Thornton W. Burgess (1874
Burgess, naturalist and conservationist, loved the beauty of
nature and its living creature so much that he wrote about them
for 50 years. By the time he retired, he had written more than
170 books and 15,000 stories for daily columns in newspapers.
Many of his outdoor observations in nature were used as plots for his
stories. In his first book, Old
Mother West Wind, published in 1910, the reader meets many
of the characters found in later books and stories. These characters
include Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, Bobby Raccoon, Joe Otter,
Grandfather Frog, Billy Mink, Jerry Muskrat, Spotty the Turtle and of
course, Old Mother West Wind and her Merry Little Breezes.
For the next fifty
years, Burgess steadily wrote books that were published around the world
in many languages, including Swedish, French, German, Spanish, Italian,
and Gaelic. Collaborating with him was his illustrator and friend,
Harrison Cady of New York and Rockport, Massachusetts. Cady gave us the
familiar form of Peter Rabbit and other animal characters that we
Burgess was also actively involved with conservation efforts. Some of
his projects over his lifetime included:
1."The Green Meadow Club" for land conservation programs.
2.Help pass laws protecting migrant wildlife.
3."The Bedtime Stories Club" for wildlife protection programs.
4."Happy Jack Squirrel Saving Club" for War Savings Stamps & Bonds.
5."The Radio Nature League" broadcast from WBZA Springfield, MA.
For his efforts, an
Honorary Literary Degree was bestowed upon Burgess in 1938 from
Northeastern University. The Boston Museum of Science awarded him
a special gold medal for "leading children down the path to the wide
wonderful world of the outdoors." He was also awarded the distinguished
Service Medal of the Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund.
In 1960, Burgess
published his last book, Now I
Remember, an autobiography depicting memories of his early
life in Sandwich, as well as his career highlights. That same year,
Burgess at the age of 83, had published his 15,000th story. From 1912 to
1960, without interruption, Burgess wrote a syndicated daily newspaper
column titled "Bedtime Stories".
Thornton Waldo Burgess is the son of Caroline F. Haywood and Thornton W.
Burgess Sr. a direct descendent of Thomas Burgess. (one of the first
settlers of Sandwich, Massachusetts in 1637.) He was born in Sandwich on
January 14, 1874 and died June 5, 1965, at the age of 91.
Burgess was brought up by his mother in Sandwich after his father died
in the year of his birth. They both lived in humble circumstances with
relatives or paying rent. As a youth he worked year round in order to
earn money. Some of his jobs included tending cows, picking arbutus or
berries, shipping water lilies from local ponds, selling candy and
trapping muskrats. William C. Chipman, one of his employers, lived on
Discovery Hill Road a wildlife habitat of woodland and wetland. This
habitat became the setting of so many of his stories in which he refers
to Smiling Pool and the Old Briar Patch. Graduating from Sandwich High
School in 1891, Burgess attended a Business College in Boston from
1892-93. At the age of 17 Burgess briefly lived in Boston and then moved
to Springfield, Massachusetts. He bought a place in Hampden,
Massachusetts in 1925 and made it his permanent home in 1957. Returning
frequently to Sandwich, Burgess claimed that to be his birth place and
spiritual home. After his death the Massachusetts Audubon Society
purchased his Hampden home and established the Laughing Brook Nature
Center at that location. Many of his childhood experiences and the
people he knew influenced his interest and concern for wildlife.
The Thornton W.
Burgess Society was incorporated in 1976 "to inspire reverence for
wildlife and a concern for the natural environment." It is a
continuation of the influence Burgess had with youth through his
delightful stories. Arabella Burgess's home became the Burgess Museum on
Water Street in Sandwich. Later in 1979, the Green Briar Jam Kitchen on
Discovery Hill Road was purchased and has become a Nature Center as
well. At the Nature Center, classes and programs are planned which
implement the philosophy of
Thornton Waldo Burgess.