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BIRTH OF A NOTION: NICE IS NICE

She first appeared on the Fourth of July in 1920.

           "This is a letter to every boy and girl who likes to think Happy Thoughts," she wrote, "thoughts of jolly play times and busy work times, thoughts of friends and pets and flowers and all the millions of lovely things in this beautiful old world of ours." She called herself the Happy Thought Fairy. Other sections of the newspaper sullied themselves with angry words about war, the women's vote, prohibition, terrorist attacks on J.P. Morgan's offices--all the terrible ugliness of "this beautiful old world." But on her page, the Happy Thought Fairy grimaced to her task: the manufacture of Minnesota Nice.

           Like the pied piper, she struck through the children "Now this is a Happy Thought letter," her letter in the newspaper ran, "and I have this great big Happy Thought for you--let's have a club and let's call it a Happy Thought club, and let's write letters to the club and to one another full of Happy Thoughts. Some of the letters can be printed on this page, and oh! just think what fun it will be to read one another's letters. Think of the new friends we shall make and of the number of Happy Thoughts we shall find in those letters. Now, my dear little friends, I must say good-bye until I meet you again on your very own club page.

           Your loving friend,

           Fairy Happy Thought

           Friendship Street, Fairyland"

           A week passed. "I am waiting for next week," she announced with a tinge of displeasure. Children had replied, apparently, with thoughts about the ugly world. With unhappy thoughts. Or not at all. "Have you written your letter to the club? If you have not, scurry around for paper and pencil this very minute." Fairy Happy Thought admonished, and, she added, see that they are "brim full of Happy Thoughts. They will tell about picnics and vacation visits and Fourth of July celebrations and the games you play with your best friends and your pets and what you like best to see on this page and a great many things as interesting and jolly. Make your letter just as interesting as you can," added the fairy, darkly, "for only those letters that hold interesting and happy thoughts can be given room on our page."

           Your loving friend,

           Fairy Happy Thought

           Friendship Street, Fairyland

           The children got the message. The next week Fairy Happy Thought was well pleased. "The letters that the postman brought were so good," she trumpeted. "They were brim full and bubbling over with Happy Thoughts and that is just the way that you will feel when you have read them, for one of the very best things about Happy Thoughts is that they are apt to take root in other people's hearts and minds and grow and grow until they produce a beautiful big crop of Happy Thoughts."

           Little Josephine of Radisson, WI was the first to heed the call. "Dear Fairy Happy Thought and Dear Little Friends in the Club: I think this is a lovely name to give a club, don't you? I am going to try and always have happy thoughts now. After reading Fairy Happy Thought's letter how can we help it? I hope you all will try."

           Adelaide of Minneapolis certainly tried. "After I read the Tribune this morning," she wrote, "I looked out of the window and I saw the birds flying here and there, singing and happy, and I saw the green trees and the flowers and it was so nice that I think we should all be happy and good and think happy thoughts. I am going to try," she vowed.

           Fairy Happy Thought was almost never heard from again, but her powerful presence could be found in the poems and stories that adorned her "club" page. And that presence gradually took on a sinister tone. Niceness has its costs. "Once there was a little pig who was very careless," began one tale. "His name was really Kinkytail, but everyone called him Slobberheels, which, as anyone may see is not a very nice name... Such a trial as that Slobberheels was to Mother Pig... he never seemed to care how dirty he got. He just would not be careful..." This poor pig, from whom much unnatural cleanliness was demanded, eventually came around, after being left home (for sanitary reasons) from the State Fair.

           Were young readers paying attention to these morality plays? You bet: a few weeks later young Frankie from Fulda, MN wrote in about "my little gray kitten named Kinkytail. I am very fond of my pet and I try to take good care of him." Over the next few years, it gained almost a cult-like stature among local youths. Resistance seemed futile.

           "At first I thought I would not join," wrote Oyfal from Minneapolis, "but all of a sudden I became so filled with happy thoughts that I just had to join with the others." Happy Thought-ers contacted Happy Thought-ers, and soon independent happy-sayers sprang up throughout the state.

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