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The National Park Service plays a part in helping to preserve literary history, from Longfellow’s pedigreed abode in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Eugene O’Neill’s imaginative Tao House near Danville, California. A perk for bibliophiles visiting these storied sites: there is no admission fee.

 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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The abolitionist, orator, and presidential advisor wrote his final autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in the library at Cedar Hill, his home in Washington, D.C. (Look for the Victorian Renaissance carved oak armchair originally made for the U.S. House of Representatives, sitting next to his roll top desk.) The house is less than a hundred miles from where Douglass had been born into slavery on a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Open year-round. Note: There is a $1.50 fee to reserve advance tickets online. www.nps.gov/frdo

 

TAO HOUSE AT THE EUGENE O’NEILL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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Itinerant playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in more than 35 places before settling outside Danville, California, in a residence he and his wife had built from the ground up. Dubbed Tao House, it’s furnished with Chinese antiques like the couple’s teak bed, formerly an opium couch, and incorporates architectural features that reflect principles of Taoism. O’Neill was greatly inspired here, penning Long Day’s Journey Into Night and other critically acclaimed plays. Open year-round. www.nps.gov/euon

 

LONGFELLOW HOUSE—WASHINGTON’S HEADQUARTERS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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Plenty of famous figures have crossed the threshold at this yellow-hued house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before it was home to 19th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was General George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston in 1775–76. Charles Dickens once came to call here on Longfellow, along with scores of other writers, artists, and politicians. The house and its contents remain largely unchanged since the poet’s day. Open late May through October. www.nps.gov/long

 

EDGAR ALLAN POE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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This minimalist house-museum—Poe’s last residence during a six-year stint living in Philadelphia—contains no furnishings but plenty of atmosphere. Bare walls, peeling paint, and creaking floors provide the perfect backdrop to contem­plate Poe’s spine-chilling tales. Tours conclude with a descent into the shadowy basement (above) that inspired the setting for the eerie short story “The Black Cat.” Open year-round. www.nps.gov/edal

 

Honorable Mention

CARL SANDBURG HOME NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE / CONNEMARA FARM

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Carl Sandburg moved from the shores of Lake Michigan to a secluded, sprawling farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina, seeking solitude, space for his large family (not to mention a 15,000-volume book collection), and greener pastures and longer grazing seasons for his wife’s goat-breeding operation—which is still going strong today. Note: There is no charge to access the grounds, which include a series of hiking trails, or to visit the Connemara Farms Goat Dairy. Admission to the house, shown by guided tour, is $5.00. www.nps.gov/carl

Photo credits: Tao House and Poe Basement, National Park Service; Douglass Library, Longfellow House and Connemara Farm, NovelDestinations.com

Emily Dickinson Museum

Wish Emily Dickinson a Happy Birthday

The poet was born 185 years ago today. One of these times when her birthday rolls around, I’m going to make sure I’m in Amherst, Massachusetts, for the annual bash held at the Emily Dickinson Museum. What I’d really like is to sample some of the coconut cake, made from the wordsmith and avid baker’s recipe, that’s served at the gathering.

So if you’re in Amherst this Saturday, December 12, stop by the museum. The party takes place from 1-4 p.m. and—along with cake eating—includes readings by a dozen contemporary poets at three different times: 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 p.m. You can also have a look at Dickinson’s bedroom, recently restored to its nineteenth century appearance.

Celebrate the Season with Dickinson and Dickens

Next Saturday, December 19, the museum is offering a special tour, “A Dickensian Christmas with the Dickinsons.” A guide leads visitors through the festively-decorated, side-by-side houses where the poet and her family lived, and shares how they celebrated the holiday season. Tours end with a reading from Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol given by award-winning author Tony Abbott.

Tours take place at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Advance reservations are strongly recommended. $20 adults; $10 museum members; $5 for students in grades K-12.