One of the most remarkable men of Arkansas history was Harold Sherman of near Mountain View in Stone County.
He was a writer, a playwright, an authority on extrasensory perception and the paranormal in general, a community activist and promoter, and a man with vast energy and personal appeal. Working in a small backroom study in his rustic home about 10 miles south of Mountain View, Sherman made a living as a freelance writer since arriving in the state in 1947. It is possible that he published more titles than any other writer in Arkansas history.
Born in 1898 in Traverse City, Mich., Harold Morrow Sherman was the eldest son of men's clothier Thomas H. Sherman and Alcinda Morrow Sherman. He left the University of Michigan to join the Student Army Training Corps during World War I.
Following the war, Sherman moved to Detroit where he worked for Ford Motor Co. It was there that he became re-acquainted with a high school friend, Martha Bain, a nursing student. She was a strikingly beautiful woman.
I came to meet the newly widowed Mrs. Sherman in the fall of 1987, when she was nearing 90, as I was seeking to acquire the Sherman papers for the University of Central Arkansas Archives.
She was warm and appealing, and as I was soon to learn from family papers and photos, she had been a dramatic beauty even before their marriage in 1920. They had two daughters, Mary and Marcia.
Harold Sherman began writing at an early age. His first publication was a history of Traverse City, which won a state essay contest while he was in high school. His first job was in journalism, writing for the Marion Chronicle.
In 1924 the family moved to New York City, where Sherman worked as an editor and in advertising, and where he developed an interest in writing sports literature for boys.
He published about 40 books with titles such as "Touchdown!" (1927) and "Block that Kick" (1928). In 1933, he brought out "Tahara: Boy Mystic of India," a book that not only sold widely but also hinted at Sherman's growing fascination with what he called "the field of psychic phenomena." He would come to believe that he possessed powers of perception well beyond the normal.
Sherman's first public foray in the realm of psychic phenomena turned out to be a resounding success, in part because of his promotional skills. In 1938, he and Arctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins undertook an experiment in mental telepathy, which was published in 1942 under the title of "Thoughts through Space." Sherman claimed that he and Sir Hubert were able to correlate their thoughts 77 percent of the time.
Over the next 40 years Sherman published dozens of books dealing with psychic phenomena; he also regularly turned out self-help books. His book titled "Your Key to Happiness" went through multiple editions, and Sherman helped market a record album based on the book. He also published a series of sex education books for young people.
In 1947, Sherman moved his family to a mountain farm in southern Stone County. This must have been a shocking experience for the city-bred Shermans to live in a mere shack without electricity or running water.
The first time the family inspected their new home, it was occupied by squatters, and baby chicks were wandering around the floor. (When asked why the chickens were in the house, the squatter said his wife was ill in bed and he could not attend to both at the same time, so he brought the chicks inside.)
As was traditional in rural mountain areas, the Sherman family was looked upon with some suspicion when they arrived. Martha remembered that Harold Sherman's penchant for wearing white shirts on weekdays raised eyebrows. More seriously, Harold Sherman seemingly never fully understood his neighbors. But he was friendly and sincere, and soon settled into his adopted home. Before long he was promoting a wide array of community activities.
Sherman organized automobile caravans of Stone County residents to the state capital to lobby Gov. Sid McMath and the Legislature to pave roads in the area. He knew how to make the effort into a media event, and it raised his profile in his adopted county. He also served as president of the local Lions Club in Mountain View.
Sherman organized an effort to convince Arkansas Power & Light Company to extend electrical service to the rural areas south of Mountain View. Among the Sherman archives are aging black and white pictures of a grateful Stone County farmer presenting a piglet to smiling AP&L president C. Hamilton Moses.
Later, Sherman was a moving
force in securing development of Blanchard Springs Caverns by the U.S. Forest Service and the creation of the Ozark Folk Center as an agency of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
Not all his efforts yielded results. An effort to promote Stone County as a haven for crossbow archery fell flat. Perhaps his most notable failure was an attempt in the late 1950s to film a television show on location in Stone County.
The story, which Sherman wrote with his close friend Al Pollard of Little Rock, was about a white German shepherd named Sheppy who rescued a lost girl from a threatening bobcat. Neither Sherman nor Pollard seemed to understand that bobcats are not threats to humans. (Though it would never be allowed today, nine bobcats were killed in making the pilot, all having been trapped by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission through the intercession of Gov. Orval Faubus.)
Replete with a cameo performance by local folksinger Jimmy Driftwood, the pilot debuted in Batesville's Melba Theater in July 1958. Thankfully, that was its first and only public showing until I discovered a canister containing the pilot in Sherman's abandoned smokehouse following his death.
Setbacks never slowed Sherman. He lectured around the world, especially in Japan where his work in the paranormal was especially popular. His books were translated into many languages, including Icelandic. He continued to write books until he died in 1987.
The Harold Sherman Papers are at the University of Central Arkansas Archives, Torreyson Library, Conway. A detailed guide to the collection can be found on the Internet at https://uca.edu/archives/m87-08-harold-m-sherman-collection/.
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at Arktopia.firstname.lastname@example.org. An earlier version of this column was published Feb. 26, 2006.