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Johnny Appleseed Book -

Johnny Appleseed in a Rich Land

by

Peggy Welch Mershon

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Mansfield News Journal


Former News Journal Staffer writes book about Johnny Appleseed

Mark Caudill, Mansfield News Journal Published 5:10 a.m. ET Aug. 25, 2019

MANSFIELD - Peggy Welch Mershon has come up with a different way of telling the story of Johnny Appleseed. The longtime Mansfield journalist, who wrote a history column for the News Journal from 2012 to 2017 and has been active in area historical and genealogical societies, recently released a book called "Johnny Appleseed in a Rich Land." It contains the memories of people in Richland County who knew Johnny Appleseed and wrote about him.

"By reading this, people will get a sense of what it was really like to know him," Mershon said. "I think it gives a lot clearer picture of a human being instead of a cartoon who walks around barefoot." John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia.

Mershon's tome tells stories about Johnny Appleseed going back to 1839, when the first newspaper story appeared that featured him as a hero. That and another story published in 1840 have never been reprinted and were forgotten until two Mansfield men found them in 1946. Butler native Dwight Wesley Garber had just returned home from the Navy, and Ernest J. Wessen, a premier antiquarian bookseller, had a store and business in Mansfield. Garber became a book scout for Wessen and bought two rare newspapers, the Richland Jeffersonian, from Wessen. Only six copies of this 1838-1850 newspaper are listed in libraries nationwide, none locally.

Garber went on a decades-long historical search that eventually included many people in Richland County. The book that resulted from his research was to be printed by the Ohio Historical Society, but various factors interceded, and Garber died in 1984 in California. His material, which included several revised manuscripts, was inherited by his grandson, Michael Cullen. Mansfield historian Robert Carter and then Theresa Flaherty, both longtime friends and associates of Garber, eventually wound up with the material.

Mershon was asked to complete and publish the project so that Garber's efforts were not in vain. She used much of his research and did some of her own. The resulting year-long project is available at area bookstores and online.

Mershon said Johnny Appleseed spent close to 30 years in Richland County. Noting he walked barefoot in the snow, Mershon called Appleseed "a bit of an oddball, but in a positive way." She said everyone knew him. "He was intelligent; he was very articulate," Mershon said. "His spreading of the apples was more or less a gift to people. It made their lives better."

Mershon wanted to bring Chapman's story to an adult audience, noting most of the books on him are aimed at children. "I decided to strongly link John Chapman to Richland County, the people who lived here," she said. "It's about John Chapman, but it's just as much about the people in Richland County who put pen to paper and wrote about him."

mcaudill@gannett.com
419-521-7219
Twitter: @MNJCaudill