Oct. 15 (Monday)

The Miracle Worker
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Alabama’s official outdoor drama, The Miracle Worker, celebrates the extraordinary lives of Anne Sullivan and her even more famous student, Helen Keller.

Keller and Sullivan were opposites. Helen Keller was born into a wealthy, politically connected family in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. Sullivan was the daughter of illiterate, nearly penniless Irish emigrants in Massachusetts.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts in July 1988; Source: New England Historic Genealogical Society

Keller was left deaf and blind at the age of of nineteen months by an illness. Sullivan was also left blind by an illness, though her sight was partially restored through surgery for a while. Sullivan embarked on an amazing journey when she left New England to work with a deafblind girl in faraway Alabama. The rest is history (but wait until you hear her story).

The adventures of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller have been popularized by The Miracle Worker, a play which evolved into a movie and various TV productions. The play was first performed in 1962 on the grounds of Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace. That same year saw the release of a movie of the same name starring Patty Duke (as Helen Keller) and Anne Bankcroft (playing Sullivan).

The play is still performed at Ivy Green on weekends in June and July.

But that’s just half the story.

Helen Keller’s father served as a captain in the Confederate Army. Her paternal grandmother was a second cousin of Robert E. Lee, and her mother was the daughter of Charles W. Adams, a Confederate colonel. Thus, Keller sounds like a classic symbol of American military patriotism.

What many people don’t want you to know is that Helen Keller became one of the most prominent socialists of her time. Intelligent and compassionate, she was a member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World and campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism and similar causes. She was what most Americans would call a radical leftist.

Keller found a friend and admirer in another radical leftist named Mark Twain. In fact, it was Twain who christened Anne Sullivan a “miracle worker.”

So you see, there’s often an enormous difference between the official version of history and her story.

Symbolic Trivia

Akita

In 1937, Helen Keller visited Japan, where she was regarded with an almost religious reference, some Japanese referring to her as “Saint Keller.” While in Japan, she fell in love with the Akita, which is regarded as the national dog of Japan. She was given an Akita named Kamikaze-Go, which accompanied her home, the first Akita in the U.S. Her favorite pet, she described “Kami” as “an angel in wings.” (First Akitas in the U.S.)