A few years ago my wife and I were planning a trip to coastal Massachusetts. I had gotten her to agree to a detour to the Springfield Armory Museum in Springfield. She wasn’t unhappy about going, but she would not have elected to go of her own accord. While looking for other diversions along the travel route she recalled that the Emily Dickinson Museum was also in Massachusetts. Having majored in English and being a long-time Dickinson fan, she was pleased to find that the Museum is in Amherst, along the I-91 corridor, along the route to Springfield. It was settled. We were going.
I am not a poetry enthusiast and never really have been. There was a brief time in high school when I thought I was, but it didn’t last long. I was exposed to Dickinson in my high school American Literature class but was lucky enough to dodge the poetry bullet in college. Surprisingly, I was not at all down on visiting the Dickinson homestead.
Even as a kid I loved museums and historic properties, and with not one but two houses at the Dickinson site (one of which houses museum exhibits) I had something to look forward to. The older of the two side-by-side houses is designated “The Homestead” and was built around 1813 for Emily’s grandparents. This is the house Emily lived in. “The Evergreens” was built in 1856 for Emily’s brother, Austin, and has been preserved essentially as it was in the mid- to late 19th century.
Visiting the Museum is through guided tour only, something of a departure from most small museums. This works very well given the narrow stairways and halls in the house. It also makes for a comprehensive experience. Our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, providing architectural details, historical information, biographical data and literary analysis of Dickinson’s poems. The tour takes about one hour.
The undisputed highlight of the tour is The Bedroom. Dickinson spent a lot of time in that room and wrote most of her poems there. Standing in that very same space, considering the volume and significance of the writing carried out, was affecting. At the time of our visit the bedroom was in the early stages of a full restoration. I expect the experience is all the more moving for it.
A few points to keep in mind for your visit: There is no parking at the museum, save for those with documented accessibility issues. There is ample parking along the street, but it is all metered, so bring change. For much of the summer the Emily Dickinson Museum is open 10-5 with the last tour leaving at 4:30, closed on Tuesdays. For further information on rates, hours and parking click here.
If you’d like to brush up on Dickinson’s poetry or biography before your visit, consider Emily Dickinson's Poems: As She Preserved Them or Emily Dickinson. Or stop by our Manchester Center or Saratoga Springs locations and consult with a bookseller.