Herald & Review (Decatur, IL)
September 5, 2006
Section: Life
Page: D4

Illinois is fertile soil for author Hartley

Bob Hartley has the writing habit, the writing rhythm.

My former boss, who was Decatur Herald & Review editor and editor of Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers, writes books about Illinois history and Illinois politics. His new book is "Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters."

Hartley collaborates with David Kenney, a retired Southern Illinois University political science teacher, in examining the 1947 disaster at the Centralia No. 5 mine - 111 killed - and the 1951 explosion at the New Orient No. 2 mine in West Frankfort - 119 died.

The book explains the causes of the accidents, identifies who was to blame and details the emotional impact on the survivors, their families and the communities. Yes, politics was involved.

This is Hartley's sixth nonfiction book. He has profiled Charles H. Percy, Illinois senator; Jim Thompson, Illinois governor; and Paul Powell, Illinois secretary of state; he has detailed the adventures of Lewis and Clark in Illinois country; and, with Kenney, he has told us about U.S. senators from Illinois, 1818-2003.

Now he's preparing a paper for presentation at the annual Illinois Historic Preservation Agency history program in October in Springfield. The subject is the 1948 presidential campaign whistle-stop tours of Illinois by Harry Truman.

"He made three passes through the state, including one through Central Illinois." Hartley said. "That occurred on Oct. 12, 1948, when the train appeared early in the morning in Danville and made stops in Tolono, Decatur and Springfield."

Another book? "It could lead to a book," Hartley answered. "I've always got a couple of book ideas going. You need more than one idea. Not all ideas work out. Not all ideas interest publishers."

Hartley said he has always been attracted to Illinois political events. "I kept my day job in newspapers in order to pay the bills," he said. "Not many nonfiction writers produce a best seller."

Hartley's book-writing days escalated after he retired in 1999 to the Denver suburbs with his wife, Mary. He had worked in Decatur for 17 years before the newspaper was purchased by Lee Enterprises Inc. He then moved to the Toledo Blade as executive editor and later was publisher of the Bellevue (Wash.) Journal-American.

"Writing books is a different technique," he said. "It requires me to do a lot of research and a lot of learning."

Hartley was encouraged to write books by Bob Howard, the former Chicago Tribune bureau chief in Springfield, and by Paul Simon, who wrote more than 20 books over the course of his long political career.

"I could bounce ideas off (Simon)," he said.

"They convinced me I could do it, and I got in the groove. Illinois has so many good history and political subjects, almost unlimited. I wrote the first book to see if I could do it and then the second book to prove the first one was not a fluke."

Here's your chance to ask Hartley about the books. In addition to his Springfield appearance, Hartley will talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, in the Decatur Public Library.

Bob Fallstrom can be reached at bfallstrom@herald-review.com or 421-7981. Copyright, 2006, Herald & Review, Decatur, IL Record Number: 09050623