One hundred and sixty-six years ago this past weekend, a printer from Roxbury, Massachusetts, John Greene Chandler, made the biggest splash of his career with a little pamphlet entitled The Remarkable Story of Chicken Little. He probably distributed his version of this well-known folk fable at a fair that was being held at Quincy Hall in Boston to raise the money necessary to finish the Bunker Hill Monument, which had been left half built since the dedication of its cornerstone fifteen years earlier. The federal, state, and municipal goverments had no inclination to raise the money to complete the project. So, led by the editor and literary trend-setter, Sarah Josepha Hale, and others, the ladies of Boston and the Northeast determined to do what the men would not. They held a week-long benefit, selling off donated objects, bric-a-brac, and what-nots that eventually brought in over $30,000 -- enough to put the cap on the obelisk three years later, in 1843, at a ceremony presided over by none other than Daniel Webster.
During the fund-raising fair, Mrs. Hale had printed a daily newspaper, The Monument, and in one of those editions she praised Mr. Chandler's story, which she had just seen, and gave his name a nudge in fame's direction. Chandler would go on to publish many editions of the story, as well as one of the earliest versions of "The Night Before Christmas" and some of this country's first sets of paper dolls and other paper toys.
It is a mystery why he published Chicken Little when he did. But it is beautifully clear, like a crisp fall day in New England, why the story -- of the chicken with the fatally over-active imagination and her equally gullible friends, Hen Pen, Duck Luck, Goose Loose, Turk Lurk and Drake who become the sly Fox Lox's dinner -- should become the darling of an occasion that was organized by some remarkably level-headed and extremely competent ladies. For the moral of fable is about not succumbing to rumor and gossip and tales of impending disaster and impossibilities but instead keeping your wits and your purposes about you. It's a monument to the rock-solid good sense that gets the good things done.
Copyright 2003 © John Cech
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