Aside from a few discreetly placed signs, there is little to distinguish this old brown house from others in the neighborhood or proclaim its role in American literature. However, Concord’s Old Manse, former home to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne and a large jewel in Concord’s crown of literary landmarks, is one of the many literary landmarks dotting the New England landscape. These sites, often the former homes of famous authors, provide important glimpses into the creation of perhaps New England’s most famous export, its literature
If you are considering adding depth to your summer travels by taking in one of these museums but don’t want to spend a beautiful summer’s day stuck in a dark, musty old house, take heart. Literary sightseeing can be both fun and informative – these tips will help.
Read just a little: For some, the thought of touring an author’s home brings on a “will-this-be-on-the-test” anxiety. Relax, nobody expects you to be the expert. As Deborah Kreiser-Francis notes, the guides are there to interpret and communicate the importance and uniqueness of the site. Read a handful of poems before going to Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, MA, but by no means feel you have to tackle all sixteen hundred poems.
Linger rather than race: Many visitors race from room to room, trying to get to the next exhibit first in order to have pole position at the velvet ropes. If you let everyone leave a room before heading off to the next one, you might get a quiet moment or two and no competition to get a better look at Emerson’s swiveling writing table. Kreiser-Francis suggests taking the time to absorb the atmosphere, imagining how writers were inspired by their surroundings.
Don’t neglect the gardens: Nearly every literary house boasts a garden of some sort. For some, like Alcott’s garden at the Orchards or Dickinson’s at The Homestead, the gardens were inspirational and studying them can unlock a poem or passage. For others, the grounds were often more important as starting points for walks.
Walk the walk: Writers like Emerson, Hawthorne, and, perhaps most famously, Thoreau were inveterate walkers and many of the trails they followed are still there. Make the most of your visit by climbing Hawthorne’s path behind The Wayside to see where he paced while puzzling out writing problems. On Boston’s common, you can walk the same paths Emerson and Walt Whitman traced while Emerson tried to get Whitman to take the dirty parts out of Leaves of Grass.
Book your trip: Although you may already have a prized copy of Thoreau’s Walden or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, take a spin through the bookstores (tours usually begin or end there anyways). Museum bookstores have a better selection of your favorite author, including some new treasures you might not have seen.
Feeding the Beast:
Where do you go for a sense of literary history and inspiration? What books do you bring with you? Tell me about your favorite literary haunts.
Causes Robert Felton Supports
The Sierra Club, Soccer without Borders,