The Millstone Times June 2021
D I D Y OU By,
R aggedy Ann and her brother Raggedy Andy are the world’s most adored rag dolls. They were created by Cartoonist/illustrator, and author, Johnny Gruelle. In books, the dolls bestowed trustworthiness, kindness and spunk. Gruelle was a natural born storyteller and his dolls were the center of his fanciful tales. Because of this, Gruelle's little rag dolls have also found themselves at the center of several groups of stories that, while containing some kernels of truth, are more myth than they are history. Gruelle was born in Arcola, Illinois in 1880. He was the son of landscape and portrait artist Richard (R.B.) Gruelle. From there, the family moved to Indianapolis where young Johnny began mixing in with his parents' artistic and literary friends. It was around this time that Johnny developed a strong appetite for storytelling. During his adulthood, Gruelle had worked as a political cartoonist, turning out as many as three cartoons a day for several Midwestern newspapers. In 1910, he decided to become a freelance illustrator and moved to the East Coast, where he accepted a full-time position with The New York Herald. He contributed weekly pages of a Sunday comic, "Mr. Twee Deedle" as well as doing illustrations. This was during a time in American history when traditional values were being challenged by progress and social change. As a counter-reaction, many were turning back to more nostalgic diversions. All of this fit in with what Gruelle was already in the process of creating. In 1915, Gruelle patented his Raggedy Ann doll with Raggedy Andy soon to follow. His creation set the stage for the numerous legends to follow. Legend #1- How Raggedy Ann was Born A young girl discovers a faceless doll in her grandmother’s attic. She then bursts into her father's art studio with the battered rag doll. Her father picks up the doll. He studies the dolls face and then picks up his cartooning pen and draws on a whimsical face. Then, reaching for a volume of poetry behind his desk, her father browses through his family friend and poet, James Whitcomb Riley’s book. Compressing the titles of two of his favorite poems to- gether, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphant Annie,” he suggests to his daughter that they call the new doll Raggedy Ann. This was only one version of the birth of the raggedy dolls. The main part of this family legend is based on some factual evidence. According to Johnny Gruelle's wife, Myrtle, it was her husband, Johnny, (not her daughter, Marcella) who retrieved a long-forgotten family-made rag doll from the Indianap- olis attic of his parents home sometime around the turn of the century. Judging from his "Introduction" to Raggedy Ann Stories (in which a literary character named Marcella finds Raggedy Ann in her grandmother's attic and takes it to her for repairs), Johnny Gruelle is the most likely source of this legend, giving his storybook Raggedy Ann a more magical, reader-friendly discovery, at the hand of a sweet little girl and not the father. Johnny Gruelle's real-life daughter, Marcella, had an indelible influence on her father's life and career. She served as his model for his literary characters and was the reason he pursued the endeavor of Raggedy Ann dolls and stories. Gruelle's daughter (and her playthings) regularly inspired his storylines and ideas. He used to get his ideas from watching her at play. He wrote the stories around some of the things she did. When the real-life Marcella Gruelle died, at age 13, from the ravages of an infected vaccination, her parents were devastated. Under different circum- stances, this would have been a time of great rejoicing for Gruelle and his family. He was connecting with juvenile publishers, and was working on several sets of illustrated fairy stories. In November (the same month of Marcella's death) Gruelle had been granted final approval by the U.S. Patent office for his doll called "Raggedy Ann." But all was overshadowed by the death of his daughter in which he blamed the vaccine. To keep bread on the table of his grieving family, he stayed at his drawing board during the months following Marcella's death. Gruelle was working on a very special set of new stories, ones that he had previously only roughed out, but he was now determined to finish and submit to a publisher. These tales were ones that Gruelle had purportedly recited to his daughter during her final days lying in bed and they were about a rag doll and her playroom pals. And, in honor of the memory of his departed daughter, Gruelle had named his star human character after her. As Johnny Gruelle worked on polishing this very special set of tales (which would eventually be published in 1918 as Raggedy Ann Stories), he would supposedly glance up often at something on his shelf; one of the few keepsakes of his daughter he could bear to have near -- Marcella's own tattered moppet, Raggedy Ann. By Christmas, 1918, the world was introduced to Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Ann Stories. In this, as well as in Gruelle's subsequent Raggedy books, the literary Marcella would be a recurring character, along with Raggedy Ann and Andy. In 1929, Johnny Gruelle even gave Marcella her own volume of tales, entitled Marcella: A Raggedy Ann Story.
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