HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Ninety-Nine Rats on a String: Legends, Facts and Folklore of Walnut Creek, Ohio
Author: Larry Westfall
Publisher: German Culture Museum, 2013
Related website: http://www.germanculturemuseum.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 13 and up (but suitable for anyone)
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Westfall, Larry. Ninety-Nine Rats on a String: Legends, Facts and Folklore of Walnut Creek, Ohio (published in 2013 by the German Culture Museum, P. O. Box 51, Walnut Creek, OH 44687). When we visit an area, I like to pick up any interesting looking or sounding books that have some local flavor. We took a trip to Amish Country in northeast Ohio this past summer, and I found this book at the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek. It contains an unconventional look at history with stories revealing many little-known “Legends, Facts and Folklore” about the people and the places, such as the corpse in the potato bin, in and around the sleepy little village called Walnut Creek, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, all illustrated with copious period and contemporary photographs. The cover includes the only known photograph of The Father of Amish Country, Jonas “Der Weiss” Stutzman, and a photograph of the original local “Rat Patrol,” which gives the volume its fascinating title, while other stories tell of a cemetery that was forever changed by a “tramp,” some drunken cows, the banty rooster cheese, the eight-sided barn, and the nefarious way in which a human skeleton was obtained for medical demonstration.
German Culture Museum board member Larry Westfall spearheaded the project, collecting material from old history books, local historians, and museum files and artifacts, and assembling the material into page-turning short accounts that serve up local history in an easy-to-read, conversational style. Westfall is a native of Rochester, NY, and lived there until retiring from his job with the Eastman Kodak Co. in July of 2000. Following retirement, he and his wife Judy moved to Tennessee to be closer to Judy’s parents who were in worsening health. For the next nine years the Westfalls bounced back and forth between Judy’s parents in Tennessee and Larry’s parents in Rochester. During the drives back and forth, they stayed in Holmes County, which Larry Westfall said was the exact halfway point on the journey. Over the years they fell in love with Holmes County. Therefore, after the death of Judy’s parents they decided they had no close ties to Tennessee and opted to continue their retirement in the area that had won their hearts — Walnut Creek, moving into the Walnut Hills Retirement Community.
It wasn’t long before Larry and Judy began volunteering as docents for the German Culture Museum. One thing led to another and they became co-secretaries of the organization, and in 2010 joined its board. Westfall said he became fascinated as he listened to residents such as Atlee Miller, Willis Miller, Larry Miller, and Roscoe Miller spin yarns about the community from generations earlier. One day while volunteering at the museum, he came across a volume written by longtime educator and principal Roscoe Miller in 1977 for Walnut Creek’s sesquicentennial celebration containing a ponderous collection of facts and figures about how residents lived at that time, interlaced with a large number of historical stories and anecdotes that had been related by many people. One day during a board meeting, Westfall made the suggestion those anecdotes be culled and arranged, paired with photographs from the museum’s collection, and published as a book. The board agreed. The result is a volume that will be of special interest to those with ties to Holmes County, OH, but can be enjoyed by anyone. Sometimes the line between fact and fiction gets a little hazy, but the reader will learn where Trail bologna comes from and how holes are made in Swiss cheese.