Fact...or Fiction?

Dr. Seuss at a press conference in Springfield in 1986.
Dr. Seuss at a press conference in Springfield in 1986.
Photo from the archives of the Wood Museum of Springfield History.

Do you think you know Dr. Seuss? Test yourself with some frequently asked Seuss trivia questions!

Ted’s pen name, Dr. Seuss, was based on his German middle name.

Fact!

It was also his mother’s maiden last name. The Seuss family was well known and respected in the German community for their excellent bakery. This German family name was actually pronounced \\ Zoice \\, which rhymes with “voice,” but Ted accepted the more phonetic pronunciation of \\ Soose \\, which rhymes with “juice,” for his author name. Ted first started to sign his writing and drawing using his middle initial when he was a student at Central High School in Springfield. It was only after he left Oxford University (without a degree) that he decided to add the honorary title of Dr. before the name Seuss.

The Cat in the Hat was Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book.

Fiction!

Although The Cat in the Hat may be one of Dr. Seuss’s most popular stories, it was actually his 15th published children’s book, printed in 1957. The first was And To Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which in all likelihood was inspired byTed’s childhood memories of Springfield. It was published in 1937 after 27 other publishers had rejected it. When the book was first sold in stores, Springfield citizens queued outside the popular Johnson’s Book Store to discover if it was a gossip story about residents of the city. Much to their relief, it was not. One citizen told a reporter of The Springfield Union that the book would make their street famous, and its legacy as the first children’s book by Dr. Seuss has certainly done that!

Mulberry Street signDid Dr. Seuss Live on Mulberry Street?

Dr. Seuss lived on Mulberry Street in Springfield, MA.

Fiction!

It is commonly believed that Theodor Geisel lived on the famous Mulberry Street that he wrote his first children’s book about. Although he frequently traveled this real road in Springfield to get to school, he never lived there! Ted was born on Howard Street in Springfield’s South End, where his mother’s parents had a house and bakery in the city. Two years later, the growing Geisel family moved into a three story house in the Forest Park neighborhood of Springfield. Ted lived there, at 74 Fairfield Street, with his parents and older sister until he left Springfield to go to Dartmouth College in 1921. He returned home during holiday and summer breaks, and even lived in the family house for half a year in 1927 after studying at Oxford University and traveling abroad in Europe. Ten years later, Dr. Seuss published his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

Mulberry Street crosses Bliss Street in Springfield, MA.

Fiction!

Mulberry Street does not intersect Bliss Street in Springfield, as is depicted in Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. However, both are real roads in Springfield that Ted would have known and traveled during his childhood. Bliss Street is located in Springfield’s South End, just one block away from his grandparents’ bakery on Howard Street. The famous Mulberry Street is not far from where Ted attended Central High School (later renamed Classical High). It is not known why Ted decided to have these two roads intersect in his story, but the small detail is a playful inside joke for those who are familiar with Springfield. Perhaps he selected Bliss Street because it worked best in the rhyme, or because of the concept of bliss, or because it was the name of a prominent local family in Springfield. Coincidentally, someone with the last name of Bliss lived on Mulberry Street for a time during Ted’s childhood. However, there is no record that Ted was aware of this.

There were no real parades on Mulberry Street when Dr. Seuss was a young boy.

Fact!

Although there were many parades held in downtown Springfield during Ted’s childhood, none of them took place on Mulberry Street. The memorable parade scene from Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was purely created in the imagination of the story’s child protagonist, Marco, and by Dr. Seuss himself. Parades took place on nearby Main Street in downtown Springfield, and the arrival of the Ringling Brothers Circus was always a major event with a huge parade that attracted spectators during the years of Ted’s childhood.

Caged LionDid Dr. Seuss’s father run the zoo in Springfield?

Dr. Seuss’s father actually ran the zoo in Springfield.

Fact!

However, Ted’s father didn’t take the position of Forest Park Superintendent until 1931, long after Ted’s childhood. In 1909, when Ted was a young boy, his father was appointed to serve on the Springfield Park Board while he managed the family’s growing Springfield Brewing Company. Young Ted and his father frequently took walks through Forest Park and its zoo, which became a source of inspiration for Ted’s unique animal drawings. After Prohibition banned the selling of alcohol in 1920 and the family brewery eventually closed, Ted’s father took the full time salaried position of Superintendent of Parks – a position he held for thirty years until his retirement in 1961. Dr. Seuss published If I Ran the Zoo in 1950, an imaginative children’s story where the young narrator Gerald McGrew creates a new zoo filled with fantastically strange creatures. Based on a thorough study by several historians of Ted’s early years in Springfield, it seems very possible that this story is rooted in Ted’s childhood memories of trips to the Forest Park Zoo with his father.

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