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Yes, it’s really spelled “orphant” in the poem.Â I guess it was supposed to be the way a poor little orphan girl would talk?
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Jesus god, that’s disturbing. My mom used to read that poem when I was a child. As a result of that ordeal, I no longer listen to my mother.
It’s a classic, but not in a good way.
I found your comic while searching the web – for info and images on Orphan Annie. I did post your comic to my Facebook page – - I hope you don’t mind – - as I am interested in all things Orphan Annie.
Well – I can tell you that you got most of the story right – - which is pretty good. Most people don’t even make the connection between Riley and Harold Gray’s Annie character. So good job!
As a historian – - thought I would share: Mary Alice Smith was the inspiration for James Whitcomb Riley’s Little Orphant Annie (and yes – - it is with a “T” at the end. Riley was copying the language and pronunciation at the time. Just like most Hoosier still say “WaRshington” – there is no “R” be most still say it.
Anyway – - Mary Alice – couldn’t technically be counted as an “indentured servant” as there was no contract for years she had to work for some sort of payment. In fact, she was free to go – - whenever she wanted to leave. Which in fact – she did – - after less than a year living with the Riley Family.
What is interesting – - is she technically wasn’t and orphan either. Her father was very much alive and well, and he had remarried and had other children. However, after the death (? – maybe Mom ran off – - don’t know exactly) of his first wife – - he was left trying to care for a 4 year old girl by himself – - and sent her to live with his Mother in Hancock County, Indiana. Mary Alice and Grandmaw Smith lived in the little town of “Tailholt” until Mary Alice was about 10 or 11. Grandmaw Smith then became “too poor to take care of her” – - I am assuming some sort of illness, because Grandmaw passes away a few years later. Mary Alice is then sent to live with Uncle John Rittenhouse and his wife Malinda (Smith) Rittenhouse. She stays there a short period, but then Mr. Rittenhouse is getting ready to go off and fight in the Civil War. He fears his wife would not be able to feed the extra person – - so an arrangement is made.
It is not known for certain how Mr. Rittenhouse came into contact with Reuben Riley (James’ father), but the agreement was that Mary Alice could stay at the Riley Home. They would give her a place to sleep, food to eat, care for her and clothe her. In exchange, she would help Mrs. Riley out with the household chores and the younger children.
It was around November, 1861 when Mary Alice came to live with the Riley family. James (the poet) was 12. They considered Mary Alice a member of the family and very much enjoyed her company. Reuben Riley was contemplating a return to the Civil War (he had already served 3 months and was home recovering from an injury), and it is believed that he felt with him being away – - his wife might need some help with the younger children and the housework. The Riley family were indeed “well-off” for a small frontier town. Reuben was an attorney and he built a beautiful two story frame house right on the National road that you can still visit today. As an attorney – he employed several people to do a variety of jobs around the house – - a “Raggedy Man” to take care of the animals, his farm ground, and other outside chores, and a “Hired Girl” to help with the cooking in the kitchen. So the hiring of outside individuals – - was not uncommon. The only thing different in this situation was that Mary Alice would be living with the family. There is no evidence that the other “outside” help lived with the family. But of course – - Mary Alice wasn’t probably paid a wage either – - so the arrangement was mutually beneficial.
After living less than a year with the family, it is said that her Uncle’s fortunes had changed, and he comes back to Greenfield and collects his niece. She is then put to work as a maid in a tavern along the National Road in the little town of Philadelphia. This was the same community that the Rittenhouses lived in – - so maybe she didn’t live at the tavern? Anyway – - she met her future husband while working there – - and at the age of 18 she married. She would go to live in a small log cabin that her husband built, and would be a farm wife and mother of seven children. She died in 1924 and was buried in the Philadelphia cemetery along the National Road.
That same year – - Harold Gray would create his famous comic about Little Orphan Annie. Riley had died in 1916 – - but was still very popular – and the Annie poem was his most famous. It is said that Harold Gray originally created a boy, “Little Orphan Otto, with blonde curly hair – to be his main character, but his editor said – the “boy looks like a sissy! Put a skirt on the kid and change the name.” Could it be – - that with all of the press – (and it was National news when Mary Alice died), the fame of the Riley poem – - that Gray chose to change his character’s name to “Little Orphan Annie.” Mary Alice (Smith) Gray (yes that was her married name – coincidence???) – died in March of 1924 and Harold Gray’s comic strip appeared in August of that same year!
It is said that Mary Alice entertained the Riley children with her fantastic stories – - because she didn’t want them to leave her alone. They could go off and do other things – - but she needed to clear he dinner table, wash the dishes, and sweep – so in order to keep them near her she told her stories. Of course, the Riley poem has a “moral” to the story – - to warn others about doing what is right – or bad things could happen to you. These were typical stories told at this time.
You can visit Riley’s boyhood home where the “cubby hole, and press” are actual places – inside the home. Go to http://www.jwrileyhome.org for more info. Also – I would suggest that you check out Riley’s other poem about Mary Alice – “Where is Mary Alice Smith” – as it details her arrival at the Riley home – - I think you will enjoy it!
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