This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”
While the world may have come to know and admire Helen Keller for her ability to overcome disabilities and become a famous author and lecturer, there was a Kansan who made headlines for his own skill at overcoming adversity and setting records.
His name was William M. “Deafy” Boular, and he was a champion bricklayer from Atchison.
On Jan. 7, 1933, Boular was featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” syndicated column for setting the record in 1900 for laying 46,000 bricks in less than eight hours — and that was only one of his jobs.
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Boular was born Sept. 9, 1869, in a small community south of Atchison called Sumner. His family later moved to Atchison.
When he was 4 years old, Boular was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, leaving him deaf and unable to speak.
He later, at age 10, was involved in a railroad accident that severed his legs — he wasn’t able to hear the train’s whistle.
The legs were amputated just below the knees. He owned a pair of artificial legs but didn’t like to wear them. So for the rest of his life, he wore specially designed and fitted boots, allowing him to walk on his knees.
According to the Atchison County Historical Society Museum, Boular led a fairly active life, working 35 years at a local foundry and 17 years at an Atchison recreation center as well as being a beekeeper and hunter. Townspeople called him “Deafy,” pronounced “Deefee.” In 1900, he laid 46,000 bricks in one day. Famed Kansas newspaperman E.W. Howe affectionately featured him in a lecture on May 10, 1904, called “People I Have Known.”
Boular died Jan. 6, 1953, and is buried in Atchison’s Mount Vernon Cemetery.
Many of the brick streets that Boular laid more than a century ago in some of the community’s oldest neighborhoods are still in use today.
An exhibit on Boular is featured in the Atchison County Historical Society Museum.