Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The True Geisel Family History

The history of Theodor Geisel or Dr. Seuss as he is more famously known is not unlike his art, an unexpected trip down a path that is not always linear, but full of unexpected twists and turns. The two biographies used to do research for this blog on Dr. Seuss contradict each other. In “The Seuss the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss” the author Charles D. Cohen tells the audience that Dr. Seuss’s great-great-great-grandparents married in Germany and then immigrated to America. (12) But in “The life and Work of Theodor Geisel” by Thomas Fensch it says the grandparents, both German immigrants, met and married in Springfield Massachusetts. (26) It may seem irrelevant and yet I think it is completely relevant and even telling to find out that even the biography’s of Theodor Seuss Geisel are contradictory. In all of the interviews that I have read in my search to know Dr. Seuss better, I have noticed a tendency by him to never give a straight answer when asked about his inspiration. He was asked repeatedly how he came up with the idea for “Horton Hears a Who”, and he never gave the same story twice. He would give a slightly different variation. Dr. Seuss loved to make up fake names and stories to lead the journalist down a road of his own imagination. It is fitting to find out that this complicated man would not allow a boring biography. He was not going to just give you a straight answer. And you cannot take anything you read at first glance for fact. You have to dig deeper, and take all the facts, lay them out and try to make a linear story. Even posthumously Dr. Seuss is making his audience use their imagination to find the truth.

To really know the man Theodor Seuss Geisel it helps to look at the history of the Geisel family. The story is an interesting one that can be traced all the way back to Germany in the 1600’s. The author of the book “The Seuss the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss”, Charles Cohen, says that Geisel’s distant grandparents came from the German territory of Baden, along the Enz River, in the town of Mülhausen. Joseph Geissel married Catharina Loth in 1650. Three generations later in Mülhausen, Gebhard Geisel decided to drop an “s” from his last name, and so the Geisel family had a new name. Shortly thereafter Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s paternal grandfather) married Christine Schmaelze and brought the Geisel family name from Germany to America. In 1876 Dr. Seuss’s grandfather made a career change, he had been a jeweler, but he and another man, an apprentice brewer named Christian Kalmbach purchased a brewing plant along Boston Road in Springfield, Massachusetts. The plant had a 1000-barrel-per year capacity; by 1884 the brewery had a capacity of 40,000 barrels per year. (12-13) The name of the brewery was the Kalmbach & Geisel Springfield Brewery Company. Per the author of the book “The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel” the brewery was known as the comeback and guzzle around town. (33) Geisel’s father had been working his way up the family business for 35 years, and was made the president of the entire company in January of 1920, but “Unfortunately, Prohibition began almost immediately afterward when, on January 16, 1920, the 18th Amendment became effective, prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors”(15). The Geisel family would have to find a new way to live. But prohibition was only one obstacle of many that the Geisel family would have to overcome in the coming century. The history of Geisel family shaped the man that would become the future Dr. Seuss.

Work Cited:

Cohen, Charles D. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss. New York. RandomHouse. 2004.
Fensch, Thomas. The Man Who Was Dr.Seuss. The Woodlands. New Century Books. 2000.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Beginning

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 to parent’s of German descent and grew up in Springfield Massachusetts. His childhood seems like the all American dream. Theodor Geisel went to high school in Springfield, and Myra Kibler says in her critical essay entitled “Theodor Seuss Geisel” that Geisel was told by his art teacher that “he would never learn to draw realistically, and whether due to inability or refusal, he never has.”(Kibler) Geisel went to Dartmouth, and became the editor of the humor magazine “Jack-o-Lantern” and he also contributed hundreds of cartoons in his usual bizarre style. After his graduation from Dartmouth author Kibler says that Geisel continued a “happy relationship” with them, and they awarded him with an actual “honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.” (Kibler) Dr. Seuss really was a doctor!

Theodor Geisel’s intention had been to become an English Professor but he was frustrated, and a fellow student told him after seeing him doodle in class that he should follow his real talent. This student turned out to be his future wife Helen Palmer. Theodor Geisel and Helen Palmer were united in marriage on November 29, 1927. They were married until Helen died in 1967. She was his chief advisor and manager. A year after Helen’s death he married Audrey Stone Dimond. (Kibler)

Before Theodor Seuss Geisel was an illustrator and writer of children’s books he was a “successful advertising artist and--for just under two years--a political cartoonist. (Nel) “In 1940 Dr. Seuss was best known for his “Quick Henry, the Flit!” advertising campaign” he was just beginning his career as a children’s book writer. Up till this time he had only done four children’s books. Geisel had serious concerns about the world war and was worried that because we were being drawn into the conflict, we were in a position of “isolationism” (Nel) and that America was vulnerable to attack, because of his frustration he sent a cartoon that he drew featuring a key member of the Mussolini cabinet to the “independent New York newspaper PM” (Nel). They ran the cartoon and the accompanying letter on January 30, 1941.
“During the war, and especially during his stint as
a cartoonist for the left-leaning daily paper PM, Seuss not only grew more
interested in social issues but also wanted to make his readers care about these
issues, too.” (Nel)

Dr. Seuss taught the children of America to read, but as Theodor Seuss Geisel he wanted to reach their parents and make them think about what was going on in their country and their world. He was an accomplished artist, who used his unique talents to touch so many American lives.

Kibler, Myra. "Theodor Seuss Geisel." American Writers for Children Since 1960: Poets, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors. Ed. Glenn E. Estes. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 61. Detroit: Gale Research, 1987. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Tarrant County College. 12 Nov. 2009. .

Nel, Philip. "'Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz...': How World War II Created Dr. Seuss." Mosaic (Winnipeg). 34.2 (June 2001): p65. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Tarrant County College. 12 Nov. 2009 .

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I love books!

I learned to read when I was only three years old. My great grandmother taught me to read using Dr. Seuss books. I lived with my great grandparents from the time I was born until I was seven years old. My great grandparents were both in their late sixties by the time I was born and my great grandfather worked a full time job in a rubber factory and my great grandmother had severe debilitating lupus. Taking care of a wild and rambunctious three year old was exhausting for her, but my great grandmother loved me dearly and wanted to make me happy so she looked for things that she and I could do together that were not physically hard on her. One thing that she could do for me was read. Since going to the library was out of the question she signed me up for the Dr. Seuss book of the month club. I got so excited when a new book came in the mail! I made her read the books to me over and over. I would beg and plead with her to “please read to me”. Because of the repetitious reading I memorized the words in the book, and that is how I learned to “read”. Of course at the age of three I was not reading, I was simply using the sing song style of the book in order to memorize the words. My great grandmother was so proud of me, and she would bore anyone who came to our door with her amazing “reading” grandchild. I went to live with my young single mother when I was seven years old and life was not easy for either of us. My mom could barely take care of herself much less a small needy child. Because of this I had a very lonely childhood. My mom worked full time and I was the strange kid in class, so I didn’t have a lot of playmates. My love of books helped me to survive an almost unimaginably lonely childhood. I was never lonely because I always had a book to keep my company. I got to have exciting adventures with Huck Finn and later I would scare myself with Stephen King, but I was never alone. I got to know the librarians personally at every grade school that I ever attended. And in middle school I worked as an assistant to the librarian. My great grandmother died when I was only twenty two years old, and I still miss her every single day, but she gave me the best gift any one has ever given me, a lifelong love of books. The illiteracy rates in this country are staggering. To imagine that a life could be changed with just simple children’s book is an amazing thing. Because of my great grandmother and Dr. Seuss a whole world of opportunities were opened up to me. Reading can change lives, and I am proof of that.