Theodor Seuss Geisel

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Did You Know? Dr. Seuss wrote his first children's book on a ship.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, was born in Springfield, MA on March 2, 1904.He lived just six blocks away from the Springfield Zoo in Forest Park. All the first models for Dr. Seuss's wondrous menagerie lived there."That Zoo," said Geisel, creator of Zooks, Yooks, and Barbaloots,"that was where I learned whatever I know about animals."

He was born into the prosperous clan of German beer barons known as the Geisels. Grandfather, Theodor Geisel, started a brewery business near Watershops Pond in 1876. Within 15 years, this brewery vied with Bostons's best as the largest in New England

Ted's father, T.R. Geisel, once held a world record in riflery, and target practiced at Forest Park, Springfield, MA. Ted tagged along, helping with the targets, then going off to sketch the animals."I was always drawing -with pencils, pens, crayon, or anything. Nearly always, it was animals. Goofy - looking ones. My mother overindulged me and seemed to be saying,"Everything you do is great, just go ahead."

Henrietta Seuss, like T.R. Geisel, shared a love for the outdoors and an astonishing aptitude with firearms. At six feet and nearly 200 pounds, the strong, pretty Henrietta was a crack shot, winning nearly as many trophies as T.R.

Ted, devoted to his mother, tried riflery, but that wasn't for him, and that was fine with Henrietta. When Ted drew animals on the attic walls with crayons and pencils, that was okay too with his mother. When Ted showed his mother a sketch of a beast from the zoo - a beast with ears hanging down to its feet and beyond - Henrietta praised him. And telling his mother the animal was called "a Wynnmph,"she said, of course it is!

When Theodor Geisel was only 12 years old, his drawing of a man reeling in an oversized fish won first prize in the Springield Union Newspaper's advertising contest. Ted recalled years later:"That was my first big bang."Ted would also long remember an art teacher at Central High School in Springfield, MA. who felt that his work was less then splendid. The teacher wanted young Ted to draw the world as it was, not the way he imagined it to be. He told Teddy,"You will never learn how to draw."Of course Geisel quit that class after day one!

Ted left Springfield, MA in 1921, and went on to thrive at Dartmouth. At the college's humor magazine, the 'Jack O'Lantern,"The name "Seuss" and all that goes with it, was born. He filled the magazine with his humorous cartoon drawings, many unsigned. Others signed D.G.Rosetti, T.Seuss, and one by "Seuss."In his early career, the humorist went under the byline - "Theo. Seuss 2nd," "Dr. Theophrastus Seuss," and manymore - but it never again returned to "Ted Geisel."

Geisel started to recede into the woodwork so to speak, as "Seuss" grew larger then life. When a children's book entitled And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street by "Dr. Seuss" appeared in 1937, only in Springfield did people say, "Remember Teddy Geisel? That's his book." for another half century Springfield residents would repeat the saying for the next 47 Seuss books.

And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street Book Cover

Dr. Seuss, drew his inspiration for children's books from his own childhood growing up in Springfield., and one of his memories was that of motorcycles. His first children's book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was published by Vanguard Press, and had already been rejected by 29 publishers. "The book is too different" was the most frequent explanation, and fantasy wasn't saleable. Ted argued that it wasn't fantasy, since Mulberry Street was real and its parade derived from his recollections of Springfield street life.

Ted was discouraged, angry and rejected, he decided after so many publishing turndowns, he would burn the tattered manuscript. He had planned a ceremonial burning of the script at his apartment, then return to cartooning for adults.

As he walked home down Madison Avenue, he ran into an old classmate from Dartmouth, Mike McClintock. Only three hours earlier he had become juvenile editor of Vanguard Press. He invited Ted up to his office with his Mulberry Streetmanuscript. Half an hour later, the president of Vanguard Press agreed to publish the book. "But" he said "You've got to give me a snappier title."

The book that made Seuss famous, and almost was burned before it was printed, also had a very fascinating origin.Seuss began writing it while on a ship, a Swedish American Luxury Liner with his new wife, Helen. It was the summer of 1936, and the couple set sail for Europe on theKungsholm, from New York Harbor. It was on their trip back home aboard the ship, the sea was rough and a summer storm hammered the ship with gale-force winds. Ted couldn't sit still, he strode the decks, gripping the rails. In an upper-deck lounge he ordered a vodka on the rocks, took two sheets of Kungsholm's stationery and began scribbling a rambling plot:'A stupid horse and wagon, horse and chariot, chariot pulled by flying cat, flying cat pulling Viking ship...As the ship plowed the sea for eight days, the chugging rhythm of its engines reverberated in Ted's head. Seuss said that the monotony of the ship's engine was his inspiration for the words, and Springfield was the inspiration for the images. He set out to develop a story around the ships rhythm, using the phrase..."And that is a story that no one can beat, and to think I saw it on Mulberry Street." He also used the shipboard notes that began with "a stupid horse and wagon."

The images in the book included 'cops riding motorcycles,' just like the gas-drivenIndian motorcycles first manufactured at Springfield in 1901; and other sights and sounds of Mulberry Street.

Vanguard published the book in 1937, and Springfield citizens bought the book at Johnson's Book Store, wondering if their Mulberry Street would be famous. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,was an instant hit; While Dr. Seuss was on the rhyming road to becoming a legend.

mulberry st.sign

The Mulberry Street sign, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Street where Dr. Suess grew up.



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