Main Content

A Boy Called Tess: Rensselaer writer Edison Marshall


This week we have added some new material to our collection of local news files, thanks to a random phone call.

Before the holidays, we received a call looking for information about a local writer: Edison Marshall. Not many may know that Marshall has a monument in Rensselaer.

In fact, at the western edge of Milroy Park, three local writers are commemmorated with modest little stone markers: Marshall, Eleanor Atkinson, and James F. Hanley. This little cluster, which has plenty of room for expansion, is known locally as the Writers Monument.

Most Rensselaerians might recognize Hanley as the composer of Back Home Again in Indiana, our unofficial state song (the official song is the On the Banks of the Wabash). The other names, though they sound local, may not really stand out in memory except to a select few. Part of that is these writers had their day over half a century ago. Marshall is the most contemporary, having died in 1967.

Atkinson (nee Stackhouse) wrote for the Chicago Tribune under a pseudonym in the 1890s and later was owner of her own publishing house of works for children, quite an accomplishment for a woman of her day. She is best known for her 1912 novel Greyfriars Bobby, about a dog that stood watch at his owners grave for 14 years. The novel was based on a true story, and eventually became a movie of the same name.

Marshall, who lived in Rensselaer until he was 13, was an international traveller, a big game hunter, and wrote more than 27 novels under his own name and pseudonyms, several of which were adapted into movies during his lifetime, including Yankee Pasha (1954), Son of Fury (1942), and The Vikings (1958), starring Kirk Douglas.

We have files on each of these writers, gleaned from local and regional newspaper clippings, and our caller, who is writing his own history project based on authors featured in Weird Tales Magazine, offered to trade some of his notes for what we were able to share with him from our collection.

Thanks to articles he had copied from Indianapolis area newspapers, our collection on Marshall is a little thicker.

In the 1947 Indianapolis Star Magazine article we have just added to our file, Marshall talks about how his childhood fishing on the Iroquois River and hunting small game in the Jasper County fields near his home gave him time to fantasize about being a big game hunter. As an adult, he took that fantasy and turned it not only into profitable hunting ventures in the Arctic, Africa, India and Burma, but also as background for his wild adventure stories.

You can read about his father, George Edward Marshall, who owned the local newspaper at the time, and his mother, Lilly Bartoo, of the same family as the Bartoo photo studio featured in some of our prominent photos of historic Rensselaer.

You can also read about how his father named him after two icons of electrical genius, Edison and Tesla, and how his middle name became the equivalent of Johnny Cash's song "A Boy Called Sue," prompting Marshall on to his many feats of derring-do. Chocked with quotes from Howard "Lefty" Clark and Marshall himself, this article is a valuable addition to our local historical lore.

To learn more about our local history files, stop in at the Rensselaer or DeMotte libraries. Files vary by location.