Sunday, August 1, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 5)


This is 'Johnny Appleseed' as most people remember him, an apple-loving Disney character.
Growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, you heard a lot about John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. I grew up around the corner from Johnny Appleseed Junior High School and my family often shopped at the Appleseed Shopping Center on the south side of town. From 1962 to 1980, high school sports teams around Mansfield competed in the Johnny Appleseed Conference.

There is a monument to him in Mansfield's South Park, close to the reconstructed blockhouse.

The stories we were told about him as kids weren't much different from the Disney version. He lived in Mansfield during frontier times and planted a lot of appleseeds, hence the nickname. He just liked apples.

John 'Johnny Appleseed' Chapman (1774–1845) is significant to our story because during the War of 1812 he often traveled between the far-flung homesteads, such as Beam's Mill, to warn people of Indian activity and other danger. He plays this role in Hugh Nissenson's novel, The Tree of Life, too.

Chapman was a lay missionary, influenced by the writings of scientist and Swedish Lutheran theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. He never married and never really had a permanent residence. He was around Mansfield a lot for a time but as the frontier moved west, so did he. 

Back east, Chapman had apprenticed as a nurseryman. A nurseryman grows trees from seeds. The strongest seedlings are then transplanted to form orchards. The apple varieties Chapman planted in his nurseries were not 'eating apples,' they were intended for the production of hard cider. Chapman believed apples and the hard cider made from them would be an excellent pioneer industry. Naturally, the alcoholic beverage part of the story never made its way to our young ears.

We did hear he was eccentric, dressed shabbily, and often went barefoot. He was friend to both settlers and natives, kind and generous to all, and so on. In the 60s, he sometimes was portrayed as a sort of proto-hippie. At my Catholic school he was compared to Saint Francis of Assisi.

According to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Chapman was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield. The sermon was severe and tedious on the topic of sinful extravagance, because the early Mansfielders were buying luxuries such as calico and imported tea. "Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?" After hearing this exhortation several times, a fed-up Chapman stepped to the front, put his bare foot on the stump that had served as a podium and said, "Here is your primitive Christian!" The sermon ended abruptly.

Next time, in Part 6, we leave Mansfield and the Beams for one last bit about Ohio and the War of 1812. 


Cary Dice said...

Thinking it was the Disney animators that stuck a cooking pot on his head.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Pretty much everything in the Disney version is wrong.