By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Homer and Marge, Lisa and Maggie, we know this TV family better than we know our neighbors. It turns out that a woman fans of “The Simpsons” considered the true inspiration for sweet, blue-haired Marge was one of Everett’s own — a neighbor indeed.
Margaret Groening, the mother of “The Simpsons” creator, grew up here and graduated from Everett High School. Her maiden name was Margaret Wiggum. That’s right, “Simpsons” lovers, it’s just like Police Chief Clancy Wiggum in the cartoon town of Springfield.
In real life, her brother Arnold Wiggum was a longtime principal of Everett’s Hawthorne Elementary School. Wiggums Hollow Park near the Everett school is named in his honor.
Margaret Ruth Groening died April 22 in Portland, Ore. She was 94.
There is no mention of America’s longest running sitcom in her obituary, published Monday in The Oregonian newspaper. Matt Groening, the cartoon’s creator, is simply listed with his siblings Mark, Lisa and Maggie. Margaret Groening was preceded in death by her husband, Homer Groening, and by her oldest daughter, Patty.
Even without a mention in the obituary, “The Simpsons” connection was noted by hundreds of readers offering online condolences. A reader from Olympia offered this sentiment: “You may have been born a Wiggum, and married a Groening, but you died a Simpson.” And a Maryland woman wrote, “Thank you for inspiring a great TV mom who is my inspiration, my laughter and my philosophy.”
In Everett, Margaret Wiggum grew up the daughter of Norwegian immigrants Matt and Ingeborg Wiggum. The couple met on a boat from Norway, and settled in Everett “where the paper mill ‘smelled like money,’” according to the obituary.
Lisa Labovitch, a history specialist at the Everett Public Library, found in Everett’s Polk City Directories that Margaret’s father worked for the Soundview Pulp Co., on the site of the now-demolished Kimberly-Clark Corp.
The Everett family lived in a tidy Craftsman-style house at 2305 Grand Ave. Margaret Wiggum is pictured in Everett High School’s 1937 Nesika yearbook. At Everett High, she had a long list of accomplishments and in the yearbook was tagged “A favorite among all” — which could describe Marge Simpson.
She was Torch Society president, three years on the honor roll, twice a class president, an editor of Everett High’s Kodak student newspaper and the Nesika yearbook, and was in the Senior Girls’ Ensemble. The Polk directory lists her as a saleswoman at Sears, Roebuck and Co. in downtown Everett in 1939.
According to the obituary, she was Everett High’s valedictorian and was named “Miss Everett.” At Oregon’s Linfield College, where she graduated in 1941, she was crowned “May Queen.” It was also at Linfield where Margaret met classmate Homer Groening. Her obituary said she chose him because “he made her laugh the most.”
Everett’s John Wiggum, 75, knew Margaret and Homer Groening as his aunt and uncle. “Margaret had a very good sense of humor and was a lot of fun,” said Wiggum, who worked for years as a food manager at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe.
It’s been fun to recognize family names on “The Simpsons,” said Wiggum, who is Matt Groening’s cousin. “Police Chief Wiggum is us,” he said.
His mother’s name, Helen Wiggum, was once used in a Thanksgiving episode. “She was at the Thanksgiving table reciting a prayer,” the Everett man said.
John Wiggum said his late aunt’s brother, Arnold Wiggum, the former Hawthorne principal, now lives in Wenatchee with his wife Irene. He is 92.
He recalled that Margaret Groening, who worked as a high school English teacher when she was young, stayed active as a swimmer and was very creative. He believes Matt Groening also inherited creativity from his father. “Homer was very witty, and had his own comic strip for years,” Wiggum said.
As much as he admires his famous cousin, Wiggum admitted “I’m not an avid fan of ‘The Simpsons,’ to be honest with you.”
For Bill Oakley, a longtime head writer for “The Simpsons,” it’s been a revelation to learn that many character names came from Matt Groening’s family. Oakley, 47, lives in Portland and now writes for the sketch comedy series “Portlandia.”
“It’s very surprising to us, who spent so much time writing these characters, that they had real-life counterparts,” Oakley said Tuesday. He worked on “The Simpsons” from 1992 to 1999. He co-wrote the two-part episode, “Who Shot Mr. Burns.” He spent part of his time on the show as an executive producer.
“This is the weirdest thing. Matt, as far as I know, never talked about it. People had no idea. We thought he made it all up from scratch,” Oakley said. Along with family names, Groening has used many Portland street names — including Flanders, Lovejoy and Quimby — as characters. “It’s like layers of an onion,” Oakley said.
It wasn’t until learning that Matt Groening had a son named Homer that “people figured out some of the characters are named after his relatives,” Oakley said.
At least one of the comedy’s situations may have an Everett counterpart. Fictional Springfield’s tire fire is as well known to fans as Moe’s Tavern. In Everett, along the Snohomish River, a massive tire fire smoldered and raised a stink from September 1984 until May 1985.
“I suspect that’s where it came from,” Oakley said of the landmark tire fire on “The Simpsons.”
“Matt was somebody who didn’t like random funny names,” Oakley said. “He wanted some private meaning.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.