Happy Birthday, Charlotte’s Web!

E. B. White, from the collections of Maine Historical Society.

Today, we celebrate E. B. White and his imagination on the 60th anniversary of the publication of one of the most beloved works of children’s literature, which owes much of its existence to a Maine setting.

In 1933, staff writers for the New Yorker, E. B. White and his wife, Katherine Angell, exchanged city life for rural living in Brooklin, Maine. There, the bucolic setting, and the animals that White cared for, mused about, and mourned over, provided the inspiration for the magical story of Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider, and a number of other barnyard creatures.

Readers may remember that a local fair plays an important role in the book. This is the still-going-strong Blue Hill Fair, which takes place over Labor Day weekend. The online exhibit A Real Downeast County Fair, created in 2010 by students at The Bay School in Blue Hill, features a section on Charlotte’s Web. The students quote the following evocative passage from the book:

“When they pulled into the Fair Grounds, they could hear music and see the Ferris wheel turning in the sky. They could smell the dust of the race track where the sprinkling cart had moistened it; they could smell hamburgers frying and see balloons aloft. They could hear sheep blatting in their pens.”

As proof that some things happily don’t change, that description is still accurate today. For a wonderful insider’s view of the Fair, and whether it’s still the one that White knew decades ago, read this charming essay by Maine writer Elizabeth Peavey.

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