The never before told story of Starr Gardner

By Rich Tarrant

If, perchance, I should write a mystery / detective novel my main character would be named Starr Gardner. The name, way back in the early to mid-years of the 20th century was actually that of a Vermilion businessman – a butcher – who owned a shop along with a well-known Vermilionite named George Naegele on Division Street. The store was located below the Masonic Temple in a portion of the rooms now occupied by Lee’s Landing Nautical Gift Shop. The photograph accompanying this essay appears to have been taken from the walk just outside the window of the Gardner-Naegele market on Christmas Day in 1911.

We are fortunate to have several interior photographs of at least two of Vermilion’s butcher shops from this time period. One is of the George Krapp market (VPJ 11/10/2013) where Gardner had worked in his younger days. But setting that aside the thing that likely captures most attention in either photo is all the poultry and sundry other meats hanging from the ceiling and / or lying on the counter. This certainly leads one to wonder how safe these items were to use.

To digress for a moment the poultry, etc. (sans flies) hanging from the ceiling reminds me of the open-air markets I saw when I was a military visitor in the Republic of Vietnam back in the mid-1960s. But as picturesque as those markets were I had no desire to purchase a chicken, goose or whatever they had hanging in their markets for dinner. It just seemed a tad unsanitary. On the other hand I am inclined to assume that those doing the selling knew what they were doing. So no matter what I thought, it probably was safe.

Looking into preservation methods in our country during the early years of the 20th century I was happy to find two things: One is that most of the poultry and meat sold in little markets like the one pictured were obtained locally. In short, these items were relatively fresh. The second thing is the fact that many of these markets had an insulated room where ice harvested from the river and lake during the winter was used to keep the stock refrigerated throughout the year.

And, indeed, if one looks closely toward the back of the photo there is a refrigerator of sorts with a glass door. Additionally, this photo was taken (as indicated) on December 25, which means the outside temperature was probably close to freezing. Those things coupled with the fact that the store probably lacked any consistent central heating source likely meant that the hanging meats were not in “immediate” danger of becoming toxic.

And now, just a little more about Starr Gardner: He was born in Berlin Heights on 13 June 1869. He married a lady named Carrie Myers in April of 1892. Before coming to Vermilion and going to work for George Krapp he worked at a grain elevator near Berlin Heights. As previously indicated he worked for Mr. Krapp. For some unknown reason he quit that shop after a few years and went to work in Lorain, Ohio for a short time. But by 1920 he was back in Vermilion having partnered with George Naegele in the meat business.

Aside from providing the general population of town with meat products the Gardner-Naegele market also provided local restaurants, such as Vermilion’s famed Okagi Restaurant (just around the corner) with beef and poultry. The business thrived.

In 1936 Gardner retired selling his interest in the market to his partner Mr. Naegele. During the years that followed he busied himself with activities at the Vermilion Grange (No. 271) and others sponsored by the Knights of Pythias fraternal society in his hometown of Berlin Heights. But finally, on the 22 of May in 1946, after ailing for a year, he passed into the hands of God and was placed to rest in the Riverside Cemetery in his home community.

Now that would, ostensibly, mark the end of the life of Starr Gardner.  However, when I finally write my mystery novel – “It was a dark and stormy night” – be assured that the protagonist will most certainly be a Starr.

Ref: Sandusky Register, 5/23/1946; VHM Photo Archives.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com

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