Life on the Summit: Hey, Spike! tells of aunt Gene Stratton Porter
Ryan Summerlin August 29, 2014
Not often do you get to write of a famous female relative — with a man’s first name.
Sounds like something out of Johnny Cash’s song about a boy named Sue, doesn’t it?
Well, Spike!’s great aunt, Gene Stratton Porter — “GSP,” as she was known — was the “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling of her day.
The last child of 12, “Geneva” was born Aug. 17, 1863, near Lagro, Indiana, 151 years ago, and died in Dec. 6, 1924, in Los Angeles, California, following injuries sustained when her limo collided with a trolley car.
Only 61, she was living on Catalina Island.
As one of the country’s best known authors, she had sold 10 million books when she died tragically.
Here are her most famous works: “Freckles,” “Girl of the Limberlost,” “Song of the Cardinal,” “Her Father’s Daughter,” “Laddie — A True Blue Story,” “At the Foot of the Rainbow,” “A Daughter of the Land” and “The Fire Bird.” GSP was said to have 50 million readers around the world.
“Freckles” was published in 1904 and sold over 1 million copies.
“Girl of the Limberlost” was adapted four times as a film, most recently in 1990 in a made-for-TV version.
Back in those early days, women sometimes adopted men’s name spellings to avoid the stigma associated with women authors.
In addition to being a novelist, GSP wrote for magazines such as McCall’s, was an accomplished photographer, a naturalist, expert ornithologist and developer. Out on the West Coast, GSP evolved into filmmaking with her own production studio and was developing real estate.
Back home in Indiana, there are “shrines” to GSP’s legacy in the land of Hoosiers.
She used her position and income as a well-known author to support conservation efforts at Limberlost and other wetlands in Indiana.
Her Limberlost home, and those swampy areas surrounding it, are big draws for history buffs and bird watchers.
“After several years, the Porters built a large home near Geneva. The Queen Anne-style rustic home, which they named ‘Limberlost,’ was later designated the ‘Limberlost State Historic Site’ in honor of Stratton Porter. From here Stratton Porter spent much time exploring the nearby Limberlost Swamp, where she set two of her most popular novels and many of her works of natural history,” Wikipedia states.
Although GSP was initially buried in California, her remains — and those of her only daughter, Jeannette — were returned to the Gene Stratton Porter Historic Site in Rome City.
Fort Wayne-based researcher Terri Gorney has done vast amounts of digging into the saga of GSP. Her works have been featured by Kevin Kilbane, a reporter for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Spike! has had correspondence with both.
Terri is on the Friends of the Limberlost board of directors in Geneva.
“It’s fun, because I never know where it’s going to lead me,” Terri says of her GSP search for information.
Fort Wayne is where Spike!’s dad, Miles F. Porter III, started his journalism career at the Journal Gazette after his Army service in the South Pacific during World War II. He later moving to Rocky Ford, Colorado, when he bought the Daily Gazette there in 1949.
MFPIII and the Mileses before him were well known in medical, social, golf and tennis circles in Fort Wayne.
GSP — social column tidbits are now revealing — was very fond of the Porter family, and often visited their homes when in town from Geneva.
GSP married Spike!’s great-grandfather, Dr. Miles F. Porter Sr.’s brother Charles, a pharmacist and banker, in 1886. The author dedicated “Music of the Wild” to Miles Sr., whose namesake lineage today stretches to Miles V, a 1993 Summit High School grad, now living in Salida, where’s he a Monarch ski patroller and pro whitewater guide.
GSP continues to draw interest from younger readers, such as Michele Messenger.
“GSP has a place of honor in the Tippecanoe County Library in the Indiana reading room,” says Michele, formerly of Silverthorne and now of Denver, who was back home in Lafayette recently and visited Swezey Family Indiana History Reading Room.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org