Little Orphant Annie

It’s almost Halloween, which means it’s time to celebrate the most popular work of poet James Whitcomb Riley. Riley has no particular connection to Franklin Township, but he did grow up in nearby Greenfield, and he’s one of Indiana’s favorite native sons — perhaps most favorite, if one judges by the number of things named after him.
As a seasonal treat (no trick!), here’s one of the few surviving audio recordings of Riley reading his poetry aloud. This is “Little Orphant Annie,” written by Riley in 1885. This (originally wax) recording was made in 1912, two years after the author suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Riley died four years later, in 1916.

Anyone who grew up in Indiana schools probably had to memorize this poem — or at least part of it — in elementary school, where we also learned that the poem was intended to be called “Little Orphant Allie” (after Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, shown at right, who lived with the Riley family for a time). The published title was a result of a printing error (popularly attributed to Riley’s bad handwriting).

The poem was one of Riley’s best-known works. It was adapted as a silent film in 1918, and also served to inspire the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, which itself inspired books, movies and a major stage musical.

…And remember, if you want to hear more seasonal tales, join us on October 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. for Ghost Stories at Open Hours!

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