Horatio Alger Fair Renamed

By Jon Brodkin
MetroWest Daily News
December 6, 2006

Marlborough -- Horatio Alger's past as a child molester did not stop him from becoming a famous author in the 19th century, but organizers of a Marlborough street fair have decided to drop his name from an annual event formerly held in his honor.

The Horatio Alger Street Fair in downtown Marlborough has been held each of the last 11 years, most recently on Oct. 1. The fair, sanctioned by the office of Mayor Nancy Stevens and organized by the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce, will be renamed the "Heritage Festival" for next October's event, officials said.

"It sounds like there's obviously going to be a lot less controversy with a name like that," said City Council President Arthur Vigeant. "I know that the group that does it had the best intentions...and they've run a great fair over the years."

Alger is famous for writing "rags-to-riches" novels about young boys who succeed under the tutelage of rich older men who take a liking to them.

Prior to his successful writing career, Alger was a minister at the Unitarian Church of Brewster, a post he was forced to leave in 1866 when church officials said they discovered he had molested two boys.

Alger avoided criminal charges when he agreed to resign from the ministry, leave town and promise to never seek another church position. The Unitarian organization that helped facilitate this deal allowing Alger to avoid prosecution confirms the minister's fall from grace in a biography of Alger it posts on its Web site.

The New York chapter of NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association, calls itself the "Horatio Alger Chapter," according to the 2005 book "Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin" by Larry Beinhart.

Organizers of the Horatio Alger Street Fair in Marlborough decided to rethink the event's name after the Daily News published a story detailing accusations of Alger's history as a child molester just before this year's event.

In late October, the fair committee met and changed the name to the "Heritage Festival," committee Chairwoman Janet Bruno said yesterday.

"We met as a committee and discussed it. There were a number of names presented to us," Bruno said. "It just so happened everyone seems to believe that 'Heritage Festival' picks up a lot of what Marlborough is about."

The name change was welcomed by Barbara Hansen, a Milford woman who says she was molested as a child by two clergymen, including her grandfather, and has written a book about sexual abuse called "Listen to the Cry of the Child."

Hansen, 61, said she was upset upon learning the street fair was named after Horatio Alger, and that the name seemed to indicate people were not taking sexual abuse of children seriously enough.

With Alger "being a pastor, and him abusing children, it just brought it all back to me. It's fresh," Hansen said of the memories of being abused.

Dropping Alger's name should get rid of "the bad taste in people's mouths," said Joan Abshire, A Marlborough historian. "Especially with all the problems churches have had recently, (abuse) is very upmost in people's minds," she said.

Alger only lived in Marlborough for a few years as a teenager, noted Abshire, the senior research assistant and newsletter editor for the Marlborough Historical Society.

"This was probably a wise decision," Abshire said. "Not many people were familiar with Horatio Alger. ... He only lived here a short time. It's not like he was born here or anything."

Mayor Stevens did not return calls seeking comment yesterday or Monday.

(Jon Brodkin can be reached at 508-626-4424 or


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