Hermann’s First Friday guest author shares his story
“History” is the result of storytelling. You either love its gravitational pull or are immune to those spirits calling in the wind. History sleuths are intrigued by a piece of information—the yellowed newspaper clipping that falls from an old book, a mysterious family history entry, tripping on a headstone in a lost cemetery or finding notes scribbled behind peeling sheets of wallpaper in an old house. It’s one part salacious secrets and two parts missing puzzle pieces. It’s the hearsay or the what if, that puts writers like Ross Malone on the trail of a good story, and Missouri is chock-full of them. He sees it as his job to shed light on the intriguing stories you haven’t heard about—those that keep you up at night or make you want to share at the coffee shop the next morning.
As a self-publisher, he does all the marketing himself, so here he was, sitting at a table in Seasonal Treasures, on First Street, as part of the Hermann Art Council’s First Friday event. The Lebanon native made the drive from Krakow, a community (between Union and Washington) in Jefferson County to visit with the First Friday crowd.
He wanted to share a few stories from the books he had displayed on the table. He picked up “Tales of Missouri and the Heartland,” and flipped through the pages calling out a name, “Harold Schrier.”
Harold Scrhier was a United States Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served in World War II and the Korean War and received the Navy Cross, the nation's second highest military award for valor.
“He was a war hero and we’ve forgotten lots of war heroes, but he was iconic.” said Malone. “He was in charge of these guys, he said, pointing to a photo of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. How do we forget ‘em?”
Hugh Armstrong Robinson was another story. He is said to have been the third person to successfully fly an aircraft after the Wright Brothers in a plane of his own design and construction and the first person to make an air-sea rescue.
“Orville and Wilber (Wright) taught him how,” said Malone. “He set up shop down in his hometown of Neosho, where he built a helicopter in 1911.”
Robinson had many firsts and included the first medical flight transporting a doctor to patient in Hammond, N.Y. in June 1912 and first U.S. airmail flight in 1911. He also devised the term and art of dive-bombing. And the stories rolled on.
“Here’s Bradbury Robinson, who invented the forward pass while at St. Louis University,” he continued. “St. Louis U. was unbeaten for years because of that.”
He mentioned Don Robinson, the wealthy businessman that gave Missouri his holdings to become the Don Robinson State Park.
“Here’s the best college football team in the history of the game,” he teased. “They scored 657 points in their best year, allowing their opponents zero.”
Who was this team?
“The Miners at Rolla—now Missouri S&T,” he said, grinning.
As a retired math, science and Missouri history teacher for over 30 years, Malone now stays busy with his research and writing activities. He says his writing is just an extension from teaching, but as a natural progression, he still feels like he’s educating Missouri’s residents and their children with his books.
“I’ve always tried to teach using stories,” he shares. “Jesus taught with parables and Aesop taught with fables—the Shakespeare stories—we still remember the plots and the subplots, the details of it. Stories work to make the learning stick.”
The books came about from his radio show segments. He has appeared on many local radio stations, such as KLPW (Union) or KWMO in Washington, as well as the Westwood One radio network and on the Armed Forces Network Overseas.
“People would call in and say ‘I wish you’d write them (stories) down,’” he explained. “Well, I had all the stories (scripts) saved, so I picked a hundred and that was my first book.”
His books are self-published which doesn’t take anything away from the content, but it is a challenge when trying to get a broader audience. Malone says the public library systems won’t take his books, possibly because they aren’t what would be deemed “sanctioned” by educators or national editors and large publishers are looking for national or even international appeal for big sales. Missouri stories have a limited audience. He doesn’t mind drilling down to expose these tales to new generations that might otherwise be ignorant of their existence, in order to “keep them alive.”
Malone’s stories fit in several different genres. He has written a handful of children’s books for kids he calls historical fiction. In 2015, his Ozarks adventure book, “Billy Bob’s Howler,” was chosen as “Best Book of the Year,” by the Ozark Writers League.
Some of his stories would fall into the paranormal X-Files-like category, such as the butterfly people in Joplin. Residents had anecdotal accounts, many from children, of events that occurred during the the F-5 tornado that roared through Joplin on May 22, 2011.
“They were saying things like, ‘The funnel picked up our car and we were flying through the air, but some butterfly people came and sat with us—one was brunette and one was a redhead—and they told us everything was going to be O.K.’”
“Another child was laying in a ditch [and she said] ‘Mommy was laying on top of me and when it was all over, she said, ‘Are you O.K.?’ and I said ‘Sure—the butterflies protected us—they covered us up and kept us safe.’”
Malone said there were stories after stories about these butterflies that came and protected children.
“It all sounds too strange to be true, but the people of Joplin believe it,” he says. “If you go down there, you’ll see [the works] of professional sculptors that have been commissioned to do these gigantic butterflies all over town.”
He tells another anecdotal butterfly story from that devastating tornado.
“One lady says she was in her bedroom praying during the storm,” he relates. “She looked at her window and it was covered with butterflies. Her house was destroyed, but she was safe.”
Malone writes a syndicated column for Missouri newspapers called “Back in the Day,”—no doubt more interesting fodder for more books. He calls his writing style “back porch storytelling,” and has never appeased his editor to sharpen his writing with “power words.”
“That’s just not my style,” he says.
And then he was on to other stories getting more excited as he turned the pages.
“Here’s one about the 17 general stores left in Missouri . . . .”