Zanesville Author’s Legacy Kept Alive by Museum
For many, the traditional Western will evoke images of cowboys galloping atop their mounts, roping cattle, fighting for territory and swilling whiskey in smoke-filled saloons. Stories portraying such scenes have been prominent for decades, both in the canon of American literature and on the movie sets of Hollywood. Fans of the genre owe many thanks to the Zanesville, Ohio native Zane Grey, an unapologetic adventurer and author who helped define the American Western through his voluminous number of written works. The National Road/Zane Grey Museum, located approximately 10 miles east of Zanesville in Norwich, features an exhibit dedicated to his life and allows tourists to step into the life of the influential author.
According to Stephen J. May from Zane Grey: Romancing the West, Grey was born on January 31, 1872 as Pearl Zane Gray, but the family changed their surname shortly after his birth. As a child, he was fascinated by fishing, baseball and the rich history of the town founded by his ancestors, all of which affected his future writing and profound sense of adventure.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he played minor league baseball before opening up a practice in New York City and beginning to write. He married Lina Roth and settled down near Lackawaxen with several members of Roth’s family. Their house has since been converted into the Zane Grey Museum, which houses, according to the Pike County website, “Grey’s memorabilia, photographs, and books in the rooms that served as Grey's office and study.”
Grey’s first published work, titled A Day on the Delaware, was published in 1902 by Recreation Magazine. His first bestselling novel, Heritage of the Desert, was published in 1910 and, according to Zane Grey’s West Society, “enabled Zane Grey to establish a home in Altadena, California and a hunting lodge on the Mogollon Rim near Payson, Arizona…the family of five moved West for good.”
Perhaps his most well-known work, the 1912 novel entitled Riders of the Purple Sage, is one of the bestselling Westerns of all time and is regarded as highly influential. Many villains in the story are of the Mormon faith, a plot device that may have been influenced by Grey’s perception of the Mormons living near Zanesville. Although none of his subsequent written works were as successful as Riders, Grey went on to pen nearly 90 books, many of which are Westerns. His published works also include books about fishing and baseball, as well as juvenile fiction and books discussing his maternal relatives, the Zane family. Many of his Western novels were adapted to film, and the seminal Western series The Lone Ranger was inspired by one of his works.
Few authors were inspired so significantly by the beauty of Southeast Ohio as Zane Grey, and his multitude of novels tell the story of a man full of spirit with a love of adventure. Those interested in learning more about this influential author should visit the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in Norwich, Ohio, which is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sundays. In addition to the exhibit on the author, an exhibit discussing the “National Road” and another displaying art pottery from Ohio are offered.