Meandering through New England on the first leg of the RV adventure has been a literary travel extravaganza.
Things got off to a rocky start at the Monte Cristo Cottage in New London, Connecticut. I misread the opening times and arrived to find the childhood home of Eugene O’Neill locked up tight. I peeked in a few windows, though. The gingerbread-trimmed house—which is named for O’Neill’s father, a touring stage actor in The Count of Monte Cristo—overlooks the Thames River and is situated in a residential neighborhood (the place two doors down is for sale).
O’Neill’s boyhood here was far from idyllic. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright used the house as the setting for two of his plays, the comedic Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, an autobiographical work that featured unflattering portrayals of his somewhat dysfunctional family.
The third time was the charm in Concord, Massachusetts. On two previous visits I had toured Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s home, and trekked to the site of Henry David Thoreau’s woodland hideaway at Walden Pond. But there are three other literary sites in Concord that I had never been inside. Not because I misread opening times but because they’re closed in the off season.
First up was the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial House, a stately-looking white house where the writer lived for more than 40 years. It’s still owned by the Emerson family, who regularly give guided tours. While writing Novel Destinations I had interviewed Marie Gordinier, the house’s director, and heard about its unique characteristics. But it was fun to see in person details like the master bedroom decorated in Lidian’s favorite colors, blue and gray.
The Old Manse, a farmhouse on the Concord River once owned by Emerson’s family, borders Minuteman National Historic Park and the North Bridge, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired. Emerson lived here for a time, writing Nature in an upstairs bedroom, and the property was later rented to a newly wed Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia, left two reminders of their stay: the story collection Mosses from an Old Manse and missives etched in two windows with Sophia’s diamond engagement ring.
Rounding out the trifecta was the Wayside, the only National Historic Landmark lived in by three literary families—the Alcotts, Nathaniel Hawthorne (who gave the house its name), and children’s author Harriet Lothrop, who wrote under the pen name Margaret Sidney. Sidney was an early literary history preservationist, inspired to purchase the Wayside in part because it had been owned by Hawthorne. The house has been restored to its appearance c. 1915-1920 when Lothrop was in residence, although she did retain imprints of her predecessors—like Hawthorne’s third-floor “sky parlor” with his stand-up writing desk. The visitors center, which has an interesting exhibit on the writers-in-residence and their works, was once a barn where Louisa May Alcott and her sisters staged theatrical performances. -Shannon McKenna Schmidt