Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus stories, had a mailbox on the front porch of his house in Atlanta, Georgia. When a wren built a nest in it, he told the mailman not to use it. In fact, Harris drilled a hole in the front and nailed the box shut so nothing but the wren could go in and out. He made another box for the mailman to use.
I went to Atlanta and saw the box with the wren's nest. I also saw the rocker where Harris sat while he wrote about Uncle Remus. And the dining room table and chairs that were ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and the bed where he died. The house is known as the Wren's Nest.
I learned that Harris was born in 1845, a red-haired, freckle-faced, undersized boy. He loved practical jokes, which may have been a way of covering for a slight stammer in his speech. He had a good memory, a love for books, and a mischievous sense of humor.
Harris listened to African American animal stories told by a slave he called Uncle George Terrell. Harris lived with his mother who worked for the plantation owner. The plantation slaves became models for Uncle Remus and other figures in the animal tales Harris, a white man, wrote about later on.
Harris went to work for several newspapers, soon the Atlanta Constitution.In his editorials, he invented a black character named Uncle Remus. Harris told his readers that Uncle Remus dropped by his office to talk about what was happening on the streets of Atlanta. Harris, through Uncle Remus, also told about plantation songs and folktales. Newspapers around the country reprinted his stories and sayings. Before long, Harris had written enough material for a book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, published in 1880. Harris eventually wrote 185 Uncle Remus tales, which made up five other collections. He became an international wonder almost overnight. He was nearly as popular as Mark Twain, who invited Harris in 1882 to meet him to do readings in New Orleans. Because of his talking stammer, Harris turned down the offer. Twain borrowed some of Harris's stories and took them on the road. He told Harris the tar baby story was always one of his most popular stage-readings.
Harris retired from the newspaper in 1900, free at last to sit in his rocker at the Wren's Nest and write for children. Readers loved his trickster Brer Rabbit tales.
Harris died in 1908. He was celebrated as a favorite writer along with Twain, who died two years later.
The Wren's Nest has served as headquarters for the Joel Chandler Harris Association since 1913. It is a wonderful reminder of what Harris contributed to children's folktales. Go see it sometime.