Literary Pilgrimages in the U.S.
The experience of walking through a writer’s home can be a surprising one: you’ll find that the private life of your favorite author may have influenced his or her work significantly—or not at all. For instance, did you know that the legendarily macho Ernest Hemingway cherished his six-toed cat? Or that Thoreau and Emerson palled around at the home of Louisa May Alcott? Explore each of these homes to learn about the life of the person and how that affected him or her as a writer.
Edith Wharton chronicled the high life of the Gilded Era, and her home, “The Mount” is a stunning representation of how her characters would have lived. Purposefully so: Wharton not only designed the house, she wrote an influential “how to” book called “The Decoration of Houses”. Her inspiration for this grand mansion was the Palladian-style Belton House in Lincolnshire, England, sometimes considered the quintessential British manor house (think: Downton Abbey). The Author also curated the gardens that surround the estate, deeming each section “a room”, and planting them to be in perfect harmony with the natural landscape. For more information visit the website.
Jack London lived as fiercely as the characters in his books, and this estate was to be his respite from wild times. Unfortunately London never realized his dream of completing his mansion in the woods. After years, and thousands of dollars, invested in the project, The Wolf House burned down. London planned to rebuild, but died a few years after the fire. The park contains several structures including a museum, Jack London's cottage, and, most breathtaking, "The Wolf House"—a huge brick skeleton structure that stands as a somber reminder of London's lost dream. Jack London State Park also offers several hiking trails to different parts of London’s estate. For more information go to http://jacklondonpark.com/
It would be difficult to find a house with more literary history than the Wayside, the childhood abode of Louisa May Alcott. The Wayside acted as a meeting place for authors and philosophers of the 1850's. Though these rumors are unconfirmed, there are tales of the young Louisa May Alcott flirting with her father's friends, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson! After Alcott's teenage years, the family sold the home to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family. Today, the home is part of the Minute Man National Park, famed as the grounds where the first battle of the Revolutionary war was fought. For more information go to http://www.nps.gov/mima/planyourvisit/placestogo.htm
Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, believed he did his best work in his grand Victorian Hartford, CT home (he wrote much of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Life on the Mississippi” here). The top floor was Twain’s version of a “man cave” with a study and billiards room (pictured) to which only his male buddies were invited, because Twain said, according to a biographer, that “there ought to be a room in this house to swear in.” In 1881, Louis Comfort Tiffany was engaged to supervise the interior design of the house. The nearby Nook Farm housed Harriet Beecher Stowe while she was working on Uncle Tom's Cabin, so the entire neighborhood has literary cache. For more information go to https://www.marktwainhouse.org/
Though history remembers Frederick Douglass primarily as an abolitionist and statesman he was also one of America's most prolific writers and a master of the autobiography. Born a slave, Douglass's was eventually able to purchase this grand residence on a hilltop, an impressive testament to his talents. After he bought "Cedar Hill" for a tidy $6,700 Douglass converted the 14-room estate into a 21-room mansion. Cedar Hill has a stunning view of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington D.C. skyline; inside visitors can explore the two-story library, complete with Douglass’ massive writing desk.
For more info visit http://www.nps.gov/frdo/index.htm
“There was no style of living to be compared with the simple, dignified order of a true New England home," wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe of her Gothic Revival-style home. Visitors will see what the author meant: most of the furnishings in the home are the original eighteenth century heirlooms owned by the Stowe family. During her life Stowe enjoyed the vibrancy of her neighborhood, which was home to politicians, intellectuals, and fellow writer Mark Twain; you’ll hear about it all if you take the house-sponsored tour of the area. In keeping with Stowe’s history, the foundation has setup scholarships and prizes for young writers who are interested in using their writing skills to help the less fortunate For more information please go to.https://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/visit/hbs_house.shtml
Few writers are as identified with their place of birth as John Steinbeck. The author drew characters, plots and settings from Central California for everything from his children’s book “The Red Pony” to such best-selling novels as “East of Eden”, “Of Mice and Men” and (partially) “The Grapes of Wrath”. In thanks, the town of Salinas supports two well-conceived monuments to Steinbeck. The first is the terrific Steinbeck Center, which shows videos on the author’s life, along with a host of interactive exhibits on the themes he covered (everything from migrant labor to the status of immigrants in California). Nearby is the well-preserved boyhood home of the author, which has an on-site restaurant today, where visitors can try the types of old-fashioned treats Steinbeck would have enjoyed as a young man. For more information visit http://steinbeckhouse.com/
Located in Red Cloud, Nebraska, Willa Cather's childhood home is as it was when Cather lived there—even the wallpaper Cather put up as an arts and crafts project has been protected. Scholars of Cather’s work will recognize the Grandmother’s room as described in Cather’s “Old Mrs. Harris”. If visiting the house isn't enough, guests can stay in the Cathers' second home in Red Cloud. After the Cathers moved out of their first home they purchased this much larger house, though Cather didn’t live in it as long as her childhood home. For more info, see https://www.willacather.org/visit/lodging-cather-second-home
When Flannery O’Conner became seriously ill with lupus, the autoimmune disease that killed her father, she was forced to leave New York City and return to the home that sheltered her during her teenage years. She lived out the remainder of her life on the farm and spent most of that time writing (Wise Blood and her short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find, both of which feature Andalusia Farm as a setting, were written in Milledgeville). Her room is kept as it was while she lived there near the end of her life, complete with her typewriter and crutches. Though O'Connor was ill she remained active. She often walked into town or strolled near the creek on the farm property. Today visitors can explore the home and the grounds, which are teeming with wildlife. For more information go to http://andalusiafarm.org/