| What: She walked and talked with the animals when young. At age 5 she wrote a diary on scraps of paper with crayons about her adventures with the plants and animals of the forest around her home. She kept the diary hidden in a hollow log. She converted multitudes to Christianity. She astounded university professors. She understood the value of the out of doors. In 1920 she was the most famous person in the United States because her personal diary was being exposed to the public each month in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Her attempts to get Fairyland published led Opal to Boston, specifically to the office of Ellery Sedgwick, editor of The Atlantic Monthly and one of the most influential literary figures of his time. He wasn't excited by the book Opal showed him, but he was enchanted by its author. She was "very young and eager and fluttering, like a bird in a thicket," he later wrote. He asked her about her background. She told him. He was curious -- had Opal kept a diary? Yes, she had. But it was torn to bits, ostensibly by a jealous sister. Opal, however, had saved the pieces in an enormous hat box. "We telegraphed for them, and they came, hundreds, thousands, one might almost say millions of them," Sedgwick wrote in his introduction to the diary. "Some few were large asa half-sheet of notepaper; more, scarce big enough to hold a letter of the alphabet. "Opal spent the next eight months in Boston, at the house of Sedgwick's mother-in-law, piecing together the diary like a jigsaw puzzle. It was then serialized in The Atlantic, beginning March 1920. The book came out in August, and was an immediate success. It gave a picture of life as seen through the eyes of a child, declared the New York Times, "eyes that have been touched." "It will be like no book that ever was," said Life magazine, "and may grow up to become a classic."
She was interviewed by University of Oregon professors and after it they cast aside all rules and arranged scholarships; a 17 year old girl had knowledge beyond the University graduates. This type of incident only occurred once in a generation. She was also quite a sight on campus, often running after some butterfly or insect, with her long braids and skirts flying. And one day Mrs. Prince Campbell, wife of the university president, came upon Opal kneeling on the ground, looking down and singing a hymn. Mrs. Campbell asked what she was doing. "I am singing to one of God's creatures, "Opal replied. And in front of her on the ground was an earthworm. Her friends were pigs, mice, squirrels, butterflies, bees, horses, turkeys, sheep, fir trees, hens, bats, bushes, dogs, cows, deer, clouds, crows, toads, bugs, and wood rats. She would talk to them and dress them up for full cathedral ceremonies in the forest where the pines were the walls and the sky was the ceiling. Once Opal said, "To me all God's out-of-doors is one grand cathedral."
All we can do here is give you an some examples: (Peter Paul Rubens is the name that she gave to her pig)
By and by, I came to a log. It was a nice little log. It was as long as three pigs as long as Peter Paul Rubens. I climbed upon it. I so did to look more looks about. The wind did blow in a real quick way -- he made music all around. I danced on the log. It is so much a big amount of joy to dance on a log when the wind does play the harps in the forest. Then do I dance on tiptoe. I wave greetings to the plant-bush folks that do dance all about. Today a grand pine tree did wave its arms to me, and the bush branches patted my cheek in a friendly way. The wind again did blow back my curls -- they clasped the fingers of the bush-people most near. I did turn around to untangle them. It is most difficult to dance on tiptoe on a log when one's curls are in a tangle with the branches of a friendly bush that grew near unto the log, and does make bows to one while the wind doth blow. When I did turn to untangle my curls, I saw a silken cradle in a hazel branch. I have thinks that the wind did just tangle my curls so I would have seeing of that cradle. It was cream, with a hazel leaf halfway round it. I put it to my ear, and I did listen. It had a little voice. It was not a tone voice; it was a heart voice. While I did listen, I did feel its feels. It had lovely ones. And then I did hurry away in the way that does lead to the house of the girl that has no seeing. I went that way so she too might know its feels, and hear its heart voice. She does so like to feel things as she has seeing by feels. Other excerpts.
Out of print poetry of Opal's: Flower of Stars,
The Best Book available: The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, by Benjamin Hoff.
Other books available:
Links to more information: Opal Whiteley's Homepage, Short biography, Longer biography with pictures, Legend of Opal Whiteley,
Opal's Diary On-line
Other sources of information:
--The Book mine, 702 E. Main Street, Cottage Grove. (541) 942-7414. Ongoing display of Opal information, including books, articles, and "Opal's Fairyland," a free self-guided tour written by Steve Williamson. Benjamin Hoff sometimes comes down for the "Opal Whiteley Weekends."
--Special collections at the University of Oregon Knight Library in Eugene, Cottage Grove Public Library, Oregon Historical Society in Portland, and the Oregon State Library in Salem have a fair amount of material concerning Opal. Some of it is quite fragile, and use is restricted
--The Massachusetts Historical Society also has a collection, focusing on Opal's time working with The Atlantic Monthly. Another Opal Whiteley collection is maintained by the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts at the University of London.
Photos of the Cottage Grove Opal Mural and History.