Ozarks native shares a unique look at Missouri through lectures and writings

With 19 books to his credit, Ross Malone is one of Missouri’s finest historians. Not just a writer, he also delights in sharing the state’s rich, varied and often colorful past with audiences, young and old.

A 1963 Lebanon (Mo.) High School graduate, Ross went on to teach history and science in the Rockwood School district outside St. Louis and was the director of a private school for several years. His final 15 years of teaching were at Union, Mo. He and his wife, Doris live on Doris’ original family farm outside of Union, when they are not busy traipsing around the rest of the state, sharing the long-forgotten facts and personalities that have made Missouri the intriguing place that it is.

They are also exploring and digging up more little known facts and trivia which keeps his books, presentations, regular newspaper column and programs entertaining as well as highly informative.

The Ozarks is the birthplace of the “Mother Road,” and Ross shares many of the little-known facts of Route 66.

“In 1903, the New York World newspaper proclaimed the world’s largest apple orchard, boasting 138,000 trees on 2,300 acres was located on a hill just outside the town of Lebanon, Mo.,” Ross said. “But did you further know, that when Route 66, a gravel two-lane road at the time, came through the area in 1923, they had to buy a right of way through the apple orchard? It was then that the Nelson family, owners of that apple orchard, established what became known as Nelson’s Dream Village, a resort that included cabins, gardens and a gift shop.”

Today, a large grocery store and small strip mall occupy the location.

“Are you familiar with Round Rocks?” Ross asked. “They were once found all over the area around Osceola, Mo. If you look closely at the band stand in their park, you’ll see it is covered with these unique perfectly round rocks of various sizes that are not found anywhere else. Scientists now believe they are the result of a meteorite that struck the area millions of years ago, tossing rocks so high into the atmosphere that they were re-shaped as they came back to earth, resulting in the round rocks found there. Once plentiful, as people have collected them over the years, they have become quite rare but are still seen in area museums and antique shops.

Being a historian also means knowing some of the darker times of the state.

“Everyone has heard of the Titanic, the huge maritime disaster of 1912 where more than 1,500 people died,” Ross said to group of Ozarks historians recently. “But did you know that America’s biggest maritime disaster actually happened south of Cape Girardeau where over 1,800 people died? It was right at the end of the U.S. Civil War when the riverboat, the Sultana was carrying home soldiers and survivors of the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Ga. The river boat’s boilers had been worked on but they blew up on the Mississippi River, just south of Cape Girardeau. Of course, historians are not sure why this same tragedy never got the attention that went to the Titanic. My guess is that it was the timing, coming at the end of the Civil War and right after President Lincoln’s assassination. I think the whole world may have been so tired of bad news at that point, the news of the Sultana, and its death toll, just got lost in all of that.”

Ross continued to entertain, as well as inform, with tales of river boats, outlaws, former slaves and astronauts.

“Of course, we are all familiar with the name Hubble, the scientist originally from Marshfield, Mo., who built the telescope that was launched into space, but I love talking to school groups and telling them about Missouri’s astronauts,” Ross said. “I like to remind students that Tom Akars, Linda Godwin, Michael Hopkins and Janet Lynn Kavandi all came from small towns. They went to small town public schools and state colleges where they worked hard to become real space explorers. It is important to tell our kids today that you don’t have to come from the big city or a rich family or go to a private or huge university to achieve your dreams, as long as you are willing to study and work hard.”

Ross’ latest book, “Missouri’s Forgotten Heroes,” is also his biggest seller, as he once again delves into the back pages of the state’s history to find the little-known or completely forgotten stories to share with future generations.

“I believe stories help increase our retention of the things in life that we think are most important. Aesop used stories and Jesus used parables to get the point across. We still like stories and it is truly my pleasure to have the opportunity to share them with others.”


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