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Moving Through Sleepy Hollow with Nathaniel Hawthorne

The seventh Sleepy Hollow tale.

Up here on Authors Ridge, let's leave the Thoreau graves and walk a few steps to the Hawthorne plot, diagonally across the path. [Photo 1]

Do you recall that Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, when picnicking in Sleepy Hollow, dreamed about building a castle here in Sleepy Hollow? Well, this is their castle.

That's Nathaniel on our left, between the "Hawthorne" headstone and the "Hawthorne" footstone. Behind Nathaniel's headstone is the small grave of five-year-old Francis, son of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. Rose was Nathaniel and Sophia's second daughter. Beside Nathaniel grave is Sophia’s, and next to Sophia is their oldest child, Una.

Actually, Sophia and Una are newcomers to this plot. For many years they had been remembered here by only those small stones at the head of what are now their graves. Those stones say they are buried in London which, indeed, was the case until five years ago.

After Nathaniel died in 1864, Sophia and Una moved to England, where they had lived years before when Nathaniel was U.S. consul there -- an appointment he had received from his college friend, and later President, Franklin Pierce. When mother and daughter died, they were buried in London's Kensal Green Cemetery.

In 2006, however, an order of Catholic nursing nuns, the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, founded by daughter Rose (a convert to Catholicism), arranged to have Sophia and Una's bones disinterred and returned to Concord to rest here beside their beloved Nathaniel.

On a sunny day that June, the remains were carried here in an ancient hearse drawn by two dapple gray percheron horses. [Photo 2] In the photo, Wayne Tucker of Ironshoe Farm is the driver (on the left) and Charlie Dee of Concord's Dee Funeral Home is on the right. Charlie and his sister, Susan Dee, are the fourth generation of funeral directors to serve Concord's citizens.

The hearse, that is believed to have transported the Alcotts, the Emersons, and many Concord notables (including possibly Nathaniel himself!) to their final resting place, has been in the Dees' care for many years.

The funeral party, which processed from the Dee Funeral Home, to Concord's First Parish Meeting House, and then to this gravesite, was led by an honor guard from Minute Man National Historical Park and included some Hawthorne family descendants and several Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. It was a grand funeral, covered by local and international media, which the citizens of Concord will long remember.

A footnote: The word "Hawthorne" in the name of the nun's order, is taken from the hamlet of Hawthorne, NY, (in the Westchester County town of Mount Pleasant) where the nuns operate and staff the Rosary Hill Home, a residence for individuals suffering from incurable cancer. That home was founded in 1901 in the village that was first called Unionville, and then Neperan, by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (who then bore the religious name of Mother Mary Alphonsa).

Shortly after the home opened, the citizens of Unionville/Neperan renamed their hamlet "Hawthorne" in honor of Rose. So the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, founded by Rose Hawthorne, took their name from the village of Hawthorne, which had in turn taken its name from Rose Hawthorne!

Hawthorne is the final resting place of, among others, Babe Ruth, James Cagney, Billy Martin, many other notables.

But I digress. Back to Nathaniel and Sophia: Both Hawthornes were Transcendentalists and both were born in Salem, Massachusetts. As a child, Sophia was educated by her sister, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, an educator who is buried over across the hollow on Upland Ave [Photo 3] and who introduced kindergartens into America. Sophia was a talented artist, but gave up her painting after marrying Nathaniel.

Nathaniel descended from, in his words, "stern and black-browed" Puritans. One of his ancestors, Judge John Hathorne [sic], had presided at one of the infamous Salem witch trials. Some biographers believe that Nathaniel added the "w" to his name in order to distance himself from the infamous judge.

When Nathaniel and Sophia were first married, they lived for three years in The Old Manse [Photo 4], built in 1770 by the Reverend William Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's grandfather, beside Old North Bridge. Henry David Thoreau planted a vegetable garden for the newlyweds in front of the manse. [Photo 5]

Mosses from an Old Manse is a collection of short stories Nathaniel wrote while living there. If you visit the Old Manse and you can still read romantic sentiments the couple etched on an upstairs windowpane using Sophia's diamond ring.

Nathaniel is remembered mainly for his darkly romantic novels, The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun (in which Hawthorne based the character Donatello partly on Henry David Thoreau). Before marriage, he worked at a customs house and lived for a year at Brook Farm, an experimental Transcendentalist community.

Nathaniel shared many of the interests and beliefs of Thoreau, Emerson, the Alcotts, and other Concord Transcendentalists. He thought highly of Thoreau, writing that Henry "is a keen and delicate observer of nature -- a genuine observer ... and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness."

After an outing with Henry in the rowboat Musketaquid (that Thoreau had built), Hawthorne overflowed with admiration: "Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it ...." At Thoreau's urging, Hawthorne bought the Musketaquid, but mused, "I wish I could acquire the aquatic skill of the original owner."

In a sharp departure from other Concord Transcendentalists, however, and despite the fact that his son Julian had attended the school of Franklin Sanborn, a most active abolitionist, Hawthorne was not an abolitionist. Like his political friend Franklin Pierce, he feared that abolitionist hotheads were undermining America's political stability. Though Hawthorne did not support slavery, he was never convinced that it should be forcibly abolished. He believed that Divine Providence, "in its own good time," would somehow cause slavery to vanish.

For several years, the Hawthornes lived in The Wayside, a house on Concord's Lexington Road. [Photo 6] Note the squarish room at the top. That room, which served as Nathaniel's study, was constructed as part of renovations the Hawthornes made. It was reached by climbing a rope ladder and contained a stand-up desk where Nathaniel wrote while gazing out over the Mill Brook Valley. When Hawthorne spotted an unwelcome guest in the vicinity, he sometimes retired to the study, pulled up the ladder, and waited until the interloper had departed. Hawthorne was a man who valued his solitude -- and knew how to preserve it.

Before we move on, try craning your neck to see the black gravestone across the rough path directly behind the Hawthorne plot. [Photo 7] It marks the grave of William Ellery Channing. No, not Channing the Unitarian theologian, but his nephew the poet, and Thoreau's buddy. This is the Channing who read the poem, Sleepy Hollow, at the cemetery's dedication. He also wrote the first biography of his friend Henry.

In our next tale, the Alcotts.

Rob Velella May 22, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Hawthorne is often lumped into the circle of Transcendentalists - presumably for living in Concord and experimenting with Brook Farm. He is, however, more accurately described as an anti-Transcendentalist. Not only did he not follow the movement, he showed obvious disdain for it (see, for example, his satire "The Celestial Railroad"). So far as I know, the rope-ladder for The Wayside's tower room was never actually installed. The contractors put in a fairly conventional (though steep) staircase instead. Great article, nonetheless. Hawthorne's grave is a wonderful spot for contemplation. And it's two days after his death anniversary and two days before his funeral so the timing is great.
Lisa Ricci May 23, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Rob beat me to it about Hawthorne not being on board with the Transcendentalists. In fairness, he DID make a go of it at Brook Farm, but found it less than desirable. I teach high school English, and when I describe Hawthorne's relationship to Emerson and Thoreau, I tell my kids that we don't always have to agree with our friends' philosophies and ideas to be friends with them. There are several stories of Hawthorne expressing his opinion to this end, in both words and in body language when he was in their company. In any case, I agree with Rob. It's nice to see the Hawthornes showcased like this!
Harry Beyer May 24, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Thank you Rob & Lisa. I see on the Web that many folks are discussing whether Hawthorne is a Transcendentalist. The question is beyond my pay grade, so I'll bow to your superior knowledge. As for the rope ladder to his study, I've traced my sources back to Edwin Haviland Miller's book, "Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne." Haviland tells my story but qualifies it by saying that "gossip had it." I stopped by The Wayside today to inquire about the ladder but found it "Closed for the season" (perhaps because they're paving the parking lot). Thanks again for your input! Harry Beyer
Rob Velella May 25, 2011 at 04:05 AM
Strange that Miller would have reported it as truth; the room just doesn't exist that way and accessing it is part of the regular tour. The Wayside is closed for the season not because of the redo of the parking lot but because, well, it's closed for the season. I believe it reopens June 1 but I'm not an authority on that. I'll be giving a talk there tomorrow (Wednesday, June 25) though if you want a sneak peak at one of the rooms (a first floor room, where no rope ladder would be needed): http://www.nps.gov/mima/civil-war-150th-events.htm
Rob Velella May 25, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Pretend I wrote "May 25" above. Generally, I live in the past, not the future.

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