We know Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) as a renowned teller of wild children’s tales, especially this time of year when The Grinch That Stole Christmas is all over the TV tube. But his first book was much tamer, and it is a small miracle it ever got into print at all.
He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts March 2, 1904, the son of German immigrants. Schooled in Springfield, and later at Dartmouth College, Geisel was drawn to writing, either under his own name or a fanciful pen name. But he struggled to get his first children’s book published. Originally titled "A Story That No One Can Beat," his manuscript was rejected by 20 to 30 publishers. In fact, Geisel nearly burned the manuscript at one point after being rejected by so many publishers. The manuscript finally found a willing publisher and was released on December 21, 1937 under its final title, “To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street!”
The story follows a boy named Marco, who describes the sights and sounds of imaginary people and vehicles traveling along Mulberry Street in an elaborate fantasy story he dreams up to tell to his father at the end of his walk home from school. The real life sights and sounds just seemed to plain, too ordinary to him. Boring! But in the end Marco sheepishly decides instead to simply tell his father just what he actually saw, no embellishments. Geisel reportedly wrote the story as a commentary about how he felt adults stifled children's imaginations.
It turns out that Mulberry Street is an actual street in Springfield, approximately a mile south of Geisel’s boyhood home. Mulberry runs off of a larger street, Maple, in the Maple Hill historic district of Springfield. Many of the stately homes here were built between the 1820s and 1920s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mulberry Street is my favorite Seuss story, in fact, once my two daughters outgrew their childhood years; I found that most of Seuss’ more popular (sillier?) work just didn’t hold much interest for me. It also turns out that this is a very special father-daughter story in our family. Mulberry Street was part of a children’s anthology book that my wife had since her childhood. Our oldest daughter loved to be read to at bedtime, as did our second daughter as a matter of fact. So bedtime rituals included either outloud reading or making up stories. Mulberry Street from the anthology was a constant read-outloud favorite. I couldn’t estimate the number of times it was requested (Ummm, or maybe it was Dad’s choice!). Anyway, our daughters grew up with a love of reading and the oldest became a high school English teacher.
I love history and sense of place, so when my oldest daughter took a teaching position about an hour from Springfield, AND her husband has relatives in the Springfield area, you would think a simple request to get a Mulberry Street photo would be acknowledged chop-chop, wouldn’t you? After polite waiting and repeated renewal of requests, I took matters into my own hands this past weekend when my spouse and I were passing close to Springfield on a day trip. Thanks to the GPS on our Smart Phones, finding the legendary Mulberry Street was pretty easy. Nice enough street, but not exactly a friendly neighborhood. “No Parking” signs on both sides of the street, “No Trucking” and a one-way-the-other-way switch about half way up the length of the street. No matter, the wife helped with me with my anger management and we found a place to park and catch a few quick pix before heading on our way.
I’ve been to Mulberry Street! THE Mulberry Street. Cool.