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Uncovering mysteries about Indiana author

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Book signings

Barbara Olenyik Morrow has these events scheduled:

♦6-8 p.m. April 29 at Summer's Stories bookstore, 131 S. Main St. in Kendallville

♦1-4 p.m. May 21 at the Limberlost State Historic Site along U.S. 27 in Geneva. Free admission to meet Morrow and other authors who have written books on Stratton-Porter.

Stratton-Porter bio

Gene Stratton-Porter

Born: Aug. 17, 1863, near Wabash

Died: Dec. 6, 1924, in car accident in Los Angeles


♦She and husband Charles Porter moved in 1895 to the Limberlost Cabin in Geneva, about 35 miles south of Fort Wayne.

♦The Porters moved in 1914 to the Wildflower Woods home on Sylvan Lake near Rome City, about 35 miles north of Fort Wayne.

Both homes now are state historic sites.

Contributions: Stratton-Porter wrote 12 novels, including “Freckles” and “A Girl of the Limberlost”; eight nature books; three poetry collections; and magazine articles, essays and children's stories. She also photographed countless birds, plants and other life in the Limberlost Swamp and natural areas around her.

Learn more

♦Indiana state historic sites:

♦Author Barbara Olenyik Morrow:

Auburn author uses scrapbook collection to gather info for book about Stratton-Porter

Friday, April 22, 2011 - 12:01 am

It was just a kindly, offhand suggestion. But it helped author Barbara Olenyik Morrow of Auburn solve one of the longest-running mysteries about noted Indiana author and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter.

Morrow reports that found fact and much more about Stratton-Porter in her new book, “Nature's Storyteller: The Life of Gene Stratton-Porter” (Indiana Historical Society, $17.95). The book arrived just before Earth Day, which is being celebrated today.

Much has been written about Stratton-Porter, a pioneering outdoorswoman who grew up on a farm near Wabash and later lived in homes amid nature near Geneva and Rome City, both in northeast Indiana. But the most recent thorough book on her life had been published about 20 years ago, Morrow said. She saw an opportunity for a new book, especially one written for young adults.

“What I feel I was able to contribute was to pull together all this disparate (varied) information about her,” said Morrow, a longtime former journalist.

Solving mysteries

Morrow was well along in completing her book, but it still bothered her that no one had been able to verify the date Stratton-Porter moved into the Wildflower Woods home at Sylvan Lake near Rome City.

In the past, experts' opinions differed on whether she moved in 1914 or 1915. In one bit of information she found, Morrow said, Stratton-Porter herself recalled it had been Feb. 14, 1915, even though other information conflicts with that date.

One day, Morrow had spent a frustrating day attempting additional research at the Kendallville Public Library. She lamented her lack of success while conversing with a librarian, and the librarian asked if she had ever looked at the M.F. Owen scrapbook collection.

Morrow hadn't heard of it. But what a treasure trove of information it proved to be.

Scrapbook answers

It seems Owen had kept detailed scrapbooks for decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including newspaper clippings, postcards and other information about his life and things going on around Rome City.

The original scrapbooks had been sitting in a garage for decades, Morrow learned. A Dekko Foundation grant helped pay for them to be copied and the copies bound in volumes — years 1880-1931 — for Kendallville library patrons' use.

As she turned the pages, Morrow found clippings about Stratton-Porter buying the land for Wildflower Woods and construction progress. Another clipping reported Stratton-Porter and her husband, Charles, had planned to move in by Thanksgiving in 1913, but work delays forced them to postpone their arrival.

Further on, Morrow found what she had hoped for — a newspaper clipping reporting Stratton-Porter moved into the home Feb. 14, 1914.

“It was fun to be able to track it down and put that to bed,” she said. “We now know with authority when she moved in there.”

Read by 50 million people

Morrow's detective work also cleared up some questions regarding letters to and from Stratton-Porter that the Porters' daughter, Jeannette Porter Meehan, included in her own book, “The Lady of the Limberlost,” a 1928 tribute to her mother.

Meehan hadn't used the letters in chronological order, nor completely identified the person who had written to her mother or to whom her mother had sent a letter. Morrow said she followed the trails of the letters to learn more information, so her book presents the letters in chronological order with some context about who is writing to Stratton-Porter or receiving her letter.

Morrow also tracked down all the reviews she could find about Stratton-Porter's books, and organized them so readers can see what book critics thought of each of the works.

At her peak, Stratton-Porter had been read by 50 million people, Morrow said.

A growing interest

Public interest in Stratton-Porter's sentimental writing style and nature books dropped off sharply after her death in 1924, Morrow said. In the epilogue of her book, however, Morrow discusses how interest seems to be growing in Stratton-Porter's writing, photos and her warnings about harming nature.

For example, a collection of her nature essays was published in the late 1990s, Morrow said. In 2007, Kent State University in Ohio published the first collection of her poetry. One of Stratton-Porter's essays also was included in a 2008 anthology of the most influential environmental writing of the past two centuries.

Morrow's book “kind of brings us up to date on what her standing is today,” she said.