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Raggedy Ann and her younger brother, Raggedy Andy, are the world's best known, and most loved rag dolls. Because of the whimsical, magical stories that were inspired by these dolls, several touching legends have circulated about their creation. The real story begins in Indiana, at the turn of the last century. Young Johnny Gruelle, son of a landscape and portrait artist, grew up in the company his parents' literary and artistic friends, including James Whitcomb Riley, "The Hoosier Poet". Johnny became a storyteller and cartoonist, penning political cartoons for several Midwestern newspapers. Eventually, Johnny moved his family to the East coast, where he developed a weekly cartoon for the New York Herald, and accepted commissions for book illustrations.
According to his wife, Myrtle, Johnny went to the attic to look for something, and found the old, tattered rag doll that his mother had made for his sister. He brought it downstairs with him, telling his wife that it might make a good story. He put the doll away, and didn't think of it again until some years later, when his own daughter, Marcella, had been born. Often, Johnny used Marcella's games and playthings as inspiration for his stories. When he did pull out the doll, her simple, homespun design and slightly bedraggled appearance reminded him of two of the poems of his boyhood hero, James Whitcomb Riley. "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphan Annie" combined to give her the name Raggedy Ann.
The stories that she inspired are full of whimsy and magic, where animals talk, and come-to-life toys teach trustworthiness, kindness and bravery. Gruelle gave the human heroine of his stories the name of his daughter, Marcella, who finds the doll in the attic, and takes it to her Grandmother to be repaired. As Johnny Gruelle was negotiating with childrens' publishers to bring the stories to the children of the world, Marcella died, from an infection at the age of 13. Her tragic death and her inspiration for her father's stories caused many touching legends to grow up around the stories of these beloved rag dolls and how they originated.
Raggedy Ann and Andy became part of literary history by Christmas of 1918, and Johnny Gruelle and his family produced handmade replicas of the original doll to be sold with the books. In the books, Ann possesses a candy heart, which is far stronger and survives more tests than one would expect a confection to withstand. Legend has it that the original dolls made by the Gruelle family each had a candy heart sewn into it's cloth body. None of these dolls has ever surfaced as proof that this charming story is actual history, but it has certainly added to the feeling of whimsy and magic surrounding these well-loved classics.
View one of the original Raggedy Ann & Andy cartoons here!
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