Elmer, Arthur and Walter Nelson lived in the small town of Goshen, New Hampshire, in the late 19th century. They used incredible imagination to make the most of their rural home by creating a remarkably detailed imaginary world right in their own backyard. They left behind wonderful drawings, imagined periodicals, maps and stories chronicling their own adventures and the adventures of their characters. So if you are ready to get outside for your own adventure, even if you go no farther than your own backyard, the Nelson brothers could serve as able guides. They will have you planting seeds, using new tools, and pulling boats and bicycles from the garage in no time at all. Amherst College recently acquired the Nelson Brothers Collection and it is now available for viewing online, so take a look and get inspired for some springtime adventure of your own.
The collection shows a remarkable ability the boys had to imagine life beyond their backyard and to make the most of their surroundings as a springboard to adventure. The physical layout of their imaginary world was based on the Nelson family land. Islands in a backyard stream became whole continents in the boys’ imaginations. Each boy conquered a continent and developed histories, people and heroes. The stories convey a rich appreciation for the outdoors, a desire for adventure beyond the life of the farm,and a childhood vision of the larger world.
The Nelson brothers were often extremely detailed in their creations, demonstrating a sustained dedication to their imaginary world and to the broad range of topics that captured their interest. Take, for example, a fictional Nelson brothers seed catalog. The entries are detailed, informative and clearly based on experience, possibly mimicking seed catalogs seen in real life. Thoughtful details provide the reader with a clear vision of what to expect from a particular seed. Fictional Nelson brothers varieties showcase their creativity.
If you are in the mood for more excitement than gardening is likely to bring, then you might try one of the adventure stories. An Adventure on Red Rover, for example, tells the story two boys who are held captive by three large birds in a cave on a mining island. After five long days they are rescued by two friends and manage to escape what looks like a rather unpleasant experience.
In form, creativity, execution and storytelling, this collection offers viewers a glimpse into the very special lives of three adventurous young men. These digitized items and more from the Nelson Family Juvenilia can be found in the Amherst College Digital Collections, and of course the originals are located in the Archives & Special Collections.