Carole Owens: Magical places
STOCKBRIDGE >> Are places and things imbued with magical qualities? Do special objects inspire?
In July of 1902 "Resort Topics" reported that "hundreds" were making a pilgrimage to the spot where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote "The House of Seven Gables" and "A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls." The writer bemoaned the fact that the trees grew in 50 years and obscured the exact view Hawthorne enjoyed as he wrote. If the view were the same, would those who came be more inspired?
When J.K. Rowling located her American school of magic atop Mount Greylock she guaranteed a similar pilgrimage.
Do places have power?
Melville wrote of "A papered chamber in a fine old farm-house dipped to the eaves in foliage — surrounded by mountains, old woods, and Indian ponds " Indeed both he and Hawthorne selected writing rooms on the upper story that commanded the best views and removed them from household hustle and bustle. Evidently both felt where one wrote was important.
Not too many years ago, the Berkshire Historical Society sponsored a contest. Writers competed for the privilege of working in Melville's writing room. Those who entered the contest must have thought that writing in that space would enhance the final product somehow.
The Berkshire Scenic Railroad is up and running. To enhance the rider's experience it planned a series of stops. One considered was the Houghton Mansion in North Adams, but it was booked for the entire fall. What's the attraction? Reputedly it is haunted. Why are haunted houses so compelling? Do we seek to be frightened or believe a haunted house is magical; capable of transporting us or exposing us to a wider world?
We value relics and artifacts; believe they have power of some kind.
When I wrote my first book, my father wanted to celebrate the occasion in a special way. During the 1920s "The vicious circle" — a group of successful New York writers including Dorothy Parker — lunched every day at a large round table in the center of the dining room at the Algonquin Hotel. My father arranged with the hotel for the two of us to lunch at the famous round table. Father believed it would both reward and inspire me.
At the Berkshire Museum and the Athenaeum respectively, we have Hawthorne and Melville's writing desks. If you sit at them, will what you write be informed, inspired or improved?
"How to get to fairy-land, by what road, I did not know " Herman Melville wrote in his short story, "The Piazza," (1856).
It is an interesting tale in which the writer sees a light far up a mountainside. He climbs, believing he will find fairyland, a magic place of inspiration. He finds a lonely girl sitting at a lit window, sewing. She tells him she watches a light in the valley and imagines it is the house of a charming prince in a magic kingdom. Looking, the writer realizes it is his house.
Are there places and things imbued with special qualities or is the only magic what we imagine and then believe?
Believe in magic? Today (Saturday), from 10 a.m. to 12, visitors of all ages are invited to the south lawn of Arrowhead to build houses for the fairies, using natural materials found on the property. This event, part of the Heritage Walks program of Housatonic Heritage, is free. Guided tours of Herman Melville's Arrowhead will be the usual price. Come and be inspired.
A Berkshire writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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