Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Johnny Appleseed Day!

Put an apple pie in the oven: March 11 is Johnny Appleseed Day. Well, actually Johnny seems to be such an American legend that he gets two days on the calendar: March 11 and September 26. The September 26 date is the anniversary of his birth in 1774 and coincides with the apple harvest in New England. The March 11 date is thought to be the anniversary of his death (although other reports have it as February 18) and coincides with the growing season. Either way, whichever date you choose to celebrate ol' Johnny incorporates both birth and death themes, satisfying those who can't decide whether the glass of apple juice is half full or half empty. 

Now, somehow growing up around Boston, I wasn't aware that Johnny Appleseed (aka, John Chapman) came from Yankee stock. Johnny (I'll eschew the New York Times style; "Mr. Appleseed" looks too weird) was born in Leominster, Massachusetts,  about 50 miles northwest of Boston. My ignorance at Johnny's local roots is certainly not Leominster's fault. Spend five minutes in the city and you'll see bushels of references to its native son.

Leominster chooses to celebrate Johnny Appleseed with a festival in September (would that make them adherents to the Apple Orthodox calendar?), but if you just can't control your excitement--or your canonical calendar celebrates his death on March 11--Appleseed pilgrims can find some sights in Leominster to visit.  

Just before reaching Leominster, drivers heading west on Route 2 will encounter the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center, which just reopened a couple weeks ago. In front, you can take your picture with a young Johnny, clad in a tricorn hat, carrying a basket of apples. Inside, the rest area sells food products from local businesses, and you can find apple cider and apple crisp to fortify yourself for your trip.

Just after the rest area, the billboard welcoming drivers on Route 2 to Leominster proclaims the city as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. (It also proclaims Leominster as the "Pioneer Plastics City." In addition to Johnny, the city was the birthplace of plastic pink flamingos, but that's a discussion for another day). Just off the highway, on Johnny Appleseed Way (naturally), you can find the spot near where Johnny was born of September 26, 1774. The site is commemorated by a granite marker and a miniature red cabin depicting what his birthplace looked like, although presumably it was a little larger. The marker actually lists Johnny's date of death as March 18, so the debate continues, I guess. 

While you may envision a young Johnny hiking across the country with an iron pot on his head, visit City Hall and you'll encounter a wooden statue of a grizzled Johnny with a walking stick in his left hand and a satchel of seed clutched in his right. The statue, with the inscription "Sowing West" is impressive, nine feet tall and weighing 800 pounds. It was carved using three chain saws from an ash tree that was severely damaged during an ice storm. How 'bout them apples?

1 comment:

John Carl Holmes said...

I attended Johnny Appleseed Junior High in Mansfield, Ohio. Folks from Mansfield, the Richland County seat, say J.A. ran to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, the Knox County seat, to alert the military that the Mansfield citizens were under attack by Native American tribesmen. Appleseed is credited with saving the people of Mansfield. Even the biggest hotel in town, "the Leland," had a huge mural depicting Appleseed's life story and saving Mansfield. [Back then--before their casinos--the Native American lobby didn't have the "pull" it has now.]