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The little dog that keeps on going

Life-sized statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The story you're about to read might sound familiar. It comes from halfway around the world but maybe it reminds you of an old  Lassie movie, or you could swear you've heard it before somewhere. You probably have. But what most people don't know was it all started right here in Jasper County.

According to what is now Scottish legend, a man named John Gray, or "Auld Jock" to his friends, worked for the city police of Edinburgh, Scotland, as a night watchman in the mid-1800s. Life was simpler then, and most of Gray's duties required him to walk a beat, being present to guard citizens and businesses, and generally to keep the peace. Among the places he guarded was Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard surrounding an ancient church (or Kirk) in the old part of town.

Some tales have John finding a stray dog; in others he adopts him as a pup, but at some point John becomes attached to a "wee beastie" of a dog, a scrappy little Skye terrier that he named Bob.

Bob, called Bobby by the shopkeepers and townsfolk who sort of adopted him as well, was a faithful companion, and when his owner passed away from a winter illness and was buried in the Kirkyard, Bobby followed him, sitting on his grave each day until his own death in 1872.

Greyfriars Bobby is immortalized in books, movies, websites and memorials, including a life-sized statue of the terrier himself, located at Greyfriar's Kirkyard, outside the Greyfriars Bobby Pub.

Now the local twist.

The story of Greyfriars Bobby was kind of an urban legend in Scotland for several years, a local tale passed along by friends and family, not unlike our "Moody Lights." That is until 1912, when an American author, Eleanor Atkinson, set the story in print. Her novel, also named Greyfriars Bobby, captured the hearts of a generation and became a sensation in the literary world.

Though there are many differences between the novel and the earlier myth, scholars believe Atkinson picked up the story, as well as its language, from Scottish immigrants to the U.S.

Since then, many of the details from Atkinson's novel, including the man's name and profession, became entwined with the original myth, and the story has continued to evolve from there.

Atkinson, the daughter of Isaac and Margaret Stackhouse, was born and raised in Rensselaer. A teacher in the Indianapolis and Chicago public schools, she became a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune in 1889 using the pen name Nora Marks. She met her husband while there, and in 1900 she became editor of a small publishing house called The Little Chronicle Publishing Company. It was there that she published several of her own works.

In addition to her novel about Greyfriars Bobby, Atkinson also wrote several pieces about famous figures in history including Abraham Lincoln, and -- for which she was also well known in her day -- fellow Hoosier Johnny Appleseed.

Recently we became aware of a new website devoted to Greyfriars Bobby and a new childrens book about the legend. You can find it online at www.bobby-oneoclockgun.com. For more information about Eleanor Atkinson, stop in at the Rensselaer Library and ask to browse our files on local authors.

Photo credit: The Greyfriars Bobby statue, taken by JCPL staff member Jamie Jones, who visited the Kirkyard during a semester abroad.