Posted by: jordanelassonde | December 13, 2014

A Tour of Two Histories: The Emily Dickinson Museum

I can clearly remember the first time I experienced an Emily Dickinson poem. I can’t say if, at that moment, I knew that it was an Emily Dickinson poem, but now, somewhere near a decade later, I know that the words, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” belong to no other than a small statured red-haired woman. I certainly know that I adore her poetry. However, before our trip to the Emily Dickinson museum, I can’t say that I knew much about her other than the myth that surrounds her image, that she was a recluse dressed all in white.

I didn’t stop to take in the sight as we walked up to the Dickinson house. Without the identifying sign along the driveway, the house would have blended in with all the other old homes and I can honestly say that I don’t think I really had put it together that this was Emily Dickinson’s home until I was reminded by the museum gift shop full of Emily Dickinson souvenirs. Still I was left with some disconnect until we left the gift shop and the exhibit room and entered the Dickinson home.

I was more fascinated by the history of the home than the actual visual around me. The parlor was light, open and more modern than I expected. This aligned with the history of the house as for years its history was forgotten. There had been no intention to preserve the home as Emily Dickinson would have known it. At first this seemed odd to me but I suppose that stems from the fangirl culture we know today. I consider Emily Dickinson such an important figure that it is difficult for me to remember that she was just as human as I am. I think in our culture today we find it too easy to place people, celebrities or artists, on pedestals. While there is nothing inherently damaging about that practice, I think it warps how we look at the world and more importantly how we look at ourselves. For me, it was refreshing to stand in the home of a woman I so admire.

The Dickinson home was a strange juxtaposition of modern and imitation. Thus the disconnect I originally experienced never really dissipated. Even in Emily Dickinson’s bedroom, in the midst of renovations, I felt slightly apart from the reality of her time. Though, it was eery and rather unsettling to stand in the bedroom of Emily Dickinson. Even with such distance of time, I still felt as though I was intruding on her world, her private space. We crossed the hall and entered a space that made no attempts to recreate the feeling of Emily Dickinson’s time. It was a welcome break. We discussed Emily Dickinson’s poetry and breathed a sigh of pent up emotion. Emotions that stemmed from the imaginations of Emily Dickinson writing poetry in her bedroom and watching people walk by her windows (for such a private person, she lived in a room with many windows). I had nearly organized my thoughts and settled my feelings when we walked the short distance to the Evergreens.

Unlike the Dickinson homestead, the home of Emily Dickinson’s brother Austin was a step back in time. This home looked as I would expect a home of that era to look. Kept in the family for years, the home, though worn by age, was everything that the homestead was not. The Evergreens was dark and cluttered with art while the homestead was bright and barren. It was here in the Evergreens that I encountered the connection that I had not realized I was looking for at the homestead. Our tour guide pointed out the piano which Martha, Emily Dickinson’s niece, had played. She told us that recently the museum had had the piano tuned and a pianist played Martha’s compositions for some event. While she did say that even that event did not bring the ghosts out, I can’t help but imagine how surreal that moment must have been. I certainly would have been looking for ghosts.

I found myself raving to friends and family about my trip to the Emily Dickinson museum. I’m not quite sure what captivated me so much that I spent several hours just recovering from the experience. Certainly I had quite a bit of knew learned knowledge to process. However, if I had to make a guess, I’d say what really struck me was the juxtaposition of the two houses and their two histories. I can’t seem to reconcile myself with the fact that the Dickinson home, after being sold out of the family, as at one point used as faculty housing for Amherst College. I keep asking myself how no one could have known the history of such a house. But I suppose that is just a facet of history, the books aren’t written while the wars are still being fought. How could anyone have known that the Dickinson homestead would be such a cherished piece of our history. Certainly Emily Dickinson didn’t turn out to be the nobody that she once called herself.

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