Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, December 14, 2003, Pg. 5
Back in 1936 there appeared a book in town published by a local author that was destined to become one of Albion’s most controversial publications. Entitled “Michigan’s Irish Hills,” the novel was not about as the title implies. The plot instead centers around a character named Lila Lawson who encounters various personalities and deals with a variety of situations in a small college setting where she works.
The book is easily recognized by its bright orange hard cover. It is 299 pages long and measures 6¾ by 7¾ inches in size. The pen name of the author was L. Hindman, who in real life was Mrs. Lita (Hindman) Luebbers (1899-1996). She had served as Head Dietician and Director of Home Economics at Albion College. Mrs. Luebbers is listed as a writer in 1930s city directories. “The Elite Publishing Company” was located at her home, 413 Darrow St. Her husband, Dr. Reemt Eike Luebbers (1879-1968) taught business and economic classes at the College from 1930 to 1937. He subsequently became a sales tax auditor for the State of Michigan, and served as pastor of the East Eckford Community Church for 17 years.
When the book was released, people noticed that the characters therein seemed to resemble some members of the administration, faculty and staff at Albion College. Even the occupation of the book’s heroine, Lila Lawson, a college dietician in the novel, was the same as the author of the book. The author clearly cautioned however (pg. 299): “The author has visualized the characters and arranged the incidents in this book to bring out the desired effect with no thought of living persons.” Despite that disclaimer, people began identifying characters in the book with real-life names, incidents, and situations that existed and had occurred at the College in the early 1930s during the Great Depression.
For example, on page 141 the setting is a college president’s office. It states, “Dr. Seward, the president, sat at the desk with a slight smile on his face. His watch was on the table before him. Dr. Rutherford, the vice-president, walked into the room with grave dignity and surveyed the faces of the faculty members. Punctiliously at 3 o’clock, President Seward called on the instructor of Bible to pray. Lila thought that if God ever heard a prayer, he would hear the sincere thanks and supplications of Dr. Reicher, who truly went about doing good. Aged, white-haired, kind of face, gesture, deed, thoughts and words, he was beloved by all.” In an earlier portion of the book where the heroine is traveling out-of-state, (pg. 59) the text states, “The chore boy was rattling the coal range and whistling something that sounded like Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Read: “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.”
Book character surnames especially were too close for comfort when compared with those of College staff members, in addition to a story line that became very suspect as people began to read each chapter. There’s even a “Mr. Briton” briefly mentioned, and a “want ad” for a salad and pastry cook at an institution on Michigan Avenue. Some of the main characters in the book include: Abbie Bean, assistant home economics dietician; Mrs. Becker, salad and pastry cook; Dr. Rechus Behring, a professor of economics; Mr. L. Corban, business manager; Miss Grant, dean of women; Dr. Reicher, professor of Bible; Dr. Rodney, a young professor of ancient history; Dr. Johnson E. Seward the president, Dr. Rutherford the vice-president; Mrs. Ward, woman’s dormitory matron; the Strauss family, whom the heroine Lila Lawson lived with; and a variety of spouses, children, and acquaintances of the aforementioned.
A controversy naturally ensued and the books were gathered up, but not before some were purchased and remained tightly in the hands of private individuals. There still exist two privately-owned copies in town today, both annotated with different handwriting listing the alleged identities of the characters. One contains a separate listing on a sheet of paper of two dozen matched-up names.
Locating a copy of Michigan’s Irish Hills today is rare. Fortunately however, one was donated to the Local History Room at the Albion Public Library several years ago. There you can read it and judge the story line and particulars for yourself. Perhaps now, some sixty-seven years later, someone could safely write an objective book report and critical review. Any volunteers? A rare copy has recently appeared for sale on the www.abebooks.com website, listed by an antique store in Covert, Michigan. From our Historical Notebook this week we present the cover of “Michigan’s Irish Hills,” Albion’s “most banned book.” Do any of our readers have a copy of this book?
Michigan's Irish Hills cover
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic