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Beware of Lonely Rangers:  The Hawthorne & Alcott Houses  (Concord, Mass.)

(Reprint from News: July 23, 2001)

July 23, 2001


I spent an hour at Lexington getting a personal tour of the Lexington Green from a pretty tour guide, then hopped into my truck and continued west along "Battle Road."  If you ever visit this area, be sure to stop by the Visitor Center at Minuteman National Park outside of Lexington where they present a terrific 20-minute film depicting the battles of Lexington and Concord.  Other than the last scene in "Titanic," I don't often get goose bumps while watching a movie, but I did after watching this presentation.  Judging from the silence at the end of the film, I think everyone else in the theatre did, as well.


Concord, Massachusetts, a few miles west of Lexington, was the cradle of the Revolutionary War in the 1700s and the cradle of American literature in the 1800s.  Today, it's a cradle of gawking tourists.  And of course, it's also the birthplace of the famous Concord Jam.  


Before getting to Concord, as you fight your way through the Concord Jam, you pass two interesting old houses on the north side of the two-lane highway.  One was owned by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne back in the 1800s and the other, a short distance away, was owned by Louisa May Alcott's family (Louisa, of course, was the author of "Little Women.")  The Alcott house is privately-owned (though open to tours) but the Hawthorne house is owned by my favorite federal agency, the National Park Service.  The NPS has turned the Hawthorne house into a National Historic Site and has converted Nathaniel's old barn into a nice, air-conditioned Visitor Center.  


I visited Concord once before briefly in June, 1995 during one of my drives around America and made the mistake of walking into the Hawthorne House Visitor Center, where I was immediately pounced on by three very lonely Park Rangers.  Apparently this was at the beginning of the tourist season and I could tell that these rangers were desperate to tell someone, anyone, all about Nathaniel Hawthorne.  


One of the rangers asked if I'd like a tour of the house and, since she was kind of cute, I reluctantly said yes.  She took me into the 200-seat amphitheatre (which is no longer there, for obvious reasons) and proceeded to give me a very well-rehearsed speech on the entire life of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  She had obviously written and rehearsed the speech for a large audience (silly her), so I felt a little foolish sitting alone in the front row of the auditorium with this ranger standing only three feet from me waving her arms, talking glowingly of Nathaniel, and making eye contact with the numerous rows of empty benches.  


After her presentation in the Visitor Center, we got up to walk over to the house when another ranger peered out the window of the Visitor Center and excitedly announced, "Here come two more visitors!"  All I could think of was: "Suckers!"  The three of us spent the next hour politely strolling through Nathaniel's house with the cute ranger, learning more about Hawthorne than any of us ever cared to.  Actually I thought Hawthorne was a talented writer -- I just didn't want to spend two hours inspecting his bathroom.  


Anyway, I briefly stopped at the Hawthorne house and walked into the Visitor Center.  With memories of the 1995 visit dancing in my head, however, I kindly declined a tour of the house.



Above left:  Concord, Massachusetts was a literary haven during the 1800s, with residents such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott.  This is "The Wayside," owned by the Alcotts.  Later, it became the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne and today it's a National Park Historic Site, though a lonely one at that.

Above center:  Right next door is "Orchard House."  The Alcott family moved here after selling "The Wayside" to Hawthorne.  Louisa May Alcott wrote "Little Women" in her room on the second floor, center.  She based the book, though, on her childhood experiences in The Wayside (above left).  It costs $7 to tour the house.

Above right:  Here are a couple of Little Women.  On the left, that's Louisa May Alcott, who I thought looked a lot like Monica Lewinsky.  That's Louisa's sister Anna on the right.



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