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Urbana University is looking to dispel myths about Johnny Appleseed by hosting a John Chapman exhibit opening next year. A $30,000 donation was given anonymously to make this a reality. Urbana University is the home of the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and Museum. The traveling exhibit is scheduled to open at the Boonschoft Museum of Discovery located in the Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Illinois in Sept. 2015.
The exhibit’s main mission is to educate people about John Chapman, the man, by taking the exhibit on the road in a national effort to stop at as many cities as possible. Museum staff will also tell people why he often went barefoot, slept outdoors or slept on the floor to help dispel the myths about him. One spokesperson for the museum said that staff is hoping that people will begin to realize how hard Chapman worked, how generous he was and how much he cared about people and the land.
People believe Johnny Appleseed was someone who preferred to be by himself, wear a tin pot on his head and walk around planting apple seeds. In reality, this is incorrect. The Johnny Appleseed Chapman exhibit will attempt to dispel these misconceptions and myths. Chapman, a trained nurseryman, was born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. He was never married or had any children. When the Northwest Territory opened up in the 1790s, he traveled west ahead of the settlers and began planting nurseries full of apple seeds. As the settlers arrived, they noticed that sites had already been planted with young apple trees.
Chapman was willingly paid for his services. He also sold seeds and seedlings to the settlers. Chapman knew the value of fruit-bearing parcels of land and how important it was for settlers to obtain land grants on fertile land. While the apples Chapman planted were not edible, they were used to make cider vinegar to help preserve fruits, vegetables and meat. In his spare time, Chapman distributed religious tracts to the settlers, assisting them with their spiritual growth.
Chapman died in 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana after spending over 50 years planting apples, educating people about apple trees and handing out religious tracts. Fort Wayne recognizes Chapman’s contribution by hosting The Johnny Appleseed Festival and has done so for 40 years. The festival is scheduled for Sept. 20 and 21 and admission for this all-day two-day event is free.
John Chapman’s contribution, planting thousands of apple trees and handing out seeds in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky is widely recognized. D.C. Wilson, of the Leominster Historical Society, said that Chapman was a simple man with simple pleasures and a hero to the settlers of the territories.
Over time, Chapman’s reputation morphed from hero to folk hero. Folk heroes are named, Chapman became Johnny Appleseed. He became known as a man who wore a pot on his head so that he didn’t have to carry it from place to place. People said that Johnny Appleseed was so compassionate that he would often extinguish his campfire because he didn’t want to kill the mosquitoes that were drawn toward the flame. Other people expanded the story, they said that Appleseed went barefoot year-round and was able to stick needles into his leather-like feet. The Urbana Chapman Johnny Appleseed exhibit will do its best to dispel these myths and present Chapman clearly to the public.
By Dennis De Rose