STREET SMARTS

Street Smarts: Limberlost draws it name from 1909 children's novel

2013-06-04T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T15:34:35Z Street Smarts: Limberlost draws it name from 1909 children's novelDavid Leighton For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A north-side street gets its name not from a local person but from a children's novel published in 1909.

"A Girl of the Limberlost," by writer and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter, was the sequel to her earlier book, "Freckles."

The book tells the story of an impoverished teenage girl named Elnora Comstock, who is intelligent and compassionate and lives on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp in eastern Indiana, near the fictional town of Onabasha.

Elnora's most passionate desire is to attend high school, but her emotionally distant and widowed mother, Katharine, wants her to stay and help on the farm since Elnora's father, Robert, had died. Elnora bears the brunt of Katharine's anger for the loss of her beloved husband, since she was giving birth to her when Robert drowned in the Limberlost Swamp, and Katharine was unable to come to his rescue.

Elnora's neighbors, Wesley and Margaret Sinton, are a constant source of support and aid in her goal of attending high school. Elnora finds a means of paying for her tuition and books through the collection and sale of moths from the Limberlost Swamp to the Bird Woman, a character likely based on the author herself. During her time in school she takes up the violin, like her father had done, hiding it from her mother, who she fears wouldn't approve.

Later on, Katharine learns of her husband's courting of another woman and changes her attitude toward her daughter, and their relationship begins to change into a loving one. She even begins helping her daughter in the collection of moths.

After graduation, Elnora is offered the position of lecturer of natural history by the Onabasha School Board and Philip Ammon, a young Chicago lawyer, comes to stay with the Comstocks to recover from illness. Ammon, who is engaged to wealthy socialite Edith Carr, eventually falls in love with Elnora, and it's implied at the end that they will marry.

Several movies were made from the book: a 1924 silent film; 1934 and 1945 talkies; and a 1990 made-for-TV movie.

A local road ended up with the Limberlost name because, around 1941, there were two Wetmore Roads, said Dorothy Wetmore-Neffson. University of Arizona professor Harry Behn, who lived at 411 E. Old Wetmore Road, successfully petitioned the local government for the name change to Limberlost Drive in honor of the book.

Behn, who died in 1973, founded the University of Arizona Press in 1960 and wrote many children's books, including "The Faraway Lurs."

Editor's note

Each week the Star tells the stories behind Tucson street names. If you have streets to suggest or stories to share, contact writer David Leighton at streetsmarts@azstarnet.com

Sources: Special thanks to reader Bob Capetta for suggesting Limberlost and to University of Arizona librarian Ginger Cullen. Gene Stratton-Porter, "A Girl of the Limberlost," Indiana University Press, 1984 (Reprint) Mary D. Obuchowski, "A Girl of the Limberlost," The Great Lakes Review, Spring, 1985 Tanya Benbow-Pfalzgraf, "American Women Writers," St. James Press, 2000 Gene Stratton-Porter Web page: http://landandlit.iweb.bsu.edu/Literature/Authors/portergs.htm#girl Harry Behn webpage: http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/xtf/view?docId=behn-harry-cr.xml Limberlost Swamp Web page: http://www.stateparks.com/limberlost.html Internet Movie Database Phone interview with Dorothy Wetmore-Neffson, Jan. 22, 2013 Ed Smith interview with Dorothy Wetmore-Neffson, Oct. 8, 1975

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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