Let’s celebrate! Scenes from Orchard House’s Centennial

You knew I couldn’t stay away and I didn’t! It was a picture-perfect day and I have lots of photos to share.

The house tour was done differently with a guide in every room which allotted lots of time for questions. :-) I was even able to identify the species of owl that May painted on Louisa’s fireplace. Watch the slide show for the reveal.

Pssst, a secret!  There is yet another new book out on Louisa, I found out from one of the tour guides. Not telling yet but I do have a copy to read … more to come, including an interview with the author.

Enjoy your virtual celebration of Orchard House’s 100th birthday!

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Happy Birthday, Orchard House!

Today marks the official 100th birthday of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House as a museum. On May 17th, Carrie Hoyle (my maiden name, not sure if we’re related), secretary of the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association sent a letter to John Alcott Pratt, son of Anna and adopted heir of Louisa, inviting him to Orchard House for its official opening.

Authentic homestead

As noted on the Orchard House website, no major structural changes were made to the house after the Alcotts vacated it, and approximately 80% of the furnishings are theirs. It makes for a very authentic tour experience, especially with different drawings and paintings on walls throughout the house by artist sister May.

Birthday activities

If you’re lucky enough to live near Concord, there are festivities taking place all weekend long at the museum including vintage dancers, 19th century children’s toys and games, silhouette artist, apple press/cider making, thematic tours, 1912 living history portrayers, birthday cake and popular 1912 refreshments. May27 activities also include a Centennial Legislative Proclamation and Postal Stamp Cancellation Ceremony.

Take a tour

If you can’t make it to Orchard House, you can take a virtual tour of each room!

The celebration continues

There are other events taking place in June including an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz’s photos from her book, Pilgrimage . Be sure and visit the Orchard House website to download a complete calendar of events.

My first visit and the aunt who changed my life

Here’s a picture of my first visit to Orchard House in 1963 when I was 7 (I’m the kid with the pigtails). My Aunt Petty (in the back row) gave me the children’s bio, The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard which started this whole love affair with Louisa. :-) Thanks Aunt Petty!

Front row: My brother Tommy, me, my sister Chris
Back row: cousin Diane, Aunt Petty, Uncle Harold, my mom

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Special kudos to one of our readers!

The Union Leader out of Manchester, NH ran an article on April 1st highlighting one of their own. I’m proud to say she is one of ours too! Jennifer Bernard, whose pictures you’ve seen on this blog, was honored by the Concord Free Library of having her photo of Orchard House included in their special tribute to the historic museum celebrating its centennial. Read below for details.

NH photographer’s picture of Alcott’s house in exhibit

By Nancy Bean Foster
Sunday News Correspondent

CONCORD, Mass. – The work of a Mont Vernon photographer will be part of an exhibit at the Concord Free Public library celebrating the centennial of the famous Orchard House, the setting for Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”

Beginning today, the Concord Free Public library will host an exhibit highlighting the history of the house and the rich history that took place within the four walls of the Alcott home, a pan of historical Concord’s landscape since the l600s.

Included in the exhibit, according to curator Constance Manoli-Skocay, will be a sampling of the artifacts unearthed during the 2001-02 archaeological dig of the property, a chronology of the house that explores the two centuries of the home before the A1cotts moved in, and a look at Concord in 1912 when the Orchard House became a museum – the first private home in the country to do so.

The exhibit will also feature an original photograph taken of the Orchard House by Jennifer R. Bernard of Mont Vernon, who has found an endless amount of inspiration for her artwork at the Alcott family home.

Bernard, who has photographed the Orchard House using models to portray Alcott and her sisters – the little women she so fondly wrote about in 1868 – said she brought some of her images captured on silver film to the library last April. From those pictures, Manoli-Skocay selected the one that will be featured in the exhibit.

“I am unbelievably honored to have my work chosen for this exhibit,” said Bernard, who started photographing the Orchard House in 2008.

“Little Women” holds a special place in Bernard’s heart because the book speaks to the bonding between siblings, the love for their parents and the sadness that comes when the siblings leave home.”

“It’s a true New England story,” she said, “but it’s also a women’s story.”

Bernard said “Little Women” brings to mind images of her own grandmother, who lived at the same time as Alcott, surrounded by her sisters in an old New England home. And there are also the memories she shares with other women of her generation who grew up watching June Allyson … and of course, Elizabeth Taylor, in their roles as the Alcott sisters in the movie version of ‘”Little Women.”

“It’s just a story we can relate to,” said Bernard. “I love it.” Bernard’s photograph of the Orchard House will be displayed in the library along with Daniel Chester French’s statues of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott until July 1. For more information, go to concordlibrary.org.


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“I Always Wanted to Be Like Jo.”

Spring in Concord has sprung, not only with budding trees and flowers, but with a plethora of activities celebrating the centennial of one of the oldest home museums in the country, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

Little Women discussion panel

On Thursday, March 22 I had the joy of attending the first of three presentations on Little Women, held at the First Parish Church in the center of town. This presentation featured a discussion called “Why I Wanted to Be Jo March.” moderated by a panel of noted Concord residents plus the executive director of Orchard House, Jan Turnquist.

Panelists for the discussion included Concord residents and the executive director of Orchard House. From L to R, Kathy Reticker, Melissa Saalfield, Jan Turnquist, Jiffy Read and Maura Clark.

Click here to  find out more about the panelists and their connection to Little Women.

A room full of fans

While communicating with all of you through this blog is a great pleasure, it was wonderful to be with people in person discussing our passion for Louisa. Most of the audience were senior citizens and they were a well-read group! Although I haven’t read as much as they had, still, I felt right at home.

Jo’s influence

During the evening we discussed Jo March’s significance in the lives of women. Many of the women had read Little Women before the advent of women’s liberation and found Jo’s voice to be unique and strong.

Little Women has been translated into over fifty languages and has impacted women around the world. Jan Turnquist mentioned how many female political leaders from around the world have been influenced by Jo.

One woman’s story

Jan also shared an anecdote of a Korean woman who, after landing at Logan Airport, drove straight to Orchard House because she “had to see it.” Jo March had empowered her life. She had felt like nothing in her society where all the emphasis was on the men. Yet partly due to the reading of  Little Women, she grew up to be a professor. As an adult, she went through difficulties with her husband and felt deep shame. She turned back to Little Women for solace and was empowered again, this time by Marmee.

Universal appeal

The panel discussed the universal appeal of Little Women and why, after over 150 years, the book is still so popular. Jan touched on the morality of the story as appealing to the core values in each of us.  In an age where such core values are constantly being questioned, Little Women acts as a port in the storm, reminding us and comforting us.

Flawed, human characters

Jo, as an example, was a deeply moral girl who was flawed. She was ornery, impatient and outspoken to the point of being rude. She had a violent temper that got her into trouble as evidenced by Chapter 8, “Jo Meets Apollyon.” The authenticity of her humanity rang true with readers as opposed to the “perfect” children depicted in other stories of the time. Jan mentioned an actual book called Goody Two-Shoes as an example.

Sisterhood

The nature of sisterhood and the unique bond of sisters was also suggested as a reason for Little Women‘s enduring popularity. Several of us shared stories of our relationships with our sisters and how Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy mirrored those relationships.

Fitting in

Another reason for the appeal of Jo March is the fact that she didn’t fit in with women of her time; she felt “odd,” “queer.” Yet there was a vigorous spark in Jo that empowered her, enabling her to strike out on her own, writing books and choosing to marry for love.

This point resonated with the women in the room, and with me as well. I have often felt “odd” (and having a daughter who is very mainstream, reinforces that feeling daily! :-)). Yet that “oddness” is also a source of pride and often empowers me to make my mark in the world.

Family ties

The strength of family was also mentioned as a reason for Little Women‘s appeal. Much is made of Louisa’s dedication to her family and her role as chief caretaker and breadwinner. She displayed mixed feelings in her journal writings of this vocation, chaffing to be free yet compelled to take care of them.

Give and take

A mood pillow sold at Orchard House.

Jan reminded us, however, that it was not a one-way street. She pointed out that Louisa’s family was always there for her and knew exactly how to take care of her when she needed them most. Whether it was nursing her back to health after her stint as a Civil War nurse, or respecting her moods and needs to be alone to write (as evidenced by Louisa’s use of the “mood pillow”), Louisa received as much as she gave.

Learning to appreciate the power of Little Women

I walked into that discussion eager to fellowship with Louisa enthusiasts and walked away with a much deeper understanding of why Little Women is such an important book.

A world full of Jo Marches

Having read Little Women as an adult back in 2010, I couldn’t truly appreciate the significance of the book nor its heroine, Jo March. I had chiefly immersed myself in Louisa’s life which blunted Jo’s power for me. And today, the world is full of Jo Marches, thanks to great strides in women’s rights. Jo has perhaps, lost some of that uniqueness.

Most of the women in this group, however, met Jo March before women’s liberation took off in the 1960s. There were few role models for women as unique and empowering as Jo and listening to their stories helped me understand better Jo’s influence.

Is Jo losing her significance?

It made me wonder if Jo will continue to be such a powerful influence. Perhaps in America, she won’t be. But Little Women is still read around the world and judging by the reaction of that Korean woman, there are still many women who will benefit from Jo’s example.

Perhaps not …

It made me think how Little Women could even be considered subversive in cultures where women are still so oppressed. Here again is another example of Louisa May Alcott’s genius in mixing provocative ideas into a sugary mix. No one would ever suspect the power that lies in this simple moral story of four sisters growing up in 19th century New England.

More presentations

If you’re in the area and interested in attending the other two presentations in the series, visit the Events page on this blog for more information.

Has Jo influenced your life? How?


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Join in the group read/re-read of Little Women

Because of all the upcoming events in Concord with regards to the centennial of Orchard House as a museum (many of the directly related to Little Women), I’ve started re-reading Louisa’s classic. Jillian from A Room of One’s Own is also re-reading (I actually got the idea from her). I invite you all to join in and we’ll share our thoughts.

I have not, by the way, abandoned  Eight Cousins – I am still reading that too but have been terribly busy of late.

Looking forward to our conversations!


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Promo film for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House centennial celebration

The time is drawing near for Orchard House’s Centennial! Here’s a promo film they just released – lots of interesting pictures!

Visit the Orchard House website for more information on centennial celebrations this spring.


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Concord’s all a-buzz about the centennial of Orchard House

Thursday’s Boston Globe (March 8, 2012) ran a wonderful spread in their Globe West section on all the festivities taking place this spring in Concord in honor of Orchard House’s centennial as a museum. Here’s a teaser with a link to the rest of the article. The online version didn’t carry the great pictures so I’m sharing them here.  The pictures were taken by Jon Chase for the Boston Globe.

A big spring for
‘Little Women’

by Nancy Shohet West, Globe Correspondent

Orchard House, the Concord home where Louisa May Alcott wrote her famous novel, Little Women, is celebrating 100 years as a museum, and keepers of the Alcott legacy have organized a “Little Women Spring.’’

The schedule of events features the eighth special presentation of “Little Women” by the Concord Players, which has been performing a locally written version of the story every 10 years since 1932, with the exception of 1942 because of World War II.

But the play’s return – in 12 performances starting April 27 and running through May 13 – is hardly the only event happening this centennial year.

Click here to read the article in full.


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Orchard House: Ghosts, gossip, snow . . . magic! (guest post by Gabrielle Donnelly)

I am thrilled to welcome another guest post from author Gabrielle Donnelly (The Little Women Letters). She shares her recent visit to Orchard House which included a meet-and-greet, a short talk and book signing.

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My father once remarked, the day after a successful family party, that “laughter will cling to the rafters of a house.”  I’ve always found that this is true, and not only for laughter, but for emotions of all kinds.  I’ve walked into a penthouse office suite in Santa Monica with important furnishings and a sweeping view of the bay, and felt rising to greet me a tidal wave of tedium, frustration and hopelessness; and yet my local supermarket in Venice, a windowless space in an underground parking lot which is staffed with happy people who are always pleased to see me, feels filled to the brim with sunshine.  I’ve visited a Victorian mansion in St. Louis where the elegantly appointed master bedroom hissed marital discord, tension, disappointment; and stayed with my husband in a hotel room in Rome so small that we quite literally had to take turns to walk from the rickety old bed to the dark little bathroom, where we giggled and billed and cooed like honeymooners.

And then there is Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.  Orchard House is a funny, friendly, rambling sort of house on the outskirts of town, two houses knocked into one in fact, with stairways in unexpected places and rooms leading to other rooms leading to more stairways.  It is the home of two families who famously exuded warmth – the real life Alcotts and the fictional Marches – and I don’t think it’s too fanciful to say that both sets of ghosts live on there still, and most happily and energetically so.

I have visited Orchard House twice – once many years ago, and once again, this last month.  In between visits, I’ve written a novel, The Little Women Letters, set partly in the present and partly in the world of the Marches.  While I was writing, I spent a lot of time in my imagination in Orchard House – sitting with Jo and her pet rat and her pile of apples up in the garret; receiving groceries with Hannah at the back door in the kitchen; enjoying the fun of a “theatrical” in the dining room, complete with rolling melodrama, a beautiful heroine (that would be Amy) and, of course, the much-prized russet boots that had once belonged to a real actress.  To say that my subsequent visit to the house lived up to my expectations, is akin to describing the Taj Mahal as a cottage in the country.

In an earlier post (A Meet And Greet Full Of Pleasant Surprises, on October 28) Susan has described the evening there that all of us present described as “magical,” where she and I and a bunch of other Louisa May Alcott fans sat in the Alcotts’ dining room in a gathering hosted by the magnificent Lis Adams, Orchard House’s Director of Education, and gossiped shamelessly about both the Alcotts and the Marches, while the rain turned to snow outside and the ghosts of the Marches wandered in and out, ever-busy Jo “flying” around with broom in hand and story in mind, Father strolling through with his head in a book, oblivious to household crises (do we want to canonize him or shake him? – we still can’t decide), Beth smiling quietly from the corner.

These were not frightening ghosts: there are no bad people in Little Women.  There are challenging circumstances: war and poverty, sickness and death, all must be faced and addressed, and, people being people, all have their personal demons – Meg’s vanity, Jo’s hot temper – to acknowledge and conquer.  But the people themselves are all fundamentally good.  And while Susan and I and the Orchard House people sat in that warm and friendly dining room, safe from the weather outside, we all knew without a doubt that the laughter not only from the Alcotts and the Marches, but from their friends the Emersons and the Hawthornes and Thoreau and the Laurences and Aunt March and Sallie Moffat, not to mention the hundreds and thousands of visitors that the house has welcomed since the Alcotts’ time, did not content itself with clinging to the rafters.  It reverberated through the entire building.

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A reminder that Orchard House is celebrating their centennial culminating with Memorial Day weekend in 2012. Gabrielle told me that the Colonial Inn off Concord center is nearly booked for that weekend. So if you want to participate in the festivities, you’ll want to make your reservations now.


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The countdown begins! Orchard House celebrates its centennial

The official Louisa May Alcott website has started its own blog with updates on the Orchard House centennial. Here’s their first installment detailing the history of the acquisition of Orchard House.

This looks like a great blog and I suggest following it so that you won’t miss a minute of the centennial celebration. There are videos on it as well as great information and lots of pictures.

What makes Orchard House such a compelling historical site?

Here’s a great essay by Klara Stephanie Szlezák where she concludes that staging is critical to the success of an historical homestead. Kudos to Orchard House for the brilliance of its staging which so beautifully captures not just the era Louisa May Alcott lived in, but her home, her family and her classic, Little Women.

The first few paragraphs are here for you to read; there is a link at the end to the rest of the article.

“Welcome to Our Home!”: Staging Practices at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

Klara Stephanie Szlezák

1. 399 Lexington Road, Concord, MA: Historic House, Writer’s Abode, Tourist Site1

In March 2009, the popular travel guide series Lonely Planet published a volume called New England Trips providing a broad range of themed itineraries through the six New England states. One of these itineraries is called “Literary New England,” leading the traveler on a three- to four-day trip with stops at libraries, inns and tearooms named for famous writers, as well as at houses where New England writers used to live, thus taking into account the long tradition and central role of literary tourism in New England. One of the writers’ houses that the guide suggests for a stop is the Alcott family’s house in Concord, Massachusetts. With over 50,000 visitors per year (Orchard House Website), the Alcotts’ former house, officially called Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House,2 is one of the most popular and successful literary sites. The Lonely Planet invites the traveler to visit there with the following comment: “Louisa May Alcott wrote her famous semiautobiographical Little Women in her home Orchard House, which is now part of a small estate of historical buildings called Louisa May Alcott Homes” (New England Trips 53). This short note establishes two major facts about Orchard House: one, that it is a house where a famous writer wrote a famous book;3 and two, that it is a historical building and thus of general interest.

What the guidebook text does not say about Orchard House, and what seems much more noteworthy for the purposes of a cultural analysis, is that one of the house’s major functions is that of a stage. When it comes to determining the cultural significance of the house and the ways in which it functions in a twenty-first-century tourist landscape I would argue that both its literary association and its historicity are mere prerequisites and preconditions for the staging of traditions. I argue that the staging of traditions is a central characteristic of the house and lies at the heart of present-day interest in the house and thus its survival in times when many comparable sites struggle severely to stay open.4

Click here to finish the article