Orchard House & Little Women
Are you one of the more than 50,000 visitors who arrive at Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts each year? This is the very house where Louisa May Alcott penned Little Women. The Alcott family moved there in 1858. Although healthy for many reasons, it’s become almost a fad to minimize, downsize, and unclutter, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who is extremely grateful the Alcotts and their ancestors were savers. I certainly wouldn’t call them pack rats, but they had the ability to know what treasures might have great sentimental value someday.
For example, we all know that Little Women closely connects to the four Alcott sisters and that Beth’s death scene will forever be in our hearts. At Orchard House, although Lizzie (character Beth) actually died a few weeks before they moved in, you can see the sewing kit given to her by her father on her 21st birthday in 1856, her little melodeon piano, and other mementos of her life. May (character Amy) is a very strong presence in Orchard House from her sculpture studio on the ground floor (frequented by young sculptor Daniel Chester French and where we watched a lovely introduction video) to her etchings and paintings that cover the walls of their home.
Unlike many other author residences I’ve visited, Orchard House is filled with about 80 percent of the original furnishings and belongings of the Alcott family including the little half-moon desk Bronson Alcott built for his daughter Louisa’s novel writing. I can’t think of another classic novel where you are able to experience it in this manner 150 years later—to wander through the rooms soaking up actual details and belongings described within the story of the not-so-fictional March family. In the parlor you’ll see where Anna Alcott (character Meg) was married, along with her wedding dress. Although photography is not permitted inside, the Little Women movies stuck pretty close to the true appearance of Orchard House.
There are also pictures and panoramas of each room on www.louisamayalcott.org. The building in the below photograph sits just behind Orchard House on the left side of the property. Led by Bronson Alcott, it held the very successful Concord School of Philosophy from 1879 to 1888.
On the November day I visited Orchard House, special artifacts (such as etchings and locks of hair) were added to the display for one month only. There was also an event downtown at the Concord Bookshop. 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner John Matteson was there to discuss his new book: The Annotated Little Women. After he was introduced and just before he began his inspiring talk of how he became connected to the Alcotts, there was a disturbance. Who should appear from behind the rows of books, but Louisa herself!
She was quite confused as to what was going on. One of her many humorous comments was how pleased she was to see that her name was printed larger than John’s on his new book. (Rumor has it Louisa’s true identity was the director of Orchard House!)
There have been many versions of Little Women from musicals and plays to ballet and opera. There have been seven movies produced, as well as animations and a 1958 TV series.
Do you have a favorite?