James Whitcomb Riley doll, photo courtesy of Uneek Doll Designs

James Whitcomb Riley, the “Hoosier Poet”

The son of an attorney, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was born in Greenfield, Indiana, when the population was less than 1,000 residents. It has now grown to 20 times that number and still has some of the natural features the poet described, such as “The Old Swimming Hole.” Read the poem here: https://allpoetry.com.

He was born on the same day as Edgar Allan Poe’s death in 1849. Perhaps it was that unusual link that, according to https://tellersofweirdtales.blogspot.com/2015/10, “…in July 1877, when Riley, then twenty-seven, conspired to perpetrate a hoax on the reading public by passing off his poem ‘Leonainie,’ as an undiscovered work by Edgar Allan Poe.” Such was the inglorious end of his job at the Kokomo Dispatch.

Nevertheless, the creative and dapper lifelong bachelor earned back a reputation of endearment, especially from his own Indiana community. Ultimately, he became a prolific poet publishing hundreds of poems, applying the dialect of the people of his day, and selling thousands of anthologies.

His Work

Poems by James Whitcomb Riley can be found here: https://allpoetry.com. He is remembered for casting into poetic form the trials of everyday life, much of which speaks to his own experience growing up and living his life in Indiana.

The Museum

The James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home at 528 Lockerbie Street in Indianapolis was the poet’s home from the peak of his career in 1893 until his 1916 death, according to https://rileymuseumhome.org. The Museum’s website further explains: “Built in 1872 in the Italianate style of architecture, authentic furnishings and artifacts include Mr. Riley’s writing desk and his famous top hat and cane.”

Tours are available on a reservation basis for a small fee. A virtual option may be an option as well. Special tours tailored to students meet Indiana state education standards.

This is the sixth stop on the Indiana Author Adventures Trail.

Patricia Smart