Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Happy birthday, Washington Irving

It is the birthday of writer Washington Irving (1783), whose short stories Rip Van Winkle (1819) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) are his most remembered contributions to American literature, though he also wrote biographies and histories as well. Irving was one of the first American authors to earn a living from his writing. The short stories appeared in a volume The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819). Irving was the first to refer to New York City as Gotham and coined the expression "the almighty dollar." He created the character Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old Dutch historian, as a hoax to promote a book he had written. He ran an ad several times in a local newspaper seeking the "missing" old man. When the man didn't show up, he then ran an ad supposedly from the proprietor of a small hotel vowing to publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind to help  pay his hotel bill. The scheme was wildly successful and the public eagerly snapped up his book when it was published. Today the name Diedrich Knickerbocker refers generally to New Yorkers and lives on in the pro basketball team the New York Knicks.

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