BACK: Boyhood Tales
MELISSA GARZANELLI, Staff Writer
The Daily Times, Ottawa, IL
Monday, November 10, 2003
HIS PEN-NAME, Leo Edwards, Edward Edson Lee wrote more than
50 works of juvenile fiction in the 1920s and 1930s. The books
were set in the fictional town of Tutter, which was created
from Edwards memories of growing up in Utica as a boy.
-- As a boy during the 1880s and 1890s, Edward Edson Lee found adventure
and fun roaming the hills of Utica and swimming in the Illinois
& Michigan Canal.
Lee -- better known by his pen name Leo Edwards -- immortalized
those memories and shared them with others through more than 50
books written during the 1920s and 1930s.
wrote juvenile fiction; his books were a contemporary of works such
as The Hardy Boys or Tom Swift. However, what set Edwards apart,
said his fans, were the detailed descriptions of the town of Tutter,
where almost all of the stories took place.
reality, Tutter was Utica.
printed on the inside cover of the books display Utica (Tutter)
as it was just before the turn of the century, although some of
the names of streets and landmarks have been changed.
books talk about quarries and the canal -- all the places the kids
played. There was a brickyard where the park is now. That's in the
book, too," said Bruce Etheridge, a member of the La Salle
County Historical Society.
was changed to Ashton for the stories, but landmarks such as the
train depot, the canal with its towpath, and the railroad tracks
are all in the same locations.
street names are similar. Names such as Canal, Church, and Clark
streets are still there, but in different places. Mill Street has
been changed to Hill Street.
Vasile, a historian from Downers Grove who recently completed a
book on the history of Utica, ranked his discovery that Leo Edwards
set all of his books in Utica as among his favorite local points
Edwards' books as an early Scooby-Doo-type mystery series involving
the same gang of kids, he included a reference to the author in
his book and encouraged local history buffs to check out the books
at the Utica Public Library.
childhood memories never left him, and he used boyhood surroundings
in shaping his plots," Vasile wrote in his book about Edwards.
"He credited his Utica teacher, Kate Gardner, for encouraging
him to write."
Sept. 2, 1884 in Meriden, Leo Edwards spent nine years of his boyhood
in Utica before moving to Beloit, Wis., at the age of 13.
his years in Utica, Edwards attended the former two-story Utica
school, which was situated in the same location as the current school
building, and engaged in all of the activities that Utica children
loved to do.
heard from a lady who stopped in that he was not a good student,
that he would sit out under a tree writing stories," Etheridge
said. "But I don't know where she got that."
family was quite poor, and after moving to Wisconsin, he went to
work in a factory when he was 14. Later on, while working at an
advertising agency in Cambridge, Wis. he began his professional
writing career, getting several serial stories published in "Boys
Life" and "The American Boy" magazines. These stories
introduced some of his characters from Tutter, and all of his magazine
stories eventually were expanded into books.
of those serials, a seven-part story printed in "The American
Boy" from January through July 1922, became his first book.
Based around the character of Andy Blake, it was published in 1922
with D. Appleton & Company. In this book, the town was called
Cressfield, but the landmarks in the story indicate that it also
was based on his memories of Utica. His later books were all set
in the first Andy Blake book is Landers General Store, a store that
actually operated in Utica between 1885 and 1942 on the west side
of Mill Street.
author had left Utica in 1897 as a young boy, but carried with him
in his retentive memory a picture of the town which he restored
in his writing. Among the Utica businesses which he had been familiar
with was a general store operated by William Landers, " wrote
Bob Chenu, an editor of the Tutter Bugle, a newsletter dedicated
to Leo Edwards and his books.
the first printing of this book recorded a net loss of $470.22,
his later books, all published through Grosset & Dunlap, practically
flew off the shelves. The rights to the first Andy Blake story were
eventually purchased by Grosset & Dunlap which reprinted the
book with some minor changes. Edwards also wrote three other Andy
all, Edwards wrote five different series, with the most popular
being the Jerry Todd series (16 books) and the Poppy Ott series
(11 books). Like the Andy Blake series, the Tuffy Bean and Trigger
Berg series had four books apiece.
as he based the fictitious Tutter upon a real place, Edwards also
liked to use real people and events in penning the pages of his
"Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy", a mummy is donated
to Tutter College that is stolen by the Golden Sphinx Fraternity
Boys. The mummy is later found to be fake.
plot came straight from an incident at Beloit College.
a hoax actually occurred, involving a 'mummy' which was purchased
by a patron of Beloit College and donated to that school,"
Chenu wrote. "It was uncritically accepted by the college authorities,
and was placed in the school's Logan Museum. There it was displayed
for some years, properly regarded with awe by the undergraduates
and other visitors.
some members of one of the college fraternities had an inspiration.
One of the initiation requirements was for the candidates to perform
some prescribed act of 'burglary.' The mummy was selected for the
test, and was successfully mummy-naped by the candidate. Being of
a more inquiring turn of mind than the faculty had been, the mummy's
artificial nature was discovered by the captors."
just as art imitated life on the pages of Edwards' books, so too
did Edwards' love of children spill not only onto the pages of his
books, but also into his everyday life.
Cambridge home was often visited by neighborhood children, and Edwards
read first drafts of his books to the children to gauge their responses
to the story.
in the books were named for children in his life, including naming
hero Poppy Ott for his nephew, who was nicknamed "Poppy."
The Jerry Todd books are said to be based on Edwards' own son, Eugene
Lee. His books were often dedicated to children he knew.
was also very active in the Boy Scouts," Etheridge said of
the Great Depression progressed, Edwards' books declined in popularity,
with economic difficulties drying up much of the publishing industry.
On Sept. 28, 1944, Edwards passed away. But there are still people
alive with fond memories of his tales, as the Utica Historic Society
receives regular inquiries about Edwards and his books.
lot of the older people tell their kids about the books," Etheridge
said. "We have people stop in from all over the country and
say their dad had some of the books around. They're collectors'
published in The Daily Times, Ottawa, IL, Monday, Nov. 10,
2003 and also available online at www.inottawa.com.
Published by permission of the Managing Editor.]