Johnny Appleseed is an American Folk Hero. Wearing a pan on his head, he traveled across the northern fledgling United States, planting apple trees left, right, and center for the American people to enjoy. Taking no money for himself, he did it entirely out of the kindness of his heart. He dedicated his life to wandering about the land, continuing this work for the benefit of all.
Or so the tales go.
In reality, Appleseed (born John Chapman, September 26, 1774 – March 18, 1845), was a horticulturist, shrewd businessman, and a missionary for the Swedenborgian Church,note who traveled across what is now Ohio and Indiana. He specifically left apple tree nurseries in the care of other farmers, and later returned to collect the profits of the tree sales. As he was frequently willing to accept barter goods or credit instead of money, he was never very monetarily wealthy; most of his wealth was in the frontier land that he had claimed as his own. And he owned a lot. His will left over 1200 acres of land to his sister, and had he pursued the legal rights, he could have owned even more.
His generosity and kindness were hallmarks of his character. He was known, when he received barter goods such as clothes as payment, for keeping the worst of them for himself and selling or trading away the better quality ones. He frequently entertained children with various stories he heard, and regularly promoted his own religion, often leaving pages from his Bible behind.
The majority of the apple trees he planted, incidentally, were of the crab-apple variety, mostly used in the production of hard apple cider. Hence a large part of his popularity during his lifetime came from the fact that he helped bring alcoholic drinks to the frontier, rather than the apple trees themselves, or their fruit.note
As a Historical Domain Character, he shows up quite often in folklore, and in some other forms of fiction as well. Most fictional accounts of the man have a tendency to Disney-fy him, emphasizing his personal poverty and generosity, and downplaying his religious views and mercantile accomplishments.
Either way, his influence is felt to this day, as many tales and stories indicate. Oh, and a type of apple is named after him.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Barefoot Sage: There is a story that he once came across a frontier sermon where the preacher asked "what happened to the old Christians who went barefoot to do the work of Christ?", to which Chapman picked up his foot and said "here he is".
- Bucket Helmet: Legend has it that Johnny wore a tin cooking pan for a hat.
- Tall Tale: Despite being a historical person, his life has been so embellished that it became the subject of Tall Tales.
Appears in the following works:
- Many Apple corporation ads use him as a slogan character, for obvious reasons.
Film - Animated
- One of the shorts of Melody Time is dedicated to retelling his story.
Film - Live Action
- The Stoner Flick parody Johnny Appleweed; the main character is inspired by Mr. Appleseed to spread pot plants across the US.
- Neil Gaiman's American Gods has him making an appearance.
- In Incompetence, references to Johnny turn up at Klingferm's apartment when Harry snoops around after Klingferm's death. It's a clue as to the motives of the Big Bad, who turns out to be Klingferm after faking his death in order to draw Harry as part of his mission from the U.S. government to subvert European interests.
- Invoked in The Postman, when Gordon contemplates if delivering mail to people makes him the new legend of the new frontier. He's also fully aware that unlike Chapman he will more likely get himself killed in the process with no profit whatsoever. He decides to continue anyway.
Live Action Television
- On 30 Rock, Liz wanted to do a Johnny Appleseed sketch on TGS, but Appleseed's descendants wouldn't let them use the name. They had to settle for Johnny Bananaseed, until it turned out to be the name of a serial killer.
- Johnny Appleseed (played by singer Roger Miller) appeared in an episode of the series Daniel Boone, in which he averted an Indian war.
- "Johnny Appleseed", by NOFX.
- The Fort Wayne Tin Caps, a minor-league baseball team in Indiana, has their entire branding based on the folkloric version of him.
- Munchkin Legends has a parody named "Johnny Zucchiniseed", the description starts with "stop him, stop him now."
- In his American Mythology series in Pyramid Kenneth Hite calls Johnny the "American Dionysus".
- While he never shows up directly, in Wild ARMs 5 his name is one of only two things Avril remembers, and thus is central to the plot.
- In one of The Simpsons anthology episodes, Lisa took the role of a Distaff Counterpart of Appleseed.
- Parodied in another episode where Lisa's class go on an excursion to the local paper, The Springfield Shopper. They learn the story of founder Johnny Newspaperseed, an illiterate 14-year-old boy who wandered the nation founding newspapers.
- Garfield and Friends parodied him, with Jon playing the role of Johnny Ragweedseed while Garfield played his faithful cat, Roosevelt. Every town formed an angry mob and chased them out whenever they planted ragweed, because as we all know, ragweed makes people sneeze.
- In the episode "Johnny Applesauce", the titular character of the show Johnny Test wants to become a folk hero just like Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crocket and Norman Monkeybars. He names himself Johnny Applesauce and gives applesauce to the children who have had to endure the Brussel sprouts the lunch lady has at the cafeteria. All goes well until the lunch lady goes a little crazy and tries to attack Johnny, resulting in Brussel sprouts and applesauce being flung every where. At that point, everyone gets sick of applesauce and the Principal Pal tells Johnny things would have been easier if he'd just started a petition. The episode also claims that Johnny Appleseed was mauled to death by badgers, which didn't happen in real life.