N.E.A.T. (New England Author Tour) Part 1: Thornton Wilder

On Thursday afternoon, three brave explorers (and two cute little girlies) piled into the car in search of adventure, inspiration, and an out-of-the-way little home in Hamden, Connecticut.
Perhaps Thornton Wilder's house isn't the most obvious first choice for our author-home-adventure. First of all, it hasn't been made into a museum yet. And he's not exactly our favorite author, though after this trip, I think he's growing on us...
But--we were lucky enough to grow up a few miles away from his house, without even knowing it was right at hand...and that, my friends, was reason enough to give him the first place in our journey.
Thursday was hot and stormy; thunder urged us on in our quest and we surged forward, only slightly hindered by the humid air that clung to every inch of our bodies. Adding to the tension, I was driving. I am not a very relaxed driver, I'll admit. I really don't enjoy going over the speed limit; and unfortunately every other driver in Hamden seems to. It was a relief to pull into the shaded lane of Deepwood Drive--where, sudddenly, time and traffic seemed to pass away with the appearance of old, stone houses and overgrown gardens. Not so our excitement.
There it was, the "House the Bridge Built," so called because Wilder bought it with the royalties of his Pultitzer-winning (and cool) The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
"Hurry, give me the camera," I whispered to Rose. Not that anyone could have heard me if I spoke normally, but despite the fact that I was barely within sight of the house itself (though I got a nice pic of the mailbox!), I felt scandalously rule-breaking.
Keeping my foot nailed to the brake, I snapped a shot or two, while Lucy called from her carseat, "Mama, what are we doing here? Whose house is this? Are we going to this house?"
"Uh, no..." I answered, while Regina (Sister 2) added to poor Lucy's confusion by holding up her phone to take pictures. If I hadn't driven away in such a hurry, she might have gotten some good ones, too.
I know, sneaking past a house in the midday light and heat was kind of crazy, and only borderline inspirational. But our next stop was both completely proper and quite inspiring...oh, and air-conditioned. Ahhhh.
Even though no one's decided the house deserves to be a museum yet, some kindly folk of the Thornton Wilder Society decided there should be something of his to serve as a muse to the masses...so they recreated his study in a tiny corner of the Hamden Libray. I must have walked by it a few hundred times and never stopped to look closely, but there I found the treasure of the day, our el dorado, a writer's pearl: one little bit of wisdom...

Besides the awesome quote, there was other goodness: the desk where Wilder penned Our Town,

his bookshelf...

...and his pencil sharpener! (I know, how cool is that?)

When we had finished this feast for our eyes, we headed on to our last stop: Mount Carmel Cemetary, Thornton Wilder's last stop, too, incidentally...

We found his grave at the top of the hill, nearly forgotten. Grass and mud obscured the last several letters of his name; we cleaned it off as best we could and shared a moment of silence and a moment of prayer:
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.

I couldn't help feeling a little angry as we walked back to the car. Here was a man who changed lives with his writings. He won three Pulitzer prizes. His play is still more performed than any other American play. And we have only a tiny corner of the library and a neglected grave to visit in his memory.

But then, back in the air-conditioned sanctuary of the car, I flipped to the last page of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the highlighted, underlined, dog-eared copy from our high school days, and read:

"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." 


  1. I LOVE that book. I think you need to take me on a little NEAT tour as well, just as soon as we make a visit!

    Awesome... thanks for posting this.

  2. Ok, Natalie, you're officially invited--can we take your van so we all fit? ;)

  3. Very interesting - love the quote on the plaque!!

  4. Wow, great post! Looks like it was a wonderful day, despite the humidity!

  5. Oh my goodness, how wonderful! What a magical adventure!! I am so happy to know you cleaned off the grave. That was a beautiful thing to do. And that quote at the end of your post just sang to me. Thank you. I did the play "The Happy Journey to Camden and Trenton" (by Thornton Wilder) when I was in grad school. It was one of my favorite plays I ever did. And thanks to your "Happy Journey" I will probably fall asleep thinking about it tonight. : ) Thanks, Faith!

  6. Thanks for posting this. I love his words that you ended with. :o)

  7. Your post brought back the memory of two Thornton Wilder quotes I used to use a lot:

    "99% of the people in the world are fools, and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion." ...


    "Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child who lost a dog yesterday."

  8. I so love that you took the time to do this! Trips and reflections like this are so important and rarely happen. And yeah, I would have taken a picture of his pencil sharpener too. :)

  9. Molly, I'm glad I brought back good memories. :) I would love to have acted in a Wilder play!

    Anonymous--those quotes are great. The second in particular, is so important for us children's writers to remember...

    Samantha, You're right. I was just sort of excited for the adventure when I had this idea, but I'm finding that the experience and reflection is really helping me grow.

    Jemi, Laura, Myrna, Christina: I love you all. :) Thanks for stopping by. Your comments mean a lot to me!

  10. I haven't read that book, but I loved the last lines. What a fun adventure you guys had! I don't know of any famous authors who lived around here, but I think Laura Ingalls Wilder's house is a few hours away - we talked about visiting it when my daughter was into those books but we never did.

  11. I feel like I was with you as I read this post! I loved looking at all the pictures you took and I'm glad you took the time to clean off his grave. And thank you for sharing the quote at the end. I've never heard it before, but it's worth keeping close at hand.

  12. What an inspirational tour! Thank you so much for sharing the photos and thoughts with us! I remember the first time I saw Our Town performed on stage. I was blown away by the beauty of the language, the story and the characters.

  13. What a great post, Faith! I would love to visit there. You ended perfectly - love those final lines! :-)

  14. What a beautiful and inspiring post! I would have loved to seen his pencil sharpener! That is just the coolest. Your ending is spectacular, so true :)

  15. I gave you an award, if you want it.


Post a Comment

Comments make me happy.

Popular Posts