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A Visit Home

By Thomas Graham Lee, Librarian

When I cruised down Cambridge, Wisconsin’s main street on December 1st, 2007, for the first time in over 30 years, my thoughts were about my grandfather, Edward Edson Lee, one of the most famous people to have lived on Lake Ripley, located just outside of town. In a setting just perfect for imagining exciting plots for his books, my grandfather wrote 49 adventure books for boys. Published between 1938-1944 by Grosset and Dunlap in New York, most of the books were written at Hi-Lee Cottage, one of the first houses built on Lake Ripley.

Honored as among designated Wisconsin Authors by the state, my grandfather wrote his first book under his own name. The rest were authored under his pseudonym, Leo Edwards. Publishers, usually unwilling to leave well enough alone, wanted a unique name for their new author. Wouldn’t you have wanted to be in that meeting when they dreamed up Leo Edwards? The choice pleased all concerned. And readers were rewarded with Leo Edwards, who loved writing stories for youngsters.

Leo Edwards (far right) with Cambridge Boy Scouts. My dad, Eugene Lee, is the 3rd scout from the left, in the back row. A few of these scouts wore their uniforms so much that the fabric was bleached out from repeated laundryings. As a boy, Leo himself was a Lone Scout, the scouting term for a solo scout who lives in an area where a formalized scout troop isn’t available.

Young readers from all over the U.S. went wild over Leo’s adventure books and the nifty personalities of the kids who were the mystery-solving stars of his stories. Leo’s characters ranged from rogues to heroes, from neighborhood trouble-makers to the daring and brave ‘boys-next-door’.

Leo’s books have withstood the test-of-time and remain popular today by book collectors. His first book, Andy Blake in Advertising, sold recently on e-bay for a hefty $2,700. Other books in good condition with their original dust covers often sell for over $500. The original books sold for about 50 cents.

Leo had twin grandsons: myself (Tom Lee) and my brother, Eugene. At age 68, I’m currently the oldest professional librarian working for the State of Michigan. Leo’s other grandson, my twin brother, Eugene, is the longtime production designer of the long running television show, Saturday Night Live. Eugene is also a very famous Broadway designer. His most current Tony award was for the production of Wicked that now plays on Broadway in New York City, in London, England, and other countries as well.

Amazingly enough, Leo’s great-grandson, Graham Harrison Lee, now lives in Cambridge with his family: his wife, Pam, and their daughters, Megan and Tessa. Graham has an abiding interest in his family’s history, has an archivist’s respect and passion about everything related to Leo Edwards, and maintains an Internet web site on Leo (leoedwards.com) where one can find many historic photographs taken on Lake Ripley and in Cambridge. Predicting that Graham would have ended up in Cambridge, only a few miles from where his great-grandfather wrote books, would have been an impossible feat of forecasting. From Ann Arbor, Michigan to Long Island, then Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, then Milwaukee and Madison ... well, I suppose to you, the reader, it is very obvious and only logical. My wife, Margaret, and I were delighted and extremely surprised, with pangs of regret that Leo’s Lake Ripley property wasn’t in the family anymore.

Attorney Donald Rumpf, Esquire

By the time my son, Graham, and I visited Gordon Rumpf’s law office in Cambridge, the word was already out that I was coming. He greeted us heartily, with a copy of Leo Edwards’s Jerry Todd’s Up-the-Ladder Club in his hand. This 14th book in the Jerry Todd series is dedicated by my grandfather to “My Pal Donald Rumpf.” But Leo did more than just dedicate books to his friends. He put them in his books. What makes my grandfather’s books different than similar books written at that time is that Leo included people he actually knew as characters in his books. And Donald Rumpf, with his individual and lively personality, is a fine example of how Leo formed fictional characters based on exceptionally interesting people.

Many series books, written at the same time that Leo was writing his books in Cambridge, were produced by teams of authors. For example, the Hardy Boy series was published by the Edward Stratemeyer syndicate in New York. Stratemeyer would come up with a plot and then turn the writing over to a team of writers. The group would write the book. The book would then be published as authored by W. W. Dixon, a name representing the team of authors. Stratemeyer once visited Leo at Lake Ripley and asked him join his syndicate. Leo refused the offer.

Leo not only wrote all his books himself, but he also printed invitations within his books, welcoming his young readers to come visit him at Hi-Lee Cottage at Lake Ripley. It made Leo very real to his fans, and many families did travel to Lake Ripley. Some of the children had never been to a lake, or had been fishing, or canoeing. For hundreds of children, the visits opened up what lake-life is all about. And for the lucky people in the Cambridge area, it’s always available within minutes, then and now. Leo also paid close attention to children in the Cambridge area, and he started the tradition of reading his books to groups of local youngsters, gathered on summer afternoons on the lawn, landscaped with his rock gardens and water fountain, at Hi-Lee Cottage. Visitors, including librarians, teachers, book illustrators, and authors, continued to come to Hi-Lee Cottage after Leo’s death in 1944. My parents, Eugene (Beanie) Lee and the avid golfer, Betty Gates Lee, lived at Hi-Lee Cottage at that time, renting cottages to lake vacationers, hosting visitors who had an interest in Leo’s books, and answering letters from steadfast readers.

Leo reading fan mail, surrounded by local boys from Cambridge and Lake Ripley. Leo asked readers to write, and did they ever! Letters continued to come for years after Leo’s death in 1944. Fans still write, using the Internet now. Leo’s grandson, Thomas Lee, and great-grandson, Graham Lee, get many e-mails from people who share their childhood memories as readers and want information about Leo to pass along to their grandchildren.

Many famous writers visited Leo at Hi-Lee. One that comes to mind was Edgar Rice Burrows, the writer of the Tarzan books. While Burrows was at Ripley visiting Leo, my dad took a photo of Leo and Burrows, up in the branches of the large basswood tree that overhung Lake Ripley. The photo was prompted by Leo and was typical of his eye for a humorous caper. Leo would have thought that it was high time for the author of Tarzan to try out treetop merriment himself. The photo was later printed in The Cambridge News.

Cambridge School & Eileen Scott

The grade school in Cambridge that my brother and I attended is now a museum (not because we went there, although our recess romps were epic). Despite the fact that the museum was technically closed in preparation for an Open House, my son, Graham, and I were lucky that the door was open, and director Eileen Scott was inside, busy with last-minute preparations. She was very gracious and took time to show us around. She, of course, knew all about Leo and my parents, who graduated from Cambridge High School. Eileen Scott has more knowledge about all aspects of the area’s history than I’d have thought possible for one person to possess. Eileen is a treasure for Cambridge and Lake Ripley.

I have fond memories of the Cambridge Grade School. I’m glad that it wasn’t just torn down. Its second life as a museum is entirely fitting. Happy in anticipation of what each day would bring at school, I remember that it was a long bus ride to the school from Lake Ripley every day, perhaps an unintended lesson in patience. And liking to leap around, I remember that, on the playground next to the school, was a fabulous merry-go-round that one could push and get going really fast! And down the hill was the football field. Good memories, surprisingly even the lesser ones, always stick with you.

Staying at Lake Ripley

On a recent visit to Cambridge to tour the Leo Edwards archives maintained by Leo’s great-grandson, Graham Lee, Tom Lee stayed at the Lake Ripley Lodge Bed & Breakfast, noting a change from lake vacation rental cabins available to tourists during the time when Tom Lee grew up on Lake Ripley. Leo Edwards (Edward Edson Lee) is the famous Wisconsin author who lived on Lake Ripley.

During my visit, I wanted to stay out at the lake. And where to stay was an easy decision. A search of the web led me to Maple Villa which is now a marvelous Bed and Breakfast, Lake Ripley Lodge. The owners and hosts, Janice and Jim Hoiby, were wonderful, as were their accommodations. I gave them one of Leo’s books, Jerry Todd Pirate for their library in the lodge. This book starts with mention of “The Island” on Lake Ripley. I was pleased to see that the island is still a Boy Scout Camp. I also gave Janice and Jim their official membership card in The Secret and Mysterious Order of The Freckled Goldfish Club. Leo started the Freckled Goldfish Club after the publication of his book, Poppy Ott and the Freckled Goldfish. Thousands of boys from across the United States became members. And Donald Rumpf still has his card.

A lot has changed on Lake Ripley. But a lot remains the same. Looking across the lake, one can easily spot the Davidson boathouse. Names come to mind: Shore Place, Cedar Lodge, Alpine Village, Johnson’s Resort, Wolfrom’s Cabins, Munson, O.H. Perry, Melster, and many more.

Marcia Gates - Prisoner of War

As fate would have it, the cabin next to Lake Ripley Lodge was once occupied by my Aunt Marcia Gates, who grew up in Cambridge. Like my mother, Betty, Marcia was a nurse. While working as a young Army nurse during World War II in the Philippines, Marcia was captured in 1941 and survived the following 3 years in a prisoner of war camp, enduring cruelty and starvation. Marcia’s story and that of the other 98 captured Army Corps Nurses imprisoned in Manila are recounted in the book, We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese which has also been made as a documentary movie, So Proudly We Hail. Recently, a wing of a Veteran’s Home, south of Milwaukee, was dedicated to Marcia Gates. The huge dedication ceremony, complete with a fly-over and Washington dignitaries, was an awe-inspiring tribute.

After coming home from the war, Marcia lived on Lake Ripley, recovering from her ordeal. And I can remember crossing Lake Ripley in a motorboat with my brother and mother to visit her. Marcia was spirited and fun to be with. Above all, Marcia was all about service to others, and continued her career as a nurse in a Veteran’s Hospital in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Hi-Lee Cottage

Hi-Lee Cottage, the way it was: large main house, in the middle. Perched at the very edge for impressive lake views were two cabins, the ROCKERY (left) and SUN UP (right). Behind Hi-Lee were two more cabins: WREN (middle) and HI HO (left). Leo often used HI HO as his writing studio.

When my parents, Beanie and Betty Lee, moved to Florida about 30 years ago, Hi-Lee Cottage was sold. Graham and I walked through the yard to view the changes. My conclusion is that people have their own ideas. The house has been completely redesigned and rebuilt. But some of Leo’s work remains. The sidewalk going down the hill to the lake remains. But in two places, the walk just dead-ends where two housekeeping cabins once stood on stilts, overlooking Ripley, offering impressive lake views. The cabin on the left was named “Sun Rise.” And on the right was “the Rookery.” Leo built those small lakefront cottages to house visiting authors or to rent to vacationers. Behind the main house called Hi-Lee, Leo added two more charming cottages which blended into his fern gardens, fountain, and ponds in a restful way, One cabin was called Hi-Ho. And the other was called The Wren. So the main house was surrounded with the pleasant atmosphere of young readers and their families, authors, vacationers, people new to lake life or old-timers, enjoying an uncomplicated visit on the docks or the companionship of a twilight bonfire. The Wren is still intact. The remains of a pool, part of the rock gardens, are still in the yard. Interested in geology, Leo was an avid rock collector. He gathered rocks from all across Wisconsin for his landscaping project. He could identify them all.

Umbrellas

When I think of Cambridge and Lake Ripley, I get a lovely visual image of the extraordinary blue and yellow umbrellas. This summer tradition should be restored.

My biggest shock about Cambridge was the disappearance of its famous blue and yellow umbrellas. That’s the signature of Cambridge. The umbrellas made Cambridge different than any other town in the world, symbolizing the welcoming gaiety of a bygone era that still remains in spirit. Graham took a photo of me, standing by a picture of an umbrella at the entrance of the Foundation Park on Lake Ripley. I’ll always visualize the main street of Cambridge, bedecked with the wondrous umbrellas. Somebody should restore that original Cambridge signature. Anything less would be a forgery.

In conclusion, a visit home does invite an appreciation for changes. And also a curious astonishment at what is remembered. Fortunately, a visit home proves that, in so many parts of your memories, you never left at all.

Tom Lee can be reached at landmark@up.net

[Published in the Cambridge News, Thursday, August 14, 2008]

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