“Chillicothe’s Master Storyteller” Johnston McCulley was born into a time when movies were not even thought of yet, but Boston opened the first United States vaudeville theater the same year in 1883.

McCulley, best known for creating the character of Zorro, would never see the full depth of his character permeating pop culture.

A display at the Chillicothe Public Library commemorates McCulley’s birthday Feb. 2, 1883, 130 years ago in Ottawa, Ill.

When his mother died in 1884, he moved to Chillicothe after his grandparents adopted him. They ran one of the local mom and pop grocery stores in town. He attended Chillicothe schools and graduated in 1901.

His writing career is full of super hero characters, as well as detective stories.

On display at the library is one of his chief modes of publishing: pulp fiction. Magazines of the day were named such as the pages look like untrimmed newsprint.

It was a pulp fiction magazine, “All-Story Weekly,” that gave the character of Zorro its beginning. McCulley wrote a five-part story, “The Curse of Capistrano,” which was printed in 1919.

It led to a movie, “The Mark of Zorro,” starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as the main character.

He also wrote about other secret identity characters such as The Crimson Clown, The Thunderbolt and the The Green Ghost.
McCulley died at the age of 75 and is buried in Los Angeles.

A subcommittee of the Chillicothe Historical Society is planning a special exhibit on McCulley to be open to the public June 8 at the society’s Fourth Street Museum. The exhibit will include Chillicothe history intertwined with McCulley’s local roots and his writings.

Additionally, memorabilia also will be shown, many of which is part of the Peter Poplaski collection.

The committee is looking for donations to help with the exhibit. A fundraiser is planned for Feb. 23 with dinner and Latin dancing at Shore Acres Clubhouse. Cost is $15 per ticket. Call Rachael Parker at 922-5916 for more information.

For general donation information, contact Dianne Colwell at 251-3260.