Literally a Boxcar
Putnam (Google Maps location)
October 9, 2016
I like books. I still actually read books, believe it or not.
This wasn’t always the case when I was a kid and perhaps that’s why I had never heard of The Boxcar Children series that has been around for seventy-five gosh-darn years.
Shame on me.
Heck, this children’s book series is so popular and important that there’s a museum dedicated to it and its author out in Putnam. It’s in a boxcar. Literally.
Which, really, is only proper. I know that many of you are familiar with The Boxcar Children and/or Gertrude Warner and may even be surprised there’s a little museum dedicated to them. I visited with the boys after a drenching hike in Thompson and I must say, the woman there was great.
I don’t know what happens when more than four people are at the museum, as we pretty much filled the space up. She kept Damian in check and Calvin interested. That is a skill that very few possess, so thank you Boxcar docent!
Gertrude Chandler Warner was born in 1890 in Putnam and died in 1979 in Putnam. She’s buried in Putnam. She was a schoolteacher from 1918-1950 in… Putnam. Warner was, of course, a prolific children’s author; most famous for her Boxcar Children 19-installment series.
She always had dreamed of being a famous author and the museum has a copy of her first “book” – an imitation of Florence Kate Upton’s racist Golliwog stories called “Golliwog at the Zoo.”
For the record, I’m not going to hold the Golliwog against five-year-old 19th century Gertrude. But yeah, it’s racist.
Ms. Warner volunteered much of her time, all the way up until her death, to charitable organizations like the Connecticut Cancer Society. Everyone loved her as a person and as a teacher. So it’s cool she has a museum dedicated to her.
The museum is open on weekends from May through October and is housed in an authentic 1920s New Haven Railroad boxcar. Ms. Warner used to live across the street. The teeny tiny museum is filled with Warner-abilia; original signed books, photos, and artifacts from her life and career.
Visitors will find a collection of original signed books, photos and artifacts from Gertrude’s life and career as a teacher in Putman, and a recreation of the living space created by the Aldens—the Boxcar Children themselves.
I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I found two Boxcar Children books at the library. Since Warner’s death, the books have been continuously published. They’ve been going strong for 75 years now.
From a book’s introduction:
Gertrude Chandler Warner discovered when she was teaching that many readers who like an exciting story could find no books that were both easy and fun to read. She decided to try to meet this need, and her first book, The Boxcar Children, quickly proved she had succeeded.
Miss Warner drew on her own experiences to write the mystery. As a child she spent hours watching trains go by on the tracks, opposite her family home. She often dreamed about what it would be like to set up housekeeping in a caboose or freight car – the situation the Alden children find themselves in.
While the mystery element is central to each of Miss Warner’s books, she never thought of them as strictly juvenile mysteries. She liked to stress the Aldens’ independence and resourcefulness and their solid New England devotion to using up nad making do. The Aldens go about most of their adventures with as little adult supervision as possible – something else that delights young readers.
I first read a “new” Boxcar book. The 109th in the series titled, “Rock ‘n Roll Mystery.” It was terrible.
Just a mess all around. But who cares about the “new” books. I did read a Warner original – the second ever written! It is called Surprise Island and I loved it!
To be clear, this book is terrible too, but it’s fun terrible. I could explain the whole thing, but this reviewer on Goodreads nails it. Go ahead. Read the entire thing. It’s wonderful.
I get that these books were written in a VERY different era when leaving your beloved grandchildren – recently orphaned – on an island in a barn all summer was a perfectly normal thing to do. Never mind they are sleeping on hay, almost drowned, and borderline starving… they’ve a “mystery” to solve.
The “mystery” isn’t remotely mysterious though. But whatever, my takeaway was that these Alden kids love milk and bread. It’s, like, their go-to meal. Twenty years from now all I’m going to remember about The Boxcar Children is that they eat soggy, milky bread and call it a meal.
Fortunately, the museum is “cute” and quirky and fun to visit. It’s definitely one of the (many) Connecticut museums that cause many to scratch their heads, but those are almost always my favorites.
I swear the rug here was cut from some larger Philadelphia Flyers thing, but when I excitedly mentioned this to the woman, she acted as if it was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. Even dumber than eating milk-sodden bread as a meal.
Of course I’m right though. Everyone can’t be a Flyers fan.