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The Tragic Death Of A Barberton Common Loon




The culprit-a common loon

Times were rough in April of 1932. Unemployment was through the roof and for some folks in Barberton, fishing in Lake Anna meant food on the table. All around the lake one could see fishing lines dangling in the water with hopes of catching some bluegills or some sunnies.

Nobody seemed to bother the local fishermen. It was just a sad reflection of the times. Still there was one fisherman who seemed to irate a certain Barberton policeman. So much did the catcher of fish rattle Patrolman James Head, that he set out to kill him, making a name for himself. I am sure he did not intend to leave this deed as a legacy but here it is 2020 and eighty some years hence, his story is still being told thanks to written history.

And just who was that catcher of fish that so irritated James Head? Well, it was not so much who, but what. The victim was a Common Loon who evidently made it a habit of stopping annually at Lake Anna for a few fish as he migrated northward to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Canada. Mr. Common Loon spent his morning diving and bobbing for his freshwater morsel seemingly bothering no one. No one, but Head.

If it were not for the fact that Head lost his, um, head, his name would have been long forgotten. A quick research on him did not show any situations good or bad. One Beacon Journal story condemning all the relatives that worked for Barberton did briefly mention his name.

Recorded history does not show Head’s intentions but on or around April 21 to the shock of observing fishermen, Patrolman Head jumped in his canoe, rolled out to the center of the lake with his powerful riot gun put an end to poor old Mr. Loon.

Riot Guns needed to quite the loon invasion.

Now, if one knows much about local history you realize Barberton had communist revolt in June of 1931, so there was a strong sense of Red terror around Barberton as the depression left more than a few scratching their head about capitalism. But that is another story for another day. Hunger often makes people uncomfortable with the status quo. Understandably officials were asked to keep their eyes open, especially around the lake for communist agitators. But as far as we know the Loon had no political affiliation.

But Mr. Loon did have protection that was violated. His national rights were violated by Officer Head that April Day. At that time, a treaty existed between America and Canada that it was unlawful to hunt and kill migratory birds-and for certain, Mr. Loon lay dead, blown to kingdom come in the middle of the Lake.

Knowing they were protected, all the visiting loons around the area felt safe visiting the Magic City. Shooting migratory birds was way to shocking to the fine folks of Barberton even to the hungry ones.

Charles Long, state conservation officer took Head before the Clinton Justice of Peace, Louis Smith and was charged for his crime. For his riot gun folly, he was charged $25 plus $4.50 court costs. In a short matter of minutes, he was before the justice then out the door. His fine could of been much higher.

During his inquisition he told the two officials that he had his orders to kill Mr. Loon but refused to say who gave them. So was there a conspiracy to eliminate Mr. Loon. If so, Officer Head remained silent. Sadly, the story did not stop there as someone on the editorial board of the Akron Beacon Journal editorial staff by the name of Howard Wolf penned a copyrighted poem on the op-ed for all to see. It did not look good for the Magic. But sometimes a little finger wagging is good for all.

Not sure whose side of the political fence Wolfe represented but he seemed to always be taking jabs at Barberton, especially after the Lake Anna riot where he blames Officer Head for handing out tear gas and Billie clubs in June of ’31.

Wild-laughing, strong-winged loons

Beating up from the Gulf

On a flight home to the pines

Go high, go swiftly, go steadily

Over this town

It’s a long way between lakes

We know, old travelers,

But better the weary passage down the airwaves

Than the blast of police guns,

The shot ripping and tearing,

Red stains on white vest

And half human cry choking to silence.

Something there is in a wild bird’s frolics

That incenses the coppers of Barberton,

Birds should be grave and most decorous

If they want to evade the riot gun.

“Well” thought the loon yesterday.

“As a water bird, guess I’ll try out that water.”

So onto Lake Anna’s sacred surface

He dropped in a most disorderly way.

And being a diver, did some diving,

Then showed himself an unprincipled scoundrel

By stealing a fish, which is larceny.

Burning with righteous indignation

That valiant officer, James M. Head

Called for paddle, canoe, and gun

And went for the menacing web-foot Red.

Grateful for water

The vagrant loon

Diving and clowning, swam under, came up

To an end of frisking;

A spray of lead

A frantic lifting into the air,

A scarlet splash on the lake for a moment

And Head, the Horatius in the canoe,

Knew Moscow foiled and Barberton saved.

Warning to the birds: Be sure you’ve a permit

From Barberton’s chief or at least the mayor

Before you go over or through the town.

Remember you’ve really no business there.

Howard Wolfe, Akron Beacon Journal.


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Micheala Johanson
Micheala Johanson
I've worked at several occupations throughout my life including journalist, photographer and chef/owner of Micheala's Cafe. Local history is one of my first loves. I sit on the board of the Wadsworth Area Historical Society and a member of the River Styx Historical Society. Being a resident of Barberton for the past fifteen years I have become interested in Barberton area history as well.

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