Mary Had a Little Lamb -- Or Maybe Not

Two New England towns are gently squabbling over civic boasting rights to the children's poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Years ago, the town of Sterling, Massachusetts erected a lamb statue to celebrate the birthplace of Mary Sawyer. In 1815, young Mary was followed to Sterling's schoolhouse by her pet lamb. Her classmate, John Roulston, wrote the poem. Today, you can visit the little schoolhouse, or see a Sawyer descendant dressed in period costume in the annual town parade.

Newport, New Hampshire, claims that the poem was actually written by their hometown poetess Sarah Josepha Hale, not some limerick-scrawling urchin. The lamb-stalking incident was conjured from her own imagination. Hale is honored, not with some garish animal statue, but with a simple plaque. Respected internationally known poets and authors are invited to town to commemorate Hale.

Newport's claim is bolstered by the fact that Hale indeed was the first to publish the poem in 1830. Sterling maintains that the first three stanzas of Roulston's poem were "lifted" by Hale from the Sterling kids verse, which was apparently making the rounds for 15 years.

[08/23/1998]
Address:
Meetinghouse Hill Rd, Sterling, MA
Directions:
Statue is on the north side of Main St., in a little park at the intersection of Meetinghouse Hill Rd. Lamb-size, so it's very small.
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