Doug Collar grew up in Tiffin, graduated from Columbian High School in 1964, and completed his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees at Michigan State University. After some years living and teaching in Michigan, he returned to his hometown in 1999 to serve as associate dean of the honors program and associate professor of English and integrated studies at Heidelberg University.
In high school, Collar's English teachers, Gene Foster and Ruth Deitzel encouraged students to read as much literature as possible. At the time, certain books could not be taught in the classroom, but teachers could suggest titles for students to read on their own. Collar developed a love of books that led to a career in education and a special interest in 20th century American authors,
"Gene inspired us and Ruth gave us discipline," Collar said. "It was funny because, when I started teaching in Michigan, the 'revolution' had taken place. the world had changed, so I was able to teach 'Winesburg, Ohio' and 'The Great Gatsby' and 'The Scarlet Letter' to high school students."
As a college professor, Collar expanded his research and found references to Tiffin in the books he was reading. He discovered several mainstream authors who had ties to Tiffin and to Heidelberg College and developed a presentation about his findings.
"I guess some people collect Tiffin milk bottles, Tiffin glass. I wanted to collect Tiffin in literature. I was thrilled to find out that my hometown is connected to these great writers and great ideas," Collar said.
His "Tiffin in Literature" program began with "American Notes" by Charles Dickens. The book is a travelogue about Dickens' 1842 tour of the United States.
The late local historian, Myron Barnes, described how Dickens rode into Tiffin on a stagecoach and spent much of the morning waiting for a train to Sandusky. Barnes wrote Dickens stopped at an inn near the railroad, just off North Sandusky Street.
"Barnes wrote what I think is the most accurate narrative of Dickens in Tiffin," Collar said. "He came from Upper Sandusky on what is now Route 53."
Sherwood Anderson, J.D. Salinger, Virgil Scott, Ian Frazier and Louis Bromfield are covered in Collar's program.
While teaching in the 1970s at a Michigan high school, Collar traveled to Clyde and took photographs of sites mentioned and mapped out in Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio." Collar compiled a slide show that is now 40 years old.
He said he feels Ohioans should take more pride in Sherwood, a native of Clyde.
"I read 'Winesburg, Ohio' when I was in high school in Tiffin, and I was thrilled to discover that this great writer, who really helped create modern fiction, was from a town nearby, and that he also mentioned Tiffin, Ohio, in his books," Collar said. "We know that Anderson ... was in Tiffin as a member of the Ohio National Guard for a labor strike a couple years before the Spanish-American War."
At Michigan State during the 1960s, students were reading the works of J.D. Salinger, most notably "Catcher in the Rye." Collar said he had not been able to read that book in class at Columbian because of the language it contained, so he and other curious classmates bought their own paperback copies.
"We propped it up in study hall behind our physics books. ... Well, in college, I came across 'Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters' and 'Seymour' (also by Salinger)," Collar said.
Tiffin is mentioned in a passage telling about Seymour and his brother in Brooklyn as a train passes though and they finish a marble game before heading home for the night. Collar wondered how Salinger could have known what his old neighborhood was like and why he included that description in the story.
"I played marbles on this very street to the sound of locomotive train whistles passing by. ... It's exciting, if you love literature and love to read. ... to realize that your hometown is connected to this great outer world," Collar said.
Virgil Scott, a published novelist, taught creative writing at Michigan State. Collar said he knew Scott had a doctorate from Ohio State University, but he did not learn about Scott's Tiffin connection until more recently.
"I come to Heidelberg, and I'm nosing around the rare book room and I see these books with Virgil Scott's name on them," Collar said. "I pull them off the shelf, and lo and behold, Virgil Scott went to Heidelberg for two years. He came in '32 and left in '34 - transferred to Ohio State."
Records show Scott's wife was from Tiffin and her father was the head of the Heidelberg Academy. When Scott died, his family gave many of his books to Beeghly Library. Scott's daughter attended Heidelberg, and she supplied Collar with valuable information about her father.
About two years ago, Collar found a copy of Scott's "The Hickory Stick" on eBay. Its main character is a teacher who takes a job at a high school in a small town called Fairview that was inspired by Tiffin. The town also has a college called Fairview College.
The novel, now out of print, mentions the president's house, River Road, Greenfield Street and Rock Creek.
"Anybody who's lived in Tiffin would immediately recognize his descriptions of the campus," Collar said.
Last fall at Heidelberg, Collar arranged for a two-day visit by award-winning non-fiction author and humorist Ian Frazier.
In his book, "Family," Frazier documents his ancestors' roles in the Civil War and in their communities. Frazier grew up in Hudson and had family in Norwalk. His maternal relatives attended Heidelberg College and his great-grandfather, Ozeander Hursh, was a professor of religion and philosophy at Heidelberg in the 1870s.
"He was a prominent faculty member. ... built a brick house beside Willard Hall, right across the street (from the honors office). I passed that house every day when I was a kid going to College Hill School," Collar said. "The Hursh family is buried in Greenlawn."
While in Tiffin, Frazier also remembered visiting relatives here in the 1950s. When Collar took Frazier to the Civil War Museum, the author admired the Indiana sandstone on the exterior and found the name of his great-great-grandfather on a duty roster framed on the wall in the museum.
In the early 1900s, the Rev. Dwight D. Bigger, a Tiffin writer and clergyman, wrote "Millionaire Tom." The book is a biography of Tom Connor, a Tiffin boy who left the old Fort Ball neighborhood in 1861 to fight in the Civil War. Later, Connor went west and became a millionaire known as the "Zinc King of Joplin." He built The Connor Hotel in Joplin, Mo.
"This now-rare volume contains anecdotes and stories of the young Connor who was a kind of Horatio Alger-type kid hustling fruit and papers around the old Big Four railroad station and doing odd jobs. He became a self-made tycoon out west. He contributed money for the Gibson statue on courthouse square. The book also contains an eyewitness account of Gibson's speech at the outbreak of the Civil War (Tom was perched in a tree watching)," Collar said.
Bigger also wrote the biography of William Harvey Gibson, which Collar calls "an essential book for Tiffin history buffs."
Louis Bromfield, a native of Mansfield, did not include Tiffin in his writings, but he did have Tiffin ties. His farm manager at Malabar Farm was Max Drake of Tiffin, who also had managed NOBA in Tiffin.
Drake is featured in a documentary about Malabar called "The Man Who Had Everything." Produced by Ohio State University, the film is narrated by Lauren Bacall, who married Humphrey Bogart in 1945 at Malabar.
Although Bromfield wrote several novels, Collar said Bromfield's farm books are his best works. Bromfield often visited Tiffin, even speaking to Columbian students and the Tiffin Garden Club.
A Tiffin resident, the late Clete Melick, worked at Malabar for a summer and self-published the journal he kept during his stay. Collar purchased Melick's book at Molyet's in Tiffin.
"He talks about Bromfield in ways that I don't think anybody else has," Collar said. "To me, it's a great primary source. I was so happy to find this."
Collar also pays tribute to Robert Martin, the author who wrote 22 crime novels in his Tiffin home studio from 1951 to 1964 and more than 50 short stories published in well-known pulp magazines of his time.
Martin was one of the early writers whose main character was a "hard-boiled" detective, Jim Bennett. Collar credits Martin for promoting the genre that remains popular today.
"Killer Among Us" by Martin has an industrial setting inspired by Sterling Grinding Wheel, where Martin was an executive by day. The story concerns a criminal who sabotages the wheels being produced in the factory.
Collar said many Tiffin residents who read Martin's paperbacks often could pick out characters and settings based on real Tiffin people and places.
"Martin should be more well-known and celebrated in Tiffin than he is," Collar said. "Robert Martin is an important writer. He's buried here."
Research turned up another Tiffin native who became a successful writer - Charles Locke (1895-1977). During the trolley tours Sunday, Collar has agreed to portray Charles' father, Otis Locke, the newspaper publisher.
Several Locke family members are buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Tiffin.
"Charles Locke was the son of the Locke publishing family. His family owned the Tiffin Tribune ... on Court Street," Collar said.
For a time, Charles was editor for his father's paper. After The Tribune and The Advertiser merged, Charles moved to New York and worked in public relations and advertising. He also wrote musical plays, drama and fiction.
One of his novels, "A Shadow of Our Own," was published in 1946.
"This one is set in a town that's really Tiffin. When you read the novel, you immediately recognize all the settings are taken from his childhood in Tiffin - the Sandusky River, the Shawhan Hotel is in it, the railroad stations are in it. It's about a family who's been scattered from their hometown and they come back for a 'death watch,'" Collar said.
The characters gather around their dying matriarch, Aunt Mary, whose home seems to be in the Clay Street-Frost Parkway area. While they wait for her to die, the characters share memories, stories and emotions.
Collar said Locke's book is similar to novels by Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson.
"Locke eventually moved to Los Angeles and he actually wrote some of the first so-called 'adult westerns' before he died," Collar said. "There's one novel, 'The Hellbent Kid,' that was made into a movie."
One of Collar's recent finds is "Call to Cambria," a novel by Bartie Jones, another Columbian graduate, who is a poet and novelist. Her father was the director of the YMCA in Tiffin.
Collar said he continues to look for more Tiffin books and writers with ties to Tiffin. Just as his expert teachers at Columbian lifted their students, Collar is "passing the flame" on to other generations.
His career has brought him full circle, back to the place where his passion began.
"I'm an English teacher, and I've done what I've done, and had a wonderful life at it, because of Columbian High School," Collar said. "We had (Heidelberg) professors walking around with books. I had no idea that's what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be but it worked out that way. I still love books. I still collect them and read them."