Journalist’s book unveils secrets of Toledo’s diverse pastWritten by Sanya Ali | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lou Hebert ends each day by sitting in his armchair and reading his newspapers, though the headlines he comes across are not exactly breaking news.
Toledo’s vice mayor allowed three citizens to be publicly tarred and feathered during World War I. Close to 3,800 Toledo schoolteachers and workers nearly lost their jobs during a 1978 strike. And, in 1927, dancer and musician Fritzi Bigelow danced on the wing of an airplane as it flew above the Maumee River.
Hebert, a veteran journalist, built his career by learning these and hundreds of other stories that color Toledo’s past. He unearths the hidden gems of the city in his book “Day by Day in Toledo.”
Hebert compares Toledo’s history to “a running movie.”
“Almost everybody has a great story, or two or three, and it’s finding that story in people’s lives and telling it,” Hebert said.
Hebert, 65, divides his time between the Toledo Police Museum, where he is a board member, and his home, where he continues to research for future projects.
Hebert, a tall man with light gray hair, is animated and often speaks with his hands. Each time he tells a story, his eyes widen in excitement.
During a routine visit to the museum, Hebert noticed an old photograph on the wall of two men in bowler hats. Intrigued, Hebert pointed to one of the men and asked, “Who is this?”
One figure in the photo was a well-known police officer of the time but the other was relatively unknown. Within a second, Hebert was prepared to help solve the mystery.
Museum President Beth Thieman said she admires Hebert’s willingness to share his historical knowledge.
Hebert worked as a journalist for 40 years, the first 10 years in radio. In 1971, he was the morning co-host of longtime radio personality Bob Kelly.
“He was the Duke of Toledo at that point,” Hebert said. “He took this town by storm.”
In 1989, Hebert transitioned to television in Denver. He returned to his hometown a few years later. Hebert spoke positively about Toledo and his tone reflects the admiration he holds for the city.
“When I first started, [people] said Toledo is kind of like a small big city,” Hebert said. “You really get a chance to do almost every kind of story from a reporter’s perspective. We have everything that a big city has, just in smaller doses.”
Hebert also boasts a brief musical career. He was the first to record the song “Saturday Night in Toledo,” written by Randy Sparks. The record sold thousands of copies across Toledo and Detroit before Sparks sued the radio station for improper licensing.
Hebert laughed while speaking about the lawsuit. He said he met Sparks in an elevator long after the event and discovered the songwriter had no hard feelings.
Hebert’s portfolio is diverse, though the latter years of his career were feature-focused.
“I started looking at stories a little differently, and I think that just happens because if you’re in a place a long time, after you’ve done the 40th fire story… you’re looking for something a little different,” Hebert said.
Hebert’s interest in features was one of the driving forces in creating his book. In 2009, he compiled his hundreds of headlines and founded a website called The Toledo Gazette, www.toledogazette.wordpress.com, a history-oriented blog.
“I’d been doing so much history research in putting the book together and I just felt like, until I get the book done, it’s a good outlet to feature some of the stories I’d come across,” Hebert said.
Thieman, who founded the Toledo Police Museum, said she picked up a copy of the book the day it was released.
“It’s fascinating because of the cool day-by-day format,” Thieman said. “Say you want to know what happened on your birthday. You can actually just go to a day and see what happened on that day.”
Thieman said she admired the lesser-known stories included in Hebert’s book.
“He doesn’t settle for the obvious,” Thieman said. “He is a true champion of Toledo history. He finds the obscure little facts that make it completely hard to put down.”
As a professional journalist, Hebert knew how to cultivate the richest sources.
“You’re basically dealing with news and interpreting headlines,” Hebert said. “You get to know that certain publications have a certain way of writing a particular story and judging its particular worth.”
Hebert said the “worth” of a story often stems from the journalist’s ability to paint a vivid picture.
“Back in the 1900s, I won’t say it was ‘first person,’ but it was a much more dramatic way of telling the story,” Hebert said. “We’re kind of basic nuts and bolts today. In your basic news reporting, we don’t stretch the boundaries of the language.”
Hebert called journalists of that time “wordsmiths” because they were able to bend and twist stories without losing the true meaning.
“They really were masters of being able to write a story that was a straight news story but they could write in such a way and leave little nuances so, when you’re reading it, you’re really reading between the lines,” Hebert said.
Hebert said what he hopes his readers understand after reading his book is that Toledo is not a “boring city.”
“I’m not looking to get rich on anything,” Hebert said. “The riches come and the reward comes in having people like what you do and like the product.”
Hebert published the book at the end of last year. It is available on www.amazon.com, at the Toledo Public Library and the Toledo Police Museum. He plans to release his second book in September.
Tags: Beth Thieman, Bob Kelly, Day by Day in Toledo, Fritzi Bigelow, Lou Hebert, Randy Sparks, Saturday Night in Toledo, schoolteachers, The Toledo Gazette, Toledo Police Museum, Toledo Public Library