How much does place influence our life?
For Dr. Seuss, maybe a lot. Over the summer I visited Springfield, Massachusetts. This city was home to Ted Geisel. In Springfield I discovered the book The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew up to Become Dr. Seuss.
*Please note: My father grew up near Springfield and visits to this part of Massachusetts were a huge part of my childhood. So my fascination with it all is partly due to the legend of Dr. Seuss and partly due to being nostalgic of my childhood road trips. I visited many of these areas of Springfield growing up, but never knew that they were associated with Dr. Seuss. So imagine my surprise. As I write about the sites to see, I can’t help but share my excitement and sidenotes on these discoveries.
The Boy on Fairfield Street, a review
Geisel’s life in Springfield wasn’t ideal. Sure, it started out nice. He lived near the library and the zoo. He played outside with his friends, had interesting neighbors, and talked about animals and books over dinner. Then things shifted. Geisel was a German boy in early 1900s America. People were growing more suspicious of German immigrants every day. His friends were no longer friends.
On top of that, Geisel wasn’t an athlete. Instead, he drew. He loved drawing. His teachers felt different about his ability. They told him he’d never make it as an artist.
The final straw could have been when the former president, Teddy Roosevelt, failed to give him a boy scouts medal while he was on the platform with the rest of the troop. He was humiliated.
His high school years were devoted to music, drawing, and writing for the school newspaper. After high school, he left Springfield for Dartmouth and never returned there to live.What was Dr. Seuss's childhood like? Learn with the #kidsbook The Boy on Fairfield St. #seuss Click To Tweet
The Boy on Fairfield Street goes into details of Geisel’s Springfield life and his life afterward. It explains why he became Dr. Seuss and his story up until he lived in Greenwich City as a twenty-two-year-old.
When the book’s story officially ends, they do an awesome job of talking about Dr. Seuss’s accomplishments after his time in Springfield. This includes the interesting tidbit of the book And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street, his first book. Many people think the story is about a street in New York, but it’s actually a fantasy based off of his life and neighborhood in Springfield.
When he was 82 years old, Seuss visited Springfield for the last time. He met with fans. I can only imagine how it felt to return to a place that, practically, shunned him to crowds of fans. Many fans yelled out, “we love you!” He was seen wiping his tears away.
The following year he wrote Oh, The Places You’ll Go, his last book. It went full circle, I think. A fitting end title for this man.
If you’re a huge Dr. Seuss fan, The Boy on Fairfield Street is a must. If you’re not, I still highly recommend it. His story is fascinating and left me wanting to know more. I was happy to be in Springfield to be able to see some of the places that made him who he became. Buy the book on Amazon.
- Written by: Kathleen Krull
- Illustrated by: Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
- Age Range: 5 – 9 years
- Publisher: Dragonfly Books; Reprint edition (January 12, 2010)
- ISBN-10: 0375855505
Springfield, Massachusetts for Dr. Seuss fans
Dr. Seuss’s childhood home in Springfield, Massachusetts
First. Look at that. That Cat in the Hat picture. Do you see it? This photo was taken in 2016 and I love that they commemorate the house with that image still today.
This is a real neighborhood. When we drove through, it was a pretty quiet day. This photo was taken from the passanger’s seat. I don’t like walking around neighborhoods that aren’t my own, so I didn’t. I only drove past the house a couple of times.
If you want to spend more time in the places he visited, check out the next stop.
The Zoo at Forest Park & Forest Park Public Library
Though the book doesn’t specify, the zoo and library at Forest Park are the closest to Geisel’s childhood home. Perhaps this is the zoo his dad worked at, the place that sparked his love of animals. And this is likely the library that gave him his love of stories. Together they inspired the books that have inspired children all over the world.
Address to the Zoo: 302 Sumner Ave, Springfield, MA
Address to the Library:380 Belmont Ave, Springfield, MA
Side note gush: I was surprised to learn that the Bright Nights drive-through Christmas light show that I attended years ago is at Forest Park. If you’re in the area during the holiday season, be sure to check it out.
The Springfield Museums
The Springfield Museums are comprised of four separate museums celebrating art, science, history, and the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden. There’s one entrance fee, they offer an amazing military discount, and even then non-Seuss stuff is worth a visit. However, I only focus on Seuss’s story at the Springfield Museums below.
Address: 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA
The Dr. Seuss Sculpture Natural Memorial Sculpture Garden makes the characters from the book come alive.
The Wood Museum of Springfield History includes the exhibit, And To Think That He Saw It In Springfield. The website explains,
Springfield native Dr. Seuss is a household name, but many people don’t realize that the buildings, people and landscapes from his childhood in Springfield appear again and again in his books. This exhibit includes some remarkable comparisons of his fanciful illustrations with actual photographs of places and things in Springfield that he would have known.
In June 2017 the Springfield Museum hopes to open The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss museum. The museum will honor his life with artifacts from his life, have an interactive element for kids, and encourage literacy.
While the museum is still under construction you can donate to the cause and read more about it here.
Update January 2018: Over the summer of 2018 we made a return trip to Massachusetts and visited The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss. I was aware of the controversies surrounding the museum. To make a long story short, in Dr. Seuss’s early years as an illustrator he drew some horrific racist images. One was in one of his popular books and the museum made the decision to include it on the walls of their display. In the grand opening ceremony, the invited speakers declined their invitation to speak because of the mural. The mural was removed and the conversation appeared (to me) to shift to how the museum decided not to acknowledge Dr. Seuss’s racist past. The museum used the reasoning that it was really a space for kids and just didn’t fit in with what they were trying to achieve.
So, I decided to check it out myself. We got our tickets from an extremely nice employee. My dad was with us and he’s retired military. During our visit last year, the museum offered military discounts but has stopped offering them since. The employee working there commented that he can’t say no to someone who has served our country and comped our tickets. I thought that was such a nice gesture.
The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is broken up into two floors. The bottom floor is dedicated to his books and is like a really nice play area. All the familiar characters and scenes from his books are on the walls and part of the activities. It is interactive and you feel like you are part of his books. This is, very obviously, a space geared towards play.
Upstairs the mood shifts a bit. There is a roped off room that is a replica of Seuss’s office, and another room of letters he wrote that is set up in a typical art museum style. Upstairs is not a play area.
Knowing the controversy and knowing the museum’s response – I was disappointed. I could see how the first floor of the museum, if that was all that the museum was, should be a space geared just to his popular books. (Though, there was no need to put the Chinese caricature on the wall if you ask me.) Maybe there isn’t space to get into racism in that part of the museum. Maybe.
However, in my opinion, there is an opportunity to talk about racism and Dr. Seuss’s involvement on the second floor. There is space and it easily fits in. What makes it extra frustrating to me is that this was Springfield, Massachusetts. Where Dr. Seuss grew up, a German descendant, in a very anti-German time. He did not have a good experience in Springfield. He felt prejudiced against and lost many friends because of his looks. So, I think it would have made an interesting way to start the conversation. How and why did this man who experienced these things for himself, how did he later make the decision to make racist illustrations in newspapers, and in what ways did he make up for those mistakes later in his life?
Plus, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is part of the Springfield Museums system. That’s not the only museum there. If that building didn’t have enough space to tackle the subject, surely one of the others does. We also visited the Springfield History Museum and didn’t notice any mention of it.
I currently live in Charlotte, NC. The southern United States are not without their own dark past. I also lived in Germany. They also have a history. And a choice. Educate and inform, or ignore. I have experienced many places that choose to educate and inform. That share that dirty past to open conversation. You can not go to a war or history museum in Germany without reference to Nazi, Germany. Yes, even in children’s museums. I visited the Museum of the New South in Charlotte and they openly acknowledge that some of their exhibits may be sensitive to minors, but still give parents the opportunity to talk to their kids about it. On a visit to Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta, GA included images of the mountain’s KKK past. A little girl standing next to me asked her mom about it. All over the world museums find ways to tell the whole story, but for some reason, this museum isn’t.
I’m frustrated with the decision the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss made in how they handled his legacy. I read an interesting perspective from Theodore Geisel Award-winning author and illustrator, Grace Lin, about how the museum’s mistake is the fault of museum. And I like to add that while Mr. Giesel and Dr. Seuss made these mistakes, he did realize those mistakes in his time, and now it’s up to you to inform yourself and decide if it’s enough and how to reconcile that part of him with the part of him who created these classics. Just, please, don’t ignore it.
Other stops that influenced Dr. Seuss in Springfield
The Wood Museum of Springfield mentions several places that inspired Dr. Seuss around Springfield. Some of those places no longer exist, but here are a few that do. Take the time to visit the museum to learn more about the inspiration places, the books they’re part of, and the story around them.
- The Barney Mausoleum in Forest Park reappears in different forms in several of his books.
- Mulberry Street is a real street in Springfield.
- The Howard Street Armory‘s castle-like building could have been the source for castle-like buildings in Seuss’s books.
Updated to add that as of my last visit in the summer of 2018, there’s no reference to places in Springfield Dr. Suess was inspired by, but these notes of what I saw are still valid.
Hotel Recommendations for a visit to Springfield, Massachusetts
- Sheraton Springfield at Monarch Place is one of the closest hotels to the museums, however the reviews from visiting families talk about its need for updated rooms and better service. While location seems to be the reason most stay here, it’s worth reconsidering.
- Another option is the Hilton Garden Inn Springfield. While families give it mixed reviews, I like the location. It’s right next to the Basketball Hall of Fame. That might not have anything to do with Dr. Seuss, but we really enjoyed learning more about basketball during our visit. And we’re not even big basketball fans. Plus, the riverside hotel may inline with some of the views Seuss experienced as a child.
- We always stay at the Residence Inn in West Springfield. It’s convenient to the other sites we take in during our visit, but still convenient to Springfield. While the reviews suggest that there may be some updates needed, we didn’t have any issues during our stay the summer of 2016.
Where else can you find Dr. Seuss?
If you can’t make it to Springfield, but still want to satisfy the Dr. Seuss fan in your home, here are other options around the United States to consider:
Dr. Seuss in Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
After leaving Springfield, Seuss went to college at Dartmouth. It was here that he started using the name Dr. Seuss. And although Dr. Seuss was not a medical doctor (or a doctor), the medical school at Dartmouth was eventually named “The Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine”. Audrey Geisel was Seuss’s second wife. Also not a doctor. But, she was a nurse. NPR wrote a fun article about it that’s definitely worth a read.
Dr. Seuss in Southern California
Seuss’s adult life was spent in La Jolla, California – just outside of San Diego. There are several places fans can visit in this area. Smithsonian Magazine wrote an article of all of Dr. Seuss’s southern California stops.
- The tree from the book The Lorax, while not real, was most likely based on a similar looking tree at Scripps Park.
- Legends Gallery in La Jolla has a permanent exhibit of Dr. Seuss’s art.
- Those in Carmel can see his work at the Dennis Rae Fine Art Gallery.
- The world’s largest Dr. Seuss collection can be found at the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla.
Dr. Seuss in other places
- Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando, FL dedicates one whole land, Seuss Landing, to Seuss icons. I actually worked at this theme park when it first opened. Several things surprised me about Seuss Landing that have stuck in my memory ever since.
- First, there are no straight lines. Like Dr. Seuss’s illustrations, Seuss Landing is curvy and wavy. Even the trees. The trees in the park were flown in from Homestead, FL. They’re all permanently bent because of 1992’s category 4 hurricane Andrew. (I also lived in Homestead, FL as a child and left right before the hurricane, so this makes the park extra special to me.)
- The second cool thing. I used to exit through Seuss Landing if my shift ended after closing. You wouldn’t know it was night, though, because there were flood lights everywhere. Maintenance staff touched up the paint every night. I guess that’s why the colors are always so bright!
- I haven’t been to the park in years, but my blogging friend at Carrie on Travel has a great guide to all the cool features you can find at Seuss Landing today.
- In Austin, TX, Seuss’s art is on permanent display at Art on 5th. If you can’t make it to Austin, you can tour the exhibit via a youtube link on their site.
- Carnival has brought Dr. Seuss to their cruises. I haven’t done it myself, so another thanks to Carrie on Travel for providing details about her experience on Carnival Cruise Line’s Seuss at Sea.
Am I missing anything? Let me know via FB and I’ll update the post.
Pin this post for later:
If you’re traveling to the Springfield area and up for another book-based adventure within a few hours drive, check out these posts: