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More on Bluffton's brush with history

Who was that man on the bus, if it wasn't General Pershing?

Spoiler alert – You’d better read this entire feature to the very end.

The longest-running column in the Bluffton News titled “Mainly Personal,” ran weekly from the very early 1940s to the late 1960s.

Next to sports and obituaries, it was the most watched-for column in the paper. Ted Biery created it, Milt Edwards continued it and Charles Hilty kept it going.

What was it? Let’s put it this way – It was 80 years ahead of Twitter, TikTok and any social media conception imaginable. It included several very short pieces on Bluffton residents and former residents, basically being themselves.

At the bottom of this story is a 1943 sample of one of the columns.

Yesterday we posted a snipped from an April 8, 1943, Mainly Personal that really grabbed our attention. It follows:


Meeting an internationally famous general most unexpectedly was the experience last week of Willard Lee, residing northwest of town, while on a bus between Toledo and Detroit.

Lee took a seat in the bus beside an elderly looking gentlemen and the two struck up a conversation touching on such topics as the weather, crops and the war.

Finally, the stranger asked Lee if he knew to whom he was talking. Lee indicated that he did not and caught his breath in astonishment when informed that his travel-partner was none other than General John J. Pershing, commander of the American forces in the first World War and a prominent figure in the peace talks following it.

Note: Our own research found that the general was 83 years old during the bus trip, as he was born in 1860 and died in 1948.

More background

In our own reading of Bluffton News back issues, available on a website Chronicling America, we continue to read The News in long stretches, looking for interesting stories. That’s how we came across the General Pershing story.

But, then, the second shoe dropped. Here’s a brief item from the very next week’s Mainly Personal column:

And now comes an inquiry from a reader of this column wanting to know whether the item which appeared last week about a Bluffton man talking to General John J. Pershing on a Toledo-Detroit bus might have been a hoax.

The incident occurred when Willard Lee, northwest of Bluffton engaged in conversation with a fellow passenger who identified himself as General Pershing.

Newspaper dispatches this week said that the general is in Walter Reed hospital at Washington. Anyway, Lee said the stranger bore a remarkable resemblance to the man who achieved worldwide fame in the first world war.

Who was it?

So, did a Bluffton resident talk with General Pershing on a bus trip from Toledo to Detroit? Or, was it a hoax. If a hoax, it was a good one. The only thing that made us wonderr earlier is why would the real General Pershing ask his seat mate if he knew to whom he was talking with?

If it wasn’t General Pershing, how many times did the impostor pull this gag? We wonder. It’s still a great story, and it’s truly mainly personal.

Portion of an April, 1943 Mainly Personal column

written by Ted Biery, Bluffton News editor


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