Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Seussified Springfield

Dr. Seuss last visited his hometown Springfield in 1986, five years before his death. He is pictured above greeting children on Mulberry Street.

Theodor Seuss Geisel grew up in Springfield, and his memories of his hometown can be seen throughout his work. So there I was in the last blog entry comparing Dr. Seuss’ drawing from The King’s Stilts to the bloated spires on Springfield’s Fuller Building—which undoubtedly influenced his illustrations—when I came upon better examples of his use this building’s “minarets.” There is a whole display of Springfield-inspired Seuss sketches in the exhibit “And to Think That He Saw It in Springfield!” at Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History:

The Fuller Building

I found a couple more in the book Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! below:

Actually, the example I used in the last post, from The King’s Stilts, more resembles the spires on the Memorial Bridge:

The bridge was being completed when he left Springfield for Dartmouth College in 1921 (below), but he undoubtedly saw the finished product when he came home periodically.

The thinks you can think when you’re writing a blog. Am I right or wrong? What do you think?

Come to THINK of it, in The Kings Stilts drawing, that curved, humped Alamo-like flat façade, with its half-oval windows, looks like some of the features on a house on the street on which Seuss grew up. He lived on 74 Fairfield, but take a look at 14 Fairfield:

What do you think?

Another curved parapet-type structure in Oh the Thinks You can Think:

From Oh the Places You’ll Go:

From Horton Hears a Who!:

In another blog post, a Seuss castle image from The King’s Stilts is compared to the old armory (the South End Community Center) on Howard Street, which was across from his grandparents’ bakery:

But now I think the drawing more closely resembles the cylindrical part on the right at 14 Fairfield. Maybe both structures were an influence:

The museum exhibit points out the similarities in a drawing from If I Ran the Circus and the photo of the Ringling Brothers circus coming to the city when Ted Geisel was 11 years old.

The Knox Automobile Company in Springfield made the following vehicle that inspired the wild truck of Sylvester McMonkey McBean from Seuss’ book The Sneetches

The Barney Mausoleum in Forest Park, with its unusual structure and curved stairway, influenced Dr. Seuss’ drawings in several books, including The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Seuss’ exposure to the mausoleum was before it was fenced off—when he and other children played it:

From The Kings Stilts:

I found some even better images in Horton Hears a Who!:

Here we see the old Springfield Gasworks building, with its smokestacks, depicted as the Thneeds Factory in The Lorax:

Hey, here’s a twist (pun intended). Below is the curved stairway going into the Barney Mausoleum-type structure with the Gasworks-style smokestacks in The Lorax. I know they’re entering a curved doorway, but take a look at the curved doorway tops at the bottom of the mausoleum and then check out the drawing. Coincidence? I think not! The Barney Mausoleum is perched atop Barney Hill!

The exhibit also goes into his high school drawings, points out the red Indian-style motorcycles in his books, and notes his brewing images (His grandfather ran the Kalmbach and Geisel Springfield Brewery until Prohibition put and end that business.)

The deep red color was the Springfield-made Indian motorcycle’s trademark. Check out those white tires, just like in the drawing.

Hey, how did that get in there? No, it’s not Dr. Seuss. Just wanted to see if you’re still paying attention. In fact, Kalmbach and Geisel was known as “come back and guzzle” around Springfield. 

Geisel wasn’t too thrilled about prohibition ending his family’s business, as you can see from his political cartoon about temperance movement leader Carrie Nation:

And then, of course, there’s Yertle the Turtle’s connection to Stearns Square, which has (or should I say had) a beautiful turtle fountain (it’s vandalized and dry now) that consisted of a large bronze globe topped by two intertwined fish flanked by four snapping turtles (now absent) that represented north, south, east, and west. At one time the two fish and all four turtles spouted water. 

Variations of the fountain’s round basin, the two-fish combo, and squirting fish theme can also be seen in The King’s Stilts, also by Dr. Suess, especially the lower photo of a fish on a sphere:

The two fish on the fountain are also said to inspire the two fish in Dr. Suess’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish:

Seuss’s mother, Henrietta Suess Geisel, who had worked in her father’s bakery, often memorized the names of the pies that were on special each day and “chanted” them to the customers. If her son, Ted, had trouble sleeping, she would sometimes recall these chants to send him into a slumber. As an adult, Seuss credited her “for the rhythms in which I write and the urgency for which I do it.”

At Dartmouth College, he became editor-in-chief of the Jack-O-Lantern, the college’s humor magazine. When he and his friends were caught drinking at a party during prohibition, he was banished as editor. But he kept contributing to the publication, using the pseudonym “Seuss” for the first time (his middle name and his mother’s maiden name).

He began his career as a cartoonist, and his work included advertising campaigns, and then political cartoons. He sent 27 rejected submissions of his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, before a publisher, Vanguard Press, finally accepted it. How did he come up with the title? In 1936, he and his wife took a ship to Europe, and on the way back, the ship engines chugging away started driving him batty. He started fitting words to the throbbing noise, and began chanting, “And that is a story that no one can beat. And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”

Mulberry and Bliss streets don’t intersect in Springfield. Seuss was just playing around. Or maybe he liked the name “Bliss,” a street that was a block away from his grandfather’s bakery on Howard Street.

He was also having a little fun with Springfield Mayor Fordis Parker (above), who is doffing his hat on the parade-reviewing stand in the book below.

There was a hue and cry when a local plastic surgeon had 51 Mulberry Street demolished in 1992. Dr. Seuss’ father had attended a private kindergarten in a house on Mulberry Street, possibly the one that was torn down. Was this the home that inspired the book? There is no house in And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, but Dr. Seuss walked down the street often as a child.

The house was on the National Register of Historic Places, and a $22,500 legal settlement was reached in 1994. A vacant lot and a plaque on a rock occupy the space now.

There is even a rumor that Seuss based Whoville on Easthampton in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and that Mt. Tom was the inspiration for Mt. Crumpit, where the Grinch lived. We do know that Ted Geisel had visited Mt. Tom because his Classical High School senior picnic took place there on September 23, 1920.

Is this rumor true? People in Easthampton think so. For three years now the town has celebrated a “Whobalation” at Pulaski Park: 

The view of Easthampton from Mt. Tom (above and below).

Charles D. Cohen, Geisel’s biographer, thinks that because Seuss lived atop California’s Mt. Soledad (his last home), which looks down on the village of La Jolla, it is more likely that he based the book on that setting. For example, the Grinch was allegedly modeled on Ted himself (His license plates bore the name GRINCH). In California, Geisel got pretty cranky amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas—so much so that his little nephew nicknamed him The Grouch. In the book, the Grinch says, “For 53 years I’ve put up with it now! I MUST stop Christmas from coming!...But HOW? Ted was 53 when the book was published in 1957, when he lived on Mt. Soledad.

Still, I’ve always thought that this drawing of the overstuffed, slumped-over Grinch toy sack resembles in form the lopsided Mt. Tom:

What do you think? Mt. Crumpit or not?

There, on top of the mountain, is the old Summit House hotel (above), seemingly ready to topple off the peak, like the Grinch’s purloined Christmas gifts. Perhaps both Mt. Tom and Mt. Soledad factored into his imagination. After all, a literary setting can be based on several sources. It’s widely theorized that because his father was a zookeeper in Forest Park, then that zoo was the inspiration for his book If I Ran the Zoo. Indeed, as a child, Dr. Seuss was awoken by the zoo’s wolves howling (he lived a few blocks away), and after boyhood visits to the Forest Park Zoo, he drew pictures—many of them on his attic walls—of the monkeys and lions he had seen. Other zoos that he visited no doubt stimulated his imagination, but there is something to be said for the lasting power of childhood memories. To wit: Cohen asserts that that the dichotomy of the very rich and the very poor living in La Jolla inspired The Sneetches, a tale of discrimination, but I think a more compelling influence was the discrimination Seuss felt as a German American growing up in Springfield during World War I. Kids threw rocks at him, for God’s sake!

I’m still making the case for Mt. Tom. Below is a photo of the Summit House hotel on the top. Look at the top of the structure, which burned in 1929. Doesn’t it look like one of Seuss’ minaret buildings?

Oh yes. Oh yes. These minarets are on a mountain, no less! Come on! Look! Think! Think Sprink-field! (Okay, Holyoke/Easthampton. Close enough!)

Look at the structure below, teetering on the edge of the cliffs, like the Grinch’s sled.

Furthermore, there were well-known hermits hunkered down on Mt. Tom in the early 1900s. A man called “Badger” lived in a hut, according to an article in in Springfield Union on June 20, 1909. Another, a “celestial hermit” described in a Springfield Union article from February 8, 1903, lived at the base of the Summit House during the resort's off-season, where they “partitioned off for him a kind of a cave in the basement of the great hulk of a building on the summit.”

“From November to May he sits there smoking his pipe.” (In the cold months? Like the Grinch?) “He hears sharp voices of children playing underneath the cliffs toward Easthampton,” it continues.

A more likely Grinch archetype, however, was the celebrated “hermit of Mt. Tom” William Street, who lived in his deteriorating hotel, the Eyrie House, on nearby Mt. Nonotuck, the northernmost peak of Mt. Tom. When the hotel's business drastically slacked off in the 1890s, he was “seemingly content to live in his lofty home apart from his fellow men,” according to an article in the Springfield Union on April 14, 1901, the day a fire burned a replacement to the Eyrie House that he was building—an incident that left him an embittered man. (The state then took his property by eminent domain.) He is pictured on the observation deck of the Eyrie House on the left in a photo from the Robert Schwobe Collection:

Could William Street or the “celestial hermit” or “Badger” be a model for the Grinch? Are you buying this theory?

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

Having a hard time swallowing my assertion? Think!

Still Can’t visualize it? Then give this a try. Free your mind: