The Original Ugly Duckling Has His Day

Andersen died on Aug. 4, 1875. He was 70 and had become prey to various morbid fears, Mai said. Terrified of fire, he would carry a rope along with him whenever he traveled so that he could always escape his hotel room.

Tormented by the idea that he might fall into a coma and be buried while still alive, he made his friends promise that they would make sure he was really gone before calling for the coffin, Mai said. "He always carried a small note that said, 'I'm not dead, I just seem dead.'"

The Hans Christian Andersen bicentennial celebration ends on Dec. 6. On that date in 1867, said Seeberg, the city of Odense was illuminated in honor of its native son. Andersen, alas, was suffering from a toothache and in too much pain to enjoy his fete.

That's why he would probably be especially thrilled by the bicentennial celebrations in his honor, said Mai. "He would love every moment of it."

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