Landmarks  

 

TOURING HISTORIC LITERARY SITES

by Ella Robinson
© 2000, All Rights Reserved
 
It was football weather. We left out early, before the sun had a chance to chase away the winter’s chill. We knew that we would be traveling a two-lane road much of the way. After a while a car with a university pennant attached to the window passed us, then another. Anticipation was building as each mile clicked off the odometer.
Our excitement was not spurred by football that day. Instead, my friend and I were on our way to tour Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s Oxford, Mississippi home.
Throughout the United States and in many other countries, there are homes, museums, and other landmarks that honor men and women who shaped literature and influenced the way we live. People who tour these historic sites are better able to understand where a writer was coming from and the message he was trying to convey through his works.

Planning.

When you plan a literary tour, you may choose to explore a particular region and discover its literary heritage. For example, in Florida, you can visit Ernest Hemingway’s home, dine at La Concha Hotel where Tennessee Williams completed the manuscript for A Streetcar Named Desire, walk the grounds of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek home, and tour Mandarin, Florida, where Harriet Beecher Stowe became a tourist attraction as steamboats filled with tourists regularly passed by her summer cottage.
 
If you have a favorite author, perhaps you would like to trace his footsteps.
For example, you could follow F. Scott Fitzgerald from his birthplace in St. Paul, Minnesota, through his army years to Montgomery, Alabama. Visit New York’s Plaza Hotel, where he and Zelda spent many wild afternoons. How about a brief trip Paris, then a discovery tour of Baltimore and Ashville, North Carolina? Travel to California where he worked as a screenwriter. Then end your quest with a visit to St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland, where he and his wife, Zelda, are buried.
 

Learning.

People who tour historic sites participate in a popular approach to literature described by educators as schema, background familiarity. Some say that learning by building on prior knowledge is the most important factor of good comprehension. Students--of any age--are better able to understand a story when they can connect the known (prior knowledge) with the unknown (new ideas).
Literary tourists make connections across time that give them a deeper understanding of an author’s writing. Walking in the footsteps of an author, allows us to better understand the influences that shaped the author’s thinking.

What to Expect.

Each literary site is different. Some provide guided tours while others encourage visitors to walk around at their leisure. Many homes and museums have knowledgeable docents ready to answer questions. Several sites offer to begin the tour with a brief documentary of the author's life.

You can make your literary tour more enjoyable and informative by:  

  • Researching the museum and area where you will be going. Look up information in guidebooks and on the Internet. Look at maps and plan your route.

  • Determine what related sites are nearby. There will often be parks, monuments, or other enjoyable sites that could be missed if you don’t do a little research.

  • Always calling ahead and asking about tour hours and admission fees.  Sometimes homes are closed because of special meetings or repairs, and admission fees are subject to change.

  • Scheduling group tours ahead of time.  Give the home the number and ages of people who will be with you. Tell them if some tour members have disabilities that will need special attention so tour guides can alter the tour route if necessary.  Ask them to focus on certain topics or time periods if your group has a specific interest.

  • Asking if there are listening sheets or activity pages that can be distributed. This will be especially helpful for children. If there are not any available, consider using information from research that you did earlier to make listening sheets for your children.

  • Knowing the rules.  Can children chew gum in the house?  Will purses and tote bags be inspected? Can you take photos inside?

  • Not overlooking the gift shop. Many gift shops will have books and other items that will be hard to find elsewhere.

Whether you are planning a day trip, a weeklong vacation, or a three-month quest, with a little prior planning, you can have a wonderful time and learn a great deal along the way. You will return home with useful insight and heightened awareness of the influence authors and their writing has on our everyday lives.

Suggested Reading 

There are several resources that may be helpful in planning literary and historic tours.

Books, available through local bookstores and Amazon.com include:

A Guide to Literary Sites of the South, by Ella Robinson.  Vision Press, 1998.

Southern Bound: The Hill Street Guide to Literary Landmarks in the South, by Lola Montgomery.  Hill Street Press, 2000.

The Ideals Guide to Literary Places in the U.S., by Michelle Prater Burke. Ideals Publications, 1998.

American Author Houses, Museums, Memorials, and Libraries: A State-By-State Guide, by Shirley Hoover Biggers.  McFarland & Co., 2000.

The Booklover's Guide to Florida: Authors, Books and Literary Sites, edited by Kevin M. McCarthy.  Pineapple Press, 1992.

The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans, by Susan Larson and Kevin McCaffrey.  LSU Press, 1999.


Sites of Interest

National Register of Historic Places < www.cr.nps.gov >

Teaching with Historic Places < www.cr.nps.gov/nr/twhp >

Literary Tours < www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/literary_tour  > 

Literary Traveler: Home in the South < www.literarytraveler.com/southindex.htm >


Ella Robinson (ERobnson@aol.com ) is a freelance writer living in Pleasant Grove, Alabama. She is the author of A Guide to Literary Sites of the South (1998, Vision Press) and contributing editor for the literary tour site at Suite101.com.

 

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