I grew up knowing little about my family’s history. However, for some inexplicable reason, one extremely vague story did stick with me over the years—a strange tale about an unnamed ancestor who was last seen walking into a burning building in Toledo, Ohio. Four years ago, surrendering to a single moment of curiosity about my ancestors, I soon found myself spending countless hours of treasure-hunting in the Ohio Historical Society Archives—an ancestral ‘magical mystery tour’ that I never planned, leading to discoveries I could never have imagined.
The first surprise discovery was that there actually was a real Detective Tracy, my great-grandfather, with the Toledo Police Department from 1898 to 1921. He was often front-page news during his career and left behind a trail of hundreds of newspaper articles about his adventures in the rowdy pre-Prohibition days in Toledo. From microfilmed newspapers at OHS, I was able to compile his story into a series of three coffee-table books, now housed in the Toledo Police Museum.
Next, the name ‘Fraser’, mentioned in a short Toledo newspaper article about Detective Tracy, led me to another unexpected discovery: the tragic, yet inspiring, story of Detective Tracy’s uncle, Captain James Fraser, a Toledo firefighter, Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran who died in the 1894 King-Quale Elevator fire that nearly destroyed all of downtown Toledo. In that fire, Fraser’s partner, Alfred Blaine, was with Captain Fraser in the room when it exploded. Miraculously surviving the devastation, Blaine was able to graphically describe Fraser’s last moments, as Fraser faded forever into the smoke—clearly the event that was the essence of that hazy childhood story that I had carried with me all these years.
Despite sifting through the steaming ashes for many days, Fraser’s remains were never found—only a partially melted brass fire hose nozzle and two melted brass suspender buckles. To this day Fraser’s remains lie beneath the sod and concrete of Toledo’s Promenade Park, unbeknownst to park visitors.
Captain Fraser’s story inspired me to document all of it in a book, now housed in the Toledo Firefighters Museum and, more importantly, to apply for an Ohio Historical Marker (#48-61), which was approved in April of 2012. The marker is now temporarily housed in the Toledo Firefighters Museum, awaiting its permanent placement in Toledo’s Promenade Park in the spring of 2013.
All of this from a single moment of curiosity.