EUGENE FIELD: Buena Park’s Master of Verse for Children
“Uptown Update” blog recently reported that the stately red brick mansion at 800 West Buena has been purchased by Haymarket Books. That news coupled with the fact that April is National Poetry Month brought to mind the famous poet Eugene Field who once lived in Buena Park. Field rented a house for his wife Julia and their large family near Clarendon and Hutchinson St. His landlord was his friend Robert A. Waller (the developer of Buena Park). While Field was also a prose writer and a newspaperman, his star ascended because of his poetry. He wrote poems only for children and thus was nicknamed the Children’s Poet. He is best known for “Little Boy Blue” and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.”
Eugene Field was born in 1850 in St. Louis. His father was attorney Roswell Martin Field who was famous for his pro bono representation of the slave Dred Scott. After the death of Field’s mother Frances in 1856 Eugene and his only brother were sent to Amherst, Massachusetts to be raised by a cousin. Eugene dropped out of both Williams and Knox colleges before winding up at the University of Missouri. Eventually he found work as a journalist and edited and wrote for daily papers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver. He had a knack for composing funny pieces that were cleverly written in a gossipy style. In 1883 he accepted a job with the Chicago Daily News and there wrote the humor column: “Sharps and Flats.”
In 1895, Eugene Fields died at age forty-five in his Buena Park home of a heart attack. The impact of his poetry on the public had been so great that many of his poems were set to music with commercial success. Others were accompanied by Maxfield Parrish paintings. The original Fields home in St. Louis is now a museum. In Chicago a statue of the Dream Lady from his poem “Rock-a-by-Lady” was built in 1922 in the Lincoln Park Zoo. There is a park named to memorialize him in the Albany Park neighborhood and another in Oak Park. Elementary schools throughout the Midwest are named for Eugene Field.
Love-Songs of Childhood is a collection of Eugene Field poems that was published in 1894. Included in the book is a poem set in Buena Park. The first two stanzas appear below with the permission of Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads, Inc.
The Delectable Ballad of Waller Lot
By Eugene Field
Up yonder in Buena Park
There is a famous spot,
In Legend and in history
Yclept the Waller Lot.
There children play in daytime
And lovers stroll by dark,
For ’t is the goodliest trysting-place
In all Buena Park.
To finish reading the poem, go here.
– Walter Vatter, BPN Cub Reporter