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Moment of Indiana History

James Whitcomb Riley

Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley was born in Greenville, Indiana on October 7, 1849. He worked as a sign painter, traveling actor, and newspaperman before finally enjoying success with his poetry. Although his poems were well received in the Midwest, he was turned away by many of the larger publishers in New England.

To promote his poems, Riley traveled from town to town reading his work to theater audiences. In the 1880’s he traveled and did shows with humorist Bill Nye. Together, they wrote a book of poems and anecdotes about their adventures, called Nye and Riley’s Railway Guide.

Riley even appeared onstage with Mark Twain, first in the 1880’s when Twain was already world famous, and again in 1894 when Twain, afraid of being upstaged, admonished Riley to stick to serious material and leave the humor to him!

Riley passed away on July 22, 1916. More than 35,000 people filed by his casket as it lay in state under the dome of the Indiana state capital.

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