Searching for James Whitcomb Riley 2

Searching for James Whitcomb Riley 2

Rooster and I went searching for James Whitcomb Riley 2 on a cool fall day. We took on the quest of finding the elusive Hoosier poet. #James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home #Indianapolis #Indiana #Riley Hospital for children #Hoosier #Poet #Lockerbie Street

The frost was on the pumpkin, so I thought it would be a good idea to pay a visit to the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home in Indianapolis. Rooster wasn’t certain if he’d enjoy the trip. He wasn’t familiar with the significance of the “Hoosier Poet.” He was aware of the existence of the Riley Hospital for Children, but he didn’t make the connection.

After the poet’s death in 1916, the Riley Memorial Association decided the Indianapolis community needed a children’s hospital. They wanted to honor the poet’s memory. The hospital opened its doors in 1924. Rooster learned about why the hospital was named after the “children’s poet” during the tour. I’ve discovered our adventures make us smarter and open the world for us in surprising ways. You are never too old to have interesting experiences and learn new things.

another view

Rooster isn’t a Hoosier native

Don’t get me wrong. Rooster isn’t against visiting historical homes. The fact that he isn’t a native of Indiana contributed to his lack of knowledge about James Whitcomb Riley. The poet was a big part of my Indiana childhood. His dialectic style of writing was my first introduction to literature. Every Hoosier schoolchild of my generation was introduced to James Whitcomb Riley because he was one of our own.

Riley’s writing may be considered plain and simplistic, but it was like music to our ears. Rhymes of childhood was a staple reading during story hour. I remember the Raggedy Ann Doll I had when I was a child was one of my favorite toys. I bought a pattern and made one for my oldest daughter. My mother read me Raggedy Ann and Andy stories from books we bought at the grocery store or got from the library downtown.

We found out who Johnny Gruelle was on our searching for James Whitcomb Riley 2

These characters were created by Johnny Gruelle from a combination of the names of two Riley poems: “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man.”  Riley also inspired the Chicago Tribune cartoon “Little Orphan Annie” created by Harold Gray. I remember reading about Annie and Daddy Warbucks in the Sunday paper when I was a kid. Who hasn’t seen the movie, Annie? As a Hoosier, James Whitcomb Riley had a big influence on my life and my relationship with literature.


Riley’s early career didn’t escape controversy. He was born on October 7, 1849. It was the same day Edgar Allen Poe died. Throughout his life, he sensed a strange connection with Poe. That may be why Riley selected the deceased author as the target of his frustration when he failed to achieve recognition. Riley’s frustration stemmed from the belief he couldn’t achieve acknowledgment from the literary community because he was from the west. He wasn’t the first and he wouldn’t be the last writer to feel snubbed by the east coast crowd.

Found out he tried to impersonate Edger Allen Poe on our searching for James Whitcomb Riley 2 quest

Riley wrote a poem and submitted it to the Kokomo Dispatch as a lost work written by Edger Allen Poe recently discovered. The plan was to submit it to various publications once the poem was in circulation. To make a long story short, the Kokomo Tribune blew the whistle on the scheme. The Dispatches’ credibility was damaged, and Riley was shamed. He overcame this scandal to become one of America’s most popular poets during the Golden Age of Indiana Literature in the 1800s.

sign on door

Rooster and I pulled onto the cobblestone streets in the Lockerbie historical neighborhood in Indianapolis on a crisp sunny morning. There was a definite chill in the air when we climbed the steps leading to the front door of the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home. A sign on the door instructed us to ring the bell and wait. A man rounded the corner and informed us we needed to go next door to the Billie Lou Wood Visitor Center. We were granted admittance and shown a film on the life of the “Hoosier Poet.”

cobble stone street

Riley lived with the Nickum and Holstein families

Once we paid our admission fee, a tour guide showed us to the front door of the home and we stepped inside. Photography was prohibited inside the home where Riley stayed, but I managed to take one shot before I put my camera away. It was a surprise to Rooster and me to discover Riley didn’t own the home.

While Riley was a very wealthy man, he chose to reside with the Nickum and Holstein families. They owned the bakery, which produced the Wonder Bread brand of baked goods. The irony of the “Children’s Poet” being a confirmed bachelor until the day he died was interesting.

Lockerbie Street Indianapolis, Indiana

This home at 528 Lockerbie Street must have given him a sense of family as he aged. Rooster and I have toured many historic homes on our adventures. We’ve been to Jefferson’s Monticello, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, and other homes of historical significance. The Lockerbie home held many of the same furnishings popular during the Victorian Era, but there was a definite artistic feel connected with the rooms. Most of the furnishings in this home were the originals owned by the families and not period pieces purchased to make the place look realistic.


It was eerie to stand in a room where the poet slept and read at night until his death on July 22, 1916. He and Abraham Lincoln are the only people who have been given the honor to lie in rest at the Indiana State House. A pair of the writer’s shoes were placed in an open drawer pulled out from the wall.

Take a walk in Riley’s shoes

Our guide informed us they were requested by a classroom of Indiana schoolchildren so they could walk around in Riley’s shoes. The poet thought it was a humorous idea and sent the black shoes to them. The kids would put the shiny boots on their feet and walk around the classroom for fun. When the museum was opened, the school sent them to be added to the collection.


As an Indiana writer, I seem to walk in Riley’s shadow. Exposure to his poems may be why my first attempts at writing were done through the medium of poetry. My work tends to be littered with colloquialisms and clichés, which are as much a part of my soul as an Indiana cornfield. No matter how hard I try to weed them out they are still there. Riley found a way to embrace his Indiana roots even though he struggled in the early years with his identity.

In Conclusion

Riley watered and fertilized the colloquial speech patterns which came so easily to his ears. It is part of my writing adventure for me to discover a way to embrace the truth I know. You can take the girl out of the cornfield, but you can’t take the cornfield out of the girl. I was raised a Hoosier. It is the only voice I know. I will write my truth the only way my Hoosier heritage will allow. It might not be popular these days, but at least it is honest.

better view

Who is Molly Shea?

Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh.  To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.

Be sure to follow Molly on Twitter!

Published by henhouselady

I am the author of Saving the Hen House. I didn't know when I started it would turn into a series. I love to ride motorcycles, the blues, my family, and going on adventures. This old hen rocks.

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