Monday, October 27, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
After two summers of incompatable schedules, John and I finally set a date with our good friend Linda Smith to visit Concord Massachusetts. Linda directs Joni And Friends Greater Boston, and her commitment to disability ministry has led her to own a wheelchair van so she can take her friends who use wheelchairs out for recreation.
We went to Concord in hopes of a literary adventure. Our first stop was The Wayside. Sadly, it's closed on Thursdays, as you can see by this photograph:
Nathaniel Hawthorne bought The Wayside from Bronson Alcott in 1852 for $1,500. Ah...those were the days! Obviously, I didn't learn much about this house Thursday, so I'm gleaning facts and figures from the website. I do know that Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia Peabody, moved to Liverpool, England in 1853 due to a political appointment given to him by his friend, President Franklin Pierce. Hawthorne resigned that post in 1857, and spent time in France and Italy before returning to The Wayside in 1860. The family retained ownership until 1870, and it was the only home that Nathaniel Hawthorne ever actually owned.
Later, Margaret Sydney (who wrote The Five Little Peppers) lived in The Wayside.
After spending time looking about the grounds, we made our way to Orchard House.
Orchard House, purchased by Bronson Alcott for $1,200 in 1858, is the setting for Lousia May Alcott's Little Women (which I read every five years whether I need to or not). As expected, I was totally thrilled to be there!
John excitedly took photos, as I imagined Jo March (the character in Little Women that Lousia May Alcott patterened after herself) "scribbling" her stories in her garret. In reality, as we learned from the docent who spoke with us, Lousia wrote from her bedroom on the second floor, rather than from the garret, though I'm sure I spotted a small, white writing table through the third storey window!
Despite assurances on the phone, on the website, and on a sign in front of the gift shop entrance, not even the first floor of Orchard House is wheelchair accessible. Despite that disappointment, a docent came outside and told us about the house, the Alcott family, and Lousia May. I'd known that Meg, Beth and Amy were patterned after Louisa's real life sisters (Anna, Beth and May), but I'd always wondered who had inspired Laurie (more formally, Theodore Lawrence), the boy who played with the March girls. I had theorized that he was Hawthorne. But no. In truth, Laurie was a composite of many boys Louisa had known, thus explaining his complex personality.
I'm sorry I can't write further about the trip, but four hours have passed since I began typing this blog entry. So I'll leave you with a view of Orchard house, where I could almost picture Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy peeking out the front door to bid me farewell.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
My birthday was over a week ago, but it wasn't until yesterday that weather and household responsibilities allowed us to celebrate. Beautiful 70-degree temperatures welcomed us across the Charles River into Cambridge, where we visited the house of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which his father-in-law gave him as a wedding gift in 1843. The Longfellow House is now a national park, so a National Park Ranger named Allyson gave me and John a guided tour of the first floor.
We entered the very unglamorous laundry room, bare except for three cast iron basins, a scrubbing board and (as shown in this photo) a clothes wringer.
Immediately, Allyson told us that all the items in the house had been there when the Longfellows lived in it, with the exception of replaced textiles such as draperied and carpets.
The house had originally been owned in 1725 by John Vassall, a British Loyalist who fled Boston for England at the start of the Americal Revolution in 1774. Their abandoned slaves, Tony and Cuba Vassell, remained in the house until the Marblehead Regiment occupied the house as their temporary barracks in June of 1775. That July, General George Washington made the house his headquarters for the next nine months, with Martha joining him in December.
Longfellow's wife, Fannie, took particular pride in the fact that the Washingtons had lived there, so she kept the marble fireplace in "Martha's" parlor. Sorry it's blurry (I sharpened it as best I could), but I really wanted to show it!
George and Martha Washington celebrated either their 17th anniversary or Twelfth Night in this parlor. Martha also held sewing circles in this parlor, mending clothes for wounded soldiers and making bandages for the hospital across the street. Fannie used the parlor as a formal reception room, and for special occassions.
Next, Allyson led us into the entry hall. I recognized it immediately from Matthew Pearl's description of it in his novel, The Dante Club, and John was excited about the grandfather clock (which still works).
Through those doors, the Washingtons received such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, while Longfellow had visitors ranging from Charles Dickens, Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. and Harriett Beecher Stowe to neighborhoon children. My knees shook as Allyson listed all the great literary figures who visited Longfellow!
At last, we arrived at Longfellow's study, where he did most of his writing. The Dante Club met there to translate Dante's Divine Comedy for Americans to read for the first time. Allyson showed us Longfellow's original drawings for the Peter Piper stories he wrote to entertain his young daughters.
Next, we saw his library, which Washington used as a staff room for his aides. Longfellow's grand piano is there, as well as some of the ten thousand (which I've spelled out lest you accuse me of a typo) books Longfellow owned.
Before we left Longfellow House, Allyson agreed to take a picture of us in front of the house. I'm thinking Christmas card photo. If not, at least a reminder of a wonderful belated birthday!