Book offers sketches of 1940s Marion

Pedstrians and cars on Seventh Ave in uptown Marion on Monday, March 16, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Pedstrians and cars on Seventh Ave in uptown Marion on Monday, March 16, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

As a consumer of news, you may be in need of a break. Clearly, I needed one, so I grabbed Dan Kellams’ new book and took the afternoon off from 2016.

Kellams is a Marion native who is rolling out his second book about his hometown, “Mistaken for a King: Sketches of a Small-Town Boyhood.” He previously authored “A Coach’s Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians.” Kellams will be at the Marion Public Library at 11 a.m. Saturday to discuss his new book.

Kellams, who turns 80 in August, grew up in Marion during the 1940s, a time when, he writes, one in five residents worked for the Milwaukee Railroad, a malted milkshake could be had in no less than seven joints uptown and kids had “the run of the town” without hovering parents.

“I think what I was trying to do was just preserve these artifacts from the past, so people could get a glimpse of how we lived there, and come across them somehow like broken pottery at an archaeological dig, or something like that,” Kellams said from his home in Arizona. He collected those fragments over several years, some stirred and informed by his work on “A Coach’s Life.”

He devotes an entire chapter to his work as a paperboy for The Gazette. In between dodging cars, avoiding dogs and other mishaps, Kellams recalls closely reading those ink-stained pages.

“I studied Walter Winchell’s column from New York, looking for clues to life on the Great White Way. Many of the names were unfamiliar, but New York called to me: So much happened there,” Kellams writes. “I felt the romance of journalism.”

Kellams left Marion for New York, earning a degree in journalism from Columbia University. Kellams and his new wife made their way to Europe, where he landed a low-paying job at Radio Free Europe. Expecting a child, they returned to the U.S., where Kellams got a better-paying job in New York in corporate communications. He’s been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.


And now an author, with an eye, and nose, for detail. He brings us back to Charlie Carrington’s popcorn stand in Marion town park, where the smell “ … was a symphony. It blanketed an entire business district. It tantalized generations. It seduced thousands.”

His research cast new light on the characters of his childhood. Carrington was a kind, caring guy who helped out kids who were a few cents short of a matinee ticket, or couldn’t afford school clothes. “Old Lady English,” who chased boys from her apple trees, actually was Mary Thomas English, who led the charge to create Thomas Park and buy its play equipment.

His descriptions of Marion 70 years ago are fascinating. Today, 11th Street uptown is a parking area for shops and part of an expanded park. Back then, it was home to taverns and Phillips Cigar Store, the local pool hall.

“Many young ladies, and their mothers as well, did not want to be seen passing these storefronts for fear that they might appear to be coming out of them,” Kellams writes.

It’s nostalgia, sure. The bookstores are full of loftier works. But a little time travel can’t hurt. And don’t worry, 2016 will still be here when you get back.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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