Saturday, October 18 was the date printed on my ticket for the Boston By Foot Literary Tour. That morning, I arrived an hour early to the designated meeting place: the Irish Famine Memorial in Boston, Massachusetts.
On my way to aquire a second coffee, I came across a cart-stand displaying various brochures for Boston area activities: the Aquarium, the Topsfield Fair, the Salem witch museums. All places I’ve been to, or at least heard of, but you never know when something new comes along.
When I returned to the memorial, at the intersection of Washington and School Streets, I was posting a status on Facebook via my phone when I was approached by a man wearing a Downtown Boston Ambassador sweater; one of the many attired as such who were working on cleaning up the memorial and working at the brochure stand. He, like a few people I encountered that morning, asked what I was doing, probably thinking me lost. I told him I was waiting for the literary tour.
I cannot verify the accuracy of his statement, but it certainly intrigued me.
Before long, a woman with a Boston By Foot bag arrived and stood in the memorial’s entrance, next to a plaque about the Great Hunger of Ireland. I assumed she must be the tour guide, and indeed she was. Slowly, the number of persons taking the tour increased to about 10, a comfortable group.
Not surprisingly, Chipotle was, in fact, our first stop. The area, according to the tour guide, was referred to as “Publisher’s Row,” but when I looked it up, it turns out that “Newspaper Row” was the term that was actually used, due to the number of newspapers that had been along Washington Street in the 1800s and early 1900s. I neglected to ask the tour guide about Edgar Allan Poe getting kicked out of the bookstore but, in retrospect, she probably would not have been able to verify that either.
From there we followed a path that “Longfellow might have taken,” according to the guide, with the exception of the high-end homes of writers who lived on Beacon Hill, including Nathaniel Hawthorne (who changed his name to dissociate himself from his ancestor, the Salem Judge John Hathorne, who had condemned Salem Witchcraft Trial victims to death); Henry David Thoreau (who lived in this house before and after living at Walden Pond); and Louisa May Alcott, the only woman writer that was discussed on the tour.
I found it interesting to point out to the guide, who in turn announced it to the group, that all the writers who we visited on the tour were men, with the one exception of Alcott, and yet all the people on the tour were women, with the exception of one man. My, how times have changed!
I won’t go into detail about the other stops on the tour. Sometimes how much we know isn’t as important as how we came to know it. The thing I love most about literature is that there are so many ways to celebrate it. Readings, plays, visits to literary sites… When we learn about writers, we learn about them individually. It’s hard to picture them all together. This tour helped me see the whole better, what with the relationship between the writers and how they helped each others’ writing, and that many of them lived in the same area.
The tour was not the last of my literary experiences of the day.
I had been searching for the second branch of Commonwealth Books and Old Prints, and finally found it! When I went in, the woman behind the counter was reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson and listening to bird chirps on her computer – another new way of experiecing literature. How do you experience it? Share in the comments below!
These were the homes of some of the famous writers discussed on the literary tour. It was weird to visit them, since real people are living in the homes today. I hope they appreciate the magnitude of their fortune!
This article was written by Editor Sandy Sprague.