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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