Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Trooly Grate Skool in the Sitty of Cleaveland

Here's a picture of me standing in front of Artemus Ward Elementary School on the west side of Cleveland.

This is the only school I've ever heard of named after a fictional character. Artemus Ward was a sort of 19th-century version of Larry the Cable Guy. He was the creation of Charles Farrar Browne, a humorist who wrote for the Plain Dealer in the 1850s and later became a very popular lecturer. Browne's Wikipedia page says Artemus Ward was simply Browne's pen name, but I disagree. A pen name is simply a substitute name, like Mark Twain, that a writer takes on no matter what he is writing. In contrast, Artemus Ward was a full-blown character who had a vivid fictitious life and generally starred in his own anecdotes.

Browne's writings  are so far out of copyright you can read them in their entirety for free online. Here is a favorite of mine (and a favorite of Abraham Lincoln's):

High-Handed Outrage at Utica
In the Faul of 1856, I showed my show in Uticky, a trooly grate sitty in the State of New York.

The people gave me a cordyal recepshun. The press was loud in her prases.

1 day as I was givin a descripshun of my Beests and Snaiks in my usual flowry stile what was my skorn disgust to see a big burly feller walk up to the cage containin my wax figgers of the Lord’s Last Supper, and cease Judas Iscarrot by the feet and drag him out on the ground. He then commenced fur to pound him as hard as he cood.

“What under the son are you abowt?” cried I.

Sez he, “What did you bring this pussylanermus cuss here fur?” and he hit the wax figger another tremenjis blow on the hed.

Sez I, “You egrejus ass, that air’s a wax figger–a representashun of the false ‘Postle.”

Sez he, “That’s all very well fur you to say, but I tell you, old man, that Judas Iscarrot can’t show hisself in Utiky with impunerty by a darn site!” with which observashun he kaved in Judassis hed. The young man belonged to 1 of the first famerlies in Utiky. I sood him, and the Joory brawt in a verdick of Arson in the 3d degree.

This guy says he doesn't think Outrage at Utica is funny and suspects it's because he doesn't understand the social context it was written in. Well, neither do I, but I think it's hilarious. I also don't understand the social context of the Philosophers' Soccer Match in Monty Python (for a long time I thought Franz Beckenbauer was a philosopher) but it's still funny. De gustibus non est disputandum, I guess.

By the way, this photo was taken on a trip from my home in upstate New York to Cleveland. That trip always reminds me of Artemus Ward because I pass Utica, and Browne wrote his Artemus Ward stories from Cleveland.

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