Son of children's author recalls 'Golden Days' of father's life

from The Fernando Times, Sunday, August 11, 1985

By Jim Sames (Fernando Times Correspondent)

BROOKSVILLE -- Eugene Lee says he doesn't have "any particular interest in history," even though he's helping to renovate the Stringer House, the home of the Fernando Historical Museum association, and owns a collection of 100-year-old magazines.

Lee says he "just having something to do." So he replaces rotten floors and rebuilds tottering guardrails at the old building. He says he keeps a collection of Golden Days, a a turn-of-the-century children's magazine because his father read them as a boy.

Lee's father is Edward Lee, better known by his pen name, Leo Edwards, who wrote stories for young people in the 1920s and '30s. People who grew up at that time may remember some of Edwards' characters, such as Poppy Ott, Jerry Todd and Andy Blake. These fictitious young lads were always getting involved in big adventures and investigating strange phenomenons such as whispering mummies and freckled goldfish.

PAUL CAMP, associate librarian for the University of South Florida's special collections department, is very familiar with the Brooksville man's famous father. And he says that writer Leo Edwards learned well from his Golden Days magazine stories.

Many of the serial stories in Golden Days were later bound into book form and sold as "dime novels," Camp says.

As a writer, Edwards adopted the style of the dime novels and became "one" of the most popular writers of his time," according to Camp.

Relaxing recently at his home in the Cloverleaf subdivision, Lee said that collectors "go absolutely nuts" over his father's writing. He said that after his father died in 1944, the popularity of the books "took off."

Now, after more than 40 years, Lee says he still gets calls and letters from Leo Edwards fans seeking information about the prolific children's author.

"The sure go overboard, I'll tell you that much." Lee says. Public interest in his father "go on and on and we just can't understand it."

LEE AND his wife Betty moved to Brooksville in 1982. Since then, he said he had as much contact as he used to with Edwards fans.

But the couple say that collectors kept them pretty busy when they lived at the old Lee residence, the house of his father on Lake Ripley in Wisconsin. The home was called Hi-Lee because it sat on top of a hill overlooking Lake Ripley.

Back in those days, Lee says, "all kinds of people were constantly coming by" to ask him questions about his father. he says that he often invited fans to spend the night in one of their summer cottages, and "everybody got a free book" from his collection of his father's writings when they they left.

Mrs. Lee says fans sometimes went overboard in their enthusiasm. Some would arrive at their home at 5 in the morning in "not one, but two carloads" and wake the couple up to ask questions about Lee's father.

SOMETIMES COLLECTORS took advantage of the Lees' hospitality. When one visited their house, Lee invited him to spend the night in one of their summer cottages. Because the man was interested in his father's work, Lee lent him an unpublished manuscript that Edwards had written before he died.

"When we woke up the next morning, both the man and the manuscript were gone," Lee says.

But "those kind of things don't bother me too much," he adds.

Lee was able to take everything in stride because he has grown up amid his father's popularity.

For instance, there were "hundreds of letters which I had to answer" from people interested in his father's books. The family got so much mail that the classification of the Lake Ripley post office was changed.

"We got mail sacks full every day," Lee says he grew accustomed to strangers showing up at his house when his father was still living. It was the habit of local residents to "visit the author" at his lakeside residence.

SOME OF the visitors weren't just local folks. People like Edgar Rice Burroughs, a science fiction and adventure writer, and Edward Stratemeyer, who wrote some of the Nancy Drew novels, stayed at the house while visiting his father.

After his father died, the fans replaced the writers as visitors to Hi-Lee. Collectors' interest was especially perked because Edwards was known to base his characters on real people.

For example, Lee says Poppy Ott, a famous Edwards character, was really Edwards' sister's son, who was called Poppy because he worked at his father's popcorn concession.

Lee says that Jerry Todd, the adventurous boy who tracked down the secret of the whispering mummy in Edwards' first book, was really himself as a young boy.

As the son of an author of children's stories, Lee retains an interest in that art form. he says he brought his collection of Golden Days with him to Brooksville because the stories in the magazine were a great influence on his father's writing.

From a historical perspective, he says the contents of the magazine often offer curious parallels to things going on today.

FOR EXAMPLE, while Lee Iacocca campaigns to repair the Statue of Liberty today, an advertisement in the back of an 1885 issue of Golden Days sells miniature copies of the Statue of Liberty. The advertisement states that proceeds raised from the sale of the statue would be used by "the committee in charge of the erection of the pedestal, in order to raise funds for its completion"

The statuettes were sold for prices that ranged from $1 to $10, depending on their size. The largest model advertised was 12 inches high.

Besides interesting advertisements, Golden Days is full of stories written for young people by the famous writers of the day.

Golden Days published stories by Horatio Alder, Edward Stratemeyer and Edward S. Ellis. These authors have become favorites of Juvenile book collectors, according to Camp, the University of South Florida librarian.

Camp says writers in these days were "hack writers" who could "sit down at a typewriter and crank out six yards of prose."

MANY WRITERS of the period would have five or six stories running simultaneously in several different magazines, Camp Says. Writers also attempted to present the appearance of diversity to their readers by publishing stories under many pseudonyms.

Edward S. Ellis, for example, used 37 confirmed pen names during his career, Camp says.

Sometimes writers would use romantic sounding pseudonyms like "An Old Scout" or "A New York Detective" to give their stories a measure of authenticity, Camp says.

Lee said his father was an avid reader of the Golden Days stories. The size of Lee's collection attests to the fact that the late author subscribed to the magazine for several years.

Even though he has interesting memories, Lee says his father's popularity didn't follow him to the grave. he says the Depression severely damaged the publishing industry and the sales of his father's books suffered in that time.

"The Depression hit, and nobody would pay 50 (cents) for a book back then," Lee says. After the Depression, Lee says Edwards' health began to fail and the quality of his writing became sporadic.

"I told him that one of the books I had typed up for him was pure trash," Lee remembers. But the old master would go back to the story and sometime "his ability to create a nice story would come back."