I don’t know how popular the Uncle Wiggily books are these days. Uncle Wiggily Longears is the main character of a series of children’s stories by the very prolific American author Howard R. Garis. He is an interesting elderly rabbit who has rheumatism and uses his red, white, and blue crutch walking cane that looks like an old-fashioned barber-pole or a peppermint candy stick.
Garis began writing the stories for the Newark News in 1910 and he wrote an Uncle Wiggily story every day (except Sundays) for more than 30 years. That’s a lot of stories.
I know I read many times the Little Golden Book version of Uncle Wiggily and probably a few others. Although growing up, we did read the Newark News as our daily paper, I don’t recall the stories. maybe by the time I was reading the paper I was done reading Uncle Wiggily. (Though I read the comics for a long time past childhood.)
I never knew until I did some research this week that, according to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, a walk in the woods in Verona, New Jersey was his inspiration for Uncle Wiggily. Being that those woods are just next door to Paradelle, I think that I have probably walked those same woods and I have certainly seen some relatives of Uncle Wiggily.
Garis wrote many books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a publisher that specialized in series and used many authors under various pseudonyms. They were best known for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Garis wrote as Victor Appleton, he wrote about the inventing Tom Swift. He wrote as Laura Lee Hope some of the Bobbsey Twins books, as Clarence Young for the Motor Boys series and as Marion Davidson for some books about the Camp Fire Girls.
Garis parted ways with the Syndicate in 1933 after several disagreements, but he published many books about Uncle Wiggily. Some of those are out of print and in the public domain and I found a good number in the Project Gutenberg Library online where you can read and download them. That is where I found Uncle Wiggily in Wonderland. I also found books by Garis that I never read, such as The Curlytops at Silver Lake, whose titles suggest local settings. I know nearby Silver Lake pretty well.
The Uncle Wiggily game is a track board game based characters from the series. The game is of the “racing” variety and said to be in the style of the European “Goose Game.” Players advance along the track from Uncle Wiggily’s Bungalow to Dr. Possum’s House. This is not a strategy game and moving is based on a random drawing of the cards. The game was first published by Milton Bradley in 1916 and has seen several editions with minor modifications over the years. Uncle Wiggily remains a pretty popular childhood game along with Candy Land.
I didn’t think about Uncle Wiggily again after elementary school until I read in high school “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” a short story by J. D. Salinger, which appears in his collection Nine Stories.
The main character of that story, Eloise, recalls a time when she and her boyfriend Walt were running to catch a bus, and she sprained her ankle. Walt comforted her by saying “Poor Uncle Wiggily.” Now, unhappily married to someone else, she goes to her daughter Ramona’s bedroom. (Ramona and Eloise are names that recall characters in other childhood books I read.) She sees that her sleeping child in on the corner of the bed having left room for room for her imaginary friend, “Mickey Mickeranno.” This childhood fantasy really annoys the mother and she drags her to the middle of the bed and tells her she must sleep there. She quickly regrets that and tucks Ramona into her covers and leaves crying and repeating to herself “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”
Trivia: This story was made into the film My Foolish Heart (1949), though the film has very little to do with the story. It is the only authorized adaptation of a Salinger story and he hated it and vowed to never let his work be used for film or television again.