An American-Pantheon Road Trip
June 15, 2012 | Permalink
Great writers have a tendency to look larger than life once they have passed into history. Some seem downright godlike. In France, the writers Emile Zola and Victor Hugo’s remains are housed in a monument called Le Pantheon, named for Rome’s Pantheon, which was built in honor of the Ancient Roman gods. It’s easy to forget that the authors of great works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, For Whom the Bell Tolls and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” put their pants on one leg at a time just like us.
A good reminder of both great writers’ ordinariness and their extraordinariness is a visit to the humble homes where their great work was realized. The homes of some canonical American authors have been preserved for posterity—among them Mark Twain’s in Hartford, Connecticut; Ernest Hemingway’s in Key West, Florida; and Washington Irving’s in Tarrytown, New York.
The Mark Twain House and Museum
Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) built his Victorian gothic home in what was at the time the bucolic town of Hartford in order to be close to the publishing industry and friends like fellow-author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Here he wrote, late at night in the house’s billiard room, all of the works that would earn him his lasting reputation— including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and the timeless Huck Finn.
Two exhibits that explore Twain’s thinking concerning African Americans, which evolved from racism to abolitionism, and the depiction of African Americans in popular culture during his day are on display through September 3, 2012.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Ernest Hemingway, who said that of all texts he owed the biggest debt to Huck Finn, was much more of a rambler during his literary peak than Twain was during his. One constant for Hemingway in the late 20s and 30s, though, was that he wintered in Key West, where he acquired a Spanish Colonial house in 1931.
The Hemingway Home runs tours, which are informative and charming, every half hour. As the furnishings are original (many of the pieces were acquired by Ernest’s wife, Pauline, in Paris in the 20s), you will get to see the house as it was when Hemingway composed great works like Death in the Afternoon and To Have and Have Not. Keep an eye out for the six-toed cats, descendants of a polydactyl cat that one of Hemingway’s ship-captain friends gave him.
Washington Irving’s Sunnyside
Washington Irving, the creator of the timeless characters Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman and the first internationally-lauded American literary figure, started designing his own Dutch-and-Spanish-style mansion on the Hudson River in 1835. The mansion was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1945 and turned into a museum. The museum has preserved Irving’s writing room as it was when he wrote his stories in it (by longhand, of course). Sunnyside offers forty-five minute tours by knowledgeable guides dressed in period costume. Appropriately for an author whose stories continue to be a favorite with kids, especially at at Halloween, the tours include games for kids and a scavenger hunt.
The Perfect Cure for Homesickness
After a day of looking at other people’s homes, you’ll likely be a little homesick for your own. The best way to cure homesickness on the road is at a hotel that has all the amenities of home—like a kitchen, Wi-Fi and a laundry room.
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