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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had quite the life, at least judging by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home where he lived for 40 years in the 1800s. Marble busts, chandeliers, and oil paintings in gilded frames adorn the house, along with 10,000 books that belonged to the poet.
Among the illustrious visitors to cross the threshold were Charles Dickens, invited for breakfast during his first tour of America, and playwright Oscar Wilde, who said of his host, “Longfellow was himself a beautiful poem.”
The house remains much as it did in Longfellow’s day, now maintained by the National Park Service, and it’s one of the more elegant author homes I’ve seen in my literary travels—more along the lines of Edith Wharton’s The Mount, albeit with a city setting, than the stark residences in Baltimore and New York City where Edgar Allan Poe lived a hardscrabble life. Hardship did find Longfellow here, though, when his wife, Fanny, died after her dress caught fire.
Longfellow wasn’t the only famous figure who lived at 105 Brattle Street. Less than a century before the poet took up residence, the house served as the headquarters of General George Washington during the Siege of Boston in 1775. When strangers knocked, asking to see “Washington’s headquarters,” Longfellow graciously showed them around.
Further north in the seaport town of Portland, Maine, is the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, where the writer lived for the first fourteen years of his life. Three generations of his family resided in the abode, the oldest standing structure on the Portland peninsula. Among the mementos on display is evidence of Longfellow’s wanderlust: a leather traveling trunk he took with him during a European grand tour in the late 1820s. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt
Some author houses are open seasonally during warmer months. Others greet visitors year-round but often hold special events during the summer and fall. If you have a literary site in your area, check to see what festivities they might be hosting. Here are a few highlights:
Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, MA – Young bibliophiles and their parents can take part in “Family Sundays Art in the Park” from 1 to 4 p.m. on the grounds of Longfellow’s historic Cambridge house (it was once the headquarters of General George Washington during the Siege of Boston in 1775). Activities include painting, drawing, playing 19th century games, and reading Longfellow’s poetry aloud.
The Mount, Lenox, MA – Every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in July and August at Edith Wharton’s gorgeous mansion in the Berkshires, a live reading of her works takes place on the terrace. If you can’t make it to “Wharton on Wednesdays,” visit The Mount for “Some Enchanted Evenings.” On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in July and August the Terrace Cafe is open from 5 to 8 p.m. After a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres, you can enjoy a stroll through the Mount’s Italianate-style gardens, which were designed by Edith Wharton.
Old Manse, Concord, MA – Once home to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather and home to Nathaniel Hawthorne for a time, this farmhouse has expansive and beautiful grounds that border the Concord River and adjoin Minuteman National Historical Park. On Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. through August 24th it’s the site of a Summer Concert Series. Or embark on the excursion “Paddling Back in Time” (offered several times throughout the summer), a guided trip down the Concord River and a chance to experience the landscape that inspired Emerson, Hawthorne, and fellow Concord resident and naturalist Henry David Thoreau.
The Steinbeck House, Salinas, CA – The house where John Steinbeck grew up is a perfect place for Victorian Tea, served on the following Saturdays: August 9th, September 13th, October 11th, November 8th and December 13th with two seatings each day. In the Victorian-era abode’s elegant ambience you can sample specially blended teas, tea sandwiches, scones, quiche, fruit, and desserts. The extensive Best Cellar gift shop is located on the property, and down the street is the National Stienbeck Center.
Do you have a favorite special event you like to attend at a literary site? If so, please share it in the comments section.