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Thornton Waldo Burgess (January 14, 1874 - June 5, 1965).
Born in Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, he was a conservationist and author of children's stories. Thornton Waldo Burgess loved the beauty of nature and its living creatures so much that he wrote about them for 50 years. By the time he retired, he had written more than 170 books and 15,000 stories for daily columns in newspapers.
Thornton Waldo Burgess was born on January 14, 1874, in Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was the son of Caroline F. Haywood and Thornton W. Burgess Sr., a direct descendant of Thomas Burgess, one of the first settlers of Sandwich, Massachusetts in 1637. Thornton W. Burgess, Sr. died the same year his son was born, and the young Thornton Burgess was brought up by his mother in Sandwich. They both lived in humble circumstances with relatives or paying rent. As a youth he worked year round in order to earn money. Some of his jobs included tending cows, picking trailing arbutus or berries, shipping water lilies from local ponds, selling candy, and trapping muskrats. William C. Chipman, one of his employers, lived on Discovery Hill Road, a wildlife habitat of woodland and wetland. This habitat became the setting of many of Thornton's stories in which he refers to Smiling Pool and the Old Briar Patch.
Graduating from Sandwich High School in 1891, Burgess attended a business college in Boston from 1892 to 1893. At the age of 17, Burgess briefly lived in Boston and then moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. He bought a place in Hampden, Massachusetts in 1925 and made it his permanent home in 1957. Returning frequently to Sandwich, Burgess claimed that to be his birth place and spiritual home.
Many of his childhood experiences and the people he knew influenced his interest and concern for wildlife. Many of his outdoor observations in nature were used as plots for his stories. In his first book, Old Mother West Wind, published in 1910, the reader meets many of the characters found in later books and stories. These characters include Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, Bobby Raccoon, Joe Otter, Grandfather Frog, Billy Mink, Jerry Muskrat, Spotty the Turtle and of course, Old Mother West Wind and her Merry Little Breezes.
For the next fifty years, Burgess steadily wrote books that were published around the world in many languages, including Swedish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Gaelic. Collaborating with him was his illustrator and friend, Harrison Cady of New York and Rockport, Massachusetts. Cady created the now familiar form of Peter Rabbit and other animal characters.
In 1960, Burgess published his last book, Now I Remember, Autobiography of an Amateur Naturalist, depicting memories of his early life in Sandwich, as well as his career highlights. That same year, Burgess, at the age of 83, had published his 15,000th story. From 1912 to 1960, without interruption, Burgess wrote a syndicated daily newspaper column titled ''Bedtime Stories''. He died on June 5, 1965, at the age of 91. After his death the Massachusetts Audubon Society purchased his Hampden home and established the Laughing Brook Nature Center at that location.
Awards and accomplishments
Burgess was also actively involved with conservation efforts. Some of his projects over his lifetime included:
''The Green Meadow Club'' for land conservation programs.
Help pass laws protecting migrant wildlife.
''The Bedtime Stories Club'' for wildlife protection programs.
''Happy Jack Squirrel Saving Club'' for War Savings Stamps & Bonds.
''The Radio Nature League'' broadcast from WBZA Springfield, Massachusetts.
For his efforts, an Honorary Literary Degree was bestowed upon Burgess in 1938 from Northeastern University. The Museum of Science in Boston awarded him a special gold medal for ''leading children down the path to the wide wonderful world of the outdoors.'' He was also awarded the distinguished Service Medal of the Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund.
In the early 1970s a television adaptation of some of his works was produced by a Japanese animation studio, and was later distributed worldwide. The English language translation was entitled Fables of the Green Forest.
A Middle school in Hampden, Massachusetts was named after him in honor of his work for conversation.