Literary daybook, Sept. 24

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published September 24, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Sept. 24, 1943, Captain Queeg takes command of the USS Caine.
-- "The Caine Mutiny" (1951)
by Herman Wouk

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1991, Theodor Seuss Geisel died, at the age of 87. Geisel turned to children's books in his late 20s, when his job creating ads for "Flit" insect repellent -- his "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" became a household slogan across America -- left him well-off and bored. His first children's book, "To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" (1937), was rejected by 27 publishers, but over the next 50 years, he would write and illustrate 48 books, collect a Pulitzer, two Emmys and three Oscars, and make the more lasting household contributions of Horton, Yertle, the Cat in the Hat, et al., many of which now appear much larger-than-book in "The National Seuss Memorial," a storybook garden of sculptures in hometown Springfield, Mass. (though not on Mulberry Street).

The evolution of the "Dr. Seuss" pseudonym began during Geisel's senior year at Dartmouth College. When the dean forced him to resign his editorship of the school's humor magazine as punishment for having too much fun and too few marks, Geisel continued to contribute as "Ted Seuss." This became "Dr. Theophrastus Seuss" during his time at the humor magazine Judge, as an attempt to add a "wacky professor" air to his menagerie of cartoon animals, many of which shared the gene pool with later Whos and Zooks. The name and word fun reflects a streak of whimsy and putting-one-over that lasted a lifetime and became a mission. When Geisel was a student at Oxford, and banned by school regulations from driving a motorcycle, he tied dead ducks to his handlebars to pass his vehicle off as that of a poultry deliveryman. When living in New York City, and finding himself with a telephone number one digit different from a local fish market, he would send his own cardboard fish to those who called him with their order. When trying to quit smoking in his 50s, he carried a corncob pipe empty of tobacco but full of dirt, in which he had planted radish seeds; he would suck on the pipe while riding the bus, stopping every now and then to take out an eyedropper of water and squeeze a few drops into the bowl. To anyone who took the bait and inquired, he would explain that he was "watering the radishes."

At the age of 80, Geisel had his anti-nuclear war "Butter Battle Book" on the bestseller lists for months; at 82, Geisel published his last book, "You're Only Old Once," and told reporters that "Age has no effect on me. I surf as much as I ever have. I climb Mount Everest as much as I ever have ..."

"... Then we saw him pick up
all the things that were down.
He picked up the cake,
and the rake, and the gown,
and the milk, and the strings,
and the books, and the dish,
and the fan, and the cup,
and the ship, and the fish.
And he put them away.
Then he said, 'That is that.'
and then he was gone
with a tip of his hat."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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