Sunday, October 7, 2012

Knocking on death's medicine cabinet

With the spooky season in full swing upon us, including ghost tours, graveyard walks and all things haunted, it seems the perfect time to talk about.... pancakes.

Because according to the fascinating book, Death In Early America,  "placing a buckwheat cake on the head" will certainly alleviate your headache, no matter the underlying cause. 

Fortified with this wholesome cranial analgesic, let's take a moment to examine some other "cures" common in the 18th-century, practiced by doctors and regular folks alike. Perhaps when we're through, it'll hardly be surprising why the tiny village of Concord had already filled two cemeteries and started on a third by the early 1800's...

"To remove a birthmark, rub with the hand of a corpse." Clearly, there were plenty of corpses around, so why not get a little use out of them?

"For whooping cough, breathe into your lungs the breath of a fish." Uh oh. What does this mean? Breathe water? Squeeze a fish and inhale whatever comes out of its mouth? Further instruction would be helpful.

"For melancholy, bleed from a vein in the foot."
This can't possibly fail to cheer up anyone.

"Toothache: gunpowder and brimstone will help ease the ache." Plus it has the added benefit of ensuring that every time you sneeze, your head explodes.

"A bath in absinthe mixed with urine hominis, hot, will cure palsy." Only slightly more palatable than, "Diphtheria: remove the fluid from the stool of a cow in morning out in the pasture; collect enough to gargle with." And you thought gargling with salt water tasted bad.

"Pour rum on the head daily to cure baldness."
Alternatively, drinking aforementioned rum will cure anxiety over hair loss in the first place.

Onion was a most popular ingredient for cold remedies, prepared in myriad ways. Our favorite is "A muslin bag of cooked onions and lard worn about the neck to clear congestion."

(Apparently also good for those painful piles...) 

"The eyes of an owl placed on the eyelids will cure blindness."
That's just wrong. Unless the eyes are still attached to a fully functioning owl. Then it's medicine and entertainment.

"To cure a head of lice, wash the head with whiskey and sand...."

(Wait for it)

"....the lice will get drunk with whiskey and, thinking that they are on sand, will fight each other to the death." Well, duh. Who doesn't know that intoxicated lice become mortally enraged when they think they're at the beach?

And despite the amazing advances in medical knowledge and technology, by the early 20th century, there were still some real doozies out there...

Kinda makes you wonder what the people of 200 years from now will think when they encounter an old American Medical Journal from the antiquated year of 2012...

Wanna hear more? Or visit some dead people? Give us a call and book a tour of Sleepy Hollow or an evening Ghosts in the gloaming walk. We'd be delighted to introduce you to all our expired friends!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Resiliency, big brains, and...cats: An interview with Kristi Martin

Last week, Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House held their annual Summer Conversational Series - five days of discussion, lectures, books and some pretty top-notch speakers. The subjects were varied and fascinating, yet always with a focus on Louisa and her family.

LMA Orchard House
For us, the absolute highlight of our week was attending the presentation by our dear friend, fellow history geek and all around brilliant person, Kristi Martin. 

We've been lucky enough to claim Kristi as friend for a few years now, and though we always knew she had a ginormous brain tucked away into her head, that didn't stop us from being astounded by her paper and the clarity and charm with which she delivered it. Everything we love about Concord, the authors and, the things that keep history so endlessly enchanting for us seemed to be wrapped up somehow in Ms. Martin's superb lecture, and we think everyone else should get to hear it too!

Kristi, at Bronson's School of Philosophy
While a second reading may be possible later this summer or in the fall (be still our beating hearts!) we thought it would be fun in the meantime to learn more about Kristi and share it here. As a result, she graciously submitted to an interview and answered every one of our nosy questions below. What a woman!

[GT] As fellow geeks, we know what it's like to fall madly in love with someone who's, well, dead. So what was it about Louisa that first grabbed your heart?

[KM] With Louisa, it was love at first sight. I was introduced to her while watching HBO Behind the Scenes for the then forthcoming 1994 movie Little Women, which included a short segment about the Alcotts and Orchard House. I was about 13 years old, and already enthralled with the 19th century. I enjoyed learning about history through personal biography. I was fascinated to learn that Little Women was a "real" story about real sisters. As the portraits of the Alcott sisters flashed across the screen, I felt a powerful instinctive attraction to them. Its difficult to describe or explain it, but I was drawn to them and I loved them instantly. There was an emotional depth and intelligence in Louisa's eyes that I found very compelling. After obsessing for a few days, my mom and sister finally gave in and took me to a book store, where I bought my first biography of Louisa May Alcott. So, began my love affair - not only with Louisa - but with Concord, Massachusetts. I  am now passionately devoted to  many of Concord's historical citizens, but Louisa remains my first love. There is always something powerfully lasting about that first love, isn't there?

[GT] How did you come by the unique idea of exploring Alcott's resiliency for this paper for the Summer Conversational Series? Was this something that had been kicking around in your head already?

[KM] My topic was initially inspired by this year's Conversational Series theme: "Legacy of a Powerful Voice." I began to think about what it was that attracted me to Louisa and what about her has kept me hooked for eighteen years. I realized that I turn to her again and again in times of need; that I rely on her example, her strength and resiliency, as a source for my own. She was amazing. She's been a rock for me. She introduced me to all many of my other spiritual guides: Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson ... and so many of my historical friends!   

[GT] We loved the way you highlighted how Louisa's own personality shines out of her fictional characters. Which of Louisa's creations do you think reflect her most accurately?

[KM] That is a difficult question. Louisa was a multifaceted person, which is one of the qualities that makes her so fascinating and enduring as an author and historical figure. She put different aspects of herself into her various fictional characters, but at the same time these characters are fictional. Louisa's stories are obsessed with masks and disguises. Her characters functioned in this way for her. Not to be cliche, but, I think it is "Jo March" in Little Women that represents Louisa in the most dynamic, multidimensional form of all the fictional characters. By the time she wrote Little Women, she had worked out many of the character's different aspects in other stories. Little Women is also much longer than many of her other writings, allowing her that space to expand on the character. 

[GT] You have a cat named Bob. What did he think of your paper? (Come on! We KNOW you read it to him.)

[KM(Laughing Out Loud) OK. OK. I confess: Bob was my first audience. He was perplexed as to why Louisa would think her great love of cats was a great fault, because he and I agree that cats are the most magnificent creatures in the world. 

[GT] After completing your doctorate, how do you hope to apply all that amazing knowledge now crammed into your brain?

[KM] I plan to continue working in the museum world, as a curator. When I was about four or five years old, I was visiting a local historic house museum village with my family. I told my grandfather that I was going to live in a particular house when I grew up. He suggested that I meant a house like that one. I maintained, "No, this one." I love the unique ways artifacts and places - the physical stuff that remains from the past - can tell stories and teach us not only about the past, but about ourselves as well. I also plan to write - history, biography, and historical fiction. I love research and discovering new things that I didn't know before, and I love telling stories.

[GT] As far as 19th-century American literature goes, Alcott remains a solidly popular author while fewer and fewer schools are including the works of Concord's other writers in their curriculum, namely, Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau. Why do you think this is?

[KM] I'm not sure that Alcott is well represented in school curriculum either. She tends to be taken less seriously than traditional male canonical authors, such as Emerson and Hawthorne. I think Alcott is more popular, because her writing is more accessible, easier to relate to, and just plain fun! Although Thoreau's dry humor makes me laugh out loud, he is not as approachable as Alcott. Her humor is more self-evident. While Emerson and Thoreau wrote Philosophy, Alcott wrote fiction, which naturally lends itself to popular culture. Her stories are also  less fantastical or mystical than Hawthorne's; there is a strong realism in Alcott's fiction, whereas the Concord men tended more toward the metaphysical. She wrote about human emotions and experiences, rather than about ideas. The ideas are in there, but they are translated through the fictional plot and characters, which makes them more palpable. Alcott can be dark like Hawthorne, but there is an optimistic hopeful balance in Alcott that makes the worlds of her stories more comfortable places than Hawthorne's are. I should say, I adore all four of these authors!

[GT] And speaking of other authors, you've managed to work in every historic house museum in Concord, EXCEPT Orchard House. What gives? Or would that be like, too much of a good thing?
The Wayside

[KM] Not quite every other; I've never worked at The Wayside (laughing). I would love to be more involved with Orchard House (and the Wayside for that matter). I don't think I could ever have enough of my Concord authors. My involvement with the Old Manse and the Thoreau birthplace came somewhat by good fortune. These were opportunities that I came into through other projects. My position at the Emerson House is the only one I specifically applied for. I feel very blessed to be able to work at each of these houses. In my mind  these special places have always been connected to one another. Each of the houses is owned by separate institutions, but - for me - they are inseparable, their stories are so interconnected that each expands on the others. Its part of what makes Concord and this circle of author's so unique. Each place has the power to tell a part of a much larger, multidimensional story that is shared between them. It has been a long-time dream of mine to be involved with the story telling and teaching at each of Concord's historic houses. It's my passion.  I'm currently developing plans to found a "Friends" organization to support the preservation efforts at The Wayside, which is desperately in need of  love and attention. As for Orchard House, who can tell what the future may hold...    

[GT] What do you like best about interacting with tourists and visitors to Concord and what do you hope they come away with? (Besides a new book!)

Louisa. Really, how can you
NOT fall in love with her?
[KM] It's so much fun! It's very rewarding to watch visitors make connections with the past. It's a wonderful moment, when you can see a certain expression cross their face and you know they have emotionally or intellectually grasped something that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives. One day, after I had completed what I thought was a standard, regular, every-day tour, a visitor came up to me and told me how important our work as tour guides is. She said that we make history come alive, and have the power to mediate those meaningful connections that become a lasting part of visitors' lives. She thanked me. It's one of those connections that I hope visitors go away with. 

[GT] Finally, if you could bring Louisa back and ask her just one thing, what would it be? 

[KM] Oh gosh! Just one??? I'm torn between "What was so terrible about loving cats?" and "Can I give you a hug?"
Kristi Martin: history geek, cat lover,
and all around stellar human being.


KRISTI LYNN MARTIN – Boston University Graduate Program
Kristi is a doctoral candidate in American and New England Studies at BU, where she also earned her Museum Studies Certificate. Kristi’s areas of study are 19th Century American culture, Transcendentalism, and Concord’s authors. She has also worked in Special Collections and Preservation, and was a research assistant for Walter Stahr’s forthcoming biography of William Henry Seward (Simon and SchusterSeptember 2012). Since moving to Concord, Kristi has worked as a historical interpreter at The Old Manse, Emerson House, and Thoreau Birthplace, and is a licensed Town Guide. Her dissertation is planned on the Transcendentalist experience of death, grief, and mourning, and she is beginning research on a biography of the Alcott sisters as well. A long-time attendee of the Summer Conversation Series, Kristi is honored to be a Presenter during Orchard House’s Centennial, and delighted to speak on Louisa May Alcott, who first sparked her passionate love affair with Concord. Her annotated version of Adaline Lindsley’s diary is currently being considered by University of Rochester Press.

Stay tuned to find out when Ms. Martin's lecture entitled "Her Own Heroine: Strength and Resiliency in the Fiction of Louisa May Alcott" will be presented again!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wide awake in Sleepy Hollow

There are few places in Concord more interesting than Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Or more picturesque. So it's no wonder that even if the gals from Gatepost aren't giving a tour there, we're often to be found lurking about the paths and gravestones, camera in hand, soaking up the intoxicating mixture of history, nature and aesthetic delight.

One could easily pass hours in this place, just like our authors and residents-past have been doing throughout Concord's long history. Sleepy Hollow was already a favorite picnic spot and walking destination, even in Hawthorne's time. 

A friend of Nathaniel and Sophia's wrote thus in her journal:

“We went to the Old Manse where they had lived when they were first married, and then wandered on to the wooded slopes of the Sleep Hollow Valley in which the Concord people had begun to lay away their dead.

It was a cool morning with soft mists rolling up the hills, and flashes between of sudden sunlight. The air was full of pungent woody smells and the undergrowth blushed pink with blossoms. There was no look of a cemetery about the place. Here and there, in a shady nook, was a green hillock like a bed, as if some tired traveler had chosen a quiet place for himself and laid down to sleep.

Mr. Hawthorne sat down in the deep grass, and then, clasping his hands about his knees, looked up laughing. “Yes” he said, “we New Englanders begin to enjoy ourselves – when we are dead.”

As we walked back the mists gathered and they day darkened overhead. Hawthorne, who had been joking like a boy, grew suddenly silent, and before we reached home the cloud had settled down again upon him, and his steps lagged heavily.

Even the faithful woman who kept always close to his side with her laughing words and anxious eyes did not know that day how fast the last shadows were closing in upon him.

In a few months he was lying under the deep grass, at rest, near the very spot where he sat and laughed, looking up at us."

Excerpt from Hawthorne in His Own Time (Bosco & Myerson) [Rebecca Harding Davis, during her visit to Concord in 1862]

Just one of the many tales to be told in our remarkable burial ground. Book a Sleepy Hollow walking tour with us to hear the rest! Or, if you'd rather not get up, just enjoy these photo's from yesterday's walk....

 The Hoars were known as "Concord's Royal Family". They lived in the Hoar house, of course.

Daniel Chester French (best known for sculpting the Lincoln Memorial) has several interesting connections in Sleepy Hollow.

A new view...

Of something old.

Even the modern gravestones blend in perfectly.

Frank Sanborn. In our opinion, quite possibly the coolest dude to live in Concord. Ever.

While many of these photos were further processed or enhanced, this one is in its raw form. Yes, the pond growth really is that green and it's most amusing to watch to ducks emerge onto the shore looking like they just came back from visiting Chernobyl.

Finally, no visit would be complete without paying homage to Ephriam. Who also comes into the Frank Sanborn story. Along with the Hoars. And pretty much anyone else you can think of. A 19th-century ruckus in all its glory.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Like Halloween, but Transcendental-er.

We know you've always harbored a secret desire to dress up as one of your favorite Concord authors or Transcendentalists. No really. You do. And it's okay and perfectly normal...and....and.. completely sanctioned by Fruitlands Museum!

This is so extraordinarily, wonderfully geeky:

(From Fruitlands fb page)

It was said that if you found Bronson Alcott under a tree with a basket of apples by his side, better not stop to say hello, else you'd still be standing with him four hours later.
Bronson Alcott

Fruitlands plans a little more variety in communion: On Friday, October 5 from 4 p.m. until dusk, community members are invited to walk Fruitlands’ trails and meet Bronson and Abigail Alcott. Or, Mother Ann and Brother William Lee and James Whitaker. Nashaway natives. Visiting sophists. Painters. Louisa May and her sisters. Alcott's students, or a few orphans growing up with the Shakers. 

Of course, it's 2012, so many of these characters will be reluctant to rise from their eternal rest just to chat. To help out, Fruitlands interpretive staff is prepared to cajole historical personalities from anyone wanting to fill our woods that late afternoon. 

Extol, play, and pontificate as your chosen character would (we can help you choose). We will scout out costumes and provide everyone with a short paragraph and bullet list of the chosen character's values, challenges, and accomplishments, along with coaching to get the character set. It will be a lot of fun, with appropriate games and riddles along the mile-long trail.
Interested? Please contact Helen Batchelder at Fruitlands’ education department at, or 978 456 3924 x 239. (Or you can visit their website)

We know! Right? You're rubbing your hands together in unfettered glee, aren't you? Better start digging around for that costume...

In the meantime, if you'd like something to fill all that empty space between now and October, here are a few ideas of other programs and historical things to do this summer:

Or, a complete list of upcoming events from the Concord Chamber of Commerce

Stay tuned....more Bloggery goodness coming soon!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The many faces of Little Women

Yesterday, the girls from Gatepost were getting ready to enjoy their regular Wednesday morning working-breakfast** at the Colonial Inn, when we happened to bump into one of our favorite people, Jan Turnquist, Director of the Orchard House.

Jan was accompanied by a friend and also two guests from Japan who had come all the way to Concord to visit the home of "Little Women".  Additionally, they had brought with them Japanese editions of Louisa's work, which were more than a little interesting to see.

Since its original publication in 1868, "Little Women" has never been out of print and has been translated into more than 50 languages. It's nice to know that 19th-century Concord is still relevant two centuries later and crosses the culture barrier with ease. So this got us to thinking about all the editions of Alcott's most famous book that have been published through the years. Here are just a few that caught our eye...

These are covers from the Korean manga-style series of "Little Women"
also translated or known as "Little Ladies".

This one looks to be Japanese. We can only assume that's "Laurie"
with the, uh, lizard on his shoulder (somehow we missed that part in the book)  
and the saucy looking "Jo" pulling on his tie.

Here are two Chinese versions, both marketed towards young adults.

A rare, first edition print of the U.S. 1951 children's illustrated hardcover.
Check your bookshelves for this one!
Love this! It was released in the US as comic book plus 45 record. Date unknown. 
Penguin put out some unique covers.

But this last one, also published by Penguin in 1989 and again in 2007, deserves the largest image as it's by far the weirdest. Like, really, really weird. 

Were we right?? Oh, and here's the best part - you can still purchase it through Amazon. You know you want to! 

Do you have any images of unique "Little Women" book covers you'd like to share? Send them to info@gateposttours, or post them on our Facebook page!

** the "working" part of working-breakfast to be translated in the very loosest sense possible

Monday, January 30, 2012

John Matteson, Margaret Fuller and what the gals from Gatepost got up to on Sunday...

John, taking questions from the audience
Some serious literary geekery was afoot yesterday at The Concord Bookshop. 

While anything to do with Margaret Fuller would naturally attract a crowd of historians and Transcendentalists, we were delighted to see this event filled to capacity. Even those prompt souls who had arrived on time were left standing along the edges, craning their necks around bookshelves to get a better view of the podium.

Good thing we got there early. 45 minutes early! Which was just about enough time to find seats and then watch the rapid proliferation of eager, chatty guests.

And the reason for all these erudite enthusiasts? Well that can be explained by the presence of John Matteson, (accompanied by his lovely wife, Michelle) who is the author of a brand new book on Fuller and her short but significant life. 

There have been lots of biographies written on Sarah Margaret Fuller - with good reason - but Matteson's approach of highlighting the many facets of Fuller is unique among those who have sought to encapsulate this singular woman's life. A daunting task, yet handled with brilliant aplomb in John's latest achievement: The Lives of Margaret Fuller.

Beginning with the prologue, John read a few excerpts from his book - a real treat to hear in the author's own voice. Some high-caliber questions from the audience followed, to which John responded with humor, charm and the indisputable impression that, here is a man who knows his stuff!

Yet, we especially love how accessible this book is. As Mr. Matteson himself remarked yesterday, he enjoys delivering solid, historical facts using the voice of a novel. And we're thoroughly enjoying reading it.

If you'd like to know more about this remarkable woman and why she's such an important figure in American literary history, we highly recommend The Lives of Margaret Fuller. The Concord Bookshop has a decent supply (at least, they did before the mob scene) so drop in or give them a call if you're looking for a copy. 

For you Louisa fans, you might also be interested in John's other book, the superb Eden's Outcasts.

Oh, and by the way Mr. Matteson, as if we didn't admire you enough what with your Pulitzer prize, and your amazing writing and funny, smart personality, we just want you to know that our already good opinion of you sky-rocketed yesterday when you admitted to being a Red Sox fan.  Who lives in New York.

Many thanks for the exceptional afternoon AND the awesome new book!

John Matteson was kind enough to pose
with us & sign our books as we tried not to 

overwhelm him with our exuberant, geeky glee.

PS - Don't forget about the next great event this Friday -  
Historian Richard Smith will be presenting:

Click the lecture title for more info from the Lexington Historical Society

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A trifecta of Transcendentalism

We are ALL about being Transcendental groupies the next two weeks! 

Historian Richard Smith and independent scholar Rob Velella never fail to impress us with their charm, speaking skills and astonishing knowledge of their subject matter. Definitely two of our most favorite geeks (and trust us, we know a lot of those!) 

The name John Matteson is probably familiar to any Louisa May Alcott fan as the author of "Eden's Outcasts". We look forward to seeing him in person and hearing more about his newest book on Margaret Fuller!

"Beautiful Types: Transcendentalism at Mount Auburn" 

Saturday, January 28th from 3-4 pm
Join Rob Velella in Story Chapel for an illustrated talk on Mount Auburn’s connections to the Transcendentalism movement, from its beginnings as a religious movement to its role in literature. Several Transcendentalists are memorialized here, including Margaret Fuller, Frederic Henry Hedge, and Christopher Pearse Cranch.

John Matteson, "The Lives of Margaret Fuller"  

Sunday, January 29th at 3:00 pm.
Please join us as we welcome back to the Bookshop Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Matteson, discussing his latest book, 
"The Lives of Margaret Fuller".

John Matteson is a full professor of English and legal writing at The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his first book, "Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott".

"Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Many Revolutions of Lexington and Concord" 

Friday, February 3rd at 8:00 pm

In this lecture, Historian Richard Smith will discuss the literary and spiritual connections between the two men and their two towns. How did Parker and Emerson use their revolutionary heritage to help change American literature and thought, as well as affect the Anti-slavery Movement of the 1850's. Lexington and Concord's rebellious ways did not end with the American Revolution!