GREENFIELD – Their green glass eyes peer down at Main Street, catching the curious stares of passers-by.

A row of goblins, each with its own personality and look, now sit on the roof of James Whitcomb Riley’s boyhood home — a nod to one of the Hoosier poet’s most famous works, “The Nine Little Goblins.”

Members of the Riley Old Home Society added a piece of artwork to the landscape of the famed poet’s home and museum ahead of the weekend-long festival that carries his name, hoping it will serve as a beacon to visitors new and old.

With the hustle and bustle of the Riley Festival just down the road, it can be hard to draw visitors away from the vendors and entertainers and into the old house where Riley grew up at 250 W. Main St., said Joyce Benbow, vice president of the society.

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She and other members of the society hope the colorful installation will draw more people into the home and the museum that sits next door to learn more about Riley and literary contributions. That is the point of the festival after all, Benbow said.

Organizers hope the goblins, now firmly in place above the home’s front porch, will serve as a reminder that Riley and his works should be celebrated year round, not just for one weekend in October.

And once inside exploring the place, perhaps they’ll also be inspired to join the society that helps operate the home and its museum, said Joyce Strickland, another member of the group. They are always looking for new members and donations to help further their cause, she said.

Primarily, the society owns and maintains all the historical artifacts found inside the home and its museum, Benbow said. It takes time to catalog the collection and money to grow it, she said. It would help to have more members to help out with the process, she said.

The artist behind the goblins painting is Sandy Hall of Greenfield, a former art teacher for Greenfield-Central schools.

She said the project took careful planning and a bit of research to see how other artists had interpreted Riley’s poem. The members of the society wanted to ensure the painting that sat above the home in Greenfield was completely unique, and Hall is proud to say it is. Every detail comes from her own imagination, and she said she was honored to have been part of the project.

It took about five months to complete, she said.

Hall hopes the painting does further the society’s mission. The little white house should pop out a bit more to those passing through Greenfield who have never been to the place and the locals who drive by everyday, forgetting it’s there.

During the day, the goblin’s colorful purple and yellow shirts and matching patterned socks stick out among the greenery surrounding the Riley home.

At night, green Christmas lights make their eyes glow bright in the darkness, bringing Riley’s words to life.

The Nine Little Goblins by James Whitcomb Riley

They all climbed up on a high board-fence–

Nine little Goblins, with green-glass eyes–

Nine little Goblins that had no sense,

And couldn’t tell coppers from cold mince pies;

And they all climbed up on the fence, and sat–

And I asked them what they were staring at.

And the first one said, as he scratched his head

With a queer little arm that reached out of his ear

And rasped its claws in his hair so red–

‘This is what this little arm is fer!’

And he scratched and stared, and the next one said,

‘How on earth do you scratch your head?’

And he laughed like the screech of a rusty hinge–

Laughed and laughed till his face grew black;

And when he choked, with a final twinge

Of his stifling laughter, he thumped his back

With a fist that grew on the end of his tail

Till the breath came back to his lips so pale.

And the third little Goblin leered round at me–

And there were no lids on his eyes at all–

And he clucked one eye, and he says, says he,

‘What is the style of your socks this fall?’

And he clapped his heels–and I sighed to see

That he had hands where his feet should be.

Then a bald-faced Goblin, gray and grim,

Bowed his head, and I saw him slip

His eyebrows off, as I looked at him,

And paste them over his upper lip;

And then he moaned in remorseful pain–

‘Would–Ah, would I’d me brows again!’

And then the whole of the Goblin band

Rocked on the fence-top to and fro,

And clung, in a long row, hand in hand,

Singing the songs that they used to know–

Singing the songs that their grandsires sung

In the goo-goo days of the Goblin-tongue.

And ever they kept their green-glass eyes

Fixed on me with a stony stare–

Till my own grew glazed with a dread surmise,

And my hat whooped up on my lifted hair,

And I felt the heart in my breast snap to

As you’ve heard the lid of a snuff-box do.

And they sang ‘You’re asleep! There is no board-fence,

And never a Goblin with green-glass eyes!–

‘Tis only a vision the mind invents

After a supper of cold mince-pies,–

And you’re doomed to dream this way,’ they said,–

‘And you sha’n’t wake up till you’re clean plum dead!’

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.