Sleighbells ring, are you listenin',
Believe it or not, this classic holiday song that has been recorded thousands of times was written by a man from Honesdale who did not live to see his legacy and success.
Richard (Dick) B. Smith (1901-1935) attended Honesdale schools in Wayne County before enrolling at Penn State University, where he studied advertising, edited the college magazine and formed and conducted his own orchestra. Upon graduation, Smith moved to New York City and managed several theaters.
Smith became ill with tuberculosis in 1931 shortly after marrying the former Scrantonian Jean Connor. He was admitted to the West Mountain Sanatorium. While a patient (and his wife worked as a nurse at the same institution), he won first prize in a Maybelline Eye Shadow slogan contest ("The Eyes Have It") and started writing songs--including "When A Gypsy Makes A Violin Cry," "Bringing My Honey Back To Me," and, of course, the holiday perennial Winter Wonderland, which Smith wrote the lyric and Felix Bernard wrote the music.
Smith was only able to write songs for a little more than a year before he succumbed to the disease. He had accepted a contract to write music in Hollywood, but he died September 28th, 1935--one month before he was to go to California.
The song Winter Wonderland, for which Smith was mostly remembered, never made it to the top of the charts until eight years after his death. He is said to have written the song about the snow-laden trees of the Poconos, perhaps the trees in front of his family home at 922 Church Street in Honesdale, across from Central Park.
Today, Winter Wonderland could be found on hundreds of artists on hundreds (perhaps thousands) of holidays albums—from Ray Charles and Elvis Presley to Clay Aiken and the Eurythmics--to hundreds of other artists in every genre of music.
To hear Bing Crosby's rendition of Winter Wonderland, click here.
To read more about Winter Wonderland and Richard B. Smith, come to the Reference Department and ask to see the Local History Vertical File (LHVF) for "Music - Winter Wonderland."