This museum honors the life and literary legacy of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), otherwise known as O. Henry, a name he made up to mask his identity while he was serving time in prison for embezzlement. Porter earned wide acclaim for the short stories he wrote in prison including The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief and The Cop and the Anthem. The museum collects and preserves items related to Porter's life. The house itself was built in 1886 and Porter and his family lived here from 1893-1895. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Author O. Henry was
born William Sydney Porter on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1882, Porter moved to Austin, Texas, where he worked a variety of different
jobs, including on a sheep ranch and as a teller for the First National Bank in
Austin. He also married Athol Estes in 1887. In 1894 Porter was fired from his
job at the First National Bank of Austin over accusations that he committed
embezzlement. The following year he moved to Houston, where he started a
short-lived humor magazine, The Rolling
Stone, before becoming a popular columnnist for the Houston Post. In 1896, federal auditors, after investigating the
Austin bank, indicted Porter on the charges of embezzlement. Porter moved his
wife and young daughter back to Austin before he himself fled to Honduras. In
1897, Porter returned to be with his wife, who was dying of tuberculosis, and
turned himself in to the authorities.
Porter was sentenced to
five years in prison but was released after three years for good behavior in
1901. During his time in incarceration he wrote and published a flurry of short
stories so he could financially support his daughter Margaret. It was at this
time that he adopted the pen name O. Henry. By the time Porter left prison, he
had become famous as a short story writer. In 1902 he moved to New York, where
he continued to write. His short stories were published in magazines,
newspapers, and compiled into books. Porter’s works were known particularly for
their dry humor and surprise endings. Most of his stories took place in New
York, the southwestern United States, and South America. His most famous works
included “The Ransom of Red Chief,” “The Cop and the Anthem,” and “The Gift of
the Magi.” Despite his literary success, Porter became impoverished due to
alcoholism, and he died penniless in 1910.
The home occupied by
the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas was constructed in 1886. The Eastlake
Style house served as a rental property and was originally located at 308 East
4th Street. Porter and his family rented the home between 1893 and
1895, before they moved to Houston. In 1930 the house was planned on being
demolished to make room for a new warehouse. In 1934, activists succeeded in
saving the home and having it moved to its current location at 409 East 5th
Street, where it was restored and converted into a museum honoring Porter. The
museum today contains many period items, including some of Porter’s personal
belongings. It offers guided tours, hosts several literary groups, and is the
site of the annual O. Henry Pun-Off, a spoken word competition started in 1978.
In 1973, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and
a plaque was installed commemorating O. Henry.