Bernard A. Drew: Home to Hidebehinds and Pugwudgies?


GREAT BARRINGTON >> I've had inquiries. Fantasy author J.K. Rowling's universe now includes Mount Greylock. Did I know about her new story, "Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry"?

As it happens, I and two-thirds of my research team were in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2012. We visited The Elephant House, "Birthplace of Harry Potter," for tea. Donna snapped a photo out the window of Edinburgh Castle, inspiration if ever there was for Rowling's magical books. If Rowling had sat toward the front of the café and glimpsed out that window, she might have seen Arthur's Seat, that city's distinctive and looming land eruption.

Of course, I said to myself at the time, next she'll write about a mountain, probably one in western Massachusetts.

Potter everywhere

I just made that up that last part, though we did have tea at that café. Daughter Darcie had just spent nearly a year abroad at Queen's University's campus in East Sussex, which itself had supplied backdrop for scenes in one of the Harry Potter films. Everywhere she went in U.K., there seemed to be a Potter connection.

Donna and I spent more time in Edinburgh looking for Fleshmarket Close, the National Gallery, Old Town, Arthur's Seat and various other alleys and wynds and places that appear in Ian Rankin's entertaining Inspector John Rebus mystery novels. We even peeked in the door of the Oxford Bar, where Rankin is known to hang out.

Anyway, it is interesting that the reaction from folks in Adams and environs is not, "Oh, what an honor to appear in Rowling's writings," but, "Oh, what a marketing opportunity! Scazillions of tourists will come here! Dollar signs!"

Maybe, since Rowling is internationally known and has rabid fans. But she barely mentions any real features of Mount Greylock. And the appearance of a locality in a book of popular literature in the past has been no guarantee anyone would come visit.

As an example, William Cullen Bryant, who lived in Great Barrington for a dozen years, incorporated the meadow below the house where he and his bride lived into a short story, "The Border Tradition," in 1826. Did folks flock to town to see the place? No. Probably because the setting was in those days a mucky, buggy swampland.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote creatively about "The Deacon's Masterpiece; or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay." The Berkshire Museum for years hoped folks would come see the vehicle, then on display in a basement local history room. The luster wore off. Today the shay survives, at Ventfort Hall. But it's not the draw it once was.

Nathaniel Hawthorne incorporated a lime burner in his story "Ethan Brand," based on an actual, honest-to-goodness character he met at the North Adams House. Anyone rush to see the outdoor kilns? No.

The Goodale girls, Elaine and Dora Read, the Apple Blossom Poets, drew fans to their parents' Sky Farm in Mount Washington in the late 1880s, but no promotional opportunities materialized. Henry S. and his wife Dora wisely sheltered their daughters from the onslaught, and people tired of looking at the trees and potato fields.

Hollis Hodges recreated the flow of Stockbridge's Main Street in Norman Rockwell's Greatest Painting (1988), and people came to Stockbridge — but they were coming already. Dan Klein brought Main Street Great Barrington to literary brilliance in The History of Now (2009), but again, the town already bustles with tourists.

Edith Wharton used a real place — Courthouse Hill — as the scene of a sledding accident in her novel Ethan Frome (1911). But who wants to see a hill where people got seriously hurt when their toboggan hit a tree?

Lucille Kallen (The Tanglewood Murder, 1980), Gerald Elias (Death and Transfiguration, 2012) and the pseudonymous "Carolyn Keene" in a Nancy Drew mystery (Love Notes, 1995) made fine use of the area's premiere musical venue, but any bump in attendance seems more reliant on specific programs, or the weather. The same goes for Catharine Sedgwick, Walter Prichard Eaton, Robert B. Parker, Richard Lipez (aka Richard Stevenson"), Judson Philips and dozens of fiction writers who have incorporated Berkshire scenes into their books — as I describe in my book "Literary Luminaries of the Berkshires."

What did lads find?

One of the best uses of the area setting was Charles Pierce Burton's series of books about the Bob's Hill Boys of Adams — books that include Park Street, Renfrew Field, Russell Field, West Mountain Road and Peck's Falls. Ah, but "The Boys of Bob's Hill" (1912) was an entertainment for an earlier generation — and are largely forgotten.

Come to think of it, I have to dig out those books. Didn't the lads once find a cave at the base of Greylock. Didn't it enter a mysterious and magical cavern, with stairs leading up to ?

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.

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