When it comes to a historical adventure, I’m all in. Sometimes I just don’t realize how I got there.



So is the case for a local group, known as the Johnston McCulley/Zorro Committee, trying to uncover the mysterious past of the man who created a masked avenger, Zorro.


When it comes to a historical adventure, I’m all in. Sometimes I just don’t realize how I got there.

So is the case for a local group, known as the Johnston McCulley/Zorro Committee, trying to uncover the mysterious past of the man who created a masked avenger, Zorro.

When I was an intern editor of the Chillicothe Times-Bulletin in the summer of 1998, I was given an idea about the creator of Zorro being a Chillicothe native.

So I should admit right here, I am a Zorro fan. I don’t remember how it started, I simply remember watching the Family Channel’s New World Zorro in the early 1990s starring Duncan Regehr as Zorro. And let’s not even get into the later movies with Antonio Banderas.

I was intrigued, and truthfully, it was a hard story. I went back to the old Bulletins to glean as much information as I could about William Johnston McCulley, but those were the days before the Internet contained most anything and everything.

My story, as it turns out, merely hit the highlights of McCulley’s life, but spurred resident Dianne Colwell thinking about McCulley’s roots.

She kept talking about it, and when former mayor Gary Fyke was tracking down other information, he found leads about McCulley.

Fyke told the Chillicothe Historical Society June 7 that it was a good thing he was trained as a military intelligence analyst as he dove into McCulley’s confusing, yet entertaining, past. He wrote under various pen names and for various publications around the country. Even his real name, which we thought was William Johnston McCulley, turns out to be Johnston William McCulley.

To Fyke, a permanent display about McCulley as some sort of promotional piece for tourism would be beneficial to the city.

Colwell also asked Richard Popp to join the group. His expertise of tracking down out-of-print items for his business, Waxwing Books, has come in handy as our group began gathering McCulley items for a future display. The committee is doing its volunteer work under the auspices of the society, which authorized some money for our group to begin collecting items of interest. Popp and Fyke both have been reading old newspaper articles to uncover even more mysteries of McCulley’s life.

What we do know is he was born in Ottawa only a few months before the Chillicothe Bulletin began in 1883. His parents died, and he was raised by his grandparents who ran a grocery store in Chillicothe. They are buried in Chillicothe City Cemetery.

Upon graduating from high school in Chillicothe in 1901, he pops up in different places writing. In 1919, “The Curse of Capistrano” was published, and the character of Zorro was born.

Also on our committee is Chillicothe Library Director Susan Drissi, who sometimes has trouble getting the theme song of the Disney Zorro series out of her head. She is looking into possible grants and exhibiting our material at some point at the library. We had a fun night one evening of watching “The Mark of Zorro,” starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, which Drissi had acquired through interlibrary loan. She hopes to be able to find more materials that can be kept at the library for residents wanting to read and watch McCulley’s work.

Our newest committee member is Brittany Du Pont, a Zorro enthusiast. No doubt she will add fun and hopefully an artful flair to our work.

Our group received an unexpected boost from a Zorro aficionado, Peter Poplaski. He trekked from Green Bay, Wis., to Ottawa to find out more about McCulley.

He was then headed to Chillicothe, Ohio, until the Ottawa residents told him to stop here to find out more about McCulley. He happened to stop at Waxwing Books, and asked Popp if he knew anything about McCulley. Popp thought it was a set up, but it wasn’t. They chatted and then he went to the library, where he happened upon Colwell. Yes, it’s true, it was just that simple.

As it turns out, Poplaski is assisting us with items he owned, some of which arrived the week of our talk at the historical society. He also is working on a book, and we plan to publish a book about McCulley’s life.

Poplaski theorizes that McCulley created Zorro as the first superhero, which was one of 17 different masked characters he created.

Speaking of superheroes, my favorite always has been Superman (followed by Zorro). After visiting friends in Nashville, I stopped on my way home in Metropolis, Ill. It’s really hard to miss all the Supermans you see: on the water tower and many, many signs pointing to the Superman statue. I decided I’d stop and see it — I just didn’t realize that I had to drive all the way through town to find the statue behind a municipal building. It was worth it, though. Additionally, there is a shop nearby that has all kinds of Superman memorabilia and a small museum.

I don’t know if our delving into McCulley’s life will lead to a statue or not, but it would be neat.

Johnston McCulley may not be a household name in Chillicothe or anywhere else, but we hope that the fruit of our efforts in researching a former Chillicothean may make Chillicothe known as the boyhood home of Johnston McCulley.

Note: This is the first of what may be many columns about the committee’s exciting adventure as seen through Chillicothe Times-Bulletin Editor Marianne Gillespie’s eyes. Anyone having items of interest relating to Zorro or Johnston McCulley should call Dianne Colwell at (309) 251-3260.