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Getting to Know the Real Johnny Appleseed

September 16th, 2013 Seasonal

Autumn is here yet again, which means you'll be probably be hearing the name "Johnny Appleseed" a bit more frequently. Whether you have kids who come home from school singing Johnny's tune, or you yourself remember this immortal American's tale, you may be shocked to learn that "Johnny Appleseed" was, in fact, a real person.

John Chapman, a Massachusetts apple farmer, is believed to have been born just as the nation was fighting for its independence from British rule in 1774. 'Revolutionary' is the perfect description of Chapman, who wandered through the then unsettled Midwest, planting apple orchards and trees along the way. He brought as many as 16 bushels of apple seeds on his journey west via the Ohio River, cultivating more than 1,000 acres of farmland. Recognized in his time as an eccentric dresser (he was said to have worn a coffee sack with holes for his arms as a shirt), Chapman was also quite the businessman: he would sell and trade apple trees and seeds to fellow farmers, enabling the country to enjoy a plentiful bounty of the crisp fall fruit.

To this day, the legend of "Johnny Appleseed" is far from dead. Pop culture has long celebrated this national icon: Disney popularized his story with its 1948 musical short "Johnny Appleseed," while several musical groups (including Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros) have invoked his image in their lyrics. A Christian hymn even calls upon the mythical man- the "Johnny Appleseed Blessing" thanks God for "giving me the things I need/ the sun, and the rain, and the apple seed." For diehard Johnny Appleseed fans, festivals are held in his honor every September in Fort Wayne, Ind., and his hometown of Leominster, Mass., among other sites. If you can't make it to one of those locations, though, just think of "Johnny Appleseed" and his efforts every time you bite into a tart, juicy apple this fall.