William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father, urged people to visit the graves of the notable. Joyce and I have done so for a long time. I began a list yesterday; the list continues with Hemingway, in Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his own life (via shotgun) on July 2, 1961, the morning after a final meal at a local restaurant ...
—In Ketchum, Joyce and I ate in the restaurant, Michel’s Christiania, where Papa had his last meal that summer night in 1961 before he went home and blew his brains out. His menu order? New York strip steak, baked potato, Caesar salad, Bordeaux wine. We sat at his table—but did not order the same meal. We have standards!—We are principled stalkers.—
—Oliver Wendell Holmes (grave in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Old Ironsides, anchored in Boston Harbor); Zora Neale Hurston (hometown of Eatonville, Florida; home where she died in Fort Pierce, Florida, and where her grave—which we saw—lay unmarked until identified and restored by Alice Walker in 1973); Martin Luther King, Jr. (the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was shot to death, now the National Civil Rights Museum); Sinclair Lewis (hometown of Sauk Center, Minnesota; houses where he lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, and outside Williamstown, Massachusetts); Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (boyhood home in Portland, Maine; home and grave in Cambridge, Massachusetts)—
—And, oh, were students affected by the Longfellow story that prompted his poem “The Cross of Snow.” How his wife, one July afternoon in 1861, accidentally ignited her dress with a candle that tipped over, how she screamed, ran through the house to find him, how he looked up, saw his beloved Fanny in flames, how he leaped to wrap her in his arms, how he extinguished the fire with a small rug but burned his neck so severely that he later grew a beard to conceal the scars, how she died in agony the next day, how, eighteen years afterward, he wrote the poem in her honor, never published it, put it in a drawer, where his grieving family found it after his death in 1881; how it remained unknown until Samuel Longfellow, a brother, published a biography in 1886—
—Herman Melville (home—Arrowhead—near Pittsfield, Massachusetts; grave in the Bronx, New York; whaling museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Nantucket Island; Monument Mountain in Massachusetts, which Joyce and I climbed on 29 June 2007, the mountain where Hawthorne and Melville met on a planned hike in 1850; along with them—Oliver Wendell Holmes)—
—As we neared the summit, some hikers were heading down; I asked them, “Any sign of Melville up there?” Pause. One replied, “No, but we saw Hawthorne.” New England’s trails are alive with literary dorks!—
—Edna St. Vincent Millay (sites around Rockland and Camden, Maine, the towns where she was born and grew up; Mt. Battie, site of her poem “Renascence”; her final home near tiny Austerlitz, New York, where she tumbled down the stairs one night to her death in 1950)—
—On my first visit to Rockland, I sit with my camera in my car, just across the street from the house where she was born, now in private hands, now absent its former historical marker because, as a Rockland librarian has just told me, the owners are sick of people—like me—bothering them. I am waiting for traffic to clear so I can get an unimpeded shot. I notice a flutter of activity on my hood, glance over, and see a pigeon has landed right in front of my windshield. He (She?) waddles closer, eyeing me carefully. Immediate fantasy: It’s the spirit of Edna St. Vincent Millay! Slowly, I swing my camera around to get a photo of this phenomenon, but at my first move, the bird wings away, and I am left only with a story to tell.—