By Natalie Burg
October is National Book Month. And what better way to celebrate than by immersing yourself in literary history?
From a prairie adventure to a spin around an iconic French Quarter destination, these getaways are sure to delight lovers of American literature.
1. Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts
Literary hearts can't go wrong with a visit to Concord, Massachusetts, where you'll find Ralph Waldo Emerson's house, the birthplace of Henry David Thoreau, and Walden Pond State Reservation within a few miles of one another.
And right in the middle of them all is the Orchard House, where Alcott lived and wrote "Little Women." The fact that Alcott used her own home as the setting for her iconic fiction about the March sisters makes this literary landmark a gem.
During one of the Orchard House's guided tours, you’ll see Alcott's writing desk, which her father made for her and which occupies pride of place in her bedroom.
The portraits in the study that depict some of the Alcotts' famous friends, including locals Emerson and Thoreau, will also fascinate.
The attraction is open year-round and hosts tours most days. But if possible, time your visit so you can take one of the monthly "Welcome to Our Home" Living History Tours. These offer an interactive experience, complete with a costumed guide, songs, games and a treasure hunt.
It's an adventure Jo would approve of.
2. Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, California
Book and nature enthusiasts alike will enjoy the more than 47 acres where London lived and farmed during the last decade of his short life.
London called the site "Beauty Ranch," and it was there that he pioneered organic farming and humane livestock techniques that are still being written about a century later. These days, visitors to Jack London State Historic Park can explore several historic buildings. They include the House of Happy Walls museum, which showcases his life and world travels. There’s also the haunting Wolf House Ruins. London and his wife planned to live in the Wolf House until the structure burned down when construction was nearly complete.
Tour options are almost as varied as London's interests. In addition to tours of the historic buildings, there’s an eco-tour, an agriculture tour of Beauty Ranch and more.
3. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.
After nine years of freedom, including two that he spent overseas, Douglass returned to the United States with a plan to wield "my pen, as well as my voice, in the great work of renovating the public mind."
That work would help change American history—and for the last 17 years of his life, he did much of it in Cedar Hill. This beautiful estate in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. is now known as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Visitors get the chance to tour the restored historic home and see many of Douglass's belongings, including his desk, his violin and the small stone hut where he often worked.
The written and spoken word continue to be valued at Cedar Hill. Each year the National Park Service hosts an oratorical contest for elementary and high school students. The event is a recurring tribute to Douglass's oratorical skills.
4. Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota
If your family is up for a pioneering adventure, you'll find it in the still-small town of De Smet, South Dakota—better known as the "Little Town on the Prairie" from Wilder's classic series of autobiographical novels. De Smet was the final destination in her family’s well-documented odyssey across the American Midwest and Great Plains.
A visit to the Ingalls Homestead is a hands-on adventure. This family-friendly attraction includes covered-wagon rides, hay twisting, wheat grinding, corncob-doll and jump-rope crafts, washboard practice and a visit to a frontier-style one-room schoolhouse.
For an even more immersive taste of Wilder's childhood, the Homestead offers camping, sleep-in covered wagons and a bunkhouse for overnight stays. But make your reservations far in advance if you want to stay during July’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant—an outdoor theatrical performance from the book series.
5. Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Lounge in New Orleans
You don't need to be a bookworm to find the whimsical Carousel Lounge in New Orleans' Hotel Monteleone a delight. The circular bar is not only decorated like an actual carousel, but it also slowly revolves.
The historic marvel, which is celebrating its 70th year, is a literary legend in more than one way. Tennessee Williams, Richard Ford and Truman Capote were regular guests. According to the hotel, Capote enjoyed saying that he'd been born there, because his pregnant mother had lived there. Other iconic writers associated with the Carousel Lounge include Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner.
The Hotel Monteleone was designated a Literary Landmark by the American Library Association. To make every moment your stay unforgettable, book a night in one of the hotel's literary suites, each named for a famed American writer and former patron.
Ready for a literary getaway you'll never forget? Pack up the next few titles on your reading list, and head toward these destinations for a vacation made in book heaven.
A former downtown development professional, Natalie Burg is a freelancer who writes about growth, entrepreneurialism and innovation.
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