Long before Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys took center stage in the hearts of young readers as the iconic teen detectives, Seckatary Hawkins and his gang of “Fair and Square” boys were solving mysteries and stopping crimes along the riverbanks of the Ohio River.
Beginning in 1918, the members of the Fair and Square Club captured the imagination of thousands of children and adults alike, as they explore the diverse Kentucky landscape in pursuit of adventure, mystery, and doing good. For over three decades, Schulkers’ creation provided inspiration to many young readers, including Harper Lee, who references his work in her iconic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The tales of Seckatary Hawkins made their debut in The Cincinnati Enquirer, taking the nation by storm with weekly installments of “Stoner’s Boy.” The series continued with the exciting sequel, “The Gray Ghost,” in 1922. These tales soon spread to hundreds of newspapers across the country, eventually becoming the first children’s stories broadcast over the radio. By 1926, the popular serials had been turned into books, and over the next thirty-three years, the adventures of Seckatary Hawkins and the members of the Fair and Square Club would not cease to run in US newspapers, as well as inspiring the creation of comic strips, magazines, fan clubs, radio shows, and movies until 1951.
The enduring popularity of these adventure stories is based on a number of factors. Schulkers’ love of children and his realistic characterization of the boys in his stories appeals to adults and adolescents alike. Schulkers stands out for his apt depiction of Kentucky river boy dialogue, which allows the average Kentucky child to relate, as well as adults who can fondly reminisce about their childhoods. For today’s readers, the stories provide a portrait of boyhood in rural Kentucky nearly a hundred years ago, appealing to those who romanticize about a past that they couldn’t be a part of. Building on his own experiences, Schulkers creates an imaginative and dramatic setting
Building on wholesome values of courage, honesty, loyalty, and common sense; patriotism, faith, friends, family, and fair play, Seckatary Hawkins and his band of friends teach valuable lessons to young readers. In these stories anyone, no matter their size, age, social status or appearance, can excel and do good things if they have faith in themselves and rely on the virtues of being “Fair and Square.” Teaching effective ways of handling bullies, the adventures of the Fair and Square Club show children a world where they can take charge of unpleasant situations and turn them fun, while still respecting themselves and others.
In a letter to Robert F. Schulkers’ grandson, Lee wrote of her inspiration, “My brother—way ahead of me in years—left me, when he was a teenager, a rather stunning collection of adventure books, etc. . . . but my favorites were ‘The Gray Ghost’ and ‘Stoner’s Boy.’”
These two beloved adventure stories are back in print, with new editions just released from University Press of Kentucky. Now Harper Lee’s many fans can read the stories that inspired her as a child.
Robert Schulkers (1890–1972) was born just two blocks from the Licking River in Covington, Kentucky. The banks of the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers and the limestone cave country of the Bluegrass became the playgrounds from which he would later draw inspiration for his many adventure stories, books, radio plays, and comics, produced from 1918 through the 1940s.