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Home: Regional: U.S. States: Indiana: Hancock County

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Re: Little Orphan Annie
Posted by: Brigette Cook Jones (ID *****9825) Date: June 04, 2007 at 15:11:43
In Reply to: Re: Little Orphan Annie by Beth S. of 537

Beth -

I am aware of the claim of Anna Crumbaugh Kiefer as the possible inspiration for Riley's character, "Little Orphan Annie." I would be willing to entertain any other evidence that you might have to support Mrs. Kiefer's claim - because I would like to be historically accurate.

Having said that - I would like to share with you the evidence that I have to support Mary Alice (Smith) Gray's claim to the inspiration as "Little Orphan Annie."

1. Riley originally wrote the poem in 1885 in the "Indianapolis Journal" newspaper. In that version as well as the first printed version in his book, "Boss Girl," the poem appears under the title "The Elf Child." It is the very same poem - but it reads - Little Orphan "ALLIE" has come to our house to stay.

"Allie" is the dimunitive form for "ALICE" - as in Mary Alice.

In the next printing of the poem - a typesetter misread the text and changed "Allie" to "Annie." Riley contacted his publisher about getting this changed, but the publisher told Riley that the edition was selling well - so "Allie" became "Annie" forever more.

2. Re: orphans. I believe there is some real doubt that Mary Alice was what we today would think of as an "orphan." I have recently come upon some very strong evidence that Mary Alice Smith's parents were both alive - at the time that Mary Alice lived with the Riley's. So does that mean she is a true orphan - as what Anna Kiefer was?

You have to remember the the era that Mary Alice and Anna lived in was much different than today. Divorce, while common today, was not common back then. And Divorce was very much frowned upon, or worse yet - if a husband ran off with another woman or vice-a-versa. It was not uncommon for divorced women or abandoned women - to become "widows." This was more seemely - and appropriate.

Likewise, dumping your child on someone else to raise - for whatever reason - was also a big "no-no." So I suspect - althought I don't have any hard proof at this point - that this was Mary Alice's plight.

What I do have is evidence that Mary Alice's parents had a "marital disunion" when she was 4 years old (by Mary Alice's own hand). Mary Alice went to live with her Grandmother in Hancock Co. (verified by 1860 census) and stayed with this Grandmother until around the time she came to live with the Riley family (1861-62).

3. There is no doubt that Mary Alice Smith lived with the Riley family. Riley himself confirms this fact in several different circumstances - most importantly in a poem he wrote, "Where is Mary ALice Smith?" This poem was written in 1882 and clearly describes the arrival of Mary Alice Smith to the Riley home (check out this poem in a book of Riley's complete works).

In the Mary Alice Smith poem - Riley writes, "Whether an orphan child only, or with a father that could thus lightly send her adrift, I do no know now . . ." This indicates that Riley possibly remembered that there was something going on with Mary Alice's parents; in other words, in the true sense of the word - she wasn't an orphan. Yet, it seems clear that Mary Alice had no where to go because her uncle brings her to the Riley home - to work for her board and keep.

4. I have found documentation that shows that there was a man by the name of John Rittenhouse, who is reportedly Mary Alice's uncle, living near Philadelphia (Hancock Co)per census records. Mr. Rittenhouse is married to a Malinda E. Smith (she would be sister to Mary Alice's father)in 1841 in Shelby County (marriage records). They were the apparent guardians of Mary Alice at the time of her stay with the Riley's. Also in this poem Riley, gives hints that the Rittenhouses would be visiting the courthouse for legal issues - I suspect this might have something to do with Mary Alice's guardianship - but I haven't been able to check those records as yet.

5. The "Where is Mary Alice Smith?" poem was written by Riley to locate Mary Alice. He evidently wanted to reconnect with her - as the poem was listed in the "Questions and Answers" section of the paper. Several years later - a relative of Mary Alice - by now Mrs. Gray - reads the poem in one of Riley's collections and writes the poet telling him where - Mary Alice Smith is living.

In 1915, Riley, who was recovering from an illness, sends his nephew - Edmond Eitel out to visit Mary Alice Gray in Philadelphia. She is living with her husband and has at least one daughter at home. Eitel greets Mary Alice with this question, "Is this 'Little Orphant Annie?" There is an article written in the "Ladies Home Journal" dated November, 1915, entitled: "The Real 'Orphant Annie.' The Living Answer to James Whitcomb Riley's 'Where is Mary Alice Smith?' comes out of Hidiing." - - by Edmund Eitel.

I believe this is fairly proof positive that James Whitcomb Riley - sent his nephew to talk to "Little Orphan Annie" who was Mary Alice (Smith) Gray.

Despite this fact - Mrs. Gray was subsequently honored on several different occasions by friends of Riley - as the original "Little Orphan Annie." She was present at the laying of the cornerstone for Riley hospital for children, and she was honored as the inspiration for the poem upon her death.

This is some very strong evidence "for" the case of Mary Alice Smith - as Little Orphan Annie, but like I said - I will entertain any other evidence that you might have to the contrary.



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