Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Longfellow House

On Brattle Street in Cambridge, just outside of Harvard Square, is a large yellow mansion where George and Martha Washington stayed during the siege of Boston 1775-1776. The British troops were finally ejected from the town and the Washingtons left soon after. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine in 1807. Thirty years later he accepted the professorship of modern languages at Harvard and moved into the House now named after him. At first as a tenant and then owner, he lived in that house for the rest of his life. Longfellow's maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, served under George Washington. Longfellow really wanted to live in the House occupied by General Washington and at first even slept in the same bedroom that the general had occupied.

Longfellow wrote so many very popular poems in the house including Cross of Snow, Song of Hiawatha, and the Children's Hour. Charles Dickens visited him in that house twice, once in1842, and the second time in 1867. Longfellow was curious about Walt Whitman's free style of verse and did meet him once as well. Longfellow was opposed to slavery, a proponent of women's education, interested in the plight of the native American, and it seems a very sentimental man. He outlived both of his wives. His oldest daughter Alice was one of the founders of Radcliffe College, which at that time was called the Annex of Harvard. Alice never married and lived in the house until her death in 1928.

The House was well staffed today. As I walked up to the main entrance I was greeted by a ranger. In the garden another ranger was trimming the shrubbery and I chatted with her. The rangers are doing research so that they could restore the gardens to much what they were like when Alice tended them. I was the only person on my tour. The guide has been there for several years and I had taken one of his tours before. He recites lines of Longfellow's poetry in every room and obviously thinks that the poet was a great man. He even offered to answer more of my questions after the tour was finished one hour later. It was a very enjoyable afternoon activity.


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