The Mark Twain House & Museum
Author Mark Twain wrote that his adult home — now a museum — in Hartford, Conn., "had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction."
For serious bookworms, one of the greatest pleasures is stepping into the world of a favorite author. For ideas on visiting authors’ homes-turned-museums, who better to ask than other writers?
Eric Simons, author of the travelogue “Darwin Slept Here,” recommends Charles Darwin’s writing cocoon for “On the Origin of Species,” his Down House in Kent, England. “Wander through the country lanes where the great naturalist went for a precise walk almost every day, and peruse an inspired greenhouse full of carnivorous plants that's as carefully tended as it was in the 1850s. Indoors you can see what it might have been like to live with Darwin — outside you can feel what it was like to have been him.”
Novelist and memoirist Jane Roper braved a visit to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Scotland, “a dark, cramped, thatched roof cottage with an incredibly small box-bed in the kitchen where the whole family slept. The kind of place that brings to mind words like ‘rickets’ and ‘consumption.’ At the museum you can see the 'Tam O'Shanter Experience' —a delightfully goofy video dramatization of Burns' most famous poem. Walk around the village and see the Brig o'Doon (the bridge over the Doon river) and the Auld Kirk (Old Church), both featured in the poem. Seeing where Burns came from made his work feel much more exciting and immediate. I understood, in a way I hadn't before, why the guy is a national hero to the Scots.
Poet Leslie Harrison was moved to tears by Emily Dickinson’s bedroom in Amherst, Mass. “It seems strange and even a little intrusive to come into this place where she spent so much time with her beloved family. There is a basket there still, which she used to fill with little goodies and treasures and lower from her second story bedroom to the neighborhood children playing below. The shawl she wore as she was dying is draped on her bed, and her tiny desk still faces the window. If you could get a moment alone and in silence in her bedroom, you could easily imagine her sitting down at the desk and scratching a few lines as the light fades. It is the one museum I've been in that seems most inhabited by the ghost of its owner.”
“Edith Wharton’s house, the Mount, is a very beautiful house, with these gorgeously landscaped gardens,” says Anne Trubek, author of “A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses.” The Mount, in Lenox, Mass., was designed by Wharton herself, and after years struggling to stay open, is now a venue for literary events, poet Harrison adds, and is “elegant, perfectly proportioned, altogether lovely.”
A short drive from Wharton’s home is Herman Melville’s home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, Mass. But Arrowhead is just part of the "Melville trifecta," Harrison says. “Hike up Mount Greylock, climb the lighthouse, then head south to Monument Mountain, and walk in the footsteps of Melville and his pal Nathaniel Hawthorne as they hiked up, picnicked, got caught in a storm, and sheltered in a cave arguing and talking. What happened on this mountain helped Melville so much, he dedicated 'Moby Dick' to his friend Hawthorne."
On a visit to Jack London’s home in Glen Ellen, Calif., Trubek felt in awe — not at the official museum at the site, but the ruins of his home burned in a fire, hidden in a grove of redwoods. “That’s what I’m attracted to: a ruin, nothing there but these burnt remains. You can imagine history in depth. To me, that’s very evocative.”
Mark Twain wrote that his adult home — now a museum — in Hartford, Conn., “had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction.” When novelist Anne Raeff visited 100 years later, “the guide told us that Twain smoked so many cigars that he often had two burning at a time, and I remember thinking that I could actually still smell the cigars in the house.”
On a trip to Moscow, novelist Michelle Hoover stopped by the apartment museum of Mikhail Bulgakov. The Russian playwright and novelist, says Hoover, gained state support by appearing a sympathizer but actually wrote the most subversive works of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. “What a place. The rooms were filled with drawings, scripts and videos of his play productions, and so many drawings of that mischievous black cat — Bulgakov’s Behemoth, one of the devil’s entourage in his most famous tome, 'The Master and Margarita.' In one room, a statue of Bulgakov at his typewriter. In another room was a small, rather bohemian café. There were so many pilgrims that I sat staring for another hour.”
Jennine Capó Crucet, whose short-story collection “How to Leave Hialeah” probes Cuban-American lives in Miami, snuck off from her tour at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. “If you're in Key West, Fla., trying to kill time before the parade that happens every day at sunset, hang out in Hemingway's ridiculously amazing Spanish colonial house. Dozens of six-toed cats, all descended from Papa's original pet, prowl the lush botanical gardens. And, if you're sly, sit on his upstairs toilet; you'll get the island's best view of the lighthouse out that bathroom window.”
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