Holy toledo! – the blade electricity distribution network


My hometown, Toledo, Ohio, has a population of 279,800. I asked my husband Bernard, a Harvard Ph.D. mathematician, what the chances were of my encountering people with connections to Toledo in random conversations with strangers in Washington D.C. and New York City. He did some fancy statistical work and came up with one in 600.

I question my husband’s math ability because my experience does not bear out his calculation. I estimate two in 10 of the people I meet are connected to that metropolis at the western end of Lake Erie, the 71st largest city in the United States.

In 1986, after I had lived all over the U.S. and in South America, we moved to the Washington D.C. area. Meeting new people, I mentioned I was from Toledo, sometimes adding that my great-great-grandparents had lived there and my great-grandfather had been drafted from Toledo into the Spanish-American War.

A strange thing began happening. Often, my new acquaintance either (A) was from Toledo, (B) had a parent or close relative born and raised in Toledo, or (C) had attended the University of Toledo. I would ask if the person knew the Toledo song. Often, we would sing it together. Every Toledoan of a certain age knows the song. We grew up with it. My grandmother sang it to put me to sleep, though it is hardly a lullaby.

During my 28 years in the Washington area, my encounters with Toledo-connected people proceeded apace in social settings, medical interventions, car maintenance, what have you. In the middle of an unpleasant biopsy, I was lying on an examining table. The technician tried to calm me. “Where are you from?” she asked casually. I responded “Toledo” in as strong a voice as I could muster. “Oh,” she said, “so am I.” We sang the Toledo Song together while the doctor poked me with sharp instruments.

At a wedding reception I was delighted to meet the bride’s brother. He had a job in Moscow, Russia, where he had a colleague who grew up in Toledo. “Every day the guy wears a T-shirt with the name ‘Tony Packo’s Cafe’ on it. I guess he misses his hometown restaurant.”

At a performance of Ballet Hispanico I struck up a conversation with my seatmate. I told her I was from Toledo. “Do you know Judge Franklin?” she asked. “Of course,” I said, “there isn’t anyone in Toledo who hasn’t heard about Judge Franklin. He was a distinguished jurist, one of Ohio’s first African-American judges. My grandfather and the judge were friends.” Judge Franklin was her first cousin.

People often exclaim “Holy Toledo!” to express surprise or shock. Corporal Klinger, a fictional Toledoan played by Toledo native Jamie Farr, used it liberally on M*A*S*H. There are several theories about its origin. Perhaps it was a reference to the holy city of Toledo, Spain. After King Alfonso VI of Castile kicked the Moors out of Toledo, it was a surprise that a city so steeped in Moorish culture became one of the great centers of Christianity.

I prefer another possibility reported in 2014 by The Press, attributed to “a former policeman who joined the city police force in 1931. At that time, there was an alleged agreement between the police and underworld safecrackers (also known as box blowers and nitromen). Safecrackers would not be harassed if they would refrain from their activities in Toledo. Consequently, they could complete a job in Detroit or Cleveland or elsewhere and then retreat to Toledo — the ‘Holy Land’.”