• Brigette Cook Jones

The Orphant Annie Ooops


If you have been reading my blog for any length of time - - you will know that the name of the REAL "Little Orphan Annie" was really - Mary Alice Smith. She was a little girl who came to live in the home of Reuben and Elizabeth Riley in Greenfield, Indiana in 1861-62. Reuben and Elizabeth's second son, was James Whitcomb Riley, who would grow up to become America's most famous poet. He was known as the "Hoosier Poet" because he wrote poems about his life in Indiana with many of them about his childhood in the town of Greenfield.

In 1885, James Whitcomb Riley would publish a poem entitled, "The Elf Child." It would appear in the Indianapolis Journal newspaper in November of that year. James was employed as the poet in residence at the Journal, and this would be the first appearance of the poem and the character. In the original version of the poem it stated: "Little Orphant ALLIE has come to our house to stay . . ." Allie was short for Alice - as in Mary 'Alice' Smith - - the name of the little girl who had come to live at the Riley home over twenty years before.

Riley would later include the poem in his second book, that was printed by the Indianapolis publishing firm, Bowen Merrill (later Bobbs Merrill). This book was entitled, "The Boss Girl," and it contained a collection of Riley's verse - in both poetry and prose. The cover of this book is unique in that it was created by another Indiana author, Booth Tarkington. "The Boss Girl" would come out in December of 1885 and would feature "The Elf Child" with Little Orphant "Allie" in its original form.

Now, one of the most oft repeated stories, and if you don't believe me check the internet, is that in Riley's *next* publication where the poem appears, he decided to make a change. He changed the title from "The Elf Child" to the name of the character - "Little Orphant Allie." However, the folklore story is that in the printing process - a typesetter misread Riley's handwriting and changed the "Allie" to "Annie." Riley complained to the publisher, but was told that the edition was selling well and to just leave it. So it was left. From that point forward, Riley's poem would be "Little Orphant Annie."

One of the challenges in writing a history book - is that folklore is great - but it needs to be backed up by facts. To repeat folklore without quantifying it - is not good history - and perpetuates misiniformation. Hence the challenge to discover how much of this printing typo is a true story. And, I think I have discovered a good piece of evidence.

Surely, in order for this mistake to have been done - it would have had to have happened early in Riley's career and before the poem became his signature piece. Otherwise people would have noticed and commented on the name change. I have only run across one source that gives a date for this mistake - and it is 1897. I know nothing about the facts behind that date - - but it seems to be a little late in the game for the printing error to have occurred at that time.

I consulted the Bibliography of Riley's work that was compiled by Anthony and Dorothy Russo. That reference indicates that the next appearance of the "Little Orphant Annie" poem in any form was in 1888 with the publication of "Old Fashioned Roses" by Longman, Green and Company in London England. If you look at that book - you will see that indeed the poem is "Little Orphant ANNIE" not "Allie." For many months, I have been operating under the premise that it was the British firm that screwed the poem up - and changed the name. Well, this sort of makes sense - - it would be a little more difficult in the 1880's to consult over long distances and to make changes or corrections that may need to be made. However, this still points to a span of about three years - where Riley would have been traveling the country and appearing on stage, reciting "Orphant Allie" - and after all of this time - he suddenly changes the Allie to Annie after a British firm makes the mistake? Hmmm - I really wasn't totally sold on that line of thinking - and thought I needed to make a trip to a Riley repository to check out my theory. When lo and behold, this little interesting image, that appears at the top of the article, pops up for sale on Ebay.

This image was an illustration that I had not seen before. I do like to find out how Orphan Annie has been depicted in art over the years - - so I was curious about this particular piece.

The description stated that this was from Belford's Annual of 1886. And, you will note that the title has the name as "Orphant ANNIE" not "Allie." So this means the name was changed by 1886 when this publication was issued. I had to look into the background of this book, and what I found was a VERY interesting story . . .

Belford's Publishing Company was based in Toronto, Canada. It was started by three brothers: Alexander, Robert and Charles Belford, and would later become Belford and Clarke with the addition of James Clarke. In June of 1876, Mark Twain published "Tom Sawyer" in England. However, by July of 1876, the Belford publishing firm would print a pirated version of the book that was sold in Canada. Belford asserted that the English copyright did not apply in Canada and publishing works by foreign authors without regard to copyright or royalty payments was not illegal on their home soil. As a result, the Belford Brothers flooded the American market with an estimated 100,000 unauthorized copies of "Tom Sawyer," and their pirating dashed Twain's hopes for any substantial profits. By 1879, Belford and Clarke had relocated their headquarters to Chicago, Il. Within a few years, using nefarious marketing methods, Belford had established what was said to be the largest publishing firm west of New York. Without an international copyright law, noted foreign authors' works that had been copyrighted outside of the United States went unprotected by American copyright law. A close associate of James Clarke explained their marketing methods which consisted of publishing or pirating complete sets of noted authors' volumes and selling them below list prices: They offered their publications first to booksellers, but if the book-dealers for any reason declined to handle the Belford and Clarke publications, an enterprising member of the firm would approach the clothing-store nearest to the rebellious bookseller and install a stock of these sets at the risk of the publishers. These clothing-merchants not only did a large business in these books, but they proved to be a most excellent method of advertising. This probably was the start of bookselling outside of bookstores, and the forerunner of book-sections in department stores. On May 26, 1886, a fire destroyed the Belford, Clarke and Company's Chicago headquarters located in the Adams building at the corner of Wabash and Congress. The Chicago Tribune's headline for the following day read "A Great Blaze of Books." The newspaper reported that among the books lost were 100,000 copies of General Grant's book, and a book being published by Mark Twain's Webster and Company publishing house. However, the book that interested me was - one of Belford's works in progress that had been lost in the fire. It was a large annual collection of illustrated children's stories and poems. The noted illustrator. True Williams, who had illustrated several of Twain's editions, was asked to help reconstruct Belford's Annual 1886-87. The illustration of "Orphant Annie" that you see above - was Williams.

So - - my current theory is this: Belford's Annual of 1886-87 was to include Riley's most popular poem, "Little Orphant Allie." However, due to the fire and the destruction of the book - the typesetter in the rush to reconstruct the book made the mistake and changed the "Allie" to "Annie." Since the book was very popular and a collection of several author's works was included, and the fact that the book had been delayed by the fire - - there was no way the book was going to be recalled for this one misprint. So the book was released for Christmas of 1886 - with the typo intact.

My next challenge will be to see if I can find any sort of letter or other documentation to back up this theory. We know it happened, but I just need to confirm the "why?" In addition, there is one other little interesting bit of information that is pertinent to this theory that still needs to be answerd: Was Riley's poem's appearance in Belford's Annual "official" or was this a "pirated version" ala the trouble of Mark Twain? In the introduction to the Russo Bibliography, there is a mention that Riley did bring a lawsuit against a Chicago publishing firm for printing pirated versions of his work; however, the Russos do not mention the name of the company or which work this involved. Hmmmm - - - it is all very interesting.

I want to give credit where credit is due. This website provided much of the info regarding Belford and Clarke publishing: www.twainquotes.com/TWW/TWW.html


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