Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

A treasure in writing

Messenger photo by Christine Bryant
Mark Myers, with the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society, examines old columns written by Fay May.

Every week for more than four years, Fay May used his pen and paper to tell a story.

Whether it was about why the fish in Blacklick Creek were plump and healthy or about funny tales of the characters who worked at the local grocery store, May always  had something to share.

He did so through a column he wrote for the News-Gazette, a newspaper published in Canal Winchester that folded sometime around World War II. His column, called "Boots and Saddles," appeared in the paper that covered several Eastside communities including Lithopolis, Groveport, Pickerington, Reynoldsburg and Blacklick.

"He would go right down the street and describe each house," said Mark Myers, a trustee and library archivist with the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society.
"He’d tell you who lives there now, who lived there before and interesting things about the house."

But he just wasn’t a columnist, Myers said. May was someone who knew a little about everything and a lot about everyone.

He was a curious man by nature and the Columbus eastside community turned to him for a source of knowledge, often having their questions answered even before they were asked.

"He was the type of columnist not so much like today," Myers said. "He was a friend of the reader. He talked to them like they were in his parlor talking to him."

Key pieces of historical significance for researchers, May’s columns for years sat unnoticed in Reynoldsburg’s Connell Hardware, which allowed the historical society to use the top floor as a museum.

The columns were donated to the historical society in 1978 by Fay Henderson, who cut out each column from 1936 to 1940 and placed it in a now worn brown scrapbook. It wasn’t until volunteers began moving the museum’s items from Connell Hardware to its new facility on Jackson Street this year that Myers discovered the more than 200 columns nestled in the scrapbook.

"I immediately knew it was valuable and saved it," Myers said.
Sitting at the historical society this month, Myers looked through the scrapbook, noting some of his favorite columns.

Turning the pages, he gently picked up the yellowed worn newspaper columns, careful not to tear the fragile pieces.

One of his favorites describes an encounter May had with a man by the name of Palmer Henderson.

Henderson lived in a rural area on the Eastside surrounded by trees. His favorite saying, according to May, was, "I would just as soon see a rattle snake come into my house as a bottle of whiskey."

In the winter, Henderson made brooms. May referred to him, in fact, as "the one man broom factory."

"His big heavy shop broom surely was a ‘Big Bertha,’" May wrote. "Everything was swept clean before it. Palmer always instructed his customers how to use or sweep with a broom. He would make four sweeps one way, turn the broom, four sweeps with the other side, one, two, three, four, turn, one, two, three, four, there you are."

To sell the brooms, Henderson took to the road in what May described was no ordinary wagon. To accommodate his long legs, he had a high seat built and had a hole bored in the front where he placed a large wagon umbrella sold by a man named John Maryalmasky, also known as "Cheap John."

"Maybe some of you still remember him, with every suit of clothes," May wrote. "If you are wondering what ever became of old ‘Cheap John,’ I can tell you. He died without a dollar to his name, but with many friends."

The topics of May’s columns varied, but they were always relevant. Reading over them for the first time, Myers said he sometimes found himself chuckling. Other times, he was intrigued and in awe of the prolific writer that May was.

"He would take a whole high school graduation class and tell you what happened to all of them," Myers said.

May also tackled common city issues of that day and before, such as a controversy in Reynoldsburg over installing sidewalks in 1839.

"Then he segued to 1939, 100 years later, and the city leaders are still arguing about sidewalks," Myers said. "He then chuckles and points out the irony."
Perhaps it was May’s own active personal life that inspired so much curiosity about the world around him.

May was a blacksmith, hotel keeper, farmer and politician, serving as clerk of Reynoldsburg in 1894 and elected as mayor in 1897 and 1900. He was elected director of the Franklin County Infirmary where he served four years and voted to establish the first tuberculosis hospital. He was Common Pleas Bailiff under two judges, and was appointed the first criminal probation officer in Ohio.

May wrote enough about Reynoldsburg to fill two books, according to the historical society, but often told his readers to save his columns because there wasn’t going to be a book written. Fay Henderson did, and now the historical society wants to make sure generations today can enjoy his columns and use them as a look into the Eastside’s history.

Eventually, the columns will be entered into a computer database system so residents can access them, Myers said.

"If this were put into a computer, you would have an invaluable resource for people who want to get quick information," Myers said.
For more information on the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society, visit www.rths.info.

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