Excursion 19, Part 2 (The Edsel)

In which our intrepid hero misses an important clue…

When I was a kid, like a lot of kids who read a ton of books, I had a reading vocabulary that was much bigger than my speaking vocabulary.  One word that I knew the meaning of was French in origin:  hors d’oeuvres.  In my mind, I pronounced this word something like “whores davores.”   I knew the word meant something like appetizers.  There was another word that meant basically the same thing:  “orderves.”   I don’t even know how many years passed before I finally realized that “orderves” and “hors d’oeuvres” were actually not synonyms but the same damn word.


[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better version]

It is amazing how often we miss little details, whether due to inattention, preoccupation, or in some cases self-deception or willful ignorance.  I like to think I am good at noticing details (after all, I do head an “investigative research department”), but we all can miss things.  I’ll show you what I missed a little later on in this post.

I take up this excursion more or less at its half-way point.  On this day, October 4, 2013, I was taking the scenic route to Cleveland, Ohio, for a week of well-deserved vacation.


I was still driving through the village of Utica, Ohio (see Part 1), going down the main drag, having just passed Watts Restaurant, one of several 100+ year old businesses in Utica.  Traffic soon slowed down thanks to a large tractor travelling through town.  In the spring and fall, this is not an uncommon occurrence in the tiny farm towns that dot Ohio; I’ve been stuck behind these massive vehicles before.


The most unusual thing I saw in Utica was this little, immaculately kept house.  Not very many houses have signs in front with messages on them such as “Death of the Justice System.”  The sign also provides a website address:  www.prenupmurder.com.  Naturally, I had to visit the site.  it turns out that the sign and website are the work of a woman, Abby Novel, who is convinced that years ago her mother was murdered by her stepfather and various members of the stepfather’s family, but who has been unable to convince the authorities (or, apparently, most people) that this was so.

The mother, Carrie Gallwitz (nee Mulligan), died on August 20, 2007, at the age of 85.   In 1989, at a fairly advanced age, she married the person who became Novel’s stepfather.  Novel’s allegation is that the stepfather and his family were nasty, greedy people (“a selfish old money hoarder,” in her words) who believed that the marriage was all about getting the stepfather’s money, so Carrie agreed to sign a prenuptial agreement.  Novel then alleges a wide variety of character flaws and misdeeds on the part of the stepfather, not excluding rape.  After many years, according to Novel, her mother sought a divorce.  However, this would ostensibly cause the stepfather to lose the home he was living in, and the stepfather’s family a) did not want to care for him and b) coveted that property.  Therefore the family allegedly began “tampering with her medications” and the mother died as a result.  What followed after that was a flurry of legal actions, including restraining orders, lawsuits, and countersuits, as Novel and her siblings and her former stepfather’s family fought out their feuds in court.  Every time Novel lost a battle (which was most of them), she chalked it up to the corruption of local judges and officials.  The same was true for the law enforcement officers and prosecutors who did not share Novel’s notions of foul play.  Eventually, Novel began holding press conferences, picketing various government offices and agencies, and even trying to bring charges of fraud against various attorneys—all to no avail, of course.   It just seems that more than anything else, Novel fell into a miasma of grief, grievance, grudges and conspiracy theories.


There are, happily, houses in the area that are picturesque but which have no connections to murders and conspiracy theories.  This white house with chocolate brown trim is one of those.  It is a very pleasant-appearing home.


Other homes have seen better days, as is the case with this old tiny cabin.


Dilapidated or ruined barns are low hanging fruit in rural Ohio—there are a lot of them—but some of them are nevertheless attractive and interesting enough to be worth a look.  Here’s one such.


Here’s another.  It has been a while, it seems, since this has been farmland.  One interesting fact about Ohio (and many other states) is that Ohio used to have far less forestation than it has today.  Of course, once virtually the entire state was primeval forest, but the settling of Ohio in the 19th century resulted eventually in mass deforestation.  However, in the 20th century, as agricultural techniques improved, farmers stopped cultivating a lot of less-than-optimal farmland and the forests began to recover.


If you look at this, this is an awful lot of effort to go to to have a playhouse for your kids.  Creating a little island in a pond, complete with bridge?  Wow.  I didn’t even have a treehouse.


I was a little surprised to come across a herd of elk while going down a country road.  Well, “surprised” isn’t quite the right word.  Seeing the elk was unexpected but not surprising; there are a number of places in Ohio with wild or exotic animals, and I’ve seen several in this area of Ohio alone.  Until recently, Ohio had virtually no laws regulating ownership of wild or exotic animals, with the result that if you wanted to own a lion or a chimpanzee (or a dozen lions or chimpanzees) in Ohio, you could.  The consequences of such a lack of regulation manifested themselves in 2011.   That year, Terry Thompson, who had built himself a private zoo over the years, opened all the cages and fences of his animals, then killed himself.  Dozens of animals fled into the countryside near Zanesville, including brown bears, grizzly bears, monkeys, wolves, baboons, lions, mountain lions, and eighteen Bengal tigers.  Of the 56 animals that escaped, authorities ended up having to kill 49.  Only six survived (one appeared to have been eaten.  Following this tragedy, Ohio finally passed a law regulating the ownership of exotic animals.  Sadly, the law does not prohibit such ownership outright.


Here’s an old Grange building.  The Grange (“The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry,” which still exists today (though apparently not at this place), was started in the mid-1800s as an odd combination of fraternal organization and agricultural special interest group.


As you drive north, you start to see a few more signs of fall.


Driving near the Mohican-Memorial State Forest (about half-way between Mt. Vernon and Wooster), I came across this interesting advertisement for Al’s Restoration & Body Shop in nearby Loudonville, Ohio.  If I win the lottery, I may have old Al restore a vintage automobile for me.  Seeing this bit of jalopy would turn out to be a portent of things to come.


Many of the abandoned or ruined homes you come across are mysteries, leaving no clue as to how they came to be empty.  This cabin, on the other hand, at least gives the illusion of telling a dramatic story.  The cabin may have actually been abandoned before the large tree crashed down on it, but at the very least, the tree dramatically punctuated its end.


For obvious reasons, this scene fascinated me quite a bit and I spent some time at this location.


Here you get to see some close-up details of the log cabin, such as the bars in front of the window.  There’s a scene from a zombie movie here somewhere.


Here’s the cabin from another angle—the tree looks less impressive from this vantage point, because most of it is out of sight now.


Roadside photography is a lot of fun, but it is certainly not the best way to photograph wildlife, especially in wooded country (as opposed to the savannahs of Africa, perhaps).  Automobiles are noisy and advertise their presence well in advance.  Plus, even if you spot an animal and stop, you have to set up the camera and get the right camera settings.  Deer, which are notoriously and justifiably skittish, will rarely stay put for that long.  Consequently, I see a lot more deer than I ever get a chance to photograph.  I presume these deer must have been on Qaaludes to be so placid long enough for me to snap a quick photograph.  They darted away into the woods a second or two later.


You see more than wildlife in the woods.  Here’s an odd little camouflaged trailer hidden behind the trees.  I think Jesse Pinkman is hiding out here.


This “human centipede” of homes can be found near Lakeville, Ohio.  Lakeville is a teensy unincorporated community near Bonnett Lake and Round Lake in the northwestern corner of Holmes County.  Were these intended to be apartments?  The world wonders.


As I drove through Lakeville (something that doesn’t take long), my eye caught this vintage automobile hiding under a blue tarp.  I get a little frisson of excitement whenever I see an old vehicle like this.  You can imagine my surprise, perhaps, when I happened to glance across the street from this vehicle and saw the below scene.


I found an entire lot full of vintage automobiles from different eras.  They weren’t in pristine condition, to be sure, but just the concentration of them in one place, and that place the tiny Lakeville, was a very happy surprise.


This brown and yellow vehicle was certainly one of the gems of the collection.  What I didn’t notice at the time was that the tiny lettering on the rear left side of the vehicle indicated that this was an Edsel!  I had randomly come across one of the most famous (or infamous) vehicles in the history of the American automobile industry.  The Ford-manufactured Edsel was only produced during the period 1958-1960 before it was abandoned as a major failure; today there are fewer than 10,000 Edsels remaining in the entire world.  It is clear that it is a 1958 Edsel, but not being able to see the front of the vehicle, combined with my limited knowledge, makes me unable to identify which of several Edsel models it is.


While I was taking these photographs, someone stepped out from a mobile home on the property to see what I was doing.  I assured the young man that I was just interested in the collection of interesting vehicles and we talked briefly—a bit difficult to do since he and I were on different sides of the street.  I believe his name is Robert and he graciously allowed me to take a photograph of him standing next to the vehicles.


I’ll end with this photograph.  Close to the unincorporated community of Lakeville is the not-much-larger unincorporated community of Big Prairie, Ohio.  As I drove into the hamlet, I saw a group of kids hanging out behind a building.  On a whim, I asked if they would like their photograph taken and they immediately said yes.  What was remarkable to me was that all of the kids (except the one reclusive soul) immediately and spontaneously posed for the photograph by putting their chin on their hand—they clearly had been taught that this was how one posed for a photograph!  I was tickled by this.  If you are getting some essence of the innocence of small town youth from this image, let me inform you that about two seconds after this photograph was taken, the oldest girl spotted someone she knew across the street and yelled, “You whore!”

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