Believe it or not, the origin of this iconic exclamation of surprise is somewhat murky.
Some have said it started in the 1960s with Robin’s “Holy […]!” sayings from the 1960s Batman show.
However, that’s likely just what contributed to it’s mainstream popularity today – as did MLB Hall of Fame Announcer Bill King whos famous trademark call was “Holy Toledo!”
It’s first written use actually comes much earlier in a 1928 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.
“He had never been known to do anything but be disagreeable and growl constantly and bring his train in on the money despite hell or high water. But when he went cut on pension, holy Toledo!”
What caused “Holy Toledo!” to enter the zeitgeist at the time to eventually later end up in that 1928 written account?
One theory points to Joe E. Brown, an American actor in the early 20th century from – you guessed it – Toledo.
No, we’re not talking about the Holy City of Toledo in Spain from which the phrase takes its name. Although, Toledo in Ohio is named after it!
Brown was a Catholic convert, and when he started acting in vaudeville and later in movies, he paid homage to his Faith and hometown by popularizing the pleasing-to-the-ear assonant exclamation that flows so well in his performances. It was reminiscent of the “Holy Smoke!” expression that popped up in the 1870s.
Another well-known Toledoan that popularized the phrase was Danny Thomas. Thomas attended the University of Toledo, became a wildly successful entertainer, film, and movie star before retiring and founding the Saint Jude’s Children Research Hospital.
In 2017, a spokesperson for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library confirmed the link between the phrases origin and the two actors.
Holy Toledo, there you have it!