A literary rabbit hole…

A literary rabbit hole…

I got a notification this afternoon that a young YouTuber in California had released a new video on the origins of the word “bamboozle”.

His name is Alex Nickel and he makes awesome videos about  “science, technology, history, and everything I find awesome about our world.” I found his channel a while back and I sponsor him with a few dollars a month on Patreon just because I think he’s very cool and I find his videos highly original, amusing, and I usually learn something from them, and I feel like his kind of enthusiasm should be supported 🙂

But I digress… in his latest video he introduced me to the Google ngram viewer, a very cool part of the Google Books project that lets you view how words and phrases have appeared over the years in a corpus of books. So of course I had to put in “Crispian” to see what results it came up with… and apart from all the obvious references in all the publications of Henry V and scholarly works about it I found an odd peak around from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s-

After a little cogitation I realized that this coincided with the publication of what (for obvious reasons) was a book I am very fond of from my childhood: “Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself” by Margaret Wise Brown (who also wrote “Goodnight Moon”), illustrated by Garth Williams (who also did the iconic Charlotte’s Web illustrations), which begins, “Once upon a time there was a funny dog named Crispin’s Crispian. He was named Crispin’s Crispian because he belonged to himself.”

From here I did a little more Googling and was then truly off down the rabbit hole- a few highlights of what I found…

Crispin’s Crispian was based on Brown’s own Kerry Blue Terrier that was given to her by her lover Michael Strange (Blanche Oelrichs), ex-wife of John Barrymore. Mister Dog’s house is based on a wooden farmhouse that Brown rented as a writing studio that was built in the early 1800s and ended up hemmed in on all sides by blocks of tenement buildings on E. 71st St. in NYC. She had to actually go through one of the buildings to get to the old farmhouse and the boy (called boy) who Mister Dog meets is based on a boy, Albert Clarke, who she would say hello to who lived in one of the tenements (and in fact she left all the royalties to her books to him- though it has not created an easy life for him).

The house, Cobble Court, has an amazing history itself- around 1965 the Archdiocese of New York (who had bought everything around it) tried to persuade the then owners to sell as they wanted to build a home for the aged. They refused to move unless they could take the house with them, so a deal was struck and on a rainy day in March 1967 the house was moved to Greenwich Village on a flatbed truck, where it is to this day at it’s new address of 121 Charles Street (though it has been threatened by developers).

I love the way a simple start can begin such a tale as you clink on link after link and each fact you find prompts another search. I could go on and on but will stop here 😉

If you are interested here are a few more websites from the myriad of open tabs along the top of my browser that I have visited this evening…
DadReads: Stories for grown-ups about stories for children
The New York Wanderer
BLOG — A funny old dog
and finally, one I already linked to above, but it’s well worth reading all 3 parts: THE HATCHING CAT True and Unusual Animal Tales of Old New York: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *