Brighty of Thornlea House

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Peter Jepsen, Brighty, cast bronze. 1966. Collection of Thornlea House, Cranbrook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In the foyer of Thornlea, the home of Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth, sits this statue of a burro, Brighty, by Peter Jepsen. He was a gift from their son, Stephen, commemorating a movie project he spearheaded.

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Dust jacket of Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1953 (first edition). Courtesy of Michigan eLibrary (MelCat).

In 1953, Newbery Award winner Marguerite Henry (1902-1999) published the novel Brighty of the Grand Canyon. It tells the story of a real burro named Brighty who lived in the Grand Canyon from 1890-1922. Brighty spent summers carrying water up the canyon to the North Rim. He was rewarded for his work with pancakes. Brighty became popular with visitors, and is said to have accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on one of his three visits to the Grand Canyon.

In 1963, Betty Booth bought a copy of Brighty of the Grand Canyon for her three boys, Douglas, Charlie, and Woody, to read on vacation. Betty was the wife of Stephen Farr Booth, who was a television producer at the time. Stephen read the book and loved it so much he decided to make it into a movie of the same name. The movie premiered in Detroit in 1967.

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Movie poster for Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1967. Courtesy WikiCommons.

To promote the movie, Stephen had sculptor Peter Jepsen create a life-sized, 600-pound statue of Brighty to be placed in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim’s Visitor Center (it was later moved to the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge, where it resides today and where visitors rub his nose for good luck). Stephen also had 100 small-scale versions of the sculpture made and distributed to various people who worked on the movie. Stephen also gave one to his parents, who placed Brighty right inside the door of their home Thornlea.

We don’t encourage visitors to rub Brighty’s nose for good luck, but he is a fun and memorable addition to welcome guests to Thornlea.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The book, movie, and statue have kept the legend of Brighty alive. Brighty even has his own Facebook page.

3 thoughts on “Brighty of Thornlea House

  1. My mother (Elizabeth Wallace Morton McLean) had a token investment in the film. For nostalgia’s sake, my wife and I rented it several years ago and have to report that it’s a real snoozer.

    That said, a Grand Canyon trip is *not* complete without a North Rim visit (the South Rim pales in comparison, what with all the rubber tomahawk shops. Daughter Brooke has now made not one, but *two* raft trips through the canyon. (It helps to be close friends with a guide!)

    Like

  2. I am thrilled to discover that the Cranbrook Community has a tie to my favorite childhood book. I look forward to visiting Brighty at Thornlea.

    Like

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