Loading…
Friday, October 24, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
Published: Sunday, 12/11/2005

Remnants of riot linger long after the cleanup

The last time I stopped in at Billie Wamsley's house, she offered to fix me fried chicken.

This was October, on a glorious sunny day when riot-clad cops milled around outside her front yard, on the corner of East Streicher and Mulberry.

Just two-tenths of a mile south on Mulberry, some 600 rioters were whooping it up at the corner of Central. If you stood in Billie's backyard, you could see and hear the ruckus easily.

I was in and out of Billie and Tom Wamsley's house a lot that day, as cops and rioters had a stand-off. At the same corner where cops gathered, two Blade reporters and I hung around, waiting to see how the tense impasse would play out.

The sun shone (I said it was glorious, right?), and we baked. Next thing you know, Billie was offering bottled water.

"Help yourselves!" she chirped, before dashing back into the snug house where the couple has lived 27 years and raised two kids.

Well, you know how it is. If you give reporters water, they're going to want a bathroom. That, plus they needed a place to duck into when the tear gas wafted their way.

Billie and Tom were as generous with their home as they were their water. About the third time I came through the front door, Billie wondered if I was hungry.

"I can fry you some chicken if you want," she said. "I'm from the South. It's what we do."

Tom, 54, and Billie, 53, were high school sweethearts in Kentucky. They were 18 and 17 on their wedding day. A year later, looking for work, they moved up here; Tom has 34 years in at Powertrain.

Tom said he figured the Oct. 15 neo-Nazi rally wouldn't be the nonevent he'd predicted after he noticed cops setting up barricades at the corner. He and Billie considered leaving - after all, they were responsible for three of their five grandkids who'd spent the night - but in the end, they decided to stay and protect their property.

Well, c'mon. They've had two cars and a motorcycle stolen. Plus, burglars have broken into the house while they slept upstairs. Twice.

"Later, we had an officer out here keeping people away, and I knew things were going to heat up when he put on his riot helmet," said Tom.

Our conversation was yesterday, when I decided I'd rather spend more of Toledo Nazi Saturday II at the Wamsleys than downtown at the Sieg Heil Freak Show. Instead of trees in full autumnal splendor, I found Christmas decorations outside their house. And in case I forgot the scene two months ago, Billie pulled two photos from her purse: the front-yard cop view, and the back-yard riot perspective.

"I showed them at Weight Watchers," she added helpfully.

The neighborhood's changed a lot since they moved in, Tom told me. Why, back in 1977, they were the new young couple in a block of old-timer Polish couples whose children had long since grown up.

"Now, we're the old people on the block," laughed Tom, who hopes to retire in a few years.

Raking leaves in the backyard a few weeks ago, Tom turned up a couple of those thick wooden pellets the cops shot at rioters, the things they call "knee-knockers." Remnants of the riot remain in this neighborhood, in more ways than one.

"People say, 'Where do you live?' And you say the north end, and they say, 'Ohhh!' " said Billie.

"It will always be 'the North End riots,' " lamented Tom.

Did I mention that Billie gave me coffee and a homemade caramel bar?



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.