I’ve always been a big fan of those few (two, actually) Horatio Alger stories I could get my hands on — Ragged Dick and Mark, the Match Boy. They’re incredibly stilted novels, filled with heavy-handed moral messages, but they still have a wonderful innocent charm, a beautiful sense of a time long gone, and a good point about hard work and honesty. What I didn’t know is that, in his own lifetime, Horatio Alger was accused of assaulting two young boys in his town. Because history casts long shadows, those long dormant accusations are now being raised to put a stop to a Horatio Alger festival in Marlborough, Massachusetts, Alger’s home town:
A riches-to-rags story could be unfolding in Horatio Alger’s hometown. As this Boston suburb gets ready for its 11th annual Horatio Alger Street Fair, town leaders are considering dropping Alger’s name from the festival next year because of allegations of pedophilia against the 19th-century children’s author.
In the 1860s, Alger quietly resigned as a Unitarian minister at a church on Cape Cod after he was accused of assaulting two boys — an incident that is old news to literary scholars but came as a surprise to some civic leaders in Marlborough.
“This was an absolute shock to me,” said school board member Joe Delano. “That’s a sad world, goodness gracious.” Delano, the father of three girls, said: “I’m confident the city will change the name next year.”
Alger, who grew up in Marlborough, is remembered for more than 100 novels about boys who go from rags to riches by working hard, often under the tutelage of wealthy men. Alger also is credited with helping to improve working conditions for youngsters.
The festival is organized by the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with city. Janet Bruno, chairwoman of the chamber’s fair committee, told The MetroWest Daily News that the panel looked into the allegations nearly a decade ago and found that they were never proved in a court of law.
Alger’s biography on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Web site describes complaints lodged against him when he was a minister in Brewster in 1866. It said he did not contest them, and left town.
In letters now housed at the Harvard Divinity School, Brewster church officials wrote to church higher-ups in Boston, complaining of Alger’s “abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys,” according to Swarthmore College professor Carol Nackenoff, who has studied Alger. Alger’s father, himself a Unitarian minister, promised that his son would resign and never again work in the church.
“I believe the complaint was not baseless,” Nackenoff said.
Nackenoff said there is no known correspondence from Alger himself regarding the allegations, which were essentially hidden until about 1980 or so, when some Alger biographies came out.
She said Marlborough should not change the name of the fair.
“He was an important literary figure who I think we should celebrate,” Nackenoff said.