Thursday, September 30, 2021


As October comes around the corner, the world having passed the Autumnal Equinox and, more traditionally, Michelmas, many people's fancies turn to spooks.  

Call me old-fashioned, but one of my all time favorites for capturing that feeling of pre-modernist American sensitivities at this time of year is from that rascally Hoosier laureate, James Whitcomb Riley.  His poem Little Orphant Annie was one of the first poems I remember reading outside the slap happy sing song rhyme poems that are aimed at kids.  

I don't know why this always evoked.  Something about it made me think of a simpler time, though never an easier one.  A time when people entertained - each other.  When sitting around a kitchen hearth or a lamp lit living room and telling stories and listening to someone sing was the entertainment of most days. 

Today, we fork out a surprising percentage of our annual incomes in order to make filthy rich a slew of far away celebrities who neither know us or who, increasingly, don't seem to care.  They plaster digital imagery on a screen and invest a few months of effort so that we can be more sophisticated than those simple people who would have enjoyed such Hoosier fare in the day.  

But those simple folks back in the day got such fare, as often as not, for free.  A tale, a poem, a reading from someone educated was as good as a blockbuster today.  Heck, they may have been a bit frightened by Ms. Annie's tales.  If they were, then they were a far sight sharper than we are, who spend most of the time being frightened by the threats we've made for ourselves and not nearly enough with those real threats that exist beyond this mortal realm.  

Anyhoo, here's the poem in all its Midwestern glory: 

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
             Ef you

Onc't they was a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wasn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an' roundabout--
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever'one, an' all her blood an' kin;
An' onc't, when they was "company," an' ole folks was there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parents, an' yer teachers fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you

For a bonus, here is a link to an early silent film based on the poem.  It's a strange brew, as many early attempts to harness the new technology of film tended to be.  The above image is from the meat of the film, and I must say it's as unnerving as many images coming from the Hollywood dream factory are today. 


  1. I need to read this poem to my youngest, who is a fan of spooky things - he's made his own superhero, Mr. Skeleton, complete with red cape. You and he would probably get along well. ;)

    I'm not a big fan of Halloween myself - we do let our kids trick-or-treat and carve or paint pumpkins - but something about October makes me gravitate towards some spookier reading. I think I might re-listen to Wuthering Heights this year, as it's been almost 20 years, and it's one of my husband's favorite novels.

    1. Wuthering Heights is one of my wife's favorites, and I'm glad she pointed me toward the direction. I was always a fan of 19th Century English literature, but had never read that. As those who have followed me for some time know, I'm quite the fan of Halloween and everything Fall. Wuthering Heights easily fit into the feel of the season.


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