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O. Henry Statues
William Sidney Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 11, 1862. Porter’s mother died when he was three years old. He was raised by his father and paternal grandmother. He was enrolled in classes at his aunt’s elementary school and was tutored by her for years. As a young adult he worked at a drug store and became a licensed pharmacist at the age of nineteen.
In 1882, Porter moved to Texas. He worked on a sheep ranch, learning Spanish and German from immigrant ranch hands. A short while later, Porter moved to Austin, where he became involved in the active social scene, including joining several drama and choral groups. During this time, Porter met seventeen-year-old Athol Estes. Athol’s parents were against the courtship, as the young girl had tuberculosis. However, the two eloped on July 1, 1867. The couple had a son who died in childbirth in 1888, and a daughter who lived, named Margaret, in 1889.
Athol encouraged Porter to pursue writing. While he had taken a job drawing maps, he also contributed editorial writing pieces to magazines and papers. In the early 1900’s, Porter began drafting plots and creating characters and within the next decade would begin writing stories.
In the 1890’s Porter was accused of embezzling from the bank where he was employed. He was fired from the position, and in 1896 federal charges were filed, and he was arrested for embezzlement. Porter's father-in-law paid his bail. However, Porter made the decision to flee while on his way to a courthouse meeting. He ended up in Honduras. It was here that he published “Cabbages and Kings”, the story that created the expression “banana republic”, which he used to describe a small, unstable Latin American country dependent on a narrow economy. During this time, Port also sent his wife and daughter back to Texas, as Athol's illness had worsened. A short while later, it was determined that Athol was dying, and Porter returned to Austin. He surrendered in court, and his father reposted bail to allow him to spend his remaining time with Athol.
Atoll died on July 25, 1897 and Porter was found guilty of embezzlement in February of 1898. He was sentenced to five years in prison. However, his education as a pharmacist allowed him an advantage in jail, as he was able to work within the prison hospital as a druggist. Porter was provided his own room off the hospital wing, and there is no documentation indicated he ever actually spent time in a cell block.
While in prison, Porter assumed the pen name O. Henry and began publishing completed works. After three years, in 1901, Porter was released from prison for good behavior, and reunited with his daughter.
In 1902, Porter’s writing career assumed the prolific status it is known for today. He began writing for the New York World Sunday Magazine, and published several successful pieces. However, he had also developed an alcohol problem. In 1910 Ported passed away from complications due to alcoholism. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.
Today his monument stands in Greensboro, marking the town of his birth and childhood. Visitors are able to view the large bronze statues and read the information posted via plaques. Additionally, the nearby Greensboro Historical Museum contains an exhibit showcasing O. Henry's life.
Greensboro, NC 27401
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