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Massachusetts

Emily Dickinson Museum ~ Amherst, MA

New England is a rich land of literary genius in America, filled with novelists, great minds and poets. Just two hours outside of Boston, you will find the delightful city of Amherst, Massachusetts, home to Amherst College and Emily Dickinson.

Amherst is a quaint, lovely New England college town that just captures your heart from the moment you enter. Pretty streets filled with tantalizing bookshops, antique stores, espresso shops and more, it looked like a great place to eat and shop. The city was extraordinarily clean, with rolling green areas for walking and riding bikes. Bustling with college students, it just had a neat atmosphere. It was so charming, I wish we had planned more time in the town.

We ate lunch at Wheatberry Bakery and Cafe across the street from Emily's house. We had a fabulous organic lunch at a fun lunch counter, you must read our review and try it when you visit.

After a very long drive up through Pennsylvania, we arrived in time to take the last tour! Walking up to the pretty museum, walking under the ancient old trees, seeing the pretty flowers surrounding the house with a fresh burst of spring, I was so excited! Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets and wordsmiths. I had taken a class on Emily in college, and had fallen in love with her poetry. The professor had shared all of the Emily stories, pointing out how odd she was, sharing all sorts of idiosyncrasies. Captured by her poetry - intrigued by her life, I was fan!

Two years later, while pregnant with a little baby girl, Emily was our first name choice. We were so excited to be original and name her after Emily Dickinson, this sweet, lovely, old fashioned name. Imagine our chagrin when we found out later on that it was one of the top 5 names in the country that year. Our daughter Emily was with us, eager to know more about the poet she loves, the woman she had been named after!

Entering through the back of the home, we walked into a gift shop filled with all things Emily! Volumes of poetry, biographies of Emily, children's books, children's anthologies of her poetry, notecards and lovely gifts are throughout the visitor center and gift shop. If you would like to see the house, you have your choice of several tours, offered continuously throughout the day.

The tour we chose was Emily Dickinson’s World, Offered daily on the hour; last tour at 4 p.m. A 90-minute exploration of the world of the Dickinson family, with a special focus on Emily Dickinson’s life and work. This tour includes both the Homestead and The Evergreens. Admission: Adults $8, Seniors $7, College Students $7, Students age 6-17 $5, under 6 free.

The Emily Dickinson's World tour began in the Homestead, the beautiful home that Emily was born, lived and died in. Her entire life was spent largely in that house, and the surrounding land. Our tour guide (I forgot her name) was a bright woman who was passionate about the life of Emily Dickinson. Incredibly knowledgeable and thoroughly versed in the world of 19th and 20th century America, she gently showed us around the different rooms in the Homestead, sharing funny stories, points of interest, things the family used to do. Each room brought more understanding of who Emily Dickinson, the supposed reclusive poet. The old stories from my college days were replaced by a women much more capable of writing the lovely verses my daughter and I love.

Far from the reclusive, odd woman, our tour guide unraveled a horse of a different color indeed! Emily was a brilliant woman, a woman of great thought and contemplation. The Dickinson home was the social hub of the town, filled with colorful guests of all types, from literary folks to politicians, professors and writers, much of 19th century New England visited the home across from Amherst College. Her father was a very important man, entertaining often, the entire Dickinson family being a part of that. The Dickinsons were well acquainted with the news of the day, through the bevy of newspapers they got, and the bounty of guests coming through their parlor. Everyone in the family was bright, intelligent, curious about how the world worked. The girls were extremely well educated, especially for that time period. They laughed and enjoyed life immensely. Emily enjoyed baking. This all contrasted greatly from the portrait my professor taught.

Walking up the stairs of Emily's home, toward the private family quarters, I was struck by the fact that this was truly Emily Dickinson's world. She had trod these steps her entire life, and we were walking on them now. We entered a room, an immediate hush went over the folks on the tour. It was Emily's bedroom, where she had worked her poetry, quietly, night after night, day after day, in the quiet solitude of her room. It had soaring ceilings with enormous windows letting in the light, comfortable furniture, personality and warmth. We could imagine her writing her poetry, crossing out words, thinking through each one, choosing just the right word to convey what she thought, sequestered behind the huge door, looking out the windows at the lovely view. You could easily imagine Emily at all ages in that beautiful, cheerful, sunny room, it was sheer delight, a beautiful room!

After her death, her sister found scraps of paper with 1900 carefully crafted poems on written in Emily's hand.

After thoroughly enjoying the Homestead, the tour veers off to the beautiful home next door, the Evergreens. This was the home of Emily's dear brother Austin, his wife Susan and their three children whom Emily adored. While beautiful and perfectly preserved, and interesting in it's own right, The Evergreens did not have the rich patina of timeless charm that the Homestead had. Our tour guide told us about Austin and Susan, and then delved off into some weird tale about their children or something, that got a bit sordid. We did not care for that AT ALL. It felt like we went from a higher place of grace and refinement while touring the Homestead, to the National Enquirer in a gothic Victorian style. It left us with a bad taste, sort of an icky feeling, which was entirely too bad. I would have much rather SEEN the Evergreens, enjoyed the architecture and perfectly preserved state of the home, without all the sordid details.

Homeschool tours and children, I would suggest you enter the Evergreens, but watch carefully for content. I am sure you could leave the tour early! 

Emily Dickinson was a genius, largely undiscovered and unappreciated in her lifetime. Visiting her home is a thoroughly delightful experience that we highly recommend! Be sure and check out times and dates, as they vary somewhat with the seasons. And tell them that the folks at Living History Sites sent you!

Emily Dickinson Museum

280 Main Street

Amherst, MA 01002

413-542-8161