LITTLETON — Birthplace of beloved “Pollyanna” author Eleanor Hodgman Porter, Littleton has long heralded its own North Country connection to the fictional “Glad Girl” and her celebrated creator.
But thanks to HB 572, signed into law last week by Gov. Chris Sununu, that’s about to change.
To those who aren’t familiar with the story of “Pollyanna,” it concerns an orphan who comes to a fictional Vermont town to live with her rich but miserable Aunt Polly. Despite being confined to an attic bedroom and forced to take meals with the cook and the maid, Pollyanna wins converts to her “Glad Game” — today, we’d call it taking lemons and turning them into lemonade. Soon the entire town of fictional “Beldingsville, Vt.” is infected by Pollyanna’s spunky optimism.
The country certainly was in 1913, the year “Pollyanna” was published. The book was an instant smash and spawned over a dozen sequels, as well as a play, a 1920 film starring Mary Pickford and a 1960 Disney classic.
And now, thanks to a stroke of Sununu’s pen, Pollyanna’s message of gladness has been commanded to spread across the entire Granite State.
As Karen Keazirian and Veronica Francis — two Littleton women who have worked for years to promote Littleton as “the Glad Town” — told the Sun last weekend, taking the Pollyanna point of view statewide is the culmination of a dream.
Francis founded GoLittleton, a web portal for visitors. Keazirian is the director of Littleton New Hampshire Inc., a non-profit dedicated to keeping the Pollyanna connection alive and well (on whose board Francis sits as well).
Both women were busy last Saturday, Littleton’s 17th annual Pollyanna Glad Day, Keazirian herding speakers and singers for the public ceremonies, and Francis ringing up sales at the Pollyanna Glad Shop, which she recently opened right across the street from the library.
The town has celebrated “Pollyanna” on the second Saturday in June ever since the local Eames family commissioned the statue from Canaan sculptor Emile Birch of a straw-hatted, open-armed Glad Girl in 2002.
The celebration includes the usual songs, speeches, plus cake and plenty of little girls dressed up like Pollyanna. The event’s motto? “Be Glad. Be Cheerful. Eat Cake.”
Last weekend, students from Creative Edge Dance studio, aged 10-14, stepped up to the task, posing in front of the statue and handing out yellow “Glad Town” stickers.
At the ceremonies (emceed by Keazirian), “God Bless America” was sung by Heartsong Singers. Dignitaries taking their turn at the lectern to deliver congratulations included Chuck Henderson, standing in for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; Brian Bresnahan, delivering a message from U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster; and Executive Councilor Mike Cryans, a Littleton resident.
Keazirian is a transplant from upstate New York by way of Boston, but you’d never know it. A former marketing exec, she has taken up the task of marketing Littleton as the Glad Town with zeal, and it is through her efforts, along with fellow board members Victoria Eames, Jack Eames (chairman), Jere Eames, Yvonne Eames, Barbara Ashley, Dick Hamilton, Jim McIntosh and Francis, as well as co-sponsors state Reps. Linda Massimilla (D-Littleton) and Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton), that House Bill 572 was signed into law.
Thanks to the bill, the governor will annually “urge schools, libraries, and citizens to commemorate the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
According to Keazirian, who noted that visitors have come from as far as Japan to pay tribute to Porter, the prime motivation of the bill was to get the state to join Littleton in promoting the Pollyanna story. “After all,” she pointed out, “people have to come to New Hampshire, the state, first in order to get to Littleton. The state should really take part in the tourism possibilities.”
After some discussion, the bill was amended to declare it “New Hampshire’s official Pollyanna Recognition Day.”
And now, all Granite Staters can take pride in Pollyanna’s optimistic viewpoint and throw their arms wide on the second Saturday in June each year.
Reached for comment, Jackson Public Library Director Lichen J. Rancourt observed: “This is a story that sweetly embodies the cheerful optimism of all of New Hampshire but especially the wonderful folks who choose the mountains of northern New Hampshire as their homes. I love it any time literature becomes such a part of life!”
Sadly, not gladly, long gone is Porter’s actual birthplace — wherever it was. There is still debate about where in town she was truly born. Some claim it was the Hodgman family home (Porter’s father was the local druggist) on Main Street where the public library now stands. Others say it was next-door, at 84 Main St., the site of today’s Porfido’s Market & Deli. Still others, relying on Portman’s own description of growing up in an oldtime New England house with big pillars in front, are convinced it was her Grandmother Woolson’s Greek Revival home, which was torn down in 1933 to make way for the Littleton Post Office.
Porter, who didn’t write “Pollyanna” until the age of 33, died in Cambridge, Mass., in 1920 at the age of 52 after coming down with the flu. She is buried in Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery.
But the books, of course, live on, and the statue serves as a monument of sorts — as well as a great spot for selfies by the many Pollyanna pilgrims who make their way to Littleton.
Aren’t you glad?