KEYSER, W.Va. — Few West Virginians may know that the tale of "Frosty the Snowman" came to life in the Mountain State. While the story by Walter E. “Jack” Rollins, who was born in Keyser, West Virginia, doesn't specify West Virginia as the setting, the song he co-wrote in 1950 originated here among the peaks of the Allegheny Mountains.
While growing up in Mineral County, Rollins had to care for his mother, who had been blinded by glaucoma. She wrote poetry, as did he, according to Rollins’s grandson James Busemeyer, who recalled in an interview with journalist Doug Imbrogno. After hearing her son’s poetry, she suggested he put some of his words to music.
“It was her who said, ‘Maybe you ought to put some music to it," Busemeyer said of his grandfather. "She always encouraged him quite a bit. He felt very close with her.”
Yet, Rollins didn't engage in full-time songwriting until he turned 40, working as a baggage handler in New York City. There, he met Steve Nelson, with whom he won fame a year for publishing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”
Rollins then moved to Hollywood, where he wrote the lyrics for the U.S. Forest Service's campaign for “Smokey Bear.” He famously added the ‘the’ in "Smokey the Bear" as he could not fit “Smokey Bear” into the lyrics.
"Frosty the Snowman" was first covered by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys in 1950 and afterward by Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and other crooners. “Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce recorded a version in 1976 for one of his Disney children’s records.
Rollins died in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1973, at age 66, and is buried in the Queen's Point Cemetery in Keyser.
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