Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

14 Freaky Facts About R.L. Stine's Fear Street Books

Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, R.L. Stine’s horror series Fear Street—which featured ghosts, vampires, and killer cheerleaders, not to mention illustrated covers decked out with creepy fonts—terrified teens. The series was revived in 2014, and now, Stine’s latest, Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride (which has a fun “retro” cover) will hit stores in July. Here are a few things you might not have known about the series.

1. THE SERIES HAS ITS ROOTS IN AN EDITOR’S FIGHT WITH ANOTHER TEEN HORROR AUTHOR.

Stine had been working for Scholastic, writing joke books (under the name “Jovial Bob Stine”) and editing a humor magazine, when he had lunch with an editor friend who asked him to go in a … different direction. “She had had a big fight with somebody writing teenage horror. Who will remain nameless. Christopher Pike,” Stine told NPR. “And she said, ‘I'm not working with him again. I'll bet you could write good horror. Go home and write a novel for teenagers. Call it Blind Date.’ She even gave me the title. It's embarrassing! It wasn't my idea.”

Despite his reluctance, Stine wrote Blind Date anyway. After it was published in 1987, it became a bestseller. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute—I’ve struck a chord here. I’ve found something kids like!’” he told Mental Floss in 2014. “A year later, [my editor] wanted another one, and so I wrote Twisted. And it was a number-one bestseller, too. But she only wanted one [book] a year, and I thought, ‘You know, forget this funny stuff. I’ve got to write these scary books. That’s what these kids want.’ Kids like to be scared, and I just sort of stumbled into this. I said to her, ‘It would be nice to do more than one a year—maybe we can do more if we can think of some way to do a series.’”

2. STINE WAS TOLD A TEEN HORROR SERIES COULDN’T BE DONE.

“Publishers didn’t want a series because you couldn’t have these horrible things happen to the same kids over and over,” Stine said. “That would be ludicrous, right?” His publishers were likely thankful he was wrong: The Fear Street series grew to include 51 main series books and several spin-off series; by 2014, the books had sold 80 million copies.

3. THE SERIES’S TITLE JUST POPPED INTO HIS HEAD.

“It was the first one I thought of: Fear Street,” Stine told Mental Floss. “And I thought, ‘That would be a place where bad things happen. It’ll be a very normal, suburban town, but there’ll be this one street that’s cursed. People who go to Fear Street or people who move to Fear Street, terrible things would happen to them. And that would be a way to do a series.’ And that’s how it started, by basing it on the location and not the characters.”

The New Girl, the first book in the series, was published in 1989; Stine released one Fear Street book almost every month after that. “Back in the height of Goosebumps in the '90s, I did 12 Goosebumps books a year and 12 Fear Street books,” Stine told PopSugar. “I don't know how I did it. Honestly, I don't know how!”

4. STINE AMASSED AN IMPRESSIVE BODY COUNT.

“When we first started doing the teen horror novels, I wasn’t allowed to kill anyone,” Stine told CNN. “[Then] we started getting bolder, one per book, maybe two or three. It’s a bloodfest.” In 2014, Stine jokingly told Mental Floss, “I kill off a lot of teenagers. It’s kind of my hobby. I was wondering why, recently; why did I love killing teenagers so much back in the Fear Street days? And then I realized: I had one back at home. Teenagers are tough!”

5. THE CHARACTERS AREN’T FLESHED OUT ON PURPOSE.

Though he’s been criticized for it, Stine told CNN that his characters’ lack of depth is deliberate. “I don’t want to create a whole character, I want the reader to feel like the character,” he said. “So I’m great at full-blown cardboard characters.” The books’ settings were also purposefully nondescript to make them easily relatable to anyone.

6. THERE ARE SOME STORYLINES STINE SAID HE’D NEVER INCLUDE.

Drugs and child abuse are off the table for the author, and even divorce is only used sparingly. “That’s the kind of reality that ruins a story,” Stine said. “It’s better if the fears are less real.”

In 2015, he told The Verge that he avoided those topics because “I don't really want to terrify kids ... I think if you make sure it's a fantasy world, and the kids know what they're reading is a fantasy and couldn't happen, then you can go pretty far and you won’t upset them that much.”

7. THERE WERE A NUMBER OF SPIN-OFFS.

One series, Ghosts of Fear Street, was aimed at younger readers (at least some of these were ghost-written by someone other than Stine). Another, The Fear Street Sagas, stretched for 16 books; it explored the twisted and cursed history of the Fier family, from which Fear Street took its name. There were several trilogies, including 99 Fear Street: The House of Evil, Fear Street: Fear Park, Fear Street Cheerleaders, and Fear Street: The Cataluna Chronicles. Other series-within-the-series included Fear Street Super Chiller, Fear Street Seniors, and Fear Street Nights. 

Though he did a lot of series, Stine was not a fan of linking the storylines: “It’s too hard for me,” he told Barnes and Noble in 2014. “I like starting all over with every book.”

8. STINE’S SON STARS IN ONE.

Stine’s son, Matt, didn’t read his dad’s books “because he knew it would make me crazy,” Stine said in a CNN chat in 1999. “And it worked. It’s horrible!” So Stine tried something unusual: He put his son in a Fear Street book. “I even made him the star of a Fear Street book called Goodnight Kiss,” Stine said. (From Amazon: “Matt must save his girlfriend April from a vampire hypnotizing her with intoxicating kisses ...”) But Matt didn’t budge: “He didn't read that one either ... he'll probably never read my books.”

What Matt did do was make some money off of them: “He would sell parts in Goosebumps to his friends," Stine told The Daily Beast. "They would pay him ten bucks and he’d come home and say, 'Dad, you have to put James in the next one.' I think he cashed in on them.” As of 2014, Matt was managing Stine’s website.

9. STINE GOT A LOT OF HEAT FOR A FEAR STREET NOVEL THAT DIDN’T HAVE A HAPPY ENDING ...

"I did one book called The Best Friend, and it had an unhappy ending, where the good girl was taken off as a murderer and the bad girl triumphed, and kids hated this book," Stine told Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress [PDF]. "They turned on me. I got all this mail: 'Dear R. L. Stine, you moron! How could you write that?' 'Dear R. L. Stine, you're an idiot! Are you going to write a sequel to finish the story?' They absolutely couldn't accept an unhappy ending.”

“I would do school visits, and that book haunted me," he told TIME. "The hand would go up: ‘Why would you write that book? Why did you do that?’”

10. ... AND RAN A CONTEST TO COME UP WITH THE PLOT FOR A SEQUEL.

The reaction to The Best Friend was so negative that Stine and Pocket Books ran a contest for kids to come up with an idea for what to do in the sequel. The cover of The Best Friend 2 read, “The book you demanded! The contest-winning story that answers the question ‘What should happen to Honey?’” Stine never tried an unhappy ending again.

11. TYPICALLY, IT TOOK TWO TO THREE WEEKS TO WRITE ONE FEAR STREET NOVEL.

But it didn’t always take that long: Stine told The Big Thrill that he wrote one of the novels in just eight days. “I’m sort of a machine,” he said. “I treat writing just like a job and write 2000 words, five to six times a week. I’m just cut out for this, I guess—it’s all I’ve really ever been good at.” The key to his speed, he said, is plotting everything out: “You can’t get writer’s block if you do that much planning. Once I’ve finished the outline"—which can run up to 20 pages long—"I can just enjoy writing the story.”

And he always starts with a title: “Most authors have an idea for a book, they write, they’re writing, later on they think of a title," he told the Huffington Post. "I have to start with a title. It leads me to the story."

12. STINE HAS TWO FAVORITE EARLY FEAR STREET NOVELS.

“One is called Switched. Every once in a while someone brings it up,” Stine told Vulture in 2013. “It's about two girls who go out to this magic rock in the forest and switch bodies just for the fun of it, but one of the girls has tricked the other—she's murdered her parents, and now she's in the other girl’s body. The first girl goes back, finds the parents have been murdered, and can't get her own body back. There's also Silent Night, that’s a Christmas one. Reva Dalby is the daughter of a guy who owns the big department store in Shadyside. She's rich and mean and terrible to her poor cousins, and everyone hates her. She was really fun to write.”

His favorite of the more recent Fear Street books—at least as of 2015—was The Lost Girl. “It has the most gruesome scene I’ve ever written. It’s disgusting,” Stine told Mental Floss. “It involves horses eating a man. I should be ashamed, but I’m so proud of that scene.”

13. STINE KILLED THE SERIES IN THE LATE '90S—AND BROUGHT IT BACK IN 2014.

After ending the Fear Street series in the late '90s with Trapped, Stine returned to Shadyside with Party Games in 2014. “The whole thing happened because of Twitter,” Stine told CNN. "It's a great way to keep in touch with my original readers, and Fear Street was mentioned more than anything else. That's what they read when they were kids. And I suppose we're all nostalgic for what we read back then.” After tweeting that no publishers were interested in bringing the series back, one publisher reached out to tell him she’d love to do it—and the rest is history.

The new Fear Street books were about 100 pages longer than their predecessors and in hardcover for the first time. The Return to Fear Street books—the first of which comes out this summer—are paperbacks with retro covers. (You can still get a number of the original books, with their excellently creepy covers, on Amazon.)

14. TECHNOLOGY MADE STINE'S JOB HARDER.

Stine told TIME that writing the books today was tougher than it was in the '90s, “because the technology has ruined a lot of things that make for good mysteries—largely because of cell phones … You have to get rid of the phone when you’re writing the book.” In one of 2014's Fear Street books, Stine's characters surrendered their cells early in the book for a phone-free weekend, allowing the murder and mayhem to proceed unchecked.

In order to write the new Fear Street books, Stine says he has to be familiar with technology that teens currently love. “You don’t want to sound out of date at all, but I’m very careful because the technology changes every two weeks. You have to be not terribly specific about what they’re using,” he said. So don’t look for any Facebook stalkers or Snapchat murderers in Fear Street: “In a month, that would be [over], and then you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. The lucky thing about horror is that the things that people are afraid of, it never changes. Afraid of the dark, afraid someone’s in the house, afraid someone’s under your bed—that’s the same.”

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Comics
20 Things You Might Not Know About Garfield
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Everyone’s favorite lazy, lasagna-loving cat made his debut 40 years ago, but Garfield is still just as popular today. The comic strip spawned a TV show plus a number of video games, feature films, books, and, of course, holiday specials—not to mention one very memorable car window craze. We sat down with Garfield creator Jim Davis to nail down a solid list of 20 things you might not know about the wisecracking feline.

1. JIM DAVIS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO FOCUS THE STRIP ON JON.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I ran some early ideas at a local paper,” Jim Davis tells Mental Floss, “to see how I felt about it and I called the strip Jon. It was about him, but he had this wise cat who, every time, came back zinging him. He always had the great payoff. At the time, I worked for T.K. Ryan—the cartoonist for Tumbleweeds—and I showed it to him and told him how every time I got to the punch line the cat zings him. And T.K. said, 'Well, what does that tell you, Jim?'" he laughs. “The strip must be about the cat. Go with it.”

2. JON WAS A CARTOONIST IN THE VERY FIRST COMIC STRIP, BUT IT WAS NEVER REALLY MENTIONED AGAIN.

“I didn’t want to tread on the fact that Jon’s a cartoonist because my biggest fear was getting a little too inside," Davis says. "That it would be a little too easy for me to write. I didn’t want to lose the readers just for my own enjoyment, or for a handful of peers. Also, I purposely gave him a job right off the top for the reason that The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet never explained what Ozzie did for a living. Nobody ever knew because he was always in the house with Harriet and Ricky and David. Just hanging around. So I thought I would give Jon a job right off the top to avoid being asked what he does for a living in interviews.”

3. GARFIELD WAS NAMED AFTER DAVIS'S GRANDFATHER, JAMES A. GARFIELD DAVIS ...

... who was named after President James A. Garfield. That’s quite a connection. Now just imagine a fat, wisecracking, lasagna-eating cat as the President of the United States of America. (Sounds like a dead-ringer for William Howard Taft!)

4. GARFIELD IS SET IN DAVIS'S HOMETOWN OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, BUT THAT'S ALSO MOSTLY LEFT UNSAID.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I would like for readers in Sydney, Australia to think that Garfield lives next door,” Davis says. “Dealing with eating and sleeping, being a cat, Garfield is very universal. By virtue of being a cat, really, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old. It gives me a lot more latitude for the humor for the situations.” The farm that Davis grew up on reportedly had 25 cats, several of which he based the Garfield character on.

5. DAVIS MAINTAINS COMPLETE CONTROL OVER GARFIELD'S FINAL PRODUCT, BUT HE NO LONGER DRAWS THE DAILY COMIC STRIP.

“I’m sitting here working on the writing right now,” he says. “I see gags and I work with assistants on the strip and stuff like that. We do roughs and it all filters through me so that it has one voice. We all get together occasionally in the same room and draw and work on shapes of fingers and gestures and expressions and things like that so that if any one of us draws it, you can’t tell which one did it.”

6. HE REGRETS AT LEAST ONE LICENSED GARFIELD ITEM.

According to Slate, Garfield merchandise brings in $750 million to $1 billion annually. Davis’s creation has been adapted and licensed more times than anyone could probably count, and of all of those items, there's one that Davis isn't thrilled with. “A few years ago there was a Zombie Garfield,” he says. “It was really gnarly and I thought, 'Oh, this will be fun.' So I did it and it sold okay. It was really interesting. But then I looked at it later and I go, ‘It did nothing for the character’s advancement.’ I figured I just did it because it was cool and everybody was doing it at the time. I just didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling after doing it. But those T-shirts go away," he laughs.

7. GARFIELD HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR BEING THE WORLD'S MOST WIDELY SYNDICATED COMIC STRIP.

Garfield is syndicated in more than 2500 newspapers and journals. The cat also has more than 16 million fans on Facebook. That’s one seriously popular feline.

8. GARFIELD'S CHARACTER DESIGN HAS CHANGED MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS.

There's one constant, though: The fat cat has always been—and will always be—fat. “If he lost weight, that would effectively end Garfield as we know it,” Davis says. “Garfield sends a healthy message in that he’s not perfect. He knows that and he’s cool with that. He’s happy with himself. If everybody were, there would probably be fewer disorders of all natures. He’s not perfect. In fact, he’s the imperfection in all of us underneath. I think that makes him probably easier to identify with than a slim, athletic character in the comics.”

9. DAVIS REALLY ENJOYED SCARING KIDS WITH GARFIELD'S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE.

"It was such a challenge to try to think of something that could be scary, but fortunately we got to work with animation—we could marry scary sounds with scary music and scary images, and set the stage for a scary experience," Davis says. "Even down to the use of the actor’s voice. C. Lindsay Workman [who voices the old man that tells Garfield and Odie about the vengeful ghost pirates] was just a great character actor. I think we took our time to build to a scary scene where the ghost pirates invaded the house to look for the buried treasure. We tried to throw as many elements together as possible to create a situation where, at least for a few minutes, it could create a scary situation for the young viewers."

10. CREATING THE GHOST PIRATES IN THE HALLOWEEN TV SPECIAL WAS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

“We did it in our own art department (here at Paws, Inc.) because we wanted to make it just right,” the Garfield creator told us. “It was done with a white, chalky pencil on a rough texture so that everything would be really grainy. Back then, we animated on real film, so in order to get that glow we did what’s called a double burn. We exposed the film twice to overexpose the ghosts, and that gave it that eerie glow. We were totally in control of the process and the results turned out very well.”

11. IN 2011, A FULL-LENGTH STAGE MUSICAL CALLED GARFIELD LIVE WAS STAGED IN MUNCIE.

The musical was supposed to start touring the United States in September 2010, but was delayed until January 2011, when it premiered in Muncie. Davis wrote Garfield Live, while Michael Dansicker and Bill Meade handled the music and lyrics.

12. DAVIS LOVED THE CASTING OF BILL MURRAY AS THE VOICE OF GARFIELD IN 2004'S GARFIELD: THE MOVIE.


Muncie Magazine

“It was because of Bill Murray’s attitude [that he was cast],” Davis tells us. “It wasn’t really so much his voice. It was the fact that he embodies the attitude that Garfield has always displayed in the strip. Lorenzo [Music] obviously wasn’t a choice since he passed away years ago, and when the producers said, ‘Bill Murray would like to do the voice,’ I thought, ‘Oh, cool.’ My biggest concern about doing a CGI Garfield with live action was that people wouldn’t buy into the fact that this was our Garfield—the Garfield we’d known all these years. But I thought that as soon as they heard Bill Murray’s voice they’d get it. There will be that emotional tag going with his voice. That will establish the fact that, ‘Yes, this character has attitude.’”

13. THERE'S A GREAT LINK BETWEEN GARFIELD VOICE ACTOR LORENZO MUSIC AND BILL MURRAY.

Lorenzo Music provided the voice of Garfield in all of the cat’s TV specials from 1982 to 1991, as well as during the 1988 to 1994 run of Garfield and Friends. Music also provided the voice of Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters. Murray, of course, played Venkman in the Ghostbusters films and would, in 2004, provide the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie. “I didn’t know about the relationship with Ghostbusters until years later."

14. THE MACY'S PARADE ONCE CITED SHAMU THE WHALE AS THE PARADE'S LARGEST BALLOON, BUT DAVIS SAYS GARFIELD WAS LARGER.

“In the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they had published that their biggest balloon ever, by volume of gas, was Shamu the Whale with over 18,000 cubic feet," Davis says. "The fact is that the Garfield balloon was filled with 18,907 cubic feet of helium. So we just confirmed that the Garfield balloon, in fact, was the largest one by volume of gas.”

15. THERE ARE ONLY THREE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHERE GARFIELD IS NOT NAMED GARFIELD.

“In Sweden, Garfield is known as Gustav,” the Garfield creator says. “There are only three countries in the whole world where he’s not Garfield and they’re all in the Nordics.” The other two are Norway and Finland.

16. THE STUCK ON YOU GARFIELD PLUSH WITH SUCTION CUPS WAS THE RESULT OF A MISUNDERSTANDING.


Amazon

In the 1990s, it wasn't unusual to see a number of cars with little Garfield plushes stuck to the windows with suction cups. But that wasn't the original design—or the intended use. “I designed the first Stuck on You doll with Velcro on the paws, thinking that people would stick it on curtains,” Davis says. “It came back as a mistake with suction cups. They didn’t understand the directions. So I stuck it on a window and said, 'If it’s still there in two days, we’ll approve this.' Well, they were good suction cups and we released it like that. It never occurred to me that people would put them on cars.”

17. THE GARFIELD COMIC STRIP BOOKS HAVE BEEN HUGE HITS.

“The 11 Garfield comic strip books have all been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List,” Davis says. “At one time there were seven on the list simultaneously. At that point, they changed the way the list was done because other publishing houses were complaining that their authors couldn’t get on the list because of Garfield. Garfield at Large (1980) was number one for two solid years. Over 100 weeks.” The title of every compilation book is a reference to either food or Garfield’s weight.

18. STEVEN SPIELBERG AND STEPHEN KING ARE AMONG THE MANY CELEBRITIES WHO OWN ORIGINAL GARFIELD STRIPS.

They both contacted Davis personally for the strips; the cartoonist happily obliged.

19. DESPITE GARFIELD BEING INSANELY POPULAR FOR DECADES, DAVIS IS STILL MOSTLY ANONYMOUS.


Muncie Magazine

“Being a cartoonist, you really enjoy a lot of anonymity,” he says. “You take a half-dozen of the biggest cartoonists and walk them down any street, nobody would notice them. They only know their characters. So I just hide behind Garfield. The only time anyone knows the name or spots me is if I’m out on book tour and I’m meant to do publicity. We don’t suffer any of the kind of attention problems that I think people do on TV or in movies. It’s not a big deal. I’m sitting here in the countryside of East Central Indiana, so it’s pretty quiet.”

20. DAVIS'S FATHER'S FAVORITE COMIC STRIP WASN'T GARFIELD.

Davis's father and namesake, who passed away in 2016, liked Garfield but preferred another comic strip: Beetle Bailey. “Nobody else knew that until today,” Davis tells us.

This article originally appeared in 2014.

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Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
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History
13 Incredible Facts About Frederick Douglass
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock

The list of Frederick Douglass's accomplishments is astonishing—respected orator, famous writer, abolitionist, civil rights leader, presidential consultant—even without considering that he was a former slave with no formal education. In honor of his birth 200 years ago, here are 13 incredible facts about the life of Frederick Douglass.

1. HE BARTERED BREAD FOR KNOWLEDGE.

Because Douglass was a slave, he wasn't allowed to learn to read or write. A wife of a Baltimore slave owner did teach him the alphabet when he was around 12, but she stopped after her husband interfered. Young Douglass took matters into his own hands, cleverly fitting in a reading lesson whenever he was on the street running errands for his owner. As he detailed in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he'd carry a book with him while out and about and trade small pieces of bread to the white kids in his neighborhood, asking them to help him learn to read the book in exchange.

2. HE CREDITED A SCHOOLBOOK FOR SHAPING HIS VIEWS ON HUMAN RIGHTS.

Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During his youth, Douglass obtained a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of essays, dialogues, and speeches on a range of subjects, including slavery. Published in 1797, the Orator was required reading for most schoolchildren in the 1800s and featured 84 selections from authors like Cicero and Milton. Abraham Lincoln was also influenced by the collection when he was first starting in politics.

3. HE TAUGHT OTHER SLAVES TO READ.

While he was hired out to a farmer named William Freeland, a teenaged Douglass taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament—but a mob of locals soon broke up the classes. Undeterred, Douglas began the classes again, sometimes teaching as many as 40 people.

4. HIS FIRST WIFE HELPED HIM ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY.

Portrait of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's first wife.
First published in Rosetta Douglass Sprague's book My Mother As I Recall Her, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Anna Murray was an independent laundress in Baltimore and met Douglass at some point in the mid-1830s. Together they hatched a plan, and one night in 1838, Douglass took a northbound train clothed in a sailor's uniform procured by Anna, with money from her savings in his pocket alongside papers from a sailor friend. About 24 hours later, he arrived in Manhattan a free man. Anna soon joined him, and they married on September 15, 1838.

5. HE CALLED OUT HIS FORMER OWNER.

In an 1848 open letter in the newspaper he owned and published, The North Star, Douglass wrote passionately about the evils of slavery to his former owner, Thomas Auld, saying "I am your fellow man, but not your slave." He also inquired after his family members who were still enslaved a decade after his escape.

6. HE TOOK HIS NAME FROM A POEM.

He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass, then using the surname "Johnson," felt there were too many other Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. He asked his host (ironically named Nathan Johnson) to suggest a new name, and Mr. Johnson came up with Douglas, a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. HE'S CALLED THE 19TH CENTURY'S MOST PHOTOGRAPHED AMERICAN.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 160 separate portraits of Douglass, more than Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman, two other heroes of the 19th century. Douglass wrote extensively on the subject during the Civil War, calling photography a "democratic art" that could finally represent black people as humans rather than "things." He gave his portraits away at talks and lectures, hoping his image could change the common perceptions of black men.

8. HE REFUSED TO CELEBRATE THE 4TH OF JULY.

Douglass was well-known as a powerful orator, and his July 5, 1852 speech to a group of hundreds of abolitionists in Rochester, New York, is considered a masterwork. Entitled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," the speech ridiculed the audience for inviting a former slave to speak at a celebration of the country who enslaved him. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine," he famously said to those in attendance. "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?" Douglass refused to celebrate the holiday until all slaves were emancipated and laws like the Compromise of 1850, which required citizens (including northerners) to return runaway slaves to their owners, were negated.

9. HE RECRUITED BLACK SOLDIERS FOR THE CIVIL WAR.

The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Douglass was a famous abolitionist by the time the war began in 1861. He actively petitioned President Lincoln to allow black troops in the Union army, writing in his newspaper: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons would join the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous for its contributions in the brutal battle of Fort Wagner.

10. HE SERVED UNDER FIVE PRESIDENTS.

Later in life, Douglass became more of a statesman, serving in highly appointed federal positions, including U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to appoint Douglass to a position in 1877, and Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison each sought his counsel in various positions as well.

11. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a VP candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the Presidential candidate. (Woodhull was the first-ever female presidential candidate, which is why Hillary Clinton was called "the first female presidential candidate from a major party" during the 2016 election.) However, the nomination was made without his consent, and Douglass never acknowledged it (and Woodhull's candidacy itself is controversial because she wouldn't have been old enough to be president on Inauguration Day). Also, though he was never a presidential candidate, he did receive one vote at each of two nomination conventions.

12. HIS SECOND MARRIAGE STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY.

Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.
Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.

Two years after his first wife, Anna, died of a stroke in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist who was 20 years younger than him. Even though she was the daughter of an abolitionist, Pitts's family (which had ancestral ties directly to the Mayflower) disapproved and disowned her—showing just how taboo interracial marriage was at the time. The black community also questioned why their most prominent spokesperson chose to marry a white woman, regardless of her politics. But despite the public's and their families' reaction, the Douglasses had a happy marriage and were together until his death in 1895 of a heart attack.

13. AFTER EARLY SUCCESS, HIS NARRATIVE WENT OUT OF PRINT.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, his seminal autobiography, was heralded a success when it came out in 1845, with some estimating that 5000 copies sold in the first few months; the book was also popular in Ireland and Britain. But post-Civil War, as the country moved toward reconciliation and slave narratives fell out favor, the book went out of print. The first modern publication appeared in 1960—during another important era for the fight for civil rights. It is now available for free online.

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