This year (1999) is the 150th anniversary of James Whitcomb Riley's birth. To commemorate the occasion a Sesquicentennial Committee was formed by the Indiana General Assembly and charged with the mission "to honor the Hoosier Poet and his legacy through a series of public awareness activities, educational programs, and celebratory events, to take place during the Year of Riley, from October 7, 1998 to October 7, 1999." As a member of the Sesquicentennial Committee, the Lilly Library is pleased to present "... and touch the universal heart.": The Appeal of James Whitcomb Riley. This exhibition seeks to explore Riley's impact on American society and the nineteenth century literary world. It includes original manuscripts of poetry, first editions of printed works, photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, art work, music, and birthday greetings from admirers.
Indiana is proud of its "National Poet." The first official public celebration occurred in 1915 when Governor Samuel Moffett Ralston decreed October 7th as Riley Day. The state celebration swept across the country as the National Commissioner of Education issued instructions for a nationwide observance in all public schools. A birthday dinner in honor of the Poet was held in Indianapolis and attended by four hundred people. Many admirers were turned away and telegrams from countless well-wishers were cabled, including one from President Woodrow Wilson. To mark the event, a special birthday edition of Riley's Poems Here at Home was published and distributed to attendees.
Riley's death on July 22, 1916 prompted a second proclamation by Ralston thus
continuing the commemoration of Riley's birthday and influence. A special
was minted. The
1948 proclamation for the centennial anniversary celebration was
issued by Governor Ralph Fesler Gates. On February 25, 1998 the Indiana State
Legislature passed a resolution designating the period from October 7, 1998 to
October 7, 1999 as "The Year of Riley" in observance of the Sesquicentennial of the
Poet's birth. The Riley Old Home in conjunction with the Greenfield
Sesquicentennial Committee issued sets of
commemorative coins to
mark the occasion.