The poet's house was saved for the children
Faithful to little Boy Blue they stand, Each in the same old place.
My place is different, but I have been faithful to little Boy Blue, too, since my early childhood.
Eugene Field, who was predominantly a newspaperman, was also called the poet laureate for children. He wrote ``Little Boy Blue'' in April 1888, about a month before my father was born. My father's father, John Wood-man, found the poem in a Boston newspaper before it became famous and he liked it so much that he set it to music. It was in January 1895, shortly before Mr. Field passed on, that my grandfather obtained by letter Field's permission to publish the finished song, whose familiar lines begin: The little toy dog is covered with dust, But sturdy and staunch he stands.
Eugene Field has always been an important person to me. I am a native and almost lifetime resident of Denver, and although he lived in our city only about two years (1881-1883) there are several memorials to him here.
The first park memorial in the country was a marble statue commemorating the poem ``Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.'' It was sculpted by Mabel L. Torrey and placed in Washington Park in 1919. I grew up a block and a half from that statue, and when I was little, my mother would walk me to the park to see it.
When I was old enough to understand, she took on our walk a book with the poem in it and read it to me. As I looked again at the sculpture, I loved all the children. Sailing in the wooden shoe, Wynken was holding Blynken's chin while he was blinking hard, and Nod had fallen fast asleep. It became my favorite bedtime poem.
In 1930, when I was in fifth grade, Denver engaged in a publicized project, the moving of the small house Field had lived in from its location at 315 West Colfax Ave. to Washington Park, where it was to be used as a library. It was placed just a hop, skip, and jump from the statue of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, and as a library it handled books especially for children and homemaking mothers. Since Steele School was the closest grade school to the new library, our teachers, in their fashion, spent considerable time telling us about the author and his poems, and preaching to us on how fortunate we were to be so close to this unique neighborhood library.
We were not informed of any conflict that had arisen about the move. Mrs. J. J. Brown, well known as ``the unsink-able Molly Brown,'' had decided in 1927 to rent and preserve the poet's home on West Colfax Avenue.
``Gene never failed me,'' she said. ``The first money I ever made was when the miners rolled silver dollars on the stage when I recited Field's poems at Leadville . . . I recited his poems in New York when 2,000 assembled in the Waldorf Astoria to greet me when I came up from the Titanic disaster.''
Molly Brown bought the Field house when the land was wanted for an apartment building and gave the house to the city of Denver in 1930 to be moved to a park. It still had two bullet holes from the time it was struck in the 1922 Denver mint robbery.
Thinking of the house as a furnished family home, Mrs. Brown was in Paris when she heard about the new library development and said, ``You see we are such utilitarians at home that in spite of all our space, all our wealth, we must utilize one of our greatest poet's homes as a library. They would paint it up -- put frescoes of nursery scenes on the walls, poems on the ceiling oh, mais ,ca d'epasse tout! It was not a Lapin agile I gave to the city of Denver.''
As one of the first children who walked into the relocated building, I don't remember any poems on the ceilings, but I do remember that the walls were filled with books. The Eugene Field house was a very used neighborhood library for 40 years, so used, in fact, that the building of a new, larger, more adequate structure was very welcome to the residents of south Denver.
When the library left Washington Park for its new building on South University Boulevard, the old Field home was taken over by the Parks and Recreation Foundation, Inc., also known as the Park People. They raise money for park needs and improvements, and the house is still used for meetings and executive gatherings. It is in much better condition than when the library left it; Molly Brown would probably like the different atmosphere with carpet and period furniture included.
In 1943 the St. Joseph, Mo., Women's Club sponsored a statue of ``Little Boy Blue'' as a memorial to Eugene Field. A French-born artist, Olga Chaissang, created a stone statue of a crouched, tousle-headed little boy playing with his toys. The piece of art was installed with sentimental ceremony and is still in the St. Joseph Central Public Library.
In the ceremony the poem was sung (Field-Nevin), and I regret that I have never heard the Nevin music. However, I grew up singing the beautiful music written by my grandfather, John Wood-man, to ``Little Boy Blue,'' and I am convinced that Eugene Field has been rightly called the children's poet laureate.