Poetry was not just an exotic taste in literature in Riley’s day. It was read by the common men and women of the nation. Poetry offered the reader a form of self-reflection, an expression of their personal hopes and aspirations. It was printed in of newspapers and read by public speakers. Poetry served as entertainment for the masses. In Riley’s time, reading poetry was as common as watching television or clicking on Internet websites.
Riley was known as a humorist and a prankster. One of his pranks may have had the effect of electing William Howard Taft to be President of the United States. President Roosevelt was a friend of Riley’s. A t a famous tea party in Indianapolis, Riley reportedly spiked the punch. The Hoosier Vice President, Charles Warren Fairbanks got tipsy at the party and gained the reputation of being a ‘lush’ during a time of prohibition sentiment. As a result, Fairbanks was passed over as Teddy Roosevelt’s pick for vice president and Taft was picked instead. Taft later succeeded Roosevelt to the Presidency.
Mark Twain ) said James Whitcomb Riley’s “Old Soldier’s Story” was the funniest story he ever listened to and considered Riley America’s number one humorist.
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