Mudcat Café message #2737729 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #124050   Message #2737729
Posted By: autoharper
04-Oct-09 - 01:12 AM
Thread Name: Folklore: Little Orphant Annie & the Orphan Train
Subject: RE: Folklore: Little Orphant Annie & the Orphan Tr

The death of "Little Orphant Annie" made headlines in the Hoosier State when she passed away on March 7, 1924. As a child of ten she unwittingly provided an original American character type traceable through poetry, stories, comics and comic strips, several plays and even the recent Broadway play and movie "Annie." Her obituary reads as follows:

Mrs. Mary Alice Gray, Declared Original Character of Riley's Famous Poem.

"Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an brush the crumbs away,
An' shoe the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth an sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an' keep -"

    "Little Orphant Annie" of James Whitcomb Riley fame, in life, Mrs. Mary Alice Gray, died yesterday in the residence of her daughter, Mrs. L.D. Marsh, 2225 Union Street. Mrs. Gray was 73 years old, and although she had not been well since the death of her husband two years ago, her relatives were not apprehensive of her heath when she retired about 9 o'clock Thursday evening.
       When Mrs. Gray did not appear at the usual early hour yesterday morning, Mrs. Marsh entered her bedroom and found her dead. The fact that Mrs. Gray was the tiny, elfish girl, who came to work in the home of Riley's parents when she was about 10 years old, was established in 1915 by Riley's biographers.

Born in Union County

    Her maiden name was Mary Alice Smith. She was born at Liberty, Union County, Sept. 25, 1850. Her mother died soon after she was born. Her father died before she was ten years old and she was forced to obtain housework in neighboring farm homes to "earn her board an' keep."
    She was married to John Wesley Gray, a farm boy of the neighborhood Oct. 2, 1868, and lived on Wesley's farm a mile south of Philadelphia, Ind., until the death of her husband two years ago. Since that time she lived in Mrs. Marsh's home.
    When Riley first wrote the poem, it was entitled "Little Orphant Allie [sic] ," his biographers state. The poet had a vivid recollection of her goring up the stairs at night to her lonesome room in the attic, leaning down and patting each stair affectionately and naming it. Mrs. Gray often spoke of her relatives about this practice. Riley wrote of her in prose also. In the story, "Where Is Mary Alice Smith?" he depicts the little orphan girl falling in love with a soldier boy who was killed, and dying of grief.

Cared for Riley Children

    It was Mary Alice Smith, at the age of 10 years, that "Little Orphant Annie" took a place in the riley home at Greenfield, where she cared for the Riley children - James, John, Whitcomb and Elva. During the lonely hours in the Riley home she used to spend her time before the fireplace telling stories of goblins and ghosts to the children.

    She lived in the Riley home about a year, and never was seen again by "Jim," as she knew him. In his later years, the poet made exhaustive search for her, advertising in the newspapers. It was while Mr. Riley was in Florida, just prior to his death, that Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Gray's daughter, saw the advertisement in an Indianapolis paper and communicated with the poet. But owing to his illness, he was prevented from calling on her at her home.

    Mrs. Gray often said she was totally unaware that she was the original "Little Orphant Annie" until told by Riley's secretary years after the poem was first published.

Retained Active Memory

    Mrs. Gray never revisited the riley until a few years ago. She retained an active memory of the famous poet up until the time of her death. She took delight in telling of Riley's habit of writing verses on the walls in the house, on the porch and even on fences, and of drawing pictures to illustrate them.

    Mrs. Gray took a prominent part, despite her advanced age, in the laying of the corner stone of the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Hospital for Children, Oct. 7, 1922, coming to Indianapolis from her home near Greenfield, at the invitation of the Riley Memorial Association.

    Mrs. Gray had four daughters. Three of her daughter, Mrs. Daisy Spilker, who lived in Indianapolis, Mrs. Ethel Hickok, whose home was in Middlefield, O, and Mrs. Cordella Colestock of Philadelphia, Ind. have been dead several years. Mrs. Marsh is the only living child. There are four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren living. The are: Walter and Clarence Colestock, Philadelphia, Mrs. Nona Spikler Jessup, living north of Indianapolis, and Paul Hickok of Titusville, Pa. The great-grandchildren are, Louise, Herbert and Mary Alice Jessup.

    Funeral services will be held at 1 o'clock Sunday afternoon in Mrs. Marsh's residence and burial will be in Spring Lake Cemetery, Philadelphia, Indiana.