MOUNT VERNON -- One year ago, this weekend, History Knox debuted on this site with a small, quiet column about a mail carrier's buggy from Danville.
I hope you'll permit me to reflect over this year of adventures and hint at some to come in the near future.
My experience with writing about history is long, going back to the historical dramas I wrote and produced at Malabar Farm State Park nearly 20 years ago. Those tangles with the strange stories of Ceely Rose, Phoebe Wise, and Louis Bromfield enchanted me, and prompted me to start writing columns for a monthly newspaper.
Since then, my involvement in writing and talking about history has developed into an obsession. This local history column project popped up out of the blue last year. By this year, I was working a day job where I give historical tours at the Ohio State Reformatory, bolstered by speaking gigs talking about music history, and also about ghosts, who are inextricably bound to the past. I am living and breathing history.
As I began creating weekly History Knox columns, I quickly plunged into large stories with a recollection of the Donner Party misadventure in California, a situation created in no small part by a native of Knox County who had more eagerness than navigational skill (something that also can be said about a lot of the drivers on Coshocton Avenue on busy weekends).
I got to play historical detective by tracking down the origins of a photo postcard mailed in 1910 from Brinkhaven in the column “Postcards from the Brink.” With that postcard, purchased from a vintage postcard dealer in Columbus, I was able to track down the story of a family who had survived the great flood of 1913 and ultimately relocated to Big Prairie. A relative contacted me, and I was able to return the postcard to a family member.
Searching for an ominous story to run during the month of Halloween, I plunged into the infamous unsolved Maplehurst Murder case. Little did I dream that this case and its ripples outward would turn into a series of four columns, stretching across the United States. I'll be talking about that case and my own conclusions (including a suggestion of who I think the murderer was) this fall at the Elixir Chautauqua series on Halloween night, Oct. 31, at the Grand Hotel in Mount Vernon.
This year's October surprise will roar into the history of Knox County's most famous accidental death, one that still stirs opinions over a century later.
Humor has not been absent in these columns, though. From last winter's “A Trip to Downtown Squeal,” to stories of the rowdy canal town of Cavallo, to an examination of William Wright, the Knox County-born humorist who helped launch Mark Twain's career, there have been things to bring a smile to the face.
Speaking of funny people, I hope to do a more in-depth column about Mount Vernon's Paul Lynde as well in the upcoming year.
But if there was one column I was more proud of than any other, it was my retrospective on the Linda Kohlmeier murder. Make no mistake about it, that was one that I felt a personal calling to complete, for I certainly spent far more hours and miles on that story than what I was paid for. But that's just how I roll. When there's a story that needs telling, I'm going to do what I can to tell it as well as I can.
With that in mind, I hope to start a new series this year that examines forgotten crimes from more recent decades that still need attention.
I couldn't thank everyone here who has contributed to these columns in one way or another, but let me close by acknowledging the Knox Time page on Facebook, which has allowed me unfettered access to their collection of historical images, many drawn from vintage postcards.
They have helped me illustrate many stories, even prompting several of the columns. Thanks to the Knox County Historical Society, Kenyon College, the Fredericktown Historical Society, the Woodward Opera House, and the Knox County Agricultural Museum, who have all given me great assistance in realizing these stories.
Thanks to my editor, Larry Philips, and to correspondent Cheryl Splain, who first brought the idea of the column to me; to reporter Grant Pepper, who asked for my contribution to his article looking into the history of drowning deaths in the Kokosing, and to all the excellent people at Richland Source/Knox Pages, working hard to bring journalism into the future.
Most of all, thank you, readers. We're currently working on a plan for an event where readers can meet up to discuss columns and potential new ideas with me. Look for that announcement coming soon.
Thanks to all who have contacted me and helped move these stories along. Here's to our second year!