Friday, March 9, 2012

Johnny Appleseed Day Will Be Here Soon...Or Not So Soon

Rejoice, apple aficionados, for Johnny Appleseed Day approacheth soon...or maybe not for a while yet. See, some list this holiday's date as September 26th, on account of that's the birthdate, circa 1774, of one John Chapman, AKA Johnny Appleseed.

But, there are others who insist that Johnny Appleseed Day is instead celebrated on March 11th, on account of that's the date of his exit from this world. However, since his death date was never formally recorded, there is some dispute as to its accuracy, as some place his death date at March 18. Sources do agree, though, on his death year: 1845.

I say we celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day here at Bugs and Bunnies on March 11, for two reasons. One: it gives me something to write about this week. And two: the apples Johnny is said to have planted in his travels all those years ago were of the tart green variety (known as Rambo, for the inquisitive among us).

So, green apples; along with March being the month where Spring comes into its own, and all the plant shoots are coming up a lovely young green; along with March being the month of St. Patrick's Day, which is known for lots and lots of green with its shamrocks and wee folk and connection with Ireland and all...well, isn't the March date kind of a no-brainer?

It is for me, so let's begin:

Most folks know the general story of Johnny Appleseed, so how about we talk about some of the lesser-known stuff? (If you are not all that familiar with Mr. John Chapman, who literally became a legend in his own time, then clicking on any of the sources listed at the end of this article will catch you up nicely.)

Here are some interesting Johnny Appleseed tidbits I came across in my research:
  • From the time he set out on his apple-tree-planting journey, John Chapman, who was by 1806 known as "Johnny Appleseed," remained a wanderer the rest of his life. 
  • Johnny first got his apple seeds from cider mills as he passed through eastern Pennsylvania. The mills gave away the seeds for free, as they were considered leftovers from the apple crushing process. 
  • Johnny was a vegetarian, favored sleeping outdoors, and avoided towns and settlements. He wore a sackcloth or coffee sack, with cut-out holes for head, arms, and legs. He never wore shoes. Some accounts say he used a tin pot for a hat, but others say he carried the usual woodsman's tools of the time: rifle, tomahawk, knife, and the like. He had dark hair that came to his shoulders, and bright blue eyes, and a wiry frame.
  • In addition to apple trees, he planted medicinal plants, and traded them with the Native Americans he met in his travels.
  • Despite Johnny's unorthodox-for-a-settler ways - he was described in most accounts of the time as "eccentric" - he was welcomed into homes wherever he went, and people were pleased to see him.
  •  He planted over 100,000 square miles of apple nurseries, some of which are well-documented and still exist. 

And here are some interesting tidbits about the apples themselves, or rather, their image at one time and subsequent rebranding. According to The Straight Dope:
  • In the 1700's and 1800's, most apples were grown in order to make hard cider. The process of making the cider resulted in a drink roughly half the strength of wine, but it could be made stronger with a few tweaks.
  • Then in the early 1900's came the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition movement, and the growing influence of each caused apple growers to fear a dip in sales. So, they changed promotional tactics.
  • Using the late 1800's adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" as their new ad slogan, apple growers successfully changed public perception of the apple from alcoholic drink ingredient to healthy and wholesome food choice.
* * *
Whether you celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day on March 11th, or whether you wait until September 26th, make sure you go easy on the cider, or you may end up like the little guy below (though he seems not to realize he's only partaking of the non-alcoholic version):


Johnny Appleseed Day - 
Johnny Appleseed - Apple
Johnny Appleseed - 
What's the Story with Johnny Appleseed - The Straight

Children's Book:
The Real Johnny Appleseed, by Laurie Lawlor; wood engravings by Mary Thompson. Published by Albert Whitman and Company, 1995. Ages 9 and up.
ISBN: 0-8075-6909-7