PERRYSBURG — For Richard Baranowski, presenting Perrysburg history is a passion.
Baranowski has been the Way Public Library reference and local history librarian for 20 years. He is also a fifth generation native of Perrysburg.
He’s been a school librarian and a medical reference librarian. He’s worked at Way as a general librarian, but it is the work as reference and local history librarian that he has loved the most.
“Answering people’s questions and helping people,” Baranowski said are his two favorite activities.
The Way walls practically whisper the stories of people taking passage on the steamers that stopped in Perrysburg on the river and the passing trains that gathered the mail.
Those walls are filled with ephemera, the photographs, illustrations and handbills of eras long past.
Each has some story to tell and Baranowski has something to say about each one — some more complete than others. On one, you can almost hear crowds shouting, like the poster with big bold letters, advertising the 1938 professional wrestling match of Francis Stoker.
Baranowski interviewed Stoker, who was a World War II veteran and worked in the Transportation Corps. Prior to military service, Stoker was paid about $20 per wrestling match. Later in the week the Pastime Club would have dancing and roller skating.
Stoker was born in 1916 and that interview is one of many that Baranowski did as part of the oral history series begun in 2002.
Baranowski’s since written for several periodicals and done two books, “Perrysburg Village Voices: Hometown Stories of the Past” and “Now Hear This! Perrysburg Veterans in War and Peace.”
“Village Voices” was published in celebration of the bicentennial of Perrysburg, in 2016. “Now Hear This” recognizes Perrysburg veterans, in a compilation of interviews of men and women.
His books and articles have been cited and published in numerous library and history journals.
Baranowski has his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in educational media from the University of Toledo and a master’s in library science from Wayne State University.
Before working at Way, Baranowski was a medical librarian for Toledo Hospital.
He has very definite opinions about the best sources of written information, but isn’t afraid to include conflicting history.
In his interviews, several people mentioned locations where the railroad mail bag hung. He admits that they could all be accurate, at different times, but probably not.
“You find a lot of mistakes when you do research. I find a lot of people misread things, or the wrong information was put out first, then people repeated it,” Baranowski said. “You know, newspapers make a lot of mistakes, spelling mistakes, but I would go for a newspaper before I would go for an oral history, I think. Oral histories make a lot more mistakes than newspapers, because a newspaper is doing right at that moment.
“I think newspapers are very powerful, as a reference,” Baranowski said.
His current project is building up the history of Perrysburg Township for its bicentennial. He’s working with J.D. Justus and the Perrysburg Area Historic Museum for several articles, presentations and a bicentennial publication.
For that project, he has been diving into the official township files and various cemetery records. At the township administration building he found the original handwritten leather bound book that served as the Justice of the Peace Docket for 1823-30.
“People spoke differently back then,” Baranowski said. “It was very hard to read. After a while I able to start reading it, after I started recognizing how the guy wrote, but it’s not easy.”
He pointed out that Perrysburg Village and Perrysburg Township were the same thing until 1833, when the village was chartered.
Wearing white cotton gloves, Baranowski showed off the docket during a recent trustees meeting.
Writing was also done differently. The pen was likely a sharpened goose or buzzard’s quill tip, as metal tips were only recently invented. It’s obvious when the pen ran out of ink and the quill was re-dipped.
Baranowski is excited about the township bicentennial and he’s not afraid to take a cue from that old wrestling poster and hype a new project.
It’s just a teaser, but he’s found eyewitness accounts of the first hanging to take place in Wood County, of George Porter, for the murder of Isaac Richardson.