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Historic author houses are among the best places to get a fix of nostalgic holiday cheer. Here are some literary sites where you can enjoy the seasonal festivities:

The Enchanted Garden at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, comes alive with thousands of lights during “Poe’s Christmas Illumination” on December 1 from 5-9 p.m. Along with free admission, enjoy mulled wine and take a holiday-themed tour with the museum’s curator.

A visit to Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, is like stepping into the pages of Little Women. It’s only fitting then that this year’s December theme is “A Little Women Christmas” since the novel opens during the holiday season. Meet Louisa and other costumed figures and participate in Victorian-era activities and caroling. The program takes place on weekends in December, and advance reservations are strongly recommended.

The Pearl S. Buck House in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, hosts the annual “Festival of Trees,” with 29 artists, organizations, and community groups decorating the author’s home. Not only is the holiday finery lush and imaginative, some of it conveys a message, too, carrying on Buck’s legacy as a social activist. Through December 30.

Step back in time at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, which is adorned in the style of a late-19th-century Christmas. The author’s abode is one of several sites participating in the “Friends of the Mark Twain House & Museum’s Holiday House Tour” on December 3.

In Monterey, California, 22 historic homes are open to visitors during “Christmas in the Adobes,” including rare access to the Lara-Soto Adobe once owned by John Steinbeck. At the Robert Louis Stevenson House—now a museum devoted to the Scottish scribe, who lived for a time in the seaside city—shortbread will be served and bagpipes will be playing. December 8 and 9.

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, is celebrating the poet’s birthday on December 9 from 1-4 p.m. with homemade coconut made from Dickinson’s own recipe. Admission is free during the event, and a special guided tour, “Christmas with the Dickinsons,” is on offer.

The Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is hosting a Holiday Open House on December 15 and Holiday House Tours on December 16. Along with touring the poet’s lovely home (previously General George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War), take a stroll through the illuminated gardens and listen to Christmas carols.

In a nod to his debut novel Look Homeward, Angel, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, North Carolina, is putting on “An Angel Christmas” on December 16. Festivities include an exhibition of angel wreaths on the doors and angel figurines displayed throughout the historic 29-room home, where Wolfe’s mother once ran a boardinghouse.

In Salem, Massachusetts, the House of the Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s inspiration for his gothic novel), is presenting “Four Centuries of Christmas Tours.” Walks the halls of the seaside mansion that has stood since 1668, as guides share the history of Christmas in New England. Through December 31.

[Photos © Pearl S. Buck International, Poe Museum, and Orchard House.]

 

Judging by the number of literary landmarks dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, including three former residences and the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, he’s one of the most-commemorated classic scribes. Even his dorm room (above) at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville is now a shrine to the infamous student, who was forced to drop out after his stepfather discovered he was gambling to pay tuition.

The Richmond museum has one of the largest collections of Poe memorabilia, with exhibits housed in four historic buildings surrounding an enclosed garden courtyard. Although he spent much of his life roaming the Eastern seaboard, living in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, Poe thought of himself as a Virginian. He grew up in Richmond with an adoptive family, and the museum explores his connection to the southern city.

On the day I visited the Poe Museum there were white chairs set up for a wedding taking place that evening in the “Enchanted Garden.” I’m not sure if it was the picturesque setting or the literary connection that was a draw for the bride and groom. Do they actually care that there was a bust of Edgar Allan Poe looking on as they said I do?

Toast the writer and have an early Halloween celebration this Thursday, October 28th, when the museum hosts its monthly Unhappy Hour. The theme is “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and there will be live music, a cash bar, and free admission. Costumes are encouraged.

Can’t make it to the soirée? Stop by the gift shop for a Poe-themed beer mug or shot glass and have your own unhappy hour. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Fighting over Edgar Allan Poe’s remains? This weekend the New York Times reported on the “ghoulish argument” between Philadelphia and Baltimore over the scribe’s final resting place. He’s buried in Baltimore, where he lived as a young man and later died under mysterious circumstances during a return visit. Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia, argues that Poe should be re-buried in the City of Brotherly Love because he wrote some of his most noteworthy works while living there.

On January 13th, Pettit will defend his views during a debate with Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House in Baltimore; the debate will be held at the Philadelphia Free Library. Jerome’s response to the suggestion that Poe should forever leave Baltimore? “Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe’s body isn’t going anywhere.”

I had the chance to meet Mr. Jerome last fall when he gave me a fascinating tour of the Poe House in Baltimore, Poe’s former residence and one of four literary landmarks devoted to the writer. The others are the Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, New York, and the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. January 19, 2009, is the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth, and celebrations at the sites are being planned.

Whatever the outcome of the debate over Poe’s legacy, it’s great to see a classic literary figure making modern-day headlines. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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