Mary Alice <I>Smith</I> Gray

Mary Alice Smith Gray

Liberty, Union County, Indiana, USA
Death 7 Mar 1924 (aged 73)
Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, USA
Burial Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, USA
Plot GPS: 39.7804, -85.8545
Memorial ID 11636232 · View Source
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Literature character. Mary Alice Gray memorial marker: "The Original Little Orphant Annie. Resided South of Philadelphia. Interred in Philadelphia Cemetery. Marker Erected By Residents of Sugar Creek Twp."

The poem "Little Orphant Annie" was written by the noted Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, and was published in 1885. The poem was inspired by Mary Alice "Allie" (Smith) Gray who was purported to be an orphan. Born near Liberty, Indiana, it is popularly believed that her mother died when Allie was very young but that is now uncertain. Popular sources also report that her father died when she was ten but recent research suggests that he was alive after Mary Alice's marriage to John Gray. Recent research cites writing by Mary Alice in her own handwriting that there was "marital disunion" and when she was four years old, sent to live with her grandmother. This situation likely formed Riley's foundation for the orphan setting. Mary Alice became part of the Riley household in Greenfield in exchange for room and board. Allie and young James, known as "Bud" in his childhood, became fast friends. Allie later married John Wesley Gray and moved to Gray's farm south of Philadelphia, Hancock County, Indiana. She was widowed in 1922 and moved into her daughter's home in Greenfield, Indiana where she died.

The poem was originally titled the "The Elf Girl," but Riley offered it to be published under the title "Little Orphant Allie." The newspaper made a typo and printed it as "Little Orphant Annie." It was an immediate hit and the accidental Annie name remained.

The Annie character was later borrowed by Harold Gray (no relation) for his new 1924 cartoon series in the Chicago Tribune, which became Little Orphan Annie and was syndicated nationwide. There was a popular Little Orphan Annie radio show in the late 1940s. "Annie" later evolved into a highly successful musical and a movie. The Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls are based on another of Riley's poems, "The Raggedy Man." Thanks to Brigette S. Cook Jones, a Hancock County (Indiana) historian, for recent research citations.

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  • Created by: Pat France
  • Added: 29 Aug 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 11636232
  • Rick France
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Mary Alice Smith Gray (25 Sep 1850–7 Mar 1924), Find A Grave Memorial no. 11636232, citing Philadelphia Church Cemetery, Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, USA ; Maintained by Pat France (contributor 46810252) .