Trick-or-Treat Joel Chandler Harris Style
If I told you The Wren’s Nest was the home of a famous trickster, who would you guess I’m talking about?
Chances are, you would guess Brer Rabbit. And yes, the museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of this notorious, furry and beloved trickster hero. But that’s not who I mean.
Instead, what if I told you I was talking about Joel Chandler Harris?
That’s right! Just like the rabbit he wrote about, Harris was a notorious prankster with his family and friends. One of his favorite audiences for these pranks? The people riding the street-car with him during his daily commute. As a writer and associate editor for the Atlanta Constitution, Harris took the street-car from his house in West End to the newspaper’s office in downtown Atlanta every day. Specifically, he took the 8:30 AM car every day.
In her biography of Harris, The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris, Julia Collier Harris detailed one of these pranks in which Harris made use of some discarded glass doll’s eyes to play a joke on a little girl and her up-tight grandmother.
This seemed like a fittingly silly but potentially frightening trick to share with you before Halloween – in case you happen to have glass doll’s eyes laying around and are looking to spook someone.
Here is the full account:
“Once on his way to take the car father picked up a pair of blue-glass eyes which had fallen out of a doll’s head, and absent-mindedly put them in his pocket. Sitting in front of him on this particular trip was a sedate elderly woman and her little granddaughter. Father knew the lady only by sight and as one who stood greatly upon her dignity and at once the impish idea occurred to him to try the effect of the glass eyes on the little girl who peered at him from time to time over her grandmother’s shoulder. So he closed his own eyes, and after a fashion held the doll’s eyes in place with the muscles of his eyelids. When next the little one peeped at him, she was startled to see a pair of glassy optics where before she had only noticed the mild blue eyes of a stout, placid gentleman.
“In alarm she whispered to her grandmother, ‘Gran’-ma, that man’s got the funniest eyes!’
“‘Sh! Sh! Child, don’t comment on people,’ warned her grandmother.
“But before long the lady herself shot a well-bred glance in father’s direction. There was nothing unusual to be seen. In a few moments the glass eyes were readjusted, just in time to meet the little girl’s second stare with a particularly uncanny glitter. Again she whispered excitedly: –
“‘Gran’ma, I tell you that man has got somethin’ awful the matter with his eyes.’
“‘Why, child,’ replied the astonished lady, ‘you must be crazy. What are you talking about?’
“And when she could safely do so, she again glanced at father only to see a perfectly normal individual, looking dreamily out of the window. This comedy kept up for several minutes, until the lady began to suspect from the demeanor of the regular 8:30 West-Enders that she was being made the victim of a joke. Upon which she haughtily arose from her seat and casting as disdainful look in the direction of the offender left the car with her bewildered little charge in her train.”
The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris, pages 245-247
It’s no wonder Harris felt an affinity for the tricky rabbit!