"And half the fun of nearly everything, you know, is thinking about it beforehand, or afterward"
- Howard Garis, Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, 1921
Howard Roger Garis was born on April 25, 1873 in Binghamton, New York. Howard's family moved to Syracuse, New York when he was a young child and later relocated to Newark, New Jersey when Howard was in his teens. Lilian McNamara was born in 1872 in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Irish immigrants. Lilian was an avid writer from a young age and wrote her own "Woman's Page" for a city paper as a teenager. Howard and Lilian Garis got their start in the writing business as journalists. In 1896, Howard was hired as a reporter for a prominent New Jersey newspaper, The Newark Evening News. Lilian, a suffragette and one of New Jersey's first female journalists, was working as a reporter for the News when Howard joined the staff. The couple wed four years later, in 1900. In 1951, they left their home in East Orange, New Jersey and relocated to Amherst, Massachusetts. During his time in Amherst, Howard became friends with fellow writer and Amherst resident Robert Frost, who often visited the Garis home. Lilian and Howard remained in Amherst until their deaths, in 1954 and 1962 respectively.
Howard and Lilian wrote numerous book series over the years. Among the most popular series they penned were The Bobbsey Twins, The Motor Boys, The Racer Boys, The Jack Rangers, Tom Swift, The Motor Girls, Dorothy Dale, The Outdoor Girls, and Baseball Joe. Lilian wrote several popular children's books including the Judy Jordan, Nancy Brandon, Connie Loring, Melody Lane and Barbara Hale series. However, it was the remarkable success of Howard’s creation, Uncle Wiggily, which enabled the Garises to earn a substantial living. In total, Howard published over 15,000 Uncle Wiggily stories between 1910 and 1962. Uncle Wiggily was extremely popular with generations of children who were captivated by the title character, Uncle Wiggily Longears, an elderly, rheumatic rabbit, habitually donned in a top hat. The vast appeal of the Uncle Wiggily stories was due in part to the sense of optimism and adventure they conveyed. They reflected an upbeat love of life and a "can-do" attitude that defined Howard Garis' personal worldview. As of the mid-1960s, Uncle Wiggily books had sold over 18 million copies.
Over the course of their lifetimes, Howard and Lilian Garis wrote hundreds of children's books, influencing countless young people who internalized the uplifting and empowering messages conveyed by the stories. Among those whom the Garises’ books influenced was Stephen Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Inc., who has cited the title character of the Tom Swift series as a role model. While the impact of Howard and Lilian's vast body of work is considerable, it is safe to say that the Uncle Wiggily stories constitute the most iconic contribution the Garises made to children's literature. Today, Uncle Wiggily books continue to be published in print form and have also appeared as e-books and in Kindle editions to entertain new generations of children.
In 1948, Howard and Lilian Garis' son moved to Amherst with his wife Mabel and their three children. The family purchased a home at 97 Spring Street that was called "The Dell." Three years later, Howard and Lilian left their home in East Orange, NJ and moved in with their son's family in Amherst. Built in 1907, the Dell was designed in the Craftsman and Colonial Revival Styles and is notable for its columns, arched entry, and exceptional size. Perhaps just as notable as the Dell itself is the history of the grounds on which the house sits. The land was once owned by Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, who landscaped the grounds of the Dell, planting a variety of trees and flowers on the property. In 1958, Roger and Mabel Garis sold the Dell to Amherst College and moved the family to a more modest house on Amity Street. Lilian Garis had passed away in 1954, but Howard spent the final years of his life in the family's Amity Street home. Today the Dell at 97 Spring Street houses the Five College Offices.
Directions to Next Stop
Walk east on Spring Street for .02 miles to corner of Boltwood Avenue.