A new anthology from the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society collects the memories and wit of Callawegians.
"Callaway Tapestries," available now at the KCHS Museum in downtown Fulton, is the second anthology celebrating Callaway County's bicentennial. The area officially became a county Nov. 25, 1820.
"I think 'It Happened in Callaway' was a huge success," said "Callaway Tapestries" editor Bruce Hackmann. "After it came out, the (historical society) realized a lot of people still had stories and felt they'd missed the opportunity to share those."
Hackmann put out a call for submissions in March, and by the end of April he'd received only half a dozen. Hackmann began to worry about whether he'd have enough entries.
"All of a sudden, in May and June, the stories just came in like wildfire," he said.
Hackmann suspects with many stuck at home due to the pandemic, people had extra time to reminisce, sift through old family photos and documents, and write.
Not content to merely sort through submissions, Hackmann sought them out. He wanted to make sure to cover landmarks and events in Callaway County's history that didn't make it into the first book.
"I knew who the people were who could write those stories," he said.
One of those people was Cindy Atkinson, who joined her husband Ron Atkinson's family in running Gasper's in Kingdom City. Gasper's was known for decades as a local gathering spot and a great place to stop for pie during a long drive — Cindy still sometimes makes the restaurant's famed blackberry cobbler. Opened by John and Lottie Gasper in 1965 and later passed to their grandson Ron, the business stayed in the family until Ron and Cindy retired in 2016.
Cindy grew up in Fulton and remembers eating at Gasper's with her family, long before she began working there full time in 1983.
"There were so many good times," she said. "All I can say is that through my husband owning it and me working there full time, we were very fortunate and blessed to have really good employees that were loyal to us and in addition we had very loyal customers."
She enjoyed digging back through the photos, newspaper clippings and old trade journals the family saved over the decades to piece together the restaurant's history.
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The end result of Hackmann and the contributors' labors is a 270-plus-page giant of a book, with plenty of pictures and stories sorted loosely into four categories: Witnessing History in Callaway, Farming in Callaway, Living in Callaway and Working in Callaway. Around 60 area residents contributed stories — some more than one apiece. Longtime area residents will likely recognize many names and places, but even recent transplants should find plenty to enjoy.
Readers will learn about Helen Herring Stephens, the famed "Fulton Flash;" the time aviator Charles Lindbergh made an emergency landing in a field in Fulton; a famous murder case; the Black community of Callaway County; life as a rural farmer; and much more.
"Though there's a lot about Fulton, the entire county is covered," Hackmann promised.
They'll also read about bygone businesses, such as The Spot, operated between 1964-78 by the parents of contributor Brenda Fischer Williamson.
"My folks owned a little restaurant in Fulton called The Spot cafe; it was kind of a landmark in Fulton," she said.
Williamson and her siblings waited tables and worked in the cafe's kitchen as teens. She planned on just writing about The Spot, but after finishing that essay, she kept writing. In the end she submitted three pieces. Another is about the one-room schoolhouse she attended, while a third reminisces about growing up on a farm. Her four siblings shared their memories with her while she wrote.
"It was a ride down memory lane," Williamson said. "When you talk to kids today about going to a one-room school and how there were only 14 kids in the entire school, they think, 'Gosh, you must have lived 200 years ago.' It's so foreign to them."
Several contributors said they kept future generations in mind while working on their stories.
"As I read the book, I felt this is really a nice gift to our descendents — that was my first thought," said Rob Wright. "I wish someone, a previous generation, had written something like that for us. There's stories out there but not all put together like this."
Wright contributed two stories: "Digging, Driving and Dealing," about his experience purchasing his first car, and "Exit 155 to Calwood," about growing up in Calwood, where his father and uncle operated Wright Bros. General Store.
Hackmann said the first story had him rolling with laughter when he first read it. "Digging, Driving and Dealing" chronicles Wright's attempt to buy a used car from Clarence "Moke" Pitt, a savvy businessman who operated a junkyard in Calwood. Though Wright didn't quite get the deal he was hoping for, his friendship with Pitt remained long after his first car got scrapped.
"Moke was an easygoing and humble man, and he was the best friend I ever had," Wright said. "As you get older, the age gap narrows — he was 11 years older than I was. As a kid he was a big man and a hero; he knew everything there was to know about cars, and he had this junk yard that was fun to play in."
Wright said he'd told the story many times but had never written it down until Hackmann asked him to do so.
'It Happened in Callaway'
The previous anthology, edited by local author and historian Carolyn Paul Branch, debuted in November 2019. In addition to stories and essays, it also includes poems. It's still available at the KCHS gift shop and has so far sold hundreds of copies.
"The book they had last year, I read front to back," Williamson said.
Hackmann is optimistic sales on this book could surpass the first — the Historical Society ordered a first printing run of 300 copies.
The idea of an anthology sparked when fellow Historical Society member Barb Huddleston brought to Branch's attention a short story she'd stumbled upon about a boyhood spent on the banks of Stinson Creek in Fulton. The story was unsigned.
"Barb called me, thinking I might know who'd written it," Branch said in 2019. "In fact, I did, because it'd been entered into a contest years ago by George Tutt — the artist who painted the mural in the courthouse. I remember being so surprised to know that Papa Tutt was a talented writer on top of being a talented painter."
Branch thought the story, a nostalgic recollection of Tutt's childhood in the 1940s, might make an excellent starting point for a collection of similar writing from other Callawegians. The Historical Society held a competition to gather entries for the first collection.
Hackmann said he and the Historical Society haven't ruled out a third anthology.
"There could be another sequel, dare I say," he said. "I think there are more stories to be told."
Copies of "Callaway Tapestries" cost $22, or $20 for Historical Society members.