A Literary Pilgrimage

People make pilgrimages to all sorts of places. You only have to read the blurb of “Eat, Pray, Love” to realise that. And I guess, if I think about it, Concord, Massachusetts wasn’t the only place I was making a pilgrimage to. But it was one of the few places that I felt as though the people I was surrounded by were pilgrims too.

Concord, Massachusetts, a quiet town about an hour out of Boston, is not home to just one literary giant.

It’s home to four.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott all called Concord home. And they all lived there about the same time. Clearly, there is something in the water.

The Manse, which Hawthorne and Emerson called home.

I dutifully walked up to the Manse, home to both Hawthorne and Emerson (closed the day I was there, but they kept a nice vegetable garden), and I wandered around Walden Pond as happily surprised by its tranquillity as I’m sure every tourist is. But the altar I was really there to pay my respects to was that of Louisa May Alcott.

Walden Pond, which Thoreau called home.

Most famous for her novel “Little Women,” Alcott lived her whole life in Concord, except for a brief stint as a nurse, and based the stories of the March family on her own family. The character Jo mirrored herself, and her three sisters each have their counterpart in the text. Hence, visiting the house where she lived is very much like walking into the March home. The wallpaper in May’s bedroom is peppered with her sketches, fairies dancing around the windows, and portraits hanging on the walls. Elizabeth, although she died before the Alcott’s lived in that particular house, is honoured by a memorial on her piano. Anna’s wedding dress is laid out on one of the beds, and copies of “Little Women” in over fifty languages adorn a bookshelf in Louisa’s room. And of course, there’s Louisa’s writing desk.

Orchard House, which Alcott called home.

To picture Louisa sitting at that window, penning the words that I would one day read and fall in love with, was one of those intimate moments that’s quite difficult to describe. Part of me is glad I will never meet her, because then my expectations won’t ever be disappointed. I can continue to hold her in my high esteem, and also consider her as a friend who has shared in my journey.

At the Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Concord, there is a section called the Poet’s Corner, where the graves of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott all lay. Many of them are littered with offerings: coins, pencils, flowers, and in Thoreau’s case, oranges. At Alcott’s grave, several people have left notes. Small pieces of paper that will be washed away in one rain shower or the next. They certainly won’t last long enough for the next generation of Alcott fans to see them there. But they were there all the same, inscribed with a few words of tribute, or quotes Louisa herself had uttered. These people, like me, had made the journey, and at Louisa May Alctot’s final resting place, acknowledged in the only way they could the importance of her stories in their lives.

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