Mudcat Café message #2763598 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #124050   Message #2763598
Posted By: GUEST,Orphan Annie's Author
10-Nov-09 - 01:53 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: Little Orphant Annie & the Orphan Train
Subject: RE: Folklore: Little Orphant Annie & the Orphan Train
Re: Mary Alice Smith

I am currently researching the life of Mary Alice Smith and can give you verification on several of the points listed above.

First of all, you need to understand that when Riley originally wrote the poem,"Little Orphan Annie." It was for a newspaper entitled the Indianapolis Journal. It also appeared for the first time in Riley's book, "Boss Girl." In both of those instances, the poem was entitled, "The Elf Child," and the poem said, "Little Orphan ALLIE has come to our house to stay." "Allie" as in short for "Alice."

I have church records which show that Mary Alice Smith was born to Thomas and (I believe) Ellen Rittenhouse Smith in 1850 in Union County Indiana. She was living in Hancock County in the little town called "Reedville" previously known as "Tailholt" and now known as "Carollton," Indiana, in 1860. She was living with her grandmother, Alice Smith. This is per the 1860 census.

Her grandmother is buried in a local cemetery with a death date of 1866. The story goes that her grandmother became too ill to take care of herm, and she was sent to live with other family members. This family member was her uncle John Rittenhouse (her mother's brother as far as I can tell)- who BTW is also in Hancock County in the 1860 census.

There is a dispute as to what happened to her mother - - and any help with tracking down the whereabouts of Ellen Rittenhouse Smith would be greatly appreciated. One family story is that there was a "marital disunion" between Thomas and Ellen Smith. Another story is that Ellen Smith died. I have found no proof as to either story.

Whatever happened - Ellen Smith is out of the picture by 1857 - as Thomas Smith has remarried to a Melvina Hart by the 1860 census - and he and Melvina proceed to have 3 children of their own (there is some question about the oldest daughter - whether she is Thomas's daughter or an offspring from a previous relationship with Melvina). In any rate - Thomas Smith - Mary Alice's father is alive and well, and does not die until the late 1880's.

The story then goes that John Rittenhouse had a large family of his own and needed to find a place for his niece. He brings her to the Riley Home where she works for her board and keep.

James Whitcomb Riley wrote a poem, entitled, "Where is Mary Alice Smith" that details - in great description - the arrival of Mary Alice to the Riley Home. If you have not read it -- I highly suggest it.

I have uncovered that John Rittenhouse enlisted in the Union Army in December of 1861. Reuben Riley, James' father, was also home at this time, but was contemplating a return to service (he had been injured after a 3 month tour of duty in early 1861. It was not out of character for Reuben to be charitable towards others. In fact, there are several stories of Reuben's acts of kindness. I believe that he is thinking about returning to the Civil War, which would leave his wife at home with the two older boys - John Andrew, and James (age 12), and two smaller children - Elva May and Alexander Humbolt. It is very plausible, that Reuben believes that having a young girl to help his wife with the household chores would be beneficial. In fact, it is documented by several sources that the Riley's were told that Mary Alice was 14 (when in reality she had just turned 11 in 1861.

At any rate, Mary Alice comes to live with the Riley family for less than a year. She is at the home probably from November, 1861 - through the fall of 1862. It is then said that her family comes and takes her back home.

The story from there says that Mary Alice goes to work in a Tavern on the National Road in the town of Philadelphia, IN (which is a small town in between Greenfield, and Indianapolis). She works there for the next 6 years. It is there that she meets her husband, John Wesley Gray. She marries and has a total of seven children - the ones who grew to adulthood are listed in the obituary that was already submitted.

Mary Alice Smith Gray is buried in the Philadelphia Cemetery just outside of Greenfield, Indiana. You can go to to see her grave site and her picture.

As for the "T" in Little Orphant Annie - - Riley purposely included the "T" because he was mimicking how the people spoke. Riley was famous for his usage of "dialect" in his poetry.

I highly doubt that Mary Alice rode the Orphan Train. There isn't any evidence to support this.

I am also a docent at the Riley Home in Greenfield, and anytime someone would like to visit - I can show you the place where Mary Alice slept. I can also show you the cubby hole, the rafter room, and the press - that is mentioned in Riley's poem.