Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Sydney Porter. Writing as O. Henry, he became one of the country's most famous short story writers. Edward Garner wrote about him in 1962.
More than five million copies of O. Henry's books were published, and some of his magazine stories brought him 25c a word.
His "Gift of the Magi" is probably the best-known Christmas story with the exception of Dickens' memorable classic dealing with Scrooge and Tiny Tim.
"I'll give you the whole secret of short story writing," said O. Henry... "and here it is: Rule one, write stories that please yourself. There is no rule two," and, he added, "if you can't write a story that pleases yourself, you'll never please the public." -- The News & Observer 9/9/1962
Growing up in Greensboro, Porter "experienced boyhood adventures to match those of Tom Sawyer. One was his "'whaling expedition.'"
A Greensboro youth returned from a long absence with tales of having sailed on a whaling ship. His stories inspired Will to leave home for a like career. He took a friend with him.
"Our money gave out at Raleigh, and after spending all we had for something to eat, we decided to go home if we could get there," his chum related. -- Greensboro Daily News 8/10/1952
But though he grew up in Greensboro and spent much of his adult life in Texas, there's more to the story. According to the Austin American-Statesman in 1998, "O. Henry isn't really from any of these places. O. Henry is from a penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. He went in near the end of the last century and emerged at the beginning of this one. He went in W.S. Porter, became prisoner No. 30664 and came out O. Henry."
Porter was accused and convicted of embezzling about $1,000 form the Texas bank where he worked and served 39 months of a five-year sentence. He spent his time in prison writing and took the pen name O. Henry when he was released.
In the 1980s, Greensboro businessman Seth Macon enlisted Senator Jesse Helms to try to win a pardon for O. Henry, but the try was unsuccessful. According to the attorney general's office, "Federal policy does not authorize presidential pardons of dead people.... The policy is based "in large part (on) the legal principle that a pardon, like a deed, must be accepted by the person to whom it is directed."
In lieu of a pardon, the group did receive a "warm letter" signed by President Reagan:
The pleasure this favorite son of Greensboro has given can never be calculated, if only because he never stops giving it. His message is irresistible and even instructive: that interesting things are happening all around us, and that every one of our neighbors is someone special. Anybody is a candidate to be an O. Henry hero or an O. Henry heroine." -- The Raleigh Times 4/3/1985
To commemorate the anniversary of O. Henry's birth, the Post Office today unveiled the O. Henry Forever stamp, the 28th in its Literary Arts series.
"In the stamp art, the author's portrait is set against a background image of the elevated rail in New York City, where many of O. Henry's stories were set. The portrait is based on a photograph of the author as a young man that dates to the late 1880s. Art director Ethel Kessler worked with artist Cap Pannell on his first stamp illustration for O. Henry." -- US Postal Service