More than 30 years after she passed through local communities on a 500-mile trek to retrace the steps of an historical figure, Eleanor Lahr returned to Maysville this week to say thank you to some of those she has dubbed “angels.”
Those angels and a woman of long ago were the inspiration for her book, Angels Along the River, published by Lahr in 2011.
Lahr embarked on the 500-plus-mile hike after reading the book, “Follow the River,” by James Alexander Thom which told the story of the capture and escape of Mary Draper Ingles from the Shawnee in 1755.
Lahr said she was “captivated by it. I read it in two days.” Researching further, Lahr said she was surprised to learn that no one had ever attempted to recreate Ingles’ journey.
“This incredible person’s story has not been retraced. After all, they retraced Lewis and Clark,” she said.
That realization and what she said was a compulsion to follow in Ingles’ footsteps led her to a life-changing decision. She would recreate the journey herself.
Finding a companion to accompany was a sticking point at first, Lahr said, and she had almost decided she would have to go it alone. But a newspaper story written by a friend of a friend resulted in interest and finally someone to join her on the hike. Her name was Debbie Klene, a young mother from Indiana.
So on Sept. 26, 1987, Lahr and Klene set off from Big Bone State Park in Petersburg, beginning the journey that would follow the Ohio, Kanawha and New rivers to Ingles’ home in Virginia. Over the next 43 days, the women walked, with few exceptions, the entire length of Ingles’ path. She documented more than 500 miles and thinks that is likely a fairly accurate calculation.
Klene had foot issues so on two occasions the women did accept a ride, Lahr said, much as Ingles rode horseback. But finally, she said, “the horse is dead,” and the pair stuck to walking.
“It was an incredible part of my life,” Lahr said.
Along the way there were stops in Augusta where she was offered help from several residents including Pauline Borges and the late Bill Kelsch and attorney Ray Bogucki. There was also a stay at the late Gertrude Schweir’s famous boarding house.
In Maysville, she was introduced to then Mayor Harriet Cartmell who offered the travelers a place to stay for the night and even took the pair to Caproni’s for dinner. The mayor made quite an impression on Lahr.
“I was just a blip in Harriet’s life, but she was a towering figure in my life,” she said.
After failing to find someone to write a book about her experiences along the route, Lahr decided she would write the book herself. The book is “kind of like my thank you to the people” who helped her and Klene along the way, she said.
On Thursday, she stopped in Maysville to see now Mayor David Cartmell and to present him with a signed copy of her book.
“I tried to go back and thank everyone,” she said.
Inside the book Lahr wrote “In honor of Harriet Cartmell who voluntarily took in strangers and made them friends — with refrigerator privileges.”