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Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts’

St. Ann’s Church, Lenox

We start the day with Mass at beautiful St. Ann’s Church in Lenox. No, I didn’t take this photo during any of that – but swiped from their generous web-site. I did want to remember the ceiling and angels, dimly seen here.

Next, we head to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home.  She designed it, and decorated it and created all the gardens. In addition, it takes my breath away to think that she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale, and the first woman elevated to full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  She wrote 40 books in 40 years!

Edith Wharton’s Bedroom, where most of her writing took place

Edith Wharton’s Library, with many of her books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining Room, with place set for Henry James

View from the Mount

 

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On Friday, September 28, it’s raining.  It’s a bit cold.  We use it an excuse to forego sightseeing and cozy in for a day of reading, cards, crossword puzzles – and trip planning.  Ha, we do a lot of the former and very little of the latter.  We warm up our steak dinners from the Old Forge Restaurant (sans tap beer) that we’ve visited twice now, and have delicious apple cider doughnuts for dessert.  So many things to love about fall!

Museum of the Gilded Age, Ventford Hall

Saturday, we’re ready for history and touring, and head to Ventford Hall, “Museum of the Gilded Age”.

Sadly,  we didn’t actually learn much (anything?) about the Gilded Age here. Nothing particularly historically significant seemed to have happened in this house, other than that some people who owned it at one time (J. P. Morgan’s sister and her husband ) had a lot of money. I have no problem with that, in fact I paid my admission hoping to hear all about what made the age “gilded” – stories about excesses, parties, travel, whatever the lifestyle was that caused the coinage of the phrase. Instead, this is more a tour of a partially completed restoration project, consisting of rooms on the first floor in various states of the renovation process (the second floor was recently closed because it’s not handicapped accessible?) with photographs showing what bad repair each room was in before the house became a “Museum” .  The billiard room housed an exhibition of dolls, showcasing  a history of fashion – the  costumes were exquisite. But that wasn’t what we came to see. Unfortunately, I’d have to say that the most interesting thing I learned on the tour was that Ventford Hall played the part of the orphanage in the movie, Cider House Rules.

Norman Rockwell’s Studio

For the same admission price ($15 apiece) we had a marvelous afternoon at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Spectacular grounds and museum gallery, with the bonus of being able to see his favorite and last studio, moved from Stockbridge to this site. Wonderful presentations by knowledgeable docents. But the real kick is seeing so many original Norman Rockwell paintings up close, with great written commentary, explaining the history and context of the work, people who posed for it, etc.   I begin to recognize the same faces over and over –  with different expressions, of course, but it becomes a fun challenge to identify faces of his family. And then, there are his themes.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom from Want

In my  heart, I want Norman Rockwell’s world to be the real one. Simple, kind,  and patriotic.  Inclusive, respectful,  and always doing the right thing.

The Problem We All Live With

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The Round Stone Barn at Hancock Shaker Village

This is a wonderfully preserved, authentic, Shaker village – in a gorgeous Berkshire setting.  The tour is self-guided but we kick off the morning with a great, informative orientation talk and tour through the most interesting (for me, at least) building on the premises – the Brick Dwelling House, built in 1830 to house over a hundred brethren and sisters.  It’s fascinating to see how the sexes lived apart, but under one roof.

The Shakers, unlike the Amish, embraced technology and the buildings and grounds are full of  examples of their innovations, like the famous round barn.

But they’re also known for their shaking and singing – and we get to do both in an afternoon music session in the Brick Dwelling House. Women on one side, men on the other, of course!  Our costumed interpreters, Jim and Rebecca, have marvelous voices and a lovely blend, and it’s a great acoustical room, so it’s really a delight to listen to them and learn more about Shaker music.  They also teach us several types of songs, while we’re still seated, then we take to the floor to test our combined singing and dancing (and shaking) skills. We finish with the Simple Gifts Song and come round right.

The Brick Dwelling House

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It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.   Herman Melville

Arrowhead

Melville’s second floor study is directly over the piazza (porch – but I had to say “piazza” because that’s what he called it, and it’s the title of his short story collection, The Piazza Tales, written here).  It’s truly awe-inspiring to stand in the room  where he wrote Moby Dick, dedicated to Mount Greylock, which can be seen in the distance from the study window. Melville had his most productive literary years here, although, sadly,  he never got the recognition he deserved.  Ultimately, debt forced him to sell this beloved farmhouse and move back to New York City, where he worked as a customs inspector for 20 years. So, it’s rather poignant walking through his home, thinking about how he never knew the impact his writing would have on the world.  But, I’m going to prefer to think of him, out in the barn in back of the house, talking about writing and books with his friend and neighbor here,  Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

 

We also visited the grandly named, Berkshire Athenaeum, which is now just an ordinary public library in downtown Pittsfield, but which houses an extraordinary collection of Melville artifacts.

And we ended the day at the Old Forge , a rustic and always BUSY restaurant in Lanesboro, near where we’re staying at the Hidden Valley Campground.  We discovered that when you’re eating a dozen chicken wings, and bread and salad bar, and drinking beer, you don’t need an entire steak dinner to boot!  But, all delicious – and now we have leftovers.

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Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

 We took an hour and a half guided tour of Emily’s home, where she was born and died – and the next door home of her brother, Austin, adulterous husband of one of Emily’s best friends, whose young mistress wound up being responsible for the early publishing of Emily’s previously unpublished poems.

 

A pretty complicated, scandalous tale for staid, Calvinistic Amherst.  We had a fascinating tour guide,  who has developed a new theory about Emily’s Master Figure (a continuous scholarly debate as to who/what it is) and has published a paper and is researching a book, based on that person.  She’s in the real married man camp, but suggests one not considered previously.

There still remain so many questions about Emily, not yet resolved.  Why did she wear the white cotton dresses?  Was she in love with her sister-in-law?  What were her religious beliefs?  Was she a shy virgin or did she know passionate love?  Why did she become a recluse?  Was she just an eccentric artist unwilling to bow to convention, or unbalanced?  A little or a lot?

It was a great tour/visit and I’m definitely going to take a closer look at her poetry after this – and read at least one or two biographies.  I say this after each historical stop…good enough reason for believing in heaven, an eternity to catch up on reading.

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This day is for my  Mom and Dad. Right up their alley, as they might have put it. They’re gone now, but I feel them at these sites, whispering in my ear, enjoying every minute.

I start the day at the home of Louisa May Alcott.  I’m alone on this visit  (Dick has some work he needs to do and stays in the RV).  But if Mom and I would have been here together, there would probably have been some kind of electrical failure in the house, just due to our combined excitement.  It is “Little Women” heaven.  To actually see the costumes they wore when putting on their plays (including the boots Louisa (Jo) made for her dashing male role), the artwork throughout the house from May (Amy) who achieved great artistic success later -and so many of their personal possessions, including the table where Louisa wrote her most famous and successful book, balking all the way, thinking it boring.   I could go on and on. An absolutely amazing family, in an amazing time in Concord Massachusetts.  

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so all I have is an outside shot.

Louisa May Alcott House

Louisa May Alcott House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my Dad – Thoreau’s Cabin at Walden  Pond.   I have a funny memory of his trying to find this for us on a family vacations some forty-five  or so years ago.  First, it was hard to find Walden Pond.  He finally got us there,  there were hot dog stands and people swimming and picknicking.  He asked many people he encountered where Thoreau’s cabin was.  Nobody he asked had ever heard of Thoreau. 

It’s a different story today.  We saw a recreation of his cabin and walked around the whole of Walden Pond.  The original site has been found by archeologists, so the foundation is outlined.  As history has it, people had been commemorating the site a few feet away (starting, we heard with Bronson Alcott, who took someone to visit his friend).

Walden Pond as viewed from Thoreau's House site

Walden Pond as viewed from Thoreau's House site

 

 

 

The outline of his cabin

The outline of his cabin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Mom and Dad for bringing me into these wonderful worlds.

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We walk into the theatre for the orientation film at the Visitor Center, and before it even starts I’m totally captivated and intrigued.  There is a regular projection screen on the right, but the rest of the place has the look of a theatrical stage, a tavern scene on the left, with real table, chairs, mugs, fireplace, etc. (and a door that will later reveal a filmed character narrator) dimly- lit painted scenes of a town and country-side on either side of us, parts of which will come to life (“one if by land, two if by sea” lanterns, etc.) and various windows, fences and other props that feature in the telling of the “shot heard round the world” and how the opening battle of the American Revolution came to pass.

In an opening talk, a National Park Ranger told us about how large groups of bored and rowdy school children visit frequently.  And become silent and enthralled as the lights dim and the story of this pivotal point in our nation’s history unfolds. I haven’t been bored or rowdy for awhile now, but it definitely had the same effect on me.

Then off to Lexington to see where the British first fired on the militiamen.

 

Lexington Village Green

Lexington Village Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Buckman Tavern, where Lexington Militia met on April 19, before shots were fired on the village green and history changed forever.

 

Buckman Tavern, Lexington MA

Buckman Tavern, Lexington MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Minute Man National Historical Park is very linear – marking important sites along the way.  We stopped to see  Hartwell Tavern, where people watched the British soldiers marched proudly by on their way to Concord, but returned, panicked and disorganized on their way back to Boston.

 

Hartwell Tavern on Battle Road

Hartwell Tavern on Battle Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musket firing demonstration, Hartwell Tavern

Musket firing demonstration, Hartwell Tavern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it’s off to literary heaven for me.  The Wayside, home of Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney (Five Little Peppers books), among so many other famous residents and guests – so much literary, political and philosophical activity going on there, if the walls could talk we’d be deaf in a minute.

The Wayside, Home of Authors - Concord MA

The Wayside, Home of Authors - Concord MA

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