ST. MARYS — A piece of fake fruit, a chair leg and a basketball trophy each have their own story to tell, according to local historian and Temple of Tolerance Owner Jim Bowsher, who presented Tuesday to area seniors at the Auglaize County Council on Aging.
“These items here are going to speak through me,” Bowsher told the seniors.
Bowsher argued that physically experiencing items and history creates a personal connection with the story, noting, for example, that visiting Gettysburg is different from seeing it in pictures or in film.
“You can have a picture of the battlefield, you can have unbelievable imagery on TV — go there at 6 o’clock in the morning and all that stuff will fade,” he said.
Through many of his stories, Bowsher said he has observed that the world is not always black and white. He noted that one of his stories that has had an impact on audiences — especially in prisons — involves a fake apple with a chunk missing, as if it had been bitten into.
“I go into prisons all the time and this object — a piece of fake fruit — this probably has more impact,” he said. “I get the most letters on this than anything I say to a prison crowd.”
Bowsher tells prison crowds that they get into trouble because they divide the world into black and white, promoting their own self-destruction. To show that life is not back and white, Bowsher reads his audience members a newspaper headline, “Girl, 23, kills boy, 12, for an apple,” and asks if it’s good or evil. Prisoners, Bowsher said, agreed that the event is evil, and he proceeds to tell the story of the 23-year-old woman.
“Here’s what she said, ‘I’m in the Warsaw ghetto, the Germans have surrounded us and they’re starving us to death,’” he said. “They don’t even want to waste bullets on us.”
The woman, he said, had already buried her parents, and she and her twin brothers were starving to death. While out looking for food, the woman saw a German boy eating an apple.
“She said, ‘Jim, the next thing I knew, I’m eating the apple like an animal,’” Bowsher said. “She said, ‘I don’t even remember eating the apple, but I look down and I’m on the boy’s chest. The boy’s helmet is to one side and his neck is broken, he’s dead. I suddenly realized that I wanted that apple so bad that I must have just jumped on him.’”
Bowsher said he again asked the prisoners if they felt the woman was good or evil.
“Everything is like that,” he said. “Good or evil — it’s a tough one.”
Bowsher said he finished his interview with the woman, and she grabbed the fake apple and took a bite out of it before handing it to Bowsher.
“She said, ‘I hear that you tell stories with objects — you put this apple on the table and you tell that, and anybody that hears this will never see an apple again the same,’” Bowsher said.
Bowsher shared several stories with seniors Tuesday afternoon and stressed the importance of collecting and sharing stories with others.
“I tell young people all the time — you have to go to the older people in your family and ask them anecdotal stories because when they’re gone, they’re going to take that with them,” he said.