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Today on The Mount’s blog, staffers at the literary landmark pay tribute to Edith Wharton’s 149th birthday. The author designed, built, and resided at the estate in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains for nearly a decade (among those she hosted was writer pal Henry James, who had high praise for the equisite “French château”).

If you’re considering purchasing a membership to The Mount, today is the day to do it. In honor of Wharton’s birthday, those who sign up today will receive a copy of The Cruise of the Vanadis, a travelogue chronicling the author’s 1888 Mediterranean cruise.

The Mount has struggled with financial difficulties in recent years and has undertaken serious fundraising efforts. Last week it was announced that an anonymous donor had given a gift of $300,000 to The Mount. A birthday present for Wharton?

Check out these previous posts on Edith Wharton and The Mount:
Day Tripping to Edith Wharton’s Estate
Edith Wharton’s Paris
Is the Mount Haunted?

gh_logo20for20linkIf you missed last night’s episode about The Mount on the SciFi Channel’s weekly show Ghost Hunters, you can still catch the episode for free online by clicking here.

The Mount, which witnessed the painful break-up of Edith Wharton’s marriage,  has long been the subject of ghostly rumors. After Wharton and her husband sold the estate in 1911, it spent several years being used as a dormitory for the Foxhollow School, and later became home to the Shakespeare and Company acting troupe. During those decades, residents frequently reported unexplained noises, odd sensations, and the occasional encounter spectral figures dressed in old-fashioned clothing.

To determine if these experiences were tricks of the imagination or something more, The Atlantic Paranormal Society’s (TAPS) lead investigators Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson visited The Mount in December with the television crew and spent successive nights in the mansion performing paranormal experiments and collecting data, the results of which were revealed on last night’s show.

For its 2009 season, The Mount will feature special “Ghost Tours” of the estate, kicking off with a special hands-on investigative event on April 24-25. Happy haunting!

“Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than a novelist,” Edith Wharton once claimed. The gardens at her estate, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts, are indeed a highlight of the estate, which I visited recently on a day trip with my husband and my mother-in-law. For an afternoon, we traveled to the turn of the twentieth century and envisioned life as Wharton knew it during her tenure as mistress of The Mount. 

Wharton had a talent and a passion for architecture and landscape design. She was heavily influenced by her years abroad and drew on classical European design principles for both the house and gardens. Before she penned The House of Mirth, her breakout novel, in an upstairs bedroom suite at The Mount, she co-wrote a book on interior design, The Decoration of Houses, with architect Ogden Codman in 1898. Remarkably, the book is still in print.

The white, three-story mansion is reached by walking along a forested path, and we explored the house on a self-guided tour. Highlights are the library (right) with dark wood, carved bookshelves, where Wharton’s personal collection of tomes resides once again after being purchased from a European collector; the drawing room, the largest room in the house and the only one with ornate ceiling treatment; and the dining room, where a cushion placed beneath a Victorian table is reminiscent of one that Wharton kept there for her canine companions. (I was disappointed to find out that Wharton disliked cats and referred to them as sneaks in fur.)

Visitors are allowed on the second level of the house, although it’s currently undergoing restoration work. Wharton’s sitting room is the one that’s most finished, and it has vivid floral paintings set into the paneling, which came from Milan, Italy. One room has been designated the Henry James Guest Suite in honor of Wharton’s fellow writer, her good friend and traveling companion (they once toured France together, where one of their sojourns was to French scribe George Sand’s chateau).

After exploring the house, we had lunch at the Terrace Cafe on the wrap-around porch overlooking a glistening pond and the gorgeous gardens. A broad staircase leads from the terrace to a walkway lined with lime trees. On either end of the walkway are two formal gardens: a French-style flower garden circling a fountain in the shape of a dolphin and an Italian-style giardino segreto (hidden garden; at left) with stone walls and archways.

I was pleased to see there were a lot of people at The Mount on the day I visited, although it didn’t feel crowded because of the sprawling size of the estate. The Mount is open until October 31st. It’s still facing financial difficulties, and it could be a last chance to visit this exquisite place, which is unlike any other literary landmark in the United States. As Henry James said, perhaps while admiring the view from his guest room window, The Mount is “a delicate French chateau mirrored in a Massachusetts pond.” –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.

Edith Wharton’s Berkshires estate, The Mount, opened today for the 2008 season.

I plan to visit the house and Italianate-style gardens, both of which were designed by Wharton, this summer. And if ever there was a time for bibliophiles to pay a visit to a literary landmark, this is it. The Mount is facing foreclosure, and a fundraising campaign has been launched to save the property, a National Historic Landmark. A significant amount of money still needs to be raised by May 31st. To see pictures of the house and gardens or to make a pledge (which won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached), go to www.edithwharton.org.

The Berkshires area is a paradise for literary travelers. In addition to The Mount, Lenox is also home to the Shakespeare & Company ensemble, which stages productions of the Bard’s works from May through October. In nearby Pittsfield is Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s farmstead and where he wrote Moby-Dick, and the Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which houses the world’s largest collection of memorabilia related to the writer. One of the items on display is his passport signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was Melville’s overseas sponsor while serving as U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England. And last but not least, the Hawthorne House is a small red cottage where the novelist penned his gothic tale The House of the Seven Gables. It’s located on the grounds of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer performance venue, and although it’s not open to the public it can be viewed from the outside.

This summer will be my first trip to the Berkshires, and I’ve already started my itinerary to make sure I don’t miss any of these literary sites and events. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

wharton_the-mount-with-japanese-anenomes-by-david-dashiell.jpgThe Lenox, Massachusetts estate where Edith Wharton wrote The House of Mirth and other novels is faced with imminent foreclosure due to financial difficulties, the New York Times recently reported. Trustees of The Mount have launched a fundraising campaign to save this National Historic Landmark, and $3 million needs to be raised before April 24, 2008. Pledges can be made at www.edithwharton.org, and they won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached — so there’s no risk to pledging a donation.

Wharton designed the house and gardens, and in addition to its literary significance The Mount is notable for being one of only 5 percent of National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women.

[Photo courtesy of David Dashiell and The Mount]

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