Monday, October 26, 2015

Jonn* + Johnn* (for Johnn* or Jonn*)

You may have gone apple picking this autumn, or had a bite of homemade apple pie or a sip of seasonal cider, or dunked for apples if you're a kid, or perhaps (or even mayhaps if you're a hipster) tasted your first, or last, appletini. If so, you might like knowing that today is the birthday of Jonathan Chapman, affectionately known as Johnny Appleseed. Unfortunately, though, it's not. His birthday was actually September 26, which I wrongly searched in Wikipedia, proving, I guess, how reluctant I am to see the sad waning of summer and the rapid approach of winter. In any case, apples are good all year round, and Chapman himself, who was born in Leominster, Mass., in 1774, seemed to have precious little regard for the weather, except for how it affected his beloved apple trees. Often pictured in tatters and without shoes, he had once heard an itinerant preacher exhorting his flock to eschew extravagances such as calico and imported tea. The preacher cried: "Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?" Chapman grew tired of the pious excoriation and finally walked up to him, stuck his foot up on the stump that was serving as a podium, and told him: "Here's your primitive Christian!" Nonplussed, the man hastily ended the sermon and dismissed the congregation. Our peripatetic wag could have probably afforded the "extravagance" of proper footwear, but surely just wanted to get as close to his roots, so to speak, as possible. He did have some unusual religious views of his own, however. He was a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian), and one theory as to why he never married was that he was holding out for two wives in heaven as reward for a lifetime of abstinence! Nevertheless, "Johnny Appleseed" soon became known and loved worldwide, and references to him in popular culture are far too numerous to mention. Michael Pollan, in Botany of Desire, points out that Chapman was opposed to grafting, and that his apple varieties were basically inedible and could only be used for cider. "Really," he tells us, "what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus." So cheers and a happy belated birthday, Johnny! There were 66 cases of this combination typo in OhioLINK, and 923 in WorldCat.

(Drawing of Jonathan Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, from A History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland County, by H. S. Knapp, 1862, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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