Who remembers the TV game show “To Tell the Truth”? Three people would claim to be a person who did something unusual, and a panel would try to guess which one was telling the truth and which two were impostors.
At the end of each segment, the host would say, “Will the REAL so-and-so PLEASE STAND UP!”
This Saturday, the Jones Library in Amherst is hosting a revival of “To Tell the Truth.” I am participating in this program, which is about an immensely popular writer who was the center of a literary mystery 100 years ago. He was an Amherst resident who went by the name David Grayson, and he was a champion of simple living. Readers loved his books, but virtually no one knew who he really was.
“David Grayson Revealed” will start at 10:30 in the Special Collections area on the second floor of the library. The program will mark the 100th anniversary of the month when the true identity of David Grayson became known, after 10 years of secrecy and speculation.
I will give a talk on Grayson and his writings to lead off the program, and read from his first book, “Adventures in Contentment” (which gave this blog half its name). Then three people will portray actual writers from a century ago, only one of whom wrote the David Grayson books. I’m using male pronouns here, but one of the three is a female writer who should not be ruled out!
There really were David Grayson impersonators, at least six of them. One convinced a woman to marry him based on this false identity. One of Saturday’s “contestants” will portray one of these impostors.
Afterwards, I will give a talk on the actual person who wrote the David Grayson books, and read from “Under My Elm,” about a beloved tree that still stands near his house on Sunset Avenue in Amherst. The program was organized by Cynthia Harbeson, the library’s curator of special collections.
In Grayson’s books, he portrays himself as an educated man who leaves the city to live on a farm. He observes with amused detachment, patience and understanding the ways of his rural neighbors. He champions “the beauty of neighborliness, the richness of the quiet life, and the charm of common things.”
David Grayson deserves a place in Amherst’s pantheon of great writers, alongside Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Here are some unusual details about him:
- His nine books sold over 2 million copies, some going through 40 printings in England, and were translated into many languages, even Braille.
- The persona of David Grayson was created in 1906 when a magazine was desperate to fill the next issue, and a writer threw together a story based on his personal diaries.
- The actual writer admitted to being jealous of his alter ego, who got more attention than the journalism published under his real name.
- David Grayson is the opposite of Emily Dickinson, Amherst’s most famous writer, who was unknown in her lifetime; Grayson was world-famous in his lifetime but is little-known today.
- Thousands of people wrote letters to the fictional David Grayson, many addressing him like a close friend. Some of these letters, which are housed at the Jones Library, will be on display Saturday.
Look for more details about David Grayson in an article I wrote that is scheduled to appear in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin this Friday. And please come to the library on Saturday morning to see David Grayson’s true identity revealed!
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