Help me show my literary-minded aunt a good time in Boston and nearby
March 10, 2018 3:44 AM   Subscribe

My aunt is visiting and has an interest in American literature (specialized in it in college) and is an English teacher. She's visiting from outside the US. We're based in the Boston-area which is perfect for this kind of thing - so would love to hear about gems we can explore either within the city or on day trips or perhaps one weekend away.

My aunt will be visiting (my husband and me) for a longish period this summer (4 weeks total, with a two week break in the middle), primarily to hang out with my new son, who will be around 8 months at the time. But we'd love to show her a good time and she says she would like to visit literary sites.

We'll definitely take her to Concord where we've already been and see all the sights there. We also did a Boston literary tour on foot which I think she would enjoy. I'll plan to take her on a tour of the Boston Public Library which happens to be right next to my workplace.

She is especially interested in Emily Dickinson so we'll plan to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum, either for a day trip or a (long) weekend away (which would you recommend? Remember we have a small baby).

What other interesting things would you recommend?
Other things to note:
My aunt is in her 60s, probably wouldn't enjoy a ton of walking.
We're in our early 30s.
I work in the Back Bay, so it would be convenient to take a half day off and show her things around there.
We have a small baby, but I work full-time so we have full-time childcare during the week, and I'm already planning to take a few days off - so that's not necessarily a huge constraint.

Ideas for within the city (or nearby), day trips or weekends away are all welcome! Tell me about your hidden or not-so-hidden gems!
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Salem with its witchery and the House of Seven Gables are touristy but fun. Nearby is Cape Ann with its natural beauty and seafaring history if you want to make it a weekend.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:03 AM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

My daughter took her twins to Walden Pond when they were little, though older than 8 months.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:15 AM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

If the Boston Athenaeum was not included as part of the literary tour, you should definitely visit!

Many local colleges have special collections and exhibitions which are open to the public. Harvard Library has several. BU has the Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center.

Also, bookstores! There's the Harvard Bookstore for a huge independent shop. Is she interested in poetry? If so, don't miss Grolier's Bookstore next door.
posted by prewar lemonade at 4:29 AM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

North of Boston (haha, see what I did?), Robert Frost grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts and lived for a time in Derry, NH. Both have some stuff relating to him, and are a quick drive both from each other and from Boston on the 93.

Jack Kerouac grew up in Lowell, and they have some stuff about him.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:29 AM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

depending on how much of a bibliophile she may be, the Boston Athenaeum may be a neat place to visit and/or may have worthwhile events to see. The first floor is open to walk-ins, but there are regularly scheduled tours where a docent will take you through the rest of the building.

Depending on how much your aunt may like seeing the outside of author's homes, you could walk around Beacon Hill (at least to the extent that your aunt feels comfortable). There's a map for the "Boston Literary District" that lists various homes of writers like Robert Frost, Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott. Many of these are still private homes and aren't open to the public, so the best that you may get to see is a view of the external building and the National Register plaque. However, there's also the Nichols House Museum, which is open to the public and does a good job of preserving a turn of the century house and all of its furnishings.

Also, the Grolier is a lovely specialty bookshop that is becoming increasingly rare and precious in this day and age.
posted by bl1nk at 4:37 AM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you go out to the Emily Dickinson museum, you’ll be right near the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
posted by dayintoday at 5:00 AM on March 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

I second Grolier, it’s a really special place. And then you’re in Harvard Square which is full of literary spots. Longfellow’s house is on Brattle and you can go inside and also walk around the grounds. It’s lovely. This article from gives a good list of all of the other houses/locations you can see around the Square.

Outside the Square, you could go for a walk in Mt Auburn Cemetery. It’s a beautiful spot and lots of interesting literary figures are buried there. You can do as little or as much walking as you’d like.

Anne Sexton, ee cummings, and a few others are buried on the other side of the river at Forest Hills Cemetery in JP. There’s also an awesome indie bookshop, Papercuts, and the Boston Book Company And Lucy Parsons Center for two totally different book experiences. Lots of good places to eat in JP too - and a beautiful pond to walk around/have a picnic by. There’s a tot lot on Brewer St, too, where you can push your 8 month old in a swing or sit them into a sandbox.

New Bedford is also a place to consider.
posted by jdl at 5:31 AM on March 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you decide to spend any additional time in Western Mass after the Emily Dickinson Museum, the Montague Book Mill is a really lovely destination for book lovers.
posted by telegraph at 6:26 AM on March 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Sounds like she would love Edith Wharton's house, The Mount, out in Lenox. Easy to piggyback a very refined concert at Tanglewood, too. A proper Massachusetts experience altogether.

I also echo the suggestions for bookstores: Grolier yes, but also Broadside Books in Northampton, Montague Bookmill, An Unlikely Story in Plainville, New England Mobile Bookstore in Newton, and Porter Square Books (tack on a visit to the Fogg and/or Harvard Museum of Natural History), Harvard Book Store (tack on a visit to JP Licks), MIT Press (combined with the MIT Museum or the List ), the Brattle Book Store, and the Trident back here in Boston (convenient to the Mapparium and the fountain at the Christian Science Center).
posted by cocoagirl at 6:31 AM on March 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Musuem is fun:
Apparently Ms. Gardner liked to be carried about on a litter (she was able-bodied) but forbade people to look at her while she was thus carried.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 6:39 AM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

You can go on a nice literary walk from Harvard to William James's house and e.e. cummings's house; they're close together.
posted by Beardman at 6:59 AM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

However weird this may seem, you may want to show her around some of the amazing cemeteries in the area. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord is the final resting place of many literary figures (Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Thoreau among other). Mount Auburn Cemetery and Forest Hills too.
posted by Sublimity at 7:20 AM on March 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Day-trip wise, there's the Wadsworth-Longfellow House in Portland, Maine (and the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Monument.)
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 7:33 AM on March 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

we'll plan to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum, either for a day trip or a (long) weekend away

Want to second suggestions for: Walden Pond, Athenaeum, Gardner. Also I'd make a weekend out of a visit to Emily Dickinson and you can also visit the Montague Book Mill which is really nice, as well as seeing if there is something up at the Jones Library while you are there. Many of the Five Colleges have interesting/quirky things in their college libraries that might be of interest. I have to put in a weird plug for The Poet and the Murderer which you could get her to read beforehand, it's a fascinating and weird story about forgery and librarians and Mormons and would enrich a trip out to Western MA.
posted by jessamyn at 8:10 AM on March 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

yeah if you’re going to drive all the way to Western Mass for book nerd stuff, DO NOT miss the Montague Book Mill. it is very pleasant.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:20 AM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

The William Cullen Bryant homestead is in Cummington, MA, about 40 minutes from Northampton.

Also, Hartford, CT is close enough for a day trip from Mass and the Mark Twain House and Harriet Beecher Stowe Center are there.
posted by camyram at 8:28 AM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're in Harvard Square anyway, Raven Books around the corner on Church St. has a more academic bent. I think everybody sells their review copies there.

There's also a tour of Houghton Library (Harvard's rare book library) every Friday the library is open (which is not always in the summer) at 2 pm. They've got a page of the Gutenberg Bible on display and other rarities. Unfortunately, you can't get in to see the full Bible next door at Widener with some kind of Harvard affiliation.
posted by praemunire at 8:49 AM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m a curator at Houghton Library. If for some reason you’re not able to make the regular Friday tour, feel free to MeMail me and I will show you around. We have an Emily Dickinson room with a portrait of her and her siblings as children, and original furniture and a rotating manuscript on display.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:23 AM on March 10, 2018 [13 favorites]

So many good ideas here! Possibly an off kilter suggestion, but since she's a teacher and likely believes in the power of reading to influence lives, perhaps she'd enjoy a couple of hours volunteering with the Prison Book Program in Quincy?
posted by orangejenny at 12:01 PM on March 10, 2018

Fruitlands, though technically in the town of Harvard, may have been included in your Concord expedition already, but if it's not, it should be!
posted by dizziest at 1:18 PM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you decide to take a weekend trip trip to see the Mount, you'll be very close to Arrowhead, Herman Melville's home, too. I don't know that I'd make the trip west primarily for that, but if she's interested in Melville it could be a nice additional stop on a Berkshires literary tour. It's part of the Melville Trail of sites, which includes a few that would be nice places for a brief visit/photo op (or perhaps a stop for a picnic lunch) instead of more extended hikes.
posted by Anita Bath at 4:29 PM on March 10, 2018

If your aunt teaches children or is otherwise familiar with American children's literature, she may get a kick out of seeing the Make Way for Ducklings statue in the Boston Public Garden.
posted by hoyland at 4:35 PM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Amherst is a pleasant University town, so an overnight is likely to be enjoyable. Literature Resource Center, Jones library
Try to stay in touch with library and University event listings, as that could be fun for her.
posted by theora55 at 8:37 PM on March 10, 2018

Many good ideas already posted.

Come to Providence, RI, to see the Providence Athaneum and also explore the mileu of noted racist/author H.P. Lovecraft.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:22 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hit the Brattle Bookstore! They have a rare books section on the top floor with some really interesting gems!
posted by floweredfish at 9:47 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Cows for Cash   |   "Can we dig up your driveway?" Can they? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.