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Springfield inspires Seuss’ illustrations

Date: 8/9/2011

Aug. 10, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD —Did the Springfield Gas Works that once towered in the city’s South End inspire the city’s most famous author and illustrator? That’s the question asked and answered in a new exhibit at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History at the Quadrangle.

“And to Think that He Saw it in Springfield” will be on display in the museum’s great hall and is an enlargement of a similar exhibit that had been on display before the new museum was built, according to Guy A. McLain, director of the museum.

On a series of 16 doubled-sided display panels, the story is told of the impressions the city, its landmarks and people made on young Theodor Geisel and how they are reflected in his books and illustrations.

“It’s what made Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss,” McLain said.

For example, the Springfield Gas Works, known at the time for its noxious emissions, made its way into “The Lorax” as the polluting Thneeds factory. The design of the Barney Mausoleum turns up in many illustrations of buildings.

Seuss’s father served as the zookeeper at Forest Park for years and was the inspiration for the book “ If I Ran the Zoo.”

McLain noted that trucks and tractors built by the Springfield-based Knox Automobile inspired some large fanciful vehicles in his books and Seuss portrayed motorcycles that shared a look with the Indian Motocycles manufactured here.

Seuss used the names of Springfield families in work as well. “McElligot” from “McElligot’s Pool” was the name of a family here.

McLain said the Geisel family was a solid middle class family thanks to the successful business they co-owned, Springfield Breweries. That business closed down when prohibition was enacted in 1919.

The family bought a home, which still stands, at 74 Fairfield St. in the Forest Park neighborhood, and McLain said, “Ted grew up in a thriving Springfield environment. He had a great childhood.”

Besides the panels that show the comparisons between the Springfield in which the artist grew up and how he interpreted it in his art, the exhibit also has one of Seuss’ rare woodcarvings of an animal of his own design. McLain explained that before he became a well-known artist and writer, Seuss would make these one-of-a-kind sculptures for sale. He added they are highly prized by collectors.

Seuss’ banjo he played in a high school jazz band is also part of the exhibit.

There is also a collection of toys based on Seuss’ works, including a musical instrument that was made to tie-in with the feature film “The 10,000 Fingers of Dr. T” that was written and designed by Seuss.

Seuss did not comment very much on what inspired him, McLain said. There is one revealing quote in the exhibit, though: “All these people who lived on a little street of a middle class development in Springfield, Mass., got me to do what I’ve done.”

The Springfield Museums and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden are located on the Quadrangle at 21 Edwards St. Free on site parking is available in the Edwards Street parking lots. Summer hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12.50 for adults, $9 for seniors and college students, $6.50 for children 3 to 17, and free for children younger than three and museum members. General admission is free for Springfield residents with proof of address.

One admission ticket provides access to all four Springfield Museums. For information, call 263-6800 or visit

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