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Charlotte’s Web celebrates 60 years

It’s a childhood classic and this week marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of “Charlotee’s Web.” You likely know the story well, but what you may not know is that its author – E.B. White – has strong ties to Central New York.
Ithaca (WSYR-TV) -- It’s a childhood classic and this week marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of “Charlotee’s Web.” You likely know the story well, but what you may not know is that its author – E.B. White – has strong ties to Central New York.

White graduated from Cornell and left his entire collection of writings to the university.

White’s carefully preserved first version of chapter one was written in longhand and barely resembles the Charlotte’s Web as we know it now.

“It’s interesting when you look at how it begins,” said Eisha Neely, with Cornell’s Kroch Library. “I mean, being able to look from the first manuscript to the second to the third, to the fourth, to the final printed version, just to see what he changed, what he left out…Fern wasn’t even a character in the first draft. She was added much later.”

More than thirty years before Charlotte's Web was published, White was attending Cornell. He graduated in 1921 and always kept a piece of the University with him. He adopted the nickname "Andy" after Cornell University’s first president, Andy White.

Neely says the first edition of Charlotte’s Web is actually inscribed to his friend Frank Sulllivan, who she says worked with him at the New Yorker and it’s even signed, Andy.

It's clear how much E.B.White honored his alma mater. An entire section of the library is filled with boxes of letters and manuscripts he donated to the University.

He even left the school his typewriter. But for readers, the most cherished items may be his frist sketch and descriptions of Charlotte, the barn spider.

“The abdomen is clothed with whitish or grey hair. On the ventral side of the abdomen, there's a broad black band. So you can see he was very specific. He really wanted to be accurate,” Neely said.

Generations of fans have taken note. White saved hundreds of fan letters dating back to the mid-50s.

The history shows how E.B. White spun beautiful words into a story that has remained "terrific" for 60 years and for many years to come.

If you want to see the original writings for yourself, Cornell University is opening an exhibit called “A Dark History of Children’s Literature” on November 7. The exhibit will feature E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the manuscripts of many other popular children’s books.

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