true scholarship

From the New York Times, a report of true scholarship. On July 18 a marker will be placed on the previously unmarked grave of Thaddeus Marshall, an African-American man who lived and worked in Rutherford, NJ, in the early 20th Century. He made a living as a street vendor, a ‘huckster’ in the vocabulary of his day, selling porgy (a delicious and plentiful fish) and who knows what else, probably eggs as you will see. He plied his wares about town carrying them in a red wheelbarrow. Not just any red wheelbarrow, but this one: So much depends upon the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain-water beside the white chickens. William Carlos Williams wrote this poem around 1923; every English major knows it. Dr. Williams introduced a more colloquial language to American poetry but his day job was as a doctor in Rutherford. He was the doctor attending the birth of Mr. Marshall’s son and he signed the death certificate of his wife. He said in a couple of interviews that he liked Mr. Marshall and that emerged in his poem. William_Carlos_Williams_passport_photograph_1921 A professor of English, William Logan, did some wonderful scholarship, helped by Rod Leith (Rutherford’s historian) and uncovered the wheelbarrow owner’s identity. They even found an old map showing a chicken coop behind Mr. Marshall’s house and that white chickens came into vogue in the early 20th Century.  (more in the post here: leghorn (My wife reports that her grandparents also had white Leghorn chickens, an Italian breed, back then when most everybody else had Rhode Island Reds). Mr. Leith went further and tracked down Mr. Marshall’s granddaughter and they found his unmarked grave, which will now be marked. Wow. No need to travel on, just wow.

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