to arrest at approximately 7:00 pm. Stone had arrested a man the previous day in an attempt to serve an assault warrant. The man initially cooperated with Constable Stone and agreed to accompany him to the police station, but then hesitated as they passed a blacksmith shop where his father and brother were working. The family members exited the shop and attacked Constable Stone, allowing the prisoner to escape. Constable Stone swore out warrants for the father and brother and then attempted to serve them the following day. As he attempted to arrest the brother, the man fled on foot with Constable Stone firing at him as he ran southbound on South Main Street. One of the rounds wounded the man, who ran to his home on Mechanic Street (modern day Locust Street). As Constable Stone reached the home, the man’s father stood in the doorway and shot him in the chest with a rifle, causing a serious wound. Constable Stone was taken to his home where he remained until passing away on June 4th, 1881. The man who shot Constable Stone was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 1891 due to his old age and frail condition. Franklin Stone is buried with his family at Westwood Cemetery.

Constable Stone is one of two Oberlin officers to lose their life in the line of duty. The other being Patrol Officer Robert Woodwall who died in a motor vehicle crash on March 10, 1971 when his patrol vehicle slid off the icy roadway and crashed into a tree on East Hamilton Street. Constable Franklin Stone will now be added to the Lorain County Police Memorial, Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial and his name will be engraved at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, Constable Stone’s memory could’ve been lost over the course of time if it wasn’t for the dedication and research of those involved. This includes the work of Maren McKee from the Oberlin Heritage Center who was able to provide me with additional articles describing the incident and even locating Constable Stone’s obituary.

Not only is this incident important to the history of Oberlin, but also Lorain County as Constable Stone is now the first recorded law enforcement death in the history of Lorain County.

I am very proud of the work which led to the rediscovery of Constable Stone and it will be one of the highlights of my career here in Oberlin. Although Constable Stone’s story was “lost” for 136 years, he can now be remembered and his life celebrated for his dedication to the safety of the citizens of Oberlin. Please share the story of Constable Stone, and when people ask, you can tell them “it happened in Oberlin.”

Constable Franklin Stone

1835-1881

Gone…but NOT FORGOTTEN

“Unyielding dedication”: Stephen Johnson on Richard Lothrop’s Legacy

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

by Hannah Cipinko, Oberlin Heritage Center Junior Intern

 

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Richard Lothrop (1925-2015), pictured with his cocker spaniel Rusty. [1]

Oberlin is well known for its historic qualities, its strong sense of community, and high amount of community involvement. In this post we will explore the legacy of an extraordinary historian and community member, the late Richard Lothrop.  His legacy lives on today through his impressively thorough collection of significant documents and newspapers from Oberlin’s history, which are now both preserved and available for research at the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Richard Lothrop was born in 1925 in Washington, D.C., and came to live in Oberlin at only three months old. He lived with his father, mother, and younger sister. His father was a professor of chemistry at Oberlin College. After graduating from Oberlin High School, Lothrop attended the College of Wooster and then worked in various college administration positions until taking a teaching job at Fairview High School. Richard went on to become “archivist emeritus” at Oberlin’s Christ Episcopal Church, and was named “Oberlinian of the Year” in 1996. This quote from his 2015 obituary in the Oberlin News-Tribune demonstrates the extent of his “unyielding dedication to his hometown”. . .

“Richard’s legacy included an almost obsessive trait to save newspaper clippings and document people, places, and events. He kept hundreds of files on subjects ranging from Oberlin events, Oberlin residents, and Oberlin College students, faculty, and staff to trains, planes, automobiles, and stamps!”[2]

I spoke with Oberlin Heritage Center Board of Trustees member Stephen Johnson, who is undertaking the immense project of sorting and preserving the files for posterity, to find out more about both Oberlin’s more recent history and Lothrop’s legacy of preservation.

 

Hannah Cipinko (HC): To start us off, how long have you been working with the Oberlin Heritage Center?

Steve Johnson (SJ): Well, I’ve been a trustee now for five years, and I’ve had an association with them for over twenty. We’ve been members for a long, long time. And my father was president for thirteen years of the predecessor of the Oberlin Heritage Center, O.H.I.O (Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization) so that’s where I got my interest.

 

HC: Do you know how the Heritage Center in particular came to possess these documents instead of any other organization?

SJ: Our former executive director Pat Murphy was friends with Dick Lothrop and knew of his collection. Dick had assured OHC that upon his death we would receive all this material. When he went into a nursing home . . . we ended up with twelve boxes of this material, so now we’re in the process of going through it.

 

HC:  What is that process like? Do you grab a file, or go alphabetically, and just dive in?

SJ: We’ve been working through it alphabetically. You open a file, and then . . . I sort the files into people, obituaries, and then miscellaneous, which is anything from churches, or town events, businesses in town, you know . . . anything that doesn’t qualify as people. . . We also sort out any documents from college publications because the college already has those in their archives, and there’s no need to duplicate that here . . . Once it’s sorted out, it has to be copied onto acid free paper and filed.

 

HC: What do you consider the most interesting story or item you have discovered so far?

SJ: I recently ran into a big stack of articles on our former congressman from Oberlin, who had also been the editor of the Oberlin News-Tribune, Charles Mosher. That was really fascinating to go through, it turns out he was quite an eloquent speaker and writer. So that was fun [laughs].

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An article about Charles Mosher found in Lothrop’s collection.

The Lorain Journal, December 12th 1975 [3]

SJ: There have been articles that have gone back to World War II, which is an interest of mine, and it’s interesting to see what the town was doing as far as scrap drives, and that kind of thing, as well as the boys and women who went off to war. Then, some of the articles are from an Oberlin Times newspaper from way back in the beginning of the century, and anything in there is interesting, just to see what life was like way back when.

The newspapers back [from] anytime before 1945 are very social. So you get little half column inch things about Mrs. Jones who threw a party and tea was served with these little crumb cakes. You know, these little snippets of life in Oberlin.

 

HC: Things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as history.

SJ: Exactly. It shows, definitely, a way of life that has changed. It’s all interesting stuff; when you look at it, it’s like a time capsule that you open up and all of a sudden it’s 70 years ago, 80 years ago, 90 years ago.

It’s interesting to see because sometimes you get articles that are very factual, very illuminating of a person or a thing, and then you’ll have a one column inch thing that he saved of somebody who got a traffic citation. So it’s everything in between. I’ve see the heights of Oberlin history, and I’ve also sort of seen some of the depths of Oberlin history, but it’s all history. It’s something we will keep.

 

HC: What’s really fascinating about this is that it’s not only a snapshot of Oberlin’s history, but also of the perspective of Richard Lothrop as someone immersed in Oberlin’s modern culture and history. Do you think there is anything to be learned about his perspective from what he chose to keep in his files? Were there any items in particular you were surprised to see that Lothrop preserved?

SJ: The thing that strikes me about this collection is just how all inclusive it is. It doesn’t seem like he left out much; if a new business opened in town and there was a newspaper article about it, he clipped it. If there was a newspaper article in the New York Times about somebody who did something fantastic, and he had an Oberlin connection, maybe graduated from Oberlin in 1935, he has that in there.

It’s an incredible collection, and I think the most amazing thing about it is how widespread it is. He didn’t focus in on just his friends or his acquaintances, he didn’t do just Oberlin government or Oberlin sports or anything else, it’s an all inclusive thing. And for him to sit there — I sometimes get a vision of him sitting alone in his house at night, going through all the newspapers, making these clippings, and filing them away. It must have taken an incredible amount of time.

 

HC: How long do you think it will take, in full, to sort through and organize these documents?

SJ: Right now, I’m at 13 months. I probably have close to at least 200 hours at this point, probably more than that. I can see another, two years to finish it up. It’s all got to be filed, Linda Gates here at OHC has been doing all of the filing, as I get things done she grabs them and files them. I think I’m on box four or five; I’m into the M’s right now [laughs]. I have six or seven boxes left to go. So that’s at least another year and a half. It will be three years by the time everything is done completely.

 

It is clear that Lothrop’s legacy is particularly present at the Oberlin Heritage Center, whose mission it is to preserve and share local history and stories such as his. Lothrop’s obituary says it best: “History was his passion. He loved to tell stories. He had stories to tell.”[2] The Oberlin Heritage Center will continue to share his stories alongside others with the addition of his files to our collections.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED:

“An Interview with Steve Johnson.” Interview by author. June 22, 2016.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Oberlin News-Tribune. “Richard Lothrop.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 31, 2015. 2015. Accessed June 18, 2016. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theoberlinnewstribune/obituary.aspx?pid=175693314. Web.

[2] “Richard Lothrop Obituary.” Cowlingfuneralhomeoh.com. 2015. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://www.cowlingfuneralhomeoh.com/obits/obituary.php?id=657250. Web.

[3] Cutleur, Bob. “Congressman Charlie Mosher Closes Out An Industrious, Undefeated Career.” The Lorain Journal, 12 Dec. 1975: n. pag. Print.