©Craig Wetzel's Imaginactory

The Beast and Stella Havelock

In 2002, Rube Elder and his wife purchased the 1928 Utopia Theater, on Kishwaukee & Main in Sycamore Shadows. They restored the marquee, cleaned the seats, scrubbed the bathrooms, polished the brass, and opened the balcony for the first time since the night in 1957 that Stella Havelock gave birth to Harold with her head on seat three, her feet on seat five, and the important stuff on seat four. Patrons in attendance that night in 1957 remember it well. Playing was “The Beast from Betelgeuse,” a horror movie about an alien with a taste for Christians who had traveled… Keep reading

Illustration from an early edition of Godfrey Neagle's, The Life and Adventures of Jeremiah Cucumber, an angler.

Jeremiah Cucumber

In 1745 Godfrey Neagle, age 29, seeking distraction from the advanced stages of galloping leprosy, began writing a novel. On the first day of work—thanks to his journal, we know the exact day: Wednesday, May 12—his nose broke loose from his face, landing on the manuscript. Undeterred, he put the nose in his pocket and continued to write. Nine months later he would finish one of the most celebrated and enduring works of western literature, “The Life and Adventures of Jeremiah Cucumber, an Angler.” By general agreement, it remains one of the funniest novels ever written. Even in an age… Keep reading

Peter Puckerton

Mrs. Rinehart attended a street carnival, tossed a ring on a bottle, and took home a three-cent fish in a ten-cent bowl. Folks said Peter Puckerton was about the luckiest fish ever. Maybe he didn’t live as plush as a clownfish in a fancy restaurant aquarium, but he was as fortunate as a three-cent goldfish could hope to be, more so because of the way she coddled him. Few fish are prayed over morning and evening and get their flakes blessed to boot. Did the praying work? I believe in prayer but I don’t know if it applies to goldfish.… Keep reading


The Hymnboarder

When a man has been in charge of changing the song numbers on the hymn board for 43 years, how do you tell him he’s no longer fit for the job? Numbers get transposed, so when the congregation sang “Valley of the Shadow of Death” following a sermon about walking in the light, no one said a thing. And they overlooked “Fill me with God’s Light” at Graham Miller’s funeral, even though it wasn’t the best song for someone killed in a lightning strike. But after the invitation song on the last night of the gospel meeting, everyone knew Hank… Keep reading

The John Doe Statue

I think it was Winnie the Pooh who said that nudity, once familiar, loses its impact. A bridegroom who cheers and claps as his bride undresses will, in a few years, gaze upon his naked spouse with the same passion he would look at a toaster. And in Sycamore Shadows, even those who avert their eyes from provocative mannequins at Mayapple Clothing will glance at the John Doe statue in Marsuoin Park with indifference. Mayor Malcolm McDowell purchased the statue at an estate auction, though he could never explain why. Perhaps the mayor was the victim of a temporary insanity… Keep reading


Pond’s Bridge

You turn the bend, ease up the ramp, the car rises, and it’s suddenly dark. The timbers rattle and shake for 132 feet, and then you pop into the sunlight and the town is in view. I wish I could introduce everyone to Sycamore Shadows through our covered bridge. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere except the Shady Glen Campground and a dead end. It used to lead everywhere, before the hillside collapsed one night and destroyed the road, but that was when my grandparents were young. Since that night—Pap said the sound was so loud that houses shook and folks feared… Keep reading

©2015 Craig Wetzel. All rights reserved.

Feature: Sycamore Shadows

Somewhere just north of East Liverpool, Ohio, several miles south of Toad Hall, and a day’s walk from Neverland, lies the idyllic town of Sycamore Shadows. You will find it nestled in a shaded valley, sheltered from the world like a sleeping child inside a pillow fort. Sycamore Shadows cannot be found on any map but my own, nor will you be able to drive there in your car, but you can visit whenever you like and can stay as long as you wish. I have created this imaginary place because it is my delight and because, in this life at… Keep reading

In this water-damaged photograph, dated October 1896, Doyle proudly displays his prey, a columbian rail. His journals suggest he ate this bird for Christmas dinner. Collection of C. Pershing Dowd.

Feature: The Man with the Magic Camera

On the northern shore of the Ohio River a mile upstream from the mouth of Little Beaver Creek, near Smith’s Ferry, Pennsylvania, is an area once known as “Indian Rocks.” Carved into the flat bedrock bordering the river were hundreds of petroglyphs, or rock carvings, made by ancient Indians. The carvings, numbering nearly 100, were probably created over many centuries. Because of their quality and density, prominent authorities have studied the petroglyphs, many of whom published their conclusions. Unfortunately, one day an engineer looked at the naturally shallow water of the Ohio River and said, “Dam it.” As a result,… Keep reading

Sotty's Verter Beer Wagon

Sotty Hoff’s Pub

It is hard to imagine Sycamore Shadows without Sotty Hoff’s Pub at the end of Short Street, next to the park.  It was built as an inn circa 1825, a log cabin with a puncheon floor and flaps for windows, and has remained the center of Sycamore Shadows’ social life for nearly two hundred years.  The logs are still inside the bricks and plaster,  so Happy Fohl says. He’s the owner and one of the nicest people I know. There’s not a person in town you won’t see eating or drinking at Sotty’s, except for Aunt Ada.  She shuns all… Keep reading

Historical Sign

Sycamore Shadows Historical Marker

I carry a camera with me wherever I go and though I am no photographer, I do snap an interesting photo on occasion. This sign is located at “the bend” just before the covered bridge and the town come into view.  Outsiders will often stop and read the sign, then invariably look around and scratch their chins, wondering where the place is, eventually concluding it no longer exists. Two minutes later they round the bend and the town pops up, sort of like driving through the tunnel into Pittsburgh, except it’s prettier.  I’m supposed to paint the sign, which isn’t… Keep reading

Peter Pan Poster

Letterpress Printing: My Collaboration with Keystone Printing

Letterpress printing has always fascinated me. The idea of holding words in your hands – words as tangible objects with three dimensions and weight –  is so far removed from typing on a keyboard as I am doing at this moment. Mark Twain said his years of experience as a typesetter gave him a special feel for choosing the right word, writing that the right word and the almost-right word were as different as lightening and the lightening bug. In the autumn of 2013, Craig Kidd of Keystone Printing in E. Liverpool and myself began collaborating by making a limited… Keep reading

Hibb's Dept. Store

Fly Fishing with Curly

FLY FISHING WITH CURLY, or the dangers of too much equipment   When Curly Dowd decided he wanted to learn fly fishing, apprehension rippled through our small community, affecting both the sporting and the non-sporting, similar to the feeling one gets soon after the arrival of an alien spaceship but before the genocide commences. Lloyd Lloyd Chalmers, proprietor of Hibb’s Department Store, said retailers dream of such a customer as Curly. According to Lloyd Loyd, Curly followed him around the sporting goods department like an Arab sheik on a shopping spree, but without the explosive vest. Lloyd Lloyd had only… Keep reading

Keene's Filling Station

Keen’s Gas Station

From the Imaginactory Archives This gas station, the first and only one in town, was owned by Ebenezer Keen (Nippy Keen’s grandfather) and located on Sycpen Rd.,  just before the Pennsylvania line.  It has been in continuous operation since 1920 and is currently owned by Ed Hotchkiss, though it’s still known as Keen’s.  Ebenezer Keen supposedly operated a still in the rear during prohibition.  The Keen farm is on the same side of the road, just to the left of the photo. Keep reading

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