'Winter Wonderland' and the somber story of the man who composed it

The festive sounds of "Winter Wonderland" echoing across the air during the Christmas season become a bit more poignant after reading the story of the aspiring songwriter's untimely passing shortly after the first recording of the song.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week by Clare Ansberry telling the tale of one Richard Smith, from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, who penned the lyrics to "Winter Wonderland" in 1934 while "being treated for tuberculosis" at a sanitarium in his hometown:

While there, he entered contests, writing jingles and ads for companies.  "Winter Wonderland," some say, was inspired by seeing children play outside his window in the snow and remembering doing the same as a boy at Honesdale's Central Park across the street from his childhood home.

Mr. Smith died the following year, just before his 34th birthday, and never saw the now classic carol make it to the top of the charts, where it remains today.

Ms. Ansberry speaks with several locals who relate tales passed down from Mr. Smith's contemporaries, including this:

He talked with Mr. Smith's classmates and sister Marjorie before she died in 1997, who described how children skated on a little lake nearby, went caroling and built snowmen.

... She visited her brother often at the sanitarium and was proud of her brother's accomplishment.

After writing the lyrics, the Journal recounts, Smith is told his tuberculosis is under control, and he is released from the sanitarium.  He eventually meets up with a New York pianist who writes the music to go with Smith's lyrics.

Before Mr. Smith meets his untimely fate, his boyhood dream of "becoming a songwriter" is fulfilled:

Mr. Smith lived long enough to hear Guy Lombardo and his orchestra, the Royal Canadians, perform his song that Christmas.

Each year, Mr. Smith's legacy is celebrated with Honesdale's Annual Santa Parade:

A DJ from a local radio station reads a short history of Mr. Smith and points to the songwriter's childhood home, where a lighted Christmas tree sits in his bedroom window. One year a cardboard silhouette of Mr. Smith was positioned in the window as if watching the merriment.

While many favorite Christmas carols trace back to the Europe of previous centuries – think "Silent Night, written nearly 200 years ago in Austria – our twentieth-century American standards often have a backstory reflecting their times – think Bing Crosby's 1943 classic "I'll be home for Christmas" and its moving lyrics expressing the thoughts of the World War II soldier who will "be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."

The writing of "Winter Wonderland" is a small tale of a simple song, a backstory of an Americana where anyone can, as the song goes:

... dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made ...

The festive sounds of "Winter Wonderland" echoing across the air during the Christmas season become a bit more poignant after reading the story of the aspiring songwriter's untimely passing shortly after the first recording of the song.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week by Clare Ansberry telling the tale of one Richard Smith, from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, who penned the lyrics to "Winter Wonderland" in 1934 while "being treated for tuberculosis" at a sanitarium in his hometown:

While there, he entered contests, writing jingles and ads for companies.  "Winter Wonderland," some say, was inspired by seeing children play outside his window in the snow and remembering doing the same as a boy at Honesdale's Central Park across the street from his childhood home.

Mr. Smith died the following year, just before his 34th birthday, and never saw the now classic carol make it to the top of the charts, where it remains today.

Ms. Ansberry speaks with several locals who relate tales passed down from Mr. Smith's contemporaries, including this:

He talked with Mr. Smith's classmates and sister Marjorie before she died in 1997, who described how children skated on a little lake nearby, went caroling and built snowmen.

... She visited her brother often at the sanitarium and was proud of her brother's accomplishment.

After writing the lyrics, the Journal recounts, Smith is told his tuberculosis is under control, and he is released from the sanitarium.  He eventually meets up with a New York pianist who writes the music to go with Smith's lyrics.

Before Mr. Smith meets his untimely fate, his boyhood dream of "becoming a songwriter" is fulfilled:

Mr. Smith lived long enough to hear Guy Lombardo and his orchestra, the Royal Canadians, perform his song that Christmas.

Each year, Mr. Smith's legacy is celebrated with Honesdale's Annual Santa Parade:

A DJ from a local radio station reads a short history of Mr. Smith and points to the songwriter's childhood home, where a lighted Christmas tree sits in his bedroom window. One year a cardboard silhouette of Mr. Smith was positioned in the window as if watching the merriment.

While many favorite Christmas carols trace back to the Europe of previous centuries – think "Silent Night, written nearly 200 years ago in Austria – our twentieth-century American standards often have a backstory reflecting their times – think Bing Crosby's 1943 classic "I'll be home for Christmas" and its moving lyrics expressing the thoughts of the World War II soldier who will "be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."

The writing of "Winter Wonderland" is a small tale of a simple song, a backstory of an Americana where anyone can, as the song goes:

... dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made ...