recess radio program

01/10/05
Randolph Caldecott
    by Rita Smith

Why is Randolph Caldecott, the Lord of the English nursery and the father of the modern picture book, buried in a quiet cemetery in the heart of St. Augustine, Florida? The answer to that question is simply, because he died there, but that is the end of the story.

The beginning is in Chester, England, where Caldecott was born on March 22, 1846. As a child he loved to draw and often wandered the woods near his home sketching the small animals he observed there. By 1872, he had moved to London and was very busy publishing illustrations in weekly newspapers, painting in oil and watercolor, producing models in terra cotta and designing decorative interiors for private homeowners. He illustrated several books, including two of Washington Irving's books, Bracebridge Hall and Old Christmas. But he would not be nearly as well known today if his illustrations for the Irving books hadn't caught the eye of London printer and engraver, Edmund Evans. Evans was looking for someone to illustrate a series of children's picture books which featured children's rhymes and tales. In early 1878, Evans paid Caldecott a visit and proposed that they collaborate on two picture books a year. Caldecott agreed to this arrangement, and over the next eight years, 16 picture books were produced.

His illustrations for these books were spontaneous and energetic, imparting a sense of joy and humor, and loved by both children and adults. They were an immediate success and it is these children's books which have secured Caldecott's reputation as a major illustrator and as namesake of the Caldecott Medal awarded annually for the most distinguished American picture book.

In 1880, Caldecott married and settled in Kent. His health had always been frail and he had often spent winters in warmer climates. In October, 1885, he and his wife sailed to America for the first time. Caldecott wanted to record the American people in sketches, but they were also hoping that the warm Florida climate, where they planned to winter, would be a healthy change. After a turbulent ocean crossing, they landed in New York and worked their way by train down the east coast, to St. Augustine. The trip was difficult for Caldecott and by the time they arrived in Florida in early December, he was gravely ill. They encountered the coldest Florida winter in fifty years. Caldecott never regained his health and he died on February13, 1886, at the age of 39. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, St. Augustine, Florida, where a simple wooden marker at the entrance points the way to his grave which lies in the shade of a large oak tree, laden with Spanish moss.

Copyright 2005 Rita Smith

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