The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Our Readers Speak

November 14, 2013

Our Readers Speak — Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013

Johnny Appleseed was a true American legend

Henry David Thoreau wrote that the apple is the most civilized of all trees, that it is as harmless as a dove, as beautiful as a rose, and as valuable as flocks and herds, and being longer cultivated than any other, is more humanized. As for me, it was an apple tree in the town of Glen Fork that once upon a time staved off starvation and kept this poor poet alive.

I can think of no more fitting fruit suitable for tribute than the apple. It was the most ironic of American men, Johnny Appleseed (actually John Chapman, 1774-1845), who set out from Longmeadow, Mass., looking for land to settle and sacks full of apple seeds that has symbolized the American apple and took it and himself into the Mythology Hall of Fame.

Johnny Appleseed has become to America essentially what Robin Hood of England (a possible medieval bandit), Roland is to France (maybe an eighth-century military governor of Brittany), and the Pied Piper is to Germany (a 13th-century pedophile). But Appleseed was a definite, real, early 19th-century apple seed sower. Keep in mind that flesh-and-blood John Chapman had contemporaries in the future West Virginia: In 1790 Ebenezer Zane had a nursery at Bridgeport, Wheeling; Jacob Nessly in Hancock County cleared and planted 50 acres in apples and peaches; 1803, Thomas Worthington opened a nursery on an estate near Chillicothe, etc.

Chapman grew scrub apples (puny, and sour usually) to claim land (as did farmers of the day, not for  size or taste but for vinegar, medicinal purposes and most of all as “hard cider.”): He was not the grand visionary but the more tangible land seeker. But despite planting much he acquired little property and ended up dying while in debt. Yet, his legacy was not to booze up the belly, put a buzz in the head, or allow kiddies to nap longer (since children often drank weak cider at their meals).

Chapman the man and the myth; like his apples when, pressed produce heavy revelations, both factual and fictional. But like all immortal tales his is quintessential Americana. Good and bad elements rolled together to produce the spirit of life itself, in all its strange, wondrous variety. Thank you, Johnny.

Lonnie Bailey


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