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JOURNAL LE HAUT-SAINT-FRANÇOIS / Actualité
Mercredi, 25 mars 2015

Beyond Belief: Bill McCallum onstage in Sawyerville


by Rachel GARBER

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Some 70 years ago, Sawyerville was a bustling town. It had shops galore, a saw mill, a well-frequented Sawyerville Hotel, and several churches too. Its most celebrated citizen was Bill McCallum, The Glass Man.

Bill had a mysterious gift. He could hammer nails through glass without breaking it. He was seen putting his finger through a light bulb. He'd get a little lit at the hotel, and he'd go down the street hammering beer bottles onto telephone poles with a spike. He said the imps made him do it.

Whether the imps came from the Devil or from God was a matter of intense discussion. Maybe even Bill didn't know.
That's how Freeman Clowery described it in his little book, The Imps and Bill McCallum: The Glass Man.
Clowery consulted an expert who analysed Bill's handiwork. Dr. Tibor Spitz concluded, "impossible to explain by using our present level of technical and scientific knowledge."

February 21 and 22, Sawyerville was abuzz again, and a big part of the buzz was a play put on for the benefit of the Eaton Corner Museum. It was called "Beyond Belief," and it told the story of Bill McCallum. About 400 people attended three performances in the Sawyerville Community Centre. In the audience were Freeman Clowery and his wife Velma, and Mayotta Winslow Taylor and her husband Grant.

Mayotta said that, as a young girl, she could put nails through glass, too, when Bill put his hand on her shoulder. Another eyewitness was Carl Speck. In the play, he played the role of the bartender in the Sawyerville Hotel.

Beyond Belief was a grand amateur effort. Ann Rothfels of Eaton Corner wrote it, and Pamela Jouris of Sawyerville revised it for the Sawyerville stage. The cast of 20 actors were all Haut-Saint-Franciscans, all amateurs. Austin Bailey of Brookbury played the role of Bill McCallum, and Denis Palmer played his brother Charles. Young Alyssa and Brianna Rothney played Charlie and Bill as young boys, and then the Imps that Bill said were responsible for his strange gift.

The play traces Bill's life from his childhood on a lighthouse island in the Magdalen Islands, where he had a bad fall that injured his leg. An intervention by a "horse doctor" saved his life, but prevented his leg from growing. He walked with a platform shoe and a cane.

Bill's brother moved to the Townships, married Lottie Parker (played by Ruth Kingsley), and lived in Randboro. Bill followed in the 1920s, and lived in both Randboro and Sawyerville. He worked as a cabinet maker, and played the fiddle at dances.
In the play, his character explains that he would ask his neighbour to break some glass for him so he could use the sharp edges to polish the furniture and other wooden objects he made. That's because the glass was like rubber in his hands, so he could not break it.

He died on January 1st, 1947. His grave is marked by a small ground-level stone in the Maple Leaf Cemetery on Route 210.
"The play was an initiative from the community, and it brought together all sorts of people who might not otherwise have spent time together, newcomers and old timers, young and old," said Jackie Hyman. "It's a remarkable example of the community working together."

Hyman is secretary of the Eaton Corner Museum. "The Museum is glad that people have this interest in local history, writing it, performing it and watching it," she said.

For information about purchasing a DVD of the play, contact the Museum at 819-875-5256 or info@eatoncorner.ca, or visit www.eatoncorner.ca.


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