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Polo ‘legend’ puts town in spotlight

Story chosen as part of America’s Most Interesting Town series

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 8:33 a.m. CST
In this Jan. 16 photo, Betty Obendorf (left), curator of the Polo Historical Society Museum, and Patricia Cole Stauffer of Polo, discuss a photo of Henry Spickler inside the museum. Stauffer is a descendent through marriage of Spickler, a Polo man who claimed to have traveled around the world on a bicycle, penned a community song for Polo, and written a book about his adventures.

POLO – In 1901, a local newspaper editor offered Polo resident Henry Spickler a bicycle with the request that he ride it around the world, writing home to tell of his adventures, or so the legend goes. Over a century has passed since Spickler's 3-year journey, but he is far from being forgotten in Polo.

"He was my neighbor and different than anyone I have met," said Betty Obendorf, curator of the Polo Historical Society. "I always liked him. He had a mind that was very unique."

Spickler's story was chosen by Reader's Digest magazine in the "Most Interesting Legend" category as a part of their America's Most Interesting Town series. Polo had been given that honor in April.

"We won the contest and found out about it in December," said Obendorf. "It was a nice little Christmas present."

She said that the $1,000 check will help buy a new furnace at the Polo History Museum.

"He went around the world without a cent," said Patricia Cole-Stauffer, a Polo resident whose husband is a descendent of Spickler.

Spickler's journey took him more than 40,000 miles through 20 countries. He wrote a book about his travels in 1922 called "Around the World Without A Cent."

"He rode out the door going east, went around the world and came back in through the west door," Obendorf said.

According to the story, Spickler did odd jobs such as digging ditches in the countries he visited to help pay for his trip. In addition to writing of his travels, Spickler also wrote a song for Polo and submitted architectural plans for the town's high school upon his return.

"In 1927, when we were building a new high school in Polo, he entered his own plan," Obendorf said. "It's someone who has never been forgotten because of what he did."

Reader's Digest awarded the check to Obendorf on Christmas Eve. She said that it began with the local librarian writing a letter to Reader's Digest entering them into the America's Most Interesting Town Series. They were then chosen as having the most interesting legend because of the Spickler story.

"It was voted on by the people of Polo as well as people who used to be from here," Obendorf said. "Once we entered the contest people told me that I needed to write about Henry (Spickler.) After we won, people sent in their memories of him."

In addition to being an author, composer and architect, Spickler also attended college, performed vaudeville and was a secretary, stenographer, minister and football coach.

"Some people that had conversations with Henry (Spickler) said that he was the 'local looney'," Obendorf said. "I always took offense with that. I agree that he was eccentric, but he was a good man."

A legend can be defined as "an unverifiable story that is handed down by tradition." Whether the Reader's Digest contest and the story of Spickler are completely factual, or simply folklore, the impact he has had on Polo and its history is undeniable.

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