Dr. Seuss Museum Provides Glimpse Into Life Of Beloved Author
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Dr. Seuss, the best-selling children's author in the world, finally has his own museum curated in part by his own children. Theodor Seuss Geisel died in 1991. Now his hometown of Springfield, Mass., is letting visitors learn about the life of the man who wrote the stories. Charlene Scott of New England Public Radio has more.
CHARLENE SCOTT, BYLINE: Dr. Seuss' new home is in what used to be the Connecticut Valley Historical Society.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Oh, that's cool.
SCOTT: Inside, the walls are alive with the colors and characters that filled his pages. "Horton The Elephant" studies the Who sitting on his trunk. "The Cat In The Hat" balances a number of objects on his paws and tail. And rushing down the stairs with a plate of green eggs and ham is "Sam-I-Am."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.
SCOTT: In Seuss's boyhood bedroom which has been recreated, children can draw on a touchscreen, mimicking artwork done on the walls by the young Seuss and his sister Marnie.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Wait. Hold on. We need the tail. I see that.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You need the tail.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Yeah.
SCOTT: John Simpson designed the exhibition and created the murals and wall drawings.
JOHN SIMPSON: We tried to show how these little family experiences contributed to his imagination - so his relationship with his sister Marnie and then his relationship with his mother with the bakery which is downtown here and then with his father fishing at McElligot's Pool.
SCOTT: Family played a major role in the creation of the new museum starting in 2002 with a memorial sculpture garden full of favorite Seuss characters. The author's stepdaughter, sculptor Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, says she and her husband spent six and a half years working on the garden, so she says she was not happy with the public reaction on opening day.
LARK GREY DIMOND-CATES: I stood there, and I watched children and adults road test the hell out of that memorial. They were pulling on posies. They were climbing up on "Horton's" head, swinging from the fork in "Green Eggs And Ham." But all these years later, the memorial has survived all of that love and attention. It looks pretty good.
SCOTT: Kids are still crawling all over the statues. Cates and her sister have made significant contributions to the new museum. Lea Grey Dimond says she just about emptied out her own house in order to recreate the rooms where her stepfather spent most of his time.
LEA GREY DIMOND: This is his chair. He would lean back in the chair, and he would look at what he was doing. The room was lined with bulletin boards. And he would pace out the book on pale yellow paper, and he would work the room over and over. And then he'd kick back in his chair with his feet up, and then he would throw the chair forward. His hair would come forward, and he'd be working at the desk.
SCOTT: Until 5 p.m., when Dimond says her stepfather would have a gin and tonic complete with a kumquat from the yard. The two stepdaughters have also contributed drawings, photographs and personal notes that have never been seen by the public.
DIMOND: He would drop little notes on your bed or put them in your coat pocket.
SCOTT: Ted Geisel began his artistic career as an illustrator and cartoonist. During World War II, he published some anti-Japanese cartoons which are not on display here. That's drawn fire from critics who say the museum has a responsibility to tell the whole story. But Dimond points out her stepfather eventually renounced the cartoons.
DIMOND: Of course he evolved and changed. I'm very careful not to put words in his mouth, but the man I knew did not have any type of racism or prejudice. We never heard any type of talk ever.
SCOTT: But Dimond says the family did hear his opinions about social and political issues, which he often included in his books. "Yertle The Turtle" is an allegory about Hitler. "The Lorax" focuses on the environment.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LORAX")
BOB HOLT: (As The Lorax) Mister...
EDDIE ALBERT: (As Narrator) He said with a sawdusty sneeze.
HOLT: (As The Lorax) I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
SCOTT: In addition to selling more than 6 million books, Dr. Seuss saw his work produced on television, in feature films and on Broadway. Now 16 years after his death, he has his own museum, and Dimond says he would have loved it.
DIMOND: He would be absolutely at ease here. And to know that he's going to be here permanently, safe, protected, it's perfect.
SCOTT: Or, as Dr. Seuss might have said...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: That is super stupendous, stumendous (ph), sturoarus (ph).
SCOTT: For NPR News, I'm Charlene Scott in Springfield, Mass.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly say that the Dr. Seuss museum is opening 16 years after his death. It's actually 26 years.]
(SOUNDBITE OF LES POMMES DE MA DOUCHE SONG "TROMPETTES DE LAS RENOMMEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.