Monday, January 12, 2015

Orchard House

June 6, 2014 

Today one of the hottest novels, The Fault In Our Stars, hit the big screen. But long before John Green became the reigning power of Young Adult literature, Louisa May Alcott was the queen. Back in March I visited Orchard House, a brown colonial home with a robin’s egg blue colored door in Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa wrote and based her classic 1868 novel, Little Women.


From far away, Orchard House looks like a typical seventeenth century clapboard home you see lined along the streets of Concord, but when you get up close you’ll notice that the floors are unleveled and that some of the window panels are crooked. These quirky architectures were added to the house when Louisa’s father, who was a philosopher and educator, constructed an addition. Louisa used to call Orchard House “Apple Slump” because it regularly needed repair. 

Before our eleven o’clock tour began, I checked out the gift shop which was overflowing with all kinds of Alcott memorabilia. Not only did this museum have your typical tourists’ souvenirs of t-shirts, movies, and postcards but it also sold unexpected collectibles like head sculptures of the family, furniture, and décor. For $350.00 you could buy the Orchard House Centennial Chair and for $75 you can purchase a tea set emblazoned with the phrase "Votes for Women"! Another part of the gift shop that surprised me was a bookcase strictly devoted to non-fictional work about the Alcotts. During the tour, my passionate and knowledgeable tour guide told me that one of her co-workers was currently writing a book about the six men who are believed to be the muse for Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence.  

Fortunately, there were only nine other people besides my parents and I on our tour. There was a couple with their two adult children from New York, two girlfriends in their thirties from Boston, and three college-aged European women, two of whom were from Spain and the other from Italy. Before we started our tour, we watched a fifteen minute video that starred Jan Turnquist. Besides being the director of Orchard House, Turnquist is also a professional Louisa May Alcott impersonator. Little Women is so beloved in Japan that two years ago Turnquist spent a month there to celebrate Orchard’s House one hundredth anniversary as a museum. 

Discovering that Little Women is a cherished book in Japan was mind-blowing. I had always viewed Little Women as an American novel that I never gave it much thought as to how other countries perceived it. I think Little Women is a time-honored work because it deals with issues that still exist today, such as women’s struggle between family and duty and personal growth. Another thing about Little Women is it has endearing and relatable characters. It’s impossible for a female to not a find a piece of herself in one of the four March sisters- maternal Meg, outspoken Jo, peacemaker Beth, and high maintenance Amy. In 2013, Turnquist told the Boston Globe that the reason why she believes the book is popular in Japan is because “its story of loving family members who aspire for a greater good resonates with Japanese ideals.” * 

What makes Orchard House a real gem is that it contains seventy-five percent of the original family artifacts- May’s (Amy in Little Women) paintings and artworks on the walls, Louisa’s writing desk, and Anna’s (Meg in Little Women) gray silk wedding dress are a few things that evoke museum-goers with real feel that they just stepped through the pages of Louisa’s semi-autobiographical novel. But Orchard House isn’t something that just fans of Little Women will treasure. The guided tours offer amazing insights about the Alcotts and their incredible contributions to education, art, philosophy, and social justice. As my guide introduced and explained significant objects about each family member I learned some unbelievable things: Amos Bronson Alcott (Mr. March in Little Women) invented recess and discussion-based classes; Abigail May Alcott (Marmee in Little Women) was the first paid social worker in Massachusetts; Anna Alcott Pratt co-founded The Concord Players; and May Alcott Nieriker was an accomplished artist who taught America’s foremost sculptor, Daniel Chester French.  

Whenever I read a new book, I like to look up the author’s background because I love finding Easter eggs of their unique life embedded in the text. With so much of the Alcotts’ legacy clouded by Louisa’s literary achievement, touring Orchard House allowed me to really get to know the actual figures that set the foundation for her story. You might think you know the Alcotts because you read Little Women every Christmas, but the March family is not synonymous with the Alcott family, though there are some parallels. Just as Esther Earl, the late teenager from Quincy, Massachusetts, is not Hazel from The Fault In Our Stars. One thing for certain, generations of Massachusettsians have transpired some unforgettable book characters! 

*Cantrell, Cindy. “Concord’s Orchard House director brings Alcott to Japan.”  The Boston Globe. John W. Henry, 17 Feb. 2013. Web. 5 June 2014.

399 Lexington Road
Concord, Massachusetts 01742

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