5 September 2010

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) in Greensboro, North Carolina: Southern Literary Tour, Part Two: #13

At Bellemeade and Elm, downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, is an area set aside for a stone display in tribute to the short story writer O. Henry, or William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), who moved with his parents to Greensboro when he was nine years old. To say the least, his short life was colorful, involving working in a drug store at an early age, moving to a farm in Texas, then to a bank, fleeing to Honduras after being charged with embezzlement, only to return and spend two years in prison for the offence, and then to incorporate his adventures into his stories, and to die poor In New York City.

The stone book represents two stories by O. Henry (who adopted his pseudonym after one of his prison guards, an Orrin Henry): 'The Gift of the Magi' and 'The Ransom of Red Chief'. The above illustration is of the former story, in which the wife sells her beautiful hair to buy her husband a Christmas present: a fob chain for his highly prized heirloom watch; but her husband has bought her an expensive comb for her long hair by selling his watch. O. Henry was a master of irony.

The righthand side of the sculpture shows the initial words of 'The Ransom of Red Chief', in which two bungling kidnappers make off with a young boy with the intention of earning $2000 ransom money. The scheme backfires because the boy is far too much of a handful for them, and the story ends with the pair selling him back to his father. The statue shows a young boy popping out of pages as if to illustrate the impossibility of tying him down.

O. Henry as an adult.

A representation of O. Henry's dog Lovely.

In the grounds of the Greensboro Historical Museum is a statue of the young O. Henry.

Surrounded by large numbers of common buckeye butterflies, the setting was quite idyllic.

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