- Fair and SquareRobert F. Schulkers, Seckatary Hawkins and the Literature of an Ohio Valley Childhood
In the closing scene of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is seated in the bedroom of his sleeping son, Jem, quietly reading a book from his son’s collection. His eight-year-old daughter Scout, the protagonist of the novel, came into the room, sat down next to her father and asked him to read to her from the book, leaning her head against his knee. Atticus turned back to the first page and began to read aloud. “H’rm,” he said. “The Gray Ghost, by Seckatary Hawkins. Chapter One…” The Gray Ghost, published in 1926, was one of a series of books for juveniles written by Robert Franc Schulkers, a resident of Covington, Kentucky, depicting the adventures of a group of young boys from the point of view of one of the members, Gregory Hawkins. First published in serial form by the Cincinnati Enquirer beginning in 1918, the Hawkins stories proved to be so popular with children that they were soon syndicated to newspapers across the country, and republished in book collections, comic strips, and in live radio broadcasts.1
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At the peak of its popularity in the early thirties, children in millions of American households eagerly awaited delivery of the next installment in their local paper. The Seckatary Hawkins Club, established in 1923, by this time had enrolled more than a million members, equal in scale to the contemporary [End Page 43] Mickey Mouse Club and Boy Scouts. While the adults of the nation struggled with the grim reality of the Great Depression, American children like eight-year-old Nelle Harper Lee avidly followed the exploits of chubby Gregory Hawkins and his pals as the fictional youths coped with a variety of adventures and mysteries set along the riverfront of a small midwestern town in the late steamboat era. In rural Monroeville, Alabama, young Harper Lee secretly borrowed Seckatary Hawkins books from the collection of her brother Edwin, a member of the club. These books were the favorite stories of Lee and her best friend Truman S. Persons (Capote) and in later life helped inspire her writing about small town life and characters. Her Pulitzer prize-winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, contains several references to Seckatary Hawkins stories throughout the text. Lee sent a copy of the first edition of Mockingbird to Schulkers, inscribed, “To Robert F. Schulkers, who gave me so many happy hours with Seckatary Hawkins...”2
The Hawkins stories debuted during what has often been termed the first “Golden Age” in children’s literature, generally considered to span the period from about 1865-1930. During this period many classic tales for young readers were published, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Tom Sawyer (1876), Treasure Island (1883), The Jungle Book (1893), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), The Story of Dr. Doolittle (1920), and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Such stories were written to capture the imagination of children and be entertaining, a marked departure from the moral didacticism that had long permeated literature for children. In the decades before the Civil War, most Americans saw childhood primarily as a time of preparation for adult life, and stories for children were narrowly focused upon teaching morality and rules of conduct. But in the last part of the nineteenth century, juvenile literature became more romantic. According to Anne S. MaCleod, a well-known scholar of the cultural history of children’s literature, “Fiction for children became warmer, more relaxed, and more amusing when authors ceased trying to improve children and undertook instead to celebrate them.” Romantic writers tended to develop a highly sentimental style of writing for and about children, one in which childhood was valued for its own sake rather than simply as a process of becoming adult.3
Much of the literature for children was in the form of serialized stories...