When I was a teenager I convinced my family to go on a literary tour of New England. We went to all the usual spots such as Walden Pond, Author's Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Hawthorne's house, and Emily Dickinson's house. I was also interested in utopian movements, so we stopped at Harvard, Massachusetts to see Fruitlands, the doomed community started by Bronson Alcott who was not only Louisa May Alcott's father but also the man who loaned Henry David Thoreau an ax to chop down trees for his cabin in the woods.
A couple of years later, a friend and I drove around the country, and we made sure to stop in such places as Hannibal, Missouri and Hartford, Connecticut to join Mark Twain's youth to his old age.
All these places are well-known. But there are lesser-known literary sites.
For example, Edna St. Vincent Millay lived in the narrowest house in New York City, at 75 1/2 Bedford Street. The house is nine and a half feet wide. It is a three story brick building constructed on what was once a carriage alley. Millay lived there in 1923 and 1924. Cary Grant and John Barrymore also later lived in the house. In the fifties, William Burroughs lived a few doors down at 69 Bedford.
Then there is the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. Many famous guests have stayed at the Willard, including writers and presidents who were also writers. Abraham Lincoln and his family lived there for several weeks before his inauguration. Indeed, Lincoln's first presidential paycheck was used to settle his bill. It was for $773.75. And one morning in 1861 a woman from Boston was awakened by the harsh sound of soldiers marching beneath her window. They were singing "John Brown's Body." She liked the tune but not the words. So she climbed out of bed, sat at her desk in her room at the Willard, and there Julia Ward Howe wrote the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." President Ulysses S. Grant fled the White House to find some peace and quiet in the Willard's lobby. Sadly, many people followed him there begging for political favors. He called these people "lobbyists," and the word stuck.
I'm not sure why I've always enjoyed literary sites. Maybe it's a mystical hope that some of the talent that resided there will find its way into my mind. Maybe it's a way to understand the writers better by seeing where they wrote. I'm aware, of course, that such visits are no substitute for reading the words of writers, but I often find I enjoy the reading more after I've seen an author's home. The visits offer an author-reader connection across time. Visiting sites where the authors lived or stayed helps both the authors and me cheat their deaths. I like to think they're glad about that.