At a land-locked abode in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, Herman Melville sailed with Captain Ahab and crew in Moby-Dick. Inspiration for the tale came from the view out his study window: snow-covered Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, which looked to him like the outline of a white whale. (The picture above shows it in the summer, so a little imagination is required.)
The rambling 18th-century farmhouse, which Melville named Arrowhead for artifacts he found on the property, was home to the writer for 13 years. A tour of the house was a fascinating, well-spent hour, with our guide talking about Melville’s adventurous past on the high seas, his friendship with fellow writer and Berkshires resident Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the circumstances that led him to all but give up his writing and take a desk job at the customs house in New York City for the last two decades of his life.
Two interesting architectural details immortalize Melville’s connection to Arrowhead: a now-restored porch—with a vista of Mt. Greylock—he had built and features in the short story “The Piazza Tales,” and lines from “The Chimney” inscribed above the fireplace in the dining room. Melville’s brother, who succeeded him at the farm, was so taken with the tale he had the still-visible text etched there for posterity.
In the neighboring town of Lenox is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and named for Nathanial Hawthorne’s Tangelwood Tales for Girls and Boys. On a rainy Friday evening, before attending a performance at the venue, my husband, Brian, and I traipsed around the muddy grounds looking for “the little red house.” It’s a replica of a cottage once lived in by Hawthorne and his family (the original was destroyed by fire) and where he wrote The House of the Seven Gables. I had all but given up hope that we were going to find it when Brian spotted it off in the distance.
The Berkshires is literary travel heaven. Lenox was once home to Edith Wharton, whose European-inspired estate, The Mount, I visited on a previous trip to the area.
While traveling US-7 from the Berkshires to southern Vermont, a sign on the left hand side of the road in Shaftsbury caught my eye. “Robert Frost Stone House Museum.” I hadn’t yet researched what literary sites might be near the next stop on the RV adventures (as in, consulted Novel Destinations), and I was excited to get a glimpse of the picturesque cottage as I sped by. I went back a couple of days later to have a look around the 250-year-old granite and timber farmhouse, where Frost lived for a decade.
The exhibits are shown in two rooms, including the one where Frost penned the poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”…during the summer. Although the museum section of the house is small, the exhibits are jam-packed with fascinating details—such as how Frost and a group of family and friends were among the first to hike a newly opened section of the Appalachian Trail in the Northeast (his ill-fitting new shoes led him to cut the trip short, taking a train from Connecticut back to Vermont) and the ongoing efforts to restore the apple orchards he once cultivated on the property. On display is a complete set of works by Sir Walter Scott, which the poet gave to his grandson as a Christmas gift.
Frost is buried in Bennington, Vermont, in the cemetery behind the Old First Congregational Church, where he attended services. His final resting place is engraved with what has to be one of the wittiest epitaphs ever to appear on a gravestone: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” –Shannon McKenna Schmidt