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[Published in the Village of North Utica Sesquicentennial (1852-2002), Copyright 2003 Village of North Utica]

Outside of Utica few people know the story of Edward Edson Lee, better known to the generation that came of age in the 1920s and 1930s by his pen name, Leo Edwards. One of the most prolific and popular authors of his day, Lee's is a classic rags to riches story. Born in 1884, Lee grew up poor and went to work at age 14 to help his mother. While he only lived in North Utica for nine years, Lee's experiences here helped shape future generations. His family moved to Utica in 1888, and Lee lived there until the age of thireteen. His childhood memories never left him, and he used boyhood surroundings in shaping his plots. "We were just about the poorest people in town. Our first home was a barn rented at four dollars a month, but my mother kept me clean, and I had plenty to eat. In the vacation months I roamed the hills about the town and swam in the canal and the near-by Illinois River. The year round I attended the Methodist Sunday school." He credited his Utica teacher, Kate Gardner, for encouraging him to write.

Former president Ronald Regan, rasied in Tampico, Illinois, noted that he had a boyhood much like Jerry Todd, one of Lee's creations. This series, spanning 16 books, is set in fictional Tutter, Illinois, but in reality they are based on the author's experinces in Utica. Jerry and his pals were a sort of Scooby Doo gang of the 1920s, finding mysteries and solving them. Among Lee's protagonists are a whispering mummy, a walzting hen and a talking frog. Lee wrote 40 books in all, and he also created other series, including, the Poppy Ott, Trigger Berg, and Tuffy Bean series, the later starring a dog. At one point "Leo Edwards" received some 10,000 letters a year from his fans.

[My thanks to Rick Coleman of Utica, Illinois for sending me a copy of this booket. Rick's grandfather was William Landers, Jr. of the "Landers and Sons General Store in Utica". In the Andy Blake books, Andy is emplyed in a general store in Utica, its the Lander's Store. For additional information on the Landers and Sons General Store, please direct yourself to the following article. -ed.]

 

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