Local girl makes good -- again! Nancy Drew, the fictional sleuth who has starred in a series of mysteries since the 1930s, is the subject of a presentation at the on Sunday, March 18, from 1 - 4 p.m. The program will consider Nancy's local connections, by way of her creators Edward Stratemeyer and his daughter, Harriet Adams. Cover art created in the 1980’s and 1990’s by local artist for the The Nancy Drew Files will also be on display.
Nancy Drew fans include Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. That’s not bad for characters dreamed up by a local entrepreneur.
According to “The Secret of the Hardy Boys” by Marilyn S. Greenwald and “Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her” by Melanie Rehak, Stratemeyer was born in Elizabeth, NJ, in 1862. He began writing as a child, selling his first story, “Victor Horton's Idea,” to the children's paper “Golden Days” for $75. As a young man, he moved to Newark, where he owned a stationery store and wrote under several pen names. His work came to the attention of Horatio Alger, then in poor health, and Stratemeyer completed a number of books for Alger.
In 1905 or 06 (accounts vary), Stratemeyer opened his literary syndicate. His business model was this: he drafted a plot for a given story in a series, and a freelancer wrote a specified number of pages and chapters. Each book began with a quick introduction of the character and a review of important information from previous books.
Working from offices first in Manhattan, then in Maplewood and the Oranges, the “syndicate” developed a number of series, starting with The Rover Boys, The Motor Boys and The Builder Boys. The Bobbsey Twins, The Outdoor Girls and The Motion Picture Chums soon followed. Not all survived, but it’s hard to overstate Stratemeyer’s success. In 1926, 98 percent of the boys and girls surveyed in a poll published by the American Library Association listed a Stratemeyer book as their favorite.
Still, Stratemeyer wasn’t finished. Noting the growing popularity of detective stories, he developed The Hardy Boys the same year. Canadian newspaperman Leslie McFarlane was the first ghostwriter; he received payment of $125 for “The Tower Treasure."
In 1930, Nancy Drew came along. Edward Stratemeyer had decided to create a female detective, or “sleuth” as readers of the series know her.
Stratemeyer died that same year, and the business was taken over by his daughters. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a busy society hostess, moved the offices first to a closer site in Orange and then close to her home in Maplewood.
Legend holds that Maplewood and South Orange served as the model for Nancy Drew’s hometown of River Heights. (The earliest books in the series were penned by Mildred Wirt, whose descriptions sound Midwestern. When Adams took over the writing, suburban New Jersey became a likely model, according to “The Nancy Drew Scrapbook” by Karen Plunkett-Powell. She notes the distances and time required to travel to Madison Avenue, for example.)
Harriet Adams died in 1982 and is buried at the Fairmount Cemetery on South Orange Avenue. Local girl Nancy Drew lives on.
The Durand-Hedden House and Garden Association is dedicated to telling the story of the history and development of Maplewood and the surrounding area in new and engaging ways. The Durand-Hedden House and surrounding Grasmere Park were designated a Maplewood Historic Landmark in 2006.
For more information, call 973-763-7712. The Durand-Hedden House is located at 523 Ridgewood Road in Maplewood.