Feature: Sycamore Shadows

Somewhere in Ohio on the banks of Little Rindle Creek, 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 least, there are few certainties.

The 1929 Hetzell Carousel, located adjacent to Hibb’s Dept. Store, features species of animals indigenous to the region. It is the only carousel ever manufactured without horses. Most children prefer to ride the catfish (pictured above) and crawdads, while older patrons favor the stationary freshwater mussels.

I do not know what the state of the economy will be in a year, but I know that Wilson Hahn will be behind the counter reading the Evening Shade when I enter the tobacco shop and that Patter Felch didn’t sleep last night because it was raining and his pillow changes shape with barometric pressure. I may not know whether the creek is too high to fish or if the fish will bite, but it is certain the Tuesday-night special at the Girded Loin Restaurant will be meatloaf and that the guitar waiting in the corner of Stump’s Barber Shop will need tuned. In Sycamore Shadows, I know that if I am ill, Harold Fingus will deliver my medicine as soon as he closes the drugstore and that someone will be praying for my quick recovery. I know that teenagers putting neckties on tombstones or dressing the Civil War statue in lingerie is a crime wave, and that Ada Sanderling will give the minister of the Church of the Lost Sheep a list of people who didn’t close their eyes during the prayer. I know that the maple tree near the covered bridge will be the first to turn in the fall and that I must avoid tripping on the uneven sidewalk in front of the Utopia Theater. I have rowed a boat across the pond and sat on Swooner’s Island, looking at the stars while I listened to the town band playing old tunes at the gazebo. I have looked into Abigail Padden’s pretty blue eyes and have laughed with Happy Fohl and at Curly Dowd. I have discussed implausible local legends of mermaids and pirates with the members of the Crawdad Club and have shopped at Hibb’s Department Store.

Jean-Michel de Marsuoin, Sir Swinfish. Marsuoin was a notorious French pirate who terrorized the seas in the early eighteenth century and was as well-known for plundering libraries as he was for stealing silver and gold. According to the legend, after his retirement in 1719 Marsuoin and his men sailed their ship up the Mississippi River system, eventually settling near a tributary of the upper Ohio River. Professor Nicholas Andraca of Castoreum College, an expert on area folklore, believes that the tributary was Little Rindle Creek and that Marsuoin’s spent his last days near present-day Sycamore Shadows.

We long to live in a town where no one needs an address and doors are left unlocked at night; to dwell in a place that isn’t, in a memory that never was, or in a time that never will be. But maybe it could be, if only because we can feel the crisp autumn air as we walk to Sotty Hoff’s Pub for dinner or hear the ring of the bell above the door as we enter Castaway Books. Sycamore Shadows, like 221B Baker Street, Hogwarts, and Snow White’s castle, is real in its own way and we visit there because only in that whimsical place do men still wear dress hats. We leave our space and go to Sycamore Shadows, Rivendell and the Shire, Metropolis, Mayberry, Lake Wobegon and badger’s house because they show us with greater clarity the truth that is often lost in the details and tribulations of our own world: that money doesn’t buy happiness, that true love will conquer, and that good will eventually triumph over evil. In the end, the love of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is as real as yours and mine, and Sauron is no less evil than was Stalin.

Did You Know?

•Sycamore Shadows established in 1803 by Isaac Sanderling.

•Current population: 551 or 552, depending on how Rose Verkler fared last night.

•The town can only be reached in a car by driving west from Pennsylvania. This accounts for its “cultural isolation.”

•Henri “Dewdrop” Rêvasser, artist and creator of Imaginunchkins, was born in Sycamore Shadows in 1913.

•Home to Ohio’s only certified mermaid, Aedre.

The Graveyard Dog. After the death of Jean-Michel Marsuoin and his men, a unique breed of dog developed by the buccaneers supposedly survived in the Sycamore Shadows area. According to the folklore as commonly recounted, the breed continues to flourish and lives underground, where they guard the vast subterranean library of Marsuoin during the day and emerge at night to sit atop tombstones and howl at the moon.

•The Sanderling Pottery, now the Imaginactory, was once the world’s largest manufacturer of decorated urinals. Its team of designers were known as “uringineers.”

Pretty Boy Floyd Underpants

Did you know that outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd stopped briefly at Sycamore Shadows on the way to his fateful encounter with the law near Sprucevale, Ohio in 1934?

Well-known local misanthrope Fidgous Boggs was feeding his chickens when he discovered a stranger stealing a pair of his underpants from the clothesline. After confronting the stranger, an energetic tussle ensued in the dawn light. The contest was close but Boggs prevailed and the stranger ran off, after which Boggs hung the misshapen underwear back on the line. It was only after reading of Floyd’s death in the newspaper the next morning that Boggs discovered the identity of  the would-be thief. He later had the underpants framed and displayed above his fireplace mantle, where they remained until his death in 1972. Donated to the Sycamore Shadows Museum in 2010, the garment is undergoing elastic restoration and is temporarily removed from display. The only surviving pair of T. Alva Dowd’s “magical magnetic socks” will be featured until the restoration is complete.

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