James Whitcomb Riley
Known as the “Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley left an indelible mark amid the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. Renowned largely for his children’s poems, Riley’s most famous works — “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man” — served as the inspiration behind the Broadway musical Annie and the Raggedy Ann books and dolls, among many other works of entertainment.
One of the first local newspapers to take interest in Riley’s poetry was The Indianapolis Journal. Because of the poems published in that paper, The Anderson Democrat offered Riley a job as a reporter. His success almost grinded to a halt when he tried to pass off one of his poems as a long-long piece by Edgar Allan Poe. But things picked back up for him when he joined a traveling lecture circuit and started performing poetry across the Midwest. He went on to perform nationwide and for each succeeding president for over 25 years. Riley entranced audiences with Hoosier vernacular and imagery.
By the 1890s, Riley was growing critically and commercially successful with his writing and reading tours. His book, Rhymes of Childhood, became a best-seller, and people started calling him “The Children’s Poet.” Although he received many professional offers to move outside of Indiana, he stayed close to his Hoosier roots, which inspired his writing. He died from a stroke in his Lockerbie Street home on July 22, 1916. Before his funeral, he lied in the Indiana Statehouse, where more than 35,000 people came to pay their respects. One of his enduring legacies is the founding of the Riley Hospital for Children, a memorial to the children’s poet that has helped countless young Hoosiers.