Saturday, July 31, 2010

Little Orphan Typo

The very first poem I remember hearing and the first poem that I memorized was "Little Orphan Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley. My Mother used to recite this poem when I was a child. Of all of the poems I've ever read this one has had the mostest impact on my writing. In case you think you just found a typo, Riley was known as the Hosier Poet and wrote many of his poems in dialect. Including the word "mostest" in this poem. But there is a typo.

When it was written in 1885, "Little Orphan Annie" was titled, "The Elf Child". By the time Riley sent it to the publishers the title was "Little Orphan Allie". "Annie" was a typo. The typesetter misread Riley's handwriting. So "Little Orphan Allie" became "Little Orphan Annie". Riley only discovered the error after the book was published, so it was too late to change it back. So, the typo stayed in.

"Little Orphan Allie" was a real person. Her name was Mary Alice Smith. They called her "Allie". Her mother had died, her father was fighting in the Civil War and her grandmother became too ill to care for her. At the same time, James' father wanted to find someone to help his wife in raising their children.

So in the fall of 1861, when James was 12, Mary Alice came to live at the Riley home. The family would provide her room and board and Mary Alice would do chores around the house. She was 11 years old. Mary Alice stayed less than a year with the Riley family. But while she was there she had the habit of telling fantastic stories, which James liked. During the evening hours she used to entertain the children with stories of goblins and ghosts. By the time she left, she had become a permanent fixture in his mind. They never saw each other again.*

Here's the way that I read "Little Orphan Annie".

* In later life Riley searched for Mary Alice for years. He placed ads in newspapers all over the country looking for her. Then, when he was 96, the daughter of Mary Alice saw his advertisement and putting two and two together contacted Riley to say that "Little Orphan Allie" had been found. The two childhood friends then corresponded by mail and arranged to meet. Sadly he died before the reunion could take place.

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding!

    You were likely born a hundred years out of place, Zane. It's which direction out I can't figure.