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Lessons from Literary Houses - Inaugural Blog Post

Updated: May 4, 2020

This is my first blog post for Off the Mall Tours, and it marks the official beginning of this website! Fittingly, my first post will be about my favorite walking tour in recent memory, and that was during a visit to Massachusetts last fall (it seems so long ago, what with time losing all meaning during in the era of Covid-19). I started my trip with friends in the small town of Billerica, then spent a couple of days in Salem, a place that I had been dying to go to ever since I learned about the witch trials and read The Crucible as a high school student. To back up a little, I had conceived of the idea of starting a walking tour company months prior to this trip. So, I when I signed up for a couple of tours in Salem, I realized that I was anticipating them from the perspective of someone who was evaluating what she liked about walking tours and guides as a future guide herself (I currently lead Ghost Tours, but there is always more room to learn!)

The first walking tour I took was probably a fairly standard history tour with a healthy side of ghosts and witches. I wanted that balance instead of just a pure "Witches and Witch Hunts" tour. The guide was young, and very enthusiastic. I struggled to focus on what she was saying only because it was bitterly cold that night and I had not brought a hat. Truly a rookie mistake for a veteran walking tour enthusiast (always remember, dress for the weather!!). She handled herself very well when an inebriated or possibly mentally disturbed man went wandering into the cemetery we were stopped in front of after dark, which is prohibited. He heckled her after she asked him to leave. She kept her composure. I would hope I would handle it so well had I been in her position.

The second tour was of the House of Seven Gables, the basis for Nathanial Hawthorne's novel of the same name. I had not read the book, admittedly, but the guide that took us through the house did a wonderful job of connecting the book to reality. After the novel was written and the house solidified in American literary infamy, owners who followed had in fact changed the house to more closely align with some of the fictional elements of the house as imagined by Hawthorne. The guide pointed out some original, fascinating details about the structure of the house, and it was furnished as it would have been in Hawthorne's time. Overall it was a solid tour, and the house certainly lent itself to an eerie and tragic atmosphere, appropriate to its famed lore. I also visited Nathanial Hawthorne's actual house which is on the same property (moved there from its original location several blocks away) and I am pretty sure it is haunted. I felt a distinct presence there, and asked one of the costumed guides (not mine) if he ever felt something strange. He said he and other guides have heard voices from empty rooms, specifically a woman's, on multiple occasions.

However, the most memorable tour of trip was without question when I visited the Orchard House, otherwise known as where Louisa May Alcott grew up, in Concord. It was a bit of a last minute decision, actually. I wanted to see the battlefield in Lexington, and my friend and web comic writer Mookie, with his adorable son in the back seat, obligingly drove me in that direction. We saw a sign for Orchard House on the way, and something told me to stop and check it out. I have LOVED Little Women since I was a child, book and movie (Winona Ryder version). Tours of the house were on offer, and the next one was in ten minutes and had room, so I signed up. The guide was an older woman who seemed to be an expert on the Alcott family. I learned about how closely the books that Louisa wrote were based on her actual life, how she and her three sisters loved putting on plays that entertained family, friends, and neighbors alike, and how they were all encouraged by their father to nurture their individual passions and talents as life pursuits, a rare thing back in those days (just post Civil War). What the guide did that really impressed me was bring these scenes ALIVE in that house. It didn't hurt that it's still furnished and decorated exactly as it would have been when the Alcotts lived there, along with actual belongings and artifacts from the family. But the guide is what made the tour memorable. The way she told these stories is what enabled the visitor to imagine what life was like for this family of four daughters, a dreamer of a father, and a teacher for a mother. It inspired me to continue on this journey, because it is those types of experiences that I want to create with my own company. I hope I'll have the opportunity once the effects of Covid-19 slow down to a manageable level, and people are allowed to leave their homes. Until then, I'll keep telling my stories through this blog. I hope you enjoyed this, a first of many. Cheers and happy walking.

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