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Visitor Spotlight: The Woman in White

The following blog post was contributed by Laura Eden.

Throughout the mid to late 80′s my family periodically vacationed during their spring break at our timeshare at The Ponds at Fox Hollow.  My children were in elementary school so we spent a lot of time outside – often in the mud and muck along the horse trails.

One afternoon I was walking with my three daughters along the bridle path at the base of the lawn at The Mount.  Shakespeare and Company had just begun to use the house for performances in the summer but the house looked closed up.  No one was around so, to escape the mud, which was becoming too onerous for my youngest child, we walked along the edge of the lawn. It was getting rather dark so I decided it might be best to skirt around the house and nip down the drive to the road.

The Terrace.  Photo by David Dashiell.

The Terrace. Photo by David Dashiell.

As we began to do just that, a woman abruptly opened the French doors onto the Terrace overlooking the rear lawn and charged over to the railing. She had very dark hair pulled up on her head and was wearing a white dress which I took to be a maid’s or housekeeper’s uniform. She was furiously shaking a tea towel or dust cloth over the railing and, from her manner, I gathered she was very annoyed by our presence.

Embarrassed at being caught trespassing, I hustled the girls along mentally rehearsing an apology as we rounded the corner of the house and headed down the drive.  A battered old station wagon was approaching and stopped alongside us. As I suspected, it was the caretaker checking on the house and I explained why we were on the property.  Having had a good look at the bedraggled state my girls were in, he was very gracious about the whole situation.  I asked him to please give my apologies to the housekeeper who had seen us from the Terrace and had seemed so annoyed by our presence.

He seemed puzzled by that and told me that no one was in the house and he was the only one with the key.  I insisted we had seen a woman and he said that he didn’t doubt that. From our description of her, he said it was probably the ghost of Mrs. Wharton!  He kindly added that she had been seen by others so, not to worry, we weren’t necessarily crazy….true story with four witnesses with no prior knowledge of ghostly goings on at The Mount.

The Mount’s pet cemetery

Edith Wharton with Miza and Mimi.

Edith Wharton with Miza and Mimi.

Visitors who pull back the curtain of Edith Wharton’s third story bedroom window, or step out onto the Terrace from Teddy Wharton’s den, might spot a little mound at the edge of the woods with six tiny gravestones. This is the pet cemetery at The Mount.

The Whartons loved their dogs dearly; they were, in many ways, children in Teddy and Edith’s otherwise childless marriage. The Mount’s pet cemetery is the final resting place of Mimi (d. January 1902), Toto (d. November 18, 1904), Miza (d. January 12, 1906), and Jules (d. 1907), a Skye terrier who lived to be 16. Two dogs from the Shattuck era (1912-1938) are buried alongside the Wharton dogs.

Ghost tours always include a stop at the pet cemetery, where guides briefly retell “Kerfol,” Wharton’s story about a pack of ghost dogs who haunt a house where they were murdered, and in turn avenged their murder and the cruel treatment of their beloved mistress.

Although there are few reports of ghostly animal activity reported at The Mount, visitors have caught two interesting photos, which can be seen on the right.

Edith Wharton was surrounded by her dogs as she wrote in bed every morning, and from that same room, she could look out the window at the cemetery and continue to watch over them. And when the trees are bare in the fall, there is a perfect view of Mrs. Wharton’s bedroom window from the pet cemetery, where perhaps they could see her, too.

The Mount's pet cemetery.

 

A possible dog tail?  Photo by Beth Grossfeld.

A possible dog tail, floating across the lawn. Photo by Beth Grossfeld.

Is that an animal on the sofa, next to the ghostly figure?  By Nancy L. Pastor

Is that a ghost dog on the sofa, next to the ghostly figure? Photo by Nancy L. Pastor.

 

The ghostly tales of Mrs. Wharton

Ghost StoriesEdith Newbold Jones, a girl who was terrified of ghost stories, grew up to be Edith Wharton, a woman who wrote them.

As a child, Wharton was haunted by dreams of ghosts and wolves, as well as a sense of a menacing presence at her mother’s front door. A near death experience from typhoid fever resulted in intense nightmares with “formless horrors” and she was unable to sleep in the same room as a book of ghost stories until she was 28 years old.

So what, according to Wharton, makes a good ghost story? “If it sends a cold shiver down one’s spine, it has done its job and done it well,” she said in the preface of The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. Mount staff have a few special Wharton favorites of their own.

“My favorite Edith Wharton ghost story is ‘The Eyes,’” Grace Leathrum, Special Events Coordinator, says. “I love it because instead of using a classic idea of what a ghost should look like, she zeroes in on one terrifying image and uses it to its best effect.”

Johanna Batman, Development Associate, cites “Duchess at Prayer” as not only her favorite Wharton ghost story, but one of her favorite Wharton stories in general. “It’s so wicked!” she says of the gothic tale published in 1900.

House Manager Anne Schuyler’s favorite is “Kerfol,” a chilling tale that is retold on ghost tours in the pet cemetery (stay tuned for more information about The Mount’s pet cemetery in our next post!).

Wharton didn’t think that just readers should be frightened by her ghost stories; she once said, “The teller of supernatural tales should be well frightened in the telling.”   Perhaps it was her own childhood experiences which made Wharton into such an effective teller of ghost stories.

 

It’s Halloween season at The Mount!

It’s almost Halloween here at The Mount and that means it’s time to decorate The Mount’s blog, so to speak, with ghostly information and haunted tidbits, now until All Hallows’ Eve.

The Mount has seen seven different occupants come and go in its 112-year history. With countless numbers of personalities, triumphs, disappointments, and perhaps a few secrets, it’s no surprise that owners, staff members, and visitors have reported strange sights, freaky feelings, and everything from footsteps to full bodied apparitions.

Body in Stable window, by Tarryn Gaherty.

Body in Stable window, by Tarryn Gaherty.

Often, it’s assumed that death results in hauntings. There is only one death that is known to certainly have occurred at The Mount, that of Albert R. Shattuck, who purchased The Mount with his wife in 1912. He died of a heart attack on November 4, 1925, in what is now known as The Henry James Suite.

There are two other deaths that are rumored to have occurred at The Mount, but which cannot be confirmed. Supposedly, a little boy drowned in the well and a female servant hung herself on the property.

Life can also result in hauntings. Perhaps spirits linger at The Mount because they have unfinished business or because they adored their time there. As Edith Wharton said in her 1934 memoir, “The Mount was my first real home…its blessed influence still lives in me.”

Take a look at the ghostly photos above and to the right, taken by visitors on ghost tours in 2013, and be sure to join us on a ghost tour this fall – you never know what you may find!

Orbs in the Stable, by Jennifer Curtis.

Orbs in the Stable, by Jennifer Curtis.

Mysterious lights, by Janae Cook.

Mysterious lights, by Janae Cook.

Face in Stable window, by Paul and Sandy Hamilakis.

Face in Stable window, by Paul and Sandy Hamilakis.

Spinning yarn and weaving magic: Storytelling comes to the Berkshires!

Who doesn’t love a good story? There’s something about a taut, tempting yarn. It twists your perspective, and, when done well, can magically transport you to a different time and place.

Sure, a captivating story can burst from the pages of a book or be broadcast from a recording. But perhaps the best story-sharing experience is one between live humans, where words are accompanied by expressions and gestures and nuances of voice that imbue the narrative with broader, deeper dimensions.

We’re not the only ones who think so. In recent years, storytelling as entertainment has exploded in popularity. There’s a science behind it, after all. And who doesn’t agree with Ira Glass’s way of thinking?

Catapulted to the public sphere by The Moth, storytelling events now headline weekend arts and cultural listings in major cities across the US.

Massmouth executive director, and host and performer Norah Dooley

Massmouth executive director, and host/performer Norah Dooley

And in certain rural parts, too: We’re delighted this fall to introduce several storytelling events to western Massachusetts! The first one—this Friday evening, September 5—features polished performers from Boston-based massmouth, inc., who will come to The Mount to share their sparkling, true-life tales of traveling, temptation, and tribes. The show will be hosted by massmouth executive director Norah Dooley, who will also perform one of the eight-minute monologues. It promises to be a great evening. We’ll have drinks and nosh for sale; the doors will open at 7:30 for the 8 pm show. Tickets are $15, but here’s the thing: We’re rewarding our blog readers with a special discount price! Click here and use the promotional code “storytelling” for $10 tickets instead. Sound good?

While you’re at it, get tickets too for the next storytelling event on October 18, this one in partnership with Speak Up, a storytelling group based in Hartford, CT. That Saturday night, five skilled storytellers will regale the audience with love-and-marriage-themed tales. Bring a romantic partner, a friend, or simply yourself to hear stories of love lost, love found, and love finally understood. Tickets are $15.

If you can imagine yourself onstage, sign up now for the storytelling workshop at The Mount that will be hosted by 12-time Moth StorySLAM champion Matthew Dicks on Sunday, October 19 from 9 am to 1 pm. It’ll be inspiring, educational, and exceptionally fun, and—believe us—you won’t want to miss the chance to take part!

Why Ethan Frome is Actually Great Beach Reading

The following blog post was contributed by Miranda Cooper, a student at Williams College and seasonal tour guide at The Mount. Picture1

Sometimes our visitors put hard-hitting questions to the staff here, questions like, “Is Wharton readable?” or “Is she any fun?” Many of us happen to think so, but the question is a good one worth a careful answer. While hardly bodice-rippers, Wharton’s titles aren’t squarely academic either and most are surprisingly readable. If you’re not afraid of an SAT word here or there, most find the themes she wrote about 100 years ago hold up pretty well.

But this leads us to a more complex question: must a book be fun to be considered pleasure reading? Rebecca Mead (who spoke at The Mount on July 21!), who wrote an excellent piece in The New Yorker, addresses just this.

Mead shares the experience of perusing an old journal in which she recorded her reading list between ages 17 and 21, and her list skews decidedly… heavy. Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Joyce, James, Rushdie, and Calvino. Mead readily admits that her literature survey as a young woman led her primarily to the classics rather than guilty pleasures, but then points to something delicious: it is very possible to derive pleasure not just from reading something fun but from reading “to become well read.”

So, maybe you can bring Ethan Frome to the beach? Toss it in next to the sunscreen because as Mead maintains, “…there are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation.”

Picture2Ethan Frome certainly fits these criteria. So perhaps we can conclude that Edith Wharton’s oeuvre sits comfortably in both the popular and literary camps, if we accept Mead’s insightful definition of pleasure reading. And if you do need something a little more lighthearted than Ethan Frome, there are plenty of great works of literature and Wharton titles that fit the bill.

Friends Find a Seat at the Table

The following blog post was contributed by Miranda Cooper, a student at Williams College and seasonal tour guide at The Mount. 

People from all walks of life come to The Mount during the summer to immerse themselves in a bit of Edith Wharton’s legacy. We see people of all ages and Picture1from all kinds of places. There are a few trends, though, and one of them is that we often see groups of friends who have come together to visit our beautiful treasure in our lovely corner of Lenox. Often, these are groups of women who have been taking trips together for years.

My first memorable encounter like this occurred on an ordinary June day when I met four ladies who engaged me in conversation. I learned that they had all attended Wellesley College together and graduated in 1951, and that for decades they have been getting together during the summers to visit different places.

A few weeks later, I found myself having lunch with a lovely group of women (who told me to remember them as the “ie’s,” because their names all ended in “-ie”) who treated me to lunch, so that we could continue the conversation that had begun on my tour. These ladies had attended Mount Saint Scholastica, a small women’s college in Kansas where they were all roommates, and they too take an annual trip. I was deeply touched by their undeniably strong friendship with one another, a friendship that had endured for decades and which still clearly brings them so much joy.

Picture2So what is it about The Mount that attracts lifelong friends? And why is it that many of these groups of friends are all female, and even attended women’s colleges together? It could be pure coincidence… but I doubt it. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense: of course the beautiful home of the first woman ever to win a Pulitzer for fiction would be a logical choice of destination for groups of women who have obvious appreciation for the power of women’s education and the literary and cultural legacies of groundbreaking female intellectuals. But more than that, The Mount is a place deeply rooted in friendship. All of our guests leave The Mount knowing that Edith Wharton treasured her close friends; one of the first comments guests usually make in the dining room concerns the surprisingly small round table, which Wharton liked because it allowed her to have intimate gatherings.

Miranda Cooper

Miranda Cooper

The Mount is not only a place of literary greatness and stunning beauty; it is a place of friendship. It was built in 1902 as a place where Edith Wharton’s dearest friends could gather and enjoy lounging in the drawing room or sipping tea on the terrace. And in 2014, groups of lifelong friends can enjoy those same experiences. The Mount is still a place where people who care about one another can enjoy one another’s company, a place where groups of friends like the Wellesley ladies and the “ie’s” can come together to reminisce about their college years and pick up where they left off one, two, or twenty years ago. And I think that’s exactly how Edith Wharton would have liked it.

The Lesser-Known Side of Wharton

Most often associated with literary fame, Edith Wharton was a complex, intellectually motivated woman whose passions led to many other remarkable achievements: interior design, gardening, and—perhaps most astoundingly—her unwavering dedication to helping refugee children, wounded soldiers, and struggling families in France during World War I.

EW with WWI soldiersWharton helped establish three hostels for refugees, delivered supplies to the front lines, and created a Paris “workroom” that employed 90 women in need of family income. She wrote about her efforts in a 1915 piece for the New York Times. “There is hardly a form of human misery that has not come our way and wrung our hearts with the longing to do more and give more,” she wrote.

On Thursday, July 31, Dr. Alan Price will deliver a lecture at The Mount centered on three important American war charities in France, and the dress of their three extraordinary leaders: Edith Wharton, Nina Duryea, and Isabel Lathrop.

A Wharton scholar and humanities researcher, Dr. Price has chosen to highlight the incredible civilian response to one of Europe’s greatest tragedies by focusing on American volunteers in France. “I can’t look at the war directly; it’s too horrible,” he said. More than 20,000 American women served in charity and war relief organizations overseas, including at least two with ties to Berkshire County: Edith Wharton, who spent a decade at The Mount in Lenox, and Nina Duryea, who lived in Stockbridge from 1920-1952.

The lecture, entitled “What They Wore to War: Dressing American Relief Workers in the Great War,” stems from Price’s book, The End of the Age of Innocence: Edith Wharton and the First World War, and marks the beginning of The Mount’s four-year acknowledgement of this significant anniversary.

For more highlights of Wharton’s war work, visit the exhibit Edith Wharton and the First World War, open at The Mount through October 31. Dr. Price consulted on the project, which details four of the busiest and most taxing years of Wharton’s life. Also, here’s a short online piece written in 2011 by Molly Guinness about Wharton’s time in Paris, much of it darkened by the dire circumstances of war.

“The war was a terrible event. If we don’t learn from ‘the guns of August,’ we are doomed to repeat it,” Price cautioned.

Join us for the lecture, which will begin at 4 pm next Thursday. Tickets–$10 for Mount members, $12 for the general public–are still available and can be purchased online.

 

A sizzling hot Summer

The following blog post was contributed by Katie Wesche, who is currently interning at The Mount:

Summer coverKnown to some as Wharton’s “hot Ethan,” and to others as the “‘50 Shades of Gray‘ of 1916,” the novella Summer stands as some of Wharton’s racier work. Critics panned the book upon publication, regarding Wharton’s foray into summer romance and the sexual awakening of a teenager as an “empty story.” But this lesser-known work has had a renaissance in recent years, captivating younger audiences and adults alike.

In celebration of Summer and summer, The Mount will host marathon reading of the book on August 12 at 1:00 pm. We invite the greater Berkshire community to help us bring this story to life by volunteering to read a short segment – we’re looking for 25 of you, in total! If you’d prefer to enjoy the book as a member of the audience, we encourage you to take in Wharton’s incredible descriptions of mountain landscapes from a breezy seat on the Terrace. Stop by for a chapter or two, or stay through to the classically Whartonian ending. Summer features a Berkshire County setting, a forbidden romance, and shockingly modern themes that resonate even today – everything you could want from a summer read.

And if you’re on the fence, you just might want to give Summer a skim before seeing Ben Stiller’s (yes, that Ben Stiller) unique adaptation of Wharton’s story.

Interested readers should contact Katie Wesche at kwesche@edithwharton.org by August 1st.

Free to be… at The Mount!

We believe strongly in the power of community. That’s why, each season, we build in as many free public programs as we possibly can. We love to welcome our friends and neighbors from Lenox and other nearby towns; the Berkshire region is a tightly knit place, and we tend to rely on one other all year ’round.

Scroll down to see a gallery of photos from our biggest, best community party ever: the 2014 Community Garden Party! Over 700 people attended the fourth annual free event that has become a staple of the Berkshire summer season calendar.

Whether you’re a local or summer visitor, mark your own calendars for any or all of these FREE happenings this season:

Music After Hours:MAH_singer_John_Seakwood Fridays and Saturdays in July and August

Join us on the Terrace every weekend in July and August for lively evenings of music performed by the region’s most talented musicians. Relax with a glass of wine and light fare while savoring the sounds and the spectacular view!

Guided tours of the outdoor SculptureNow exhibit, Common GroundJuly 13, August 17, September 14, October 12

This exciting exhibit spanning The Mount’s grounds features large-scale work by 25 acclaimed artists. The free Sunday tours are scheduled to begin at 11:30 am on July 13, August 17, September 14, and October 12.

Wharton on Wednesday: Wednesdays through July and August

Join us each Wednesday at 5 pm through July and August to hear why Edith Wharton’s writings continue to captivate readers and win Wharton new fans! This ever-popular program is free for members, and only $5 for not-yet members of The Mount.

Summer marathon reading: Tuesday, August 12

Enjoy Wharton’s incredibly modern coming of age read over the course of five and a half hours, starting at 1 pm. 

Poetry-smallPoetry on the Terrace: Thursday, September 11

Join us at 5:30 pm to hear six richly talented poets–Susan Hartung, Phil Pardi, Lori Desrosiers, Mary Koncel, Barry Sternlieb, and Ellen Doré Watson– who will read from their published and current work.

The Amy Clampitt Memorial Reading featuring Sharon Olds: Friday, September 12

On Friday evening, September 12, at 7 pm, The Mount will present the free Amy Clampitt Memorial Reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds. This event is This event is made possible through support from the Amy Clampitt Fund, a fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, as well as a gift from the Xeric Foundation, Inc

Here are some great images from photographer John Seakwood capturing family fun at the Community Garden Party on June 29: