Itinerary: Bellairs Walk, Marshall
(Originally published at LiveJournal)
Wednesday, I got to fulfill one of my lifelong childhood dreams. This was more important to me than going to New Orleans. For those that know me, that’s pretty damned important. This was like my own personal Mecca. I got to go to Marshall, Michigan.
I’ve been stationed in Fort Wayne, Indiana for my job. When I found out that I was going to be coming over here, I got on some lists and inquired as to what I might find here and in the surrounding area. A woman responded to let me know that Marshall was only about 90 miles away from Fort Wayne. I instantly got overly excited by that and started making plans to go to Marshall the instant that I got to here, knowing that I would probably be working pretty much non-stop when I got here.
I didn’t have to work too late on Tuesday, so I got to sleep at about 1:00AM so that I could be somewhat well rested before the trip. But I couldn’t sleep very well, I was too excited. I got up at 4:30AM and started my day. I had a very good breakfast at the hotel and set off at about 8:00AM so that I wouldn’t get there before everything opened.
The drive was very nice and peaceful. The first billboard that I saw that advertised something for Marshall hit me like a ton of bricks. It was about 25 miles outside of Marshall itself. I actually started crying from joy and the thrill that I was actually getting to go to the town that I had wanted to go to for so long.
When I got about a mile or two outside of town, I hit an area that was lined with trees. There were so many of them that it felt like a tunnel. I imagined what it would be like at night, and saw the inspiration that Mr. Bellairs had for the chase on the road in the middle of the night in The House With a Clock In It’s Walls. It would be very eerie to see that at night and more than a little scary.
When I actually got into town I stopped at the Kid’s Place, the bookstore run by Miss Ann La Pietra that used to be a drug store and was the possible site of “Heemsoth’s Rexall Store in The House With a Clock In It’s Walls and the other books in that series.
Miss La Pietra was a wonderful woman full of knowledge about Mr. Bellairs and his books. She had actually had the great fortune to have known him. I don’t know why that surprised me, they lived in the same town and he dedicated one of his books to her and her store, but it did. She told me that everyone in town knew who the bully Tarby was based on, and who some of the other characters had been based on. Lewis was based on Mr. Bellairs himself, which didn’t surprise me at all.
I got my copy of the John Bellairs Walk information from her and was on my way. My first stop was at the Lund Memorial Library, the setting for the library in the Anthony Monday books. It looked like it had been closed down for awhile, but I was able to get some really good pictures of it anyway. I’ve never personally read the Anthony Monday books, so I can’t really compare it to the one in the books.
My second stop was the most important one to me. The Cronin House, which was the basis of the house in the Lewis Barnavelt books. I’ve read The House With a Clock In It’s Walls an untold number of times, and I read it at least once a year. That book is the reason that I have to have cider and cake donuts every year for Halloween.
The house is almost exactly like I expected it to be. It looks almost exactly like the house on the frontispiece of The House With a Clock In It’s Walls. About the only differences were the color, the Cronin House was white, and the number of stories. The Cronin house has two, where the Izzard house has three. Oh, and there was no metal fence whose gate was held shut with a shoestring. Personally, I was in awe. I looked next door, and here was this smaller house, which had to be the basis for Mrs. Zimmerman’s house. Between them was a driveway. When I saw the driveway, I thought to myself, “Here’s were Mrs. Zimmerman, Uncle Jonathon Lewis and Rose Rita burned the Izzards’ papers while they had cider and donuts so many years ago.” Yes, major nerd moment. I took the route that had been marked out on the map and ended up behind the Cronin House. There was that huge yard. (The front yard wasn’t too shabby itself.) I could just imagine Uncle Jonathon out in the backyard making the moon disappear; Lewis, Mrs. Zimmerman and Tarby listening to the worms move underground, Uncle Jonathon and Mrs. Zimmerman arguing about whether the sound of water that they were hearing was the sound of a stream or just a regular water line, and Lewis finding out about the cat that had been lovingly buried in the yard with a metal bucket of shells.
I also got to see the American Museum of Magic, open by special appointment and run by a gentleman that lives in Indiana. It was the basis of the museum in the Lewis Barnavelt series, and once again, it looked just like I’d imagined it, except maybe a little lighter in brightness.
Michigan Avenue was a stop in and of itself. It’s called Main Street in the “New Zebedee, Michigan” books. Again, just like I imagined it, except for fewer antique shops.
I got to walk past the building that housed the Opera House. A real opera house that is the basis for the one in the Lewis Barnavelt series. It’s still closed and run down, even after so many years. But the owners are slowly building it back up, and if I recall correctly, they own one of the shops on the ground floor below it.
The Sherman & Brundage Law Offices sits on the site of Elk’s Cigar Store, which was run by John Bellairs’ father until 1965. It was the basis for “Monday’s Cigar Store” which was run by Anthony Monday’s father. I doubt that it looked anything like either Mr. Bellairs’ father’s store or Anthony Monday’s father’s store, considering that it’s now a law office.
Then there is the Brooks Fountain, which is in all of the “New Zebedee” books. That was also just how I pictured it.
St. Mary’s Church and School was next. It was the basis of “St. Michael’s Church” in The Curse of the Blue Figurine and also where Mr. Bellairs went to school. It’s a beautiful building, and they are doing work on it right now, repainting it.
The Octagon House was after that, and is the basis for the Winterborn Mansion in The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn. It is a beautiful building with the main part in the shape of an octagon with another portion behind the main part which is about as big as the main part itself.
I also got to see the house that belonged to John Bellairs’ grandparents, the Bellairs family home and Marshall Middle School, which he attended. Incidentally, Marshall High School’s 50th year anniversary for the class of 1955 is this year. That was the year that Mr. Bellairs graduated.
On the stop was also the old Masonic Temple, which is now a general office building and has been since 1987. It was in The Figure in the Shadows. It’s right across the street from the middle school that Mr. Bellairs attended.
I saw the G.A.R. Hall, “mentioned frequently in the Lewis Barnavelt books as a kind of eastern boundary to ‘New Zebedee’s Main Street.’”
I also saw the site of the Iron Bridge, which is in The House With a Clock In It’s Walls and The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge. If the bridge used to be iron, it’s now just a regular bridge.
The only thing that I didn’t get to see was the Oakridge Cemetery, which is basis of the cemetery in New Zebedee. I’m going to have to go back and see if I can find it.
Overall, I was very impressed, and now I have a concrete picture of what the places in his books look like, with the minor changes that he made to them added in of course.
Just a note, they are going to be having a walking tour of historic homes in Marshall in September. There are dozens of places, both homes and businesses, of historic value in Marshall. One of the houses that they are going to have on this walk is the Cronin House. I do hope that I am still here so that I can run up to that and actually look at the inside of the house.
If you are in the are you definitely need to go on this walk. It is well worth the time and effort. It’s an interesting walk and gives you a peak into the mind and life of John Bellairs. It also goes through some beautiful areas of town and you get to see not only the places featured in his books, but other beautiful houses as well.
I forgot about old sidewalks in Midwestern towns. Usually they have been there for about 100 years, and the trees that are growing next to them have pushed them up so that they are a hazard to walk on. I had reminded myself to be careful and watch where I walked, right before I got distracted by this really pretty house and tripped on a small bump, sending myself flying about three feet, skinning my knees and the top of my right foot, and ruining a pair of pants in the process. It still hurts to bend my right knee, which is still swollen.