Interesting facts About O Henry
1) O Henry was the most popular pen name of the famous American short-story writer William Sydney Porter.
2) Debate runs about the origin of this pen name. When William was asked “What does ‘O’ stand for?”. He replied “O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver.” “Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?” again he was asked. “Good,” said William, “O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is.” Again there were lot of people in his life who used to call him “Oh Henry!”
3) Apart from O Henry he had various other pen names such as S.H. Peters, James L. Bliss, T.B. Dowd, and Howard Clark.
4) William Sidney Porter was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina, America.
5) His father was Dr. Algernon Sidney Porter, a physician, and his mother Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter.
6) At the age of three, O Henry became motherless as she died of Tuberculosis.
7) O Henry took his graduation from his aunt, Evelina Maria Porter’s elementary school in 1876. He then enrolled at the Lindsey Street High School. His aunt continued to tutor him until he was fifteen.
8) At age of 16 he started working in his uncle’s medicine store.
9) In 1881 he got his pharmacist licence.
10) Besides he was an avid reader of classic and dime novel.
11) In 1882, O. Henry travelled with Dr. James K. Hall to Texas in March 1882, hoping that a change of air would help alleviate a persistent cough he had developed.
12) After getting recovered he moved to Austin where he took a number of different jobs over the next several years, first as pharmacist then as a draftsman, bank teller and journalist. He also began writing as a sideline.
13) Besides O Henry was a good singer and musician and loved to act in drama. He could play guitar and mandolin. He became a member of the “Hill City Quartet”, a troop of serenaded young women.
14) There he fell in love with Athol Estes, a girl of just 17 from a wealthy family.
15) Athol’s mother opposed the affair as Athol was a patient of Tuberculosis.
16) On July 1, 1887, O Henry eloped with Athol and got married soon.
17) Athol encouraged her husband to pursue his writing. Athol gave birth to a son in 1888, who died hours after birth, and then a daughter, Margaret Worth Porter in next year.
18) O Henry’s old friend Richard Hall became Texas Land Commissioner and offered Porter a job.
19) Porter started as a draftsman at the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in 1887 at a salary of $100 a month, drawing maps from surveys and field notes. The salary was enough to support his family, but he continued his contributions to magazines and newspapers.
20) But his job at the GLO was a political appointment by Hall. When his friend lost the election Porter had to resign in early 1891.
21) The same year, Porter began working at the First National Bank of Austin as a teller and bookkeeper at the same salary he had made at the GLO. Henry was careless in keeping books or may have embezzled (stealing) fund. In 1894 he was accused for embezzlement and terminated from his job.
22) He then worked full-time on his humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone but it failed since the paper never provided an adequate income. However, his writing and drawings had caught the attention of the editor at the Houston Post.
23) O Henry moved to Houston for writing career.
24) Strange enough O Henry gathered ideas for his column by loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there.
25) While living at Houston Porter was arrested on the charge of embezzlement in The First National Bank as federal auditor audited the bank and found shortage of fund.
26) O Henry’s father-in-law posted bail to keep him out of jail. He was due to stand trial on July 7, 1896.
27) But a day before, he suddenly fled to New Orleans and then to Honduras with which the United States had no extradition treaty at that time.
28) In Honduras O Henry became friend with Al Jennings, a notorious train robber and stayed at Trujillo Hotel for several months.
29) There he wrote Cabbages and Kings in which he coined the term “banana republic” to describe the country, a phrase subsequently used widely to describe a small, unstable tropical nation in Latin America with a narrowly focused, agrarian economy.
30) At that time Athol became seriously ill. When he learned that his wife was dying, Porter returned to Austin in February 1897 and surrendered to the court, pending an appeal.
31) Once again, Porter’s father-in-law posted bail so that he could stay with Athol and Margaret.
32) Athol died of tuberculosis on July 25, 1897.
33) Porter had little to say in his own defence, and was found guilty of embezzlement in February 1898, sentenced to five years in prison, and imprisoned on March 25, 1898 at the Ohio Penitentiary.
34) As O Henry was a licensed pharmacist he was given the service in the Prison hospital.
35) Remaining in jail he published 14 stories under the pseudo name “O Henry” which appeared first in the short story “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking” as he wanted to hide the identity of the imprisoned author.
36) After serving three years of imprisonment O. Henry was finally released on July 24, 1901 for his good conduct.
37) Henry reunited with his 11 years old daughter Margaret who was never told that her father had been in prison—just that he had been away on business.
38) His most fertile writing period began in 1902 when he choosed to move New York.
39) There he wrote a short story in every week for New York World Sunday Magazine.
40) He wrote almost 381 short stories.
41) His short stories are generally adored for their surprise twist and ending.
42) O Henry’s collections of short stories are Cabbages and Kings, Roads of Destiny, Whirligigs etc.
43) His most popular short story “The Gift of the Magi,” a poverty-stricken New York couple secretly sell valued possessions to buy one another Christmas gifts. Ironically, the wife sells her hair so that she can buy her husband a watch chain, while he sells his watch so that he can buy her a pair of combs.
44) Henry went to his native state North Carolina in 1907 and met his childhood beloved Sarah Lindsey Coleman and married her.
45) Sarah was also a writer who wrote a novella Wind of Destiny about their courtship.
46) Henry became a heavy drinker and his health deteriorated that didn’t support his writing. His wife left him.
47) On June 5, 1910 O Henry breathed his last because of cirrhosis of the liver.
48) He was buried in the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.
49) His final work was “Dream”, a short story intended for the magazine The Cosmopolitan but left incomplete at the time of his death.
50) O Henry had an obvious affection for the city, which he called “Bagdad-on-the-Subway”, and many of his stories are set there.