[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
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.]