Thornton Burgess Celebrates 150th

thorton burgess

cape readsImagine making such an impact in life that 150 years later, people are still celebrating your birthday? That’s exactly what is happening in Sandwich this year! 2024 marks the 150th birthday of Cape Cod native, Thornton W. Burgess. The Thornton W. Burgess Society is partnering with the Sandwich Public Library and various local organizations and businesses to celebrate Burgess and his contributions as a nature writer, children’s author, naturalist, and conservationist.

The History of Thornton Burgess

thornton burgess celebrates 150thBorn in Sandwich on January 14, 1874, Burgess grew up an only child to Caroline (Hayward) and Thornton Waldo Burgess, Sr., a direct descendant of Thomas Burgess, one of the first settlers of Sandwich in 1637. After the sudden death of his father just months after his birth, Burgess worked many odd jobs as a young boy to help support his mother. Picking and selling berries in the local woods, herding cows, and selling milk and eggs in Town Neck allowed Burgess to explore and roam the nearby fields, beaches and pastures.

After graduating from Sandwich High School in 1891, Burgess briefly attended a business college in Boston, then moved to Springfield to work for a local newspaper. It was there that Burgess began writing short stories about animals and nature for children, completing his first book, Old Mother West Wind in 1910.

Although Burgess began a new life in Western Mass., the love and respect he formed for nature and animals on Cape Cod stayed with him. In total, Burgess wrote over 170 books and 15,0000 newspaper columns geared toward children. It was in his daily “Bedtime Stories” column that his charming and imaginative characters, including Peter Cottontail, Spotty the Turtle, and Reddy Fox were brought to life on the pages for children across America and beyond. His books have been translated into more than 7 different languages.

His stories of nature and animals struck a chord with children for their simple and accurate depiction of the animal’s life and the natural world around them. The stories explored themes of family, conflict, adventure and fun! Showing how the animals interacted with nature helped to illustrate the importance of conservation and biodiversity.

Where Can I Find the Thorton Burgess Collections?

The Sandwich Public Library has dozens of volumes of his books, including some of his most important works, such as The Adventures of Peter Cottontail, The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk, and Blacky the Crow. His books are still a favorite of library patrons, and have been consistently checked out throughout the years.

In addition to books, the Sandwich Town Archives houses original manuscripts, first editions, a card game, coloring and paint books from the 1920s, and “Happy Jack Thrift Club” cards, which were created by Burgess to encourage children to save their money for war bonds during World War I. The collection also includes countless photographs, magazine and newspaper articles, and miscellaneous Burgess ephemera.

 Many Chances to Join the Celebration of the TWB 150th Anniversary

thornton burgess celebrates 150thTo kick off this momentous year, the Library hosted a community-wide birthday celebration for all ages in January, complete with a special reading of the Thornton Burgess classic “Jimmy Skunk Looks for Beetles,” a Burgess-inspired scavenger hunt, craft projects, and a Pin-the-Tale on the Burgess Animal game. Guests were surprised with a special appearance by an actor portraying Thornton Burgess and visit from a costumed Peter Cottontail. The children were treated to a special birthday cookie and a copy of a Burgess children’s book, generously donated by the Kiwanis Club of Sandwich.

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and the Thornton Burgess Society are planning a Nature Lecture Series based on four highly-regarded nature books for children that Burgess wrote. The books covered the topics of Animals, Wildflowers, Seashore and Birds.

The Sandwich Public Library will host Thornton Burgess and Wildflowers with Janice Donovan on Wednesday, April 11 at 6:30pm. Donovan is the manager of the Shirley G. Cross Wildflower Garden at the Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich.

thornton burgess celebrates 150thOn Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30pm the Library is hosting Thornton Burgess and Animals by Mary Beers, former Director of Education for the Thornton W. Burgess Society.

On Avian Extinction: A Panel Discussion of Issue is planned for Thursday, June 13 from 6:00-8:30pm at the Sandwich Center for Active Living. The panel consists of conservationists Wayne Petersen, Chris Neill and Luanne Johnson, and is moderated by author Christie Lowrance. Lowrance is the author of the biography Nature’s Ambassador: The Legacy of Thornton W. Burgess.

The Nature Lecture Series concludes with Thornton Burgess and the Seashore by Gil Newton at the Sandwich Public Library on Wednesday, July 10 at 6:30pm. This lecture is in collaboration with the Barnstable Land Trust (BLT). Newton is the former Director of the Sandwich STEM Academy, one of the founders of the BLT, and is the past president of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. He is also the author of several books about the Cape’s shoreline.

All of the events in the Nature Lecture Series are free to the public but registration is required. For more information on these programs or any of the other Burgess-related events planned throughout the year, please visit the Thornton Burgess Society website:, the Sandwich Public Library website:, or call the Library at 508-888-0625.

sandwich library

Guest Author: Sandra Murray, Reference Librarian, Sandwich Public Library

Sandwich Public Library – 142 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563 – 508-888-0625

The mission of the Sandwich Public Library is to provide materials, resources, and services in a variety of formats to address the community’s cultural, educational, and recreational needs. The Library supports self-directed personal growth, fosters the skills needed for finding, evaluating and using information resources, and facilitates the opportunity for people to meet and interact with others in the community.

   Support your Local Bookstores on Cape Cod.




Please feel free to share your favorite Cape Cod experience about this topic with our audience!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. EM

    Wow! Such an interesting history. Great article!!

Leave a Review or Comment

Free Event Listings for a month

Related Stories