Street Fair Drops Alger Name
19th-Century Writer Faced Molestation Allegations
By Elaine Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
December 7, 2006
Marlboro— A popular fall street fair will no longer bear the name of Horatio Alger Jr., the 19th century rags-to-riches children's author who was a presumed child molester. But the likeness of the international historical figure who once lived in Marlboro could grace a mural on a downtown building someday.
The civic committee that runs the fair has decided to change the festival's name to the Heritage Festival because of the child molestation allegations. The story was already generally known and had been reported previously, but the issue arose again when it was reported in an article recently in the MetroWest Daily News.
"He's a part of the history of Marlboro," said Robert J. Kane of Worcester, a key player with Olde Marlborough Inc. "The 'witches' are part of the history of Salem. They still celebrate that. History is history."
Olde Marlborough, a recently formed private group, plans to use murals as an outdoor cultural-historical art gallery to promote tourism and the city's history, beautify the central downtown area and boost the city's economy.
"I'm very disappointed. It's a rotten shame," Mr. Kane said. "From everything I've read and researched, he was never found guilty of anything. I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who are famous historically and have a lot of skeletons in their closet. I don't think he had one."
Barbara J. Boyle, a former School Committee member who has helped organize the fair since its inception, said the name Heritage Festival better describes what the fair is all about.
"We want people to not be offended or uncomfortable with the name of the event, so the committee got together and said this is a good time to make the change. It's just a name change. The fair will be the same," she said.
The fair, held the first Sunday in October, attracts upward of 2,000 people to the downtown area for food, entertainment, homemade arts and crafts, antiques, music, health tests, games and other family-oriented activities.
It was named after the author because he lived in a house on a corner of Broad and West Main streets as a teenager during the 1840s and 1850s.
Mrs. Boyle said that organizers learned a couple of years after the fair started a dozen years ago of the allegation that Mr. Alger sexually molested two boys in his parish in the mid-1860s, when he was minister at a Cape Cod church.
According to historical records, an investigative committee concluded that the allegations were true, and Mr. Alger did not deny them. He abruptly resigned from the church and spent the next 30 years in New York writing hundreds of novels, poems and short stories.
In his writings, Mr. Alger used his rags-to-riches philosophy to teach homeless and needy children to become successful through hard work, perseverance, kindness and morality. More than 250 million copies of his books have been sold.
When Mr. Alger died in 1899 in South Natick, his family left part of his literary collection to the Marlboro Public Library. The local library is known across the nation for this special collection.
"He moved on and wrote a lot of books," Mrs. Boyle said. "He was a very reputable author. His books are still very popular with young readers. That was the part of his life we felt was worth honoring and we wanted to capitalize on so we stayed with (his name) for quite a while. It's unfortunate that some people have chosen to get stuck on a very small piece of his life. We're sensitive to that."
Mr. Kane said he thinks Mr. Alger was the victim of a witch hunt. After graduating from Harvard College and before being forced by his wealthy Unitarian minister father to become a minister, Mr. Alger spent time in Europe, where he lived a lavish lifestyle and chased women, Mr. Kane said.
"He was in Europe chasing a married female lover. Later, while there, he met and fell in love with a Frenchwoman. That doesn't sound like a child molester to me," he said.
The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans gives out more than $10 million in scholarships each year. A spokesman for that Washington-based organization did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.
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