Fact-checking James Thurber

Peter Tonguette

As a sports columnist for the Dispatch, Bob Hunter was accustomed to writing about touchdown passes and offensive rebounds. For his latest project, Hunter focuses on a figure known more for his artistic agility rather than his athletic prowess: writer, cartoonist and Columbus native James Thurber.

In his new book, “Thurberville,” Hunter, who retired from the Dispatch in the fall, zeroes in on his subject's links to Columbus. Born in a house on Parsons Avenue in 1894, Thurber received his education at East High School and Ohio State University before going to work as a reporter at theDispatch. In 1925, he pulled up stakes for New York, but his stories—brimming with kooky characters and unpredictable incidents and now gaining a worldwide audience—often continued to tell the tales of his hometown.

The roots of Hunter's latest book can be traced to the research conducted for a 2008 biography of OSU running back Chic Harley (also an East High School graduate). “I'd be in the 1912 city directory, and I'd be looking up Harley,” Hunter says. “While I was in there, I'd look up Thurber … not knowing I was going to do a book on him, but out of curiosity.”

Organized into 48 compact chapters, “Thurberville” in part fact-checks the famous writer's Columbus-set stories. “I'd read all these Thurber tales, and I knew in some cases he changed the names to protect the innocent,” Hunter says—although, in at least one instance, a name was just barely altered. In the 1937 collection “Let Your Mind Alone!” Thurber wrote of a medicine man called Doc Marlowe. “It turns out the guy's name was Daniel Marler,” Hunter says. “He was a real person in Columbus [when] Thurber was growing up.”