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Don't forget to 'look behind the paint!'

By Henry Timman • May 18, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Last week I told a short story of the beginnings of the township and village of Wakeman, in the northeast corner of Huron County.

I cannot leave Wakemanites with their Bicentennial Plus One celebration without elaborating on an iconic store which existed in Wakeman for about 50 years. I refer to the establishment of Moses Trumbull Scott, commonly known as “Mutt” Scott, and who did business by his initials of M. T. Scott.

Mutt’s letterhead advertised that he dealt in “everything a farmer needs” including dry goods, fancy groceries, shoes, clothing, jewelry, crockery, hardware, (farm) implements, bicycles, buggies, wagons, windmills and even more. He also was an agent for Forest City paints and varnishes. His was a true general store and one of the last such stores in our area.

The store opened in 1887, soon after Scott had married Harriet Fox of Olena. Scott stayed in business for 52 years until his death in 1939. My mother was born and raised on a farm about a mile south of Western Reserve School, and Wakeman was the closest supply point for my grandfather’s farm operation. Mother said she always enjoyed going with him so she could walk up and down the aisles in the Scott store to look at the strange and varied items offered for sale there.

In 1976, a photo and textbook concerning Wakeman was published as part of the American Revolution Bicentennial. A photo caption on page 31 identifies the Scott store on East Main and says it was “referred to in the play and movie Inherit the Wind”. In that work by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, I find a reference to attorney Drummond telling his client that the law is like a horse race in that a jockey likes to ride his favorite horse, an attorney likes to take on certain cases.

Drummond then recalls a rocking horse he called Golden Dancer which he saw as a little boy in the window of the general store in Wakeman, Ohio, and fell in love with. His parents managed to scrape together the money to buy him the horse for his next birthday. And when he woke up that morning, Golden Dancer stood at the foot of his bed, but when he climbed on and started to rock, the horse split in two.

Golden Dancer consisted of rotten wood put together with not much more than spit and sealing wax. The point of his story was that “whenver you see something bright, shining and perfect-seeming — look behind the paint!” Apparently Golden Dancer was sold by Mutt Scott in his store, but we’ll never know whether or not he knew that Golden Dancer was not serviceable.

I guess I should say that Inherit the Wind was loosely based on the story of the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee. The authors (Lawrence and Lee) both were northern Ohio boys. Lawrence originated in Cleveland, and Robert Lee was born in Elyria in 1918, so he may well have been acquainted with Mutt Scott’s store in Wakeman.

Whatever the basics are behind this story, it ties together three American institutions — Mutt Scott’s store; the Scopes Trial; and Inherit the Wind.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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