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15 Scary Fun Facts About Bunnicula

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Since it was first published in 1979, the beloved children's classic Bunnicula—about a vampire bunny who sucks veggies dry, turning them white, and the cat and dog who try to expose him—has sold more than 8 million copies, won a number of awards, and spawned a couple of cartoons. Here are a few things you might not have known about the book.

1. JAMES HOWE WAS A STRUGGLING ACTOR WHEN HE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA.

“I was doing what a lot of actors do and staying up too late and watching movies on TV,” Howe told Book Page in 2011. “It was watching all those bad vampire movies in the '70s that led to the idea of Bunnicula.” Howe told Scholastic that many of the movies were more silly than scary. “I don't remember the moment when the character Bunnicula came into my head,” he said. “I suspect it came from asking the question, what's the silliest, least likely vampire I can imagine?”

2. HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW SUGGESTED WRITING A BOOK ABOUT BUNNICULA.

After he came up with the character he called “Count Bunnicula,” Howe made “a little greeting card … of a vampire rabbit,” he told Teaching Books—but he never thought about writing a book featuring the character.

“I was not writing then—even though I always loved to write, I wasn’t thinking of it as my work,” he told NPR. “It was actually [my wife] Debbie’s mother who said, ‘That would make a great character for a children’s book. Why don’t you two try that?”

So one night after dinner, just for fun, the Howes started writing the book that would become Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery. “One of us would hold the pad of paper and essentially be secretary,” Howe said. “We wrote that book completely out loud—we told the story; one of us would begin a sentence, and the other one might jump in and finish the sentence.”

3. THE OPENING SENTENCE NEVER CHANGED.

“The final, published story is essentially there in the first draft, just as we told it,” Howe told Teaching Books. “In fact, it only took maybe three or four drafts, and mostly that was fixing and polishing.” From the time the Howes sat down to write until the time Bunnicula was published, the very first sentence, spoken by Harold the dog—“I shall never forget the first time I laid these now tired old eyes on our visitor”—never changed.

4. DEBBIE DIED BEFORE IT WAS PUBLISHED.

Several months into writing Bunnicula, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer. At first, Howe said, they put the book aside. “We had other things to deal with,” he told Teaching Books. “But, after a few months, we needed to laugh. We needed something to put our minds to that wasn't so serious and difficult, and we went back to writing Bunnicula. Writing that book really made us laugh; it served the greater purpose of easing the pain and lifting our spirits.”

Sadly, Debbie wouldn’t live to see the book in print. She passed away in June 1978 at 31; Bunnicula was published the next year.

5. THE MOST CHALLENGING ILLUSTRATION FOR ARTIST ALAN DANIEL WAS THE FIRST ONE. 

When illustrator Alan Daniel—who has created art for books like Fireside Al’s Treasury of Christmas Stories, Get Out of Bed!, and The Best Figure Skater in the Whole Wide World—received the Bunnicula manuscript from his agent in 1978, “I laughed all the way through it,” he told mental_floss in an email, “and could hardly wait to get to work.” When he got down to drawing, “I would be so deeply into what I was doing that my children would come into my studio and see the expression of the character I was drawing reflected in my face.” 

He received no art direction. “All the information on the characters is implicit in the text, which I read carefully several times,” he said. So when choosing which scenes to illustrate, Daniel looked for dynamic situations. “I want to show all the characters and make sure the pictures are well placed throughout—not bunched up,” he said. “The story is told from the animals’ point of view so the illustrations are also from that POV. The family is part of the animals’ world so they need to be there, but they only appear twice.”

The most challenging illustration to create, he said, was the first major one: “It is a dark and stormy night so the lighting is tricky. Bunnicula is just a pair of eyes within a dark bundle. A lot had to be established in that illustration. I wanted to present a world that was real so the fantastical elements of the text could play against it.”

Daniel used three different pencils to create the illustrations. An HB graphite pencil got the most use. A 2H pencil “let me get a grayer look for things I wanted to recede,” Daniel said, while “2B gave me real darks. Everything was built up with fine lines except the chair for which I used the texture of the illustration board. Having a full-color cover was a challenge because I wanted to keep the look of the inside pictures. I used muted watercolor over pencil.”

He said that, even now, 38 years after the initial publication, “[people] come and tell me stories about their discovery of the book.”

6. ACCEPTANCE WAS AN ACCIDENTAL THEME OF THE FIRST BOOK.

“Writers are drawn to themes that we write about, but we don't necessarily know what they are,” Howe told Teaching Tolerance magazine in 2006. Howe didn’t know what his theme was until a fourth grade student wrote to him after Bunnicula was published. “In the book, a strange rabbit is suspected of being a vegetarian vampire after he comes into the home of, in my view, a typical suburban family,” he said. “This girl wrote, ‘I learned from this book to be accepting of someone who's different. Harold just accepted Bunnicula. He said, He's different. So what? Chester was suspicious of him and wanted to destroy him.’ There it was. There was my theme.”

Howe also related this story to Scholastic, saying that acceptance has “become a theme in much of my work and it's interesting that it might have unintentionally been a theme in my first book.”

7. THE FIRST SEQUEL WAS INSPIRED BY AGATHA CHRISTIE ...

When it came time to write a sequel to Bunnicula, Howe had a bit of trouble. He told Scholastic that, with his initial sequel idea: “I felt I was rewriting Bunnicula itself, so I knew I needed to make a big change somehow. I asked myself where else could animals go to have an adventure if they didn't stay at home? One of the first thoughts I had was a boarding kennel. As soon as I thought of a boarding kennel, I thought of the mysteries of Agatha Christie, where often a group of strangers come together in a holiday setting, one of the guests is murdered and the other guests become suspects. That gave me my basic plot structure for Howliday Inn.” It was published in 1982.

The initial idea he’d been trying to write would become the second sequel, The Celery Stalks at Midnight (1983), which was inspired by a friend who wondered if the vegetables Bunnicula drained also became vampires. There were four other Bunnicula sequels: Nighty Nightmare (1987), Return to Howliday Inn (1992), Bunnicula Strikes Again! (1999), and Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow (2006).

8. … BUT THERE’S SOME SHERLOCK HOLMES IN THE BOOKS, TOO.

“As much as I was influenced by vampire movies in writing them, I was also influenced by watching a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies,” Howe told Teaching Books. “It took me a while to realize this, but Chester is Sherlock Holmes and Harold is Watson, and they are kind of bumbling detectives who try to figure things out.”

9. THE BOOK WAS ADAPTED INTO TWO MUSICALS ...

Jon Klein adapted the book into a musical for Seattle Children’s Theater in 1996; music was composed by Chris Jeffries [PDF]. Since its debut, Bunnicula the Musical has been performed around the country. Another musical called Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery featured a book by Tony nominee Charles Busch, with music by Sam Davis and lyrics by Mark Waldrop. It played off-Broadway in 2013.

10. … AND AN ANIMATED SPECIAL.

Bunnicula: The Vampire Rabbit debuted in 1982 as part of ABC’s Weekend Specials. The 23-minute film was directed by Charles A. Nichols, who had previously served as animation director on series like Scooby Doo, Where Are You! and Josie and the Pussycats; he would go on to direct episodes of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

11. THERE WERE OTHER BUNNICULA BOOKS, TOO.

Bunnicula spawned two spin-off series: Tales from the House of Bunnicula, whose books were narrated by dachshund puppy Howie (he made his debut in Howliday Inn), and six oversized picture books called Harold & Chester. There was an activity book, written by Howe and illustrated by Alan Daniel, which contained stickers, puzzles, riddles, and word games; it was published in 1993. Bunnicula's Frightfully Fabulous Factoids: A Book to Entertain Your Brain! was published in 1999, and in 2005, Bunnicula and Friends—simplified versions of the books for early readers—debuted.

12. HOWE’S FAVORITE CHARACTER WAS HAROLD.

When Scholastic asked Howe who his favorite character was, he chose Bunnicula's canine narrator. “I would have to say Harold because I'm closest to him since I write as him,” he said. “But in the series I also really enjoy writing Howie.”

13. THE MONROE FAMILY NEVER FOUND OUT ABOUT BUNNICULA.

“They remain in the dark the whole time,” Howe told NPR. “They just think their pets act very strangely at times, as we all do.”

14. BILL HADER WAS A BIG FAN.

“The first series I was obsessed with was James Howe’s Bunnicula,” Hader told The New York Times“I read all of those.

15. THERE’S ANOTHER CARTOON BASED ON THE BOOK.

Bunnicula, which debuted on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang in 2016, does away with the Monroes and Howie completely. Instead, the show follows a girl named Mina and her two pets, Chester (Sean Astin) and Harold (Brian Kimmet), who discover Bunnicula (Chris Kattan) after they move to an apartment in New Orleans, left to Mina’s dad by a mysterious aunt.

It’s different from the books, but Howe was apparently OK with the changes. “The only thing he really wanted was for us was to be true to the characters,” producer Jessica Borutski told TV Insider. “Bunnicula’s very different, but he wanted us to stay true to Chester and Harold and honor their personality types. That’s what we did.”

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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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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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