Tales of some of Toledo’s best and worst are showcased in a single, small building in Ottawa Park. But the cumulative effect of visiting the Toledo Police Museum is to learn about the history of the city, in a context that helps to explain the changes in policing along the way.
“Our role is to educate the community about the full scope and impact of the police here,” said Director Shirley Green, a 26-year veteran of the Toledo Police Department. The Museum provides a “timeline of events in the city and humanizes police officers” since the department was founded in 1867, and how Toledo Police fit into the city’s history.
A project of years of interest and collecting
Plans for a Police Museum began in the late 1980s with the personal artifact collection of Officer Ken Deck. “Ken had a lot of memorabilia (about the department’s history) and John Mason, the chief at the time, was interested in displaying the department’s history,” Green explains.
A group of law enforcement-related organizations, including the Toledo Police Patrolmen’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the African American Police League, ultimately found a spot in the Safety Building in downtown Toledo where the collection was displayed for about 10 years until 2010, when the idea of a museum was resurrected, naming Officer Beth Thieman as the Toledo Police historian. The Museum’s new home was established in the former Ottawa Park Toledo Nature Center, an octagonal brick and stone building with terrazzo floors that was constructed in 1927. The Museum opened in its new home in June, 2011.
“Honoring our fallen officers was likely a reason for re-establishing the Museum,” Green said. The department’s 32 lost officers (including K9 Falko) are featured in a display in the Museum, as well as on on paving stones outside the building’s entrance.
Beauty is in the design – and stories
The Museum takes good advantage of its circular design in displaying the long history of the police in Toledo. “You should really begin with the timeline that goes along the wall,” Green said. Displays – many of them interactive – correspond to the timeline and also highlight key events in Toledo at that same time. Volunteer-led tours can also be arranged for individuals or groups.
Legendary Toledo stories
A number of Toledo-specific stories are related in Museum exhibits, including:
- Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli, a member of the infamous Purple Gang and leader of his own gang, expanded his bootlegging operation in the 1920s from Detroit to Toledo. In 1933 they fought a violent gang war in Toledo against powerful local bootlegger Jack Kennedy. Licavoli and 11 members of his gang were charged with the deaths of Kennedy and three others. Licavoli’s story is featured as part of an overview of policing during the Prohibition Era in Toledo. The Museum plans to explore its connection with the gangs of yesterday with a haunted museum tour this fall.
- The Tenderloin “Resort” district, roughly bordered by Michigan Avenue, Monroe Street, Knapp Street and the Maumee River in downtown Toledo, as well as the Avenoo (along Canton Avenue) were “vice” areas targeted by Toledo Detective Captain Lewis B. Tracy in the 1910s. Today’s downtown Toledo “resorts” include the Warehouse District and Fifth Third Field.
- Inspector Charles Roth, who established the Toledo Police Academy in 1938, led an interesting life along with his police service, as a composer, maestro and founder of the Toledo Civic Symphony.
Museum exhibits include audio / video presentations
The Museum includes audio and video displays, including:
- An original “call box” used around the city 1899 to late 1970s to call in crimes – an alternative to today’s cell phones.
- An early police van, this one a 1948 Ford panel van, that still makes the rounds at special events.
- Histories and analysis of many elements of Toledo’s police history, including the service of women and African Americans on the force, the development of forensic science, the design relevance of badges used over the years and the creation of police unions (and the 1979 strike).
- Opportunities for visitors to be “taken into custody,” including having their very own mug shot taken and spending some “time behind bars.”
University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University students work as interns at the museum, organizing displays and suggesting new exhibits. “The students provide a new perspective on the displays, and their work is very creative,” Green said.
Spreading the word
The museum is a 501c(3) organization, operating primarily on grants, gifts and fundraisers. “Often, families will come to the Museum to research family members who have served,” Green said.
Those visits often result in financial support, and even donation of artifacts from that person’s service. Retired and active officers are also frequent donors. The museum’s primary fundraiser is the annual Cops & Rodders car show each June in Ottawa Park. The museum also benefits from an annual golf outing with the Toledo Fire Department.
The Toledo Police Museum, 2201 Kenwood Blvd., in Ottawa Park across from The Toledo Hospital. Admission is free. Saturdays, 10 am to 4 pm. Closed between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Watch its Facebook page for updates. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a tour.