Historian Lewis Keith Cook was born July 29, 1899, in Basil, Ohio, to parents David Sappington “D. S.” and Grace (neé Lewis) Cook. The eldest of eight children, Lewis graduated from Liberty Union High School in 1917. The same year, on his eighteenth birthday, he suffered an accident while diving in Paw Paw Creek that left him paralyzed from the neck down. While bedridden, Lewis developed a keen interest in local history, due in part to his frequent visits from town elders with a surplus of knowledge to hand down. These visitors shared their experiences with Lewis, who, unable to write due to his condition, retained this plethora of information within his memory.
After only a year of recovery and self-teaching, Lewis became able once again to hold a pencil and compose letters. He became a magazine agent for several publications, conducting his business via mail and phone. Even as he mastered his new writing technique, the quality of his penmanship suffered; Lewis’s uncle purchased an Underwood typewriter for him to improve his nephew’s professionalism. Lewis taught himself how to type using wooden pegs with rubber tips in lieu of his immobile fingers, and eventually became so skilled at using his typewriter that he enrolled in several free courses offered by the Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin.
When his aunt purchased an automobile, Lewis enlisted the help of family members and locals, including the local Boy Scout troop, to drive him around the surrounding area. At one point, he made a journey to Florida in the back of a station wagon. He found a deep passion for the natural world, and arranged nature tours of several local destinations, including the Hocking Hills. He was also heavily involved in the Basil Methodist Church, serving as a Sunday School teacher and then as the superintendent.
Lewis utilized his knowledge of the area’s history to become a local correspondent for various newspapers in the region, including the Columbus Dispatch and the Lancaster Daily Gazette. He extensively researched the towns of Basil and Baltimore, covered bridges, and the Ohio canals, and eventually compiled a book on the latter subject. Lewis recruited his many friends and acquaintances as assistants, having them take photos and do other work relevant for the newspaper piece in progress at the time.
At his death on November 19, 1961, Lewis possessed a compendium of over three hundred shoe boxes filled with photographs, stories, and historical data that he had collected throughout his career. He is buried at the Basil Memorial Cemetery, and is remembered not only for his authority on local history, but also for his sense of humor, his constant modesty, and his unfailing optimism.
Maxwell Dibble, 2018 Collections Intern
Photo edited by Katherine Kunkler, 2018 Graphic Designer