Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 16, 2015

Stones at Sleepy Hollow

“I can’t believe I just asked a stranger for a ride,” the woman walking beside me said, while pausing to take a picture of a sign for “Alcott Road.”

“And I can’t believe I said yes,” I replied, turning to see if she might get a shot from the other direction that would include Orchard House. But we knew it was all right. We’d both left behind wonderful people at the Summer Conversational Series, and by the time we reached my car I knew about the book about Margaret Fuller she’d bought at the gift shop, her work teaching English to high school students in Appalachia, the blisters on her feet from touring transcendentalist landmarks, what she’d do with the spruce cones she picked up as we walked, and her two children, including one who was almost ten and showed little sign of ever reading and “What a gift to us children are as they show us their own ways of reading the world.”

orchardhouse.summerJPG

I dropped her off in town and drove on remembering how a few hours ago I’d been drinking coffee with a new friend named Joan when we were joined by Laurel. I said, “We ran into each other while wandering around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery before breakfast.”

“As we do.” Joan nodded. We’d been talking about historical houses and desires to peer into old windows, which we mostly restrain.

Near Author’s Ridge, Laurel and I had walked around discussing people we’d read about such as the Emerson family, Margaret Sidney, Elizabeth Peabody, Frank Sanborn, and others. Here’s a stone for Louisa May Alcott beside May Alcott Nierieker’s (M.A.N.), though May was buried in Paris. We wondered about the lime – was an admirer hoping Louisa would have a cocktail, or was it a tribute to the pickled limes in Little Women?

lmaMangrave

Nearby is a stone for Henry David Thoreau, with a blue jay feather and Bic pen offering.

thoreaugrave

Here is one of Daniel Chester French’s masterpieces, a tribute to three brothers from Concord who died in the Civil War.

danfrenchstatuesleepyhollow

It took us a bit of hunting to find the grave Daniel Chester French shares with his wife, Mary. “A Heritage of Beauty,” it says under that sun-dappling. We were first puzzled about the coins left; then realized the Lincoln profiles honored the sculptor’s Lincoln Memorial.

danfrenchgrave

Before he sculpted the Minuteman, displayed since 1876 by the Concord River, Dan had been a student of May Alcott. At his beautiful studio in the Berkshires, Chesterwood, now open to the public, his gratitude to his first sculpture teacher is mentioned on a plaque near a tool May give him, now under plexiglass.

danfrenchmaytool

Memorials large and small enlarge the world. And stories continue. The day before I had a lovely conversation with Jaimee at the Barrow Book Store, with bright flowers by the door and just inside perhaps five shelves of Alcott-related books. Jaimee mentioned having worked before in historic houses where people try to stick to facts, but some may blur into legend at least in back room conversations. She laughed as she gave the example of someone intoning “and Dan French used that exact same sculpting tool from May to create the Lincoln Memorial.” We can’t entirely help the way stories shift, which is why I love historical fiction as one way to revere and keep the past.

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Responses

  1. How wonderful, to give yourself permission to slip between fiction and fact, to see where the story leads you.

    • I think most of us slip between fact and fiction, but I suppose I’m a bit more willing to follow what I imagine. Hope the weekend is going well for you, and you’re feeling better, Melodye.

  2. Loved this journey in time, through history, and always with story, Jeannine. The graveyard stroll yielded so many connections!

    • The talks at the Alcott house were fascinating, but it was nice to take some time before they began that day and visit the sites, and, yes, find some new connections.

  3. When you said Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, I thought for a moment you’d been in Tarrytown, New York, but no. I really want to head to Concord to visit all those transcendentalist houses. (And just got off the phone with my mother, who was recommending The House of Hawthorne rather vociferously. So I told her about your book, and she is going to her library in Summerville, SC to request that they get it.)

  4. I know — that other Sleepy Hollow is more famous. .. Would be so great to go on a transcendentalist house tour with you!! And let’s bring your mom! I am also a fan of The House of Hawthorne, and think you’ll like it, too. I’m so happy your mom is ordering Little Woman in Blue at her library. Sophia Hawthorne comes into my novel more in a later phase than she’s seen in Erika Robuck’s novel: she truly inspired May (although she also saw her as a cautionary tale, re the danger of marriage and children to art)


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