An American pilgrimage to Concord
Alcott’s house has been a public museum for the last 100 years, and is filled with objects from the Alcotts’ lives, such as a demure semicircle “shelf desk” in Louisa May’s bedroom. Alcott built it into an alcove in the wall between two windows and his daughter used it to write Little Women, a staple of young adult literature that chronicles the lives of four sisters and their home, based loosely on herself, her three sisters and Orchard House.
The town’s largest cemetery was a favourite walking spot for Louisa May and Hawthorne. Signs at Sleepy Hollow help contemporary wanderers find Author’s Ridge, the area of the cemetery where, on a hill overlooking a pond, the Hawthornes, Alcotts, Emersons and Thoreaus share their final home, together in death as they were in life. Each has a grave marker befitting their earthly gifts. Thoreau’s grave is a small, laptop-sized marble marker simply labelled “Henry”, where pilgrims leave notes of gratitude, personal items and pencils (he is credited with improving the machinery at his father’s pencil factory).
Across from the Thoreaus is Hawthorne’s marker, chained off in a family plot, fitting for a man who derived so much happiness from his wife and children. A few paces farther along are the Alcotts. Louisa May, who contracted typhoid pneumonia while working as a nurse during the Civil War, has a permanent marker for her veterans’ status and is surrounded by the siblings she made famous in Little Women. Emerson’s less-modest grave is set off a bit farther. As the rock that tied them all together, it is fitting that his plaque sits upon on a large white rose quartz boulder. In his contemporary travelogue, Walking Towards Walden, John Hanson Mitchell noted “Except for Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris or Westminster Abbey in London, no other burial site in the world contains so many authors interred in so small a space.”
Thoreau died in 1862 at age 44 without receiving any acclaim for his writing and its global influence. Like a pebble setting off ever-growing, concentric ripples on a pond, Thoreau’s simple ideas on learning from nature and resisting state injustice would beget pacifists such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, and other progressive movements including prison reform, suffrage, abolitionism and environmentalism. And it is in nature, and Concord, where these transcendental lessons become most clear.
The Colonial Inn, a hotel since 1889, is the closest you can get to staying at or eating where Thoreau did. He lived here with his aunts from 1835 to 1837 while attending Harvard in nearby Cambridge. The rooms are classically furnished with some looking out over the town square, and the dinner options range from traditional American fare to interesting options like fried tofu with roasted mushrooms. Two doors down is the North Bridge Inn, similar in style to the Colonial Inn and with large suites, but without the same historic pedigree and with cheaper rates.
Helen’s Restaurant is a popular upscale diner with satisfying staples like fish taco wraps and goat cheese paninis. Main Streets Market & Café is a cute coffee shop, decorated with old photos of Concord on its brick walls, that makes great sandwiches (the chicken breast with avocado is called the Walden) and many pastries.