24 September, 2010

The Heart of a Heroine

Did you ever own a Raggedy Ann doll? If you're female, I'm betting you did.

I've lived in Connecticut for almost 30 years, and it wasn't until recently that I discovered that Ann -- and her brother, Andy -- were created right here in my home town.

It's a known fact that the duo were created by Johny Gruelle. Gruelle was born in Illinois, but eventually moved his family to the East Coast, where he'd accepted a full-time position with The New York Herald (turning out weekly pages of his Sunday comic, "Mr. Twee Deedle"), as well as several book illustrating commissions.

Around 1912, he built a house in the Silvermine area of Wilton. Somewhat of a pioneer, he included amenities most homes didn't have: electricity, running water and -- ta dah - indoor plumbing.

There are several versions of the story of how Raggedy Ann came to be, but around here we go with the bittersweet version.

Marcella, the Gruelles' 13-year old daughter, contracted smallpox. In order to amuse his ailing child, Gruelle created entertaining stories, about the rag doll she'd found earlier in her grandparents' attic -- a plain doll with no face until Gruelle penned one on, with a triangular nose. Raggedy Ann was kind, sweet, and loyal. Everything a little girl wants in a best friend. It was not until after Marcella's death that the stories -- featuring Raggedy Ann, her brother, and Marcella's playroom friends --were put down on paper for generations of children to enjoy.

But what about the candy heart? That red heart survived dousings and drenchings, and even a trip through the ringer. and still held together. The candy heart was, it seemed, the invincible, and spiritual, source of Raggedy Ann's kind, sweet nature. One legend claims that the first dolls, created by Gruelle's own family, did, indeed, have real-life candy hearts, with "I Love You" printed on them, sewn into their bodies. True? Who knows.

My red-headed doll may not have had a real candy heart -- just a heart-shaped stamp and "I Love You" heart embroidered on her chest -- but I remember clutching her tightly as my mother read from the tattered copies of Raggedy Ann Stories and Raggedy Andy Stories. I wonder what ever happened to her? I kind of hope she's out there playing with Andy.

No comments:

Post a Comment