Marshall, Michigan and fans of John Bellairs lost a friend this week: Ann LaPietra, owner of the kids' place bookstore in Marshall, died Wednesday, January 3, 2007. She was 73.
The Battle Creek Inquirer notes, "Over the past two decades, the Kid's Place was a hub of community activities, and LaPietra was known as a boisterous, outspoken and caring member of the Marshall community, earning numerous affectionate nicknames, including 'The Story Lady,' 'Ma La' and 'Crazy Annie.'"
In 1989, LaPietra, working with the Marshall Historical Society and John Bellairs himself, created the John Bellairs Walk, a tour of some of the actual inspirations points Bellairs used in his novels. La Pietra's carefully researched list struck a chord with locale residents who volunteered to portray the popular characters at significant points throughout the tour.
In later years, LaPietra welcomed author Brad Strickland to Marshall and gave him a tour of the city, including the majestic Eagle Opera House, the muse behind the New Zebedee Theater in 1995's The Doom of the Haunted Opera (a book Strickland dedicated to LaPietra).
"Bellairs's first three books (House, Figure, and Letter) really capture the Marshall spirit and are easily recognized by Marshallites," noted La Pietra in our interview with her in 2002. "People come or write to Marshall because of John's books and the tour allows everyone the chance to enjoy the city and stretch our imaginations, much as John's was inspired by his surroundings as a child."
Battle Creek resident and Bellairsia contributor Jon Caulkett summed it up best: "If Lewis Barnavelt had grown up in Marshall in the last 25 or so years, he would have spent a lot of time there, and would have found a friend."