Happy 250th, Johnny!

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Of course you’ve heard of Johnny Appleseed — he’s our official Massachusetts Folk Hero and a national legend.

johnny appleseed

It’s likely that the mention of his name conjures up images of a rag-tag fellow with a stewpot for a hat and a bag on his back, casually strewing apple seeds as he wanders across the countryside. This caricature, familiar to anyone who has read childhood books, is both popular and misleading. Popular, because it gives instant recognition to Johnny and his travels across the country. But misleading because John Chapman — also known as Johnny Appleseed — was actually a successful businessman who helped many pioneers survive and new communities flourish.

Yes, there’s so much more to the story of Johnny Appleseed … and 2024 is a great time to learn about the man and the legend, because we’re celebrating Johnny’s 250th birthday!

Born right here in Leominster on September 26, 1774, John Chapman was the son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Simons Chapman. Not much is known about his early life other than that his mother died when he was just two years old. His father packed up Johnny and his sister and moved about 50 miles across the state, settling in the Springfield area.

As a young man, Johnny headed west, making a name for himself as a businessman as he travelled for nearly 50 years across a growing nation. Along the way, he planted apple seeds — not scattering them carelessly, but with an eye toward a future market for his crops. He sold, and often gave away, seeds and seedlings to settlers in communities. Historians tell us that Johnny was a vegetarian, a lifelong bachelor, and religious man of peace— a “primitive Christian.” He died in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on March 18, 1845.

But his legend lives on! Each year, we celebrate National Johnny Appleseed Day on his birthday, September 26.

johnny statueHis hometown of Leominster will be celebrating Johnny’s 250th this fall, complete with a special display at the Historical Society, lectures, a dance, special school programs and celebratory events at Sholan Farms, the last working orchard in the city. There will be souvenirs, too, including a commemorative coin and stamp cancellation.

You can learn more about Johnny Appleseed at a spot that bears his name: The Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center on Route 2 Westbound, between Exits 103 & 102. The center is stocked with a variety of books suitable for all ages — from coloring books for kids to more serious historical volumes. A display case serves as home to an assortment of Johnny memorabilia, and visitors can purchase first-day stamped postcards bearing the official Johnny Appleseed postage stamp. Kids might enjoy having their pictures taken with the bronze statue of a youthful Johnny, standing at the bronze statue of a youthful Johnny, standing at the entrance to the center!