Hattie Faye Obermyer: The Most Talented Person on Earth 2009.07.08

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

The details appear right at the top of the sheet of music: poet, author, inventor and song-writer. Hattie Faye Overmyer Wilder  added that information with a typewriter at the top of her compositions.

She must be one of Morenci’s most famous residents if you believe the words that were painted on the side of the trailer she pulled through town: “The Most Talented Person on Earth.”

Lorene Whitehouse doesn’t recall much about Faye, other than the fact that she was a little on the strange side.

“She was an odd one,” Marilyn Rorick added. “A different kind of person.”

Bob Green confirms that opinion, but he remembers her as a character who gave people something to talk about.

Bob was just a teen-ager when Faye was in her prime as an entertainer, but he recalls that she befriended his father, Russell, who was editor of the newspaper.

Details are fuzzy—and maybe they’re no more than small-town legend—but Bob recalls hearing that Faye arrived in Morenci under strange circumstances.

There was something about an injury—falling out of a buggy, perhaps—and she was taken inside the house of Erastus Wilder who lived west of Morenci on Wabash Road.

After an earlier marriage, Erastus was now a widower, but he took a liking to Faye. Perhaps she never left the Wilder estate. On June 4, 1900, Erastus married the Albany, Ind., native.

His obituary from 1930 mentions Faye as “the daughter of an old time circuit rider preacher.” There’s also mention of her having “the distinction of being a poet, author, inventor and song writer,” but you already know that.

Bob recalls his father coming home from work with the story of Faye’s worry about gangsters from Chicago coming after her.

If Russell saw them in town, he was to call Faye and say, “George is in Wauseon!” If Faye saw the gangsters out her way, she would call the Observer office and say, “George is not in Wauseon!”

Wilma Fink has a few distant memories of Faye Wilder, including her mobile home trailer.

“She used to come to town and swish around,” Wilma recalls.

She was known for her dancing, as well as her musical productions, and Bob remembers her version of the Black Bottom.

The Black Bottom became popular in the 1920s and is said to be based on these instructions, according to a Wikipedia entry:

• Hop down front then Doodle back,

• Mooch to your left then Mooch to the right,

• Hands on your hips and do the Mess Around,

• Break a Leg until you’re near the ground

• Now that’s the Old Black Bottom Dance.

Faye had her own variation that she called the Pink Bottom, something she performed by standing on her head.

Faye Wilder came to mind recently when Bob was going through some basement items and came across “H. Faye Wilder’s Song Book,” a collection of a dozen or so songs written by Faye and probably left at the Observer office.

The pages measure 10 and a half by 14 inches and each is filled with hand-written musical notations, with lyrics added using a typewriter.

Many of her compositions include notes at the top. The song “My Earth, My Sea, My Sky” is described as a waltz ballad and the instructions say to “sing it and dance it as you go.”

Her tribute to the town, “Morenci, Michigan,” is another waltz said to be “appropriate for the dance, and to be sung at Grange and on other occasions.” In large hand-written type is the addition: “ESPECIALLY SATURDAY NIGHT.”

“My Joanna from Indiana” was written out three times in the song book. The first time it appears, a notation states, “This is a silly little song but it’s a good waltz.”

Another “silly song” but one with “a good moral” is titled “Just Nuts or Don’t-Say-It-With-Ink.”

The song tells the tale of a woman who found a letter her husband wrote to a female admirer. Faye’s lyrics warn, “Say it with flowers, say it with sweets, say it with kisses, say it with eats. Say it with jewels, say it with drink. But always be careful not to say it with ink.”

Some songs were written by Hattie Faye Wilder, others by H. Faye Wilder, and sometimes by Mrs. Hattie Faye Overmyer Wilder. No matter what name she used, each was composed at “Wilder Place, near Morenci, Mich.”

There’s ample evidence of editing. In many instances, the typewritten words were erased and new ones penciled in.

She took the old favorite “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and created the “Mary Had a Little Lamb and Chorus March.” It’s a musical comedy in five acts.

“America the Beautiful” was given some new words, music and arranging by Faye.

For Morenci’s 1938 Harvest Festival, Faye wrote a special song lauding the community and poking some fun at herself and the special guest, Paul Spor, a well-know figure in Toledo entertainment for decades.

The last time “My Joanna from Indiana” appears in the book, Faye added this note at the bottom: “This copy is out on trial. Perfection is our aim. Criticism is welcomed by its author and owner, Faye Wilder, Wilder Place, Morenci, Mich.”

As one of the “town characters” of her day, Faye probably had no shortage of criticism.

And about that word “inventor” in her title. Faye Wilder claimed to be the inventor of dual wheels for trucks. She said the Dodge company stole her idea.

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