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John Bellairs Walk

The John Bellairs Walk is a walking tour of author John Bellairs's hometown, Marshall, Michigan, focusing on the area landmarks inspiring locations mentioned in his young-adult novels. The tour was the brainchild of Ann LaPietra, proprietor of the kids' place bookstore from 1986 to 2006.


LaPietra celebrated Bellairs's birthday each January with a party: cake, games, and reminiscences. "One year, two older gentlemen got into an argument over whether John Bellairs was the best or worst busboy Schuler's restaurant ever had. Another year the party was based on The Eyes of the Killer Robot, featuring a gentleman from the robotics department of a local college, with assistants, and two robots - one programmed to throw a ball, the other to 'serve' chocolate chip cookies."

With no new book going into 1989, LaPietra decided to invent a walking tour of Marshall, similar to the city's annual Historic Home Tour, begun in 1963. With guidance from both Marshall historian Richard Carver and correspondence from Bellairs himself, LaPietra's list struck a chord with local residents who volunteered to portray the popular characters at significant points throughout the tour.

In 1990 the tour won the Lucile Micheels Pannell Award, given by the Women's National Book Association to honor a creative program bringing children and books together.

In later years, area schools conducted the tours in mid-May during Michigan Week for local and visiting elementary-aged children, and at other times the tour was self-guided with maps available at both the Chamber of Commerce office and kids' place. These maps were necessary, according to LaPietra, as Bellairs took a lot of poetic license with the geography in his fictional New Zebedee.

"John’s first three books (The House with a Clock in its Walls; The Figure in the Shadows; and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring) really capture the Marshall spirit and are easily recognized by Marshallites. 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."

After LaPietra's death in 2007 the “organized” walk was all but disbanded.

Because the locations still exist and fans still visit them, Bellairsia staff expanded the content by providing additional research into the history of each location when publishing the walk online.