James Whitcomb Riley


James Whitcomb Riley Famous memorial

Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, USA
Death 22 Jul 1916 (aged 66)
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, USA
Burial Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, USA
Plot Section 61, Lot 1
Memorial ID 873 View Source

Poet. As a young boy he showed signs of his mother’s gift for language and his father’s talent for oratory. While his father wanted him to become a lawyer he did not follow that path. Instead he quit school at the age of 16, traveled the Midwest as a sign painter for a while, then a stint with a medicine salesman. He returned to Greenfield after a few years and worked at the local newspaper, becoming its editor. During all of this time, he honed his language arts talents, and drew upon the vernacular of the time – the Indiana Hoosier dialect. Riley became a prolific author of poetry, first using the pseudonym "Benj. F. Johnson of Boone", and saw his poems published in newspapers. He used his experiences of youth and the stories he heard from others, especially Alice "Allie" Gray, the girl who came to live with his family and help around the house for her room and board. He immortalized her as the personality of his poem “Little Orphant Annie.” His poem, "The Raggedy Man," is based on the hired hand who worked at the family farm. The endearing features of Riley’s early poems was his use of dialect, his common style and words, and his sense of humor. These poems published in area newspapers quickly earned him broad popularity. Some of his later works used a more educated level of language. Originally renowned locally, he toured the country to recite his poetry and meet people, and eventually became well known nationally. He reportedly became the wealthiest writer of the time, and was called America's "Children's Poet," and is still known as "The Hoosier Poet" in Indiana. A collection of his poems was published, entitled "The Old Swimmin' Hole and 'Leven More Poems," in 1883. Other published collections followed. His most famous poems are "Little Orphant Annie," "The Raggedy Man," "When the Frost Is On the Punkin," and "The Runaway Boy." Riley gave up the national touring and returned to Indianapolis about 1884. He lived his later years as an invited (paying) houseguest in the of the Nicum and Holstein family home in the Lockerbie Square area of Indianapolis. That home is preserved today as the James Whitcomb Riley Home and is operated as a museum. Riley died of a stroke in Indianapolis. He laid in state at the Indiana state house and was interred on the “crown” at Crown Hill Cemetery, one of the highest points in Marion County. His tomb is one of the most visited sites in Indianapolis. Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis is named in his honor, and his hometown of Greenfield, Indiana, holds an annual "James Whitcomb Riley Festival." Children honor the poet during these “Riley Days” celebrations by placing flowers on his statue at the Hancock County Courthouse.

Bio by: Rick France


In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees



How famous was James Whitcomb Riley?

Current rating:

156 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial ID: 873
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for James Whitcomb Riley (7 Oct 1849–22 Jul 1916), Find a Grave Memorial ID 873, citing Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .