Sunday, June 5, 2011

Almost a Hoosier

James Thurber (1894-1961)

In his book, The Thurber Album (1952), author, essayist, humorist, and cartoonist James Thurber recounted the lives of his family, friends, teachers, and colleagues in a series of essays brimming with "nostalgia about the good old days in the Middle West," as the jacket reads. Although Thurber was born in Ohio, his father was a Hoosier. In a chapter called "Gentleman from Indiana," Thurber recalled his father's life:
Charles L. Thurber [James Thurber wrote]. . . was born in Indiana, a state known principally today, I suppose, as the birthplace of Cole Porter and the late Wendell Wilkie. To my father, looking fondly westward from Columbus, Ohio, where he spent most of his life, it was the romantic land of the moonlit Wabash, the new-mown hay and the sycamores, the house of the thousand candles, and the Lockerbie Street of James Whitcomb Riley.
Charles Thurber grew up in Indianapolis and was acquainted with Riley, "The Hoosier Poet," who lived on Lockerbie Street. "He is our Hoosier Burns," Thurber wrote to a friend.

Charles Thurber went to work early to support his widowed mother. As a young man, he was appointed to the staff of Indiana's governor and worked with Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ohio-born and later a judge and the first Commissioner of Baseball. That started Thurber's career in politics. After marrying a Columbus girl named Mary Agnes Fisher, Thurber left Indianapolis for Columbus in 1892, which was, by coincidence, the four-hundreth anniversary of the first voyage of the city's namesake. The couple's son, James Grover Thurber, was born on December 8, 1894, in Columbus, where he grew up and attended Ohio State University. James Thurber became a reporter on the Columbus Dispatch and later worked on the staff of The New Yorker, making his fame as a minimalist cartoonist and the creator of Walter Mitty and other characters remembered from his youth. And that's how James Thurber missed being a Hoosier by one generation.

(Incidentally, Thurber also wrote an essay about his friend, Billy Ireland, in The Thurber Album. Ireland, another Ohioan, cartooned for the Columbus Dispatch for almost forty years and was the creator of "The Passing Show," a brilliant Sunday page published between 1908 and 1935. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University is named in his honor. A large part of the library's holdings are from collection amassed by Hoosier Bill Blackbeard.)

James Thurber's book, The Thurber Album (1952), in which he recounted stories and people from his youth.
Hoosier Charles L. Thurber, James Thurber's father.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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